Near Earth Archive

A backup of Near Earth Object by Paul Fidalgo

Month: April, 2011

Oh Restless Blog

I know. I can’t seem to keep to one blogging home. Scattered across many services, or hopping from one base platform to another. But I may be doing it again. In a hope for a format that better suits more frequent posts (wishful thinking, perhaps) that may have a more Tumblr-esque, Sullivan/Dish feel to it, I’m experimenting with a move (back) to Blogger. Yes, in spite of my skepticism of Google.

So here’s where it’s happening: nearearthobject.blogspot.com. If I decide to pull the trigger, Near-Earth.com will redirect there. Old links, well, won’t. So I don’t know what to do about that yet.

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Rubio’s Itch to Intervene

Marco Rubio wants Obama to get tough on Syria.

I am sympathetic to this position. I have often fancied myself as something of a neo-liberal, or liberal hawk, in as much as I think the United States, possessing the kind of military, diplomatic and economic might that none can match, instead of using that might to enrich corporations and expand empire, should wield its power to decapitate oppressive and violent regimes and to stop massacres and genocides in their tracks. So I have little to say about the thrust of the argument here: President Obama, fucking do something when innocents who are begging to be recognized as human beings are being slaughtered. Fine.

Here’s where I get confused:

America has an obligation to weigh in strongly about the situation in Syria. For years, its regime has aided the terrorist operations of Hezbollah and Hamas, supported Iran’s destabilizing policies, and helped terrorists kill Americans in Iraq. The regime has not only destabilized the region but also directly acted against the national security interests of the United States. We simply cannot sit silently as innocent people peacefully challenge a regime committed to undermining the United States and its allies.

This sounds to me like Rubio is saying that the U.S. should have begun pushing Syria around long before any of the current violence ever got started. All the things on this laundry list of why Syria is bad news were true well before any protesters bravely took to the streets.

My point is that it seems like a non sequitur to raise these problems with Syria in this piece if the point is to pressure the administration to stop the violence against protesters. If Syria had been a quiet, friendly member of the community of nations up until this point, and then suddenly turned its weapons against its citizens, wouldn’t Sen. Rubio still want President Obama to stop the violence?

And if these protests never took place, and therefore there was no massacre in response, would Sen. Rubio have felt that the Syrian regime was within the bounds of acceptability?

So which is it, Sen. Rubio? Intervene to stop the violence that is going on now? Or are these events just the latest excuse for a long-wished-for U.S.-led crackdown having, on the whole, little to do with current events? And if so, why didn’t you have anything to say about last year?

Oh, and by the way, the timing of this piece — for Foreign Policy no less — makes me suspect even more strongly that Rubio wishes to be, and perhaps will be, on the GOP’s 2012 national ticket.

They Hate Us in Spain, Too

An atheist march that was to take place on the Thursday before Easter has been banned in Madrid. Why? Some tasteless posters that some folks used to advertise the event (disavowed by the atheist group running the march), and, you know, ’cause it’s impolite or something. Oh, and they might collide with some Catholic parades, and cause a big mess. From El País:

The ruling also expressed concern about the time of the march, which “coincides with the start of Catholic processions” and that the route includes streets in which there are “multiple parish churches.”

But of course, the curtailing of free expression usually has simpler roots than inconvenient parade routes. The heart of it:

City Hall, governed by the Popular Party, has always been opposed to the event. “We will not authorize on that day, at that hour, and in that space, such a mockery of a religious faith,” said Deputy Mayor Manuel Cobo.

Sounds like a de facto blasphemy law to me. Someone should inform the fine people of Madrid that they, too, have a constitution that maintains freedoms of speech and religion. Article 16, Section 1:

Freedom of ideology, religion, and cult of individuals and communities is guaranteed without any limitation in their demonstrations other than that which is necessary for the maintenance of public order protected by law.

That seems pretty clear cut as far as its application to the atheist procession. What do you say, Madrid?

They Hate Us in Spain, Too

An atheist march that was to take place on the Thursday before Easter has been banned in Madrid. Why? Some tasteless posters that some folks used to advertise the event (disavowed by the atheist group running the march), and, you know, ’cause it’s impolite or something. Oh, and they might collide with some Catholic parades, and cause a big mess. From El País:

The ruling also expressed concern about the time of the march, which “coincides with the start of Catholic processions” and that the route includes streets in which there are “multiple parish churches.”

But of course, the curtailing of free expression usually has simpler roots than inconvenient parade routes. The heart of it:

City Hall, governed by the Popular Party, has always been opposed to the event. “We will not authorize on that day, at that hour, and in that space, such a mockery of a religious faith,” said Deputy Mayor Manuel Cobo.

Sounds like a de facto blasphemy law to me. Someone should inform the fine people of Madrid that they, too, have a constitution that maintains freedoms of speech and religion. Article 16, Section 1:

Freedom of ideology, religion, and cult of individuals and communities is guaranteed without any limitation in their demonstrations other than that which is necessary for the maintenance of public order protected by law.

That seems pretty clear cut as far as its application to the atheist procession. What do you say, Madrid?

Kindle, Almost at the Tipping Point

When Amazon announced their new ad-supported, reduced-price Kindle, I thought it was a stroke of brilliance. Save money on an already-affordable and truly excellent device, and in exchange get exposed to some nonintrusive ads. Considering how much of a non-issue the ads really do seem to be (only appearing on the screen saver and menu), choosing the ad-supported version at this point seems to me to be a no-brainer for a new Kindle buyer.

But I’ve thought a bit more about it, and while I still think it’s the right direction for Amazon, I have to agree with John Gruber, who says, “$25 off, though? Feels nickel-and-dimey to me.”

It’s true: the savings only amount to about two Kindle books, or the difference between a new and refurbished model. While I think the ad-sponsored Kindle is the better value between the two WiFi only versions, $114 is an awkward price point at which to land. What I think is so potentially brilliant about this move is that Amazon has a chance to finally push the Kindle toward being so inexpensive as to make it an easy buy for any interested consumers, whether or not they already own things like iPads. But $114 doesn’t quite have that psychologic push. Retail 101 will tell you that Amazon needs to squash the price down to the magic $99 point to push it over the mass-adoption edge.

So I don’t necessarily agree with Gruber that the Kindle, as it is now, ought to be free. I could see a free Kindle that was less powerful and had ads throughout the books perhaps. But that’s a big perhaps. Again, just thinking about retail psychology, I would bet that people would feel that the Kindle had moved from an inexpensive-yet-cool device to something that might be a cheap piece of crap — I mean, it’s free! Free makes it seem less impressive than it is, and therefore less compelling for consumers to enter the Kindle ecosystem.

So I think a $99 Kindle is the sweet spot, and if this new method of using ads to subsidize that price is the way they get there, then that’s fine by me.

Kindle, Almost at the Tipping Point

When Amazon announced their new ad-supported, reduced-price Kindle, I thought it was a stroke of brilliance. Save money on an already-affordable and truly excellent device, and in exchange get exposed to some nonintrusive ads. Considering how much of a non-issue the ads really do seem to be (only appearing on the screen saver and menu), choosing the ad-supported version at this point seems to me to be a no-brainer for a new Kindle buyer.

But I’ve thought a bit more about it, and while I still think it’s the right direction for Amazon, I have to agree with John Gruber, who says, “$25 off, though? Feels nickel-and-dimey to me.”

It’s true: the savings only amount to about two Kindle books, or the difference between a new and refurbished model. While I think the ad-sponsored Kindle is the better value between the two WiFi only versions, $114 is an awkward price point at which to land. What I think is so potentially brilliant about this move is that Amazon has a chance to finally push the Kindle toward being so inexpensive as to make it an easy buy for any interested consumers, whether or not they already own things like iPads. But $114 doesn’t quite have that psychologic push. Retail 101 will tell you that Amazon needs to squash the price down to the magic $99 point to push it over the mass-adoption edge.

So I don’t necessarily agree with Gruber that the Kindle, as it is now, ought to be free. I could see a free Kindle that was less powerful and had ads throughout the books perhaps. But that’s a big perhaps. Again, just thinking about retail psychology, I would bet that people would feel that the Kindle had moved from an inexpensive-yet-cool device to something that might be a cheap piece of crap — I mean, it’s free! Free makes it seem less impressive than it is, and therefore less compelling for consumers to enter the Kindle ecosystem.

So I think a $99 Kindle is the sweet spot, and if this new method of using ads to subsidize that price is the way they get there, then that’s fine by me.

Dig This Big-Ass Book We’re Reading (On Libambulating)

Lee Klein of Swink magazine proposes — only a quarter-jokingly — that people should make a point of walking and reading (“libambulating”) through our big cities in order to save the physical and intellectual life of the nation. Indeed, he hopes for a kind of flash mob of libambulators:

We’ll go through areas below the poverty line, where it’s most murderous, where literary reading is less common than illiteracy. But we will go there, all of us armed with War and Peace, and we will walk there reading, not bumping into stuff, not getting hit by buses.

When we’re inevitably asked what the hell we’re doing walking and reading up there, we’ll say it’s good for you, it’s a good sign for the city, it’s good for your heart and head, wards off diabetes and depression, if you do it frequently and read a bunch of books you’ll be associated with people who are sportier and healthier and wealthier. We’re not doing this for fun, y’know, we’re saving souls. We’re doing this out of necessity. The history of the world is the history of necessity, so says the end of this big-ass book we’re reading. And what we’re doing is absolutely necessary if we want our country and its culture to have anything resembling a semblance of hope, anything resembling a fulfilling interior life, anything resembling an understanding of ambiguity that literary reading promotes.

I could do this rather safely in small-town Maine all by my lonesome, and probably not look too out of place. But if this kind of thing were more common in my former home of Washington, DC, perhaps I would not have felt so compelled to leave. That, and less of the violence.

Dig This Big-Ass Book We’re Reading (On Libambulating)

Lee Klein of Swink magazine proposes — only a quarter-jokingly — that people should make a point of walking and reading (“libambulating”) through our big cities in order to save the physical and intellectual life of the nation. Indeed, he hopes for a kind of flash mob of libambulators:

We’ll go through areas below the poverty line, where it’s most murderous, where literary reading is less common than illiteracy. But we will go there, all of us armed with War and Peace, and we will walk there reading, not bumping into stuff, not getting hit by buses.

When we’re inevitably asked what the hell we’re doing walking and reading up there, we’ll say it’s good for you, it’s a good sign for the city, it’s good for your heart and head, wards off diabetes and depression, if you do it frequently and read a bunch of books you’ll be associated with people who are sportier and healthier and wealthier. We’re not doing this for fun, y’know, we’re saving souls. We’re doing this out of necessity. The history of the world is the history of necessity, so says the end of this big-ass book we’re reading. And what we’re doing is absolutely necessary if we want our country and its culture to have anything resembling a semblance of hope, anything resembling a fulfilling interior life, anything resembling an understanding of ambiguity that literary reading promotes.

I could do this rather safely in small-town Maine all by my lonesome, and probably not look too out of place. But if this kind of thing were more common in my former home of Washington, DC, perhaps I would not have felt so compelled to leave. That, and less of the violence.

What the Kindle Needs: Real Time

Being around the new iPad a lot recently (though not owning one), aiding my wife in the procurement of her own iPhone (which I do own) and having my beloved Kindle crap out and then get replaced very quickly by Amazon, I’ve thought a lot about the intersection of these devices’ functionalities, and what might improve one or the other to make one or the other less necessary — or at least less lust-worthy.

I think I know. I adore my Kindle, and I do not at all wish it were a better Web browsing device or email device. I mean, those things would be fine, but I want my Kindle specifically for reading things longer than Tumblr posts. The rest is gravy. So the question is what is Kindle missing that would aid in that particular function?

Let’s presume for now that its basic book-reading functions are essentially unimpeachable. It has a high-contrast E-ink screen that has no glare problems, no backlighting to cause eye fatigue, and refreshes at an acceptably quick rate.

On top of that, one can read and subscribe to periodicals. (We’ll set aside for the moment that the Kindle iPhone app does not support those subscriptions, and concentrate on the device itself.) Among those most valuable to me is the self-curated Instapaper, a service that allows one to collect long-form reading from across the Web, and have it packaged in a highly-readable format in one central location, be it the iPhone app, on the Web, or sent to one’s Kindle (my favorite option).

The problem for me, I’ve discovered, is that Instapaper collections must be sent to the Kindle, as opposed to the iPhone app, which updates in real time. I send an article in my browser to Instapaper, and seconds later it’s in the app. But for Kindle, it must be e-mailed, and it must travel with one’s entire Instapaper collection at that. So no more than once per day, the Instapaper service automatically sends your Kindle everything in your collection (presuming you have new material in it). Add something to the collection minutes later, and you have to wait until tomorrow to see it on your Kindle, unless you log in on the Web and manually send it yourself.

What the Kindle needs, then, is live updating of online content. Not a daily digest, but a real-time reflection of one’s collection. This could happen either by new functionality of the Kindle device itself, or via an Instapaper-specific app native to the Kindle (thus ending the need to e-mail oneself one’s content, a means which feels more and more antiquated with every passing day).

This added functionality would of course not only serve Instapaper well, but all sorts of periodicals and blogs that people would rather read on their Kindles instead of on backlit screens. I don’t pretend to know what kind of pressure this would put on the blessedly-free 3G Internet connection the Kindle provides, but even if it were a Wi-Fi-only feature, it would make the Kindle far more valuable than it already is.

The Internet is as Exhausting as You Make It

In the consistently-fascinating journal n+1, Alice Gregory insightfully expounds on the modern race to keep pace with the imagined expectations of the social digital world.

I have the sensation, as do my friends, that to function as a proficient human, you must both “keep up” with the internet and pursue more serious, analog interests. I blog about real life; I talk about the internet. It’s so exhausting to exist on both registers, especially while holding down a job. It feels like tedious work to be merely conversationally competent. I make myself schedules, breaking down my commute to its most elemental parts and assigning each leg of my journey something different to absorb: podcast, Instapaper article, real novel of real worth, real magazine of dubious worth. I’m pretty tired by the time I get to work at 9 AM.

I have felt this pressure myself, the desire to maintain a respectable degree of relevance online means, even for a lowly, largely-unknown individual, generating content on a regular basis. And I often fail. But I intentionally used the word “imagined” in the first sentence to describe the expectations, because they are just that. No one is forced — or even asked — to be social networking machines, or reliable human e-periodicals. If we take part, if we struggle to tread water, it’s because we choose to.

But Gregory sees it differently, writing as though she has little choice. In the context of a novel review, she writes:

Shteyngart [the novel’s author] says the first thing that happened when he bought an iPhone “was that New York fell away . . . It disappeared. Poof.” That’s the first thing I noticed too: the city disappeared, along with any will to experience. New York, so densely populated and supposedly sleepless, must be the most efficient place to hone observational powers. But those powers are now dulled in me. I find myself preferring the blogs of remote strangers to my own observations of present ones. Gone are the tacit alliances with fellow subway riders, the brief evolution of sympathy with pedestrians. That predictable progress of unspoken affinity is now interrupted by an impulse to either refresh a page or to take a website-worthy photo. I have the nervous hand-tics of a junkie.  For someone whose interest in other people’s private lives was once endless, I sure do ignore them a lot now.

To which I would say: Then leave the phone in your pocket. If these “analog” interactions are so important to a given person’s humanity, then allow for them. Embrace them. And as the other riders with whom you share the subway stare into their own iPhones, accept that this is the new reality that you are presented with to observe, one in which the private lives that interest you so now have a new factor.

But if you actually prefer the life of the iPhone, if it actually suits you, despite whatever preconceived notions you have of yourself or what you are “supposed” to prefer, embrace that, and make it your own. Not by some unwritten (or unblogged) standard of content generation consistency, but by the e-periodical that is you. If nothing else, the Internet allows us the space to give as much of ourselves as we wish: no more and no less.

Photo from the Tumblr blog DC Metro People.