Tag: Joseph Lapin

Best Apps for Writers

When I first started writing stories, poetry, and (attempts) at novels (I’m still actively attempting btw), I thought the act of creation all came from the hand of God or a lightning strike from the muse, but honestly, what I’ve realized is that whenever an author talks like this he or she is mostly full of shit. Inspiration, of course, strikes, but saying that a novel is completed because it came to an author in a dream or was written in one night after a hallucinogenic trip is mostly marketing and exaggeration. For example, Kerouac wrote his draft of “On the Road” so many times that when he wrote it in two weeks that just meant that’s when he wrote the final draft. The marketing behind that gave the book mystique, and writers and artists capitalize on this branding (admit it!) all the time. Don’t believe the hype. (Kerouac’s credibility as a writer has suffered and thrived based on this idea.)

Well, honestly, I did believe the hype before, and I would try to write in a way that believed in the sudden strike of inspiration: waiting in my office for the muse to tap me on the shoulder and whisper in my ear. What this led to was a pile of digital shit. Yeah. But now that I’m older and I have a profession where I’m required to stay organized and structured, I’ve started to apply a lot of the knowledge I’ve learned from marketing and project management to my creative work. I’ve learned that there are tools that I can use to ensure that I’m focused, organized, and motivated. I should probably thank Clayton Dean, the co-founder of Circa Interactive, for showing me several apps that have helped me harness my creativity. So here are my top 3 apps that I recommend for every writer to stay organized and on track to finishing your gigantic project.

3. Evernote

Evernote_Logo_Vector_Resource_by_rstovall

Evernote is the app I just can’t live without. I’ve heard people from corporations to creative agencies swear by this app, but I didn’t really understand how to use this tool until I read The Secret Weapon. Evernote keeps everything in my life prioritized and organized, and if this app ever shut down, then I would probably, legitimately, collapse. I’m able to create a tag system that allows me to move my tasks around, send emails directly to my app so I can look at them later, and sync my notes across my lap top, smart phone and desktop. Without Evernote, I wouldn’t be able to keep track of the countless tasks in my life (from writing, to work, to my relationships) and then organize them depending on need. What’s really important about this app is that it allows me to stop exerting so much mental energy trying to remember what tasks I need to care of (Did I send that email to my client? Did I remember to buy flowers for my wife for our anniversary? When was I supposed to send the editor those revisions?) and focus on creating my art in my free time. It allows my subconscious to focus on building stories rather than organization.

2. Aeon Timeline

When I’m writing a novel or a complicated short story, the hardest part for me is figuring out the backstory. It’s not that I can’t create the ideas and build a rich life for my characters; it’s that it’s so hard for me to keep them together and know exactly when and where dates and events
happen in time. Right now, I’m working on a novel that is fairly complex and needs to be carefully plotted. It spans generations but the actually telling of the story happens in just under a week and a half. While I’m not actually going to include all of the events of the characters’ backstory in the novel, I need to know what they are, because for these characters, the past is always pulling at them, altering the present and causing characters to sometimes take dangerous paths to find answers to personal histories. So I was looking at organizing generations of characters lives and trying to find ways to keep them organized. I was stuck. So I just started Googling for tools to help. That’s when I came across Aeon Timeline.

What I love about Aeon Timeline is that it’s easy to use. You can watch a couple of videos on YouTube, and you’ll know the interface pretty well. But it really captures exactly what I need to build a novel. I can create birthdays for characters and then add events on a timeline, and it will automatically calculate their ages based on the event. I can see from an aggregate when characters meet, when tragic events happen, and how much time happens between events. I can separate events by characters, highlight the characters who are involved in the scene, and build separate timelines for what actually happens on stage (to borrow a plot phraseology from the great author Lynne Barrett) and off stage. In other words, I’m able to see what the reader is seeing while I need to know what is happening elsewhere in the world of the novel. I am able to figure out when I can reveal these developments to the reader and create precision with plotting and build suspense. Of course, you have to come up with the idea first, but Aeon Timeline provides an author with the tool to digitally map a story while using modern technology to build a plot rather than the messy colored pencil method, which of course works. It’s just that for me I need to see the story digitally and zoom in and out and manipulate the information ad nauseam.

1. Scrivener

scrivener-logo

For writing long manuscripts, I’ve always felt that Microsoft Word never really performed. Of course, Word has a pretty solid UX, but it’s clearly not designed with the author in mind. It’s meant for the business professional and the daily lives of American people. Clayton was really pushing me to find a writing app that was targeted specifically for writers. He’s a major supporter of Evernote, and he encouraged me to consider Evernote’s writing platforms. He loves the simplicity of the UX, but it just wasn’t feeling quite right for my work. Evernote drips with my professional life as well as my creative. It’s sort of the essence of my work life, and I wanted to have another arm of my being that was devoted just to creative projects. That’s when I came across Scrivener.

It’s not easy for me to describe why Scrivener is so important, but in a nutshell, it allows writers to break down gigantic texts into parts, move back and forth between displays, and create flash cards for chapters. It’s really an amazing product that does everything Evernote does — organize research, save audio and video, and build a tag structure around content to easily search between parts — but it’s made with the writer in mind. I love their distraction free writing mode, too, which has a typewriter effect, which allows the mouse to stay in the center of the screen…like a typewriter. I’m never going back to Word. I’ll literally never write the same way again.

Thoughts on the Zeitgeist: Patriots Ravens, Obama in Paris & the Pope in Diapers

Design by Joseph Lapin
Design by Joseph Lapin

Today I’m beginning a new series called “My Thoughts on the Zeitgeist.” Let me explain. In my role as creative director at Circa Interactive, I have to stay on top of the media to create content that taps into larger trends. I have to remain cognizant of the broader narratives for journalism. I have to understand what’s ahead and building to a boiling point in order to create timely blog content. And I have to continue to find ways to keep my creative pieces relevant by following the world as closely as possible. At work, when we’re in that moment, in the spirit of the times, we call this tapping into the zeitgeist. So I’m always reading the news, and I figured I could use this strategy a bit more for my blog posts. I decided to start a series on my blog that examines a few stories in the media (sports, culture, law, finance, marketing, SEO, literature, etc) and comment on them. Simple as that. This will be the first week.

1. “Bipolar Wackos” in the NFL Playoffs

As you may know, I’m a huge Patriots fan. Tom Brady is a superstar that was once an underdog. I find the team inspiring, and in terms of digital media, the Patriots website is one of the leaders in advancing content marketing and sports business. Like most people, I was absorbed in the playoff game between the Ravens and the Patriots, and I must have read every single article on Twitter about the game and the strange formations.

While I was going trough my twitter feed this morning, a story on 98.5 the Sports Hub’s coverage that caught my attention. It was about a fight between Steve Smith, current Ravens wide receiver, and Jermaine Wiggins, former New England Patriot tight end who became a legend in the tuck-rule game. The big story was that Steve Smith approached Wiggins after the game to let him know that he was upset over being called a bully. Sure, this sounds like two middle schoolers fighting in the parking lot after a baseball game, but it’s sports. So I’m not expecting a conversation analyzing the plot of “American Beauty.”

Scott Zolak, a former Patriot who interviews Belichick on the Bellestrator (the hoodie breaks down film of previous games, and it’s incredible), starts to give a play-by-play of the incident. I’m listening and intrigued, but then he says this: “Steve Smith is a diminutive guy. He’s about as big as Bob Socci. Everything we talked about last week with Suggs being the nut job, the bipolar wacko…”

That’s when I stopped. Did he just say bipolar wacko? A journalist, a commentator, a respected professional in the media really just used bipolar wacko, the nut job, on the radio? Honestly, this comment shows ignorance on the part of Scott Zolak, and it’s a nuisance for anyone who has ever lived with someone with bipolar disorder. If you have needed to help someone who has bipolar, you know how difficult it can be show them that they have an illness, because it’s such a stigma, especially in their own mind. The illness is still viewed as a failure, and people with mental illness have enough problems in the world than to have ridiculous stereotypes and ignorance being shared on the radio.

Okay, I know what you’re saying. I’m being the PC police. Learn to chill out. Take a joke. Well, Scott Zolak is not a comedian. This is a normal conversation on sports radio, and a journalist is using such an ignorant and lazy description to describe one of the most unique characters in the NFL. Don’t get me wrong here, I still have a lot of respect for Scott Zolak and think he’s a great commentator, but I just wish people took more care for how they used the word bipolar and developed a better understanding of the nuances and complications of mental illness. Perhaps Zolak actually does. If so, I wish he would have shown it.

2. Obama Didn’t Show Up in Paris. So? 

Credit: Joseph Lapin
Credit: Joseph Lapin

The terrorist attacks in Paris were atrocious. Je Suis Charlie. C’est vrai. The protection of freedom of speech is essential. I believe America clearly stands with Paris in terms of finances, policy, and security issues.

But Obama is taking a lot of heat for not being in Paris to join 1.5 million people, including many important global leaders, who marched down the Boulevard Voltaire on Sunday in a show of unity against extremism. We sent Eric Holder instead, and the world is insulted that Obama or Biden didn’t show up in person.

The White House has since acknowledged that they should have sent a higher ranking official. I just think this criticism is really unfair. Think about it: For one moment German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, French President François Hollande and other European and African leaders were in one spot. They were standing together. Yes, it was a great message sent to the terrorists that we were not scared, that we were not bothered by their terror tactics, that we would stand up to extremism everywhere we find it, but it was also like putting a target on the back of every one of those leaders and inviting an opportunity for disaster. In one awful moment, the world could have lost some of its best leaders.

Yes, I get it. That’s the point. Show them we’re not scared. I love the idea. It was a momentous occasion that will definitely go down in the history books, but should Obama ignore his intel? Should Obama ignore the threat? Should he wave the middle finger in front of killers and dare them to kiss his ass?

We were there. Obama was there. I am there. Anyone who believes in human rights was there. I don’t doubt that about Obama. I just believe his staff made a decision they thought was right based on the information they had.

I mean, look what Ted Cruz wrote: “The absence is symbolic of the lack of American leadership on the world stage, and it is dangerous. The attack on Paris, just like previous assaults on Israel and other allies, is an attack on our shared values.”

Bullshit.

3. Now Time for Something Funny 

Credit Derek Peto
Credit Derek Peto

Pope Francis is kind of rock star. He’s seen as a man of the people, and he rides buses and drives old cars instead of going for a spin in a fancy pope mobile. ABC News even reported that he sneaks out of the vatican in tattered clothes as a disguise to treat the homeless and sick. He sounds like a hell of a guy, honestly, and I’m not religious at all.

What’s fascinating about Pope Francis this week is that he’s due to visit the Philippines. When the Pope shows up in Manila, he’s expected to draw an enormous crowd that will put security and facilities at capacity. This is forcing many people in Manila to, well, flip a shit.

“About 2,000 traffic enforcers who will be on duty during the Jan. 15-19 papal visit will be required to wear adult diapers, said Metropolitan Manila Development Authority chairman Francis Tolentino,” reports the AP.

That’s 2,000 government officials in diapers. When I see images of that crowd all I’ll be able to think about is 2,000 people potentially pooping in their pants. It’s not just traffic enforcers either. The people attending the event are also encouraged to wear diapers.

Well, that’s it for my thoughts on the media this week. I’ll probably try this again. Finally, I wanted to leave you with something Aziz Ansari recently tweeted at Ruport Murdoch.

Five Observations from the Patriots Chargers Game

Joseph Lapin
Joseph Lapin

This past weekend I went to watch the New England Patriots take on the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium, and it was a game that put the Patriots one step closer to a first-round bye and home field advantage in the playoffs. I had the hook up with the seats, and I was sitting at field level, where I could see just how big Rob Gronkowski looked next to Julian Edelman. (It was like looking at a hobbit standing next to those giant walking trees in Lord of the Rings.) The game was unbelievable, and the Patriots took control in the fourth quarter. But for the people who couldn’t make the game, I wanted to share my observations. These aren’t the type of observations that would show up on ESPN; it’s just the way I experienced the game. Hope you’ll enjoy. Your comments are always appreciated. (By the way, I took the following photos on my phone, so they’re not the highest quality.)

5. Qualcomm Stadium is a Disaster

Photo Credit Joseph Lapin
Photo Credit Joseph Lapin

I heard that Qualcomm Stadium was a disaster from many people, which is probably why there are so many rumors out there that the Chargers are moving to Los Angeles. They haven’t put money into the stadium seemingly since 1992. We heard the traffic was awful too, so I had my wife drop us off at IKEA, and we walked over to the stadium, cutting through corporate industrial parks and trails on the side of a steep hill. It was hilarious because at the end of the night there were so many drunk fans trying to scale the hill that it turned into a traffic jam. At the same time I’m bashing the Chargers’ stadium, it really reminded me of being a kid and going to the original Foxboro Stadium. The seats were all metal, so you would freeze your ass off in the middle of the game. I loved that stadium and hated it at the same time.

4. Chargers Fans Secretly Love Tom Brady

Photo Credit Joseph Lapin
Photo Credit Joseph Lapin

This guy was sitting behind me. He was holding this photo up real proud. I’m not really sure what he was trying to accomplish here. Yeah, I get it; he’s trying to say that the Patriots are cheaters because of Spygate, but what’s up with putting Tom Brady on a poster hugging a ball with his shirt off. This guy secretly loves Tom Brady. The fans were screaming, “Tom Brady runs like a girl.” I saw someone had taken an image of Brady and put a wig on him. Even girls were yelling he runs like a girl, and I was just sort of questioning the root of all this “shit” talk. They were really trying to emasculate Brady. That’s fine. But don’t you kind of look silly with signs like this? Continue reading “Five Observations from the Patriots Chargers Game”

I am my Data: WSJ Reports Planes Used in Spying Program

Design By Joseph Lapin
Design By Joseph Lapin

Right now, I’m sitting at the bar in Thorn Street Brewery in North Park, San Diego, drinking an American Strong Ale. B.B. King is on the radio, and a bartender is pouring pints, and she looks like one of the characters out of a Denis Johnson short story. This place feels like it’s about to turn into a juke joint, as they’re now blaring the “Mess Around,” glasses are clinking, and people are talking loudly over the music. The bartender is now shaking her hips, trying to tease the tips out of the wallets. What I’m thinking about is turning to the bald guy in the teal polo sitting on the stool next to me and telling him about a story I read recently in the Wall Street Journal, but I think he would end up thinking I was the neighborhood mad man.

Basically, I want to tell this guy next to me and the old woman drinking a beer in front of me like it’s a hot tea about the brand new American spy program. I want to tell them all about how “the Justice Department is scooping up data from thousands of mobile phones through devices deployed on airplanes that mimic cellphone towers,” as reported by the WSJ. I want to tell them that this program has been instituted secretly since 2007, and it’s really freaking brilliant and scary and wrong and right all at the same time. I want to say this as I hear stiletto heels clomping along the hardwood floors and the bartender now complains how she is so hungover from her birthday last night.

Here’s what happens: the Cessna aircraft “mimic cell towers … and trick cellphones into reporting” their data in hopes of tracking down terrorists or drug dealers. The technology is so impressive that it’s reported to be able to pinpoint targets “under investigation by the government,” and it sweeps thousands of phones at the same time in order to nail down the targets exact location, even within a massive skyscraper, while pushing aside ‘innocent bystanders and “letting go” of their data.

Of course, the Justice Department is neither confirming or denying the report, but they are defending the action by the U.S. Marshals Service, as reported by several sources, and it’s in line with a much larger stance that our government has taken on data: Whatever works for the greater good and security of our country is within the Constitution and, yes, The Dark Knight.

But how many people were shocked by this news? I mean, Kim Kardashian broke the Internet, and it wasn’t the news of another American spy program. Now, relax, I’m not trying to get on a high horse here and discuss why it’s important that we pay attention to the news over celebrities showing their gorgeous and stunning booties (We only have one life [unless you’re a buddhist], and if you want to spend it cramming your brain with celebrities asses and their petty relationships, then I support you; I watch plenty of ESPN), but what really just shocks me is that we still don’t care that our data is being harvested like Monsanto corn and that we still don’t see this massive data collection as an invasion of privacy.

I actually argued this in a Salon article I wrote after I heard that our government admitted to the existence of Area 51, and I’m still trying to make this point today. (People shredded my article on the comment boards.) As a country, we’re so used to our authorities lying to us, spying on us, fucking with us, playing with us, tricking us, mind-fucking us, that we eventually stopped being shocked, we stopped being scared, we stopped caring.

The truth is planes collecting our data on a massive scale with approval from an actual court system that is relatively secret isn’t thought of as shocking anymore. Think about it: we’ve since this well before Will Smith starred in I, Robot. Remember Enemy of the State? This isn’t even the only movie that shows how invaded our civil liberties are in terms of data collection. There are countless.

Our pop culture and news have reported on data invasion more times than Kevin Bacon has appeared in films. I feel somewhat bad for the WSJ. They broke a gigantic story, but it’s already old. It’s almost a footnote in the battle for civil liberties in the digital age. I mean, this is what the ACLU said in the WSJ article:

Maybe it’s worth violating privacy of hundreds of people to catch a suspect, but is it worth thousands or tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of peoples’ privacy?

So yes, I get it. I’m not an idiot. Advancing technology can have a gigantic impact on the protection of our country. Yes, it’s important to use these new techniques to capture dangerous criminals in order to safeguard our communities, our people, our children, our infrastructure, the very bedrock of the American people. It’s important that I can have the freedom and the safety to sit in this bar and criticize my government while B.B. King just seduces Lucille with so much charm and sex that it feels the sound is about to melt the walls. (Yeah, I’m going overboard with my metaphors, but that’s my right as an American [lol!].) I’m not trying to take the stance that data can’t be used to help fight crime, but I am against the idea that collecting my data isn’t an invasion of privacy.

When the U.S. Marshals fly over “most of the U.S. population” collecting the remnants of my cellphone, I take that personally. I read that as they’re literally snatching pieces of my unconscious and conscious thoughts. What I surf on my phone, my location, my texts, my browsing history are really intensely personal parts of my existence. It’s like when someone drives your car and rifles through your music collection or the police walk into your home and check your browsing history or that Spotify is sharing with the world what you’re currently listening to without fully being cognizant of this information.

I am my data, and when I was born as an American, I didn’t sign a freaking terms of service that allowed the government to invade my privacy. I take offense to my government collecting my data with planes and fake cell phone towers without my permission, without my knowledge. Perhaps I would be all right with this type of security if I was given the options and the collection of my data was guaranteed to be private, but I don’t trust my government yet. I believe that whatever technology the media reports on the Justice Department will already be 1,ooo steps behind what  technology their currently using to “protect” our lives and invade them at the same time.

Wow, someone in the bar behind me just yelled, “you’re a fucking sniper.” Well, that’s it. I’m signing out from North Park, San Diego. Remember, your comments are always appreciated — especially if you disagree with me.

Seeing Signs in San Diego, California

I’m beginning a new chapter in my journey, and my setting has changed; my wife and I are now living in San Diego, California. When I was a kid living in Massachusetts, there were two places that I always dreamed about living: San Diego and anywhere in Florida. I’ve now accomplished both. It’s funny how the paths to what we want are circuitous, but there are signs along the way that make you understand you’re heading in the right direction. I’ll explain.

Design by Joseph Lapin
Design by Joseph Lapin

When I look at San Diego and compare it to Los Angeles, the cities are so different. Right now, I have my window open in my office, and the dead desert air is blowing into my window, and I don’t hear any sirens, no sounds of traffic, only an unsettling stillness. In the morning, I drive to work, and I’m not stuck in the tin-can confusion of morning rush hour. And the pace of life here is so much slower. In the morning, I drive to a neighborhood coffee shop and order a coffee. I’m in line with only about two other people, and I’m a bit impatient because I want to get to work, when I realize the owner and the barista are talking to the customers. They don’t give a shit if I’m in a rush. They want to talk to their customer and see how they’re doing. Continue reading “Seeing Signs in San Diego, California”