If you’re getting an iPad …

… just wait until they release the next version, because it’ll have at least half the stuff it’s missing now.

This is what aPple always does: releases a first-gen iToy which is beautiful but missing crucial, even obvious features and which gets snapped up by the usual “early adopters”. They then wait until sales are up and release the next version which is slightly more useful and a different shape, rinse, repeat. Apple are experts at this – hell, they practically invented modelspamming (well, if not them, Nokia). How many different versions of the iPod are there now? Remember how the first iPhones only had a shitty 2MP no-flash camera and no MMS? Think that was an “oversight”? Think they “forgot”? Anyway, back to the provisional review.
Good things first – it’s very pretty to look at and the touch-sensitive UI looks like Star Trek or something.

OK, not-so-good things:

No multitasking – Yes, that’s right, this little “revolution” in portable computing, this “netbook killer” can only run one app at a time. So if you want to browse the web (on Safari – no external software permitted!) while you chat to someone, you can’t. Why is this? Because the iPad is running a slightly beefed-up iPhone OS and not a Mac OSX like a normal Apple laptop. I can’t remember the last time I used a computer which couldn’t multitask – oh, yes I can. It was my Commodore 64, in 1986, when I was ten.

iPhone OS – yeah, it behaves like an iPhone but doesn’t make phone calls. Sure, it’s way too big to be a practical phone anyway … so why, exactly, make it use the OS from a phone and not from a proper computer? Maybe the jokes are true – it’s starting to sound like a big iPod Touch.

No Flash – if you want to browse the web, you can – on Safari only. But you can’t visit any site that uses Flash. Like Youtube. And half of the internet.

No widescreen – the screen’s a 4:3 ratio, just like an old telly. Any widescreen stuff you watch will be letterboxed.

Software enforcement – only Apple store apps & Apple software allowed! Sorry, but a netbook which won’t allow you to download and install whatever software you like isn’t a netbook.

No integrated webcam – in the days where every netbook has a webcam and you can video chat on your phone, this is a curious omission. Isn’t the iPad meant to be a little multimedia godsend or something?

Touchscreen keyboard – for those of us who touch-type (or even semi touch type), not great. But I could get used to it.

No foldage – typing on this thing looks like an ergonomic nightmare. If you prop it up to see the screen, you’re typing at a painful wrist angle and can’t use your thumbs. If you lay it down on your lap or on a table to type properly, you can’t see the screen unless you hunch over it. If you can lean back and look at the screen while you type, so can anyone standing near you.

It seems very much like this thing is for casual computer users. I mean, really frickin casual. I class myself as casual as buggery in fact, but when I turn on my PC or laptop, I like to be able to: run more than one program at a time, visit sites that use Flash, use the laptop’s webcam, watch widescreen things in widescreen, type comfortably and see the screen at the same time and download & install whatever software I want.

People may verrily complain about Windows PCs & big evil Microsoft but hey, you can more or less do whatever you want with a Windows PC (including upgrade hardware components & change batteries yourself). And don’t think for a second that Apple aren’t also an enormous multibillion dollar conglomerate whose focus is becoming ever more so. Don’t think Apple don’t have a brilliant marketing department, modelspamming, overhyping and drip-feeding features to force people into spending on new models. With the Pad, Apple are making it clear they’re quite happy to force users to conform to Apple or Apple-approved software only. Weren’t Microsoft doing something similar ten years ago?

Full disclosure: I haven’t used the Pad. This device might be so fucking awesome it’ll blow my mind out my ear, but when I think about what I want in a portable computer, the Pad has practically none of it. Even if I was a die-hard Applist I’d be unimpressed with it. If you already have a smartphone or iPhone and some kind of laptop, I’m really not sure why you’d want the Pad.

OK, review over. Largely negative, yes, but I’m coming from a practicality and marketing point of view. I hold no Apple-hatred and I’m not one of these “either/or” fundamentalists. I just don’t like Apple’s marketing or modelling scheme and I especially dislike the ridiculous hype engine (which includes salivating tech-journos who give Apple more fawning publicity for free than they could ever pay for). And I don’t like this Pad because, as I said, it’s got next to nothing I want on it – in fact, it seems to have next to nothing any netbook user would want on it, including the freedom to choose their own software.

I will close with an excerpt from a chat I had on this topic last night:

m: … you can’t angle the screen toward yourself and chat to someone while you watch your pr0n
m: … how’s anyone meant to cyber with this fucking toy?
m: … ooooooooooooooooooooh now I get it
m: … it’s for CHILDREN

 

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Coffee and soul

A thought just occurred to me regarding the soul that I apparently have secreted somewhere on my person. This soul, I am told, is the immortal essence of “me”, will survive my death and will exist eternally. It contains everything about me which makes me me: psyche, personality, hopes, dreams, thoughts, experiences, expectations, likes, loathes, knowledge, hungers, holes. It is my consciousness, my mind and, what’s more, it’s immaterial; that is, it is not part of my body; it is not a product of the biochemical processes of my brain. It is not governed by mere physical laws, it is ethereal. It doesn’t “exist” in three dimensions of time and space, the same way my hand exists or my third coffee of the day used to exist as a milky, fatty suspension and now still exists but is being dissolved into its components by my digestive system. But I’ve had a thought, more than once, about the nature of this soul and how precisely it governs my every thought, word and deed.

 

The thought is actually more a series of questions, which I’d like to hear answers for from a theological point of view, if possible.

If the soul: that is, mind, consciousness, psyche, are eternal, non-physical elements that make me who I am (and makes us who we are):  
  • why it is that even a small biochemical change can profoundly alter my behaviour, my thinking and my personality? Any change in biochemistry – one or two alcoholic drinks or puffs of weed all the way up to being pregnant, out of your mind on hallucinogens or amphetamines or just in the throes of inconsolable grief or indescribable ecstasy – produces thoughts & patterns of behaviour which can be described as “out of character”. The consumption of alcohol, for example, is famous for leading both to a reduction in inhibitions and to poor judgement in social situations, which we all know can & does result in thoughtless acts of vandalism and violence, unwise sexual escapades, drink-driving and ill-advised participation in karaoke contests. Too much coffee can make you jumpy, irritable and unable to focus. not enough coffee can make you sluggish, irritable and … unable to focus. But if my mind – my soul – isn’t a part of my physical brain, why do chemical changes in my brain directly affect my mind? If my mind isn’t biochemical, how can a small amount of mere physical substance like ethanol or caffeine – or a mere emotion like happiness – turn me into someone else?
  • explain why even small physical changes to the brain can deeply affect behaviour and cognition. People who have damaged brains due to trauma or disease frequently forget basic facts about their own lives and families. My own grandfather, in the grips of Alzheimer’s, frequently thought my mother was his wife and spoke to her as if he was issuing instructions back on the family orchard, decades before, instead of in the nursing facility where he spent his last years. My grandfather frequently became confused about simple things and, during brief moments of mental competency, quite irritable or distraught over the confusions. This is the same for many, many people living with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Early frontal lobotomy patients underwent extreme changes in mood and personality after having sections of their brain removed or destroyed. Even people with minor injuries can experience temporary memory loss & mood changes. I’ve been concussed more than once and it’s a very confusing & potentially dangerous time – you’d think, in the aftermath of something like a mild concussion, your non-physical consciousness would remain unaffected and able to control your body, instead of switching off and leaving your body to the whims of fate. 
  • explain why – relating to the first question about intoxicants – someone’s personality can change dramatically when given, through medical intervention, hormones to correct imbalances (which themselves affect behaviour and mood) or treatments which act directly on brain chemistry, such as anti-depressants. Whence mental illness in the first place? Is it a sickness of the soul or an anomaly in brain chemistry? If the immortal immaterial soul is in control, why should mere chemicals have any effect on the brain, whatsoever, good or bad? 
  • finally: explain why, when our physical bodies need to rest, that our minds need to as well? Certainly, physical exertion takes its toll on our bodies and it’s understandable that we need to lay them down for a few hours at the end of the day. But why doesn’t the soul stay up all night, cruising the aether, while the body recharges like a plugged-in mobile phone? Why does my allegedly non-physical consciousness need to rest just like my worn-out meat chassis needs to? Surely if it’s immortal and non-physical it can’t be affected by being used all day, like a mere arm or leg or mouth. It’s meant to be able to last forever (moreover, some say, to survive the unthinkable torments of Hell for all eternity, depending on which particular version of which particular diety you promised it to)! And if it would indeed, as more than one person I’ve spoken to has theorised, drive someone mad by staying “awake” twenty-four hours a day even when his body were asleep, why isn’t there even a choice to remain fully conscious, on the odd night when we may feel like it? Why must our minds be forced into unconsciousness when our bodies sleep? Why must our souls dream nonsense when they could be out learning the secrets of the universe, or merely communicating with other souls? It would be nice to be able to go to sleep and speak to my friends in distant lands, or even my departed grandfathers – I’d like to ask them both a number of questions I only thought of in the many years since they passed away.

But my questions for here & now are: given the above, how is it my mind and consciousness aren’t supposed to be part of me (like my body), when all the evidence available suggests that they are? Obviously I have my own ideas on these questions, based on available medical and scientific evidence. Nonetheless, I’d really love to hear answers to these questions from a spiritual or theological angle. I’d like to hear how other peoples’ minds work …

The enemy is indeed in our cross-hairs

Recent revelations that hundred of thousands of US servicemens’ rifle-scopes are carrying references Gospel verses have littered the web recently. Today it’s been revealed that Australian soldiers are using those very same scopes. The Bible references appear like any normal-looking serial number, for example ”2COR4:6” is a reference to Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians.

The manufacturer, Trijicon, was founded by a fundie Christian over thirty years ago and its website carries this message:

”As part of our faith and our belief in service to our country, Trijicon has put scripture references on our products for more than two decades,” a statement on the company’s website said.

”As long as we have men and women in danger, we will continue to do everything we can to provide them with both state-of-the-art technology and the never-ending support and prayers of a grateful nation.”

Ah, nothing like militarised Christianity. Nothing like lining up your enemies’ skulls in a scope you know is blessed by the words of Jesus. Nothing like the old “God is in MY side but not YOURS’ gambit, used by everyone from Moses’ merry band of child-killers to the Crusaders to the loons who routinely blow themselves up to gain eternal paradise.
Unsurprisingly, defence chiefs from the affected nations including the US, Canada, NZ and Australia have stated they didn’t know these serial numbers were in fact Gospel references. Why does it not surprise me? Because, historically, the people most likely to want to sneak their religion into other peoples’ lives are the ones who cling to it the tightest (google “Dover Trial”). I could always give Trijicon the benefit of the doubt and say the fault lies, if anywhere, with the defence chiefs who didn’t research the company – but hey, how many generals or defence ministers would think to check their equipment suppliers aren’t using evangelising serial numbers on their products?

Now, notwithstanding the first amendment to the US constitution and the inarguably secular intent of the founders of that nation – not to mention the secular nature of their Allies who also use these scopes – I hope someone has realised that this is going to be more propaganda fuel for the Taliban and for many Iraqi insurgents who already believe this is some kind of war against Islam, a Fourth Crusade. When news gets out amongst the “enemy” that Allied forces have Bible verses inscribed on their scopes, those servicemen may as well drop the fatigues and start wearing white smocks with big-arse red crucifixes on the front. Seriously, this is one little speed-bump our poor bastards in the desert didn’t need.

Twunter

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US religious group sends digital Bibles to Haiti (Rated M: coarse language)

Yes, some Yank bible-thumpers are sending iGods to earthquake-ravaged Haiti.

Source.

These are solar-powered audible Bibles that can broadcast the holy scriptures in Haitian Creole to 300 people at a time.

Called the “Proclaimer,” the audio Bible delivers “digital quality” and is designed for “poor and illiterate people”, the Faith Comes By Hearing group said.

According to their website, the Proclaimer is “self-powered and can play the Bible in the jungle, desert or … even on the moon!”

Just what a bunch of starving, desperate, homeless, bereaved, scared people fucking need: to be fucking preached at by a fucking toy. Pardon my French.

As the employee of a well-known and well-respected international humanitarian organisation (which has people on the ground as we speak), I can’t help but wonder how much these bibles are worth, how much it’s costing to ship them and precisely how many first aid kits, emergency shelters or ration packs that amount of money could have provided. I’m also wondering how much time is going to be wasted unpacking and distributing these toys when people in Haiti have more important things to do. Getting aid into crisis areas like Port-au-Prince is difficult enough without people cluttering up the ports and distribution centres with unnecessary flotsam like digital bibles. The reason organisations like, for example, Red Cross, say “don’t send blankets, send money” is because money is useful straight away and doesn’t take up space on a C-130.

Pardon me, Americans, but only American Christians would think it appropriate to send a shipment of electronic bibles to people who don’t even have food or water and may not even know whether their families are still alive. The capital city in ruins, over seventy thousand dead, a million without homes and someone bright fucking spark in Halfwit, Alberquerque, thinks “Oh yeah! That’s what them folks need – some diggital Jeee-zuss!” Give me strength.

Say, how about we look after people’s immediate needs, say, immediately, and leave the preaching until they have a roof over their heads, a full belly and clothes on their back? Here’s a newsflash for you ten-gallon lackwits: there are already lots of Christians in Haiti, which means there are already lots of Christian ministers in Haiti (also: anyone who isn’t a Christian isn’t likely to change due to some cheap trinket) and I’m sure they’ll do what they do soon enough, maybe once they’re safe and have had something to eat. So why don’t you show some fucking respect, leave the religion to the locals and do something fucking useful, like go to the Red Cross website and drop them some cash?

People are starving, homeless, frightened, desperate, bodies are still being pulled from the rubble – and these clowns think bibles will make them feel better. Is it really any wonder that atheists get so damned angry?

With tens of thousands of Port-au-Prince residents living outdoors because their homes have collapsed or they fear aftershocks from last week’s quake, the audio Bible can bring them “hope and comfort that comes from knowing God has not forgotten them through this tragedy”, the group said.

Tell me, is this the same God that pushed the “Earthquake” button to punish them for their pact with the devil, which they entered into in order to escape from French slavery, as professional arsehole – I mean evangelist – Pat Robertson recently said? Or is it a different God – a kind, loving, benevolent one who works in mysterious ways (including earthquakes and tsunamis, from which he saves select people in order to appear merciful)? Or just the “God” that’s in all things beautiful, from the nice feeling you get when nana hugs you to the inspiration behind Mozart’s Requiem? Forgive me – you people seem to believe in so many different kinds of God it’s tough to keep track of which one is worshipped by which sect.

Look, never mind all that – if you’re going to do anything for Haiti, send money! It’s available instantly and aid organisations have loads of practice discerning where the needs are and where to spend the cash. Don’t send goddam Jesus Tamagotchis!!

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Short n’ sweet

Gold, mined here.

The general root of superstition is that men observe when things hit, and not when they miss; and commit to memory the one, and forget and pass over the other.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626)

These days, some call this phenomenon “confirmation bias”. Others, like pop-psychic charlatans, faith healers and new-age full-moon crystal-chargers, call it “gravy.” Well, if they’re being honest with themselves, anyway, as I’m sure they are – but only when a long way away from other people, only in the privacy of their own minds and only very briefly.

Re-post Theatre: Why I am not an atheist

This is a re-post of “Why I am not an atheist“, originally posted in July 2008 here and at Dangerous Intersection in September, where it kicked off a comment storm which was greatly enjoyed by all. I present it as something of an atheist FAQ – it might not be all-encompassing but it’s a good place to start when discussing non-belief, particularly my own but perhaps many others as well.

Without further wossname: Why I am not an atheist …var gaJsHost = ((“https:” == document.location.protocol) ? “https://ssl.” : “http://www.”); document.write(unescape(“%3Cscript src='” + gaJsHost + “google-analytics.com/ga.js’ type=’text/javascript’%3E%3C/script%3E”));

… and why I am.

I am not an atheist because:

  • I hate God
  • I prayed to God and my prayers weren’t answered
  • Militant/fundamentalist atheists converted me away from God
  • I worship science and the works of man instead of God
  • I’m rebelling against God like I rebelled against my parents & teachers in high school
  • I think I’m better than God
  • I had a bad experience with a priest or church or religious person
  • I can’t decide which religion to subscribe to
  • atheism is my religion
  • I think religious people are idiots
  • I worship Batman
  • I worship Satan
  • I’m immoral/amoral and would rather do what I want
  • I want to destroy religion

Read on, MacDuff …