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Live in Vegas!

While it’s true that I’ve only got a few more skills than a professionally trained monkey (hey, I’m a self-trained monkey!), you know you’ve hit the big time when you’re invited to perform in Vegas!

Those wonderfully shortsighted folks at Wacom could have chosen to file a restraining order, but instead they invited me to present at their Expo booth at Photoshop World in Las Vegas next month.   Anybody who’s read anything on this site knows that I really enjoy working with these people, so all kidding aside, it’s an honour to be included with the other names in their guest roster.

That’s me with Wacom’s Joe Sliger at the booth last year.  Seriously, what’s with all the guys in glasses and beards?

I’ve been presenting to schools and other small groups for years, have done a number of painting demos at a few different galleries, and have had a couple of occasions to be a guest presenter for Wacom webinars over the past year.  I’ve even run a small demonstration booth for Wacom on my own about a year ago during Scott Kelby’s ‘Light it, Shoot it, Retouch it’ tour when it stopped in Calgary.  This will be the first time I’ve been invited to present live at their booth at Photoshop World, however, and I’m really looking forward to it.  I’m actually quite comfortable talking to people, especially when it comes to digital painting, as I enjoy this work a great deal. In fact, the real trick is getting to me to shut up,  which is probably why the session is only 45 minutes long.  I fully expect someone to be standing in the wings with a big hook, right around the 43 min. mark, ready to pull me away from the podium. (Yeah, I see you, Wes!).

The great thing about this opportunity is that it gives me a reason to paint something brand new,  something I can show during the demo in different stages, painting a little at each stage and talking about the different ways a Wacom tablet allows me to create the work I love so much.  The bad news, however, is that I have only two weeks to complete it, which means I need to stop typing, and start painting.

For those of you who will be attending Photoshop World in Las Vegas this year, stop by the Wacom booth whenever the Expo is open.  Check the schedule on the Photoshop World site for the Expo Floor hours.  They’ll have a number of different tablets on hand that you can try and a great group of pros eager to show you the tablet ropes or answer any questions you might have.  My presentation on the Wacom demo stage will be on Thursday, September 6th, from 3:00-3:45, but I plan to be spending time in their booth at other times during the conference, helping people out.   I wonder how long it’ll take before they call Security.

 

 

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Wacom’s Bamboo Splash Tablet and ArtRage Studio

Wacom just released a new entry level tablet, the Bamboo Splash, and I had an opportunity to put it through its paces.

The Bamboo Splash tablet is designed for the amateur or beginner digital artist.  It’s perfect for kids and teenagers, allowing them to experiment with digital art without having to spend a bundle to do so. Best of all, even though it lacks the bells and whistles of the more advanced tablets, it doesn’t sacrifice much in performance.

As I draw syndicated editorial cartoons almost every day, I wanted to see if I could still get real work done using the Bamboo Splash, rather than with the medium sized Intuos5 that I use every day.

The Wacom Intuos5 is a professional tablet.  With the programmable Express Keys, the Touch Ring, high end pen, and the onscreen customizable features, not to mention the larger size, it’s unfair to compare the two tablets as they are designed for different skill levels.  As I’ve been doing this for a living for many years, I’ll admit that the Bamboo Splash isn’t tablet enough for my daily needs, but then again, it isn’t meant for me.

The Bamboo Splash tablet was simple to set up.  Plug it in; install the drivers from the CD, restart the computer and it was working flawlessly.  Visiting the preferences utility, I found that very little aside from ‘Tip Feel’ was changeable.  For a beginner, that’s ideal.  It’s ready to go, out of the box, nothing confusing.

Put simply, it’s a great device.  The Bamboo Splash has 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity, which is plenty.  While a number of people may wonder about the size, your mind figures it out fast.  I work on a larger tablet every day, mapped to two screens.  I keep all of my Photoshop tools on one screen and draw on the other.  That means I’m really only using half the tablet for drawing.

When using the Bamboo Splash, I didn’t change my screen mapping, so I was only drawing on half of the smaller tablet, too.  After a few minutes, I didn’t even think about it.  My mind just figured out that brush and pen strokes required less movement.

This cartoon (with the political commentary left out) was drawn and painted entirely with the Bamboo Splash in Photoshop and it worked very well.  While I did keep reaching for the Express Keys and Touch Ring of the Intuos5 out of habit, once I got used to their absence and reverted to using keyboard shortcuts or drop down menus in Photoshop, I was able to work smoothly and still got my cartoon out to my newspapers on time.

Trying to draw with a mouse is an exercise in futility.  You really do need a Wacom tablet to draw with a computer.  While the Intuos5 tablets and Cintiq devices will represent more of a financial investment, you’re not risking too much with the Bamboo Splash.  The tablet comes in at well under $100.  Best of all, it comes with two very nice pieces of creative software.  One is Autodesk’s Sketchbook Pro and the other is ArtRage Studio.

I spent some time with ArtRage, and it was very enjoyable to use. While it’s not designed to be a professional illustration and painting tool like Photoshop or Painter, it offers a lot to anybody wanting to try their hand at digital art.  With pencils, crayons, chalk, oils, watercolors and a number of other tools, there’s very little to limit your creativity.  It even supports layers and blend modes, and has a number of other fun tools and settings to mess around with.

Pairing ArtRage Studio with the Bamboo Splash was a great idea, because they’re both designed to allow you to create digital art, without a steep learning curve.  You can start working with both right away and if you’re like me, preferring to figure it out as you go along, you’ll be able to get pretty far without having to look through the manual.

When you do want more info, the ArtRage website has plenty of tutorials.  You can also upgrade the software to ArtRage Studio Pro and they have iPhone and iPad drawing apps as well.  If you do want to try out the mobile apps, I’d recommend the Wacom Bamboo Stylus as a drawing device to go with them.

Here’s a video I recorded for Wacom’s ‘See What You Can Do’ campaign, designed to share a little bit of my thoughts on digital painting, and to show some of the drawing and painting tools available in ArtRage Studio.

 

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No Strings Attached

The Wacom Intuos5 tablet is a welcome evolution to the line, and while I never felt that the Intuos4 was lacking in any way, it has quickly become apparent that I didn’t know what I was missing.  The new design, heads-up display for the Express Keys and the Touch Ring, along with the improved pen response are reasons enough for me to love this tablet.  The Touch features just ended up being a bonus.

One of the best new features of the Intuos5, however, is the add-on Wireless Accessory Kit.  Even though one or two of the previous tablets had wireless capability, this is the best solution I’ve seen for the feature and it’s impressive how well it works.

The instructions for using the kit couldn’t be simpler, and after charging the battery while I worked, I was anxious to try it out.  My whimsical wildlife paintings hang in galleries in Banff, Canmore, and Calgary, Alberta.  From time to time, I’ll do painting demonstrations, to coincide with a long weekend or the launch of new paintings, both of which happened in May.

The basic setup of the demo is that of me sitting behind a table with the laptop and tablet, and a large secondary display facing outward so that viewers can talk to me, but also see what I’m doing.  With the Wireless Accessory Kit installed, I was able to come out from behind the table, stand beside some of the viewers, and even let them try the tablet right out in front of the secondary display.  It was a very interactive experience for the viewers.

While that would have been enough of a successful test, I recently found myself with another opportunity when I was asked to give presentations to a couple of 7th grade classes at the local school.  This is something I do from time to time, and it usually consists of my running a PowerPoint slideshow presentation from the classroom computer, while the students watch on the peripheral smart-board.   A smart-board is an interactive blackboard sized display screen that many schools are using now.

At the end of the slideshow and talk about editorial cartooning and painting, the students always want me to draw, and I usually end up showing them some rudimentary cartoons on a dry erase board.  While it works well, there’s really no ‘wow’ factor, and I can’t show them how I paint.

For the recent presentation, I hooked up my laptop directly to the smart-board, connected the Intuos5 tablet and was able to wirelessly control the slideshow from anywhere in the room.  The range of the Wireless Accessory Kit far exceeded my expectations.  With the laptop in one corner, I could stand by the door at the opposite corner of the room and there was no performance loss whatsoever.  It was easily 25-30 feet between connections, and I could paint as if I was sitting directly in front of the laptop.

While I was well aware that I would be able to control Photoshop with the tablet, I knew that controlling PowerPoint with it was going to free me up even more.   In the Wacom Settings, I customized the Functions specifically for PowerPoint.  I programmed four of the Express Keys for the operations I would need.   In order from the top, I chose Next Slide, Previous Slide, Start Slideshow, and End Show.  While you can see a screen shot of the ‘Express View’ here, I disabled it during the show, so that it wouldn’t pop up over my slides, and I could just keep my finger on the ‘Next Slide’ button.  Under the Touch Options, I had the touch features disabled for the length of the presentation.

I use the Keynote app on my iPad for a duplicate of the slideshow with my presentation notes, and I saw no reason why I couldn’t be free of my laptop for the entire session.  Since I only needed the Express Keys for the slideshow, I put my iPad on the tablet and carried it around (with both hands, of course) activating the slide buttons with my left thumb.So I had my notes, my slideshow, a controller for the presentation and freedom to move around the room.  It is true that the iPad has apps that can control presentations like this wirelessly, but in my experience, they’re pretty twitchy, especially when connecting to unfamiliar WiFi.

As I was using the tablet for multiple applications during the presentation already, this was a great plug-and-play solution, with no problems.  When the slideshow was finished, I removed the iPad, sat down at a desk in the center of the room in front of the Smart-board, launched Photoshop and proceeded to show the students a little on how I draw and paint digitally.

The two presentations took about three hours of my time, and with the Intuos5 tablet and wireless control of the smart board, I never once needed to go back to my laptop.  The integration was flawless, and this is how I’ll do presentations and demos from now on.

If you’d like to know more about how I setup the Express Keys, Touch Ring and Radial Menu for Photoshop, check out these videos.

 Wacom Intuos5 – Express Keys and Touch Ring

 

 Wacom Intuos5 – The Radial Menu

 

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Prints and Painting Demos

This is the half page ad that will appear in this week’s Rocky Mountain Outlook, for the launch of the four new Totem paintings.

On Friday, I picked up a very large print order in Calgary, a mix of matted paper prints and canvas prints.  While the majority of these were the four newly released Totem paintings, there were also a number of replacement prints for ones that have sold, and prints for online orders that I’ll be packing and shipping today.

For the matted prints, they come assembled and in a plastic sleeve.  All I have to do is insert a bio sheet into each one, sign it and seal the packaging.  For one or two, it doesn’t take much time.  For ninety-five, however, it took a couple of hours, and thankfully, no issues with the paint pen.  Paint pens are finicky.  I’ve tried a number of them and just when you think everything is going well, they can spontaneously spurt a couple of drops of paint on a print, essentially ruining it.  On a matted print, it’s a disappointment.  On a canvas print, you end up holding back tears.  I test the pen on a scrap piece of paper before I sign each print and make sure there is no excess paint built up around the nib.  You only have to lose one canvas (and I have) to never make that mistake again.  And even with the utmost care, it can still happen.

I’ll be signing the limited edition canvas prints today.  In addition to that, I have to print up numbered certificates of authenticity for each one, and enter each on a ledger.  When you’re offering limited edition prints, it’s very important not to double up the numbers.  People are expecting that the number they buy is the only one with that designation, and it’s up to the artist to ensure that nobody ever buys the same print number.

The new prints look incredible, and I’m very pleased.  All of the proofing that I did last month with my printer was well worth it.  While I know that I can always improve on my work, I love these paintings.  It’s been over two years since I painted the first one, the Grizzly Totem, and it’s still one of my favorites, and not just because it’s one of my best sellers.

With a number of critters waiting in the wings, there will be more paintings coming this year, all of which I’m excited to get started on.  The current Totem-in-progress, a Rockhopper Penguin, is well past the halfway point, and I’ll be working on that this Saturday at Two Wolves.

Painting demos are kind of fun.  Not only do I get to educate people about digital painting (“no, I am not manipulating photos”), but I enjoy the company of the people who work at Two Wolves, and just talking to the customers and answering their questions while I paint.

I don’t get out much.  It’s a nice change.

 

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Of Paint and Penguins

Seems strange that I was excited to have a day to do nothing but paint this morning and then woke to find little motivation to do so.  Just wasn’t feeling it.  While it’s true that drawing and coloring for a living (I love saying that) sounds like the greatest gig going, and it really is, there are some days that it just feels like work.  Editorial cartooning often feels like that, especially when I’m cartooning about a political topic that I really care nothing about, but if it’s making headlines, I have to address it.  Painting, however, is usually the dessert after eating all of my veggies, so it’s rare for it not to be a welcome experience.  This morning, it felt like work, but just as I have to do with cartooning, I plowed through and managed a couple of hours, anyway.

I was inspired to put on the headset and record ten minutes of painting and talking about whatever popped into my head while doing it, though.  None of it was scripted or prepared ahead of time, although I did throw up a quick DVD ad at the end of it.  Hey, we all have to make a living, right?  Obviously, I haven’t shown the full painting here, just a closeup of the head.  At one point, I mistakenly said, ‘radial wheel’ when describing the touch ring on the Wacom tablet.  Like I said, not scripted.

Anyway, hope you get something useful out of it.  Cheers!

 

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Wacom Intuos5: The Radial Menu

Here’s the third post about the new Wacom Intuos5 tablet.

I tried to show how to customize the tablet in one video, but it ended up being over 30 minutes long.  Since most of us have trouble sitting still for that long these days, I figured I’d break them up.  The previous one was on the Express Keys and the Touch Ring, while this one is about the Radial Menu.  The third one will be all about the new Touch features on the Intuos5, saving the best for last.

So here’s the second video, hope you like it.  It’s all technical stuff, but if you’re using Photoshop and a tablet in your work, this might give you a couple of tips and tricks to customize your tablet and get the most out of it.  Probably best to watch it at full screen, too.

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Wacom Intuos5: Express Keys and Touch Ring

Here’s the second post about the new Wacom Intuos5 tablet.  While my original intent was for these videos to just be reviews, I figured I’d make them more of a tutorial style.  If you’re looking for a review of the new features, I’ll just be up front and tell you that there’s really nothing I don’t like.  In my opinion, Wacom hit it out of the park with this tablet.  I’m really pleased with it.

I tried to show how to customize the tablet in one video, but it ended up being over 30 minutes long.  Since most of us have trouble sitting still for that long these days, I figured I’d break them up.  This one is on the Express Keys and the Touch Ring, while the next one will be on the Radial Menu.  The third one will be all about the new Touch features on the Intuos5, saving the best for last.

So here’s the first video, hope you like it.  It’s all technical stuff, but if you’re using Photoshop and a tablet in your work, this might give you a couple of tips and tricks to customize your tablet and get the most out of it.  Probably best to watch it at full screen, too.

Cheers!

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Welcome to the Wacom Intuos5 Touch

One of the things that sometimes irks me about product reviews is that they can often end up being many pages long and nobody really has that kind of time anymore.  With that in mind, I thought I’d talk about my new Wacom Intuos5 tablet in a few different blog entries, this being the first, partly because I need to use it for a little while before writing about the new features in detail.

Anybody who reads this blog, has watched my DVDs or heard me talk about my work knows that I’m a big fan of Wacom tablets.  In fact, without a tablet, I couldn’t paint the way I want to paint.  I’m usually pretty ‘live and let live’ when it comes to painting software and when people ask about Painter vs. Photoshop or other choices out there, I’ll usually say to try a few of them, and see what you like best.  But when it comes to hardware, you absolutely need a tablet to draw or paint digitally, and Wacom is the gold standard.

I’ve had a number of different tablets over the years, my first one in the late 90’s.  That was the first generation Intuos 4X5 tablet, and it worked so well, that despite changing nibs and a couple of transparent overlays, the only reason I upgraded was because I’d bought a new computer.  The original Intuos had a 9-pin connector and the new computer only had USB ports.  But that original Intuos tablet never failed me over many years.

In addition to that tablet, I had a 4X5 Graphire for my laptop.  Since then, I’ve had a medium Intuos3, a medium Intuos4, a small Intuos4, and a Cintiq12wx.  The Cintiq12wx  may be smaller than the latest massive 24″ HD Cintiq (which I am currently saving up for), but it’s a great tablet for live painting demonstrations.  Sometimes, when I’m tired of working in my home office, I’ll often set up in front of the TV in the living room with the Cintiq and paint while watching a movie, too.  The small Intuos4 has always been a great travel tablet, and since I worked on that size for years at the beginning of my career, I’ve never felt hindered by the smaller work space.  If I needed to, I could still do all of my work on the small size tablet today, even the paintings.

But the tablet that fits right into the Goldilocks zone (just right!) is the medium sized Intuos.  A few years ago, when I heard they were launching the Intuos4, I remember thinking that my Intuos3 was just fine.  Why would I bother upgrading?  Of course, once I saw the  new configuration of the Express keys and the Touch Ring, not to mention those pretty blue LED lights, I knew I’d be getting one.  The Intuos4 medium has been my day to day tablet every day since it was launched in 2009 (has it been that long?) and to be honest, I’m a little sad to see it go.  It has now been relegated to my laptop bag, and I’ve donated my small Intuos4 tablet to a graphic designer friend who didn’t have one yet.

I’ve been watching videos online and read some reviews about the Intuos5 before mine arrived, so there were really no surprises about the new features.  However, hearing about it and watching somebody else talk about it pales in comparison to actually using it.  Even though I’m not going to show pics of me un-boxing the thing, because it’s already set up, one of the things I do like about Wacom products is the packaging.  The devices themselves have always felt sturdy and I’ve never questioned the quality of the materials.  But when a product arrives in slick looking packaging, it makes you feel just a little bit better about your purchase, and this tablet came in a very nice, well designed box that almost looks like a case.

All of the individual pieces, as few of them as there are, were well wrapped and configured inside.  The tablet, connection cord, pen, and pen holder (which contains ten spare nibs of different design), along with the documentation, are all that you need.  The physical look of this tablet has changed, as should be expected, but the texture of the materials is also different, although the pen itself feels pretty much the same.  The main body of the tablet now has a bit of a rubbery feel to it.  Not as pliable or spongy as the pen grip, but not the typical hard plastic of most computer components either.  This rubbery surface now completely covers the express key buttons and most of the touch ring, and the LED lights are absent.  A little disappointed those are gone, because I kind of liked them, but I really like the look and feel of this new design.

The main drawing area feels different to me as well, a little more textured, but still smooth enough for easy pen movement.  Not that I’ve ever disliked a tablet surface, but I think I prefer the way the pen feels on this surface over any that I’ve used before.  I’ll reserve my final opinion on that until I’ve spent some real time painting with it.

Apparently I’m a slow learner.  When Wacom first announced the Intuos5, I once again thought, “What could they have possibly done to make it better than the Intuos4?”

Well, they added touch features.  In my mind, that changes everything.  After downloading the new driver from the Wacom site, and restarting my computer, all of the new touch features on this tablet came to life.  I’ve never really liked track pads on laptops, as I found them too small.  What the touch features have done on this new tablet, however, is turned it into a BIG track pad, and it’s great.  I normally use the pen to navigate my way around the computer, no matter what program I’m using.  Now, I’ll only need to pick up the pen when I’m drawing and painting.

After an initial exploration of what each of the touch features does in the Tablet Properties and testing them out in Photoshop, I don’t mind admitting that I might have giggled a little.  I’m such a nerd for this stuff, and I can see having a lot of fun learning how to incorporate these new touch features into my workflow.  The whole goal with a tablet, at least for me, is to eliminate using the keyboard at all.  I’ll have to spend some time configuring and using the new features, but that’s what I’m aiming for.  I’ll talk about setting up those features in the next blog entry on this tablet, and I’ll include some video.

First impression, I love this thing, but I never expected not to, having never been disappointed by a Wacom tablet.  More later once I get a better feel for it, but right now, I want to get painting.

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Brush Design in Photoshop User Magazine

The March issue of Photoshop User magazine has now been released.  If you’re a subscriber, it went out in the mail today or you can download it on the Zinio reader right now.  In the ‘Down and Dirty Tricks’ sections, I’ve got a four page step-by-step on Designing Dynamic Hair and Fur Brushes with some tips on how to use them.  This article was a challenge to write, as I wanted to make sure that I didn’t miss anything crucial, and I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out.  While brush design in Photoshop is an art form in and of itself, this should get you started.  The rest you get from putting in a lot of time and practice.

For more on how to paint fur and hair in Photoshop, check out my DVD, “PhotoshopCAFE Masterclass: Animal Painting in Photoshop.

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Wacom’s Inkling – Lowering Expectations

Anybody who knows me or follows my work is well aware that I’m a big fan of Wacom tablets, so when I had the opportunity to put the new Inkling through its paces, I really wanted to like it.  If I drop all pretense, I’ll admit to being a little apprehensive about writing an honest review, as I really enjoy working with these folks.  But I also didn’t want to mislead any artists into buying the device and have them hold me responsible when it didn’t live up to their expectations.

The purpose of the Inkling is ingenious.  Attach a small clipped box to whatever page you’re working, use a pen device that draws just like a ballpoint pen, albeit a little larger in size, and whatever you draw is saved as a file, ready to be imported into your computer.

Let’s start with what I liked.  The device itself is elegant.  I doubt I could come up with any improvements in the case design, as everything fits together nicely, the pieces feel solid, and the case itself has a nice weight and construction.  Definitely doesn’t feel like a cheap piece of plastic that will break in a month.  While I’m normally a pencil sketcher, I did enjoy drawing with the pen.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot more that I didn’t like about the experience.  Frankly, the software is clunky.  While I’m not an engineer and can’t quite give a lot of specifics on where the shortcomings lie, it just didn’t seem comfortable to work with.  While it has a feature that records all of your strokes, enabling you to scrub or play them back, I didn’t really see the point.  Additionally, the layers didn’t really seem to work well for me, either.  I never felt the need to separate my sketches into components.

The biggest issue I had with the device is that it has serious accuracy issues.  In an effort to test this, I created a pencil drawing in my sketchbook, erased it until it was faint, and then traced over it with the Inkling pen, trying to get as clean a drawing as I could.  I created a total of four new layers, going over the same lines in places, just to test the accuracy.  Here is the result of that particular drawing experiment.

As you can see, the layers don’t line up and the recorded lines aren’t very accurate.  I repeated this experiment a few more times over a couple of days, just to make sure I didn’t bump the device or accidentally move it the first time out, and judging by the similar results, that wasn’t the case.  Even with only using one layer, the accuracy had noticeable issues.  Having imported the Inkling sketches into both Photoshop and Illustrator, I can verify that bringing the sketch and layers into both programs works as advertised.  It was a smooth import and looked the same as it did in the Inkling Sketch Manager, layers intact.  The problem seems to be in the capture itself.

In an effort to be fair, my expectations for the Inkling were pretty high, and I think the disappointment lies primarily with that.  I was expecting the same level of accuracy I get from an Intuos tablet.  If you look at the Wacom site, it says that the Inkling is  “Designed for rough concepting and creative brainstorming, Inkling is ideal for the front end of the creative process. Later, refine your work on your computer using an Intuos4 tablet or Cintiq interactive pen display.”

Using this device for solely that purpose, it works as advertised.  I did a page of rough sketches using the pen alone, the results you can see here.

If you weren’t being a stickler for accuracy and comparing it to the original sketch line by line, the Inkling does what it was designed to do.  For rough sketches and concept ideas, to simply record something you can throw into your laptop and email to a client or collaborator, it works just fine.  It just wouldn’t do what I wanted it to do, which basically was to replace my scanner.  I know a number of other artists that were hoping for the same thing, and for this purpose, the Inkling is not the right tool.

When it comes to creative tools, the goal should be to find ones that will make your life better and fill a need.  When it comes to the Inkling and my own personal workflow, I find myself struggling to invent a use for it, in order to justify having it.  Unfortunately, I can’t.  When I import a drawing into Photoshop, I need it to be clean, and I will rarely have any use for a rough unfinished sketch like the ones you see above.  Will this device be useful to others?  Yes, I’m sure that it will, but it’s not for me.