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Monthly Archives: October 2009

A couple of things at the outset. I love to read. I love books. Depending on what’s going on, it could be an audiobook or something I picked up at a used bookstore (around here at this point there’s just Bookman’s to fill that niche). Also, I have this idealistic vision of portability and versatility offered by electronic books. I worked for almost nine years for a company that did electronic publishing so as a matter of course I saw the inherent strength of reading without paper. It fits perfectly with the same way of thinking that had me transfer my entire CD collection to MP3 many years ago, followed by my DVD collection. Part of it could be letting go without fully letting go, I don’t know. Such is the story of the last five years of my life.

Anyway, back to the point. E-books to me have always made sense. Microsoft’s e-reader format was an early favorite, I read several books on my old Dell Axim that way. And of course there was HTML and plain ASCII (Project Gutenberg). But electronic books could not sufficiently pass the Crapper Test. That is, can you comfortably do it while on the crapper? Ten years ago wireless ethernet barely existed and no one wanted to park a laptop of that era on their lap in the bathroom. Just silly.

It was a matter of time before the technology caught up to the promise though, and it did eventually with Amazon’s introduction of the Kindle a couple years ago. This was all coming in increments of course, the biggest innovation being the e-ink screen which is capable of showing a passable greyscale image while needing only enough juice to create the image and practically none at all to maintain it. Amazing. Add to that faster processors and, of course, a tiny rendering of Linux for the underlying OS.

The biggest innovation that Kindle brought though was its infrastructure. Kindle and especially Kindle 2 take advantage of the iTunes model of transaction, only Kindle 2 makes this tighter by augmenting it with something called Whispernet, basically a cellular modem whose purpose is to send and receive small bits of data, whether its tracking your progress in a book or downloading a book to the unit. Nothing fancy or data-intensive, hence it’s being wrapped into the cost of the unit. That cost has come down a lot in the last year. Currently Kindle 2 comes in two flavors, one with a U.S. Only wireless plan for $259 and one with U.S. and International for $20 extra. Amazon also has the bigger and costlier Kindle DX, designed for the rendering of textbooks primarily and is scaled up in size for that purpose.

Barnes & Noble are trying to one-up Amazon with something called the Nook. At the moment I’ve only seen pictures of it myself, but it is adorable. it has an e-Ink screen like the Kindle, but where Kindle has a hardware keyboard Nook has a color glass touchscreen that can display a keyboard and spiffy bookcovers as well. The price-point is similar to the Kindle, though no international plan is available at the moment. Nook also has WiFi (wireless ethernet) built in where Kindle does not. Nook also has the advantage of being able to render PDFs without the conversion (and subsequent fees) that Kindle requires. Barnes & Noble is also trying to leverage its physical locations to foster Nook use with the WiFi (finally free at B&N and soon also at Borders) and with exclusive content, though they haven’t been clear on what that content will be. Nook will also have all the accessories that Kindle has, though not exactly the same given the structural differences between the two. Nook will also be expandable via micro-SD cards, which Kindle painfully is not.

Both devices feature some form of audio support, though Kindle has the advantage of supporting Audible’s 4 and enhanced formats. This is an advantage if you are a regular Audible user. Which I am.

Of the two I am drawn to the Kindle, mainly because of the Audible-ready aspect, but also because of the Kindle app for the iPod Touch. That was itself a matter of pure timing as it was available with a wide selection of books I wanted when I wanted them, whereas the Barnes & Noble eReader did not. The Kindle app works very basically, and after the enhancements of the latest version is quite workable as an eReader. The Barnes & Noble version, which is a rebranded version of the very robust Fictionwise app, is much more feature-rich than the Kindle app and has the distinct advantage of a well-entrenched e-reader format with a selection of free books readily available online. Kindle is going to port its reader app to Mac and PC soon, and one wonders if a Linux version will appear somehow or someway (without needing WINE of course).

Thanks to the apps and the ubiquity of the iPhone/iPod Touch, I can move from one realm to the other without having to commit to a single format. As I said above though, of the two my leaning is toward Kindle, though I won’t be making a purchase for another few months (here’s to hoping the tax refund is there and reasonably substantial). The closed-in nature of Kindle/Amazon is a concern to me, and the Chump Factor here is immense, especially given the fickle nature of Amazon’s cell providers of late and its disturbing lack of WiFi.

E-Readers are the future, like it or not. Reading is wonderful beyond words (an odd expression sure, but here it is), and books are lovely bulky smelly things. The notion of a library in one spot and within reach is tantalizing and satisfies my habit of reading several books at once. The absurdity of formats and competing devices and gestalts is annoying, as it was with Beta/VHS, HD-DvD/BluRay and Mac/PC, but it will harmonize eventually to be sure.

Just as long as I get my money’s worth out of whatever device I get before it obsoletes on me.

Your god is not real. None of them are. They are figments of your imaginations put there by your parents and by your own fear and wishful thinking.

If this fantasy of yours brings you comfort, good for you. But do not belittle those who do not believe as you do. Some of us see such beliefs as poisonous to life and the source of nothing but pain and suffering throughout history.

People with beliefs like yours have been responsible for the deaths of millions and the continued suffering of millions more. Your blind faith and apparent inability to reason and question has made you susceptible to perhaps the biggest con job in human history: That there is anything beyond this world. Beyond now.

Peace to you, and the hope that you will one day see reason.

This is inspired by an article I found online, and by the subsequent blog entry my friend Chris put up related to it. Read his blog. Do it. I’ll wait. The article points up something I continue to find bewildering: That moral behavior requires the presence of a personal god.

Let’s get one thing squared away right now. I do not believe in a personal deity. The god I was taught/told to worship growing up was a farcical notion to me from early on, but was too scared of parental disapproval to voice. I found other ways of explaining this non-belief without actually explaining it, but finally I am too tired to be polite. I don’t, and you’re a fool if you do. For this reason I am an atheist. But if I must have a title for my beliefs (as opposed to my non-beliefs), you can feel free to use Humanist. Buddhist comes close, but it too has the trappings of supernatural religion even though, as I was reminded some years ago by a Christian woman, Buddha is dead (my response? “And he’d be the first one to agree with you on that.”)

I was raised a Catholic. That this was an accident of birth I also realized fairly early on. The mass was something I recited from memory (sometimes in my sleep, but don’t tell Mom & Dad circa 1983 or I’ll be in trouble!) As time went on and I learned about cosmology, quantum mechanics, different religions, my own personal strengths and weaknesses as well as those of others, and merged it all with the events and collected lessons of the last twenty years of my life, I came to some conclusions.

1. No religion has the inside track to personal salvation.

2. Personal salvation presumes you were a piece of shit to start with.

3. You are a piece of shit (or perhaps merely misguided or self-hating) if you presume that a newborn baby needs any sort of personal salvation.

4. There is no such thing as pure good or evil. The Taoists had it right: when one leaves the Tao and get wrapped in personal delusion, you might call that evil, or selfish. But one person’s evil is another’s deeply held belief (religious or otherwise), or personal pathology. Same thing.

Except perhaps Michelle Bachmann and Glenn Beck. And Joel Osteen. Actually they’re not evil, they’re respectively batshit crazy, cynically manipulative and an opportunistic asshole. But I digress.

5. Infinity is a mathematical concept. There is no analogue in the real empirical world. Except perhaps waiting in line at the DMV. Heaven and Hell are equally conceptual. They do not describe real actual places you can find on a map. They do not exist, and frankly never did. That’s because…

6. Heaven and Hell describe states of being. We can all come up with moments of pure heaven, and not all of them involve Bree Olsen. Holding my niece was a pretty wonderful moment and for her parents was a front runner to pure heaven I am sure if not actual heaven itself. Same for when I first met my nephew (though as I recall he wasn’t too happy himself at the time, poor fellow). I have had experiences myself that were pure hell. In one case it wasn’t merely a bad night, but so awful an experience that I’d detect the presence of Satan there if I were soft in the head. Again, I refer you to number four, above.

7. Related to all this, the supernatural writings of the ancients were all metaphoric in nature. In the particular case of Christianity the writings are so muddled and mutilated by past agendas and misnomers that even Thomas Jefferson took a blade to the gospels to make sense of it. A valiant effort, but what I took away from reading The Jefferson Bible was that Jesus, if he existed at all, said things that were more fully articulated by Greek and Roman philosophers at that time, and by the Buddhists hundreds of years before.

8. Any belief you have must be open to scrutiny and debate. If you hold a certain belief, you must be able to reason *why.* If you cannot, do not expect people to take that belief of yours seriously. And “because the bible says so” is not a reason. That’s just stupid.

9. Just because I know about the diffraction of visible electromagnetic radiation through water vapor and air and about the way the brain and eyes work does not mean I cannot smile and be taken aback by a rainbow. Or a sunset.

10. Because I’ve had some time to think about the nature of our so-called selves and how we relate to the world, and how that so-called self is created in the brain, I firmly believe there is no soul. The word makes great shorthand for this amazing process of the brain known as consciousness, but this process cannot exist without the brain. what you think of as you can either be put down to various cognitive processes and amazing information storage. There is nothing of “you” that will survive death. Which makes the next point all the more important:

11. You have no past except what you carry in your memory and choose to beat yourself up with in the present. You have no future except wishes and dreams that you may strive for in the present. But all you have is the present. NOW. The people you love, the places you love, the things you love to do, love them NOW while you can because that’s all you have, and you may never have it again. Ever in the history of the universe.

12. Related to that, you are unique in the history of the universe. No one has, is or will ever be exactly like you. No one has your peculiar blend of talents and personality and when you are gone that uniqueness will be gone too. So appreciate yourself and others as the rare opportunities that we all are.

13. On the flip side, you aren’t special, none of us are except to ourselves and to someone else (hopefully!). “Special” denotes a certain privilege that really isn’t there, like those once given to certain shades of flesh color and is to be avoided. We are all unique, none of us are special.

I have more. I could go on all day because I have a weakness for expounding on ideas. Especially my own. I’m working on this.