A Song Appropriate For the Day

Happy Valentine’s Day, you crazy kids.

(The band, incidentally: First Aid Kit. The song is off this album.)

Big Idea Submissions Update

For all of you waiting to hear if I have Big Idea slots through April:

I have your e-mails and will (hopefully) do all my scheduling through April tonight and tomorrow.

Don’t panic!



Playing With Camerabag 2

I use Flickr to host most of the pictures that are here on Whatever, and one of the nice perks of Flickr is its integration with Picnik, an online photo editing suite with some nice features and filters. Unfortunately, Picnik is going away soon, a victim of integration with its parent Google, and now I’m left to find a replacement suite for quick-and-dirty photo filtering. I use Photoshop for serious photo editing, but a lot of the time I don’t need serious photoediting, I just want something to make the picture look different. It’s been ironically easier to find apps for that that on a cell phone (I use Vignette most of the time) than it has been on the computer proper.

A couple of days ago I stumbled upon Camerabag 2, a photoediting suite that has filters, frames and editing tools, with a relatively simple scheme for mixing and matching each. I have to say I’ve been pretty pleased with it. The mix-and-match aspect of it is especially nice; some of the other photo filtering programs I’ve played with have not made it as intuitive to put one filter on top of another and tweak both. The program fulfills my need to fiddle with the look of a picture without making it a drag to do so, and I like that a lot.

In addition to a set list of styles (filters) and borders, Camerabag 2 has a category of filters called “Favorites,” which are basically preset macros of various combinations of filters/adjustments/borders. You can use them as they are or tweak them by adjusting the individual components. You can also create your own (as I did above with the picture of me and Dave Klecha) and then save them for future use. As noted before, it’s pretty easy to figure out and catch on. My one complaint is that the various “smudgy” borders don’t seem to auto-generate variations, so all the smudges/creases/whatever will be the same across all the pictures. But that’s a relatively small gripe (and seems to suggest using those borders sparingly, which I think is probably a good thing, anyway).

I’ll note that I don’t think this sort of filtering necessarily makes pictures better — we could nerd out for days about whether the Instagramming of Photography has been a bane or a benefit. I think if you start off with a crappy picture, putting an ironic 70’s Instamatic border around it isn’t suddenly going to make it good, and if you have a good picture, you can filter it down into hipster mediocrity without much effort. That said, there’s something to be said with making a photo what you want it to be, and if fiddling with it with filters and effects gets it to the emotional space you want it to be in (or, to overthink it rather less, makes it look cool to you), then why not. I think it’s a little silly to get bogged down with concerns about authenticity when you’re taking pictures of your cat.

In any event, if you like tweaking your photos on your computer but don’t want to have to break out Photoshop for every little thing, I can recommend Camerabag 2. So far, it’s been making me happy, and it gives me lots of options to play with. And it’s $25 at the moment, which doesn’t suck either. It appears available for Mac and PC; check it out.

The Big Idea: Stephen Deas

When is a dragon not a dragon? The answer is: almost never, because, dude, look at them. They’re totally dragons. But as Stephen Deas found when writing The Order of the Scales, the third book in The Memory of Flames, when you’re writing about dragons, you’re not always necessarily writing about the dragons themselves — or at the very least, not writing just about the dragons. Deas can explain it better than I can, so it’s a good thing he’s here to clarify. And he’s brought art!

Dragons come in all sorts of flavours these days, big ones and small ones, cute and, er, less cute, but they’ve been haunting our myths for a very long time, and for nearly all of that time, they’ve not been our friends or our pets or our flying steeds – they’ve been monsters. A bit of snake, a bit of crocodile, a bit of bird of prey, a bit of most of the things that used to eat us, or eat our children back in the days before we invented iPads. Dragons, for most of their history, have been metaphors for all the things we’re meant to fear. These dragons are my dragons, too. Old-fashioned burn-your-town-and-eat-your-princesses dragons. Possibly not in that order. A fire-breathing Airbus with fangs and fire and a bad attitude.

Here’s a little cartoon I drew for the second book, King of the Crags. Roughly speaking, it was meant to be a synopsis (and if the dragon looks reasonable, that’s because it used the cover art[1] for The Black Mausoleum as a guide; and if the way the people are done looks familiar, that’s probably because you read Order of the Stick too. No, I cannot draw for shit).

A year later, I found myself using the same cartoon for the US debt ceiling debacle which, from here, looked like the most spectacular piece of short-sighted political fuck-wittery I have been privileged to witness. Way to have a worse credit rating than France[2] for NO GOOD REASON AT ALL.

Back in 2007 when I started to write the Memory of Flames series, my dragons were a metaphor for my own personal end-of-the-world doom. It probably isn’t yours and I’m not going to trouble you with it, but it had nothing to do with banks or debts or the other things we all gnash our teeth about nowadays. But as time goes by, I see that what I was writing about wasn’t the big scary monsters themselves, but the willingness of our leaders play to chicken with them. So if you fancy fantasising about some short-sighted, self-serving, power-wrangling narcissists facing the comeuppance they so richly deserve, come on in, because this one’s for you. It’s the third book of three, the dragons are off their leash and they’re pissed.

[1] Art By Stephen Youll, who does the artwork for all the US Memory of Flames covers.

[2] Briefly. Cultural note: When in England, you can rarely go wrong with bad-mouthing the French. The same goes the other way. We do love each other, really.


A Memory of Flames III: The Order of the Scales: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Read the author’s blog. Follow him on Twitter.