Sunday, June 6, 2010

iPad as a tool for writers.

Having had a few days to play with an iPad, I'm in love. It's the ideal tool for writers. A writer's needs are four: To read books, to write, to be able to access references, and to be able to participate in email forums. The iPad helps him with all of them.

As a reader, the iPad has the huge advantage that you can access almost any book library you want. You have all of Amazon in the Kindle App, all Barnes and Noble in *their* app, Apple's own (so far title-poor) iBookstore, and a variety of other sources via Stanza. People keep saying how e-ink is so much better, more paper-like--IMO this is nonsense. Yes, you can read e-ink in direct sunlight much better, and so what. How often do you read in direct sunlight? Any shadow and the iPad is fine. And for the many low-light situations, it's of course superior to e-ink.

(Incidentally, about choosing which to use: Amazon wins by a mile. Not only do they have the best selection, most reviews, and usually cheapest prices, but the Whispersync technology means you can share your book among all your Amazon devices--your PC, your Kindle should you have one, your iPad, your iPhone, and I'm sure Android support is coming. You don't just have access, but one device remembers where you stopped in the other. My prediction is that Amazon will win the e-book wars, although the Kindle will become obsolete in the next few years).

At first I thought that the size of the iPad would be an issue. After all, it's bigger than a hardcover book. But it's wonderful for reading, and the ability to manipulate the font size, darkness and background to suit the sharpness and tiredness of your eyes is extremely welcome.

Another complaint I heard (for use as a reader) is that it's too heavy compared to other book readers (or most light books). That has an element of truth: You'll never want to read for long while holding the iPad in one hand. However, even without a stand or case, it's extremely easy to read with the iPad for long hours by simply standing it on your leg, lap, bed, table, or finding a steady position to hold it up (i.e. elbows at 90 degrees while lying down). In practice I use my leg about 80% of the time, and it's a very natural and comfortable way to read.

OK, we got reading covered. What about writing? I'm sure other apps exist, but so far I use Apple's Pages. It has sufficient compatibility with Word for writers, the import and export of documents is butt-simple, and it has all the formatting a writer needs. However, the on-screen keyboard, while convenient for quick input, will never be adequate for serious writing. Just buy the $69 super-light Apple Bluetooth keyboard (*NOT* the keyboard with the dock!). You can type up a storm with it, and in any position you choose. For standing up the iPad for extended typing sessions I recommend Griffin's super-tough (and nice-looking) stand, although the Apple case will do in a pinch. In a pinch you can leave it flat and touch-type.

For accessing resources on the Internet, the iPad of course has a Safari browser (don't worry, your reading or writing place is auto-saved), but even better you can save articles easily and quickly with the InstaPaper app, creating a quick references library.

Finally, for Email the iPad has a full-fledged client that supports multiple accounts (and will soon support merging them into a single mailbox should you so wish).

Let me also mention another nice thing: The long battery life. They are not kidding when they say 10 hours, and it's probably significantly longer if just reading. And charging it up is quick. Instant on, of course, no wait to boot, no problems with 'hibernation'.

Should you get iPad, which version should you get? Well, it depends whether you'll have Wi-Fi access from the places where you take the iPad. Different people will use it in different ways. For me, I work at home and at the office, so Wi-Fi is good enough. As for space, even the 16GB version will hold hundreds of books and your own document files. If you frequently watch long movies and videos though, you may want a bigger one (to give you an idea, I have about 10 hours of video and 20 books and my 16GB iPad (about 14GB usable) is less than half full.

I realize this is an expensive device, and not for all. But if you're thinking of getting a laptop as a *second* computer, or springing for an e-Reader, it more than deserves your consideration.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

I'm a movie buff, and my writing tends to reflect this. I think in scenes, and I tend to dislike transitions, and certainly try to avoid writing that relates in fairytale style that which has gone by. This cross-media approach has its good and bad sides--in writing you don't get the immediate setting-establishing image that requires no elaboration but only the sometimes unconscious cooperation of the viewer's eyes. You need to take time to weave the image into the events, and I think some of the best writing involves starting with the characters and then slowly filling in the rest of the picture, satisfying the mental eye before it becomes too curious and the scene too detached and ethereal.

The relation--and contrast--between writing and movies means that many stories are devilishly difficult to bring to the screen, so it's always great to watch successful adaptations. A very good one is the Girl with the Dragon Tatoo (the original Swedish title, Men who hate women, is far more accurate but far less engaging). The story is a murder mystery--that it's not the murder one thinks it is only adds to its brilliance. It has been hailed for its unique heroine, Lizbeth Salander, think Goth bisexual judoka crossed with Richard Feynman. Lizbeth's backstory and adventures span three books, and already many lament there won't be a fourth--the brilliant journalist who wrote them in his spare time as a work of love died of a heart attack before he published them. I found Lizbeth fascinating if a bit hard to believe--the other important character, Mikael Blomkvist, was in my opinion miscast--the actor depicting him is a bit too placid.

This said, this is the type of movie where intelligent adult viewers clap at the end--you end up caring for the character even though you may also want to slap her silly, and the plot is both seamless, incredibly complex and Important--you don't end up thinking you've just watched the one cat that happened to cross the street in front of you, as is true with many films that are forgotten the moment you exit the theater. I'm looking forward to the sequels, and plan to read the books.

There are other book/movie conversions that have been wildly successful (LOTR and HP are obvious examples). Their success has relied less on the strength of the original, and more on successfully adapting it to a different medium. But that's another blog.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Baby Steps and Easter

Soon after creating this blog, I crashed against the realization that maintaining it current was a lot of work, and sort of gave up on it. Then recently I reflected upon the myriad of things that remain undone because of a near-universal urge for instant gratification, perniciously widespread in these days of sound bytes and information overload when sleep sometimes seems a crime.

So here's a resolution to proceed in this and other endeavors with baby steps. I'll make one blog post per week. This is my commitment. If I get in the mood for more, fine, but this I will do, if only to say what a boring, work-drenched, innovation-sapping, procrastination-inducing week I had.

Which I didn't. Work was interesting, and now my wife and I are preparing for Easter tomorrow. We're both reluctant atheists--convinced on an intellectual level of the vanishingly low probability of an actual deity, but having warm and fuzzy memories of religious and traditional celebrations from our Eastern Orthodox (mine Greek, hers Russian) childhood. Sea of candles, the light spreading from the priest at midnight like an exploding nova. Mageiritsa soup, red eggs battling for supremacy, lamb roasting on the skewer, egg bread and halvah. For her, growing up in communism, it was less the actual experience as the stories, in books and poems, and small little touches like happy faces on eggs and the defiant faithful whispering Christos Voskrece.

So we'll recreate a bit of this tomorrow. We're going to St. Sophia, the beautiful Greek Church in Los Angeles, for the Agape service, then we're filling up the car with food from the Greek restaurant across the street: wine, Agiorgitiko and Xinomavro, then all kinds of pies, tyropites, spanakopites, kreatopites. Lamb of course, and cheeses, myzithra, feta, kefalotyri, kasseri, names that make my mouth water still. And last but not least the desserts: Galaktoboureko, kataifi, loukoumades, melomakarona.

Hungry yet? ;-)

Then at home we'll set up the table, and wait for our friend to arrive, because that's the great fun of Easter, the joy, the sharing, the hope. Does it matter for what? Perhaps if we could generate our own inner fun without always needing a reason, then the light of Easter or what Easter means--hope--would shine more than one day a year.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Blinders of the Original Vision

I envy these writers who conceive an idea whole, complete and perfect, leaving only the problem of properly bringing it to paper, handyman work after the architect is done.

As for myself, I usually find that my first effort falls maddeningly short. The concept is there, but some zing is missing. Or there's a good punch line, but it's not delivered effectively. Or there's a certain flatness, a lack of tension, for which no amount of action and cleverness will quite compensate. Perhaps everything works, but there's a logic flaw--a glaring rip in the canvas that just can't be repaired.

Persistent cuss that I am, I usually work and work at such stories, often polishing the writing to a dazzling quality, adding snap and meaning to dialogue, bringing the world and scenes to life--and in the end find myself with a shiny silver goblet with a big dent in it.

The only way I've ever managed to fix the dent, is to stop trying, let at least a few months pass (less than three never works for me), and revisit the story after the love of the original concept, the burning inspiration that drove me to the page has worn off. Only this way can I manage to see past the blinders of the original vision. It is that, the love we feel towards our concept as if it was a living child, that makes it hard to make the changes that are needed.

But let some time go by, and now it's much easier to wield the ax, and do drastic surgery. Mind you, the patient does not always survive. Sometimes the cure is no better than the disease. But at times the distance I've acquired helps me break the boundaries of the box of my original story, and let it grow and become what it should be.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

While I still remember--any of you who are into SF (and if you're not, why are you following this blog?) will be well advised to catch the pilot of Caprica. This is the sequel, or rather prequel, series to Battlestar Galactica, but it has a totally different feel from that series.

I don't want to give everything away, but what drew me was the wonderful world-building of Caprica, as one of twelve allied worlds. The social feel is 1950's, complete with smoking and hats, right off Mad Men--but the tech is 2050, with believable, advanced science.

The world keeps your interest, but no world-building even made a story, and here we have wonderful characters, quirky and strong, all teetering at the edge of just how far their inner desires and very different beliefs as to what's right will take them. Religions clash, cultures clash, adults and teenagers clash, grief and hope clash, and through it all, the tendrils of lives intersect as their pursue desire and duty.

The series will start in January of 2010, and if it's as good as the pilot it should become another megahit. Though perhaps not, looking at how the excellent the Sarah Connor Chronicles got canned--but that's a topic for another day...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Gio made me do it... Figured I'll give blogging a try. Knowing myself entries will probably be relatively few, and so it's a pity that my first one is not more earth-shatteringly significant.

OTOH, let me steer any of the romantic-minded among you to see The Time Traveler's Wife. I've not read the book, but I found the movie won me over quickly, and by the end I deeply cared for the characters, their predicament, and how they coped with it. Excellent performances, and a fantastic addition to chick-flicks that guys also enjoy.