Surface: the elephant in the room makes an appearance.

I’ve been working away configuring a numeric keypad to have most of my Illustrator shortcuts crammed into it. I can tell it’s going to be really great for working in compact spaces when I get used to it. And I can do quick doodles without it; on the way to breakfast this morning, Nick joked that if his dad was a My Little Pony, his cutie mark would be a piece of Wonder Bread, and I whipped the Surface out of my bag and drew that while we were waiting in line outside Morsel.

Evernote Camera Roll 20160619 181038

I can carry Illustrator in a sketchbook-sized package, and use it in about the same amount of space I’d need to draw in one. That’s pretty cool!

But I’ve discovered a major fly in the ointment. After breakfast, I left it sitting in my bag, mostly charged. Then I went for a walk in the park, during which I wrote a first draft of a Parallax script in my phone. After about five hours, I took the Surface out, with the intent of sitting in a cafe and writing on its bigger screen.

I think it was around 80% at worst when I put it away for breakfast. After sitting in my bag doing nothing, supposedly hibernating, it was down to 30% power. 20% after I sat at home googling “surface pro 4 battery drain”. Which… has a lot of hits.

Evernote Camera Roll 20160619 181213

I can’t use it if it’s gonna be burning through power like this. The whole idea is that I have Illustrator ready to go within seconds at any moment, without having to carry the bulk of a laptop and a Wacom tablet. I don’t have room in my laptop bag for its bulky power brick, or the desire to constantly seek outlets. If I can’t get it to stop doing this, I think it’s getting returned. I really feel like a super-portable device I spent $ 1600 on should be managing its battery better; I can put my Air in my bag and feel confident it’ll have the same charge when I take it out again in an hour or three.

I’ve tried tweaking it’s advanced power settings, telling it to hibernate when I push the “sleep” button. I’d told it to do that on “lid close” and pushing the “power” button, maybe the button next to the volume buttons is actually “sleep”? We shall see. Supposedly there was an update back in February that claimed to fix this; mine is up to date and it’s still doing this. I’ve had it suggested to set it to power down completely when I hit the button and ugh no, I don’t want to have to wait a few minutes for it to boot every time I want to draw, the whole point is that I can pull it out of my bag and be drawing in Illustrator in like thirty seconds.

I really don’t want to return this Surface. I’ve spent a couple days configuring it. I’m really getting to like it a lot; it feels like it could be a great way to make drawing a lot more casual and fun. But if it’s going to die a few hours after I unplug it, even if it’s been completely dormant, it’s useless to me.

Unless I can get this fixed, my rating of this thing has dropped to like zero out of ten. Gorgeous device, great form factor, battery life is the purest utter trash.

surface progression

This morning, I took the Surface and the numeric keypad I’m experimenting with for all my hotkeys out to the place I usually get breakfast. Morsel is a crowded little place, where I often end up sitting at the counter with someone next to me enjoying another of their fabulous biscuits.

In the line, I decided what file I wanted to work on. I opened up the Surface and loaded it into Illustrator. Once I sat down, I opened it up again and plopped the keypad down next to it, and got a little bit of progress on the drawing while waiting for my food.

I am delighted by how easy and transparent this was compared to opening up Illustrator on my Air. Honestly, I would never do that there – there’s just not enough space for a computer and a Wacom tablet there, and taking the pen/pen stand/cable out of my bag and setting it all up takes too damn long. But the Surface? Take the keypad from my pocket, turn it on. Open the Surface’s case up and turn it on. Pluck the stylus from its magnetic mount and I’m ready to go; “drawing” is now an option to fill a lot of spaces in my life where I’d normally be scrolling through Twitter or otherwise mindlessly grazing on short-attention-span content. And that feels really good.

A while back I’d heard that Sergio Aragones draws his comics on typing paper, so he can whip out a clipboard and work on them wherever the hell he is, even in an airplane seat, and this has been a goal for me for years. The Surface is not quite there; I have to be out of the sun to use it. But I can just pick it up, slip the numpad in my pocket along with keys and phone, and wander out a short distance almost as easily as I can go out with a sketchbook and a couple of pens. In the case I got for it, it’s got pretty much the same heft as a thick sketchbook would have.

Current support software loadout:

AutoHotkey – to do most of the work for remapping the keypad into my Illustrator Shortcut Pad

Interception – a little program that can remap keys on particular bluetooth keyboards, I’m using this to swap control and Windows on just my external keyboard so the stylus’ eraser button works, and to remap ‘enter’ from only the numeric pad into an unused keycode, for further processing in AutoHotKey. I got it from a post on the AHK forums.

I’d tried to use an AHK library to do the “remap a key on just one keyboard” stuff, but it’s super complicated and I ended up wasting a whole day feeling like I was reimplementing parts of AHK in itself, so I switched to this much simpler to configure second program.

RadialMenus – for creating a custom toolbar with about 50 buttons that contains every single hotkey I regularly press while using Illustrator. Which will probably be cut down somewhat once I really get the keypad configured to my liking.

(Also: MalwareBytes, f.lux, the Adobe installer, Chrome, and T:ME Tile. And of course Illustrator and Evernote.)

I’m ordering a slightly larger numpad, because I feel like I have a few too many shortcuts I want instantly available. I could probably fit things on the little one I got by doing a bunch of AHK stuff to make chords happen, but I feel like a few more keys would make it a lot easier to use.

I’ll probably post all my configuration for these tools in a few days, once I start to feel like they’re usable. Right now the keypad’s only about halfway there, and I have to use onscreen stuff a lot more than I’d like.


A new digital drawing tool means revisiting the drawing I did for my last new drawing tool. Which has been replaced a couple of times but it’s not like buying a new edition of the same computer a few years later really needs a ceremonial celebration like buying an entirely new form factor running an OS you’ve never used before does.

A few years ago, when I got my first Macbook Air, I got really stoned while I was transferring all my data to it. The Magician came out and impulsively tried summoning a local spirit to inhabit the computer and make it work that much better; part of the process of this summoning was of course to draw said spirit in a way that acknowledged that it was kind of stuck inside my computer.

There’s a sticker of that drawing on the back of the current Air, just like I had a sticker of it on the back of the last one. Getting a new Air didn’t seem like it needed any ceremony. It was just a simple matter of making sure one was backed up, and restoring the backup onto the next one. But moving to an entirely new form factor and OS? I felt like I needed to be a but more complicated about it.

When I went to the Microsoft store to get the Surface, the Magician made me bring the Air along so that the genie I have living in it could sniff dubiously at the Surfaces, and so that she could start settling into one if I brought it home.

And what better thing to use to make sure I could get Illustrator running in there than a new drawing of this spirit? She’s looking a little more dragon-y than she originally did, probably as a result of living with my dragony self for so long. This was quite deliberately not a conscious choice on my part; I just went with what the voice in my head wanted . Said voice is maybe just me assigning a personality to this carefully-molded pile of metal called a “computer”, or is maybe me making contact with some kind of entity outside myself. As always with all things majgicghkal, I’m never sure if there’s any objective reality to any of it, but I’ll note that my Air was super cranky after I spent a couple days working exclusively with the Surface, until I politely requested Tealfour to not stay exclusively in one device or another.

After I finished that drawing, I did another one of this revised version of Tealfour to be the desktop/startup screen. I figured having her hanging out looking cute and offering me her stylus might help keep this as a device that I think of as my sketchbook rather than a general-purpose Twitter/Reddit/Hacker News/etc machine that I can waste away hours with.

Shut Up And Draw


Configuration continues to go well; I’ve changed from SharpKeys to AutoHotKey for swapping the ctrl and windows keys, which also lets me use the capslock key for ctrl-alt-shift, and gives me back a lot of shortcuts. I’ve also been playing with RadialMenu to create a tool panel I can make sprawl across the bottom of my screen and work as those shortcuts when I don’t have room to take out the keyboard, though it has some weird issues with one shortcut triggering ‘cut’ after doing its thing and some other shortcuts not working. It’s still a lot faster than grovelling through the dropdown menus.

I am sort of considering trying one of those little keyboards with like a dozen reconfigurable buttons as an alternative to having to make space for a full keyboard when I’m sitting on the bus. Right now I can only pull it out and draw with full keyboard-shortcut-powered speed if I’m sitting next to someone who doesn’t mind having my keyboard on their knee; ideally I want to be able to do it next to a total stranger without invading their personal space. Maybe one of those little ultra-programmable keypads designed for Gamerz? Though they tend to be bulky and not bluetooth. Or maybe one of those button grids musicians use? Though some googling suggests they mostly have the same problem. Maybe just a tiny Bluetooth pad with some heavy abuse of AutoHotKey… bonus points if I set things up so I can attach it to one side at the back and hold the tablet while using it. Maybe. That starts to sound like work, though. Or how about a glove? Mmmaybe not. I’m thinking “bluetooth numeric pad” sounds worth investigating, though.

I’ve also added on a matte screen protector. Out of the box the Surface is incredibly reflective; it’s so much of a black mirror that you could contact Enochian angels on it. Which makes it kind of a pain to draw outside. It’s still not usable in direct sunlight but it’s a lot better.