Cintiq Pro 16 4K workaround if you have an external monitor and connect via DisplayPort

Whew. That headline was a mouthful, but there’s really no other way to describe it. This is a workaround for people who want their Cintiq Pro 16 to run at 4K via DisplayPort while keeping an external monitor connected. This assumes you’re on a Mac with a DisplayPort and HDMI connection. I haven’t tested this for PC as I don’t use the platform, but this might work on Windows too.

The problem

Wacom, in their infinite wisdom, released the Cintiq Pro 16 at 4K, but if you’re connecting via their DisplayPort breakout box and not via USB-C then you’re stuck slumming it at 1440p instead of 4k. That means you’re missing out on a lot of pixels the Cintiq is capable of pushing. Which seems like a big deal for a piece of kit that costs this much, but Wacom didn’t ask me before they made that boneheaded decision.

Some enterprising individuals discovered a shockingly simple workaround. The DisplayPort cable Wacom shipped with the Cintiq Pro 16 wasn’t 4K capable. If you buy a 4K capable DisplayPort cable on Amazon then you can get 4K via the DisplayPort/USB breakout box.

Great, right? The only problem is if you want your Cintiq Pro 16 to run at 4K and run an external monitor at the same time.

The second monitor problem

A lot of people reported that they still couldn’t get the Cintiq Pro 16 to run at 4K if they had an external monitor connected. I ran into this same issue on my MacBook Pro. If I connected just the Cintiq Pro 16 then it worked at 4K with no issue. If I had an external monitor connected via DisplayPort the Cintiq would switch to 1440p. Talk about annoying. Writing is my main work and that second monitor is sort of more important to my workflow than the Cintiq.

The second monitor solution

The fix I found was amazingly simple. I was connecting my external monitor and my Cintiq via the two DisplayPort/Thunderbolt ports. My MacBook also has an HDMI port. I plugged my external monitor into the HDMI port and magically the Cintiq started putting out 4K even with the external monitor connected.

Talk about amazingly simple. So far it’s worked every time I’ve powered up the Cintiq without issue. If you’re running anything but the latest MacBook Pro, which describes a lot of creatives out there, try this workaround and see if it does the trick for you too.

Again I’ve only tried this on my Mac. I don’t use PC for all that much anymore so I didn’t bother to dust off my old laptop. It’d be worth a shot if you’re running a Windows machine though. Comment and let me know how it goes!

Why I don’t use Dragon Naturally Speaking for writing

The way you hear people talking about Dragon Naturally Speaking in writing circles, you’d think it was a magic productivity bullet that lets people write tens of thousands of perfect words a day. Well I’m here today with a dissenting opinion.

My Dragon background

Let’s get something out of the way first. I’ve been using Dragon Naturally speaking for a long time. Like we’re talking my dad used the first versions of Dragon back in the late ’90s for dictation in his law practice. From those early days and on through college I worked with the program fixing transcriptions for extra money here and there. When I started self-publishing in 2014 I used Dragon as a productivity booster that allowed me to bang out rough drafts by dictating into a recorder on my commute.

The point is I’ve been using Dragon Naturally Speaking for a long time. Whenever I say a bad word about the program there are inevitably people who come along and tell me I’m not using it correctly or I’m not training it or blah blah blah. I’ve been using this program since the beginning, and I spent a good year training it when I first started making money from my writing.

And I’ll never use Dragon Naturally Speaking to dictate something that will eventually land on someone’s ereader as a finished draft I’m selling.

Why not Dragon?

I have a few reasons. Some are particular to me. Some are things that every writer should think about before using Dragon to create a finished product.

Dragon will never be perfect, and you’ll never catch all the errors it introduces

This is the big one and this is the dealbreaker for me. Dragon is great and it’s always getting better. What you get today is so much better than what it was back in the good old days. It is impressive.

The problem is it still isn’t close to perfect. I spent a year working with Dragon and training it. I’d dictate on my drive to and from work and then I’d spend my lunch hour and evening hours after the wife and kid went to bed going through and painstakingly correcting all the errors Dragon made.

I’m not talking about things like homonyms either, though that was an annoyance. No, Dragon had an annoying habit of inserting random articles into the text. So I would say “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” and Dragon would give me “the a quick brown fox the jumps over the lazy a dog.” No matter how many times I corrected these errors, no matter how clearly I enunciated into my mono mic placed at a uniform distance from my mouth attached to a recorder with six stars of compatibility on their list, they cropped up.

Errors like that are a real bitch to ferret out on an editing pass. I have stories that I’ve gone over a couple of times, sent to alpha and beta readers, had an editing pass done, and I can still go back and look through them and find Dragon’s random words inserted here and there. Compare that to typing where I can bang out a clean draft on the first try and it’s a no-brainer to move away from Dragon for anything that’ll ever see the light of day on a paying fan’s ereader.

Are you really saving time?

I’m meticulous about tracking everything I do for work. I’m constantly looking to improve my process so that I can maximize the amount of work I get done when I’m writing. I’m usually juggling a couple of projects at once and writing thousands of words a day so a good workflow is a necessity for me.

So I tracked how long it took me to dictate something via Dragon versus how long it took to type something out. With Dragon I spent roughly eight minutes dictating for every thousand words put to the page. I dictate into a recorder because I find it’s better to get my thoughts out without worrying about going back and correcting them, and that going back and correcting adds about another ten minutes per thousand words.

So already we’re talking eighteen minutes spent to get a thousand words down on the page. Then there’s another editing pass eventually which takes roughly another ten minutes per thousand words. So I’m spending roughly a half hour for every finished thousand words of product before it gets sent off to readers.

For some people that might be fast. For me it’s not. I can bang out a thousand words on my keyboard in ten minutes, and I know it’s clean copy that doesn’t have any of the aforementioned Dragon-induced typos or homonym errors. Add on another ten minutes in an editing pass and it’s twenty minutes per finished thousand words. An extra ten minutes per finished thousand words might not seem like much, but if you’re doing this as a living day in and day out for years that starts to add up and hit you right in the productivity.

Of course I’ll be the first to admit I type ridiculously fast and I write very clean first drafts. That’s not going to be the case for everyone and there certainly are authors who would benefit from Dragon. If you’re a fast typist then you’re probably not one of those authors. Getting your butt in the chair and hitting the keys will be a far greater productivity boost than using Dragon.

Dragon for Mac is a terrible overpriced alternative

I switched to Mac a couple of years ago. Most everything in the creative-industrial complex seems designed for Mac first, plus I love Vellum, so it was a no brainer. I love my Mac and for the most part everything is better than the PC version.

With one exception: Dragon for Mac. It sucks. It’s overpriced at $300. It’s not even a shadow of the program that’s offered on PC for twice the price. I got it for $150 since I called Nuance and told them I’d purchased a previous version for PC and switched to Mac, and even then I feel like it was too expensive.

Here are a list of some of the frustrations, though it’s not a comprehensive list by far:

  1. Dragon for Mac won’t accept DS2 files from digital recorders, which is pretty much the standard for dictation.
  2. Dragon for Mac doesn’t have the ability to train a mobile voice profile so your recorder transcriptions are never going to get better.
  3. Dictating directly into the computer is slow and prone to errors. I have a top end MacBook Pro with plenty of RAM and a powerful processor. Nothing should be lagging on this machine, yet Dragon does.
  4. As of their most recent update (from 2017 to when I’m writing this in mid 2018) the transcription functionality is completely broken and the program crashes every time I try to transcribe something. Yes, I’ve done all the usual troubleshooting stuff including reinstalling. It doesn’t help.
  5. The correction learning process when you’re dictating directly into the machine isn’t nearly as robust as the version you get on PC.

Seriously. If you have a Mac and you want to use Dragon Naturally Speaking you’d be better off buying the latest PC version and investing in Parallels. It’d still be cheaper than buying the seriously hobbled Mac version.

What is Dragon good for?

After throwing all this shade on Dragon I feel like I should give it some props. I still use Dragon, but as I said up above it’s never used for anything that’s going to make it to someone’s ereader. No, I use Dragon for doing outlines.

Dragon is great for outlines. I can talk into my headset while I’m driving and squeeze a little productivity out of my drives instead of listening to podcasts. The stream of consciousness stuff I get from dictation is perfect for working out an outline. I try to dictate at least a couple of chapter outlines a day, sometimes more, and being able to do it via recorder is great.

The beauty of that is no one is ever going to see my outlines, so I don’t have to worry about errors being introduced to the draft. I don’t even bother to go in and correct them. Sure some garbled Dragon speak is output when I do the transcription, but why do I care if that text is never going to see the light of day?

The takeaway

Dragon Naturally Speaking is a wonderful program. If you suffer from a Repetitive Strain Injury or aren’t the world’s best typist and have no interest in learning it’s great. Although if you are in the writing business and not interested in improving your keyboarding skills you should seriously reevaluate that decision.

If you are a good typist, though? If you don’t have some extenuating circumstances like a long commute that makes Dragon worth the hassle? Stick with the keyboard. It’s not the productivity magic bullet some claim it to be, and you might end up wasting more time than you save if you keep spending time trying to make it work.

Kindle Unlimited snafu: scammers, suspended accounts, and page read reductions

There’s a minor to major snafu going on in the Kindle Unlimited author community right now depending on who you talk to. Naturally the authors who are getting letters from Amazon about suspicious activity on their accounts, or getting their accounts suspended, are more inclined to think it’s a big deal.

Basically the issue is that the Kindle Unlimited system has a problem with scammers. There’s money in them thar hills, and like with every gold rush there are unscrupulous people looking to make a quick buck. In this case the quick buck is made by uploading “books” that are stuffed to the maximum page count and then using click farming operations to page through those books to generate page reads for an account and sponge up that sweet, sweet Kindle Unlimited money.

This is causing a few problems including:

KU payout problems

Kindle Unlimited operates with a pot of money that is paid out to all participating authors at the end of a month. So Amazon will have a pot of, say $20 million and they divide that by all the authors who got page reads in a month. The rate per page read usually hovers around $0.005 per month depending on how much money Amazon pumps into the system and how many pages were read in a month.

Seeing the problem yet? Yeah, if there are a bunch of click farmers out there who are artificially inflating the page counts with their stuffed books that means they’re taking away money from other authors. It artificially depresses the payout by crowding out legitimate authors with their ill-gotten page reads.

Authors (unfairly?) targeted

There’s another more low key and potentially more insidious side effect hitting authors over the past couple of weeks. See those scammers know that it would look suspicious if the only books their click farms paged through were their overstuffed books. So what they do to make their operations look more legitimate is they target other bestselling books and page through those as well.

By targeting legitimate books it makes their click farm accounts look more legitimate. The problem for authors is if their book happens to be targeted by one of those click farm operations it suddenly makes their book look more scammy to whatever automated bot Amazon has trawling their site looking for suspicious activity.

The upshot of all this is legitimate authors have been targeted by scammers to lend scammer accounts more legitimacy, and now those author accounts are being targeted by Amazon as scammers with consequences ranging from sternly worded emails accusing them of scamming the system to outright suspensions. There are also authors who are reporting that their page reads are being retroactively revoked for previous months. Presumably these are page reads that were generated by click farm accounts.

Who to believe?

Here’s the problem. Whenever something like this happens there’s a lot of confusion and a lot of rumors that get spread around. I’ve deliberately kept the details in this post to just the facts, ma’am, but if you’re inclined to go looking at some of the rumors then it’s easy enough to find the uproar on KBoards.

The difficulty when something like this happens is all we have to go on is the word of the author on the one hand that they aren’t doing anything scammy, and the stonewall from Amazon on the other side. There are probably some authors out there who did legitimately grey hat things to generate page reads on their books and now they’re complaining along with everyone else on the bandwagon about how they’ve been unfairly targeted. There always are when there’s a smackdown targeting the KU scam du jour.

On the flip side there are enough authors complaining about these issues that it seems highly unlikely that all of them have been partaking in click farms, wittingly or unwittingly. The thought of being labeled a scammer and having your account suspended because your books were targeted by a click farm to lend their scam legitimacy, something that you absolutely cannot control, is terrifying.

With zero transparency from Amazon about exactly what is going on and conflicting reports from authors it’s difficult to say exactly what is happening, but it seems safe to assume that there are legitimate author accounts being unfairly targeted as part of a crackdown that is casting a net that’s gone a little too wide.

What to do?

It’s a difficult call. There are a lot of authors who are talking about pulling out of Kindle Unlimited entirely and going wide. The problem with this is if your whole author strategy so far has been to rely on the ease of Kindle Unlimited then you don’t have an audience on other platforms which makes it difficult to go wide.

On top of that there’s the issue that there simply are some genres that don’t do as well wide as they do in Kindle Unlimited. A lot of authors who have come to rely on KU money are going to have a difficult time and take a severe hit right in the pocketbook if they make the precipitous move of taking their books out of KU. On the other hand if an author is facing a suspension because of illicit KU activity they have no control over there’s really no choice. Better to be out of KU with no KU money and have your Amazon account intact than in KU and risk having your account suspended and you’re out KU money and royalties.

I’d advise caution for authors reading posts from other panicked authors. If Kindle Unlimited is a significant portion of your income then be smart about whether or not you want to withdraw. Especially if you’re relying on that money. Take the time to build yourself up on other stores and build up alternate revenue streams. Don’t do something precipitous that’s going to leave you unable to pay the bills and put food on the table because you’re making a decision from a place of fear.

Parting thoughts

Amazon should be more transparent about what is happening. That’s not likely to happen, but authors should take comfort in the knowledge that Amazon does tend to do the right thing by legit authors in the long run when these crackdowns hit. I think that right now there is a bot or some automated system that is inappropriately flagging some authors, but if those authors make noise and they aren’t actively participating in scams they’re going to be okay in the long run.

It always sucks when something like this happens, but crackdowns at Amazon are hardly new. There are always people who will push the extremes, and often the response swings to the opposite extreme before the dust clears and authors get on with writing. This has all happened before, and it will all happen again. Take a deep breath, remain calm, and come at this from a business perspective rather than from a place of panic and fear.

And maybe consider working on your wide game so you don’t have all your eggs in one basket for the next panic.

Test driving the Cintiq Pro 16

I do a lot of work with Photoshop. Sometimes it’s tossing together a cover. Other times I’m doing graphics for an advertisement or something. Photoshop skills are useful to have, and it’s even more useful to have a good digitizer.

I’ve been using my iPad Pro + Astropad, more on that in a post of its own, for the past year or so. Before that I had a Cintiq 22HD, but the thing was so big and unwieldy that it wasn’t pleasant to use. I do love the feel of Wacom’s products, though, and so with their new Cintiq Pro line out I decided to give the 16 a test drive.

Note that I mostly do Photoshop manipulations. I dabble in digital art, but I’m far from a great artiste or anything like that. My creative talent lies with the written word, though digital painting is one of those things I’ve always wanted to perfect on that magical far future day when I have the free time to do it.

I just wanted to get it out there where I’m coming from when I talk about the Cintiq. I’m semi-pro/hobbyist, and not the kind of person who is putting in ten hour days in front of the Wacom.

The good:

Sleek, stylish, and functional.

The Cintiq Pro 16 is fucking beautiful. It has smooth lines. The screen is quite good. One of my complaints with the 22HD was the 1080p was really showing its age even on a 22″ screen in a retina display world, but there’s none of that with the Pro 16. Even running at 1440p it was wonderful to look at.

The pen is a Wacom pen.

Enough said. There’s a reason they’re the industry leader and people have been using them despite some of the wonky issues that inevitably show up with each new generation of their products. There’s no substitute for the Wacom pen experience. At least not until their patent runs out.

Parallax

I’m talking about the annoying thing where the cursor was offset from the tip of the pen. Not a useful method for determining distance to celestial objects or a villain from the Green Lantern comics. Parallax plagued earlier Cintiq models, but it’s almost completely gone with the Pro line. Sure there was a little bit of offset, but not enough to be truly noticeable.

The footprint for the 16 Pro is way smaller.

The whole thing is smaller and sleeker than the previous Cintiq line. I was able to easily find a place for it at my writing desk which was nice for me since Photoshop is more of a side gig for me rather than the main event. If space is a concern then the 16 definitely saves it. It’s still not going to be terribly convenient to take out to a coffee shop, but if you’re serious about using a Cintiq then you’re not working in a coffee shop to begin with.

That reduced size also means that the Cintiq Pro 16 is a hell of a lot more comfortable to pick up and place on your knees. There is still cabling attached, but it’s not nearly as intrusive as the 22HD or the 13HD were once upon a time. And the USB-C connectors seem to be pretty reliable without some of the breaking issues that plagued the 13HD which should make people feel better about using this on the couch. If you have a laptop that allows you to use a Cintiq on the couch, and a power strip nearby, and a good cable management solution, and so on and so forth.

This isn’t really a mobile device, is what I’m getting at. You’ll have to pay the premium for the MobileStudio if you want that, or just buy an iPad Pro with the pencil and ProCreate or Astropad which is close enough for quick work.

The bad:

Wonky touch controls

The touch controls suck. There’s no getting around it. Moving around the canvas with two fingers works well enough, but the zoom is basically broken. You either zoom way in or not at all. The palm rejection also wasn’t the greatest even when I was wearing a drawing glove. I disabled the touch controls and found myself pining for the good old days of zooming with the touch ring, which brings me to…

No buttons

The quick buttons that lived on the side of the previous line of Cintiqs are gone. Sure it makes for a more aesthetically pleasing device, but it is something I missed since the touch controls were such crap. Wacom helpfully sells an external ExpressKey remote for about $100 if you absolutely have to have them, but for that price I had a bluetooth keyboard by my side. Why pay $100 for a few shortcuts when you can have all the shortcuts for cheaper?

USB-C vs Displayport + USB

Wacom, much like Apple, is jumping onto the USB-C bandwagon. USB-C might be the wave of the future, but Wacom fans are going to have to get in line with the Apple fans who have had to stop worrying and learn to love adapters and backwards compatibility issues.

If you have  USB-C port on your computer great! You’re good to go. If you’re like most of the current population who haven’t upgraded yet there is a solution provided in the box. They have a breakout box that goes from one USB-C wire to a USB 3.0 and Mini DisplayPort connection. This worked on my MacBook Pro even if it added more wiring to hide away, but it wasn’t without problems such as…

Resolution

Wacom advertises the Cintiq Pro 16 as a 4k screen. Which it is if you use a USB connection. If you use the breakout box with the USB/Mini DisplayPort adapter the most you get out of the box is 1440p. Which is still plenty big, but not the 4k advertised. There are posts around the Internet that claim the issue is with the Mini DisplayPort cable Wacom provides and that swapping it out for a cable that supports 4k fixes the issue, but as of this writing I haven’t had a chance to try that out.

Edit: I’ve since tried this out with mixed results. I was able to get it to work at 4k by getting a new cable, but there’s a catch. It’s wonky if you have another external monitor hooked up. I got it to work at 4K with another monitor connected a couple of times, but eventually it stopped working and I had to disconnect the external monitor which was annoying, to say the least.

Stand issues

The stand is pretty much nonexistent. There are two little kickstands on the back of the Cintiq that raise it a couple of inches, but there isn’t the adjustable stand that came with the 13HD or the Companion 2 line, and nothing like the massive desk real estate devouring stands that came with the 22HD and higher. It didn’t bother me too much, but if you’re the kind of person who sits staring at your Cintiq all day long you might want to look into a third party solution so you don’t develop any neck RSI from constantly hunching over to look at the screen.

Fan noise

There are fans in the Cintiq Pro 16. They kick on pretty quickly and run almost constantly. This faded into the background for me and wasn’t a bother, but I know there are some people who get annoyed by that so I wanted to note it. Not to mention it did lead to an even bigger issue which I’ll detail below in a section I’m calling…

The ugly:

The fans ran almost constantly. That wasn’t an issue. What was an issue was when I rested my hand on the left side of the screen, we’re talking the minimal amount of force caused by gravity pulling my hand towards the center of the earth with the screen in between at good old fashioned 9.8m/s squared, it pressed the screen down to the point that it brushed against one of those fans inside and created a godawful buzzing noise.

I can’t imagine that was good for either the fan or the expensive sensitive screen. I asked around in some Wacom enthusiast forums and other people say they don’t have that issue so it’s entirely possible it was a defect with the unit I tried out, but it’s something to be aware of.

Edit: I’ve since tried TWO other units. Neither one had the fan buzz issue. It looks like I got a slightly defective unit the first time around.

Wavy horizontal lines

This was another dealbreaker for me and apparently it’s an issue that several people have had. Every time I moved the pen near the bottom of the screen, or touched the pen to the bottom third of the screen, it would create several rows of faintly flickering horizontal lines about an inch tall and an inch across. It was prominent enough to be a distraction and an annoyance, and not the kind of thing that should be showing up on a piece of kit this expensive.

I contacted Wacom customer support about the screen issue and they were very nice and asked me to duplicate the issue, but at that point the minor annoyances in the bad coupled with these two dealbreakers in the ugly convinced me this unit wasn’t for me. Especially for what they were asking. I don’t mess around in Photoshop often enough that it was strictly necessary, especially considering I already have the iPad Pro and AstroPad, and I figure something that expensive shouldn’t have that many issues right out of the box.

Edit: I mentioned above under the fan noise that I tried two additional units. Both of those units exhibited the ghosting dark lines issue along the bottom of the screen, so that seems to be a price of doing business with the Cintiq Pro 16.

The takeaway

The Cintiq Pro 16 is an amazing looking device. It has the Wacom pen which is still the best in the industry, but the issues plaguing it mean I’m going to hold off before I give it another try. Obviously they still have some kinks to work out, and here’s hoping that they work them out in the next revision. If you already have a Cintiq it’s probably wise to wait just a bit, and if you’re using a tablet it’s not time to upgrade just yet.

eBay offer annoyances

I occasionally sell products on eBay, and I’ve noticed something interesting that comes up whenever a big ticket item is being listed. A person will inevitably contact me a couple of days into the listing and say they’re willing to pay me immediately if I delist the auction. They’re always offering less than what the item goes for if you take a look at the sold listings.

I’m not sure what to make of these offers. Do they think people are idiots? That the desire to make a quick buck will override the desire to wait until the end of the seven days for a higher price? Does the fact that they’re violating the eBay terms of service by making an offer like that outside auction channels not matter?

At first I thought it might be some sort of scam, but if it is a scam then it’s the worst scam ever. If they were trying to pull something along the lines of the old bogus escrow scam then you’d think they would try to make the offer more enticing rather than lowballing.

Which leaves me with the conclusion that nope. There really are idiots out there who think they can lowball someone on auctions and get away with it. Maybe it works with some people, but all it takes is a look at recently sold listings to know what a product is worth and that you’re getting screwed over. Not to mention going with an outside seller waives all the protections you get via eBay.

I just don’t get it.

Ready Player One is amazing

I went to see Ready Player One on Wednesday when the early bird release came out. I went to see it again last night with my wife because I loved it so much.

It’s been years of waiting and anticipation. I’ve been following the movie ever since I read the book back in 2015. I thought the book was a hilarious, rousing, sometimes poignant cyberpunk masterpiece at the time and I still listen to the audiobook version every six months or so.

And yes I realize that the book has some problems. There are a lot of information dumps and from a pure writing point of view there’s a lot of telling rather than showing, but I don’t care. I’m also not as willing to lay the sins of GamerGate at Ernest Cline’s feet the way a lot of publications seem to have done in recent years.

The book is a fun fast-paced piece of entertainment that invites you to turn off your brain for a little while, but at the same time there are some deeper social commentaries buried in there for anyone who cares to look. I think if a lot of the critics who write the book and the movie off as nothing more than supercharged nostalgia actually took the time to look at that subtext they’d see a piece of pop culture that is subtly thumbing its nose at the very critics who hate it, but that’s neither here nor there.

We’re talking about the movie. And how awesome it is. Seriously. If you were a fan of the book go see this movie. Don’t go in with expectations either. Don’t go in hoping to see your favorite scenes from the book rendered in loving CGI glory, because that’s not what you’re getting with Ready Player One the movie.

They’ve said from the beginning that the movie is inspired by the book, and I think that’s a good thing. I’ve seen a lot of diehard fans moaning and groaning that they’re not getting the point by point adaptation of the geeky deep cuts they’ve always been hoping for, but that was never going to make a great movie. The general public and the average moviegoer has probably never heard of Zork or The Tomb of Horrors or any of the other stuff that forms the backbone of the book’s plot.

What the movie does give us is a fun ride that resembles the hunt presented in the book. Sure there are still pop culture references, but they’re the sort of thing that a wider audience is going to pick up on. It’s the sort of fun that allows that wider audience to be in on the fun rather than walking out of the theater confused and wondering why the hell they just paid $30 per ticket to see a geek standing at an arcade cabinet playing an ancient video game with a creepy skeleton.

The great thing is those deep cuts are still there, but they’re hanging out in the background where people familiar with the novel can pick up on them. Rush 2112 shows up in the background a few times. There are games and ancient computer systems that appear faster than you can see. I spotted a “Re-Elect Wil Wheaton” poster next to a “Re-Elect Mayor Goldie Wilson” poster from Back to the Future which is a fleeting nod to one of the funnier throwaway lines in the book.

All that stuff is still there for anyone who wants to go looking for it.

The point is Ready Player One is a movie. it’s been adapted for the screen. Go in with that expectation and you’re going to love it.

Because the movie is amazing. It’s a visual treat. There are so many references that fly by so fast that even watching the movie twice I was still picking up on things I didn’t see the first time around. This movie is going to be a joy for the kind of people who love picking apart pop culture.

If that’s all the movie was then yeah, it would be the very thing that a lot of critics accuse it of being. A pop culture greatest hits list flashing by at a reference a second overloading people on a nostalgiagasm to the point that they don’t realize what they’r watching is empty fluff.

That’s not the case though. There’s plenty going on to elevate it above the mere fluff that so many people seem deadset on making it out to be. The Spielberg touch makes the relationships between the characters feel far more substantial than they did in the book. I actually prefer the way they come together in the movie to the way they did in the novelization, and there are a lot of rough edges that are sanded away in this version.

The plight of the average Internet user pitted against the evil corporation that wants to use a wonderful resource that’s freed humanity to turn around and sell stuff has also never been more relevant than now when we’re increasingly facing a world where corporate interests are using the levers of government to push an anticompetitive agenda as they monetize away everything that made the Internet great.

Ready Player One is a story that still has a lot to say, and the movie delivers it in a tight fun visually stunning package that feels like it goes by way too fast despite clocking in at nearly two and a half hours. Seriously, if ever there was a movie that might’ve benefitted from the otherwise egregious Hollywood practice of splitting books into multiple movies it’s this one. The one complaint I had about the movie was that the plot felt a little rushed and hurried along at times when they could’ve done more to show the passage of time.

Some of my favorite spoilery moments, you’ve been warned, below:

  • Mark Rylance’s portrayal of James Halliday stole the show. Seriously. It was a revelation that tugged at the heartstrings. I was nearly in tears at the end when he said “Thanks for playing my game.”
  • “It’s fucking Chucky!” has to be the best use of a PG-13 f-bomb since Wolverine’s cameo in X-Men: First Class.
  • I really enjoyed the changes they made to Samantha/Art3mis. She took a more active role, was warmer and less standoffish, and having them meet halfway through the movie rather than at the end made their whole relationship arc seem more plausible. She always took an active role even in the book, she was never the hero’s prize that some critics who obviously never read the book claim, but having her work with Wade earlier felt better and made the romance more believable than the standoffish romance they had in the novel.
  • It was nice that they didn’t off Daito. The Daisho character development was about as thin as in the novel, but there were plenty of ways of proving how evil IOI was within the context of the film without offing one of the High Five.
  • It seemed like the movie world was a little less dystopian than the book world. That might be that there wasn’t enough room to show it considering everything they had to pack into the runtime, but everything felt a little less bleak.
  • Mechagodzilla. Holy. Fucking. Shit. I was worried that Toho might not play ball considering how protective they are of their biggest international star (the 1998 movie notwithstanding), and it was a pleasure to see Mechagodzilla. And what an appearance! The design was beautiful, and the fight was one of the greatest kaiju battles ever put to film.

Go see this movie if you’re a fan of the book. Go see it even if you’ve never read the book. It’s seriously awesome, and well worth the ticket price.

Skyrim Switch game-breaking frustration

I picked up Skyrim for the Nintendo Switch when it came out a couple of weeks back. I’ve been on board with the game since 11/11/11. I waited in line to get a copy at GameStop because I still hadn’t used Steam all that much and thought it’d be faster to get a physical disk, not realizing that the physical game only had a copy of the Steam installer.

I went to a conference for work the day after the game launched and spent most of my first night playing the game. I’ve modded it to hell and back on PC and played several different builds logging more hours than I care to commit.

I love that game, is what I’m getting at, and so it seemed like a no brainer to pick up a copy for the Switch. I was even pleasantly surprised. It looks damn good for being on a relatively underpowered console. I never felt like I wasn’t getting the full Skyrim experience even if I couldn’t mod it to kingdom come.

Sometimes nodding a game to peak performance on a tricked out gaming PC is nice. Sometimes it’s nice to have a version that you just pick up and play.

At least it was nice until I got to the game breaking bug. It started with the Companions quest line. I took a job from Farkas to clear out a dungeon. So far so good. The problem was I got there and the named boss in that dungeon was already dead because I’d already cleared the dungeon.

I did some searching online. I discovered that this is an issue that’s affected all the console versions of Skyrim. Dungeons respawn after thirty days, but named dungeon bosses don’t. So if you get a quest to kill a boss in a dungeon you’ve already cleared you’re screwed. This is a bug people have been complaining about for six years and yet they couldn’t be bothered to fix it for the Switch release.

If you’re playing the PC version the fix is easy enough. Open the console and either bring the boss back to life or mark the quest as complete. On the console your only recourse is to either go back to a save point before you took the quest and wait long enough for a different objective to show up from that character or go back to before you cleared the dungeon. Though there are instances where this is impossible because there are dungeons that show up in multiple quests and you have to pick what h quest line you want to advance.

Also? You totally let e all progress if you have to reload from a previous save. There are no good options.

This is inexcusable. The game has been out for six years now. They’ve known about this bug since the beginning because there are forum posts going back to 2012 complaining about the issue. And yet they shipped a new console version going for $60 that has this game breaking bug.

It’s frustrating. I wanted to enjoy Skyrim on the Switch. It was enjoyable until I ran into this bug, but I’ll be going back to PC as I don’t know when I’ll run into another one of these bugs or when it’s going to break another quest.

Help save Net Neutrality

Please take a moment to read this. Think about Comcast. Think about AT&T. Think about how much you hate their service already. I despise these companies. Comcast couldn’t provide me the cable service I paid for and I spent weeks on the phone with their customer service and never got it fixed. AT&T can’t get reliable Internet to my house and they’ve stopped even caring about trying to fix it.

Seriously, fuck those fuckers. Now imagine a dystopian world where they can charge you extra for the sites you already visit.

Want to use Facebook and Twitter? You need the $10 Social Media package.

Want to use Netflix and Hulu? That’s an additional $20 for the streaming package.

ISPs are trying to legislate anticompetitive laws that consolidate their monopoly on the Internet in the U.S. This is a bad thing. An open and free Internet is the engine that has propelled the economy for two decades now, and they want to shut it down.

Are you a writer? Do you make your money by publishing your stuff on Amazon, iBooks, or any of the other ebook sites that have popped up in the past decade and revolutionized publishing? You bet your ass losing Net Neutrality is going to hit you eventually. I’m not sure how, but it’s not going to be good. We’re looking at our business model being upended and potentially destroyed because these large companies can’t compete in the free market so they’re resulting to using the government to strongarm their competition.

Free market my ass.

It takes five minutes to call your representatives. You should do it. Unless you like being fucked in the ass by your cable provider.

Brightness in Skyrim for Nintendo Switch

I love roleplaying games, and Elder Scrolls games are like catnip for me. I’ve been playing through Skyrim on Switch and so far it’s been a wonderful experience except for one small issue.

Brightness is really a problem in some dungeons. Like it’s seriously to the point that you can’t see anything without a torch or using a Candlelight spell.

I did some searching around the Internet to see if other people were having this issue, and of course they are. There are people who inevitably chime in with “Hurr durr dungeons are supposed to be dark use torch lol,” but that’s not a satisfactory answer.

I’ve been playing this game since it launched back in 2011. I’ve invested countless hours and I never had trouble seeing in a dungeon on the PC version. I visited the same locations on PC and Switch and sure enough I could see fine on the PC version and not so well on the Switch. It was frustrating and ruining an otherwise wonderful port of an incredible game.

Turns out the fix is easy though. The issue is the auto brightness setting for the Switch. I’m sure it was put in to preserve battery power, but if you want to play Skyrim and actually see what you’re doing in a dungeon you’re going to have to sacrifice that battery power.

The fix is easy enough:

  1. Hit the Home button.
  2. Go to System Settings
  3. Select Screen Brightness
  4. Turn off Auto Brightness Adjustment
  5. Turn the brightness all the way up

Voila. After doing that I didn’t have nearly as much trouble seeing in Skyrim’s many very dark locations. Hope that helps you out if you’re enjoying portable Skyrim on the Switch!

Ten years without Robert Jordan

I noticed awhile back that it’s been ten years since the passing of Robert Jordan. I was surprised to see that it had been that long. I guess I’m getting to that point in my adult life where things that happened ten years ago still feel like they only happened yesterday as opposed to the eternity that would’ve seemed when I was younger.

I was super obsessed with The Wheel of Time when I was a teenager. I’d chatted with a few people who were obsessed with it over ICQ, which is another line that’s dating me, and I eventually decided to pick up The Eye of the World near the end of my sophomore year of high school. I still remember going out to dinner with my family one Friday night when I was near the end and instead of going in shopping with them like I usually did after dinner I sat flipping pages in my mom’s car reading by the dome light and having my mind blown as I finished EotW.

Jordan’s work was a revelation at the time, and I think it’s one of those things where he was so revolutionary and there were so many people who moved to copy him after the fact that a lot of people look at Wheel of Time now and find themselves wondering what the big deal is.

It’s difficult to describe if you weren’t around the fantasy fandom at the time, but it was nothing short of amazing. Strong female characters. A subtle depiction of a world where women hold the power. I always found it endlessly amusing that people criticized Jordan’s female characters by calling them shrill, shrews, commanding, demanding, etc., and never once do the people leveling these criticisms seem to have the introspection to ask themselves if they would level the same accusations at their fantasy heroine if she was a hero.

Jordan had a well thought out world that felt lived in. He had an intricate magic system where, as he said in a signing I attended, the magic is their technology. He took familiar fantasy tropes and turned them on their ear.

Sure the books start to plod after about book five. Sure it felt like the plot was spiraling out of control with new characters being introduced when you wondered why he wasn’t just wrapping the damn thing up. Sure some of the descriptions can get a little samey after awhile, and he had an obsession with fashion that was a bit odd.

But I still think they’re wonderful books that are well worth exploring. They were groundbreaking in their day, but even these days they’re still a fun read. Maybe skip Crossroads of Twilight since nothing of consequence really happens in there.

I had an opportunity to meet Robert Jordan when he was on tour for Knife of Dreams. I’m so glad that I took the time to go to that book tour because it turns out that was the last one he’d ever go on. He had a presence that filled the room. A severity and an attitude that said he’d been on enough of these tours and dealt with enough fans trying to get him to reveal something that he wouldn’t put up with nonsense, but he still made the room laugh.

At the signing he said he was planning one more book in the series, and that he would make the publisher put it on the shelves even if it was a foot long. Which is a little ironic in hindsight considering they ended up splitting the book into three after his death. He did a rundown of how to pronounce the names, and deftly handled a Q&A where it was clear there was a room full of fans who were eager to get him to reveal something or catch him in a “gotcha” question.

When it came time for the signing itself everything was brief. We got up and I bought hardcover copies of Eye of the World and Knife of Dreams for him to sign. I could kick myself, because once we got to the signing I saw other people there who’d brought giant bags full of their hardcover collections for him to sign. I’d been building my own hardcover collection from used bookstores at the time and I had everything but The Dragon Reborn at that point. Of course the signing was a good three hours away from where I lived so there was no way I’d be able to go back and get those books, and while he was happy to sign more than two books the people who did that had to wait until the end of the night so it’s not like it would’ve been workable.

When I got up to his table he hit me with a look that I can only describe as piercing and severe, but not unfriendly. I stammered something out about how much I enjoyed his books, nothing profound from me meeting this particular hero, and then he signed the books and it was over.

One other thing we remarked on at that signing was how thin he looked. He was definitely more gaunt than he appeared in his book covers, but my friend and I who made the drive out there assumed he’d been losing weight for health reasons or something. It wasn’t until after the tour that his diagnosis was announced and the world realized how bad it was.

I still remember sitting in a computer lab in college browsing Digg, another tell as to what an old fart I am in Internet years, when I read the news that he’d passed. It was a surprise as they’d been optimistic and upbeat in all the updates, but not a huge surprise since his disease didn’t have a great prognosis.

The fantasy world lost one of its giants that day. I still wonder what might have been if he’d been allowed to finish the series. Brandon Sanderson did a wonderful job of tying up a series that had too many dangling threads to count, but fantasy fans are always going to be left wondering how Jordan’s take would’ve turned out.

To Robert Jordan. One of the greats. I’d say he was gone too soon, but it seems like he lived a long and fulfilling life and will be remembered fondly by fans and those who knew him, and can you really ask for more than that once you’ve shed this mortal coil?