Monthly Archive for July, 2007

An Interview with Matt Richtel, author of HOOKED

I became acquainted with Matt Richtel several years ago by way of the New York Times, where he’s a reporter and I’m a freelance contributor (which is to say he makes more money and enjoys health care benefits).

Matt was enthused about my first novel and did his best to get it covered in the Times, however the editor at the time took a pass to Matt’s pitch. I always appreciated the effort.

Now that Matt has published his own first novel it’s my turn to return the favor, giving Matt a little electronic ink here on JOEyGADGET.

The novel is the well received high-tech thriller Hooked, and here are Matt’s answers to my couple of questions about the writing life, the married life, and whether Hooked is a once-in-a-lifetime effort or will we see more fiction by Matt Richtel in the future.

JG: Rather than raised by wolves as I was, you were raised by readers. Have you always been a reader of fiction yourself, or more a non-fiction man, on account of your career as a journalist?

MR: Fiction Man (sounds like an ad for a cologne, or the name of a superhero who confuses people into submission by reading to them from James Joyce). I love getting swept up and lifted away by great fiction. Non-fiction, when I connect to it, is a great experience too. That usually entails very accessible writing and a compelling narrative. Also, I have to have enough brain space to permit engagement. But those are high hurdles in my book, and I don’t get over them as often in non-fiction.

JG: Were any particular novelists influential as far as style or voice
or in any other way?

MR (a.k.a. The “Fiction Man” cologne man): At this point, I don’t think I draw from others’ voices or styles but there are things I hope to accomplish – that I’ve particularly appreciated in other books:

– stories based on emotion and character
– fast, compelling reads
– a satisfying, even surprise, ending
– that sheds light on the rest of the book and even makes you see the book differently

These are basic tenets I hold to. I’ve loved a lot of books that I’m sure have influenced me in some way:

As a kid, I read Robert Ludlum and imagined myself a spy. And tried to read non-fiction history, and imagined myself as serious and scholarly as my father. I once was influenced by Douglas Adams and Rick Reilly (from Sports Illustrated) but have long since seen the limitations of my sense of humor and the fact they can’t be mimicked. Favorite fiction works over the years that have stuck with me include Confederacy of Dunces, Lolita, Catch 22, The Magus (John Fowles), Catcher in the Rye, various things by Kurt Vonnegut, and a ton of other books I can’t seem to recall at the moment…

Non-fiction: In Cold Blood, Into Thin Air, The Executioner’s Song (transcendent), and some anthropology, The Third Chimpanzee and The Selfish Gene. My tastes lately are varied and voracious In the last year or so, I’ve particularly enjoyed: Cormac McCarthy (the road, no country for old men, blood meridian), David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas); Jonathan Lethem (motherless brooklyn, guns with occasional music); Jonathan Safran Foer (everthing is illuminated, exremely loud and incredibly close); Jeannette Walls (The Glass Castle – GREAT non-fiction), Walter Mosely (the only writer whose books I collect; otherwise, our house is a library where you don’t have to return what you check out). Recent thriller/mystery reads: Lee Child, David Liss, Dennis Lehane, T. Jefferson Parker.

JG: Phew, that’s quite a list. Let’s take a breather from fiction for a moment and change the subject to tech. You’re a tech-savvy guy, so what do you think of the iPhone?

MR: Neat. Cool. Futuristic. Wouldn’t spend the $600.

JG: You know Madonna was pissed when Kevin Costner said her concert was “neat” in her film Truth or Dare. I wonder if Steve Jobs is touchy that way too. Anyway, speaking of movies, any chance we’ll see a movie adaptation of Hooked?

MR (a.k.a. Kevin Costner impersonator): Always a chance, but so far no one have stepped up to buy the movie rights and the chance to make zillions of dollars on what clearly is a zillion-dollar project just waiting to be made (perhaps we should upgrade our “make a zillion dollars” marketing pitch.

J.G. Your editor is the esteemed Jonathan Karp, who is also publisher of Twelve – an innovative press that which aims to fully focus all energies on one book per month. You were June’s pinup boy. Did the Twelve come through as promised?

MR: Karp. The Twelve. It was like having a Porsche for my first car. First class all the way. Attentive editing, a strong publicity and marketing effort, easy back-and-forth with Karp. I’d recommend it for anyone. From that perspective, I feel blessed by my association with the Twelve. The book has had a solid commercial run but has not been a national bestseller. Does that mean that things could have been done better? I tell you in all candor that I have no idea. I would imagine, given Karp’s track record, that he second guesses himself at times. I do not know for a fact. I think the reality is that it is not possible to will or create a bestseller, particularly something perceived as mystery/thriller genre. If that sounds passive/aggressive, I don’t mean it to. I have been incredibly fortunate.

Continue reading ‘An Interview with Matt Richtel, author of HOOKED’

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iPhone Spotted in Claw Crane Grabber Arcade Game

A friend visiting the boardwalk at Point Pleasant, NJ this weekend snapped shots of two arcade claw crane grabber machines with iPhone as hard-to-win booty. AT&T plan sold separately.

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One Minute Review: The Darkness (Xbox 360)

The Good: The Darkness is a beautiful first person shooter with a supernatural twist. Evoking your darkness powers becomes second nature after a few hours of play, and before you know it you’re flipping between creepy talents like there’s no tomorrow.

The Bad: Actually, there may be no tomorrow for supremely talented players because the game is pretty short. Also, while those darkness skills eventually become second nature, they’re pretty confusing to understand and difficult to evoke and control in the early stages of the game; a more detailed training run/explanation would help. Unremarkable ending with final boss Uncle Paulie, and though there are check points, the lack of a save-anywhere feature (as found in Prey or Quake 4, for instance) gets points off in my book.

Bottom Line: Quibbles aside, the game is totally creepy and fun to play. There’s nothing wilder than knocking out all the lights in an area and sending your Creeping Dark scouting ahead for you, going in, over and all around obstacles and rooms and nooks and crannies – then seeing it come flying back in a crazy blur when you retract it. The game is also available for PS3, however I prefer the Xbox 360 version because of those oh-so-addictive achievement points. B+

Also available: The Darkness for PS 3.

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MSNBC.com: Can the iPhone do double duty as a laptop?

Can the iPhone do double duty as a laptop?
Slick new phone proves it can go the distance as an all-in-one device
By Joe Hutsko

Also: iWish: iPhone updates we’d like to see

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The Orange Box: Box artwork for Half-Life 2 collection revealed

Valve Software has ponied up box shots of the upcoming collection, The Orange Box. Though I’ve always liked keyboard and mouse play better than console controller, this is one game I can’t wait to play all crashed out in front of the HDTV.

   

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MSNBC.com: iQuit – Love affair with iPhone cools when handset breaks

Love affair with iPhone cools when handset breaks
After four days with phone, trouble in paradise
By Joe Hutsko

Falling in lust with an expensive device like the iPhone sets owners up for a hard fall if it stops working. I know, because mine died after only four days into our relationship. Read the full story on MSNBC.com.

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iPhone and iTunes not syncing some photos problem

For some reason iTunes (on a Windows Vista PC, in this case) is having a problem syncing certain photos with my iPhone. I’ve created a separate iPhone folder for photos that I want to keep on the device, and filled it with 44 pictures for my test. But only 15 of the photos got transferred from the folder to the iPhone. What’s more, some of the photos that transferred are messed up, with weird errors, as shown with this one (bad resolution because I had to take it with a Nokia phone up close; I don’t have a digital camera).

Anyone else experiencing the same problem? Solutions? Comments welcome.

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Is your iPhone too hot to handle?

I wrote earlier today about my iPhone crapping out and replacing it, and at one point I was so worried that it was unusually hot I nearly challenged the heat by forming a little aluminum foil bed on which I’d rest a cracked open egg, to see if it would turn opaque. Well, this replacement phone is much cooler, I have to say, but I’m wondering if others have hot-handed iPhones that feel way too hot, and would like to hear if they stay safe or fail and wind up needing a fix. All comments welcome.

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iPhone crashed, keeps trying to reboot

Four days old and my iPhone has crashed and won’t come back to life. It does not turn on when unplugged from USB cable or power adapter. When plugged into either of those, it starts up with the Apple logo for a few seconds, then goes black for a few seconds, then comes back to the Apple logo again, repeating the same thing all over and caught in an endless reboot/restart loop.

I tried restarting the iPhone by holding both the Home and Sleep/Wake buttons, as described in Apple’s iPhone help – but that’s simply meant to restart a stuck iPhone. Because the iPhone is caught in an endless loop iTunes does not recognize it, which means it cannot be restored.

I assumed there has to be some way to force the iPhone into recovery mode, so on a whim I held the Home and Sleep/Wake buttons through two of the restart cycles (about fifteen seconds) and got a yellow alert icon that instructed:

Please Connect to iTunes.iTunes found the iPhone and stated: iTunes has detected an iPhone in recovery mode. You must restore this iPhone before it can be used with iTunes.

iTunes then downloaded a software update. I clicked the Restore button and iTunes presented a warning message: Are you sure you want to restore the iPhone “iPhone” to its factory settings? All of your songs and other data will be erased, and the newest version of the iPhone software will be installed.

I clicked the Restore and Update button and iTunes popped up the message: Preparing iPhone for restore…

The iPhone then got caught in the endless restart loop again, trying over and over, until finally iTunes gave up after about two minutes and gave me the message: The iPhone “iPhone” could not be restored. An unknown error occurred (1603).

I’ll be going to the AT&T store where I purchased the iPhone with the hope that they’ll simply replace it with a new one, though whether they even have a replacement in stock remains to be seen.Stay tuned for updates.

Update (3:36 pm): I called the AT&T store where I bought the iPhone and the very helpful manager, Jason, said customers with bum iPhones must contact Apple for support. I contacted Apple by way of a public relations contact and was told someone would call me to take care of the unwell iPhone. While awaiting the call from Apple I decided to drive over to the Apple Store in Atlantic City to see if they could help more immediately.

As it turned out the Apple support person who called was going to have me do exactly that, go to the Apple Store, to meet with Sean, the very friendly and pro manager on staff.

Nate patched Sean in on our call and he was on the phone with us as I walked into the Apple store. We hung up on Nate and took care of the phone.Sean grabbed a new, unopened iPhone from the back, same as my defective 8 GB model, and then turned me over to two guys named Chris who were working the Genius Bar.

Transferring my phone account from one device to another took a couple of minutes. Out of curiosity I asked if we could see if we could get the defective iPhone to show up on a Mac (since I was using it on a Vista PC when all of this started) so we could restore it. Not because I wanted the phone back, but rather because I wanted to know for sure that my personal data would be erased and not viewable by others, whether at the Apple store or by the service persons at wherever the iPhone would wind up.

We tried to restore it, but no luck. As earlier, the device kept cycling through the Apple logo in an attempt to restart, over and over. One of the Chris guys said he couldn’t get it into recovery mode, and so I showed him that you have to hold the Wake/Sleep and Home buttons for more than a few seconds until it cycles at least once, and I think twice, before it then puts up that alert triangle icon and tells you to connect to iTunes (see above).

As such, we chose the recovery option from iTunes running on a MacBook, it appeared to be doing something, then the iPhone shut off and iTunes reported the same error as earlier on the Vista PC: The iPhone “iPhone” could not be restored. An unknown error occurred (1603). Chris was about to open the new iPhone box to move my SIM from the defective phone to the new one, but I said I’d already done that. (Before leaving I popped it into my the excellent Nokia 6682 that the iPhone was replacing, and yes, your iPhone-activated AT&T SIM does pop out and work on another AT&T/Cingular phone or, in my case, an unlocked phone.) So I left the store feeling reassured that a brand new iPhone was replacing the defective one – but not very reassured that my data on the iPhone I was leaving behind (contacts, calendar, notes, Safari bookmarks and email) was gone. Had the iPhone died totally and wiped whatever was in memory? Or would Apple’s service team wipe it out, as part of a company policy? I don’t know the answer to that latter question, but I will find out soon after Apple’s PR department gets back to me.

I also asked what do customers who are not in range of an Apple Store do. I guess with any data device there’s a risk of personal information being at risk when said device needs to be sent in for repair. And like other SIM-based phones, the owner must part with the device if it needs repairs, but can generally use the SIM on a replacement phone.

Will Apple offer a replacement phone in the repair process? The AT&T store manager Jason said it isn’t AT&T’s policy to offer customers a temporary replacement phone when a phone is being repaired.Meanwhile, I popped my SIM card out of the Nokia and into the iPhone. It said to connect to iTunes to activate. I plugged the iPhone into the dock, let iTunes find it, and about a minute later it was activated without any additional input from me. iTunes synced all of my data from the automatic backup iTunes made this morning, before the first iPhone failed.Stay tuned for additional updates.

Update (4:43 pm): Just got off the phone with an Apple PR contact. She sent me a link to Apple’s iPhone Service: Frequently Asked Questions which pretty much answered all of my questions. So, if you’re in the first 30 days you can walk into an Apple store and get a replacement if your iPhone is considered “DOA” like mine was. After 30 days you go through the service-by-mail option, by which you’ll ship your iPhone to Apple (minus your SIM) for service, and they’ll ship it back to you when it’s fixed. You have the option of renting a replacement iPhone for $29 while yours is being repaired.

As for AT&T, a spokeswoman for the company said an iPhone you’re unhappy with can be returned for a refund (minus a 10% restocking fee) within 14 days of purchase, but replacing or repairing a defective phone must be taken up with Apple.

In sum: I was lucky the Apple Store had a replacement 8 GB iPhone in stock to swap for my defective one. I was unlucky, however, on my way out of Caesars Casino on my way back to the parking garage. I slipped a $10 bill into one of the nickel slots, pressed the first button I saw (labeled 8X), watched the digital reels spin and come to a stop, and wound up with “Game Over” with nothing more to go on with or about – which is an apt conclusion for this story, as well. (Or so I hope.)

Thanks to all who took my calls and to those who dealt with me in person, and have a great July 4th holiday.

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