Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Season's Greetings!

Even if I wanted, I couldn't possibly list all the significant dates that people may, or may not as the case may be, be celebrating in these winter months. Therefore, and not necessarily due to any form of political correctness, I will just wish you all the best of this season's greetings, as well as all the luck and success you may have, want, or need in the next twelve months or so.

Someone may even read this, and I'll be happy to see them again, reading the next inane post of mine...

Monday, 14 December 2009

A Perfect eBook Reader

No, it doesn't exist yet.

Also, if you were expecting to get advice on which one to buy you may have come to the wrong place. What I will expound on below is what I think a perfect eBook reader ought to be. I may give examples of little bits that some already available have done right (and link to them, too), but you will find that there isn't one good enough for me, yet.

Before I even start on what a good (perfect, remember!) eReader has to have, let me tell you what I think are good sides of eReaders, but also of proper, real, paper books.

Books
I may be old fashioned, but there is still something really nice about holding a book, flipping its pages, and seeing it sit on the shelf. Also, for quickly finding your way around, no computer yet beats a good index, and a flick through the pages. Even just flicking through the pages and doing an "eyeball search" often beats a digital search feature. Then, if you are that way inclined (and do not expect to sell your books), scribbling little notes in the margins is something that just feels good, right, and proper, as does some judicious highlighting or (better) underlining. Oh, and you can easily give books as gifts or lend them, and the process feels good. How do you go about nicely wrapping an eBook?

eBooks
These take no space at all! OK, you do have your eReader, and it may take memory cards, but that's all physical volume you'll ever need. If you're mostly into books that consist of words (as opposed to illustrations) then even today you can cram an enormous library either on the eReader itself, or on a tiny little (physically tiny little) memory card. Certainly an amount that you'd rarely see outside a major national library. Also, your eReader is bound to be rather slim, unlike some real books (think collected writings of Darwin, which I gave up on reading as it hurt my hands, arms, and chest when I tried reading it in bed). With ubiquitous Internet access these days, you'll also likely be able to grab the exact book you want regardless of where you are -- no more wasting money on silly holiday reads when you forget to bring something better with you.

Given the two paragraphs above, I somehow think I'll continue buying real books even when I switch all (or most) of my reading to eBooks. I know I'm a dinosaur in that respect (and I still think 12" vinyl records have more "soul" than CDs, and especially digital downloads). But I also think that a proper (ideal, perfect) eReader is still some time away. Let me tell you why.

Oh, when I say books, I also mean magazines, newspapers, etc. I'll say books, and you just think printed matter. OK?

Form factor
This is not a problem any more, it seems. Current crop of eReaders come in a decent variety of sizes, most of which are good enough for the purpose. Unfortunately, it seems that one problem that will stay unsolved for a long time is that different books call for different form factors. Possibly when flexible, foldable screens become ubiquitous this will be solved, too, but I don't see it happening any-time-soon(tm) so I won't add changeable form factor to the must-have list for a perfect eReader.

So what is my perfect form factor (or rather, form factors)? Personally, I think I'll need two. if you are a fan of broadsheet newspapers then you may have to add a third. My two ideal form factors are A5 (or a tad smaller), and A6 (or a tad smaller). The former to be used at home, or elsewhere where we can more easily make ourselves comfortable, and the latter for commuting or other uncomfortable or cramped situations where it may be beneficial to be able to use just a palm of your hand to hold and operate the eReader.

For magazines and newspapers I'd go for A4 (or a bit smaller) size, but I think I could live without it, or the publishers could think of clever ways to put their fare into A5 size. One idea for this would be to have a foldable A5 eReader that opens like a real book into an A4 landscape affair. I wouldn't like it to be able to be rotate to portrait, but that's negotiable. What it would have to be able to do is to fold neatly into its smaller size, and used as if it's A5 size, one sided thing only.

Whoever thinks they have an idea how to create a single eReader that could fold away into A6, A5, and A4 sizes, and still be of decent volume and build quality, will probably be rich in a few years' (or decades') time. If you'd like to run your idea past me, replies on a postcard please (or in comments, below).

In conclusion, I don't think the current crop of eReaders have got it wrong in this respect. It's just I may need to get more than one. With even the prices going down nicely, I don't think we have a problem here.

Screen type
Right now I think this is the area where the readers have their biggest problem right now. This is tightly related to battery life, too, but I'll tackle that below. Most (all?) eReaders now use eInk-type screens. They are great if you want your screen to look as much as possible like a piece of paper. And invariably they do. The problems, however, are I think horrible.

One, they do not have any backlight, so reading in poor light conditions is a no-go. Here I don't (only) mean reading in bed, with lights off so your SO can sleep. I also think of places like poorly lit bus and train stations, and anywhere really where you do not get sufficient light. If I'm having this wonderful new technology to augment my reading experience, and it has a battery built in, I want to be able to read in the dark. You are often advised to use book lights with them. but then, why not read a book in bed. At least a book won't shatter when it falls off my chest when I fall asleep.

Two, that eInk screen again. They are horribly slow to refresh, meaning turning a page takes ages. Yes, I know that turning a paper page by hand can last even more, but that's not the same at all! Even if you take your time, and you can't really read while turning a page in a paper book, it does not flicker horribly. In fact, it does not flicker at all. I've seen page turning on an eReader. It blinks! It turns all black -- slowly, then changes content, then turns all white -- again, slowly. It'd drive me mad if I had to see it a few hundred times (yes, I sometimes read a whole book in one sitting). I don't really know if it has to be that way, but somehow I think it may not. Could they not simulate a real page turn, where the page you've just read seems to fold away, slowly revealing the one behind? I'd find it useful, even, as I sometimes speed read the following page while getting "rid" of the previous one. As they're built now, however, eInk eReaders are completely useless to me.

In summary: ability to read in the dark, and almost instantaneous page turning are a must for my perfect eReader. I am literally not getting one if it does not do these two things.

Controls
Some eReaders already have this (almost) right, others are hopelessly getting it wrong. Ideally, you'd get a nice, responsive touch screen and have absolutely no controls whatsoever on the reader front (or back for that matter, that's where your fingers will fold, and you don't want them to press keys you can't see).

If yours is an A6 reader, then you likely do not want to take notes on it (or if you do you can live with uncomfortable solutions). Voice notes and simple bookmarks would probably do, maybe with a full screen touch keyboard. For navigation, touch sensitive areas of the screen should suffice, and I also have no problem with well placed (and well designed!)) buttons on the sides and/or top/bottom of the device.

Larger eReaders (A5, A4) could have touch screen keyboards taking the bottom (half) of the screen with various amounts of the rest of the screen showing the text you're reading and/or the note you're taking. Navigation could be done in the same way as described above.

On an A4 eReader I probably wouldn't mind a few (but really just a few) physical buttons on the face of the device, but otherwise, I would have the bezel as small and as indistinguishable from the screen as possible.

It is essential that all controls fall naturally where your fingers are while you're reading away. Too much shuffling makes for a horrible reading experience. Of course, this being the 21st century, I'd expect all keys to be freely user configurable, physical ones, as well as the on-screen ones.

Also, scribbling free form notes all over the screen (underlining, highlighting, too) should be possible on any size eReader. Such notes should be associated with the page they were scribbled on (unless user requests otherwise), and stored together with the eBook you're reading. And when I say that I mean automagically, and to follow the eBook wherever you decide to take it.

Which brings us handily to the...

eBooks
If you thought these don't attract some stringent requirements, you were sadly mistaken!

Free or paid for, it should be possible for you to take them wherever you want, and I mean truly wherever. You should even be able to print them if you wanted to. You should certainly be able to transfer them to a device of your choice. As stated above, this should also mean that any notes you attached to an eBook you own should follow it to. Examples of devices could be (but should certainly not be limited to): other eBook eReaders regardless of make and model, audio books readers, personal computers. You should most certainly be able to lend the eBook to a friend without having to lend the eReader yourself.

For those worried about piracy, I'd probably allow for a form of protection which will, for example, prevent you lending or reading a book you've already lent to someone, until they return it, and similar restrictions if you transfer it to another device you own. But, you should most definitely be able to do these things, and not worry about compatibility.

Memory requirements
Most eBooks are rather small, or at least those with just the words are. Whatever the average or typical size may be, I think that an eReader (of any size, really), should be capable of storing thousands, or at least a thousand. Tied with the requirement that eBooks be fully portable, large size is required so I can take the whole of my library with me as I buy new eBook models. I also don't want to get rid of the eBooks I own, even if I read them, and even if I didn't like them. And, for a voracious reader, going through a book in a day or two is not a problem at all. This means we're talking about one to two hundred books a year. You do the rest of the maths.

It is OK for an eReader not to have huge memory itself, but to rely on a memory card. This will likely mean it can be cheaper, and the choice of appropriate memory size (and the associated cost) is left to the user. It would work very nicely for me, and it can also make it possible to lend the eReader itself, but keep hold of your valuable library. I know eReader manufacturers wouldn't like this last scenario very much, but if the car manufacturers learned to live with it, surely they can, too.

And finally...

Battery life
This should ideally be a few days. I do not think week(s) is really necessary. If you really are going on a desert island and want to take your eReader with you, bring a wind-up/solar charger or some spare batteries. the rest of us surely have places to plug in every few days. So, if the only solution for my screen requirements is LCD or similar power hungry technology, just make it efficient enough to be able to run the reader for 36-48 hours (non-stop, of course), and all will be good. Easily replaceable batteries would also be good for those who want to pay for a spare.

Oh, the price!

Price
I do not think an eReader has to be very cheap, provided eBooks are considerably cheaper than the paper ones (they should be, there's essentially no cost for manufacturing and distribution). Still, it has to be cheaper than a similarly sized laptop/phone/PDA. If it's not, why wouldn't I use a more general purpose device instead. In fact, I already am: I read on my Nokia N810, with a view of downsizing (only in size!) to an N900, which is also a phone. For some reading my Acer Aspire One is also acceptable. On all I can do much, much more, too, and all have been (apart from the N900), cheaper or as much as eReaders I looked at.

So, the summary of summaries is now in order...

Verdict
In short, what I want out of my eReader is the following -- and remember, ALL of the following: A5 or A4 size (or both), touch screen, no controls on the front or back, screen that refreshes instantaneously and can be read in the dark, eBooks that can be freely transferred, removable battery that will last for two or three days, memory large enough or backed up by a memory card slot. Oh, and it's not to break the bank, either!

Know of something with all this goodness? Comments section below is made just for you!

PS
In the end, I did not link to any current eReader (or much else for that matter). Why would I? There's none that are good enough, and you should all already be familiar with all the concepts above. If you're not, do ask, and I'll explain in the comments.

Friday, 11 December 2009

NO!

No, I am not writing about how we (almost) got burgled for the second time in not much more years. Which would have made it thrice in the same town (Reading), in just shy of seven years. Which again fails to account for my wife finding a burglars in her hotel room last year, making it four in less than nine years in this country (United Kingdom). I won't even link to anything. I'll just say one thing: we're moving. ASAP. Or sooner.

Could YOU Beat Me To Death?

Yesterday it hit the news in the UK, at least in the South, how a group of three teenagers (17, 17, and 16, not named for legal reasons), have cruelly killed a 4-6 week old red deer fawn in a wildlife park. The whole incident was watched, and relayed live to the police over a mobile phone, by a man who happened to have been walking a dog nearby. After hearing about the injuries the poor animal suffered, and reported facial expressions of joy and glee, it is no wonder that the man did not attempt to interfere, instead hiding behind a bush and calling the police.

Unfortunately, this does not seem to be an isolated incident at all. Similar incidents seem to crop up with some regularity, if not necessarily with a very high frequency.

In 2004, a couple of teens (16 and 17) went on a "hunting trip" where they cruelly killed a pregnant pet deer. Apparently they used an axe and a machete to hack off the head and the legs, then ate the carcass. At least they bothered to cook it first. This one happened in Dartmoor. They received a 10 month referral and had to pay £250.

Then, in 2007, a single 17-year-old celebrated his birthday by throwing a live fawn onto the fire "for a laugh", after removing it from it's mother. The poor animal was so badly burnt that it had to be killed to "put it out of its misery". This one, near Loch Ness (yes that one), narrowly missed being imprisoned. He was given 200 hours community service and banned from keeping animals for 10 years.

I could probably go on about whether the sentences above weren't nearly stiff enough (they weren't and I'm sure the most recent one won't be, either) until the cows come home, but that's not why I felt the need to write about this at all. What puzzles me, or better said, worries me much more is where does this kind of cruelty come from at all?

I mean, all young animals, or at least a great majority of young mammals are universally considered as officially cute. If you really want to press this point, then a vast majority of people finds small furry creatures cute. I am sure that, under some different circumstances, all the teens above would have agreed. I wouldn't be surprised if most, if not all of them had a favourite teddy bear (here's mine, with a good friend of his), even at the time they committed those horrible acts of cruelty.

So what on earth makes these kids be so cruel?

I don't think I have any really good answers to this, really. At the ages as above, they should have a very good sense of right and wrong already. I also don't think that girls particularly value such bravado when deciding if the boy is worth their while (or at least I hope they don't!). The most likely scenario I could think of is one-upmanship and/or daring gone wrong.

Notable exception are the two idiots playing "hunters" could be seen as taking their stone age "hunting trip" that little bit too far. I can, sort of, understand that. I also think that their sentence reflects that, too. Still, at their age, they should really be expected to have slightly more realistic view of hunting, and also a much better view of what is cruel and what's not. Yes, we used to hunt in a similar way hundreds or thousands of years ago. But we did it because we had to, and did not have better ways of gaining access to meat for our diet (and no, man, as in Homo sapiens sapiens, was never a vegetarian; our species does need meat for a healthy diet).

Also, some friends apparently tried to stop the idiotic birthday boy, and one of them killed the poor animal out of mercy. I guess he was probably drunk, too, and wanted to show off. His friends' protestations probably egged him on even more. Such is the psychology of a cretin. What I think should have happened in this one was that his friends (a good few of them were present, apparently) should also be punished for not bothering to better protect the poor animal. Not stopping a single person from committing a cruelty is almost as bad as committing it yourself, if you had the capacity to do it. And they did. Never believe they didn't.

But what about the three truly evil little monsters who practised karate, and who knows what else on a poor little thing, going so far even as to hold it up for one another to beat? This truly defies belief. I so hope they are made to spend some time in prison. Where on earth they got the idea that such a thing is fun? I don't think even the most violent and gory video games, films, or stories depict baby animals being treated as punch-bags. You can't see it on TV, you can't hear about it in schools. Even religions do not slaughter and quarter animals as sacrifices any more.

So, why? Why? WHY?

Answers on a postcard, or better yet, in the comments below...

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Cured Of Feminism

(This continues the series (of two, so far) translations of my contributions to the press at large.)

Belgrade political weekly Vreme has recently (19 November 2009) asked its readers to evoke their memories of primary school teachers. I duly complied, and sent in a rather bitter entry that you can now also enjoy here. It was published under the (good!) title "Cured Of Feminism" in the issue of 26 November 2009. If you notice any differences between the two (mine and the one on the Vreme web site) the copy below is what I have originally sent (Vreme should have kept the formatting, web space is cheap after all; they were right to remove the name of the person, which I did not do below).

Notes for English speakers: Serbian distinguishes between grammatical genders. Vreme phrased the question implying a male teacher, hence my opening rebuke. Feminism in Yugoslavia in the seventies was almost non-existent, hence my jibe around the middle of the comment.

Cured Of Feminism

I don't remember him. She was a woman.

And I remember her quite well, in fact, considering it's been more than three decades since I attended "
Žarko Zrenjanin" primary school in New Belgrade (I do not know, and could not care less, how it's been renamed in the "post-revolutionary" period). Her name was (is? I didn't check) Ljiljana Ćosić-Dragan. She was chubby and round, or at least that's what my memory "feels" like. And my memory of her is more of a "feeling" than a proper memory. A feeling of us boys being massively discriminated against in favour of girls. Proto-feminist in the seventies? I don't believe it. More likely she should have chosen a different profession. Luckily, and no thanks to her, I avoided becoming a misogynist. Quite to the contrary, even if I believe women are not as badly discriminated against as some of them would like us to think.

To conclude, the greatest influence of my teacher on my life: aged eleven I have been cured of feminism to last me a lifetime. And for those who now want to stick a male chauvinist label on me, see the very first sentence above...

Monday, 23 November 2009

Joint Enterprise (Another Misguided Policy)

Minutes after finishing the previous post I saw a BBC Panorama show on the subject of "joint enterprise", a piece of UK legislation that covers persons who were present at a crime (especially a murder) and did not leave or attempt to do anything to stop it. Apparently, this is being heavily used in the UK to scoop up gang members that may (or as some cases maybe, may even not) have been present when a crime was committed. Some of them, quite plausibly innocent of anything but fear of being hurt themselves, even if only by their fellow gang members, have been sentenced to life imprisonment, with no chance of parole for 15 years.

What I want to point out here is that my previous post has absolutely nothing to do with this kind of "crime". On this, I take the side of quite a few senior judges and police officers in the UK, in thinking the law is either wrong, or it is being applied in a too heavy handed a fashion. While I can clearly see how it may be politically dangerous to push for more leniency when violent crimes (especially murder) are concerned, I also firmly believe that the current state of affairs is wrong.

How so?

Well, maybe you were lucky enough, or have lead a sheltered enough life not to notice, but there are times in life when standing up to your peers, especially if they're "friends" is much more frightening and the idea debilitating, than an attempt to stop them from doing something stupid. Especially when, and I am not trying to defend indefensible here, quite a few of these crimes, especially murders are not, in fact, what the perpetrators intended in the first place. Gang violence has a bad habit of getting out of hand. A weird look, leads to a ball being thrown in the wrong way, a slap on the face, and so on. Indefensible, but extremely difficult to spot, and to spot, before it really gets out of hand.

So, do not take my previous post as a blanket call for harsh time sentences. Every sentence has to be commensurate to the crime. And standing by, scared stiff, and sacred of your friends, too, while they beat some poor person into (a very dead) pulp, needs to be differentiated from active involvement or enticement. Joint enterprise legislation does have its place and uses, but it seems it's got out of hand so that moral majority, and the victims can have their satisfaction.

Let's either get rid of the bad law, if it really is bad, or let's apply it fairly, and not to appease anyone. After all, remember where the policy of appeasement has led to...

Life Is Life (Or So It Should Be)

Again, this is not about that famous 80s song. Neither it is about that not so famous, but so much better in my opinion, cover by Laibach. So what is it about then?

Life sentence. In the United Kingdom in particular.

Why? Mostly because it is pointless, or at least their label is.

How so?

Simple, life (sentence) in the UK does not mean a person will be in jail for the rest of their days (unless they manage to get out by a merciful act of state, or by being found innocent). Currently, a "life" sentence is meted out with the caveat "to serve no less than N years". And you'd think it means that a person is not eligible for parole before serving those "N" years. Sadly, that's not what happens in reality.

In reality, the "life" sentence described above really is a sentence to "N" years in prison. I am yet to learn of a person who wasn't released from their "life" sentence early (i.e. not in a coffin).

Now, you know I am no fan of capital punishment. I've written about it here, too. But for some crimes, in absence of capital punishment, the only correct sentence is life, no parole. Ever. Complete removal of an individual from human society, mostly for the protection of latter. With some "life" sentences in the UK recently having a really laughable "minimum term" (isn't minimum term for life, death?) I wonder if robbery may not be a worse crime.

So, where I put my voice squarely behind "abolish capital punishment", I also put it very squarely behind the call for "life means life".

Opera, And Why It Is All Wrong

Those who know me should be well aware of my, almost pathological, hate of opera (no, not the Opera browser, I've nothing against that excellent piece of engineering).

Asked why, I usually take the easy way out, and say I have, an almost physiological, difficulty enduring high pitched voices and sounds. This, being true enough, is hardly the whole truth. After all, I will happily endure a classical (non-vocal) piece with very high pitched violin parts, indeed.

So, what is the truth behind my hate of opera?

Well, the "hate" bit is, in all honesty, mostly due to the high pitched voices. I do truly shiver when I hear them. But, and this is much more important, in opera they are also pointless (unlike, for example, violins in
Mozart violin concerto, for example Violin Concerto No. 5 (Turkish) -- my favourite; get them all here).

But why pointless, and aren't many other
art forms equally "pointless"?

Not to me, they aren't, and here's why opera is:

I see art in general, and song and dance in particular, as human activity that derives directly from a person's mood, feelings, and desire to either share them with the world, or just express them as a way of relieving them (if bad) or enhancing them (if good). So far so good, but why opera isn't and a piano concerto is?

Well, to be perfectly honest, piano concertos, at least the ones accompanied by an elaborate orchestral arrangement aren't very natural either. But they still tend to sound fairly close to what a person in a certain mood would be able to come up with on their own, or with some help from a bunch of friends. Even if most classical pieces are extremely elaborate and intricate feats of both composing and performance, in vast majority the underlying simplicity of emotion, and original crudeness of a lone attempt of reaching out to the world are still apparent.

Opera, on the other hand, much like a lot of pointless pieces of atonal "modern" classical music is really an abomination. A normal person may well sing when happy or sad, but never ever in such an artificially exaggerated manner so typical of most operas. Not to mention the added pretense of a plot and drama, both rudely and nonsensically interrupted only for the singer to produce something no sane and healthy human, happy or sad, could produce. Choral singing is at least honest in it's detachment from any clear purpose (its origin in religious rites notwithstanding). In terms of honesty, and relevance to a common person, even the worst of the worst rubbish modern music beats opera hands down. People can identify with rubbish much more readily. After all it's probably not far removed from their own attempts in the shower.

I must say here, if you go to opera to admire vocal feats of singers, in much the same way as you would admire an
Olympic athlete you can never equal, then this does not apply to you -- your attendance and enjoyment are fully justified. I, on the other hand, enjoy art only inasmuch as it presents me with something I can identify with, something I might attempt myself as an outlet for my thoughts and feelings. And no, I do not believe for an instant that there's a person who'd strive to equal opera singers in order to sing their joy or grief. What a normal person attempts, and wants to do, really, is very, very far removed. And they know it. And you know it. It's just that you may not want to admit it.

Oh, and there's probably a
masochist, deriving pleasure from the pain of the strain opera imposes on him, and the fact he'd never be able to acquire the skill. But I'm not a masochist.

Are you?

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Belle de Jour

Earlier today, BBC published an article about the famous call girl cum blogger cum writer cum celebrity.

This is what I had to say about the article after I first read it:

What a strained and muddled article!

The author seems to be unable to decide if the good doctor is really good or bad, if the oldest profession is really as bad as he wants (us) to believe.
Yes the good doctor was a prostitute, a high class one, apparently. Yes, there are prostitutes who are nowhere nearly so successful or happy about what they do. Yes, there are those unfortunate ones that are forced into it and exploited by ruthless pimps.

But, is horse racing bad because a few fix the races (it IS always bad for the horses)? Is the football bad because some cheat? Is marriage a bad thing just because there are arranged marriages, or worse, marriages which (wo)men enter out of pure greed, and desire for money and status? How is this last thing different from prostitution?

The matter is too complex to make a call in a mere article. Unfortunately, the above does not seem to be a particularly good stab at it, either.

Could do better, try again.

And the good doctor was at least her own boss, and is continuing to call her own shots. What does it matter if she created software or slept with men for money? I bet that people with "honest" jobs at least sometimes feel like the prostitutes have had it good.

I've no idea if BBC will publish my comment, and frankly I don't care that much. It's really a shame that a reputable news and opinion outlet like BBC can allow such a muddled piece to come out. It really, really strains to cast a light on prostitution to make it not an "honest" job. It even repeats the "honest" word quite a few times, and most of them gratuitously. It is obvious that with the material available the author could not really build a good case.

But is there a good case for prostitution not being an "honest" job?

As you can see from my short comment above, I don't believe there is. Yes, it can be spoiled by criminal acts and other similar horrors, but then pretty much any other profession can. Anyone can get on the other side of both law and morals. Prostitution is not special for it, and it is not criminal, immoral, or in any other way bad per se. In many ways it is a more honest job than many, and if you want to include human activities involving sex, I have know a good few marriages who would have been much more honest affairs if both parties admitted to be in it just for material gain and/or sex received/given for it.

So, if you can't build a good case against prostitution just refuse writing about it with a set goal. Otherwise you, the writer, have just prostituted yourself, giving something you don't particularly feel about away for the gain of your hourly rate or salary.

In the final analysis, we're either all prostitutes in what we do for money, or none of us are. And that includes the prostitutes that sell their bodies and sex for money.

The Future Is Bright -- The Future Is In the Cloud

A few days ago Google finally announced the long awaited Google Chrome OS. The reactions were various, from essentially negative, to cautiously positive. In my opinion, for whatever it's worth, the announcement marks a tipping point in how we use both the Internet and our computers. However, I do not believe that Chrome OS, as it is right now, is a true representation of that sea change I see on the horizon.

So, what is it that I see?

For one, I do believe that the future of how we use the computers and Internet is in The Cloud. Eventually, all our data and the processing of it will be delegated to some distributed storage and computational facility we connect to via some sort of communications channel. I believe that to be inevitable. Eventually.

Eventually, we will be using very light and thin (both in the physical and computational sense) clients as our window into our own, and data others make available. Chrome OS is a taster of what that might be like. It is nowhere ready for prime time. We really need to be able to have MS Office (no, not linking to them) experience available through a browser to say that we got where Chrome OS wants to take us.

But, for all its failings and imperfections, Chrome OS is a visionary product that will hopefully lead the way to where we really should have been already (Microsoft, I'm looking at you). Whether we want Google to be the keeper of all our data, and the tools to process them is almost beside the point. I guess ideally I'd want to farm this out in a randomly distributed way to several companies, each of which being capable to take over, in an instant, from whichever other one fails or I decide to abandon.

When will this all happen? I don't know. I hope soon.

Will it ever happen? I am positive it will.

We just need to be patient, and give credit where credit is due.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Death Penalty - Never Right

As yet another execution in the United States draws near, discussions about the rights and wrongs of death penalty have been revived. All sorts of nuanced arguments and points of view have been proffered and bandied around. Even I was tempted to indulge in some good old Internet forum exchanges. In the end I didn't. Why? Mostly because I don't really have anything to discuss. My views on the matter can be summed up like this:

Death penalty is never rigth.

This I can also support by several arguments.

Death penalty is irreversible. Even if there was not ample evidence of
overturned convictions there can never be an absolute certainty that a death penalty will never result in an innocent person being killed. So why run the risk at all? For those who may want to argue that a certain number of miscarriages of justice are not a problem - I've seen them likened to traffic accidents, for example - those should consider the suffering of an innocent person on a death row. Can there be any worse cruel and unusual punishment than to await certain death as a punishment for something you know, in your heart of hearts, you have not done?

Death penalty is a deterrent. This one sounds very plausible, to be entirely honest. Unfortunately, when you examine this argument more closely it is fatally flawed (pun intended). Seeing as death is the ultimate punishment, one would expect that if it was threatened for various crimes, those crimes would eventually cease to be committed. I mean, knowing that getting caught will lead to the very end of your life should be reason enough to refrain from whatever it is you planned to do. And yet, even if death penalty existed since the dawn of civilisation, the crimes for which it is meted out are still with us. Not much of a deterrent then!

Death penalty is revenge, delegated. This is something I can even understand, sort of. It is a very human and natural reaction of a victim (or rather, victim's kin) to want to avenge the crime. There were times, and societies, where the
families took this kind of revenge onto themselves. That, unfortunately, tended not to work so well, as these tended to get out of hand, and never really finish. Not to mention that they usually went beyond the perpetrator themselves, and spread onto their families, too. Modern death penalty may be seen as feud redux, with the state stepping in to avenge the victim in lieu of the family so as the vicious circle is not started. But, I would argue that the victim is blinded by a personal loss, and their wish for revenge should be treated in similar way in which murder in the state of diminished responsibility is, and the latter does not attract a death penalty, at least not in the civilised countries. Finally, in all other cases we seem to be very much against the like-for-like revenge in our legal system. Surely you do not expect the state to break a jaw of someone for you after they are convicted of committing an act of actual bodily harm, with and especially without intent. So why kill someone then?

Death penalty removes the danger of re-offending. This one is most certainly true, at face value. The problem here is that this is not the only way of preventing someone from re-offending. And no, I do not mean cutting off their arms either. Generally, where a death penalty would be considered, I'd always go for
life imprisonment, even at risk of being accused of wishing for cruel and unusual punishment myself. How so? Well, there's this thing with humans where we tend to value our freedom more than anything else. So, in a sense, life imprisonment should satisfy the ones wanting revenge much more than a death penalty. After all, we only ever die once, and in modern times the death penalty is (presumed) painless, while with life imprisonment the victim can enjoy their revenge every single day, until the prisoner dies of natural causes - and some of those can be quite painful, too. Also, in cases where innocence is eventually established we can all have that warm, fuzzy feeling of being able to say sorry, and not just feel sorry for killing an innocent person.

There's probably more things that can be said against the death penalty, but the above three are my favourites, and I believe more than enough to make me certain death penalty can never be right. If you need more data you should not miss the brilliant web site of
Death Penalty Information Center. Just make sure you can stomach some horrible facts you can find there.