I think The Wiggles are the worst part of touchscreens. What I mean is when a button gets nervous about being tapped, so it becomes a fish and darts away. It’s when you try to choose a tool, but that tool is in a scrolly row of other tools, and the whole thing jiggles like a stapler in jelly when you reach for it. It’s when you flatten your pisiform to your iPad, and your iPad seeks, and then finds, meaning in the cant of your wrist.
This will never be perfect, no matter how many iPads you buy, because the software you’re using has modes, and options, and contexts, and therefore a need for differentiated gestures, and pressure sensitivity, and velocity tracking, and so forth, but the finger you’re using can only smear dirty meat against smudged glass with okay-ish precision.
I was starting to feel this in Penbook, because no matter what I did with its tool drawer, it was always in the wrong place with the wrong tools. Don’t get me wrong, I love the default PencilKit toolbar in every other context – annotating photos, instant Apple Notes, marking up screenshots – but when I’m taking long-form notes in Penbook, I want everything firmly tied down.
So wiggliness is Penbook’s anti-vision, and I’m its anti-visionary, in fact. And here’s my retrograde prophecy, which is about something that has already happened: Penbook now has its own tool drawer.
The best part about it is that you can create six custom brushes that persist across all your notebooks. And if you don’t like it, you can turn it off in the app’s Settings screen, and then send us a nice email with your constructive criticism.
I think you will like it, though. Between Penbook’s extra tool slots, and the color picker’s custom colors, you can take notes with beautiful color palettes without picking and re-picking tools and colors every time.
It’s certainly helped me a lot. I’m just a Chinese Room here, honestly, when it comes to working on this thing. It takes me hours – like, weeks of hours – so, weeks, I guess, that’s what weeks are – to make notes nice enough for our marketing. I had to affect a new ‘font’, because whenever I see my real handwriting, it repels me, like when you see a picture of yourself that was taken at an unflattering angle, or when you have a surprise encounter with a mirror and it just throws off your entire vibe.
It’s ironic because, you know, the app, but my penmanship is bad enough that I got in trouble for it in grade school, although it wasn’t directly due to its poor quality; rather, it was because instead of improving it, I kept turning in homework done on that tool of the Tempter, the Computer, mostly with Microsoft Publisher ‘97, but at a time when the Mentat administrators saw this as just as severe a heresy as sneaking a pocket calculator into a math test. Two memories in particular stand out, and between them it’s possible to draw an interesting distinction, because in one case, the teacher meted out the shame, and in the other, the teacher’s indifference left the rendering of judgement to my peers.
In the first case, we were to make a brochure advertising our services as mahouts, mahouts being elephant riders and trainers – we were not mahouts – and aside from the traditional six panels (three per side) made by folding an A4 paper into thirds on the long edge, the only requirement was that we illuminate our work with pencil crayons. Fine, I thought, since I could color inside lines well enough. And so at home, I put the second CD of MS Publisher ‘97 into the disk caddy – this bonus CD had the most valuable templates – wrote some copy, and spoiled the page with the vibrating, Keith Haring-esque clipart that was just so then, and after spending as much time fiddling with layouts as it would have taken me to handwrite the stupid thing – and using an awful lot of toner, in my efforts to get the orientation correct while printing the brochure double-sided – I finally had a serviceable, Personal Computer-made brochure.
And I had every intention of coloring in the garish clipart, truly, but I ran out of time (cf. double-sided printing), and when the teacher saw my work, she told me that this was not “Computer Class”, and from her sneering tone I could hear that Computer Class was a barely-tolerated deviance, like French class, or like when she had to mention a different religion in History, which she always did by fast-forwarding her voice, and she said that I was to color in and illuminate my brochure in the required Pencil Crayons after class. And in the meantime, she pinned up my brochure in the very center of the big cork board, among the work of my peers – some of whom had no Personal Computer, and some who either had the sense to not use their Computer, or lacked the sense to use one at all – where it was shamed by its blandness, alone in grayscale, surrounded by beautiful hand-colored elephants and scrolled hand-drawn borders and hand-printed block title lettering, the very best possible work from a class of fastidious sixth-grade Luddites. I imagine them now, these apprentice buggy-whip manufacturers, and how they would have just as happily chiseled at stone, and how they’ve probably grown into fulfilling lives where technology is just a subplot instead of the main storyline, where they work with their hands, or beat back the surging forest one season and then till the naked, blessed Earth the next, or something, I don’t know, I don’t have a Facebook.
The second incident was tried under the ecclesial aegis of the class’s young Inquisitor Generalis, who was the superior to a superfluity that comprised the most earnest of the Perfect Girls, my peers in only the barest sense, this convent operating at remove from the class’s secular leadership thanks to a détente with the teacher (who was paid regardless of the quantum of devolution in her classroom). This teacher assigned to us the task of decorating a terracotta pot in the style of Ancient Greece/Early Crate&Barrel, depicting a scene of our choice, and I was to face my nemesis, penmanship, on a tapered-cylinder medium that would not fit in the feed tray of my printer. Looking back now I suspect my teacher was something of a heretic herself, that maybe she had read the signs in PC World, and seen how the End Times were upon us, and then decided it was better to reign than serve, because when I asked for permission to attempt this task on the Computer, that ill seed, that fork-tongued, glowing snake, she saw in me something of an instrument. Of course, she didn’t have the assent of the reactionary element that wielded her classroom’s true power, and for my part, I didn’t know I needed it.
So when I got home I fired up Start Run MSPaint.exe and was stalled right away by the realization that being good at Computers didn’t mean I could draw with Computers, and in fact I was an even worse artist on the Computer than I was in class with my loathsome pencil. I felt betrayed by the beige box, and I saw in it my own Mr. Aloysius Snuffleupagus, a shy scapegoat who had misled me but also would not stick around to take the blame.
But since I was determined to involve him in my task, dear Alojzije and I set to play to his strengths, which were his 4X CD-ROM drive and a scuffed Encarta ‘95 disk, and from these we borrowed a 200-pixel wide .TIFF of an Ancient Greek drawing which showed, I don’t know, Ancient Greek people mouth-kissing or something, the image so wrecked with compression artifacts that the file itself seemed archaeological. And when I attempted to make the background of the Ancient Greeks Kissing tiff the same color, terracotta, as my terracotta pot, the Paint Bucket tool left an uncountable number of pixels unpainted, because, as with lossless image compression, the alpha channel had not yet been discovered, and so the background of these tongue-happy Ancient Greeks was very dusty and white-matted indeed, requiring Alojzije and me to manually change every non-black pixel to terracotta brown.
And let me tell you, when I finished, and Snuffy printed this stupid thing from his leashed Epson, the picture looked just so, so awful, completely inappropriate, a terracotta puddle under jagged black lines with some very poor white-matted anti-aliasing. I remember now touching the page, which was soaked through from the volume of terracotta ink, and how it left unsightly marks on my fingers, and smelled like chemicals. But I trundled on because, well, because I had spent a long time making this piece of crap, pixel-by-terracotta-pixel, and I had not yet faced that ego-shredding decoupling of effort and value.
So I cut out this insult and slapped it onto the side of my terracotta pot with some UHU, and its unsuitability was now total: the color was way off, because my inkjet printer, or maybe Alojzije himself, bless his passively-cooled heart but he was only a 486 after all, had let me down. But I had already used up a lot of ink, and recoloring it would have meant redoing the entire project, and it was due today anyway, so I handed it in to the smirking teacher, apologetically, but on time. And I reflected on the rhyme of history when I saw my defaced pot (the purchase of which had been secured against a promise to return it intact to my Mother for use in the garden) sitting on a shelf, surrounded by the hand-drawn work of classmates – the best pots, of course, belonging to the sisters of the superfluity. But I had confessed in front of whom I assumed was the class’s high authority, so I was humbled and at peace, and even foolishly proud of my humility.
The teacher hadn’t intended to punish me, but I also think, looking back as an adult, that some self-policing in her classroom suited her, because she did not save me when the Inquisitor herself to approached the shelf. She fixed her gaze at my pot’s place of dishonour, with her back to me, and she was still as ice. This was a long time ago but, remembering the tension of this inevitable moment, the moment when the air went unbreathable from the Inquisitor’s all-wicking zealotry, I relive it completely.
“Whose is this.” she says, without inflection and without turning – now I know with certainty that she can only be referring to my horrible pot and that she knew full well whose it was, because the blasphemy was so clearly midwifed by a Computer, and I was known as an interlocutor of heretical, thinking machines.
An acolyte, still a bit worldly and so less tempered, joins, prematurely making the bare accusation: “Did you do this.” – she mimics her superior’s affect. “You didn’t even try.” But I did try – I just failed! I had learned a lesson, and confessed. Surely that deserves mercy. The rest of the class hushes, and watches the drumhead.
I draw back from the stone face of the Inquisitor, startled – she had turned her head and then the rest of her body, towards me, without me noticing, and now she was too close. Someone leads me up the steps. The Inquisitor, and the classroom’s eyes, follow my climb up the scaffold. “Why did you cheat.” she states, and so I finally hear the charge. Here is where my mouth opens, but I don’t have time to speak. There’s a precise gesture. The floor drops beneath me. The spectacle ends, and the eyes turn into backs. I sink down, far too deep. It’s just me and Alojzije now. I did try! I didn’t mean to cheat. I just hate handwriting, because my paper becomes a mirror. I’m so sorry.
That’s all for now!