31 July 2009

Paper or Plastic?

I am sometimes a little slow to adopt new technological advances, but I eventually adopt them all -- or most of them. What I refuse to do, however, is start reading books electronically, rather than using the tried-and-true method of a book made from paper. I have tried electronic books -- I love the idea of a computer pad that you can carry around loaded with thousands of stories -- but I like an old-fashioned paper copy better.

A real book has a certain heft to it, a certain quality, a certain smell that you never get with a plastic reader. Sure, carrying around a thousand actual books is not as convenient as carrying around one electronic reader, but that's okay.

How much fun will it be, in the not-too-distant future, to walk into a used book store and thumb through previously owned electronic copies of books? Where will be that musty smell? or the excitement of walking down aisle upon aisle with my head cocked to the side to read the titles on spines of old volumes? or the thrill of seeing neat graphics of books from the 1920s? or the surprise when you open the pages and discover someone had used an old photograph as a bookmark and wonder who was the person pictured?

Gone. It will all be gone.

Aside from the romantic nostalgia of good old musty books, one thing that will never happen is the store from which I bought the book sneaking around when my back is turned and stealing the book away from me. No, once you purchase a paper book it is yours until you give it to someone else.

What's this? You have never heard of a company stealing an electronic copy of a book? Then clearly you have not heard about the usually wonderful company called Amazon -- with their (I presume) passably acceptable electronic book reader -- and how they are currently being sued for stealing copies of books they had sold to unsuspecting customers. That's right. You buy an electronic book from them and, whenever they damn well please, they can steal it back from you without so much as a "How's your father?".

It seems the good folks at Amazon sold a bunch of people copies of some books, then decided there was some problem with the copyright to those books, so they removed the books from the electronic readers without any notice whatsoever.

If someone comes into my house and steals a book from my shelf, that's called theft; if Amazon does it, that's called the way they do business. I call it bullshit.

You can read more about Amazon's shitty actions here.

27 July 2009

A Thought

Who would have ever thought, when I was born fifty years ago, that, fifty years later, I would turn fifty?

24 July 2009

Greetings from the Biltmore!

We are taking a little staycation this weekend at the historic (1929) Arizona Biltmore Resort. (Here is a detail from our suite.) This is my first web log update ever from a remote location. Technology sure is neat!

20 July 2009

Moon Shmoon - What Have You Done for Me Lately?

This is not going to be just another one of those "I remember where I was" stories -- this time, about where I was 40 years ago today when a human being first stepped upon the surface of another celestial body in the solar system. I was eight, it was summer, I was sleepy and I wanted to go to bed. Both my mother and father insisted I stay up (what time was it?) and watch a human being step foot on the moon.

I was too young, the image too grainy, and -- did I mention? -- I was tired and wanted to go to bed. But, they made me stay up and (of course) I am glad because I got to see something few others got to see (well, if "few" is defined as the estimated 250,000,000 people who watched).

But, what have we done lately? Okay, we put a lander on Mars in 1976, and countless probes went out into space around and past most of the planets -- and we have even had a few more probes land on Mars. I understand these are big technological achievements, but, seriously, why -- 40 years later -- do we not have humans living on Mars?

Sure, you could blame Nixon for massive cuts to NASA (and a few hundred other things), you could blame Vietnam, the economy, stupid people in general -- but, really, why do we not have humans living on Mars?

We had a great start -- beating the Russians (hell, beating everyone) to the moon; so, what, we sit on our laurels for a few decades and finally, in just the past couple years, perk up and say "Hey, wait. Weren't we going to keep on to Mars, or something?"

According to all those science fiction stories we should have been living on Mars AND other planets by now. Flying from solar system to solar system, galaxy to galaxy. Man, talk about a wasted opportunity.

Sure, people said then (and, surprisingly, still say today) "Why go into space when we have so many problems at home?" Well, that's a pretty stupid question. We went into space for the same reason humans went past that large outcropping of rocks, crossed that river, sailed over that ocean: to see what was over there.

We went into space and invented tons of neat technology that we USE EVERY DAY. Imagine what inventions are in store as we try to find a way to have humans live on Mars, and get water and oxygen from the surface, or the motors we will build to use small amounts of electricity from the distant sun. Imagine how our world will change once we get off our butts and get back into space.

Imagine, 40 years ago, the wonders that an 8-year-old boy thought when, through sleep-filled eyes, he watched a man step on the moon -- and imagine the disappointment he feels today.

14 July 2009

Two Clever

I love clever -- people, things, sayings, whatever. Clever is good. Clever is rare, too often replaced by stupid and moronic. (Stupid and moronic are bad.) Here are two examples of clever:

1: Clever filmmakers
Scenes from "Bringing Up Baby" with and without a real leopard:

2: Clever cooks
Taking real fast food offerings and making them look like
expensive food:

11 July 2009

"I Do" -- for Less

Why on earth do couples spend untold thousands of dollars to get married? Seriously, a $10,000 dress? A $2,000 photographer? Individual gifts to wedding party members of $200 -- each? Really? Can anyone explain to me why two people think it necessary to spend more than $21,000 to get married? (That's the average cost of a wedding in America in 2008. In 2007 it was $28,000!)

When Matt and I got married last year our total cost was less than $2,000 -- which included gas to drive to California and back (at $4.65/gallon), hotel for one night, four meals, cost of the license and civil ceremony, and rings (those were $1,000). That seemed like plenty of money to me.

I always thought spending tons of money on weddings was ridiculous. I mean, what does the "happy couple" say three years later when they divorce? "Thanks for the big party; now we're done."? Why don't people just take all that money and put it in the bank as a down payment on a house instead? I'm not saying have a total bare-bones wedding, but a $1,500 cake? Is that really necessary? Instead of five toasters and eleven blenders, why not let people make deposits in your bank account? Or donate the money to a charity? Or do something more useful? I guess I am just a practical person and not given to lavish outlays of cash just to prove I can do it. That seems silly.

(When we sent out announcements about our marriage, we encouraged people to make donations to the Humane Society in lieu of gifts. I am very happy to say many of our friends did just that.)

Luckily for the world at large, it seems the economic meltdown has FINALLY made people re-examine the folly of these ways, with weddings becoming smaller and more economical. I say it's about time.

Read more about the trend here.

03 July 2009

Who Were Killed

We would learn a lot about ourselves if we would only learn our history. History contains many good things humans have done and many bad things.

One of the worst things that ever happened in history was the Nazi persecutions of many races and classes of people -- chief among them, Jews. I don't want to take anything away from the Jews. They suffered greatly at the hands of the Nazis. However, despite what I seem to be constantly hearing, they were not alone.

Twice this week I heard the Nazi holocaust described as the deaths of six million Jews. Fair enough. But I would really like to hear the following definition used in the future:

The Nazi holocaust was the persecution and deaths of millions of people. Among them:

- Jews
- Roma and Sinti (Gypsies)
- Mentally and physically disabled
- Ethnic Poles
- Gay Men
- Jehovah's Witnesses
- Soviet prisoners of war
- Freemasons
- Slavs
- Political dissidents

Added together, these deaths would total about eleven million people. Six million Jews is bad; but aren't the other five million deaths bad too?

I have heard it argued that the term "holocaust" should only refer to Jews because Jews were targeted by the Nazis. True; but to be totally accurate, the only people not targeted by the Nazis were people of pure German blood who would be able to reproduce more people of pure German blood. This was at the heart of Hitler's desire to have a "pure race" populate the earth: pureblood Germans, and no one else. That "no one else" meant a lot of people -- Jews and otherwise. (This is why lesbians were not persecuted. As long as they could reproduce, their sexual orientation didn't matter.)

One thing that can be said about humans is that we are a group of people who tend to forget things that should be remembered. The Nazi persecutions should never be forgotten -- and we should remember ALL the people who were victims.

You can learn more about the holocaust at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.