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Wednesday
Apr202011

Quick Note about "Classic" This Lamp Status

When I moved This Lamp from RapidWeaver to WordPress, I originally intended to leave most of the posts I wrote from 2003 to 2009 as they were. I've now changed my mind about that and will gradually move them to the current WordPress Squarespace site.

I will do my best to move not only the posts, but even the comments (via copy and paste) so that the original discussions will remain in place. Although I will use the original dates of the posts, they will be displayed as new posts in the RSS feed. Due to this, I will be very explicit in stating that the post has been moved from its original position.

A few of the posts that are now irrelevant will be removed entirely. When all posts have been transferred, the "Classic" This Lamp site will be shut down. This will not be a quick transition, but I hope to complete it within two or three years.

Tuesday
Apr192011

Et tu, Cal? Gary Moore's Response to Cal Thomas’s Endorsement of the "Atlas Shrugged" Movie and Its Attack on Caesar

Gary Moore has given me permission to post his response to Cal Thomas' endorsement of the upcoming movie Atlas Shrugged, based on the book by Ayn Rand. If you're not familiar with Gary Moore, be certain to read his bio at the end of this post and visit his website, The Financial Seminary.

______________________

Et tu, Cal? A response to Cal Thomas’s endorsement of the Atlas Shrugged movie and its attack on Caesar

By Gary Moore
Founder, The Financial Seminary


Cal Thomas has famously disagreed with the worst excesses of the religious right, as have I. That may be why his recommendation of the new movie Atlas Shrugged cut like a knife.

In my mid-nineties book Ten Golden Rules for Financial Success, I noted that Rush Limbaugh had just published a cartoon of a character labeled “the religious left” bowing down to a statue of Karl Marx. I said that as funny but ungracious as that might have been, there are times the thought of Marx probably unduly influences the thinking of some leaders of mainline Christianity. Yet I also wrote that evangelical leaders too often experience a similar problem, which theologians call syncretism: mixing the teachings of Ayn Rand with our thinking as Christians. I now believe Cal’s endorsement of the movie based on Rand’s tome Atlas Shrugged suggests we’ve reached the point where our thinking and her teachings are virtually indistinguishable, at least in matters of political-economy.  That’s most unfortunate as it likely suggests The Economist was correct in 1999 when it published “An Obituary for Jesus” on Easter.

Theologians from Martin Marty on the left to Chuck Colson on the right have recently written that Rand turned the Bible upside down. She was a disciple of Nietzsche’s elitism so it’s understandable she wanted to be remembered as “the greatest enemy of religion ever.” Jesus told us to “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s” and Paul said to “honor and respect government” as it was instituted by God (Romans 13). But Rand told us there is no God and we’d have utopia on earth when we rid ourselves of government. That’s hardly conservative; and indeed, Rand was a self-described “radical.” Jesus taught the interests of our neighbors must be lovingly elevated to the level of our own interests. Rand taught selfishness is a virtue and charity toward neighbor should only be practiced in “emergency situations.”

That ethic highly influenced her close disciple Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve. Greenspan did his best to deregulate our S&L’s during the eighties, as well as Wall Street during the nineties and years leading up to the credit crisis and Great Recession. Many observers now doubt that deregulating our financial elites, as well as the CEO’s deified in Rand’s book and movie as human saviors, created heaven on earth. But we still share Rand’s belief that government is the root of all evil. So despite Einstein saying insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, America’s new economic and political “roadmap” to the future has again been prepared by another Rand disciple, Congressman Paul Ryan. The House recently approved his plan to further cut the top rate on our economic elite from 35% to 25%. Yet the most recent IRS statistics show the 400 highest income Americans only paid federal taxes of 17% on annual income averaging $345 million. That was down from 26% in 1992. As Leona Helmsley might have quipped, paying taxes is for suckers.

Of course, Rand’s teachings also have far reaching social consequences. As a fierce individualist, Rand advocated the legalization of abortion and drugs, both of which she reportedly used personally.  Believing there are no moral standards other than what we think there are, she thought it fine to have a most public affair with a close disciple. Yet she then thought it rational to excommunicate him from her movement when he thought it rational to have another affair. It takes evil genius to rationalize such selfish and contradictory confusion.

The Economist has just wondered if the growing inequalities of income and wealth might suggest Marx had a point when he predicted such would occur in capitalist nations. I included that hard question in a column I write for the financial ministry of the Willow Creek Association. But I did not suggest readers check Das Kapital out of the library for further study. As an Evangelical Lutheran, I’ve long been aware of evangelical reactions to suggestions we consider the thoughts of communist, socialist or even progressive Christian authors as even a blind pig occasionally sniffs out an acorn. To avoid potential confusion, we generally prefer authors who have seen the light. Despite the respect I have for Cal, I’m terribly afraid he’s just deepened the political and theological confusion surrounding Glenn Beck, who also advocates the contradictory teachings of Rand and Christ as Truth.

______________________


Gary Moore has a degree in political science, thirty years of experience on Wall Street and has written five books on the Judeo-Christian ethic of wealth management.  His article about Ayn Rand appeared in Christianity Today in its September 2010 edition. You can read more of his views, and see a video about Ayn Rand, at www.financialseminary.org .

Tuesday
Apr192011

Sometimes You Need Two Screens: Using the iPad & the Kindle Together


The iPad was a real game changer for me in many ways. I embraced its minimalist approach. I appreciated walking into a meeting or a classroom with an iPad instead of a laptop (which was usually accompanied by a laptop bag with cables and other peripherals). Although I had been using ebooks in software like Accordance for years on my Mac, it was reading ebooks on the iPad that made me realize that maybe I don't have to hoard physical copies of books so much anymore. That led to similar ideas about other material possessions, but I'll write about that another time.

It's true that I cannot do everything with an iPad; I still need my Mac. But if a situation will allow me to use an iPad instead of my my Mac, I choose the iPad. In teaching settings, I found that I could create my presentations on the iPad as well as carry electronic versions of textbooks and my course notes. However, I often had a problem. If my iPad was connected to a projector, I did not have easy access to other materials. A student might ask a question about something in a textbook, but I couldn't easily turn there if my iPad was in Keynote presentation mode. I realized I could just do the practical thing and start carrying a textbook and some basic notes again, but at this point, that seemed so backwards.

I very briefly considered a second iPad. But that seemed extreme. Really, all I needed was something to carry a few documents around. As some of you may remember, I'd been contemplating a Kindle before the iPad was even released, but in the end I opted for the iPad because of so very many tasks this one device could do. And yet the reality remains that sometimes you just need two screens.

Toward the end of last year, I'd received some Christmas money from generous relatives, so I ordered the $139 WiFi-only Kindle 3. It's been a wonderful addition to my routine and method, and I now understand why Kindle users are so crazy about these devices. Granted, when sitting next to an iPad, the Kindle looks like a device that Apple would have created in the nineties. Nevertheless, it's the Kindle's E ink screen that is really the genius of the device in my opinion.

Although I bought the Kindle as a secondary device to my iPad for notes and textbooks in the classroom, I quickly discovered that the Kindle is my preferred reading device—certainly preferred over the iPad, which frankly, can make my eyes sore after a while. When the months were cooler, the Kindle's size, with its six-inch screen, made it quite convenient to throw into a jacket pocket, something that I can't actually do with my iPad. In fact, I never could have imagined how much I'd enjoy reading with the Kindle. In fact, I believe that because of the Kindle, I'm actually reading more now.

Since this post is about using the iPad and Kindle together, I don't want to spend too much time on the Kindle alone, but I will post a couple of related Kindle-only posts later this week.

So how has the Kindle worked as a complement to my iPad? It's been extremely helpful with one significant exception, which I'll get to in a minute. For the most part, I've been able to do exactly what I wanted it for. It's great resource for when I have my iPad connected to a projector. Most of the time, I use the presenter notes built into Keynote for teaching, but if I need to refer to a specific book or article, I have them readily available on the Kindle. And now that the Kindle has page numbers, I can even tell my students, "Turn to p. 272 in your textbook," with confidence we'll (literally) be on the same page.

There's only one problem, and it is a significant one. Amazon has great support for the Kindle if you want to convert a document such as a Word or PDF file to the Kindle format. You email it to them and then they send it to your Kindle converted—all for no charge. I've actually been quite impressed with the quality of the end product. However, often I need to have an article in PDF format remain as the original layout with the original page numbers. In other words, certain PDF documents are not as useful for me converted. The Kindle will allow for viewing of native PDF files, but the 6" screen on the Kindle 3 is simply too small. Yes, I can zoom in on them, but this is not a practical way to read a document.

Of course, Amazon also sells the Kindle DX, which is a larger version of the Kindle, complete with a 9.7" screen—the same size as the screen on the iPad. PDFs are actually quite readable in their original format on the larger screen.  The Kindle DX, which is often recommended for academic purposes because of its larger screen, unbelievably has never received the page number update from Amazon. In fact, the Kindle app on the iPad can display page numbers, but you can't see them on Amazon's own device, the Kindle DX.

Why the incongruity? It's because the Kindle DX is a bit of a crossbreed device. It has the great E ink Pearl screen that the smaller Kindle 3 has, but the Kindle DX has the operating system of the older Kindle 2, which also never received the page number update and probably never will.

So overall, the Kindle is a great tool, but there needs to be a Kindle with a larger screen like the DX, but with all the features of the Kindle 3. When Amazon offers this, they will have a much better offering for academic use. Right now, folks who are interested in a Kindle for academic use—whether as a standalone device or as a companion to the iPad or other tablet—will have to decide whether the Kindle 3 (with better features and page numbers) or the Kindle DX (with a larger screen, but an older OS) is best for their uses.

Stay tuned. I've got more to offer this week about the Kindle and how I'm using it—even beyond the classroom.

Tuesday
Mar222011

Starbucks and Free WiFi—They Finally Get It



Quick note...

In the past, I'd written about how difficult it was to use Starbuck's "free" Wifi. I always placed free in quotation marks in the past because until last year, one had to keep a minimum $5 balance on a Starbucks gift card and use the card within a set period in order to access the internet from a computer or mobile device. For my previous rants from years gone by, see here and here from the This Lamp "Classic" website.

Moreover, even with the Starbucks account, it was often still a pain to log on, especially those times when I couldn't remember my password, had to call the support line for them reset it to something non-rememberable, and then forgot to change it to something I could remember.

Even though I actually like Starbucks coffee quite a bit (and yes, I realize some of you do not), this led to a unintentional boycott on my part. Many times when I wanted to simply grab a cup of coffee while I wrote, graded papers, or prepared a lesson, I'd opt for a different coffee shop—often one where the coffee simply wasn't as good—because using Starbucks WiFi was such a pain to manage.

Believe it or not, except at peak hours, most coffee shops and restaurants like you to hang out because nothing looks worse to a customer peering in from the outside than seeing an empty dining room. I don't know how many folks felt the way I did, but I wonder if the poorly managed WiFi that used to be the norm at Starbucks actually hurt their business and helped the competition. I do know that they closed quite a few stores last year and the year before, but that is correlation, not cause and effect.

Fortunately, way back in 2010 and at a time when I wasn't blogging much (not that I am now), Starbucks changed their ways and made wireless internet access easy. Now, all a customer has to do is select their WiFi signal, launch a web browser, click a checkbox saying you'll behave, and get online. This works hassle-free on computers and mobile devices such as my iPad, which is where I snagged the screenshot above. And I've also noticed that my Amazon Kindle simply connects automatically without even having to agree to anything. Maybe Starbucks assumes that one cannot get into too much mischief with a Kindle.

Regardless, I'm happy to give Starbucks my patronage again. Now, if I could only get them to turn down the air condition. It's freezing in here!

Tuesday
Mar152011

iPad 2: Not Another Review—Just Some Observations

Some may see it as predictable, but honestly, as early as Friday morning last week, the day of the iPad 2's release, I was denying that I was upgrading from the first gen iPad. And I meant it. But then my circumstances changed about mid-day, and thanks to a very generous gift, I was able to procure the iPad 2 from the Apple Store in Louisville, Kentucky.

This is not a review of the iPad 2. Those are a dime a dozen at this point. Rather, here are a number of mostly disconnected observations based on my experience over the last four or so days.

Black's Always Cool, But White's the New Black.
I don't know if I was fully decided about which color to get—black or white—until I got in the store, but I was leaning toward white. As I assume most of you know, the original iPad came with only a black bezel around the screen. Now consumers get a choice, albeit limited to only one more choice. In the end, I chose white. It wasn't a nailbiter choice, mind you. I just thought I'd like to have a slightly different experience.

It's interesting that since last Friday afternoon, if you walk into just about any Apple Store, you will primarily see white iPads everywhere. Even the employees are carrying the white models.

I had initially one concern about getting a white iPad: it might show dirt more easily. I wasn't alone in this fear since a friend of mine voiced the same thing, and I heard people interviewed on various tech podcasts say this, too. My hunch is that this concern is especially relevant if you ever owned a white plastic iBook or MacBook. After a few weeks, the white plastic, especially on the palm rest, frankly looked gross. You could clean it, but good luck getting it back to the original pristine white.

The iPad's different though because regardless of whether you get white or back, the plastic is under glass. It's not going to absorb the grime from your hands regardless of how much you refuse to wash them.

And an added benefit? Fingerprints show up less against the white than on the black.

If You Use It to Teach, the iPad 2 Is a Significant Upgrade.
The phrase being thrown around in a lot of reviews is that the iPad 2 is an "evolutionary and not revolutionary upgrade." And this is true (and probably by design). However, there was one major new feature that will benefit anyone who teaches with an iPad: the ability to fully mirror the screen.

With the original iPad, video out was implemented on an app-by-app basis. So presentation programs like Keynote for the iPad could send slide images to a projector if connected with the iPad VGA adapter, but most programs could not.

The ability to throw anything on the screen is pretty exciting. This means that if I'm teaching a New Testament class in Keynote, and I want to switch over to a Bible software application such as BibleReader or Accordance, I can switch to these and perform live instruction from these apps. Every teacher with an iPad and a related educational app has no doubt been frustrated about not having the ability to mirror every screen. Now all that has changed. In fact, this past weekend at church, when I switched between programs, one fellow who's seen me use Keynote on the iPad dozens of times, asked "What's that?" when he saw my desktop of icon folders.

Of course, the first gen iPad has always had this ability as evidenced by Apple's own internal use of this feature during presentations as well as a fairly popular app for this that works with jailbroken iPads. Sadly, Apple has not allowed first generation iPads to have this feature even though they are certainly capable of it.

Contrary to What You May Have Heard, Mirroring Works with the VGA Adapter.
Part of the announcement of iOS mirroring, mentioned above, included a new adapter for connecting the iPad via HDMI to an HD television or an HD projector. This led to a question as to whether video mirroring worked with the original VGA connector released with the first gen iPad. In fact, I waited in line with a buddy of mine who was buying his first iPad. The Apple Store sales rep actually told him that mirroring would only work with the HDMI connector. I told her that this did not square with what Apple's own website states: "Video mirroring and video out support: Up to 1080p with Apple Digital AV Adapter or Apple VGA Adapter (cables sold separately)" (emphasis added; see the iPad Tech Specs page under "TV and Video").

I had already confirmed that the first gen iPad would not mirror with the 4.3 update, but one of the first things I wanted to test was the ability to mirror an iPad 2 with merely the VGA adapter. Using the VGA adapter, I have successfully mirrored the iPad 2 with both my television and an Epson projector. It works great. My main use of the iPad for this is with data projectors, but none that I have access to at the moment use HDMI. So, the VGA adapter works great.

Contrary to What You May Have Heard, the Keyboard Dock Works with the iPad 2.
Recently, I read somewhere that only about a quarter or less of iPad owners use an external keyboard. That's probably a testament to how well the on-screen keyboard works, but I occasionally find myself in situations in which I want to use a regular keyboard with my iPad.


I bought Apple's keyboard dock at the same time I bought my original iPad last year. I liked that it provided a very stable stand for the iPad while typing and that it also had an iPad specific row of function keys. However, I didn't like that it's odd shape made it difficult to fit in a bag or that the iPad could only be used with it in portrait mode. I do a LOT of Keynote work on the iPad, and Keynote will only run in landscape mode. That means using the keyboard dock with the iPad can give you a sore neck really fast. For what it's worth, I have tried the iPad with one of Apple's Bluetooth keyboard and that is probably what I'd recommend that most folks use who want a physical keyboard with their iPad, even though there aren't iPad specific function keys. Incidentally, if you use one of Apple's new "Smart Covers," the iPad is quite stable in upright mode to use with a Bluetooth keyboard.

FYI: stability is an issue in these contexts, because even when using an external keyboard, you still have to use the touch interface of the iPad's screen. You want it to be stable so that it doesn't fall over every time you touch it.

Regardless, the new iPad 2 rests in the original keyboard dock just fine despite its slightly different dimensions. In fact, I used the two together for a faculty observation I was performing last night, and I noticed no difference from the performance with the original iPad. Having said that, though, I still may eventually go with a Bluetooth keyboard myself. It would certainly be easier to carry the two together.

About Those "Smart" Covers.
Apple likes to refer to the iPad as "magical." While that may be a bit of silly hyperbole, the new Smart Covers are the closest thing I've seen yet to anything that might be called magic. It was really somewhat amazing when I first attempted to place the cover on the iPad 2. There seemed to be a bit of AI in play as the cover didn't even wait for me to line it up, but immediately grabbed onto the iPad and was lined up perfectly. The ease of placing the cover on the iPad 2 is quite a contrast from putting Amazon's Kindle cover on their eReader. The first time I tried that, I nearly broke one of the hooks, not understanding how it was supposed to be attached.

This automatic "physical syncing" between the Smart Cover and the iPad 2 is achieved through magnets--31 total between the cover and the iPad 2 according to folks who have taken both apart. Somehow this feels dangerous. I remember when we were told to keep magnets away from our computers!

As amazing as these covers are, somehow my new iPad seems a bit naked. The screen is protected, which is a good thing, but the aluminum backside is bound to get scuffed and scratched after a while. There are numerous companies that provide protective films for screens, and now we might need something similar for the back of the iPad. Or at the very least, all those companies that make iPad cases can breath a sigh of relief because I imagine some iPad owners will opt for a bit more protection.

I actually liked Apple's original folio case with one exception. With the case on, it wouldn't fit in the keyboard dock (which, again, evidently only I liked). So, as some of you remember, I "modified" mine with scissors, but Kathy said it looked unprofessional because I can't cut straight. I also liked how the iPad looked and felt in the folio case when I could carry it into a meeting as if it were a very thin Daytimer.

Besides the gee whiz aspect to the Smart Covers, I have to wonder why Apple went this route. I can only imagine it might be because they got tired of seeing the iPad covered up (or more likely, their logo covered up) whenever an iPad was used in real world situations or on television. With the increasing number of new tablets appearing on the market this year, and inevitably appearing in media and in the workplace, Apple probably wants to make certain that their iPad is distinguishable from the rest of all the forthcoming tablet noise.

Get a Grip.
I wonder if whether longterm, I'll want to put the iPad 2 in a more traditional case. The way it folds to prop itself up, either vertically or at an angle for typing, works great. But Sunday, when I was trying for the first time to use my new iPad with Keynote, connected to a projector, the iPad wouldn't stay at the top of the podium I was using. This was never a problem with the original, black folio case. I could turn the cover back, slip it into its notch to put it at an angle, and it would hold its place, even on a slanted podium. With nothing on the back of the iPad 2, there's nothing to grip the underlying surface. I wanted it to stay at the top of the podium, but it insisted on sliding to the bottom.

With the Smart Cover folded into a triangle, I've found that I also could hold the iPad in one hand, in portrait mode, providing I kept my thumb over the bezel. These magnets are strong, but the cover can still come off quite easily and the entire iPad should never be left hanging from the cover. In fact, I've already dropped mine this way, but fortunately, it landed on my living room couch. But how many of us dropped our first gen iPads and were thankful we had them in a full case? I predict with Smart Covers alone, we're going to see a lot more broken iPads this year.

I wouldn't recommend anyone use an iPad regularly without some kind of protection for it. I believe there are going to be better ways to protect the iPad 2 (none of the first gen covers fit the iPad 2, incidentally) than the Smart Covers, but at the very least you need to have something on your iPad.

Professionalism Comes with a Price.
It's nice to see Apple bringing some visual variety back to its products. In some ways, I miss the colorful days of the fruit-flavored iMacs and original iBooks. Most Apple products in recent years have been black, silver, and sometimes white. Last year's iPad folio cover from Apple only came in black, although third parties supplied a wide variety of colors and designs. Nevertheless, Apple's return to colors, even in this small way, is a welcome change.

The new covers come in either polyurethane or leather. The difference in price is significant—$39 for plastic and $69 for animal hide. I would have been fine with a polyurethane cover, having given up on any need for "real" leather a long time ago, if it were not for one thing. What was not immediately clear to me (and probably a lot of others) is that only the neon/pastel colors are polyurethane, while the darker colors—what I consider to be a better fit for most "professional" contexts—come only in the leather. I would have been more than willing—no, preferred—to buy a lower priced polyurethane cover, but I didn't want ANY of the polyurethane colors. In the end, I opted for the dark blue leather. As already described, there are pros and cons to these covers, but they are pretty amazing for what they are. However, when you hold it by itself in your hand and realize that you just paid $70 for it, well...that's a bit hard to take.

How Much Faster Is It?
When Steve Jobs introduced the iPad 2, he said it was up to twice as fast as the first iPad. It has a faster dual core processor as well as twice as much RAM (although Apple never wants to talk about the RAM in its iOS devices). As everyone has said, the first gen iPad was no slouch, so how distinguishable is the second one? Well, I have no idea; the first iPad was fast enough and in most apps, the difference is imperceptible. However, I do see a real difference in a couple of apps.

First, I see a difference in some Keynote transitions. I'm not one to use too many distracting transitions between slides anyway. A plain dissolve is usually fine with me. However, I do like the "Anagram" transition in Keynote which, when advancing from one slide to another, will use a few letters on the first slide to create the word on the second slide (here's a brief YouTube video of it in action). I like Anagram because it's subtle, but also because I feel it can visually link the concepts in one slide to the next.

On the original iPad, sometimes the Anagram transition would stall a bit. I'd be ready to go to the next slide, but I could tell that Keynote was processing a number of algorithms to get the transition to work. Often I would go through a presentation ahead of time, and if an Anagram transition took too long, I'd simply use a simple dissolve. Sunday, I noticed that none of my transitions were slowed down. The Anagram transition worked without a hitch, no doubt benefitted by the extra RAM and faster processor.

Second, I keep quite a few PDF files on my iPad in GoodReader. Some of them are quite large, hundreds of pages long. I use GoodReader, not because I liked its interface best (I really don't), but rather because it's been more robust than a lot of the other readers, crashing less often than other apps when viewing extremely large documents.

But as good as GoodReader is, I could still crash it on the the larger files, especially if I moved through pages too quickly. With the new iPad, while I don't imagine that the extra memory and faster processor make a program like GoodReader completely crash proof, I have noticed that larger files are much more stable, and I'm seeing fewer crashes.

About Those Cameras...
The biggest criticism the iPad 2 has received relates to the lesser quality of the iPad 2's cameras, although from what I understand, the front facing camera is the same quality as the front facing camera in the iPhone 4. It's the rear camera that receives the bulk of criticism as really lacking in quality. Believe it or not, that rear camera is LESS than one megapixel!

Now every once in a while, for sake of full disclosure, I do remind readers that I own a small amount of Apple stock. However, I have no desire to defend Apple on the quality of the camera, as I would like to have better ones, too. However, I do try to understand Apple's reasoning in issues like this—beyond the mere suggestion most often offered that crummy cameras were offered now, so the better cameras can be a feature of the iPad 3. I'm certain each iteration of the iPad will continue to get better cameras, but why not offer something better right at the beginning?

I can't fully answer that question, but here's my theory. I think that for right now, although the lack of a camera on the first gen iPad was lamented even before it was released, Apple's main goal for cameras on the iPad 2 is to help further solidify FaceTime. Whether this will be successful in the long run, I have no idea. I have FaceTime on my iPhone 4, my Mac and now my iPad, but I think I've only used it a couple of times. I have no doubt that there is a Windows version of FaceTime in the works, too. I really believe Apple is trying to make Facetime as much of a standard as Skype.

And for FaceTime, these cameras are perfectly fine. Of course, I have no doubt that many will use the iPad for photos and recording video, and while I don't believe it's going to be the best tool for that job, Ken Rockwell is surely correct when he says that the best camera is the one you have with you. Fortunately, I usually have my iPhone 4 with me, which is an undecidedly better camera, although not as nice as my Canon Digital Rebel (which I don't often have with me).

If Apple didn't intend for people to shoot video, why would they release iMovie for the iPad? Well, if they didn't, someone else would release a similar product. More on iMovie on the iPad in a bit.

Economics 101.
Another criticism of the iPad 2 is that there is no drop in price from last year's iPad. We're accustomed to seeing technology gradually come down over time. And it's no secret that the cost for production of a product goes down after a time, although I guess the iPad 2 would at least partly count as a different production run.

Again, I'm not wanting to defend Apple here so much as simply understand their motives, and in this case, I think I do. Again, I'm no different than any other customer in that I'd like to pay less for an iPad, too. However, from Apple's perspective, keeping prices the same for right now is good business sense.

Why should Apple drop its prices? You drop your prices in order to be competitive. And here's the key: at this moment, Apple has no competition in this market. I have no doubt that eventually, the tablet field is going to get very crowded. When there's some real competition for the iPad, Apple will decide to drop the price of its device. This will competitively undercut the competition who will still be under the obligation of a higher cost of production to keep their products at a higher cost just to recoup their investment. This is Economics 101, really.

I have no idea if it's true, but I remember when the iPad was first released, reading that some Apple insiders were surprised when the bottom tier iPad was announced at $499 instead of $399. In the big picture, $499 surprised everyone a little bit because Apple rarely sells anything for under $500. A lot of early predicters were expecting the iPad to be higher. But knowing that it costs less than $300 to make, evidently many inside Apple were supposedly told that the iPad would start at $399. And then, according to the rumor, Steve Jobs/Apple changed his/its mind.

And again, why not? Economics 101 again: prices are set by what the market will bear. If customers hadn't gone gangbusters over the iPad, I have no doubt it would have been dropped down to $399 for the starting level within six months. But people kept buying it at the prices set and no competition emerged during 2010, so prices remain the same today.

Competition from other companies will be good for consumers because it will bring iPad prices down as well as prices for competing tablets. Further, competition will result in a better iPad 3, 4, 5, etc. and that will cause better results from the competition as well.

And the Rest...
Here are a few more minor observations:


  • iMovie: My upgrade to iMovie on the iPad was free because I had bought the earlier version released for the iPhone. I tried using it one time on the iPhone a while back and gave up. The iPhone's screen is simply too small for editing video. It was difficult simply based on the impracticality of it. However, iMovie on the iPad is quite handy and pretty easy to use. I doubt I'd ever do much video recording with the iPad, but I did transfer over about four minutes of video I'd recorded on my iPhone. Editing on the iPad was easy and even enjoyable. The themes save a lot of time. There are a number of ways to share the final product, but oddly the MobileMe gallery is missing.

  • GarageBand: Okay, if you've never been into GarageBand on your Mac, don't let  that stop you from taking a look at the iPad version. It's the touchscreen that makes the difference because you can actually play instruments. Even I, with zero musical ability, can fake my way through it with the so-called "Smart Instruments." In fact, I found that doing some basic strumming on the guitar to be quite relaxing, even though I'd have no desire to do so on a real guitar. GarageBand works on all iPads, even last year's, so for $5 give it a try. See a demo video here.

  • Elbow Room: I realize that my use of  an iPad is probably not typical, but with the original iPad, I had run out of room in recent months with the 32 GB version I'd bought last year. I regularly had to move files on and off the iPad based on what I needed for the week, often having to put them back on if I need them again the next week. So, this time, I got the full 64 GB iPad. I'm very pleased. In fact, it was a bit thrilling to be able to download my entire Accordance library over the weekend to my new iPad. I've been using Accordance on the Mac since 1998 and over the years, I've built up quite a digital library. Before, I had to be very selective as to what titles I carried on the iPad. With this larger iPad, I can load everything and not worry about it.


So, those are a few observations. I agree with most who say that if you already have an iPad, the iPad 2 is not a "must have" upgrade. In fact, my wife, Kathy, says that while she wouldn't mind having a new one, doesn't feel any rush to get one. Nevertheless, I feel very fortunate to have mine, especially in light of the ability to mirror screen and the upgrade to the 64 GB model. Feel free to ask question or add your own in the comments.

I've said before that I'm excited about tablet computers in general and the potential they bring. Some are going to prefer the Xoom, or the Playbook, or the Galaxy Tab, and that's fine. These devices, while not currently replacing everything a computer can do, certainly give us greater freedom and mobility when we can use them instead of a computer. Yes, there will always be the next big version of each of them coming down the pike, but if you don't have one yet, I encourage you not to wait, but instead, jump in and enjoy the party.

Monday
Dec202010

NIV 2011 eBook Now Available [updated]

Although officially the new 2011 NIV was not supposed to be released until December 21, I received word at 11PM on the 20th from Apple that my iBooks pre-order was available for download.

As most This Lamp readers know, the 2011 update to the New International Version was released at biblegateway.com on November 1, 2010. Although the printed copies will not be available until March, 2011, the updated translation will be available in ebook format beginning today.

As far as I can remember, this marks the first time a major translation has been made commercially available to mainstream ebook platforms before print copies are published. Beginning today, the 2011 NIV is available for all major ebook platforms including Amazon's Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook and Apple's iBooks app for the iPad.

Here are a few screenshots from the iBooks version—the first etext edition I've found available. Click on images to see a larger view.

NIV eBook "cover"

 

 

 

 

 


  I've already found a "bug" in the etext. Note the location guide at the bottom of the screenshot. The entire Bible is in one long chapter, or more specifically, the preface.

 

 

 

 

UPDATED: The Kindle version is now available, too. Below are some shots from the Kindle app for the iPad (and no, this is not the first time I've bought the same eBook Bible for competing etext platforms; I like to compare layouts and usability).

 




Song of Solomon, ch. 4, for comparison with earlier shot of the same spread in the iBooks edition.




Basic text searching is possible in both Kindle (pictured here) and iBooks edition.

I've found a different kind of "bug" in the Kindle edition. Whenever I touch some poetic passages (not all, though), I see a "poetry" flag pop up. I can't imagine this is supposed to be there.

 

 

 

Friday
Dec172010

True Grit 2010 (A Review with Comparisons to the 1969 Version)

Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross. Her performance is the unexpected surprise of this movie. Too bad the promoters of this film didn't have the decency to add her name to the movie poster.

After seeing an advance screening of the Coen brothers' True Grit earlier this week, I reflected upon other good movies I've seen this year. 2010 wasn't necessarily a stellar year, but there were some good films (Inception, The Social Network). Nevertheless, I can say without reserve that True Grit is easily the best movie I've seen in a very long time.

No movie is made in a vacuum, and that's especially true of any remake. But it's even more true of True Grit. This movie had haters from the moment that Joel and Ethan Coen announced they were making it. The original 1969 True Grit is not only associated with American icon John Wayne, but the movie became his only Oscar win in a career that spanned four decades. The True Grit character Rooster Cogburn is practically synonymous with John Wayne. Try to name Wayne's character in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance or The Shootist. I realize that the hardcore John Wayne fans among you can do that, but most who are reading this cannot.

But let's be honest: the 1969 True Grit was flawed. John Wayne read Charles Portis' 1968 book and immediately started pushing for a movie staring himself as the federal marshal. While the Duke's portrayal is laudable, the screenplay was hastily written, and some of the other primary roles were poorly cast.

It's no surprise that Glen Campbell is still better known for his singing than his acting. His portrayal of La Boeuf in the original movie becomes painful to watch as he delivers his lines with all the expression of a teenage actor in a bad high school play. Supposedly, Glen Campbell was selected for the role so that there could be an opening theme for use as a popular song on the radio promoting the film. Of course, it could have been worse. Originally, Elvis Presley was considered for the role. While I enjoy Presley's music much better than Campbell's, I can't imagine he would have been a a suitable choice either.

And clearly, Kim Darby, while a better actor than Glen Campbell, was simply not right for the role of 14-year-old Mattie Ross. Darby was actually 22 at the time. And while they tried to make her look much younger, she's never quite right. While she certainly captures Mattie Ross' determination, Darby does so with a little too much perkiness at times. She's simply not ever somber enough. And her boyishly short haircut, in retrospect forty years later, seems extremely out of place for a western taking place in 1880.

The Coen brothers have insisted that they weren't attempting to remake the 1969 film as much as they were actually making a new adaption of Charles Portis' original novel. Regardless of which movie version is better remembered decades from now, the Coen brothers have undeniably made a much closer adaptation of the book. From the beginning of the novel to the end, True Grit is the story of a little girl seeking to avenge her father's death, to bring justice to the man who struck him down. The book tells the story in retrospect from a Mattie Ross who is much older, remembering the events that she fell into when she was no longer quite a child, but also not quite yet a woman.

In the 1969 movie, Mattie is only the focus of the story until she meets marshal Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn. In that version, once John Wayne steps into the frame, the movie is clearly his until the final scene. While filming, he even told the crew, "This is my show; you're just along for the ride!"

The Coen brothers, however, stay true to the Portis' original source material. Everything in the movie is from Mattie's perspective. Young Hailee Steinfeld, who literally just turned 14 last week, delivers an absolutely remarkable performance as Mattie Ross, as if the character had simply stepped out of Portis' book. She every bit looks the part, from her long, braided hair to her ankle length black dress (Kim Darby's version of the character wore gaucho-style pants, I suppose for easier horseback riding). Steinfeld captures the spirit of Mattie Ross, somber and determined to bring her father's killer to justice. I don't believe I even saw Steinfeld smile until about 2/3 into the movie. She is very much the biblical ‏גֹּאֵל הַדָּם/"avenger of blood" (see Numbers 35:9-34 or the Wikipedia entry for "Goel") bent on securing her family's financial stability and bringing justice to her father's murderer. And while little Mattie Ross is looking for someone with "true grit" to help her track down her father's killer, Steinfeld's portrayal demonstrates to the audience that it is really Mattie who has the most grit of any of the characters.

Matt Damon portrays Texas Ranger La Bouef much better than his predecessor in the role. Although this won't be considered Damon's most memorable part, he has enough acting experience to keep the portrayal authentic, even if I did feel that his Boston accent may have briefly slipped through once or twice.

Certainly Jeff Bridges has seen a renaissance in his acting career recently. His portrayal of Rooster Cogburn will continue to give momentum to his recent acclaim. Surely, it would be intimidating to most actors to even consider taking a role so closely associated with John Wayne. I thought about this long and hard, and I really can't imagine anyone from today's crop of actors besides Bridges who could have pulled this role off. However, when we first see Bridges as Cogburn testifying in "Hanging Judge Parker's" courthouse, his delivery of dialogue was so very slurred that I wondered if he was going to be mostly unintelligible throughout the entire movie. Fortunately, though, having seen the 1969 version recently, most of his lines were familiar, and this allowed me to adjust my ears to Bridges' dialect.

There is a striking feeling of authenticity to the settings, props and dialogue throughout the entire movie. Careful attention has been given to every detail, much more so than the earlier version. Most of the actors' lines are taken straight from Portis' own novel. The particular and sometimes peculiar phrasings seemed to wash delightfully over me as I sat still waiting to hear every word of every sentence spoken. In fact, much of the dialogue that was also used in the first movie, simply makes more sense in the 2010 version of True Grit. The newer script has a much greater cohesiveness than the previous version.

Of course, while the unique dialogue seemed perfect for a Coen brothers movie (which I cannot adequately explain, but many of you will understand), there were a few times that the particular tone and enunciation seemed a bit more reminiscent of O Brother, Where Art Thou? than True Grit. Surely this was a directing decision, but it may have been a bit overplayed at times. Yet those who are familiar, know that the movies made by the Coen brothers tend to carry a style of humor that is never overt, but yet almost always subtly present in nearly every scene. Portis' novel contains a great amount of humor, especially in the dialogue of the exchanges between the characters, and this is simply better captured in the 2010 version of the movie than in its predecessor.

I won't give away the ending of the new version, but I will tell you that it's different than that of the first movie. The Coen brothers stay true to the novel. The 1969 version may have stayed more true to a certain actor's ego (no disrespect intended).

Although Kathy and I saw this movie for free, I would gladly pay to see it in the theaters again (something we rarely do anymore with the high cost of movie tickets). If you're one of the ones who feels as if it's almost an act against the sacred to remake this film, I urge you to set aside your cinematic piety. Westerns these days are few in the theaters, and good westerns even more rare. The 2010 version of True Grit is a welcome addition to the genre, even if it is a story we've been told before.

True Grit arrives in theaters nationwide on December 22.

Friday
Nov192010

Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows, Part 1: Some Quick Thoughts



I saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at a midnight showing last night (this morning) with a friend of mine. I'm not so into Harry Potter that I'd normally be a candidate for a midnight showing of this series, but I'd got through teaching at 10 PM, and I'm normally wired afterwards, so I agreed to go. This morning, another friend of mine asked me on Facebook what I thought of the movie. What is below is a slightly modified adaption of what I wrote this morning.

I was struck while watching the movie how very different it "felt" from earlier movies. I don't mean that as a criticism, and I don't believe it's different just because the characters/actors are older. This installment not only had a very different tone and setting(s) from the previous movies in the series, it also had a very distinct directing style that was different from all the previous movies. I can't remember if a handcam has ever been used in any of these movies before, but if so, it's never been used as much. It was fairly pervasive in the outdoor scenes. Along the lines of all this, it's undeniable that the style of this movie has been influenced by the Twilight films. Parts of the movie very much felt like a Twilight movie.

The Harry Potter movies, like the books (which I stopped reading after the second or third installment), have always grown increasingly darker, but obviously, this movie was the darkest of all. Early movies always had a certain element of whimsy, but there was very little of that this times around. A couple of scenes were quite scary to me, even as an adult. And knowing how popular the books and movies are with children, I'd wonder about the wisdom of letting a child see this movie, regardless of his or her level of maturity.

Splitting the last book into two parts clearly had some element of profit involved, but at the same time, fans have often complained that too much from the books is left out in the movies, so I'm certain that many fans will be quite happy for events to slow down. How close the movie stayed with the book, I have no idea, but the film definitely seemed to feel less rushed than previous installments. Although the ongoing camping scenes became a bit tedious after a while, it was difficult to follow how much time had elapsed at various points until someone would mention that "months" had passed by since some previous event.

I think I may actually have an ear infection at the moment in my right ear, so it may have been my own hearing, but many of the British accents were so thick, especially in some of the early conversations, that I had great trouble keeping up with dialogue in some places. I don't know if that was just me or not. I felt like I'd be too much of an old man to constantly ask my friend, "What'd he say?" so I just figured I'd see it again with Kathy later.

Overall, my feelings toward the movie are positive, but 20 minutes in, I wished I'd seen the previous movie again before this one. For those who aren't strong Harry Potter devottees, I'd recommend reviewing at least the sixth installment before this one. I should have.

Tuesday
Nov162010

Comments Are Now Working

For some reason, my comments are off. I'm trying to figure out what's going on. If you have submitted a comment in the last two or three days, it's probably lost.

If you have any ideas on what possibly might be wrong, please email me at RMansfield@mac.com.

Special thanks to Joel Watts for his help in getting my comments working again.

If you've tried to post anything in the last few days and it didn't appear, please repost.

Tuesday
Nov162010

The New Rules of Flying

I still remember my first airplane flight. I was about ten years old. It was with Delta. A window seat. A 737, I think. The pilot gave me a pin in the shape of golden wings.

As I grew older and realized I was never going to get a Jetsons-esque flying car of my own, no matter how far I traveled in the future by growing older, I understood that our flying cars were instead more like flying buses. I might not get my own flying car, but the flying bus was still a convenient and quick means of getting wherever I need to go in a very expedient manner. And because I don't travel for a living, until recently, flying was still an enjoyable experience.

But those days are now gone. Not only will I never get my flying car, now I don't even want to ride the flying bus anymore.

Those of you who've been reading this blog since 2003 know that I'm neither an alarmist nor an extremist. I play it pretty middle of the road. I've never called for a boycott of anything, and my convictions about extremely divisive issues I've mostly kept to myself. But in light of recent events, I feel compelled to agree with a growing national sentiment that the Transportation Security Administration of the US Department of Homeland Security is out of control.

By now the following is old news:


  • The TSA has installed over 380 full body imaging scanners in over 68 airports in the United States. Many more are to come. There are two problems with this. The majority of these scanners use an x-ray technology known as "backscatter." Some studies show that backscatter scanning is safe. Other studies indicate very different results. Look, there's a reason why the dentist gives you a lead shield to cover yourself before getting your teeth x-rayed: overexposure to x-rays can lead to cancer, including a higher risk of leukemia in unborn children. The second issue, fortunately, is not a risk to one's health, but it is a risk to one's privacy. These full body imaging scanners virtually unclothe the individual going through the machine. We are told that the person viewing the passenger is in another room and does not actually see the person. But obviously, the images are associated with your ID, and there's no set indication as to how long these images are being kept, where they're being kept, and who has access to them.

  • Last week, airline pilot unions began recommending that pilots "politely decline" the use of full body scanners. Of course this begs the question—if the pilots are advised not to subject themselves to what could be dangerous radiation, why should the rest of us?

  • If one "politely declines" the full body scanner, the individual is forced to undergo a full "enhanced" pat-down by a TSA representative. This involves a total stranger touching you with the front of his or her hands in places that previously should be known only to a physician or a spouse. The TSA representative will likely place his or her hands inside your clothing and no part of your person is off limits.


If you've been living in a cave and are unaware of all this, there are thousands of recent articles and reports of this on the internet. Here is one from a reputable source: "Screening Protests Grow As Holiday Crunch Looms." The entire article is worthy of your time, but pay special attention to these parts before you fly during the holidays:

On Nov. 1, screeners began using a far more invasive form of procedure for all pat-downs — in which women’s breasts and all passengers’ genital areas are patted firmly. Since that change happened to coincide with the accelerated introduction of the body scanning machines, many fliers began expressing their dismay on blogs, fanning anti-T.S.A. reactions.

A traveler named John Tyner, for example, posted a detailed account of being detained at the San Diego airport when he tried to leave after declining a body scan. Mr. Tyner recorded the encounter, in which person who appeared to be a T.S.A. screener insisted that he undergo a “groin check.” That account, and that indelicate term, quickly went viral.

I’m getting a lot of questions about the new security regime, including some pointed ones from women. Do the imagers, for example, detect sanitary napkins? Yes. Does that then necessitate a pat-down? The T.S.A. couldn’t say. Screeners, the T.S.A. has said, are expected to exercise some discretion.


This issue became personal for us on November 6, when I saw Kathy off to the airport for a conference she was attending. I had already expressed my concerns to her in regard to the scanners, so she opted for the "enhanced" pat-down, not realizing how invasive it would actually be. There was no curtained room, but in the middle of the security area at the Louisville airport, the TSA employee touched her in ways that in any other context would be considered wholly inappropriate, tantamount to sexual harassment. The TSA employee ran her hand inside my wife's sweatshirt and repeatedly in the cleavage of her breasts. Yes, the employee conducting the pat down was female, but does that actually matter anymore? [Note: I've offered a correction and clarification of this incident below in the comments. Please read that, too, for the full story of what took place.]

This is an extreme and outrageous invasion of privacy. If you travel by air, you have the choice of subjecting yourself to potentially dangerous radiation or the humiliation of being searched in ways that have previously been reserved for criminals and victims of inappropriate sexual contact. There's no "good" choice here.

Many will argue that such extreme measures will save lives. Terrorism will be prevented. Really? No one seems to be certain that any of these stricter measures would have prevented Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the now-infamous "underwear bomber" from boarding an airplane. These measures certainly wouldn't have prevented the bombs hidden in toner cartridges a few weeks ago.

Where do we draw the line? In an essay written in the spirit of Jonathan Swift last week, one of my students suggested that the only logical next step for the TSA to take is to simply require all airline passengers to fly completely in the nude. I guess that would work, right? It would certainly save lives.

Look, barriers in the middle of interstates are designed to prevent vehicles from crossing into opposing traffic. Yet, accidents of this kind still happen. So why not construct twenty-foot walls in the median? That would certainly save lives, and perhaps no one would ever cross the median again! Studies have proven that a speed limit of 55 mph saves fuel and reduces fatalities, so why do we insist on having limits at greater speeds? We do this because there's an invisible line of risk that we're willing to cross for the sake of convenience. But we know when to stop. We don't build 20 foot high safety partitions on the highway. We don't allow cars to drive at 120 mph. We understand that's crossing too far over the line.

And that's exactly what the TSA has done. They've crossed the line in potentially dangerous and decidedly invasive ways.

There's already a call for November 24, 2010, to be "National Opt-Out Day" [warning: graphic "backscatter" images can be seen at linked website] in which travelers on the busiest travel day of the year respectfully decline the invasive procedures being called for by the TSA since November 1. The organizer has stated the reasons for this protest on his website (emphasis added):

It's the day ordinary citizens stand up for their rights, stand up for liberty, and protest the federal government's desire to virtually strip us naked or submit to an "enhanced pat down" that touches people's breasts and genitals in an aggressive manner.  You should never have to explain to your children, "Remember that no stranger can touch or see your private area, unless it's a government employee, then it's OK."

The goal of National Opt Out Day is to send a message to our lawmakers that we demand change.  We have a right to privacy and buying a plane ticket should not mean that we're guilty until proven innocent.  This day is needed because many people do not understand what they consent to when choosing to fly.

Honestly, I don't know if any of this is going to help. These body imaging scanners have been paid for and there are another 700 or so on order. This is a juggernaut that will be very difficult to slow down, let alone stop. But that doesn't mean we have to sit still for it. Therefore, I'd like to propose...

THE NEW RULES OF FLYING
  1. If possible, opt out completely. That is, don't fly if you don't have to. Air travel has been a wonderful convenience, but it's no longer worth the effort, the risk, or invasion of privacy. Trains, cars, and busses—there are other alternatives. Plus, alternatives will hit the airline industry—which has stayed pretty mum on the new security rules so far—right where it hurts.

  2. Arrive at the airport even earlier. Before 9/11, we were told to arrive at the airport an hour before our flights. After 9/11, we were told to arrive two hours before our flights. Now, thanks to "enhanced" pat-downs (regardless of whether you opt out or not), it's going to take even longer to get through security.

  3. Always opt out of the body scanners. Do it especially on November 24, but really you should opt out every time you fly. Opt out for safety reasons. Opt out on principle.

  4. Understand that opting out of body imaging requires you to undergo the humiliation of "enhanced" pat-downs. According to the TSA, especially in light of the recent incident with John Tyner, once you begin the screening process, you must complete it or potentially face legal consequences.

  5. Be polite, but don't stand for inappropriate contact. You're not a criminal for wanting to fly, and you shouldn't be treated like one. If you are touched in any manner that is inappropriate, be certain to write down the TSA employee's name and file the appropriate harassment report. Of course, because the TSA holds ultimate power over you while you are in security, you might find it more opportune to file any harassment report after you've arrived at your destination.

I realize that terrorism is a very real problem in the world. But in response, do we risk our health? Do we risk our privacy? Do we risk civility? When and where do we draw the line, and say, "Enough is enough"?

 

Comments are now working again. If you tried to post a comment in the last 24 hours, please repost.