Apple-Obsessed Author Fella

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Of Google-Plus And Circle-Jerks, Part II

Google+ grows on me like a fungus. Like a scaly patch of ringworm, I can’t stop itching it.

I don’t really know why. I think in part I’m scratching to peel away layers, to dig beneath the rashy skin and find the potential buried beneath — because, at this point, I’m growing convinced that some real potential is there. But I’m also growing convinced that most of that potential is too hard to see and isn’t yet manifested.

*itch itch itch, scratch scratch scratch*

Let’s rip through the meat with our fingernails and see what else we find.

Caveat: Twitter Is My Main Gal

Twitter isn’t for everyone. I get that. But it’s definitely my one true social media gal pal. It took the formula put out by Myspace and Facebook and flipped it on its ear. Twitter is the beat poetry version of social media. It’s some crass noisy combination of soapbox-shouting, flea-market-hawking, carnival-barking, stand-up-joke-telling, and haiku-having. It’s got the motion and madness of a city street with all its sounds and smells. Twitter is ever the low but persistent hum. I merely need to tune into its Zen frequencies for a time. It requires no massive investment. It demands little of me. I splash about in its waters like a spider monkey who has never before played in the ocean. Splish-splash.

But — but!

Twitter is shit for conversation.

It’s great for banter.

But conversation necessitates deeper investment, complexity, and nuance… and Twitter just doesn’t do that well. You ever see two people have a long protracted discussion on Twitter? It’s like watching two bricks tumble around in a washing machine. And Zeus forbid that the conversation suck in more than two people. Then it becomes the clumsiest gang-bang you’ve ever seen. (“Is someone wearing an oven-mitt on their dick? Is that a nose tickling my perineum? Who let the peacock in here? It smells like peanut oil.”)

Imagine tuning two different radios to different shows and having those shows “converse.”

Doesn’t really work out so well.

And so, I give you, Google+.

The Googlecrucians Want You To Converse

G+ is setup for you to converse. It’s like one big forum — whereas Twitter and Facebook limit the length of updates and comments, Goo-Goo-Plus has no such interest. It wants you to fill the space with your words, and it wants other people to fill the space, too. “GO AHEAD,” the Lords of Google are saying. “SPEAK AT LENGTH WITHOUT RESERVATION. YOU HAVE THIS ENTIRE BLEAK DESERT OF POWDERY WHITENESS IN WHICH TO BLOVIATE. THE LEASH IS OFF. YOU DOGS MAY RUN FREE.”

And that’s awesome.

In theory.

It’s not quite working for me. Not yet. It can! I can see it coming together and working — while the brownies here are definitely soft in the middle, this remains a beta release and is sure to grow and change.

Here’s the first thing that’s not working for me, though: a big conversation is like a fire circle or a parliamentary session. It’s a rock around which you sit — a stable, single location that people come to where they can join into the conversation or just sit back and listen. This blog functions like that. It’s a static location in the digital space-time continuum — you come to me, I don’t come to you.

But G+ doesn’t work like that. It, like so many other social media sites, is a stream, ever-flowing. Which means the conversations are always moving downstream, which means those conversations are hard to grab hold of, hard to track — it’s like I’m constantly trying to grab hold of a slippery length of intestine and it just keeps squidging free from my grip. (“Squidging” is a word. Say different and I’ll sic the hounds upon you.) Imagine if those aforementioned fire circles and parliamentary sessions were all on rafts, and we were all traveling together down a raging river. Yelling at one another.

The conversations at G+ are just plain hard to track — at least, in my estimation. (I’m kind of a dipshit, though, so keep that in mind.) Harder still when they become big, swollen discussions.

Rob Donoghue — the ever-wise — noted that, at present, G+ is built around people, but what if, instead, it were built around conversations? As in, that’s what you tune into more than the people who host the discussion? Right? That’s how forums work, but forums are often craptacular.

Can G+ give rise to The Ultimate Forum?

Maybe. But it’s not there, yet.

Mostly, I find myself looking at big conversations there and thinking, “I’m glad people are having them.” And then I click away and don’t read the conversation because a nap sounds better.

Ways To Enhance The Conversation

Here, then, are some ways that Guh-Pluh can advance the way the site deals with conversation:

1.) The notifications are too much. The site’s like a needy puppy with these things, constantly getting muddy pawprints all over my — well, not my pants, since I don’t wear those, so let’s just go with “hirsute calves.” Half the time the notifications are about dead useless anyway. “Nobody has added anything to the conversation! Look! +1!” Since notifications have become noise, I’ve tuned them out — not ideal for following the flow.

2.) Threaded (or is it nested?) comments. Allow me to reply to a comment, not just the post. Further, let me break away into little sub-conversations if need be. I pull you three and we go into this other digital room disconnected from the main and we sit there and chat about whatever it is.

3.) I want a rope to pull myself back to the conversation. Blogs are great for this. If I know a conversation is going on at a blog post I like, I can just wander back there with a link. I need that here, too. In fact, Rob Donoghue earlier posted that thing about conversations only in Google-Plus, which means I can’t link to it like a blog. I can’t say, “You, dear reader, go look at that.”

4.) Speakawhich, I pray to Internet Jesus and melt a motherboard on his altar that Google+ does not become a source of blogging. First of all, G+ is, at present, so spare it’s somewhat ugly. It’s a Spartan, utilitarian space with all the flavor of a Communist bread dole. I like that blogs are part of the personalities of their keepers. I don’t mind if they’re “connected,” but so far, reading big chunks of text on Google-Plus is about as pleasurable as reading legal documents. (Sidenote: this is true of e-books, too. I long for the day that the Kindle, f’rex, allows books to have their own look again. It’ll happen, I just don’t know when.) A weird little part of me wonders if we go back to the Myspace-like customization within reason. Which leads me to a site that already does that well…

5.) Tumblr needs to get on over here and inject its Tumblrian DNA into the Googlecrucian experience. I actually like Tumblr a lot, but have tuned it out in favor of Google+ simply because of time commitment. That’s a shame, because Tumblr was something different, where for now, G+ is mostly “more of the same.” (I know, people are going to tell me that G+ is a revolution. Not yet, it ain’t. It’s Facebook 2.0.) Tumblr allows the sharing of content lickity-split, and further, Tumblr allows for connected and easily-customized blogs. Where Tumblr fails is — drum roll please — conversation. And so I demand that G+ and Tumblr have SOCIAL MEDIA BABIES. Go on, you two. Here’s a room. One of you is ovulating — I can smell your Internet ovum. Have some lube. Go at it, jungle cats.

6.) Circles haven’t really worked for me yet. Well, correction — they work to let me break apart my social media flow into littler “radio stations,” so on that front? Total success. But in terms of enhancing conversation, not so much. Part of it is that in terms of broadcasting, I have no guarantee The Circle I Choose is even listening. Going back to that fire circle or parliamentary session image, I’m at the podium but I’m blindfolded. My audience might be nowhere to be found. Sometimes it’s be nice if circles operated like “opt-in” groups — “Hey, this is my book club circle, and we’re all in, and we can all see one another.”

7.) I hate to say it, but I want Wave back. Wave was a great idea that failed to perform. It was like saying, “I’m creating a teleportation device” but what you got was a giant catapult that “teleported” you into a concrete wall. But what Wave promised was actually pretty awesome — “Hey, let’s you and me and whoever else get into this little pocket of Internet space and just fucking communicate.” It was some gallumphing mutation featuring strains of chat, e-mail, and social media — it just failed to come together. I want that back. I want it jacked into G+. I want to be able to pull people into that space and have those kinds of conversations that are disconnected from the larger stream. We shouldn’t have to “follow” each other as circle-jerks to have a conversation.

8.) Bring all parts together. Right now, to me, G+ is a Frankenstein Monster of limbs welded together with lightning but the bolts, staples and solder-marks still show. I don’t know what these pieces are doing together. In a conversation I need the ability to say, “Fuck it, we’re doing a Hangout right now, just you people in this discussion.” I need the ability for Sparks to generate from the chatter I’m making, not from topics I choose. I need the ability to hand-pick people and say, “Let’s get into a space where we can draw on the digital walls like white-space and collaborate on some stuff.” I need it to be more than Facebook.

It Will Be, If The Lords Of Google Will It (And The Creek Don’t Rise)

My estimation of Baby Huey’s Gooey Kablooey (Plus!) has risen considerably since I posted my last rant — but that estimation is based almost solely upon speculation. It’s built on the promise of the site more than the current incarnation. Because right now? It’s just more of the same. I know, I know — IT’S A REVOLUTION IN SOCIAL MED… stop that. Just stop. You can’t make something a revolution just by saying it’s a revolution. I can’t just say, “There’s a revolution in my pants!” and when you get there, it’s just a plain old dangling wang down there. No worker’s rights or health care for everybody — just a regular penis doing regular penis things. Like playing badminton. Or watching the BBC.

Right now Google+ is stumbling around like a newborn fawn because… well, it is a newborn fawn. Again: that bitch is in beta. I have confidence that, if the Googlecrucians continue their devotion to the site, in a year’s time you won’t use it like you use Facebook. It’s just… right now, I’m using it like I use Facebook. Outside of the Hangout (with my Wangout), I don’t see anything all that special at present. That means we’ve a pretty significant redundancy in the system.

I suspect the way we make Google+ better and help them bring these disconnected pieces together is by telling them what we think. The Lords of Google have been responsive so far.

Which is a good sign, and another glimpse of promise.

I thought about putting together a “Google-Plus For Writers” post, by the way, but once again, outside the Hangout, I don’t know if there’s any there there, yet. (Though, it may be worth asking what G+ could become for writers… what would writers want out of it?)

We shall see.

In the meantime, you will continue to find me on Twitter.

Anyway. Feel free to add your thoughts. How’s Gee-Plus doing for you?

Of Google-Plus And Circle Jerks

I remember Myspace.

We speak of it now like it died in a war, but it’s actually still out there if you care to gaze upon it. It was and remains the social media equivalent of a GeoCities website: everything is blink tags and glitter fonts, tropical vomit and chrome skulls. Like Metallica rode in on a pack of My Little Ponies and got thrown into a wood chipper, and the chipper sprayed the guts up onto our screens.

Then? Facebook came around. Facebook was all clean lines and blue cubicles. Though it came from the realm of the collegiate, it appeared as the buttoned-up office worker of the social media work, tsk-tsk-tsking on all the blown-out margins and half-naked goblins of Myspace.

And for a while, Facebook held it all together. But before long, chaos crept in at the edges. Eroded those clean blue margins. Pissed on the cubicle walls. Next thing you knew, it was all HELP ME KILL THIS FILIPINO BOOKIE IN MAFIA WARS and DALE NEEDS HELP INSEMINATING DONKEYS IN FARMVILLE and people were tagging you with photos you weren’t even in (“Is that a cat throwing up on a parakeet?”) and people could add you to groups you didn’t sign up for (“Why am I suddenly getting email from “The Sparkly Bieberwhores?”). It never fell into the Las Vegas ayahuasca dream-vomit of Myspace, but the madness remained, endemic to a once-clean system.

And now, Google+ (or Google-Plus or G+ or GP or GooPloo or Guh-Pluh or whatever it is we’ll eventually call it) is here, once more stepping into the arena as the master of order, as the scion of sanity, clean and white and elegant as an Apple store.

I am here to say: Lo, I am underwhelmed.

And more than a little confused.

Both fairly default states for me, to tell the truth, so this isn’t all that new. Even still, my experiences with The Googlecrucians has been surprisingly gutless and without mirth. I figure, hell, let’s talk about it.

Though, quick caveats: first, this is not a review. I’ve seriously hardly used this thing. Don’t trust me to tell you what to think about it — go splash around in the Googley Waters thine ownself.

Second, if you like it? Then I am happy for you. I may like it too one day. Soon, even. In fact, if you would be so kind as to drop into the comments and say why you like it and how you use it, I would reward you mightily. And by “reward you,” I mean, I’ll give you a wink and a thumbs-up and a high-five and that shall be your glorious prize. Get excited.

It’s Like Facebook, Only Less So!

When “new” social media hits, to me it should feel like something new. Not merely an improvement but rather, a whole muhfuckin’ redesign. Facebook wasn’t like Myspace. It had that sense that I was dipping my toes in the lifestreams of others rather than actively hopping over to your “page” where you, I dunno, talked about how much you love the goddamn Thundercats or auto-play music that sets fire to my ears. Then Twitter came out of left-field and it dialed down complexity and dialed up that frequency to the point where it became this constant signal of conversation ever burbling in the background, and all you had to do was tune the knob to make it louder, or clearer, or more meaningful.

Twitter encouraged brevity. It embraced simplicity.

Now, Google-Double-Plus-Good has hit and it’s less a redesign and more a re-skin. In the MMO-gaming space you’d say, “it’s not a World-of-Warcraft killer so much as it is a clone.” The feeling I get from people is that “It’s like Facebook, but without all that… Facebook all up in your face!” Which is fine. Certainly Facebook has earned the ire of many for its constant application messages and its privacy settings. And Gee+ has thrown in one of the great things from Twitter: the loss of enforced reciprocality. I follow you. You don’t need to follow me. Huzzah. It’s a nice touch.

Even still, this horse is still a horse. When Twitter came around, the Internet didn’t show me a horse. It showed me a chimera shooting lasers from its eyes and pooping Faberge eggs. It was like, “Whoa, I have never seen this before.” When I logged onto Googolplex, I just saw another horse. Painted white, admittedly, and maybe given a nice currying, but still a horse.

This isn’t a home run. It’s a bunt. That can’t be enough, can it? To get millions to switch?

As Intuitive As Putting Together Ikea Furniture

Goddamn Allen wrenches.

To Hell with your Sknarng coffee table or your Fnorbsbjar S&M spinfuck chair, Ikea.

Anyway. What was I saying? Right.

The first thing that happens when I get into Googley-Poo is that it tells me that people have added me to circles even though I’d never before been on the service (leading me to believe that the site is a psychic social media version of SkyNet), and yet when I look at my list of who had me in circles, some of those people weren’t there. Further, I’m then asked to delineate people into circles of my own. Friends or acquaintances, which seems arbitrary, cruel, and actually not all that meaningful. (It’s not until later that I realize I can do whatever the fuck I want with circles, but initially, that’s not all that clear.) Why not just force me to pick enemies? My initial plan was to separate people into Byzantine Masonic Circles (“You have taken the trials and can join the 35th Echelon Of The Grandmaster Of Fez-Wearing Hula-Hoopery“) but I eventually discover that nobody can actually see the awesome circle names you’ve used to classify them.

Then I’m supposed to figure out exactly how circles work in terms of both broadcasting signal and receiving it from others. I grok the reception: I can say, “I only want to see posts from people in my Those Marked For Eradication By Doom-Bots circle.” But the broadcasting portion is a little weirder. A circle indicates a group — like, if I create a circle and we’re all in it, we should all be, I dunno, talking to one another. A circle of jerks, if you will. (And I do wonder how long it’ll be before “Circle Jerk” enters the G+ parlance.) But that’s not quite the case. This dude’s blog post takes a look at How Circles Work, but what I read in his blog is not necessarily how I understood it upon entering the circle. Even still, I’m not sure who I’m even talking to. Or yelling at. Or who can talk to me.

Or where my pants went.

Speaking Of Pantslessness

No, I do not want to hangout with you on a webcam. Or, more specifically, you don’t want to hang out with me on webcam. Listen, in the great Venn diagram of my computing life, the circle of “Am Using The Internet” and the circle of “Am Shirtless And Covered In Baby Puke And Dorito Pollen” have a near perfect overlap. I’m also afraid that if I somehow turn on my webcam, the first thing I’m going to see is someone masturbating at me. Which is why I am prepared instead to masturbate at somebody. Fight fire with fire. Fight Onanism with Onanism. I have a very clear “first strike” policy on webcam jerkoffery. Once again, the need for “Circle Jerk” to enter the Goo-Plus parlance is dire. Dire.

What The Who Now Is A Spark?

Then there’s something called a spark? Which is really just an chosen topic that accumulates random links about my chosen topic? This feels a little “stapled on.” Like, does this relate at all to my friends? Er? Circles? Er, what’s the term? Circlemates? Google-Pals? Plus-Buddies? (Again: Circle Jerks. I’m just saying. Let us all adopt this new lingo.) Who filters Sparks? Isn’t the power of social media the ability to have word-of-mouth fuel your filtering abilities? Has Google hired a guy just to figure out what Sparks I should like? What’s happening? What are all these flashing lights? Why am I being anally probed?

The Department Of Redundancy Department

I already have Twitter and Facebook. The former, I’m very happy with. The latter, I could mostly give a shit about but I’ve got tons of family and classmates there. So, I do an update to Twitter and/or Facebook, I now have, what, a third social media axis to choose from? And I’m going to do what? Say the same thing there that I said everywhere else? That’s fine, I guess, but the thought of having to track posts and replies across three axes (not to mention the blog or Goodreads or Tumblr or other blogs or reality) just makes me want to take a goddamn nap.

Even worse, Googly-Eyes over there wants me to get all handsy with organizing my social existence. You know what sounds excruciating? Organizing my social existence. Putting everybody in little boxes. Arranging people like pewter figurines in their little drawers and cubby-holes. Are you a friend? Or a worker? What if you’re a worker-friend? What if you’re part of my Beekeeping Club but you might also inadvertently find interest in my posts about Coffee Beans Run Through The Intestinal Tract Of Sugar Gliders? I already have enough busy-work in my life — balancing checkbooks, washing dishes, obsessively going over my “locks of hair stolen from all the red-headed hookers I’ve murdered.” Do I really want to micro-manage my online cohorts? Is micro-managing stuff ever fun (except for obsessives)?

As a writer, is this just another place for writer wankery? Don’t I do that enough? (Answer: duh, yes.)

I’m reaching a state of social media ennui. Tedium with such pablum.

The whole thing feels a little bit redundant.

A Mote Of Promise In SkyNet’s Eye

That’s not to say you won’t enjoy Fraggle Rock Google Plus. You very well might. As a Facebook replacement, it’s aces, I suppose. (Though I’m a bit puzzled by those who are apeshit gonzo about OMG GEE PLUS IS A BILLION TIMES BETTER THAN FACEBOOK, which to me is like saying, OMG FRUITY PEBBLES IS A BILLION TIMES BETTER THAN FROOT LOOPS.) Further, when the digital winds blow right I occasionally catch the briny scent of sheer potential in the service, a potential that maybe harkens back to what Google wanted with services like Buzz and Wave.

For now, I can’t see myself hanging out too much at the Gee-Willikers Gee-Whiz Gee-Plus Zero-G G-Unit G-Love G Money — I occasionally pull back the tent flap and see if anything good is going on, but so far, it’s mostly just a bunch of carnies sitting around smoking cigarettes and looking a little bored. That said, if you can find me on there, feel free. Entrap me in one of your jerking circles.

Otherwise I shall remain firmly ensconced in the Twitters, where I am allowed to stand on a soapbox, yell all kinds of crap into the air, and you can decide if it’s worth hearing.

As always: YMMV, IMHO, etc.

In other news: get off my lawn, you damn kids. With your Google+. And your hair. And your clothes.

The iPad For Writers

Multitasking is for assholes.

No, no, I know, multitasking is the aegis of the modern man. “I’m walking. I’m talking. I’m chewing bubble gum with my mouth and… well, a couple other orifices. I’ve got a laptop strapped to my chest so I can: hammer out a spreadsheet, listen to Merle Haggard, watch the fuckthousandth version of Rebecca Black’s ‘Friday,’ read about the mating habits of the Vancouver Island stoat, play a little Bejeweled, and masturbate to animatronic animals like those found in Disney’s ‘Country Bear Jamboree.’ Ooh! And I’m on my way to kill a man in Reno just to watch him die. I’m a multitasker, motherfuckers.”

To repeat: multitasking is for assholes.

This is doubly triply quadruply true for we crazy creatures known as “writers.” Writing is a thing of focus. Imagine, if you will, that the train of thought is a very real vehicle, and once you’re on board, it’s best to stay on board. You go hopping on and off that damn thing like some kind of itinerant hobo, you’re going to, well, as the saying goes, lose your train of thought. You watch your mental caboose disappearing down the track. And then what happens? You get eaten by coyotes, that’s what happens.

This is of course why we have a new series of programmatic efforts to shut out distractions and keep you, the writer who has been trained that multitasking is the best thing since Jesus invented the jet-ski, focused. Write Or Die. Freedom. OmmWriter. And so on, and so forth.

Thus I give you: the iPad.

Apple’s iPad is a marvelous device for writers. I didn’t honestly know if it would be when I got mine. Writing is so often driven by a tactile feel: the clack-chack-zing of a typewriter translates to the PC keyboard, and here comes the iPad, which is really just a rectangle of glass. Do you really want to write a novel on a window pane?

Could be, rabbit, could be.

Here, then, are my thoughts on the iPad as a writer’s device. This is not meant to be the end-all be-all: this is just my set-up and why I diggit. If you’re a writer and have an iPad? Please do chime in.

It Is About Separation And Precision

The iPad allows you to easily take your little writer’s window (the device itself) and wander away from your desk. It takes you away from distraction, then gives you the precise tools you need to get the work done.

You might be saying, “But, dumbass, one’s iPad likely hosts an unholy array of distractions,” to which I would agree. I’ve got endless amusements: email, Twitter, World of Goo, Infinity Blade, Words With Friends, Netflix, recipe programs, Flipboard, blah blah blah. Here’s the difference, for me. Right now, my PC has 18 browser tabs open, and 12 programs open on the taskbar. Sometimes, I find myself flitting from tab to tab with no certainty why I’m doing so. It’s like, I have to click them just because they’re there. This is bad when writing, of course — “Did I just end a paragraph in the middle so I could go check a weather report I’ve already checked seven times this morning?” It’s like I have a disease.

The iPad, while still technically a “multitasking device,” does so, but in a reduced and less efficient way. And that lack of efficiency is a good thing, because really, the lack of efficient multitasking creates more efficient uni-tasking. Each app feels like an island, which is just what the doctor ordered.

The Setup

Here, then, how the iPad sits on my desk:

The iPad sits to the right of my computer. “Just another distraction,” you think, and yes, that can be true — but it’s very easy to grab it and walk out of my office. This is key. It also helps me shut down peripheral programs on my own PC and segue them to the iPad: while writing, I shut down everything on my PC but the work, then use the iPad to check Twitter periodically. It’s a trick, I know — but writers are loons, our brains like undisciplined terriers. Sometimes, you need Stupid Writer Tricks.

It rests on a 12 South Compass stand, which in a pinch will also serve as a baton to fight off ninjas or highjackers. Actually, no joke: possession of this device in your carry-on luggage will get you stopped every time, and they will ask you to take it out, and guards will show up to watch your movements as you reveal… ta-da, it’s just an iPad stand, not a Jihadist Infidel Cudgel.

The iPad sits in an Otterbox Commuter case, which is ruggedized to deal with a fall. I do this because I am easily as clumsy as a drunken baboon with a degenerative hip. Easily.

The most important part of my writerly iPad digs is the USB adapter… oh, I’m sorry, I mean, “camera adapter.” This device says it’s only good for connecting cameras to your iPad to download photos and videos. *poop noise* Not true! Not true at all. This little fucker is a straight-up cold-gangsta USB adapter. (“Cold-gangsta?” Shut up.) What this means is: that’s right, you can plug a sexual simulation device USB keyboard into the tablet. It’s funny, because even when you plug in the keyboard, the iPad tells you: “Oh, uhh, yeah, that device is totally unsupported. Just unplug it now. Don’t even try to type on it. You’ll fail. You’re doomed. Seriously, wait –” And then you try it and, oops, yeah, it works fine.

Typing on the capacitive screen isn’t terrible, but to get heavy-duty writing done, you’re gonna want a keyboard. And this lets you have that.

(Oh, and I have the Wi-Fi only iPad. This lends itself further toward the “minimal distraction” thing, because the inability to find a 3G signal is great: again, minimum multitasking leads to maximum output.)

The Apps

Of course, it’s all about the apps, baby.

Here, then, are the apps that inform my writer’s existence. In no particular order…

Dropbox: If you do not know and love the Dropbox, then I must wonder exactly when you suffered traumatic head injury. Dropbox lets you backup your wordmonkeying. Not iPad-specific, which means you can access it on whatever device you choose. Free.

PlainText: This is my word processor of choice on Ye Jolly Olde iPadde. It’s minimalist. It syncs to Dropbox. It counts your words. Great place to take notes or even write whole chapters. Doesn’t hurt that it’s totally free.

Kindle: Duh. Kindle. Books. iBooks is good, but has few books available. Free.

Netflix: You’re saying, “Another distraction, Wendig. I’m on to you, you sonofabitch. Trying to justify your bad behavior.” No, seriously, Netflix instant streaming is intensely useful as a writer. Great documentary work on there plus shows from History Channel and National Geographic. Good research material. See also: TED talks, which has an app. Free.

GoodReader: Read and annotate PDFs? Yes, please. I think it’s only a buck.

NoteTaker HD: Cool program that lets you use your finger (or a stylus, I guess) to take notes. But here’s where it really shines for me: writers get a lot of contracts, especially when freelance, and this lets you take a PDF and scrawl on it with your finger-pen. Which means you can sign PDF contracts, save ’em, and send those suckers right back to the client. No need to fuck around with printers and the post office. Five bucks.

Index Card: Great visual outlining tool that simulates the look of index cards on a corkboard. Great for hitting the beats or tentpoles in a planned fiction project. Can also turn into a line-item outline without the visuals, too, which is handy. Index Card is a writer’s best buddy. Oh! Syncs with Dropbox. Five bucks.

SketchBook Pro: I got this on sale for a couple bucks, but normally I think it runs about eight. I wouldn’t call this an essential in terms of writing-related apps since its straight-up visual, still, it’s nice to have some doodle space that is a little prettier than what you get with Note Taker.

Popplet: On the iPhone, I use SimpleMind, but only recently did SimpleMind get a native iPad app which will then cost me an additional seven bucks to buy — unfortunately, even though it appears universal, it’s not universal. Doesn’t much matter because in the meantime I got hooked into Popplet, which actually has greater functionality in some ways: drag-and-drop mind-maps can also include little doodles and images. This is, by the way, what the corkboard simulator Corkulous is missing — the ability to connect pieces together to create a kind of narrative flow. Five bucks.

2Do: Confession: I actually hate all of the iPhone/iPad “to-do” lists. I want items that I can schedule but also snooze, and so far, that just doesn’t seem to exist. This is the best I could find, but to be honest, most of my to-do stuff has segued to a whiteboard in my office.

What’s Missing?

I tried Scrivener for the PC and I just didn’t get my head around it. That said, I was busy on deadlines (when am I not?) and didn’t have time to dick around with new software. Even still, I could sense the potential, and think that on the iPad something like Scrivener would really rock. But I don’t know that an iPad version is planned? I remember reading it was, but now I can’t find the info. Hrm.

As yet, Final Draft is not on the device, though it is coming.

I wish for a greater web-clipping service, something that allows me to easily clip webby bits and incorporate them immediately and easily into my workflow (Index Card, Popplet, etc).

Speaking Of Workflow

Generally speaking, I do not write large swathes of story on the iPad. I use the PC for that, but I can believe that the days of the desktop write-machine will draw to a close over the next couple years. At present, the iPad is a super-capable organizational device. I keep the iPad handy to take notes, to arrange materials, to do some “on-screen thinking out-loud,” and, yes, to play some motherfucking Words With Friends. It is an elegant supplement to the writer’s life, and actually does a lot of what I want to do, except mysteriously it does it better than the PC, which often can barely do the things I want it to do in the first damn place. Good mind-map? Not on the PC. Index card outlining? Not on the PC. Sign contracts with the magic of my middle finger? Not on the PC. The iPad is this weird little happy box, this wonderful magic window.

In the end, the iPad is like a little helper monkey.

A penmonkey for the penmonkey, perhaps.

Should you rush out and buy one if you’re a writer? Well. That’s on you. It’ll help, but it’s also not a necessary device. Still, note that it is tax deductible if you’re a working writer and, further, is a suitable notebook/laptop replacement (in my opinion), and manages to be a helluva lot cheaper, to boot. So, YMMV and all that, but the iPad will supplement your writing life in a meaningful way.


I mean, uhhh.

*smoke bomb*

Human Google Makes Twitter Chili

Slicey Slice

In case you missed it, once upon a time I wrote an article titled, “In Twitter We Trust.” The article, found at The Escapist, basically posits the notion that our circle of trust — which comprises and completes that mystical thing we call “word-of-mouth” — is broadened greatly by use of social media. Further, it puts forth the idea that social media can, in a hive-mindy way, become what I call “Human Google.”

Ask the Twitter hive-mind a question, get an answer.

Try it. It’s good clean fun.

You can ask the hive-mind anything, really. How’s that new movie? How do I spackle a hole in drywall? Pants, or no pants? Why does my right nipple excrete a fluid that could be described as both “buttery” and “Satanic?” Ask a question, get an answer. A perfect system.

The great thing about Human Google is that it offers us something that search engines generally don’t — and maybe can’t: meaningful filter. Google doesn’t know me. It wants to. It thinks that some alchemical combination of data “cookies” defines me, but it doesn’t. What defines me is, in part, my relationships to others. So, when I say to Google, “Hey, Google, what are the essential ingredients for chili?” it returns to me 180,000+ results. And even on the first page, it has my question wrong in spaces — it thinks I’m talking about chili powder, or Thai chilis, or Rozonda Thomas from the defunct R&B girl group, TLC. (Okay, it didn’t really think I was talking about her until the fourth or fifth page.)

On the other hand, when I turn to Twitter and I say, “Hello, excellent humans of Twitter, please bequeath unto me the essential ingredients to chili,” I get a flood of great answers.

What did I learn?

Well, I learned that chili recipes are as individual as the people who make it. I mean, snowflakes don’t have shit on the uniqueness of chili. We’re not talking subtle regional variants. We’re talking straight up different animals. This goes well-beyond the Texas Versus Cincinnati cage match. This goes far past the muddy trenches of beans versus no beans. Ingredients given included, but were not limited to: ground beef, stew beef, steak, short rib, pork, bison, Italian sausage, chicken, chorizo, tomato sauce, tomato paste, pinto beans, kidney beans, chili beans, white beans, black beans, beer, Coca-Cola, Scotch, coffee, Jalapenos, Chipotles, Anaheims, Thai hots, bell peppers, sweet peppers, habaneros, Sriracha, Tabasco sauce, cinnamon, cumin, cilantro, onion, carrots, celery, giardiniera, garlic, lime juice, fish sauce, cocoa, melted chocolate, butternut squash, peanut butter, molasses, human souls, and dictators.

I now believe that there may be no more diverse a dish than a bowl of goddamn chili.

Anyway, this is what I put in my chili yesterday: ground round, ground pork, two sweet bell peppers, one yellow onion, two Jalapeno peppers, one can each of kidney beans, pinto beans, white beans, a small can of tomato paste, a medium can of diced tomatoes, a large can of tomato puree, one cup of dark black coffee, a 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar, two TBs of Worcestershire sauce, two TBs of brown sugar, two bay leaves, a bunch of diced garlic (cooked with the meat), sweet smoky paprika, cumin, chili powder, cocoa chili powder, cayenne, ground pepper, a squirt of Sriracha. Simmer for six hours. At the end of it, top of fresh grated Havarti cheese (all I had on hand, but worked really well) and fresh lime juice.

Let me tell you — and this came from Justin Achilli and others, this suggestion — the lime juice is the fucking kicker, the corker, the game winner. I mean, it totally elevated the flavor profile of this chili. I will never again make chili without that final spurt of lime juice at the finish line.

Great stuff. And crowdsourced in part by the power of Human Google. Computers don’t need to give us the answers. Computers can instead facilitate us giving one another the answers.

That, and really weird porn.