Computers Writing

Can eReaders replace books?

Several years ago (possibly even before the turn of the millennium), my brother told me that books would soon be a thing of the past and that everyone would be reading eBooks. Is it possible? Could eReaders and eBooks replace paperbacks and hardcovers the way cars replaced the horse and buggy, the way portable audio players (iPods, for those of you who don’t know alternatives to Apple exist) have replaced CDs and tapes, and the way email has replaced letters?

I use the word replace rather loosely, of course. In some rural areas, horses and buggies are still around. CDs are still available for purchase in stores, and some used music stores have old tapes, which people will still purchase occasionally. And the post office still delivers letters, mostly from businesses to other businesses. Nevertheless, the primary way for even the most affluent of people to read books is still to read paperback or hardcover books. I know no one who owns a Kindle. The first Kindle I ever saw I saw only once from far away on a bus. I haven’t seen horse-buggy combos outside of Pennsylvania, most people I know use portable audio players, and almost all communication I get from family and friends is electronic.

Will we give up our books for eBooks? I may end up regretting these words in ten years, but I don’t think I ever will. Yes, I’ve heard the Kindle can store hundreds of books. Yes, I’ve heard it doesn’t have a backlight, so it won’t be a strain on your eyes. Still, I don’t believe I’ll ever use an eBook Reader in place of reading real books. Of course, back in the mid-1990s I didn’t think I would ever email instead of writing letters to friends.

I wasn’t around when cars started replacing other modes of transportation, but I do very much remember switching from records to tapes to CDs and, eventually, to MP3s. I do have a bit of nostalgia for exchanging mix tapes with my friends, and I love the sound of a crisp record being gentle stroked by a turntable’s needle. All the letters people wrote me back in high school I have kept and will probably at some point, unlike the emails they’ve sent me over the years, re-read them. Why won’t I give up books for eBooks?

A few reasons:

  • Even though I like having hundreds of songs at my fingertips in a small device (because I can actually listen to many of them, if not all, in a week), rarely do I read more than two books at a time—usually only one.
  • When I have an electronic device, I have to make sure it’s charged, make sure it doesn’t get damaged. I have to take care of it. Now—I don’t throw any of my books against the wall, spill pizza sauce on them, or rip the pages out, but I like that I can just throw them in a bag, read them in the bath, and even leave them around (without worry they’ll be stolen).
  • The idea that Amazon can remotely erase an eBook I bought is ridiculous (as came out in the whole 1984 scandal recently). No book store is ever going to break into my apartment and take a book back that I bought just because they realized they didn’t have the rights to sell that book to me in the first place.

Go ahead, Amazon (or Sony), try to make me eat my words! I think the only way I’d switch to eReaders is if everyone else does and the only bookstores still left around are used book stores…

Computers Linux Writing

Google Chrome OS isn’t Linux?

Add one more to the tech journalism hall of shame.

From PC World‘s “Google’s Chrome OS May Fail Even as It Changes Computing Forever”:

First, Google will compete with another operating system, Linux, that has tried fruitlessly to replace Windows on consumer PCs. The Linux camp will give it another go with a Linux variant called Moblin that has the backing of Intel and is headed for netbooks soon. (No specific partners or dates have been announced.) Dell says it prefers Moblin to Chrome OS.

Hey, Tom Spring—Google Chrome OS is Linux, just as much as Intel’s Moblin is, just as much as Ubuntu is. Linux is a short-hand many people use to designate any operating system that uses the GNU/Linux kernel… and Google Chrome OS uses the Linux kernel!

Maybe this mistake is a good thing.

If even tech “journalists” think Google Chrome OS isn’t Linux, then maybe people will give Chrome a chance because of the Google brand and not be afraid that Linux is only for geeks. After all, no one ever said you had to be a geek to use TiVo.

If Chrome OS is successful, Linux’s “year of the desktop” may not even be recognized as such, because most people (not even supposed journalists) won’t even realize Chrome is Linux. Of course, I don’t buy that Google is directly competing with Microsoft. Yes, Chrome OS is an operating system. Yes, if it’s successful, it will take some marketshare away from Windows. But cloud computing can be only so successful in the near future. Not everyone has broadband internet. Not everyone wants confidential documents on someone else’s servers. Not everyone wants to migrate away from her current platform. Not all applications have “cloud” counterparts.

If Google is successful in taking over the netbook market, it’ll be a huge blow to Microsoft, but people will still be using their Windows desktops and Windows laptops for heavy gaming, for niche business applications, for graphic design (if they aren’t using Macs).

Windows does not need to be totally overthrown, though. Any gain in marketshare for Linux will mean more hardware support for Linux users, which means ultimately more freedom and choice for even those Linux users who use non–Chrome OS distros.

Blog Announcements Writing

The spammers are getting clever

Most comment spam is pretty easy to identify and avoid. I almost got tricked by a recent one, though.

Just a tip for y’all. If you want your comment to stay and be taken seriously, it’s generally a good idea not to have your comment’s website be a porn website, even if you write a legitimate Ubuntu-related question in your comment’s body.


Ubuntu Writing

Tech “journalism” – smacks forehead

Just spotted this “article” on ZDNet called Ubuntu allies with Amazon and Dell. It opens

The next Ubuntu release, dubbed Karmic Koala (k is the 10th letter of the alphabet and this is officially release 9.10) is drawing attention for its support for clouds and its improved desktop.

[Emphasis added]

And apparently

Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist for 30 years, a tech freelancer since 1983.

Uh, the letter k being the 10th letter of the alphabet has nothing to do with the release number. Ubuntu 9.10 means it’s the version of Ubuntu released in October (10th month of the year) 2009. Ubuntu 9.04 will be released in April of 2009. Ubuntu 8.10 was released in October 2008. And so on.

Some things don’t change, I guess. Further reading:
Linux – stop holding kids back… so wrong
Enough with the sensationalist Linux headlines
Bad Journalism

Blog Announcements Writing

Whom do blog spammers think they’re fooling?

I’m always appreciative of comments on my blog, even from those who disagree with me (as long as people can be civil about it). It’s one thing to know “X visits have been made to your blog,” but it’s another to know what people actually think (I agree / I disagree / I sort of agree-disagree). At least those are real people and not spambots.

Fortunately, for me and a lot of other bloggers, the Akismet plugin WordPress is pretty good filters out the comment spam. Nevertheless, I’m confused by these spammers who say things like “I’ve enjoyed reading your post [proceeds to quote the entire title of the post]. I’ll be adding you to my blogroll. Thanks!” and the website of the commenter has the word viagra in it. I mean, come on! Does anyone fall for this?

Don’t answer. I know someone must. I know there must be some people who approve the spam, just as there are some people who click on phishing links or fall for the I’ll-wire-you-money-from-Nigeria scams. If people didn’t fall for this stuff, the spammers wouldn’t continue with this stuff.

I guess this just makes me sad about humanity—both that some people lack a conscience and that others are gullible or ignorant enough to be taken advantage of by the non-consciencers.

You may enjoy “reading” my blog, but I’m not going to post a link to your viagra, pills, meds, child porn, or real estate website. Sorry!

Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality women Writing

Full Frontal Feminism Indeed

Right now I’m reading Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters by Jessica Valenti, and I have to say, with a few rough bumps along the way, it’s an impressive piece of literature. Most of the feminist works I’ve read—while rationally argued, fully annotated, and well-written—are dry and too academic for most pre-university readers to enjoy. Cynthia Heimel’s humorous books (columns originally published in Playboy magazine, ironically) like Get your tongue out of my mouth. I’m kissing you good-bye! and If you can’t live without me, why aren’t you dead yet? were the closest to accessible-for-teenagers feminist writings, and even those were mainly targeted at 20-something and 30-something readers.

Jessica Valenti has done a great thing in terms of boiling down the essential feminist issues into large print in a small book. The book does have its flaws, of course. For one, it tries too hard. It also does a little bit of a mental bait-and-switch. You have to be a little forgiving on the former problem, though, since it is taking on the nigh-impossible task of making feminism “cool” for girls and women born after 1990. The latter problem seems to stem from a lack of restraint on the part of the author. Valenti begins by essentially saying, “Hey, everyone should be a feminist. It makes sense. It’s not a scary thing. It isn’t some crazy fringe of whining unattractive people (not that there’s anything wrong with being unattractive). Are you on board?” but then quickly starts hammering you with statistics about rape and domestic violence—issues she quite rightly gets passionately outraged over.

I do admire, though, how she treads a very fine line on the whole “freedom” debate. She manages to get across that she values freedom from patriarchy most highly while not disparaging those in the “doesn’t freedom mean I have the freedom to be traditionally feminine?” camp. In other words, she appreciates balance and does not want to alienate anyone.

The whole time reading the book, though, I kept thinking, “Someone should write a Full Frontal Linux book like this.” I’ve seen books like [Fill in the blank] for Non-Geeks, but they’ve basically still been pretty geeky. How do you make Linux “cool” for the general public? How do you explain that software license freedom is the ultimate goal while not alienating those who still want their free-to-run-what-proprietary-software-I-want freedom? Who knows? Maybe after I finish reading Full Frontal Feminism, I’ll take a crack at Full Frontal Ubuntu (I probably don’t know enough to speak for all of Linux).

Hats off to Jessica Valenti. It’s not a perfect work by any means, but it fills a niche that needed filling.


Sometimes so-and-so and me is okay.


It’s a natural human inclination. If you throw me a heavy ball I catch in my right hand and then throw me a heavy ball I catch in my left hand, I will lean right, lean left, and then balance myself to the middle eventually.

There was a time (I want to say it was the early 1980s) when everyone I knew said so-and-so and me regardless of whether it was appropriate for the sentence or not: Jill and me went to the comic book convention on Saturday or Bill and me lost our virginity on the doorstep of my parents’ house. Then I guess some hoity-toity wanna-be grammarians kept chastising others with “No, it’s so-and-so and I,” and eventually, instead of learning that it depends on the structure of the sentence, people learned that it was always so-and-so and I instead of so-and-so and me. Now, twenty years later, almost every college graduate I know who is between the ages of 22 and 35 will say so-and-so and I even if the sentence warrants a so-and-so and me.

Here’s a quick lesson for those who don’t want to burn my ears. So-and-so and I is just a more specific way of saying we. So-and-so and me is just a more specific way of saying us. So substitute in we or us as necessary and see if the sentence sounds funny to you.

That was just a secret between Michelle and I
Lawn bowling is something Gertrude and I enjoy doing every Saturday
Hester gave a thoughtful gift to Edith and I
Grace and I wanted to play bridge but couldn’t find the cards

Okay. Let’s substitute in we or us and see how the sentences sound now.

That was just a secret between we (wrong)
Lawn bowling is something we enjoy doing every Saturday (right)
Hester gave a thoughtful gift to we (wrong)
We wanted to play bridge but couldn’t find the cards (right).

Some people also recommend removing the so-and-so to see how ridiculous the sentence sounds (e.g., That was just a secret between I or That was just a secret between me), but that doesn’t preserve the meaning of the sentence, so I prefer substituting in we and us instead.

It’s not that complicated, really. So-and-so and I is the same as we, and so-and-so and me is the same as us. If you can keep we and us straight, you should know when to use I and me appropriately with a so-and-so.


The noun disconnect

The English language changes. It’s a fact of life. Much as grammarians and pedants would love for it to stay the same, it changes. I understand that change is inevitable—I don’t have to like the change, though.

I have finally embraced the verb impact, and I still cringe when someone says something was [insert adverb] unique (e.g., really unique, very unique, so unique). I realize, of course, I’m fighting an uphill battle. I’m not quite as extreme as some are, though. I don’t impose arbitrary grammar “rules” (no split infinitives, no ending a sentence with a preposition).

Shifts in usage irk me if I see no logical reason for them. I’m okay with calling stewards and stewardesses flight attendants, as it apparently gives their job more dignity, and it also saves me the trouble of distinguishing genders. I’m okay with people using the term sick to substitute for what used to be phat, bad, tubular, or groovy. Every generation has to have its “cool” words.

Why did, after Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas, harassment suddenly shift from being harassment to harassment? Why in 2002 did people start using the word disconnect as a noun? I swear before 2002 I had never heard a single soul say “There was a disconnect between….” All of a sudden, the past six years, I can’t go a month without hearing someone say “There was a disconnect” or seeing the phrase written in a blog or news article. I get a mental shiver every time I hear it.

I never thought I’d be a “Good old days…” person, but I do miss the days of disconnect as a verb, which I rarely hear now. Could you please disconnect the phone?

Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality Writing

Owning Subjectivity

Through various times in my education, I was taught to not use the first person and to use an “objective” voice in my writing. When I became an English teacher, I taught my students a similar principle, except I called it “the illusion of objectivity.”

Objectivity is an interesting concept, but I do believe it is usually an illusion. There is an approach popular in the social sciences (particularly with regard to discussions of gender, sexuality, race, and class) in which the writer or researcher owns up to subjectivity and doesn’t pretend to be objective. The writer recognizes that her or his own upbringing colors the research, both in the questions that are asked and in how the answers and findings are interpreted or made meaningful.

How do I see this played out? Well, I’ve seen it in several scenarios. One was a faculty meeting once, when I was still teaching, in which a rather heated debate about homework loads ensued with various teachers believing hefty amounts of homework were necessary to moving along the curriculum and preparing students for the rigors of college and other various teachers believing that hefty amounts of homework left students too stressed out and unable to balance their lives properly. At one point, a teacher noted that most teachers who belonged to the former group were non-parents and most belonging to the latter group were parents. I believe his observation was intended to defuse the tension in the room, but it served only to make things tenser by making the conversation personal. A non-parent teacher I spoke with later after the meeting was quite upset, because she said not all non-parents chose not to have children, and we all give all we have to these kids (the students). I was in full agreement with her. More importantly, that incident made me aware of how tenuous the idea of objectivity is, particularly in that kind of discussion. After all, are the teachers who are also parents more “objective” for being parents, as they see both sides of the homework issue (as parents and as teachers), or are the non-parents more “objective” for being non-parents and not being emotionally tied to the apparent sufferings and imbalance students and their families might feel when overwhelmed with homework?

Even though a lot of us who appreciate logic theory want to think we can avoid ad hominem mistakes, we nevertheless often judge what people say based on who they are and what their perspective is rather than solely on the soundness of what they say in a vacuum. Think about how many letters to the editor of newspapers start out with identification. For example, let’s say there were a letter announcing its author as a Jew before going on to argue that anti-Israel sentiment is not the same as anti-Semitism. Wouldn’t the argument, if it were sound, be just the same, whether it came from a Jew or from an Arab? Or a letter announcing its author as a woman that also talks about how feminism has ruined the traditional American family values and is responsible for a number of societal ills—would the argument, if it were sound, be just as strong coming from a man? Or would it retain its potency if the letter writer didn’t reveal her or his gender?

Recently, I read some letters to the editor about capital punishment. One letter was for capital punishment. One was against it. Both were from self-proclaimed family members of murder victims. Does that perspective offer credibility? I guess, strictly from a theoretical logical perspective, no. But, really? Yes. I take a hell of a lot more seriously someone who’s had a family member murdered who is still against the death penalty than I do someone who has the same stance but lacks that personal experience. Yes, it seems to go against logic. The one without a personal investment in the trial and sentencing would seem to be the one with her head about her. But is that really objectivity? Or is it just another kind of subjective experience (the lack of a murdered family member)?

One time, in an American Literature course, my colleague and I planned a unit talking about race theory. Because I was Asian-American, some of my students questioned my motives for teaching that unit (“Is Mr. W.’s class doing this, too?”), but Mr. W was not similarly questioned, because he was White. But why would a White person be more objective about race? White, after all, is a race, too. It isn’t the lack of race… or shouldn’t be, at least.

In the end, I own my subjectivity. I know if I were White, born in the South, poor, raised to be macho, and taught to appreciate guns, I’d be a different person with a totally different perspective on life. If I were a woman forced to have sex with my boyfriend, I’d be a different person with a different perspective on life. If I were an American soldier in Iraq or an Iraqi, I’d have a different perspective.

We aren’t just detached logicians. We are all human and come with our own experiences. The sooner we recognize that, the sooner we can come to at least some semblance of the truth.


Blog comments and spam

I just deleted a comment that Akismet thought was spam. I wasn’t 100% sure it was, but I erred on the side of caution.

I like comments. I liked the comment from someone saying Just posting to let you know people do read your blog, even if they don’t always comment. It may be a bit vain of me, but I want people to read my blog. I think I actually have something to say (whether people agree with what I say or not is a different story), and I wouldn’t post otherwise. That’s my main deal. I just want to get people thinking.

When I was growing up, I was really argumentative, and talking was about winning arguments. Expressing my opinion was about convincing others to accept my opinion as correct (and their opinions as incorrect). Now, though, I don’t care if you’re against gay marriage, against Christianity, against feminism, against Linux, or against anything else I’m for. Come on and read what I have to say, because I think it’ll make you think. You may think for a while and then say to yourself, “Naw. That doesn’t change my mind.” That’s okay. You thought about a different perspective, though. That’s cool.

I love comments that give me a different perspective, too (Hari, who hasn’t commented in a while, was great at that, and I have the utmost respect for him, even though we disagree over a lot of subjects). I also love comments that reaffirm me and say, “Hey, you may think you’re the only one who thinks this way, but I think this way, too.” I’m only human. I seek affirmation just as much as the next person. What I won’t stand for, though, are moronic flamebait comments and spam.

Thankfully, I don’t think my blog has gained enough exposure to start attracting en masse the flamebait comments (which I assure you, if and when it does, I will delete promptly and without warning). A flamebait comment doesn’t seek to spark up dialogue. It seeks to incite argument. It seeks to also make personal what should be intellectual. It isn’t any more about what I say but who I am. A challenging comment says “I appreciate what you’ve said, but have you thought about…?” A flamebait comment says “This is so typical of liberals/feminists/Christians….” Believe me, I can tell the difference, and I’ll keep alive the comments that disagree with me intelligently. I’m usually pretty stubborn, but every now and then someone will disagree with me or offer a new perspective that will make me go, “Oh, I didn’t actually consider that.”

And then there’s spam. Spam is usually pretty easy to spot, and Akismet (WordPress’ built-in spam-scanner) has an almost 100% accuracy (in my experience) in terms of deciding which comments are spam and which aren’t. If you ask me, most spammers aren’t very smart. They load their comments full of sex-related keywords in posts that are usually not sex-related, and they put in too many links. A smart spammer would find tags relating to sex and make an actual comment that could be relevant to the post and have the website as the website of the commenter instead of in the comment itself. I had one of these (not sex-related, but related to a commercial company) just now and I had to think about it for a second whether it was spam or not. The comment seemed innocuous enough. It could have been genuine. But the comment was too generic (had nothing to do with the post), and the website of the commenter seemed too sketchy. So I deleted it.

So, thanks, commenters, for keeping the dialogue alive! And thanks, WordPress, for creating and maintaining Akismet.