Thursday, June 3, 2010

The iPad: My Maxi-Precioussss

I went to check out the iPad the day of its release. I didn't buy one. Thought I didn't need it. To paraphrase my friend Kesselman, I already have something just like it but it's a quarter the size and makes phone calls and takes pictures and video. But I'm a hard core Apple guy (Apple-core?) so that un-purchased toy gnawed at me, like the Ring gnaws at Gollum. Last week, I bit off the finger. I already call my iPhone the Precious. Now I have the Maxi-Precious.

It took forever to get here. I followed the FedEx tracking page obsessively as the box went from Shenzhen to Hong Kong to Memphis to Oakland... (where it enjoyed the long Memorial Day weekend)... to Los Angeles Hollywood to the Delivery Vehicle to here. I've been getting calls and messages. "So how is it?"

After three days, here's how I think it is. Totally freaking awesome, but still leaving an all too human hole in my desire to have it all, at my fingertips, at all times.

First, let's be clear about a couple of things. It is NOT just a big iPod Touch. The greater screen real estate, combined with apps designed to take advantage of it, makes for a completely different, immersive experience. Nor is it a laptop without a keyboard. The lack of a hinged keyboard and the easy interactivity of the multitouch screen leads to a much more intimate relationship with its content. Put it this way: when was the last time you, without thinking, carried your open laptop into the bathroom to continue reading an article or watching a video at your, ahem, leisure? The iPad goes with me pretty much everywhere around the house, leaving the laptop downstairs in my office for work and the occasional working road trip or library jaunt.

There are a few apps already available that take full advantage of the iPad design and are outrageously cool. I'm a sports fan, so the ESPN ScoreCenter jumps out. It's your own personalized SportsCenter, with crawls, video stories, links, highlights, stats, all delightfully laid out and hellaciously fast (nearly everything runs zippily on this beast). The MLB and NBA apps, equally cool. I'm almost tempted to buy the MLB DirecTV package, which also gives you access to all games, streaming live, through the iPad. After months of having my Netflix membership on hold, I re-upped it to allow full use the iPad app. One tap IMMEDIATELY streams any of their huge "Play Now" library of movies and TV shows, in addition to their DVD delivery service. Amazing. And yes, with an adapter you can (I'm told) hook it up to to your TV, and run your movies full screen. I find myself using the NPR app all the time. It's brilliantly designed, with scrollable ribbons for News, Arts and Culture, and Music, and one click buttons for live listening, the most recent hourly news report. One click on any show or report adds it to a playlist for later listening. IMDB is no longer just about finding out what movie that actor was in, it's now the go-to for showtimes, reviews, TV viewing suggestions, and almost anything else relating to visual media.

Obviously with a 1.0 release there are things that aren't quite there yet. I can't imagine wanting to take pictures with such a large device, but a front iSight cam would be nice for Skype or iChat. Apple's Numbers works well and opens Excel docs without even asking. Pages looks nice, but naming, sharing, and exporting docs is confusing. I have yet to find a way to easily access Dropbox files and edit them (I mostly use Scrivener-generated RTF files, which DocsToGo strangely no longer supports), so the iPad's use as a device to work on is limited. The onscreen keyboard is functional, and faster and more accurate than the iPhone's but I still find myself using a modified hunt and peck rather than my usual zippy touch method.

But I never planned to work much on the iPad. I imagined using it for two primary purposes. One, as a book reader, to cut down on the precarious tower of tomes on my nightstand that will certainly kill me in the next earthquake. And, two, to maybe, possibly, replace my beloved but dwindling paper edition of the L.A. Times, and the constant clutter of dead tree detritus and little plastic ties therewith associated.

As far as the books go, I think it'll be a success. Apple's free Books application is gorgeous, with a clear, clean display and intuitive controls. Once their library has grown sufficiently, and once they add highlighting and note-taking capability, it will probably surpass the Kindle iPad app; which, in the meantime, is terrific, and has the advantage of being equally usable on the Kindle or iPhone and syncing bookmarks and "farthest read" points across all your devices invisibly via WhisperSync.

Newspapers, and particularly the LA Times, are another story. I've spent my morning coffee time the last three days with the iPad in place of the paper. I'm not sure it's going to work for me. I love my LA Times experience. I read the front page, continue to finish articles that are of interest to me, maybe catch one or two other stories while flipping through. Then I go to the Editorial and Op-Ed pages. I look at one or two pieces in the much-hated LateExtra, and so on flipping quickly through Business and Calendar for anything that grabs my eye, then finishing with Sports. It's a thoroughly linear experience, but one in which I will also catch any big news or interesting features I might have missed.

In three days with the iPad, my news experience is fractured. Part of this is the fault of the LA Times. Their website layout is awkward, and their iBrowse-based facsimile e-edition - which I find clumsy and unworkable even on my 21inch iMac - doesn't even run on the iPad, who knows why.

But I think there's just a disconnect between the way one reads a newspaper and the way one browses the web. On my first day, links to the Sports page from the splash page had me reading about the LA Galaxy before I'd finished the top story on the Gulf spill. I found myself reading a full article about Glee, which I despise, just because I'd clicked on it and it now took up the entire screen, where I would have scanned in a second or two and taken in a headline or a fraction of an article or two on the same page before flipping to the next. On day two, I tried to focus, and replicate my reading routine on the iPad. Front page, Op-ed, Business, Calendar, Sports. I did this with moderate success. But then I went back to the paper edition to flip through and see if I'd missed anything. I'd missed a lot. The random local interest stories, one of Dan Neill's great car reviews, a piece about a bit of local architecture... the various bric-a-brac that, sure, Twitter follows or RSS feeds or Google Alerts or StumbleUpon might turn up for me, but even if they did, I probably wouldn't bother to click through without the cup of coffee and the set-aside reading time to encourage it.

I love new things, and I've put my paper subscription on vacation hold while I try to reshape my brain to the new paradigm. But perhaps my brain has become too set in its ways. Perhaps linear has its place. There is something to be said for getting from one end of a story to another without distraction. You'll notice I have placed no links in this post. You can always Google those apps if you're interested.

Tell you what though... I'm totally looking forward to watching the Lakers-Celtics series with the NBA GameTime app in my lap, watching those stats and shot-location diagrams update in real time, and catching up with NPR news or streaming a TV show or YouTube during the commercials.

Monday, April 5, 2010

My New Favorite My Name Is Will Hater

This is the best, most succinct slam of a review of My Name Is Will I've seen. From user Shannon's one-star review on

Apparently I can't give something zero stars. This book is drivel. It starts out promisingly enough, but never rises about mediocre before crash landing in a Port-O-Potty. The modern day main character is a lying, cheating, drug-addled wannabe academic unashamedly wasting his parents money while putting forth zero effort in his life. Yet he manages to find no less than sex with his stepmom, sex on a bus, a threesome AND an orgy - none of which involve his girlfriend. In one book! At the end, apparently some kind of metaphysical, time-traveling, wormhole-crashing collision mixes Shakespeare's English world with 1980-whatever Novato, CA. Who cares. (Also, this is the worst story that ever featured a renaissance faire.)

Now that's sayin' something!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Militia Madness

I caught an interview with the Randall Stone, brother of Hutaree leader David Stone, on CNN yesterday. Apparently, the problem with David (according to his bro) is that he doesn't understand the Antichrist or the end of days correctly. And he just joined the wrong militia. Yikes. Here's a bit of the transcript.

ROBERTS: Well, let me ask you this question, if I could, Randall. And maybe you can shed some light on all of this.

What were your brother's religious beliefs? And what about this battle against the Antichrist that he details quite plainly on the Hutaree's Web site?


I have tried to talk to him about that. What his Web site stands for is not about Jesus Christ, that his opinion of the Antichrist and my opinion of the Antichrist is totally different.

ROBERTS: Mm-hmm.

STONE: You know, sure, he is going to be a political figure, but you're not going to be able to take him out. For one, the false prophet's got to come into play.

ROBERTS: Right. Right.

STONE: So, the Antichrist can't do anything on his own.

ROBERTS: Well, was he a real end-of-days follower, as far as you know?

STONE: He never was growing up. I was always the one.

Now, a long time ago, dad was a preacher, and we went around to different churches.


STONE: So, we wasn't one denomination or one certain religion. And we were taught that it's not about religion; it's about a relationship.

ROBERTS: Right. Right. But did he ever talk to you about the coming Armageddon and what he thought his role would be in that?

STONE: No, no. We never -- we never really discussed that.

ROBERTS: All right.

Well, Randall Stone, the brother of David Stone Jr., thanks for joining us tonight. Really appreciate your time, sir.

STONE: Well, I did want to mention one thing to you, though.

ROBERTS: Yes, go ahead.

STONE: Well, you know, all this talk about the militias and all this talk about what they stand for, you remember Paul Revere, right?

ROBERTS: Of course. Everybody remembers Paul Revere.

STONE: OK. Yes, Paul Revere had a purpose in life. And that one day proved to be a major turning point in America, whenever he was warning the militia people to get ready.

Now, that's -- you know, I don't know why my brother didn't involve himself in a militia that stood for something and had some values and beliefs.

And then there was Letterman (great interview) last night, where the sweet tea party lady from Idaho alleged an Obama birth certificate cover-up.

One of my few remaining conservative friends think the socialist left is driving this country toward a cliff. I'd be more concerned about the rabid dinosaur with claws like AK-47's coming up behind us.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Real Message of Massachusetts

I have been arguing all week that the common interpretation of the Massachusetts election results -- that it was a rebuff of the Obama administration's policies leaning too hard to the left on healthcare -- is exactly incorrect. And today a poll was released that backs me up. From

We wanted to make sure you saw the Massachusetts Research 2000 poll, reported on by the Wall Street Journal, NBC, Politico, Huffington Post, TPM, and others. It polled critical 2010 swing voters: the 18% of Obama voters who returned to the polls and voted for Republican Scott Brown. On health care, they oppose the Senate bill because it "doesn't go far enough" and a whopping 82% support the public option. On the economy, by 2 to 1 they think Democrats have put special interests ahead of folks like them -- and by large margins think stronger regulation of Wall Street is more important than cutting spending. And 57% say Democrats are not "delivering enough on the change Obama promised."

A separate national poll suggests that both Medicare buy-in and the Public Option are still hugely popular. I hope anyone concerned about access to quality health care will contact their congressman and let them know that the watered-down, compromised Senate bill doesn't go far enough, and urge the passage of a reconciled bill with inclusion of the Public Option be sent to President Obama.

Monday, January 18, 2010

On Pacifism and Christianity

I've had this laying around on my hard drive for some time; I believe I wrote it sometime around Veteran's Day, during which I had lengthy back and forth about pacifism with some online friends.
I hate having stuff lying around my hard drive, and today, in honor of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who at least tried to practice what he preached... I post about pacifism.
First, let's get this straight: I am an American. I am proud of that. Although I've been to most of the Western democracies and a couple of the non-western non democratic ones, I like this one best. Furthermore, I like my state of California best of all the states, and my city of the Los Angeles best of all cities. I take off my hat at sporting events to sing the Star Spangled Banner, though I will not sing the the line glorifying bombs. I pay my taxes diligently and on time -- though I think I should pay more. I watch football on Sundays (and even more on Saturdays), and I shout U-S-A when we win gold medals in the Olympics. I esteem our Founding Fathers. I am not a Communist.
But to quote Glenn Beck, "I fear for the survival of America as we know it," because such a broad portion of it refuses to look honestly at itself in the mirror.
I would like to agree with those who say that even if America is a secular nation, it is grounded in Christian values, but I do not. I'm not saying that it shouldn't be, or couldn't be, but simply that it isn't, for one reason. Jesus Christ was, first and foremost, and at all times, a pacifist. And America is not.
There are many who argue the former as a point of theology. I've read their arguments, and I don't buy them. The first quote brought out by many Jesus-wasn't-a-pacifist commentators is from Revelation (a tale told by a madman, but that's another story:) "Out of His mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron scepter. He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty." The imagery is not that of a pacifist, you might think. But note that the sword comes from his mouth. Unless he's a sideshow entertainer of some sort, it is not a literal sword he wields. It is his WORDS that will subdue his enemies. This, to my writer's mind, is as clearly metaphorical as the suggestion that he is going to spend his time stomping on grapes.
True, Jesus says: "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." But he clearly states in 2 Corinthians that "Though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not weapons of the world."
Of course the devil may quote Scripture to suit his purpose, but the most compelling evidence of Jesus' pacifism is in the larger story of his life and death. Though unjustly accused, and cruelly mistreated, he allows himself to be put death in the most painful way imaginable, without struggle, while forgiving his attackers and refusing to allow his own followers to stay the attackers' hands. That, my friends, is the very definition of a pacifist, and utterly in keeping with both the spirit and the letter of the Sermon on the Mount. " If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well... Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you."
Christian America does not do these things. America at best distrusts pacifism and pacifists, and at worst, despises them. And this willful dichotomy, I do not understand.
If America was grounded in Christian values, it would not have gone to war in response to 9/11. Not in Afghanistan, not in Iraq, not ANYWHERE. It would have turned the other cheek. Some say that this would be giving up on our way of life, submitting to terrorists. So: choosing to turn the other cheek would be to give up on... our... Christian... way of life? Really?
This is the real world, some say. Aside from the fact that the Christian Jesus is supposed to have lived in the same real world, let's look at workings of the real world.
How, in practice (and for a Buddhist that word has a very specific meaning) might we have turned the other cheek in response to the slaughter of thousands of our citizens by angry and murderous terrorists? There are many answers, but the one that is clearly NOT the answer to a Christian nation is, "by going to war." What America could have, should have, might have done is respond by "loving thy enemy." Love the terrorists? Love Al-Qaeda? Yes, Christian America, this is what your Saviour preached.
"Today, we are all Americans" was the most common international response to 9/11. Yet the support was so fleeting. What did we do wrong? What could we have done, what should we have done, what might we have done to make that "today" into a lasting respect, a lasting peace, a lasting position of world leadership and admiration? I know that the one thing we should not have done was lash out. The opposite of turning the other cheek is hit back, and hit hard. That's what we did, and in doing so we betrayed our values. We should have been sad. We should have mourned.
And we could have examined what we could have possibly done to bring this hatred upon us.
Even if, after reflection, we could find nothing we had done wrong and for which we might be repentant (and curiously, the Christian right seems very suspicious of American "apology," a near-synonym of the Christian doctrine of "repentance"), if we held ourselves innocently victimized, we still should have simply loved our enemy. We might have spent every dollar we spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on humanitarian aid to those countries. On schools to counter the ignorance and hatred taught in the Islamic fundamentalist madrassas. On economic aid, to counter the Arab arguments that we are economic imperialists. On education programs in our own country, to increase our understanding of the people who attacked us, and of their motives. On securing our borders and ports against further attack, absolutely. We could have spent money and intellectual and emotional capital on anything - ANYTHING - but attacking those who attacked us. I wonder, what dividends would that have reaped? Where, ten years later, would our economy, our position of world leadership, be now?
But that is not what we did. We retaliated. In every sport we play, hockey, baseball, basketball, that's a penalty and worthy of fine or suspension. The instant we retaliated, we lost. We lost dignity. We lost respect. We lost capital. We lost the world's esteem, and our position as a beacon of freedom and democracy in the world.
Nearly everyone, right, left, center, Christian, Jewish, secular, tells me that we "live in peace" because of the brave soldiers who fight for us. But that ignores the real truth: we live in war, wars which we and our children and grandchildren pay for daily and will continue to pay for until long after we are gone. There is only no war in our daily lives because we pay others, mostly people less fortunate or knowledgable than ourselves, domestic mercenaries or our undereducated young, to kill others so that we in our "Christian" nation don't have to ask ourselves these questions: "Will I love my enemy and turn the other cheek, or KILL, right now, here, at my front door? Will I kill? And if I do, how will I reconcile it with my faith?" Instead of facing this greatest of questions for ourselves, we pay off violent men or our young people to do it for us. We ask them to do that which we would not. And they end up scarred, maimed, insane, dead. And then we solemnly "honor their sacrifice."
I submit that this "practice" is not only not Christian and not good, but will, unless we summon the genuine courage of true pacifism -- the willingness to die for the sins of others -- be our downfall.
No. Despite protestations to the contrary, America is the among the least-Christian nations I can think of.
I consider myself, as Dr. King did, a patriotic American working to change that.