First Impressions: My iPad Wi-Fi + 3G

ipad_video_star_trek-300x189.jpg

Thanks to my girlfriend's boundless generosity, I am now the proud owner of a 64GB iPad; one of the "Wi-Fi + 3G" models. I've had about a full day to play with the device. I'll share my initial thoughts about the iPad and its potential here, and may write another post down the road. Before diving in, permit me two paragraphs that are intended to proactively address community concerns and potential feedback. I know many of you are supporters of the DRM-free open software and hardware movement, and are philosophically opposed to proprietary, closed marketplaces and technologies. I also know there are consumers who crave more of "something" in the iPad -- USB ports, a camera, Flash support, etc.

As a new media creator, I have always appreciated the open culture philosophy ... and as a consumer, I appreciate the hunger in wanting more of "something" in the products I purchase. However, this "first impressions" review will not address those matters. As an intelligent adult who's fully capable of making informed decisions, I understand the landscape and idealogical arguments, and have clearly made my purchase. Advocates may respectfully beat the drum in the comments (for it is a worthy drum to beat), as long as they respect my right to purchase and support the products I wish.

With that out of the way, what do I think of the iPad? I'm smitten. For the past day, I've consistently marveled at the speed and slickness of the device's software, and the elegance of its hardware. I've experienced a sense of wonder at nearly every turn, and have hummed a childlike mantra while using it: I can do anything! In this respect, I submit that the device is as "magical" as Apple's marketing campaign suggests: it's an intuitive, dazzling experience.

I haven't used a product this personally transformative since I purchased my first computer, a Mac LC, fifteen years ago.

Wi-fi speeds scream. I've yet to use the device's 3G feature, as I haven't had the need to drop $20 or $30 for "internet anywhere" access. However, I imagine speeds will be comparable to my iPhone's 3G transfer speeds (which are adequate for anywhere-access).

While the iPad certainly won't be the only slate-like device to disrupt the saturated PC/laptop/netbook space, I'm betting it'll be one of the best. Performance is excellent in the apps I've used, as is the display and touchscreen interface. The external mono speaker is very good; headphone audio is excellent. I'm no screen expert (or a device critic for that matter), but I've been amazed by the picture quality. It's the perfect size for what it does.

Much like Apple's iPhone and iPod Touch products, the iPad's true brilliance is its flexibility and personalization. I've downloaded several apps that match my interests and needs. They include:

  • Evernote: Note application that syncs notes over multiple devices via the web. Killer app.
  • Pages: Word processing app. I haven't used it yet. More on this in a moment.
  • iBooks: Apple's electronic bookstore. More on this in a moment.
  • Kindle: Amazon's electronic bookstore. More on this in a moment.
  • Comics and Marvel Comics apps: Electronic comic book app. More on this in a moment.
  • NewsRack: RSS/blog reader app. Spiffy.
  • Twitterific: An adequate aggregator of your (and my) preposterous, ADD-addled tweets.
  • A/V network apps such as NPR, ABC Player, TWiTPad: Terrific presentation of streaming content from excellent media outlets.
  • Netflix: This is a frickin' game changer. Amazing streaming video experience.
  • Text-based media apps such as USA Today, NYT Editors' Choice, SCI FI Wire: More great content, smartly packaged.

No games yet, as I'm not much of a gamer. I might give one a spin.

On to the stuff that's been in my head since the iPad was announced months ago. After asking Twitter pals to submit topics for this review, it looks like many of you have been thinking the same things.

How's the overall touch-based experience? Excellent; even better than the iPhone and iPod Touch experience. This is mostly because there's now real-deal real estate for fingers to do cool and interesting things.

What about multi-tasking? Like the current iPhone, the iPad does not support multitasking. This feature will come to the device this Fall in a software update. I've found my iPad experience to be just fine without it. I've been aiming for fewer distractions in my life, and a lack of multi-tasking certainly focuses my full attention to the content in-hand.

Is the iPad a laptop or netbook replacement? That depends entirely on how you do your computing. Most folks use their PCs to check email, surf the web, browse photos, listen to tunes, watch videos. The iPad absolutely does these things, and does them excellently. The device excels as a portal to consume content, just like a computer. (More on this later.)

Is the iPad J.C.'s laptop replacement? No. While it's entirely possible to bang out a novel-length work or screenplay on the iPad, I don't think I'll be doing that. (Though I might try with shorter fiction.) I can't imagine creating a complex video, or recording and editing a podcast, or doing nearly all of the other creative stuff I do -- desktop publishing, website design, image creation/manipulation, etc. -- on the thing. I have no doubt that savvy developers will create apps to fill these gaps in the months and years ahead. I also have no doubt that the iPad's computing power will increase, making such content creation possible. But for the time being, I'll probably be rak-a-takking on my MacBook Pro's keyboard for robust content creation.

This shouldn't surprise people. If you're accustomed to writing long-form emails, fiction or essays on your mobile phone, you'll be fine. I'm not.

How's the on-screen keyboard? Really really good, actually. Typing is brisk, and -- as most reviewers have claimed -- most comfortable in landscape mode. The keyboard is accurate; blame your chubby digits for typos. I'm looking forward to connecting my Bluetooth wireless keyboard to the iPad. Typing will certainly become even easier then; writing long-form content will be more feasible.

Is it just like a big iPod Touch? No. The speed of the device, and the amazing screen, take the touch experience (and content consumption experience) to the next level. It feels like you're holding the future. The iPad does indeed represent a sweet spot: we're accustomed to experiencing media in similarly-sized dimensions (books, magazines, etc.), and the iPad plays nice with that cultural programming. Blessedly, you'll no longer have to squint at the screen while watching video, or reading a book.

But it's really just a big iPod Touch. Right? Whatever you say.

How does it feel in your hands? Too heavy? Nope. It has a reassuring heft. In contrast, my Kindle e-reader always felt toylike in my paws. This is probably a throwback to my analog childhood, in which I always mentally equated quality with weight. If it's heavy, it's expensive. Don't touch it.

How does it work as an ebook reader? Excellently. Much fuss has been made about the iPad's screen (and backlit screens in general), and the accompanying eyestrain from reading material on it. I haven't experienced this, but I did find myself widening my eyes as I read books and comics -- not from the content; more likely from the backlit presentation. I had enough sense to consciously relax my eyes, and reduce the screen's brightness if needed. With these mental and physical adjustments, the device works perfectly well as an ebook reader.

It's brilliant as an e-comic reader too. Comics publishers truly, madly, deeply need to get their shit together in this emerging space. Selection of new stories is currently anemic. Not offering "digital trade paperback" editions of old storylines is a blown opportunity. DC Comics would have easily made $100 off of me in the past day, had they offered Grant Morrison's JLA or Warren Ellis' Transmetropolitan collections in e-format. But as far as I can tell, DC isn't in the e-comic space at all. A shame.

Regardless, the writing was on the wall years ago, but it's in day-glow green now: Paper is now absolutely unnecessary to enjoy traditionally paper-based content.

Will the Apple, iPad and iBookstore marketplace save publishing? No. Only publishing can save publishing. The industry is thoroughly fucked on so many levels by insulated, tech-intimidated decision makers who are (probably) well-intentioned, yet desperate to protect an imploding content creation, promotion and distribution model. But, as they did with the Kindle marketplace, publishers are dutifully porting their text-based books to Apple's iBookstore -- a good thing, as it's another revenue stream money-grab. That's good news for authors.

Will consumers cough up $13 for iBooks that they can purchase in traditional format for $10 at Amazon? As with all things, the marketplace will decide ... and the industry will likely be slow to respond.

How can new media authors benefit from this new platform? The secret to differentiation and success isn't getting your stuff in the iBookstore. It's in apps. And I'll leave it at that.

How has the iPad impacted your life? I'm consuming more media than I was before, for one thing. I'm reading more, and reading content I typically wouldn't via apps. Unlike folks who love bebopping to bookmarked websites or cramming their RSS readers with countless feeds, I enjoy the packaged experience of consuming content through the iPad applications.

Pundits claim this practice is antithetical to the philosophy fueling the web -- that information need not be packaged and placed behind a branded "walled garden" (such as the NYT Editors' Choice app, or the SCI FI Wire app) to be enjoyed. I absolutely understand that, but I also dig the curated, convenient experience of tapping an icon, skimming headlines, and diving in deeper if I wish. Different strokes for different folks. The iPad has a great web browser, which permits users to go anywhere on the web they wish for more information.

I'm also spending more money in the iTunes marketplace than I ever did while using my iPhone. There's a few reasons for this:

  • Obtaining some iPad apps, such as Pages, costs cash.
  • Some free apps brilliantly sell content within the app (such as the comiXology Comics and Marvel Comics apps). I never would have read Ellis' 2004 Iron Man: Extremis storyline, had it not been for the iPad. It's excellent stuff.
  • I wanted to see how purchasing video content from the iTunes app worked. Snagged two Lady Gaga music videos. As with the other video content I've loaded on the device, these videos looked and sounded terrific. She's so pretty.

These recent purchases bring me to my suspicion about the iPad since its announcement, which is now confirmed by my ownership:

The iPad is built from the circuitboards up to get you to buy shit. Lots of shit. Music, books, videos, apps (and content within those apps), all via iTunes. Unlike the iPhone -- which has at least one true real-world "purpose," to make calls -- the iPad is savvily designed to be an impulse purchase portal. This is neither a good thing nor a bad thing; it simply is, and folks who ignore Apple's brilliant business model do so at the peril of their bank account. Keep an eye on those purchases, peeps. Spending money doesn't hurt when you can't see it pass from your hand to the clerk's.

Parting thoughts? The iPad is wicked cool -- and for my lifestyle, wicked useful. Any quibbles I have with the device are so minor, they're not worth mentioning. The thing is very expensive, probably too expensive for most folks to purchase in good conscience. However, if you're interested in this fascinating and disruptive "middle ground" between a smartphone and laptop, have no qualms with embracing the iPad and iTunes marketplace as they are, and have the money to spend, I recommend it without reservation.

I'm holding the future in my hands, man. I can do anything.

--J.C.

7th Son: Descent reviewed in Publisher's Weekly

I'm honored and humbled by Publisher's Weekly recent review of 7th Son: Descent, which will be in bookstores next month... ---

7th Son: Descent J.C. Hutchins. St. Martin's Griffin, $14.99 paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-312-38437-1

Hutchins's debut SF thriller, the first in a trilogy, has the unusual distinction of starting life as a popular podcast. The fast pace set from the beginning serves the story well in audio or print, especially considering that most of the characters are clones of the same man. They're sent to find their “Alpha” after he rigs a proxy assassination of the president of the United States through stolen government technology capable of unleashing chaos everywhere. Hutchins successfully fleshes out each clone as a separate personality, from happy everyman John Smith to the priest who fears that, as a clone, he has no soul. Though there's not a lot for the hard SF crowd, thriller readers seeking edge-of-your-seat action flavored with conspiracy and futuristic tech will love every page. (Nov.)

---

I'm proud of my little book, and am absolutely thrilled PW dug it, too. And let's not forget why PW was able to review the novel in the first place: YOU.

For more than three years, you've cheered and challenged me creatively. I haven't the words to fully express my gratitude for all the love and support you've shown me … but know that it is reciprocated a hundred-fold. You inspire me.

--J.C.

Personal Effects reviewed at the "A Life In The Day" blog

Make no mistake: As an author, I'm tremendously grateful for the positive reviews that industry publications such as Publishers Weekly and The Library Journal have recently given my debut thriller, Personal Effects: Dark Art. Those publications' comments represent invaluable validation of my skills, and bring credibility to the story I've told. But nothing beats the comments of a "real" reader (like this one) -- someone like you and me, an in-the-trenches lover of books who's far removed from the publishing biz. That's why I was delighted to read Greg's comments over at his A Life In The Day blog, in which he reviewed Dark Art. A snippet:

(P)eppered throughout the book and the included papers are websites to visit with background on the characters and on The Brink, phone numbers and voicemail codes .... All these enhance the total experience, and I found myself more invested in how the novel played out. ...

As for the story itself, J.C. Hutchins and Jordan Weisman have crafted a fine horror/thriller that can stand on its own, without the "out of book" experience. Incredibly well-drawn characters ... and an involving story made this a novel that I didn't want to put down. I had to know what happened next to the characters, and some nights begrudgingly set aside the book so I could get some sleep.

You can't beat that review with a stick, peeps. Many thanks to Greg for the killer review. Check it out here -- and if you’d like to support this trailblazing new breed of storytelling, consider pre-ordering a copy of the book.

Welcome to The Brink,

–J.C.

Media maven C.C. Chapman reviews Personal Effects

C.C. Chapman

As I've galivanted around the New Media space for the past three years, I've made some tremendously talented and kind-hearted friends. One of the most talented and kind-hearted is C.C. Chapman, host of the Accident Hash and Managing the Gray podcasts, and co-founder of The Advance Guard, a trailblazing social media marketing company. The man has a heart of gold, but holds no punches when it comes to critiquing ideas or fiction. Which is why I am stoked beyond words when he called me "one twisted, demented and talented writer" in his review of my debut thriller, Personal Effects: Dark Art.

You gotta read his review, as it sums up much of the vibe I was gunning for while writing the novel. Some highlights:

  • "One part CSI, two parts Fringe, a dash of X-Files with a healthy dose of Sneakers and a dash of Suicide Girls thrown in for good measure..."
  • "As with most good books, it was over far too fast..."
  • "Hutch has a way of giving you just enough back story and little details about every character that you crave more, while you fall in love with them..."
  • "If you’ve ever enjoyed something by Steven King or James Patterson, then you are definitely going to dig this book..."

I'm honored and flattered that C.C. enjoyed the book so much. So, go. Read his review, and check out his own killer content. And take his advice: "Trust me, and order a copy today." :)

--J.C.

Library Journal digs Personal Effects: Dark Art

From the May 15 edition of Library Journal:

Hutchins, J.C. & Jordan Weisman. Personal Effects: Dark Art. Griffin: St. Martin's. Jun. 2009. c.320p. illus. ISBN 978-0-312-38382-4. $24.95. FANTASY

Art therapist Zach Taylor draws the unenviable task of investigating alleged serial killer Martin Grace, who claims to have forseen but not caused the victims' deaths. This supernatural thriller incorporates technology: googling Martin Grace, for example, brings up newspaper articles about the murders, and the cell phone numbers in the book allow the reader to "access" a character's voicemail. As Taylor struggles to find the truth not only about his subject but also his own mysterious past, the artwork provides clues. Cutting-edge experimental fiction meets dark fantasy in an interactive novel that may herald the future of modern fiction. Sure to appeal to those who like offbeat fiction or horror.


I'm honored by this review; the last two sentences are a pitch-perfect encapsulation of what the book is all about, and to whom it will appeal. Library Journal gets it. Awesome. Learn more about the novel here, and kindly consider pre-ordering a copy. Your purchase now improves my chances of hitting bestseller lists with my print debut.

--J.C.

I KILLED TOM ATKINS -- Review: "My Bloody Valentine 3D"

mybloodyvalentine3d_galleryposter

If you've got a dark spot in your heart where an unapologetic love for slasher flicks, blood-spurting gore, dismemberment, and innovative filmmaking resides, I've got six words for ya: Go. See. My Bloody Valentine 3D.

I'm no film critic, and I'm not going to pretend to have an unbiased perspective about Valentine 3D, the new LionsGate horror flick. I'm buddies with Valentine 3D's director Patrick Lussier, and even had a smidgen of input on the script. The end result? I killed Tom Atkins. More on that in a moment.

Back to Valentine 3D. The movie is equal parts cutting-edge modern horror flick, and homage to the great classic slasher pictures of the late '70s and early '80s -- the original 1981 My Bloody Valentine being one of them. The grisly tale takes place in Harmony, Penn., a mining town that's running on fumes ... and haunted by a mineshaft massacre ten years ago.

Back then, young Tom Hanniger (played by the my-goodness-could-the-guy-be-any-studlier Jensen Ackles, best known for Supernatural) made a grave mistake while overseeing his father's mine. A tunnel collapsed, trapping several miners. Only one emerged alive days later: Harry Warden. He slayed all of his colleagues after the accident, to preserve his air supply.

Warden goes on another killing spree on Valentine's Day, and is killed by Sheriff Burke (played by the mighty Tom Atkins; geeks will remember him from The Fog and Escape From New York, as well as Maniac Cop). Warden is gone for good.

Or is he?

Cut to ten years later, as Hanniger returns to Harmony after a mysterious disappearance. He's here to sell his father's mining company, but his sudden appearance disrupts the quiet lives of the friends (and former lover) he left behind. Worse still, it looks like psychopath Harry Warden is also back in town ... and he's got a pickaxe to grind with damned-near everyone.

Bring on the gore, baby!

mybloodyvalentine3d_teaser

The movie is unapologetically violent, knows exactly what it is -- and what its audience expects -- and delivers. This ain't no PG-13 horror flick (PG-13 is for pussies, demographic sweet spots be damned), and it ain't no presposterous "torture porn" snuff-film wannabe, ala Saw, either.

This is a man in a creepy-as-hell miner's suit (complete with spooky rebreather) with a pickaxe. And he's bringing a world of hurt to sleepy little Harmony.

I want to comment on four noteworthy things before I talk about my role in killing Tom Atkins: Gore, story, 3D and editing.

GORE: Valentine 3D's got it. There's gobs-o-gallons of blood gushing in this flick -- poor Jensen Ackles gets a faceful in the first 10 minutes -- and the death scenes are memorable and inventive. Villain Harry Warden is towering and iconic (definitely a 21st century "Jason" if you're into that sort of thing) and jeepers, the things he does with that pickaxe. I'm kinda scarred for life on the whole pickaxe thing now.

STORY: There's more than just blood pumping in this picture. The movie is smarter than its peers, and there are some delightful sparkles of dialogue and dark humor here. It's a lean and mean movie -- we don't waste much time deep sea diving into backstories of archetypal characters we already know so well -- and I partculalry enjoyed the Scream-esque "Who's the killer?" subplot. The ending is taut and well-conceived ... and be sure to stick around after the end credits. Not all may be what it seems.

3D, PART ONE: 3D's come a long way, baby. The 3D experience is rock-solid in Valentine 3D, and its filmmakers took great care to frame and shoot even the most pedestrian scenes (exposition, procedural stuff, etc.) with the technology in mind. There's always something "popping" on the screen, which Lussier and Co. deftly use for emotional and narrative impact.

3D, PART TWO: And while I admire Lussier's use of 3D in the obligitory "everyday" shots in Valentine 3D, he and cinematographer Brian Pearson get a standing ovation for its use in action and horror scenes. The pickaxe, blood and body parts fly. I physically reacted more than once -- "Oh shit!" *dodge* -- and cringed as the murderous mayhem soared my way.

EDITING: Lussier's direction is great stuff, and the actors are clearly having fun in Valentine 3D -- these are talented young people who came packing their A-games. But it's the film's editing that truly shines. Lussier, who has been Wes Craven's editor for the past 15 years, co-edited Valentine 3D, and his bloody fingerprints are all over it. The man is a master at both the "Boo!" scare, and the more terrifying slow burn tension scenes. Special props go out to composer Michael Wandmacher for a truly compelling score.

MY INVOLVEMENT: Okay, so now that I've gushed about the picture, what did I contribute to Valentine 3D? Months before principal photography, 7th Son fan Lussier asked me to take a peek at the script, and offer feedback. I did, pointing out some character stuff, digging the action and ending, and suggesting that there be more variation in the death scenes. I even pitched one.

Lussier kindly obliged ... and Tom Atkins took it in the jaw on my account. Go see the movie, and watch the angonizing horror that Lussier and Hutchins wrought upon the poor man. I gave a hoot during its blood-spattered punchline.

UPDATE: Check out what Atkins himself said when he read the death scene in the script: "I'm in for that! I want to do that!"

Also look for the name "HUTCHINS" on-screen during an interrogation scene between Harrigan (Ackle) and young Sheriff Palmer (smartly played by Kerr Smith). I also snag a "special thanks" mention in the end credits. That, friends, made my decade.

So whaddya waiting for? Don your miner's helmet, grab a pickaxe for protection, and check out My Bloody Valentine 3D!

--J.C.