Posted on February 25th, 2012 No comments
I have always had a thing for books. I started reading when I was a kid, and I never stopped. I oscillate regularly between fiction and nonfiction, binging for a while on science fiction and epic fantasy before devouring title after title on politics, economics, science, and philosophy. Packing for every trip included at least one hardcover – preferred over paperbacks for their sturdiness and aesthetics on my bookshelf – and sometimes two or three.
I purchased an iPad in May 2010.
Since then, every single book I have read has been on the iPad. This wasn’t because I had some idealistic desire to switch to eBooks. It just sort of happened, in retrospect I think because they were both cheaper and just easier to get. I have bought and read nearly two dozen books on my iPad in the past year-and-three-quarters, but I planned on purchasing the hardcover for books that I really wanted on my shelf, that I really thought were special – the books I really wanted to read, the way you only can with a hardcover.
Ironically, the first book to pass that bar was Walter Isaacson’s biography Steve Jobs.
I had pre-ordered it, and also received a copy as a gift, so I had two copies sitting on my shelf while I churned through the reading list on my iPad. Finally, a couple of weeks back, I located the large, white cover, pulled it off the shelf, and dove in.
It immediately pissed me off.
Not the content of the book, what Walter Isaacson wrote, but the book itself – the actual physical thing. I had had no problems reading from wood pulp and ink for three three decades before the iPad, yet suddenly I found myself constantly annoyed by its characteristics. I was shocked at all the annoying things about a paper book that I had never noticed before.
The paper book is bigger than my iPad, and it’s heavier, too. The book takes up four or five times the room in my backpack. Before, I had sometimes carried around two or three of these things at once! How the hell did I ever do that?
It’s more cumbersome and awkward, too – a lot more. My iPad is evenly balanced and always the same shape, making it a simple matter to re-orient it, hand it off to someone, or just lean it against something for support. The physical construction of the book – there’s a hinge in the middle! – makes it lopsided most of the time, which makes it difficult to re-orient. And don’t you dare try laying it flat or propping it up without something holding down the pages – you’ll lose your place in no time as it unhelpfully flips pages around.
What is a book for, if not reading? And yet, though I had never noticed it before, a book on paper is actively hostile to reading. The pages curve inwards towards the binding, distorting and hiding the words. It isn’t a constant thing, either, because the curvature and distortion becomes worse as you get closer to the binding. I regularly find myself physically reorienting the book – made more difficult by its aforementioned cumbersome nature – just to read the words on the page! In contrast, the words on my iPad are always flat and never distorted.
The final nail in the coffin is the paltry lack of features in the paper book. There is no built-in dictionary, so I can’t just tap a word and check its definition, nor is it possible to search for all occurrences of a particular word or phrase. As a little bonus, if I have a few moments to spare, I can pull out my iPhone and pick up where I left off; my current spot is synchronized automatically. Though they are not essential, I have become used to such niceties.
Which is not to say that reading on the iPad is perfect. Glare can be an issue, especially if I am outside. A paper book isn’t going to run out of battery any time soon, and it isn’t prone to breaking if I drop it from a height. Nor is it a tempting target for thieves. And as a long-term archival mechanism, or just a pretty thing to show off on a shelf, the paper book wins hands-down.
But for reading, the actual process of reading: I’m a convert. Give me an eBook.
Posted on January 18th, 2012 No comments
So if you’ve been to Wikipedia at all today, you have no doubt noticed that instead of your desired web page, you’re instead being shown a big, black page directing you to take action to prevent Congress from passing a really stupid piece of legislation called SOPA. It’s a really bad law which will infringe free speech and basically break the Internet all at the behest of some already-stupidly-wealthy special interests. I definitely encourage you to take action against SOPA if you haven’t already.
Some of us have work to do, though, and besides being a great resource on Justin Bieber’s hair, Wikipedia also has a plethora of important and useful technical information. Fortunately for us, Wikipedia chose about the most brain-dead way possible to implement their blackout: a script. So, if you would like to bypass their blackout, simply block the following URL using your favorite ad blocker in your browser:
Posted on January 15th, 2012 3 comments
I graduated from college in 2000, with some student loans courtesy of the Department of Education. I consolidated them in 2004, and have been paying diligently through direct debit for the past eight years. I was fortunate and didn’t have much student debt, and the payment amount was low enough that I rarely thought about it. Month after month, year after year, my payment would be withdrawn from my checking account, marching steadily towards a payoff date sometime in 2013.
Several weeks back, I started receiving letters about my loan. First was a notice from the Department of Education that they had given my loan to a company called Mohela for servicing. Then I received similar letters from Mohela itself. (Stupidly, Mohela has also started sending me monthly paper statements.) But whatever – it’s fine. I don’t really care who collects the money as long as my loan is being paid off and the terms haven’t changed.
Today I opened another letter from Mohela, dated January 10, 2012. It explains inside that my loan terms have changed. The interest rate is the same, but my monthly payment has decreased 74%, and my loan term has been extended until 2019! The only explanation for this change is a cryptic statement at the very end of the letter: “** Your terms have been re-calculated to maintain federal/program guidelines **”.
So let me get this straight, Mohela: You want me to pay the same interest rate on a principal balance that – under the new terms – is now decreasing at a significantly slower rate than before for an additional six years?! I don’t think so. Your little “re-calculation” works out to a significant increase in the total amount of interest I’m paying on that loan, without my consent. Sorry – I didn’t agree to that. You’re trying to steal from me.
I’ll be calling the Department of Education to complain on Tuesday, and I’ll be paying off the loan immediately. They aren’t going to get a single cent of additional interest out of me. I won’t be calling Mohela, however. They can suck it. It’s just not worth my time to try and get the payment terms restored.
Posted on January 5th, 2012 No comments
It’s always cool when music you’ve liked for a really long time hits mainstream. It gets used on a commercial or in a movie trailer or played at a sporting event, and when the person next to you says, “Wow! What is that song?” you can just tell them. That happened several times with E.S. Posthumus, and every time it was awesome introducing somebody to new music. (And if you are a fan of grand, cinematic-style music and haven’t checked out E.S. Posthumus yet – well, you’re missing out.)
I don’t have a whole lot of interest in seeing the new movie Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, but the commercials playing on TV are playing a great track off The Cinematic Orchestra’s album Ma Fleur called To Build A Home. You should probably just go ahead and buy it now.
Posted on December 1st, 2011 No comments
Facebook was always a sketchy proposition for me. I avoided it for quite a while, and then for a very long time I left my profile status “Brian is not Facebooking,” without accepting any friend requests. It has been about a year now since I was pushed into the pool, and I find myself still wondering, “What’s the point?”
I rarely log in, and when I do, I am immediately overwhelmed with the latest privacy updates, spam from Farmville, or news about the babies of people I haven’t seen since High School, most of whom I hardly talked to much even when I actually saw them daily. The people I actually do talk to on Facebook are the same people I talk to anyway, via chat, text message, telephone, or even face-to-face.
I post updates even more rarely. In fact, for months my only updates to Facebook have been cross-posts made from other tools, like Twitter or Instagram or Foursquare. So what is the point? I will be deleting my account in a few days. It’s just noise.
Posted on October 6th, 2011 No comments
Everyone has lunch at Caffé Macs on their first day. I was no different. It was exceptionally crowded that day, with a bevy of new hires meandering aimlessly around the cafeteria, overwhelmed by the myriad possibilities for lunch. You could barely hear the person next to you over the din of friendly chatter, clattering plates, and sizzling food. The lines for anything freshly prepared were long, and I opted for a pre-boxed lunch: a caprese sandwich and fruit smoothie.
After paying came the most daunting task so far: find a place to sit. I had lost track of the friend with whom I had come to lunch, so I just stood for a moment, barely past the cash register, and surveyed a scene of chaos and scarcity. Every seat at every table, both inside and out, was filled. People with trays of food circled the floor, a ravenous look in their eyes – for a seat or their lunch, I wasn’t sure. Chairs were snatched from beneath diners while they were still standing up, and more than once a newly-opening table nearly resulted in a brawl. As I tentatively stepped out into that shark pool, my eyes suddenly landed on an open spot.
It was a small, four-person table, with four chairs around it. Amazingly, three seats were empty, with only one person sitting quietly in the eye of the hurricane while the storm raged around him. Surely this person wouldn’t mind sharing a couple seats at his table! Without hesitation, I made a beeline for the table.
As I closed the distance, I had a few moments to actually see who was at the table. He had finished lunch, and he had pushed his chair a bit to the side. His legs were crossed casually as he quietly read. He had salt-and-pepper, scraggly stubble, a balding head, and was wearing jeans and a black sweater.
I stopped so fast the sandwich nearly slid off my tray and the fruit smoothie almost tipped over. It was Steve Jobs.
Should I approach his table and ask to join him? Would he care? What if I pretended to not know who he was? Would he be impressed by the courage of a first-day hire, or would I have the shortest career in the history of the company?
I don’t know exactly how long I stood there staring, but my racing thoughts were interrupted by an incoming text message. My buddy had found a table, and had let me know where it was. I turned, and I walked away from the only chance I would ever have to meet Steve Jobs.
I keep a small list of regrets: moments and decisions in my life from which I vow to learn a lesson and not repeat the same mistake again. The time I didn’t meet Steve Jobs is on that list.
Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
– Steve Jobs, 1955-2011
Posted on August 15th, 2011 1 comment
This morning’s news roundup on Greater Greater Washington included this link to a story in the Examiner (ugh, I hate linking there) about the long-suffering Franklin School. As the former ANC Commissioner for 2F03, in which Franklin School is located, I dealt with this issue a few times during the most recent round of RFPs. The city received several proposals during that process, including one from the Yu Ying Charter School, as well as at least one from a private developer intent on creating a boutique hotel. There was at least one other hotel proposal being floated at the time, although I don’t know whether it was every finally proposed.
As the Examiner article states, capital funding is a huge issue on this project, given both the extreme historic protections on the building and the decades of neglect and abuse it has now sat through. The city quickly ruled out the ability of the Yu Ying school to realistically fund the project, and appeared intent on settling on a hotel. Finally, after years and years, a derelict block in the midst of downtown would be activated!
And then came the community activists.
Well-meaning folks like Joe Browne from the Goethe Institute, the former city-dweller Cary Silverman, and even Greater Greater Washington, began writing, blogging, and petitioning the mayor’s office and the council to halt the processes so that more study could be done about potential public uses for the building. Everything from a school of architecture to a return-to-service as the city’s downtown homeless shelter were suddenly thrown back onto the heap – just as they had during the prior rounds of RFPs. The process stalled yet again, and here we are more than a year later: back at square one. Sadly, as great as all of these community-generated ideas are, they each lack any realistic mechanism to actually accomplish their goal. No funding, no plans, no consensus, no popular support. Nothing. Just great ideas and no way to implement them.
To be clear, I am not saying these folks are directly responsible for the failure of the last round of proposals. I don’t know precisely why the project has stalled again, and I would place blame on the wicked recession and tenuous economic outlook before them. What I am saying is that these folks are needlessly hindering an already difficult process with pipe dreams.
It’s time for them to get off the pot. Would I love to see the building converted to a school or some other public use? Of course – who wouldn’t? Is that realistically going to happen any time in the next decade? Not if history is any guide. A boutique hotel isn’t anyone’s first choice, but it is far better than the sad, empty facade that sits there now.
Posted on July 14th, 2011 No comments
While attempting to avoid exposure to the 103º heat index the other day, I was flipping through some channels and stumbled across the campy sequel Batman Returns, starring Danny Devito as The Penguin. The movie is downright awful, and I would have flipped past it, except the scene caught me.
Max Shreck (played by Christopher Walken – how did this terrible movie attact so much talent?!) was convincing the Penguin to run for Mayor of Gotham City. The Penguin is not really sure this is a good idea, but then inspiration strikes: He needs a platform!
PENGUIN: A platform?
PENGUIN (framing the space in front of him with his flippers): Stop global warming. Start global cooling. Make the world an ice box.
SHRECK: I like it!
Think about this for a moment: This was a joke line in a major summer action movie nearly twenty years ago. The idea of Global Warming was mainstream enough that the writers could a) assume their audience was familiar with it, and b) understand the situation well enough to know that the Penguin’s proposed solution was clearly ridiculous.
So here we are, nearly twenty years later: We have progressed from Batman Returns through Batman Forever, Batman & Robin, Batman Begins, and The Dark Knight. How far have we progressed dealing with Global Warming?
It’s time to vote for somebody who will make a real difference on Global Warming: Oswald Cobblepot for Mayor!
Posted on June 7th, 2011 No comments
Councilmembers in the District of Columbia hold an inordinate amount of power, so the current battle over the boundary between Ward 6 and Ward 8 is no surprise. If I lived in the contested area, I too would be fighting tooth and nail to stay out of Ward 8. Think about it: Who would you rather have as your councilmember? Let’s review your options:
- Tommy Wells – Who, in just five short years on the council, has been a primary advocate of livable, walkable communities; overseen the re-blossoming of Barrack’s Row and H Street; guided the rebuilding of Eastern Market after the devastating fire; and successfully pushed for the expansion of the Circular, Capital Bikeshare, and Streetcars. No corruption and no scandals — just a record of continual improvement for both his constituents and the entire District.
- Marion Barry – Involved in DC politics for over 30 years, he has been arrested for crack, pushed the city back under the Control Board, can’t seem to pay his fair share of taxes on time, can’t seem to stay away from drugs, and can’t seem to avoid stalking and abusing women – that is, when he isn’t using them to kickback money to himself.
There is no problem with the geography of Ward 8 — it is a beautiful, historic part of the District of Columbia. There is no problem with the people of Ward 8 — they are kind, hardworking residents of the District of Columbia. There is a problem with the councilmember of Ward 8 — his name is Marion Barry, and he is a disgrace to the citizens of Ward 8 and the entire District of Columbia. I would get pretty pissed off, too, if a person like him were suddenly my councilmember just because some lines on a map were re-drawn.
Posted on January 23rd, 2011 No comments
Instead of football tonight, I watched Exit Through The Gift Shop. I’m a bit of a Banksy fan, and I wasn’t sure what to expect from this foray into film. I was not disappointed. Banksy’s talent really isn’t with spray paint and stencils, though he drips with natural ability there, but rather with his eye for taking something ordinary and expected and twisting it into something wholly and unexpectedly beautiful. What starts out as a documentary of a non-documentary on street art turns instead into a question of what art means to its creators, how it’s valued by its consumers, and whether or not an artist can sell out and still be an artist.
Speculation as to whether the film was a “hoax” or not seems to miss the point to me. Rather, I see this project as an attempt for Banksy to tease out his own personal understanding as to the definition of art, and to maybe teach us something about it at the same time – a reasonable goal for someone whose most acclaimed work typically involves the willful destruction of other peoples’ property! And maybe that very introspection – arriving at understanding of creation through creation – that’s what it means to be an artist?