Are E-Books There Yet?

I got an Amazon Kindle for my birthday last year. I wanted it not just because I’m a technophile, who loves electronic gadgets of all sorts, and not just because of being able to carry around a small library with me, but also because I have just run out of space on my shelves for regular books.

So, you see, I had to find some solution. I couldn’t expand my book shelves any more. I wasn’t willing to get rid of any of my books. So, I decided that e-books was the way to go.

The reason I am mentioning all of this is that I just read an article by John C. Abell of Wired, “5 Reasons Why E-Books Aren’t There Yet”. Mr. Abell lists five reasons why e-books will not displace printed books just yet and I wondered how the reasons affected me.

1) An unfinished e-book isn’t a constant reminder to finish reading it.

Not a problem for me. I carry my Kindle around a lot and I am always reminded to read something. I created a collection on my Kindle called “Currently Reading” so I know what I am currently reading.

2) You can’t keep your books all in one place.

He is referring to the fact that different e-readers use incompatible formats.

Books arranged on your bookshelves don’t care what store they came from. But on tablets and smartphones, the shelves are divided by app — you can’t see all the e-books you own from various vendors, all in one place. There is simply no app for that. (With e-readers, you are doubly punished, because you can’t buy anything outside the company store anyway).

Apple doesn’t allow developers to tap into root information, which would be needed to create what would amount to a single library on an iOS device. If that restriction disappeared, there would still be the matter of individual vendors agreeing to cooperate — not a given since they are competitors and that kind of leveling could easily lead to price wars, for one thing.

But the way we e-read is the reverse of how we read. To pick up our next physical book, we peruse bookshelves we’ve arranged and pick something out. In the digital equivalent, we would see everything we own, tap on a book and it would invoke the app it requires — Kindle, Nook, Borders, etc. With the current sequence — open up a reader app, pick a book — you can easily forget what you own. Trivial? Try to imagine Borders dictating the size and shape of your bookshelf, and enforcing a rule that it hold only books you bought from them, and see if that thought offends you even a little bit.

I get most of my e-books from Amazon.com. I can also get them from the Gutenberg Project, and other free sources. I use mobipocket converter to convert them to a format my Kindle can use. I have created collections based on subject so I have little trouble remembering the e-books I own.
3) Notes in the margins help you think.

The Kindle allows you to take notes and share them with others.

4) E-books are positioned as disposable, but aren’t priced that way

This one is simple, and also easy to oversimplify since people still have to get paid. But until e-books truly add new value, the way Hollywood did with DVD extras, it’s just annoying to plunk down $13 for what amounts to a rental. E-books cost virtually nothing to produce, and yet the baseline cover price, set by publishers, is only fractionally below the discount price for the print version of new releases.

E-books can’t be shared, donated to your local library shelter, or re-sold. They don’t take up space, and thus coax conflicted feelings when it is time to weed some of them out. But because they aren’t social, even in the limited way that requires some degree of human contact in the physical world, they will also never be an extension of your personality.

Most of the e-books I buy are cheaper than the printed version. Older books, in which the copyright has expired can be had for a very low price or even free. I agree with Abell about sharing. That is really my only complaint, so far.

5) E-books can’t be used for interior design.

Okay, he’s got me there. Still, I have enough printed books for interior design to last me.

I do have one quibble that Abell didn’t mention. The way the Kindle handles illustrations sucks. The Kindle can’t do color yet, so they are monochrome and you can’t expand them. This is especially frustrating with maps, which more often than not are illegible.

Maybe e-books aren’t quite there yet, but Amazon is already selling more e-books than paper ones so they’re coming.

Is China Trying to Bankrupt America?

An interesting article from The Diplomat through Instapundit. I haven’t read it all yet, but somehow I don’t think we need China’s help to go bankrupt. Obama is managing that just fine on his own.

Ban the Bible

From Jihadwatch and Assyrian International News agency. In Pakistan the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party is trying to get the Bible banned because of its blasphemous and pornographic content.

Adam and Eve sans fig leaves, Lot getting drunk, Jesus stopping a stoning . . . This is all too much for Muslims represented in Pakistan’s parliament by the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party. They view Bible stories such as these to be “pornographic” slurs against the biblical figures whom they claim as their holy prophets. They are now demanding that the country ban the Bible because of such “blasphemy” and exact a “punishment.” There seems no limit to what could be considered an offense against Islam under Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws.

At a press conference on May 30 in Lahore, party leader Maulana Abdul Rauf Farooqi informally petitioned the Supreme Court, complaining that the Bible includes stories about some of the biblical prophets that include “a variety of moral crimes, which undermine the sanctity of the holy figures.” A newspaper reports: “Farooqi cited a number of [supposedly pornographic] scriptures from the Bible, saying such ‘insertions’ strongly offend the Muslims, who hold all prophets and holy books in high esteem, as part of religious belief and never even think of committing any blasphemy against them.”

The verses in question are:

Genesis 19:33–36, 29: 23, 32–35, 38:18

Exodus 32:2–6

1 Kings 13:2–29

2 Samuel 11:2–27, 13:1–22

Matthew 1:13, 16:23, 26:14–47

They have a point. Many times the prophets and  apostles in the Bible are not presented in a very good light. This is because the Bible presents these people the way they were, sins and warts and all. God makes use of some very imperfect people to accomplish His will.

In the Koran, by contrast, the various prophets, Abraham, Moses, Jesus are presented as ideal Moslems, reciting the same message as Mohammed. There is little sense of any individual personality for any of them. Some of the best parts of the Bible are when the prophet, etc must confront his own weaknesses and overcome them. David and Bathsheba, Jacob and his poor treatment of Esau, Peter’s denial of Jesus, etc. Religion and theology aside, this is one of the things that makes the Koran far inferior, in the literary sense, to the Bible.

Anti-matter

Anti-matter is sort of the opposite of regular matter we see  and interact with, except that the particles that make it up are opposite in charge. An anti-electron or positron is positive instead of negative and an anti-proton is negative instead of positive. Neutral particles such as a neutron also have an anti-particle with opposite properties such as baryon number. It i possible to combine anti-protons and anti-neutrons to form the nuclei of anti-atoms and even to get positrons to orbit around these nuclei, forming anti-atoms. Physicists have managed to create anti-hydrogen, but no anti-matter can exist for very long since it is destroyed on contact with matter.

At CERN in Geneva, scientists have managed to capture anti-hydrogen anti-atoms for an incredible 16 minutes. This may not seem very long, but on the scale of atoms and particles, this is an eternity.

“We’ve trapped antihydrogen atoms for as long as 1,000 seconds, which is forever” in the world of high-energy particle physics, said Joel Fajans, a University of California, Berkeley professor of physics who is a faculty scientist at California’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a member of the ALPHA (Antihydrogen Laser Physics Apparatus) experiment at CERN.

Trapping antimatter is difficult, because when it comes into contact with matter, the two annihilate each other. So a container for antimatter can’t be made of regular matter, but is usually formed with magnetic fields.

In the ALPHA project, the researchers captured antihydrogen by mixing antiprotons with positrons — antielectrons — in a vacuum chamber, where they combine into antihydrogen atoms.

The whole process occurred within a magnetic “bottle” that takes advantage of the magnetic properties of the antiatoms to keep them contained. An actual bottle, made of ordinary matter, would not be able to hold antimatter because when the two types of matter meet they annihilate.

After the researchers had trapped antimatter in the magnetic bottle, they could then detect the trapped antiatoms by turning off the magnetic field and allowing the particles to annihiliate with normal matter, which creates a flash of light.

The team has now managed to capture 112 antiatoms in this new trap for times ranging from one-fifth of a second to 1,000 seconds, or 16 minutes and 40 seconds. (To date, since the beginning of the project, Fajans and his colleagues have trapped 309 antihydrogen atoms in various traps.)

And the researchers plan to improve on that, with the “hope that by 2012 we will have a new trap with laser access to allow spectroscopic experiments on the antiatoms,” Fajans said in a statement. Those experiments would give researchers more information on the antimatter’s properties.

In that way, it could help to answer a question that has long plagued physicists: Why is there only ordinary matter in our universe? Scientists think antimatter and matter should have been produced in equal amounts during the Big Bang that created the universe 13.6 billion years ago.

Maybe an anti-matter drive, like in Star Trek is just around the corner.

Oh, and see here for the coolest little particles in nature.

Ancient Dictionary

Assyrian cuneiform
Wonder what this says

After ninety years, a group of scholars at the University of Chicago have completed a dictionary of Ancient Assyrian. The details are in this article in Yahoo news. I think this is an amazing accomplishment and I wish I could get ahold of a copy. It’s interesting that according to the researchers people have changed much in the last 3000 years.

The Assyrian Dictionary gives us the key into the world’s first urban civilization,” he says. “Virtually everything that we take for granted … has its origins in Mesopotamia, whether it’s the origins of cities, of state societies, the invention of the wheel, the way we measure time, and most important the invention of writing.

“If we ever want to understand our roots,” Stein adds, “we have to understand this first great civilization.”

The translated cuneiform texts — originally written with wedged-shaped characters — reveal a culture where people expressed joy, anxiety and disappointment about the same events they do today: a child’s birth, bad harvests, money troubles, boastful leaders.

“A lot of what you see is absolutely recognizable — people expressing fear and anger, expressing love, asking for love,” says Matthew Stolper, a University of Chicago professor who worked on the project on and off over three decades. “There are inscriptions from kings that tell you how great they are, and inscriptions from others who tell you those guys weren’t so great. … There’s also lot of ancient versions of `your check is in the mail.’ And there’s a common phrase in old Babylonian letters that literally means `don’t worry about a thing.'”

This may not seem a very practical thing since the language died out around AD 100. Still, not everything has an immediate useful application and this project is more worthwhile than many I could think of.

A page from the dictionary

Worms from Hell

Some more interesting news from the world of science. According to this article in the Washington Post, scientists Gaetan Borgonie and Tullis Onstott have found nematodes or roundworms living more than a mile beneath the earth’s surface. They found them in the Beatrix gold mine. It is quite a discovery since no one had thought such complex organisms could live so far underground.

“This is telling us something brand new,” said Onstott, whose pioneering work in South Africa over the past decade has revolutionized the understanding of microbial life known generally as extremophiles, which live in places long believed to be uninhabitable.

“For a relatively complex creature like a nematode to penetrate that deep is simply remarkable,” he said.

An article introducing the subterranean nematodes, one of which was formally named Halicephalobus mephisto after the “Lord of the Underworld,” appears in Wednesday’s edition of the journal Nature. H. mephisto was found in water flowing from a borehole about one mile below the surface in the Beatrix gold mine.

Borgonie said that although nematodes are known to exist on the deep ocean floor, they have generally not been found more than 10 to 20 feet below the surface of the ground or the ocean bed. But he saw no reason they wouldn’t be found farther down. The nematodes he ultimately discovered live in extremely hot water coming from boreholes fed by rock fissures and pools.

 

This is especially promising in the search for extraterrestrial life, since on a planet like Mars, under the surface could be more hospitable for life than the surface.

Most life on earth, that we are familiar with, is dependent on the process of photosynthesis, either directly or indirectly. Obviously this is not an option a mile underground. These nematodes feed on bacteria who gain nourishment from molecules broken up by the heat of radioactive decay.

The world is stranger and more wonderful than we can imagine.

D-Day

Today is the 67th anniversary of D-Day, when thousands of allied troops landed on the coast of Normandy. This, along with the Battle of Stalingrad, turned the tide of the European theater of World War II and was the beginning of the end for one of the most evil regimes in history.

Why Barack Obama May be Heading for Electoral Disaster in 2012

From the Telegraph. I really, really hope that this is true. Nile Gardiner seems to have good reason to believe that 2012 will be a close race with a strong possibility that Obama will not be re-elected, despite the opinion of many in Britain.

On a recent visit to London I was struck by how much faith many British politicians, journalists and political advisers have in Barack Obama being re-elected in 2012. In the aftermath of the hugely successful Special Forces operation that took out Osama Bin Laden and a modest spike in the polls for the president, the conventional wisdom among political elites in Britain is overwhelmingly that Obama will win another four years in the Oval Office. Add to this a widespread perception of continuing disarray in the Republican race, as well as a State Visit to London that had the chattering classes worshipping at the feet of the US president, and you can easily see why Obama’s prospects look a lot rosier from across the Atlantic.

I don’t know why they would think that. It seems to me fairly obvious that if the economy has not substantially improved over the next year, Obama will have a very tough race, even with the mainstream media in his corner. But even more than the state of the economy, the increasing anxiety many Americans (myself among them) are feeling about the future of this country will act against him. This is, I think, the whole reason the TEA party movement came into being. People are worried. They don’t like the direction things are moving in.

They were worried back in 2008 too and this is a part  of the reason a one term Senator with no executive experience was able to win the White House. But people know Obama now and too many don’t like what they see.

Gardiner finishes with some poll results that I think are worth quoting.

Unsurprisingly, the polls are again looking problematic for the president. The latest Rasmussen Presidential Tracking Poll shows just 25 percent of Americans strongly approving of Obama’s performance, with 36 percent strongly disapproving, for a Presidential Approval Index rating of minus 11 points. In a projected match up between Obama and a Republican opponent, the president now trails by two points according to Rasmussen – 43 to 45.  The RealClear Politics poll of polls shows just over a third of Americans (34.5 percent) agreeing that the country is heading in the right direction, with nearly three fifths (56.8 percent) believing it is heading down the wrong track. That negative figure rises to a staggering 66 percent of likely voters in a new Rasmussen survey, including 41 percent of Democrats.

This race is really the Republicans to lose. Knowing them, I’m sure they will find a way to do just that.

Hadith

I’ve started to read the Hadiths lately. Hadiths are collections of the sayings and deeds of the false prophet Mohammed. They were transmitted orally from narrator to narrator for over a hundred years until they started to be written down. There are several collections of these anecdotes, with Sunnis and Shi’ites using different ones,  but the most reliable  among the Sunni is considered to be the collection of Sahih al-Bukhari, which is the one I am reading.

The Hadith are second only in importance to the Koran in Islamic theology and jurisprudence. In fact, given the obscurity of much of the Koran, the Hadith play a valuable role in explaining and illuminating the circumstances in which various portions of the Koran were “revealed”. Also, since Mohammed is considered to be the perfect role model for all Muslims, the Hadiths tell Muslims what the prophet did in various circumstances and so serve as a guide for Muslims.

Naturally, since it was over a century since the Hadiths were written down, it is likely that many anecdotes have been distorted in the transmission and many were even fabricated after the time of Mohammed. Islāmic scholars are aware of this and so they have classified hadiths according to how reliable they are considered to be. A hadith may be sahih (sound), daif (doubtful), or mawdu (fabricated). They also classify them as hasan (good) or munkar (denounced). Since the Muslim scholars were, of course, classifying these Hadiths before the development of modern Western textual criticism, the method they used was to examine the chain of narrators and compare the Hadiths to each other for inconsistancies. A Hadith from a more reliable or trustworthy chain of narrators is considered more reliable than one from a doubtful chain.

Each Hadith has two parts; the isnad, which is the chain of narrators, and the matn, which is the actual anecdote.  I can’t comment very much on the contents of the Hadiths yet, as I have only just begun to read the collection. The text is clearer and easier to understand than the Koran, which has many obscure parts. It is very repetitive, as often the same anecdote or saying will be repeated over and over through different chains of narrators with slight variations of wording. Some of Mohammed’s actions seem rather strange, given the huge cultural gap between the modern West and seventh century Arabia. I get the impression, sometimes, that Mohammed was obsessive-compulsive, or at least more than a little superstitious.

 

I’m not sure reading the collection from front to back is the best or usual way to read it. I get the impression that a collection of Hadiths is more of a reference work. Still, that is the only way I know to do it.