Tag Archives: Opinion

Working with tablets

Microsoft’s recent series of ads for the new Surface Pro includes the tagline “The tablet that can replace your laptop”. In the sense that the tablet costs roughly what 2-3 decent laptops cost ($899) I would agree. But this isn’t really a post about ragging on Microsoft (it’s generally not nice to kick someone when they’re down). Instead, I’d like to take on the notion of tablets replacing your laptop.

I’m a cheapskate when it comes to tablets. The idea of spending more than $99 on a single piece of tablet hardware seems silly to me when I can buy more power in a laptop. So most of what I own are 7″ tablets and eReaders, including the newest fifth generation Amazon Fire (which I discussed last week). Some of you with 10″ tablets or more disposable income may have different opinions, but listed below are some of the ways tablets have helped and hindered my writing work.

Reading (Superior to laptop, both superior and inferior to paper books): I am a voracious reader, and tablets let me bring a whole library books with me wherever I go. They’re not as good to flip through for specific bits, though tablets outstrip most eReaders in this respect. And physical books can’t travel as easily to the places I actually have time to read (I can’t plug a paper book into a car stereo and have it read to me).

Research (Internet research okay, Wikipedia good, not as good as paper books): The same principle of being able to carry more with me applies, and it is nice to not have to lug around 900 page programming books. But for fractal research, the real book is much better. Basic internet research can be slower especially for a multi-tab person like myself, but specialized apps like Wikipedia hold up to their laptop equivalents.

Writing new drafts (Terrible): Even with an external keyboard, tablets will never match up to the capabilities of even the most stripped down computer. And onscreen keyboards, even on larger tablets, feel unnatural and are prone to fat-fingering or auto-correct. There may be an argument that tablets slow you down in the same ways writing a draft by hand does, but I don’t have to fight my hand to write the word I meant to say.

Writing notes (On par, maybe even better): I’ve been keeping notes for my latest book on my new Kindle. It’s nice to have by the bedside, and I have more confidence the notes won’t be lost. Still slow going, but not bad.

E-mail (On par, more convenient locations): For complex or long e-mails it’s not as good as a laptop, but for a basic conversation it’s nice to just sit in the living room rather than having to go down to my office.

Sorting through files (Great): At the moment I’m going through several 1000 images selecting some for an upcoming project. This is tedious and necessary work, and something that’s nice to do when I’m watching a show or waiting on a program to run. My old tablets weren’t as good at this task, but the new Fire lets me toss 4GB of image files on without disturbing all of my personal entertainment media.

Revision (Helpful aid, but the real work is being done on the keyboard): I find it extremely helpful to always have access to my latest or previous drafts of a book on the tablet. It’s something I can easily put side-by-side with my computer, particularly when I’m re-writing new sections from scratch, or when I need to catch up by having a section read to me. But the idea of doing complex editing like rearranging paragraphs, words, or sections on a tablet just doesn’t work for me. I need the finer control of a mouse.

Social Media (Twitter great, Facebook okay, WordPress good for looking at stats and not much else).

Programming (N/A): If there’s a way to write code on the tablet I’d love to try it, but for now I like IDE’s on real machines.

My general conclusion is that a tablet is a great way to complement tasks I perform on the computer, or to allow me to work in odd locations at shorter intervals. But my real work is still done on computers.


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Poochie 2.0

Heard a story on the radio this morning that touched a bit of a nerve. Apparently, for $100,000 a lab in South Korea can clone your dog for you. NPR did a profile of a couple in Louisiana who did this with their dog Melvin, twice.

There are a number of troubling things about this, and to NPR’s credit they did a good job of touching on them. For starters the eggs for these clones need to be harvested from female dogs and placed into surrogate mothers. The procedure is often unsuccessful and requires multiple attempts to produce a viable clone. And most clones have defects that can cause them to be sickly.

But as all science fiction writers have a tendency to do, let’s set aside all of the medical complications and consider the question from a more ethical perspective, assuming eventually the technology will get better.

The US Humane Society estimates the owned dog population (in 2013) to be about 80 million. Another 6-8 million dogs wind up in shelters, with approximately 2.7 million not adopted each year. That’s 1 dog for every ten people in the United States. Clones don’t appreciably affect this population (NPR reported the particular lab has only produced 600 or so cloned dogs), but there are still many dogs out there who are alive and need a home.

Okay, dog over population is bad, it’s why Bob Barker always told us to get our pets spayed and neutered (and not because of his amusing last name). But again, not my point.

We lost our first dog, Simon, about a year and a half ago*. Like the family in the radio piece, it took two dogs to replace him, our beagle-boxer Riley (who we adopted from a shelter 3 days after we put Simon to sleep) and Murphy, a beagle like Simon who we adopted a few months ago. Simon was a great dog, very chill, but always greeted me when I got home. Those last days with him were hard as a tumor in his brain caused seizures, but he still was able to enjoy walks, and even a Five Guys Burger.

Losing a pet is hard. It took us a while to grieve for Simon and every now and then Murphy gives us a look that reminds us of our dog when he was younger (though we’re doing a better job at keeping Murphy thin). Riley and Murphy are very different dogs. Riley is playful, energetic, a lot taller even though he can curl up surprisingly small and isn’t much of a snuggler, though he has his moments. Murphy is a lap dog (at least he thinks he is) who I suspect would explode if he wasn’t on a human for more than an hour.

Cloning Simon, I would have missed out on the new experience of my dogs now. And cloning anything, a pet or even a loved one is trying to deny a fundamental part of our nature.

Things end. People and pets pass away. It’s sad, and it can be hard to deal with sometimes. But I can’t help but feel like cloning a pet is denying that truth, trying to set aside grief, to cheat death. But it’s a trick. A dog might be a genetic duplicate, but that is not everything that made it who it was. Even a cloned animal is still a different being than the one that preceded it. Part of life is about letting go, and letting others into our lives. Simon had a happy full life with us, and we’re trying to do the same for Riley and Murphy.

$100,000 could help hundreds of dogs. You could pay the adoption fee for the whole Franklin County Animal Shelter with that kind of money, and let families who might balk at the upfront money still provide a loving home. You could pay for medical expenses for older dogs and help them live a little longer with their owners. You could buy free bags of dog food for needy families who otherwise would have to give up their pet.

I understand this Louisiana family’s choice. But I can’t help but think of it as selfish, offensive, and ultimately self-defeating.

* My wife has had other dogs, but this was the first one she adopted herself. I came along a couple of years later so he predated me.

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The Problem

John Oliver had a pretty big get on Last Week Tonight on Sunday, Edward Snowden, NSA leaker and revealer of the ways in which our government is spying on our data. The problem is, we don’t know who this man is, or why we should really give a hoot. Oliver interviews a number of people on the street who, if they have heard the name Snowden at all, incorrectly identify him as Julian Asange from WikiLeaks.

Oliver tried to tease out reasons why the American public should care from a very technically minded person. Ultimately Oliver chose to frame it as “can the government see my dick pics?” Sure, it’s crude and an oversimplification of the privacy rights of citizens, but it’s something that at least some of us will care about. And the analogy worked as Oliver quizzed Snowden on the ways in which certain government programs can see our unmentionables if we’re foolish enough to ever have them touch the Internet ever.

I think there are a couple of problems when we try to have a complicated discussion as a society. We’re not all very technically minded, and the technically minded among us aren’t very good at teasing out what should be common knowledge, and what is just easy to them because they’ve spent years working with the stuff. And societally, we’re not good at assessing long term risk. We eat too much even though it negatively affects our health in the long run. We don’t save enough for retirement because it’s so far away, you get the idea.

I have this problem all the time when trying to explain something technical to someone else, even when I think it’s pretty simple. Part of this is I’m not actually that inclined to be a teacher. I like writing about technical problems, but sit me next to someone on a computer trying to work something out and I go a little crazy. I’m tempted to snatch the keyboard and mouse away and just do it rather than try to explain in non-technical terms.

Other times it’s simply a matter of thinking something is easier than it is, or thinking we’ve explained ourselves when we really haven’t. And the American people have a shorter attention span than we’d care to admit. We need  a simple analogy. And that’s not all that unreasonable of a demand. There are a lot of things we should technically care about, international crisis in Iran, Yemen, Syria, ISIS, Boko Haram (if I spelled it incorrectly, then good ). We’re supposed to worry about climate change, our health, health care, the rapid pace of technology and how our technology is made. The list goes on and on.

So, yeah, maybe not all of us have dick pics, but what do we have that we’d rather the government not see? If we’ve put that thing on a computer, the government has probably seen it.


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We miss you already, Jon!

I’ve watched The Daily Show with Jon Stewart since 2003. In 2o10, my wife and I were two of 200,000 standing in the Washington Mall for the Rally To Restore Sanity (And/Or Fear). It was The Daily Show’s Indecision 2008 coverage where we heard about President Obama’s election, and indeed has been the way we’ve gotten through much of the malarchy of every election cycle. We’re going to miss him for 2016, which promises to be an even crazier year than 2012 on both sides.

I don’t always agree with Jon Stewart. Some of his pieces on religion made me cringe. I’ve never been a huge fan of him referring to Fox News as B——- Mountain, even when they might have deserved it. And even as the most trusted name in fake news I learned to take some commentaries with a grain of salt. For starters, I have on occasion actually enjoyed something I ordered from Arbys.

But I know I’m going to miss him. And I’m kind of wishing that John Oliver would break his contract with HBO and come back over (even though he’s doing some fabulous work over there). I’m not really keen on any of the current correspondants taking over the center chair. Don’t get me wrong, I love Jessica Williams and Jordan Kleper is hilarious, but I don’t think anyone has quite the same ability to be funny and thoughtful as quickly and interchangeably as Stewart.

You know what I do think would be a crazy, left field, awesome move for The Daily Show to take? Bassim Yousef.

Yousef hosted an Egyptian version of The Daily Show, poking fun of dictators, generals and the state in an arena that was frankly more fraught with peril than it ever has been in America. And he was funny. Just watch last Monday’s episode of The Daily Show to see how funny. His show was torn off the air in Egypt and he spent some time under varying degrees of custody. Frankly I was happy to see him alive and well and on TV. But seriously, here’s what we’d get:

  • A lot of the same charm, charisma and timing of Stewart.
  • An international view, something that Oliver and other correspondants have already proven can be beneficial.
  • Something different, but proven and in line with what we expect and want The Daily Show to be.

This is not me saying that there wouldn’t be other great choices. But this is a choice that I feel gives the best of both worlds, the need for the show to be different and not a copy of its tenure under Stewart, but a way to be the same and still satisfy the audience.

As you can tell I’ve been thinking a little about this.

Ultimately I’m glad that someone will be sitting in the chair, though if Jon suddenly changed his mind and wanted 10 more years that’d be okay too. The show has been a way to become engaged with the news and political life that isn’t oppresive and depressing. It’s been a way to find out about interesting books and movies (some for gifts). And it’s just been a great landing spot to process the events of the day.

Hopefully, next year, it still will be.

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