Valiant Comics

Those who know me know that I enjoy reading comics now and then. Just recently I started to see some Marvel titles drop off my pull list because either the series had ended (She-Hulk, Amazing X-Men, Ultimate Spider-Man) or I didn’t find the series that interesting anymore (Ant-Man, Uncanny X-Men, All-New X-Men).

Marvel has decided to shake things up with an event called Secret Wars which will see the end to of the 616 and Ultimate universes. Usually these events require the reading of multiple different tie-in books along with the main event book itself. As usual I’ve decided to sit this one out but I’m starting to realise this event is going to be bigger than your average Marvel event. Instead, I’ve taken a bolder approach. I’m down to just 3 Marvel titles on my pull list: Hulk, Ms Marvel and, my favourite, Daredevil. I think Hulk may be done for now anyway because of Secret Wars. That leaves me with just 2. Instead of adding more Marvel I’ve decided to branch out a bit and look at other publishers. I’m not a DC fan and they seem to be having some huge event going on right now, too. I like Image and read Saga in trade paperback. If you’re over 18, read comics and you’re not reading Saga then you need to rectify that now! I was subscribed to the amazing Alex and Ada from Image but I’m sad to say that series is coming to an end with the next issue.  As for other Image titles, I’ve found them to be very hit and miss plus I’m looking for some books that inhabit the same universe.

Valiant Next

Valiant appeared on my radar recently with their Divinity mini series. I read up on their background and they have their own very manageable universe with only 7 or so ongoing titles. Better yet they launched the current universe as recently as 2012 so it’s not too daunting to catch up. I started with Archer and Armstrong and loved it!  It was everything a comic should be: great stories, fantastic characters, amazing art and damn good fun. The series ended at issue 25 and I’m all caught up. I’m now reading Ivar – Timewalker, Ninjak and Bloodshot Reborn while I catch up on Harbinger and X-O Manowar. The thing I like about Valiant Comics is that it’s a young universe with only a few titles and the odd miniseries. The mini series stories are only 4 or 5 books long and pull in character combos from the other titles. Plus they’ve gone on record as saying when someone dies in a Valiant comic they stay dead. No Lazarus Pit or crazy retcon to save them. It also doesn’t hurt then when you buy their books digitally through Comixology you can also download a DRM free cbz copy to keep on your hard drive so all your books are backed up.  So now my pull list contains 2 Marvel titles and 3 Valiant titles with more to be added soon I’m sure*. If you’re tired of the Big Two comics companies and want to try something  new then I highly recommend Valiant Comics.

*I also subscribe to the outstanding Bandette from Monkey Brain Comics. It’s only $0.99 and comes out every few months but it’s still a delight.

Less Distractions

I’m on a social media diet. It started with me uninstalling Facebook and Twitter from my phone, then not using the mobile sites.  I then found myself thinking no one would likely be interested in my ramblings on Facebook and, to be honest, I’m not particularly interested in 90% of what I see on Facebook or Twitter. So, for now I’ll not be using either of those sites and I got rid of Instagram for a while, too.  It’s amazing how often I’ve found myself going to pull up one of those sites on my phone or PC before stopping myself. I’ve been reading books and comics a lot more recently and I have some documentaries and movies to catch up on so maybe I can use some of that useless time in those activities.

I’ll probably write more here but really it’s for my own benefit. I find writing here gets me to think more about what I want to say rather than just spewing it out onto social media.  We’ll see how long this lasts, shall we?

Pebble Watch Review

Background
When the Pebble was announced back in 2012 I was a little sceptical. Do people really need to be that connected? Are we so lazy we can’t take our phones out of our pockets? I liked the design features of the watch (long battery, water resistance, light weight) but I didn’t think I was ready to throw down almost $200 Canadian for a novelty wrist watch.  My dim view of wearable tech increased upon the launch of the Samsung Galaxy Gear. The promise of a Android system on your wrist in the form of a bulky, heavy looking, brightly coloured watch just held no appeal for me.

Over the past couple of years I’ve slowly changed my mind while keeping an eye on this quickly growing new sector of the hardware market. My phone usage habits and the recent drop in price of the Pebble prompted me to re-think the idea of a wearable device and so I dropped $119 on a Pebble watch to see what all the fuss was about.

The Good
I don’t usually pay too much attention to packaging but I have to admit I love the tiny little box the Pebble arrived in and the way everything was packaged so neatly inside. It reminded me of the way the Kindle was packaged and so easy to unbox and start using.  The watch itself feels easily just as light weight as my treasured Casio Calculator CA53W watch although the watch face itself sits a little higher on the wrist.  Very soon after opening, the watch was powered up and I was able to load apps and watchfaces from my bluetooth connected phone using the Pebble app.  So far I have no complaints over the range of apps and how easy they are to configure. I won’t go into much detail about individual apps but I will call out a couple of my favourites so far:

Roku Remote – I’ve used this a few times instead of getting up and hunting for where the kids may have stashed the remote.
Google Authenticator – This is much more convenient way for me to access my 2FA codes for Google and Lastpass and will also work if I’m not in possession of my phone. I don’t like to think about the possibility of my phone being stolen but should that ever happen I’d be able to access my accounts easily from the nearest internet enabled PC/Device using the codes on my watch.
Tea Steeping Timer – All too often has a cup of Green Tea been ruined by over-steeping. No more is this the case!
There’s also a crap tonne of apps for the exercised inclined folks out there. Most allow easy access to data while running, cycling, swimming, etc so you don’t have to go digging in your sweat pants pocket.

In addition to these apps I can choose a watchface from one of the thousands available online. I can also remotely control my music/podcasts/audio books using the built in Music app. This may sound like a first world problem but I do find it annoying to dig my phone out of my pocket to pause my audio when one of my kids comes in to ask me something. I’m usually telling them to go and ask their mum most of the time but it’s nice to have my audio paused while I do that. I can now pause my music by pushing a couple of buttons on my watch even while I’m doing the dishes because look….how cool is this???

Another built-in app is the notification system that allows me to take a quick glance at incoming email and “Dismiss”, “Archive”, or “Display on my Phone”. I can also do that with SMS and, with the beta firmware installed, Google Hangouts. For SMS and Hangouts I can choose a template reply such as “OK”, “No”, “Sounds good”, “LOL”, “On my way” and a bunch of others including emoticons.

The main things I like about ereaders is the crisp, glare free, easy to read display and the amazing battery life. Both of these features also shine with the Pebble. The screen is very readable in daylight and a quick shake of the wrist will light the display in darkness. The battery life is insane. I’m 4 days into my first charge and I’m still at 60%. That’s also while I’ve been playing around configuring it, don’t forget.

The Bad
I only have a couple of gripes with the watch. The first one isn’t really too much of an issue with the functions as it is with the design. I can’t speak to the comfort of the Pebble Steal but the strap on the basic model is a little uncomfortable, at least for me. I can go most of the working day without noticing it but by mid-afternoon my wrist becomes a little sore and I find myself taking it off. It’s due to the bulky clasp, guard and thick material used for the strap. I was considering returning the watch because of this but that was before I had really dived into app market. I’ve now opted to go with a different strap.

My other complaint is that I had to tinker a fair bit with the watch to get the auto replies and notifications working the way I wanted them to with Google Hangouts. I had to install the beta firmware and phone app and it’s all good now. It looks like these features will show up before too long for all other users.

Conclusion
I got the watch knowing I could return it to Futureshop for a full refund within 14 days. Aside from the comfort issue with the strap I haven’t really considered doing so. I’m pretty sure I’ll be sticking with it and exploring more apps from the Pebble market place. The company have hinted at newer hardware out later this year which initially made me second guess purchasing the current model. However, any future device has still not been officially announced and would likely be more expensive than the current watch. There’s also no guarantee I’d like the direction they go with the newer hardware so I’m happy to go ahead with this first generation version.  All in all I’d say the watch is a good buy but I would issue this word of caution for anyone considering it: It’s a passive device. That’s one thing that I think helped me to wrap my head around getting one. Don’t expect it to change your life as much a smart phone or tablet has. This is not something to occupy you the way a those devices do. A phone or tablet is something you go to to use, play and create with. A wearable is something that merely delivers data to you and doesn’t offer many input capabilities but that’s ok. That’s the way it’s meant to be and I think the devices that will be successful in this area are the ones that manage to walk that line well.

**UPDATE:  My wrist must have become accustomed to the strap as I’ve had no issues the past couple of days.**

Another Adventure in Cord Cutting

Shaw are bonkers but I love it. Last year they gave me 25Mbps internet for a promotional period of 6 months. Regular price $60 but I would only have to pay $30.
When the promotion was over they said if I added cable I could jump into another 6 month promotion at $50 so I did that. I was saving myself $10 by adding an extra service I wouldn’t use. The cable box sat at the top of my closet gathering dust.
Well, now that promotion is at an end. I called to cancel the cable TV portion and they said that rates are increasing come 2015 so my original 25Mbps internet only service is going up and will be $67 per month starting in January. Then they say I can get into another promotion. This one is $60 per month and I’ll get 50Mbps internet, cable and landline phone. I said yes and so my cable box will stay at the top of my closet and go unused, along with the landline phone while I enjoy faster internet and then I’ll have another chat with them around June.

Comics

Below is a list of what I’ve been reading month to month. The list is subject to change but most titles have stuck around for quite a while now.

Amazing X-Men – I wanted to read an ongoing X-Men title and this one just so happens to have Nightcrawler, Ice-Man and Firestar on the team roster. Couldn’t say no to that. So far the story arcs have been mediocre but I’m going to stick with it a while longer.

Alex & Ada – A first rate ‘non-capes’ comic from Image about a guy who’s been given a female android as a gift and helps her become sentient. Pretty gripping with a great synergy between light storytelling and simple art.

Bandette – A delightful romp about a mischievous thief. Sometimes I have to wait months between issues but it’s a treat every time a new one is out. At $0.99 a pop it’s great value for money.

Black Science – A darkly, wonderful sci-fi story of the dimension hopping kind full of surprises and amazing artwork.

Daredevil – My favourite, bar none. Mark Waid has been killing it as writer on this one. The artwork is first class and the character is one of the most well developed and interesting ones in the superhero genre.

Hulk – I’m a sucker for a hero with struggles (see Daredevil above). Hulk can be hit and miss sometimes but when he hits he smashes!

Saga – What can I say? An epic sci-fi/fantasy tale like no other. If you read comics you should be reading this. If you don’t read comics then this is one of the best ones to start with. A must read.

Savage Hulk – Another Hulk? I’m reading both titles until I decide which one to stick with.

She-Hulk – This has been a surprisingly good one. It’s written by Charles Soule, one of my favourite writers. Not a lot of people like the art style but I find it unique and refreshing when stacked up against other titles. The stories are light and fun and, like Daredevil, don’t require you to read a bunch of other ongoings to get the full benefit of the story.

Audio Books

When I was younger I’d devour a few books in a month but these days I’m lucky if I struggle through one every 6 weeks. Between work, being a dad and millions of other distractions I find myself trying to consciously book in time to read. Just tonight I scheduled some time to finally finish off a graphic novel I’d picked up a couple of months ago. I’d made it half way through, put it down then forgotten about it. That’s not a reflection on the book, though. I enjoyed it. The ending was a little rushed but it was good. No, the reason it was forgotten about is that I’ve been distracted from reading by reading. I just want to read too many things. Books, both non-fiction and fiction, essays and comics. Recently I’ve been reading fiction at work on lunch or coffee breaks and setting aside time for comics when I get home. It’s been working so far but I’ve also found another trick to getting more entertainment into my brain in the form of audio books. I’d never really bothered with them before but I recently listened to one or two and have found them to be a terrific way of passing the time when I’m doing household chores if I don’t have a podcast to listen to.

I’ve heard some people knock audio books for not being like “real books” but if you get the unabridged version and you pay attention to the story, provided it has a good narrator, than I don’t see the problem. If you’re going to argue that someone hasn’t fully appreciated a story because they’re having it read to them then I’ll be sure to pass on your opinion to the next blind person I meet. When you think about it humans began telling stories by speaking them out loud to one another before the invention of the written word. I’ve also found myself retaining things much better when listening vs reading and in a very strange way too. I’ll be passing by a place that I was once walking while listening to a podcast or book and I’ll remember the part of the show or the scene in the book that I was listening to at the time.

If you haven’t tried audio books then I highly recommend them. Ask about them when next at your local library.

Moved back to Tumblr

After running my blog from my Raspberry Pi using Ghost, I’ve decided to switch to Tumblr. I’ve done this for a couple of reasons:
1. Tumblr has way better mobile support for posting from mobile/tablet via the app
2. Upgrading Ghost is a pain in the ass!
3. I can get Tumblr to look and feel pretty much exactly like my Ghost blog which I loved the look of
Will I actually blog more? Doubtful, but I’m still tinkering every so often and this latest development has the blog in the forefront of my mind.