Well, I think we all knew that, but I don’t think we ever knew exactly how deep that river ran.
We know about me and movies – though there are bigger movie fans out there. I haven’t mentioned comic books much since that one comment about preferring that I talk about movies (I’m quite the sensitive soul, I assure you), but then again, I just don’t read them as much as I used to. The constant mega-events and reboots just wore me down, and I’ve largely turned my back on them.
And then the local comics shop that I visited perhaps once every three months opened up a shop much closer (the bastards) and now I’m an every-three-weeks-or-so guy. I don’t leave with many books. The titles I have hung onto are because of the writers more than anything. It’s the usual suspects – Kurt Busiek, Gail Simone and – especially – Warren Ellis. Well, there’s also The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, but that’s mainly because for years nobody believed me there actually was such a character.
If we’re going to drill down into the fanboy thing, the author we have to concentrate on is Ellis, whose work I was turned onto in that selfsame comic shop so many years ago. If you’re a comics fan, you’re familiar with his work: Stormfront, The Authority and multiple Marvel titles (including the amazing NEXTwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.) in the superhero genre, and more wide-ranging genre work like Transmetropolitan, Global Frequency and Planetary. He branched out into prose novels and TV projects, but keeps returning to comics. The weekly Web serial FreakAngels has wrapped, but his current series, still being published in floppy form, are Trees, Injection (which is my current obsession) and a new James Bond series aiming to take the character back to his Ian Fleming roots.
The thing about serialized storytelling (which is the state of modern comics – the one-off single issue stories have seemed to all but vanish, though Global Frequency showed Ellis can also work very well at that form) is that each chapter has to find a way to stand on its own, while still serving the greater story. FreakAngels was good at that, publishing its tale in six-page gouts. Lately, Ellis really has gotten this down to a science, as each issue – I almost called them episodes – leads up to a final image that is almost always satisfying, but still causes the reader to say “Nooooooo! I want more!” I once snottily said that every issue of Injection was too short, but each issue is so densely packed with imagery that it takes time to unpack. Ellis (and his artistic collaborators, Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire) give us tiny glimpses at a vast tapestry of a story, and like FreakAngels before it, Injection is going to provide an even better experience when it is all of a piece.
(A few years ago I went back and re-read Neil Gaimin’s Sandman from stem to stern, and was delighted at the many pieces I had not picked up on a monthly basis, but now revealed themselves when considered as a whole.)
Ellis is a writer intensely interested in futurism, and he lived his life pretty openly in the digital realm, back in the days when most of us were piddling around with an AOL account. Mailing lists, Twitter, Instagram, he was there, finding the possibilities, experiencing and recording a vast new world. He’s slowed down on that as responsibilities multiply (especially to his own health – take care of yourself, dammit! We need you!), but he still has a weekly newsletter I look forward to each Sunday.
Now if all that wasn’t fanboy enough for you, Ellis also updates us about his work habits, what he takes with him on his travels for work purposes. And every now and then he will sing the praises of something that works really well for him and suddenly I have to have that thing because Warren Ellis uses it and thinks it’s cool.
I am the guy pushing 60 who’s still wearing cargo pants. The reason why is the right thigh pocket always has this kit in it. It’s an idea I saw on a Boing Boing post once, about a designer who always carried a pouch like this that had everything he might need on a typical day. Markers, measuring tape, small flashlight, the like. I thought, that is absolutely something I should do. Immediately went over to Amazon and bought the very same zipper pouch, the Maxpedition Micro Pocket Organizer. What you see poking out of the mesh pocket is one of Ellis’ gewgaws, the Nightcore Tube flashlight, which is rechargeable and insanely bright. The only drawback is also its strength: it is small, and once I lent it to my son, who immediately lost it. I lost no time in ordering its replacement, it is so handy. There’s also a lens cleaning cloth and a Swiss-Tech flat multi-tool, which is fairly useless but it was a gift from my flashlight-losing son. It’s meant to be carried in a wallet, but I already have too much crap in my wallet.
And in case you were wondering, this is the interior:
From left-to-right: 4-in-1 screwdriver, pencil, Leatherman 831207 multi-tool, 4-inch adjustable wrench, marker, Streamlight LED flashlight, and a clasp knife from my collection (which means at any given time I’m carrying three knives. Come at me, bro.) In the back pockets are yet another lens cloth and some braided paracord. I do like being prepared. The wrench and paracord are the only items I’ve never had cause to use. Yet.
Big deal, you’re thinking, you’ve found a kit that works for you, and it has a thing one of your favorite writers once said was cool. Yeah, you’re some fanboy.
We haven’t gotten to the Pebble yet.
I was one of those people who wasn’t interested in the idea of a smartwatch. They seemed like expensive toys, way out of the reach of my pocketbook, like a sports car or a curved TV set. I had stopped even wearing a watch, because I had a smartphone and I’m almost always in the presence of one computer or another with a clock in the corner.
Then Ellis waxes rhapsodical about his Pebble Steel. Not once, but twice. And suddenly, ridiculously, I feverishly desired a Pebble. My life would simply be hellishly incomplete without one.
Fortunately – or unfortunately, depending on how you approach the story – the original version of the Pebble, only slightly removed from a successful Kickstarter campaign – is pretty affordable, especially if you buy it used. I thought $35 was a fair price to find out if it was actually as good as Ellis said, and I could actually afford that.
The screen is not very bright – it’s a grayscale LCD e-paper display. It has an accelerometer so if you flick your wrist, a backlight comes on for a few seconds, so it’s usable in dark environments. It has various downloadable apps and watchfaces. It vibrates whenever you get a call, text message, or alert from any number of smartphone apps you choose.
Ellis likes it because it allows him to judge if he should engage immediately with an alert or if it is something he can deal with later without physically checking his phone. He claims it’s improved his phone’s battery life by one-half or more. And the Pebble itself, with that e-paper display, can go five days without a charge. It’s also waterproof, which starts getting into the realm of James Bond shit, unless you also have to wash dishes and it’s kind of refreshing to not have to take the expensive gizmo off when you do so. I even wore it into the shower once, just to prove I could. But that felt so freaky I never did it again.
After just a couple of days, I was sold on the damned thing. It turns out that pulling out your phone and turning it on just to see the time is actually a lot of wasted motion. It also appealed to me that I could see the weather and temperature outside if I chose the right watchface (that sort of functionality quickly supplanted the geeky novelty of the one that duplicated the Star Trek LCARS display). Yeah, yeah, I could just look outside but the Day Job is inside a server farm and I might as well be in Hitler’s bunker for all the windows I have access to.
The one fly in the ointment was that the e-paper display could get famously buggy, and I’d have to switch back and forth between watchface and an app to clear it out, sometimes several times. Well, I thought, that’s what you get for buying a used one. So I saved up my birthday and Christmas gift cards and ordered a new version of the one my hero wore, the Pebble Steel. The original Pebble felt and kind of looked like that first digital watch I bought back in the late 70s, all black plastic and rubberized watchband.
Here’s the thing, though: like I said, the e-paper display was notorious for its instability. The first Steel I got wouldn’t even charge (and the charger is a different configuration between various generations of the device, so I couldn’t even determine if it was the cable or the Steel itself). The replacement charged up, but the display was even worse than my original Pebble. After trying various remedies found on Pebble’s forums, I finally went straight to them, and they very kindly sent me a new Pebble Time, which was their current iteration. They also offered to send me another Steel if I preferred, but when you’re offered a First Class Upgrade, you take it.
The Time has a color e-paper display, and though the body is still plastic, it looks classier. There’s yet another charger, but this time the port is positioned to also accept something called smartstraps, which I think is putting me back in the expensive toy category. The Time already does everything I want it to, and more.
A major major advantage is that I mute my phone whenever I am shooting video, or performing in a show. I don’t always remember to turn it back on. I might have missed calls from my wife or my mother if it weren’t for the Time alerting me (I also take unseemly delight in looking at a phone number on the watch and pressing a button to sent it straight to Voice Mail). Sometimes I can’t respond to my phone’s reminder for me to take my evening meds, and I wound up forgetting to take them entirely. The Time allows me to set another alarm for every day to remind me to take my damned old man pills. The accelerometer tracks my steps in a day, so I can try to take more. I’m never going to worry about leaving my phone somewhere again because the Time buzzes whenever I pass out of Bluetooth range. It has a countdown timer and a stopwatch, both things I used to haul out my phone to access.
So yes, Warren Ellis was right about that one, too. It’s a terrific tool. I just hope the next time he finds something wonderful and useful, it’s back in the ten buck range again.
POSTSCRIPT: Judging from his Twitter feed, Richard Kadrey is now wearing a Pebble. I was doomed to this course of action in any case.