The Casual Blog

Tag: iPad

Ereading about our bizarre President in Fire and Fury, and testing my new camera


Sally’s latest flower arrangement, and her iPad Mini

Wow, is it cold out there!  Raleigh didn’t get much snow this week, but was expecting to set a new record for sustained low temps.  Instead of my usual Saturday walk in one of our forests, I hunkered down and worked on getting to know my new camera, and took some pictures from and around our apartment.  

As I mentioned last week, due to a late night mental fog I left my iPad  on an airplane, and asked the American Airlines bot to please find and return it.  It has not done so so far, and I’m not feeling optimistic.  It would be hard at this point to lower my expectations as to customer service  from AA, so I’ll just note that they’re staying extremely low.  AA bot, if you’re reading this, I promise to post an appreciative remark if you return my device.

That iPad was my primary ereader, but fortunately, I also had my current books on my larger iPad pro.  I got the larger device primarily to use for downloading and reading piano music, since the larger size is helpful in reading two or more staffs covered with many notes.  The big one doesn’t feel as comfortable sitting on my lap, but it certainly works.

It was an exciting week in epublishing, with the best-selling release of Fire and Fury, by Michael Wolff, a whiz bang account of Trump’s first year.  Jocelyn, working in ebook production at Macmillan, was part of the team that got the book out on an accelerated schedule after Trump’s lawyers sent a threatening letter.  She texted me a heads up that this could be big, and after reading the published excerpts, I agreed.  

You might suppose, as I did at first, that we really don’t need to read a book  about Trump, since we’ve read so much, and he really is not complicated.  But even for those of us who follow Trump reporting closely, there is just too much to fully take in.  All those oddities, shocks, and outrages form a constant and seemingly endless barrage.   

Instead of facts and logic, he emanates juvenile absurdities.  It’s hard to engage his “ideas” with ordinary rationality, and so we have a lot of extreme emotions, from fear, to rage, and sometimes helpless laughter. Our heads have been getting  slammed hard, like football players badly overmatched, and we have trouble getting oriented and making sense of it all.  

Anyhow, I downloaded the ebook of Fire and Fury and started it yesterday.  Sally, with her iPad Mini, turned out to be reading it, too.  Jocelyn and Kyle, and no doubt many thousands of others, are doing the same.  The right-wing propaganda apparatus is desperate to undermine Wolff, and I don’t count them out, since they’re really good at what they do.  

But I expect that the book will help a lot of people who have been giving Trump a benefit of a doubt to see that that was a mistake.  And perhaps the powerful politicians who, with full understanding of his unbelievable and dangerous incompetence, have supported Trump will be shamed into changing course.    

These pictures were taken with my new Nikon D850.  It’s a recently released FX digital camera with some remarkable capacities, like a large sensor with 45.7 megapixels, shooting at 7 frames per second, and ISO up to 25,600.  These specs suggested a long step forward in photographic potential, so I stopped in at B&H in New York in early November to test the beast.  I liked the ergonomics, and proposed to buy one.  They kindly said they wished they could help me, but could not.  It was on backorder for the foreseeable future. The same turned out to be true for Peace Camera, my friendly local camera shop.

On our balcony, a cold sunset

I finally got the D850 this week.  From first impressions, the image quality is fantastic, and it has many helpful conveniences, like a large viewfinder and a vivid touch screen that folds out.  It can also be operated remotely with a smartphone.  It’s  a complex tool and I expected a substantial learning curve, but happily, most of the controls and system menus are organized like my trusty Nikon D7100, so it’s not overwhelming.  The only negative I’ve found so far is no surprise:  it’s  noticeably bigger and heavier than the D7100.  A silver lining:  it will make me keep working on my upper body strength.

Rebuilding after the big fire

Fresh produce, flowers, and an iPad problem

13 08 16_3610
Saturday morning I took my camera over to the N.C. Farmers Market. The weather was drizzly, but the scene was festive, with many colorful baskets of vegetables and fruits and many shoppers. I wasn’t sure about the etiquette of photographing the sellers and visitors: would people consider it an improper intrusion? Maybe, but some sellers might appreciate the potential publicity. Uncertain, I focused primarily on the beautiful produce.
13 08 16_3611

I also got a few images I liked at Raulston Arboretum, including some bees at work.
13 08 17_3818
13 08 17_3846
Our personal portable technology, like my DSLR camera, not to mention my Android phone, MP3 player, lap top, and tablet, generally works great and keep getting more amazing, and we can’t help but get more dependent on them. This we hardly notice, until something goes wrong.
13 08 17_3821

My iPad tablet suddenly quit working a few days back, which reminded me forcefully how much it has insinuated itself into my life. Its most used function is as an interface with ebooks, which have in a surprisingly short period become my dominant reading format. The iPad is wonderfully light and portable, and the screen works well for reading ebooks.
13 08 17_3826

At a given time, I may have four or five books going – typically some history or biography, some science or technology, some public policy, and some literature. Exploring through reading is such a basic part of my life that I generally take it for granted. There is not a lot of time in a normal day to do it, but what there is is precious.

The failure of my iPad gave me the shock of sudden withdrawal from my various reading projects. Then I realized I had no idea whether the books I’d downloaded could be recovered, and if they could, whether my highlighting and notes would be lost forever.
13 08 17_3831

Most of my reading uses the kindle reader app with books from Amazon, and I eventually learned that I could load the kindle software on my MacBook Pro and read with the laptop. My bookmarks, highlights and notes were still there. This was good news, mostly. That is, it’s good to have the books, but at the same time, should I be worried that my various private thoughts on books are floating somewhere in the Amazon cloud and available for NSA examination? I decided there was no point in worrying, since there is truly nothing I can do about it. Though I still feel a bit uneasy.
13 08 17_3811

Meanwhile, I took the iPad to Raleigh Geeks, a small computer and smart phone repaid shop on Glenwood Avenue. My Geek diagnosed a failed on button, and determined that it would cost about $90 to get a new part and take a week. I thanked him and said I’d first check to see if they had the part at the Apple store. At the Apple Genius Bar, my Genius agreed that the switch was broken. His proposed solution was for me to buy a new iPad I for $250.

I decided to order the new part from the Geeks. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the device can be saved, but also doing a bit of research on possible alternatives, and particularly the Samsung Android tablets.

My favorite gadget

My iPhone is a marvelous gadget, but as will happen with gadgets, the magic has faded somewhat. Part of it is simple familiarity: a year-old gadget is just not as exciting as a new one. Part of it is competition: I’m in that wonderful phase of new love with my iPod. Also, with the introduction of the slick new iPhone model, my 3G seems the tiniest bit frumpy. And part of it lately has been frustration with minor glitches from the new operating system, which I downloaded three weeks ago. In particular, the device started asking me for a password to my voicemail, and I didn’t have a password. I was locked out.

I’ve been super busy at work lately and simply haven’t had the combination of free time and fortitude needed to call AT&T, navigate the voicemail system, and get a sentient human to solve the problem. Meanwhile, there’s been a constant low-grade worry that someone might leave me a voicemail that could have consequences if left unattended. It’s probable that a business voicemail to my iPhone would have a related voicemail on my office phone, or a related email somewhere. But not certain. And there’s even less certainty that a personal voicemail would have a margin of safety. How many friendships have been lost due to ignored phone messages? There was definitely risk involved.

Last week at Red Hat we had the mother of all meetings, a week-long assembly of the legal department personnel from around the globe. In addition to organizational and speaking duties, I contributed many hours of attention to the presentations. I particularly enjoyed getting to know some of my really interesting colleagues from distant offices (Singapore, Beijing, Sao Paulo, Munich, Mountain View, Tysons Corner). And in the course of a gadget discussion with Tom Y, I got a lead on how to solve the voicemail problem —

So, finally, on Saturday morning, I woke up early, went to the gym, swam 1700 meters, did some yoga, got some gas for Clara, came home, walked Stuart, fed him and the cats, had some coffee and cereal, read the Times, and then went to It took some looking about, but I finally found the proper tab for resetting the wireless password, and got it done. But along the way there was one last challenge.

I had to choose security questions and enter answers. The questions were mostly in the form of What’s your favorite whatever — favorite food, movie, song, etc. You’d think, or at least ATT&T must have thought, I’d know such things. But I could not come close to determining what I would probably say in the future was my favorite in any of the categories. There were too many possibilities, too many things in each category that I really liked and might on a given day think could be my favorites. And for things I really care about (including movies, food, and music), I hate the thought of being unfair and untrue and designating as a favorite something that is not the true, ultimate, most fantastic favorite. Admittedly this was a minor problem, but still, a problem. In the event I could not remember my password, missing the security questions as well could be a real headache.

Fortunately, in the end, there were questions involving personal history that I could substitute and be reasonably confident that, absent traumatic brain injury or dementia, I’d answer consistently. So, I’m back in business with voicemail. Somewhere ahead there’s a new gadget problem, but right now I’m good. iPhone, don’t tell anyone, but you’re my favorite.

Ebooks and charity ideas

This week I went to Dallas and back twice. I will not complain, except to note that long periods confined in small seats do not get easier as the hours pass. I sat next to a fifteen year old kid on the way back, who, by the end of the flight, was writhing in discomfort, and I remembered how this was even tougher when I was younger.

I spent some of the seat time reading my first ebooks on my iPad. As a confirmed bibliophile, I doubted I would really like ebooks, but my compulsion to have handy several books when I travel has created problems with weight limits, and pushed me towards trying this lightweight solution. Using the Kindle software, it took me just a few minutes to fall in love with the format. I like the typeface and type size, the ability to highlight and annotate, and the light weight.

My first ebook was Against Intellectual Monopoly, by Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine, an against-the-grain discussion of the problems with our patent and copyright systems. I was gratified to see a discussion of Red Hat as a primary example of why patents don’t achieve anything close to their intended purpose in the software area.

It’s interesting how ideas can seem particularly interesting during cross-country flights, and how frequently new ones pop up. I found myself thinking about an NPR story from last week about individuals who commission new pieces of music or plays. The point of the story was that the cost could be shared with others and spread over time, so that being a patron and bringing a new piece of art into the world could be more affordable than you’d think.

I really liked the idea of contributing in a direct and immediate way to new art. If I can’t be a composer, perhaps I could help in the creation of music by funding one. So, how about a web site to allow composers, choreographers, or others to propose commission-worthy projects, and donors likewise to seek suitable artists? Sort of an arts-funding Craigslist. Sure, it could be there’s just not sufficient interest, but then, not so long ago Craigslist sounded like a fantasy.

The web today is a big part of my life, and of the lives of most people I know. In almost no time it’s gone from a novelty to a utility, and now I take it for granted much like the interstate highway system. Yet we may have just begun to scratch the surface of what it can do — things that go way beyond shopping and entertainment. Facebook and Twitter haven’t really inspired me, but they point in the direction of more immediate and wide-ranging connections that have more human meaning. It could reduce the barriers to charitable giving by making needs and resources easier to see and connect.

For example, it’s hard for me to visualize the enormous suffering from the current flooding in Pakistan, and hard to feel like there’s much I can personally do about it. But if I could connect with a person who’s lost everything and understand their story using web multimedia, it could help me, and I suspect others to open their hearts and wallets. People who’ve lost everything can’t easily get online, of course, but the tools that could get them there already exist. It would take some thought and energy. This could be an open source project.

Robert Frost and my new iPad

I’ve finally managed to memorize The Wood Pile, by Robert Frost. It’s a strange, bleak poem, about walking through a frozen swamp and not seeing very much, except snow, trees, a bird and a decaying wood pile. Just as the narrator doesn’t really know why he keeps walking deeper into a frozen swamp, I’m hard put to explain why I went to the considerable trouble of memorizing this poem. It’s difficult to picture an ordinary situation in which anyone would voluntarily listen to a recitation with pleasure. But memorizing it entailed many many readings with close examination of every word, and through that process the poem gradually revealed a stark startling beauty.

At the end of the poem, the narrator wonders at the isolated decaying wood pile, and remarks that the person who made it must be “someone who lived in turning to fresh tasks” so as to “forget his handiwork on which he spent himself, the labor of his ax.” It may be that the laboriously created, carefully measured, woodpile is one of Frost’s poems, and that Frost is pointing up the minor tragedy of art that fails to reach its audience. He also seems to be saying that remembering can be harder than creating. It isn’t hard to see that we all constantly live in eagerly turning to fresh tasks and also, without realizing it, forgetting other valuable things.

Yesterday I turned to the fresh task of learning how to work my new iPad. It is a very pleasing little device both in form and function — light, sleek, quick, uncomplicated, but sophisticated. I got it mainly to use as a reader and a web surfer, though it may turn out that other functions, like the video viewer or some game, will turn out to be useful to me. To get started, I put some of my favorite poetry on the Kindle reader, including W.B. Yeats, Wallace Stevens, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, and Frost, thinking it would be a comfort to have them along in my travels. I also felt it would be worthwhile to always have handy some Proust, and downloaded Swann’s Way.

Within a few minutes I’d figured out how to make the Kindle reader application do some interesting things, like go to the table of contents, jump to a given page, highlight text, make a note on the text, and change the typeface of the work. This was mainly a matter of touching the screen in various ways, some of which were not immediately obvious. Experimenting with it was fun.

It’s remarkable how learning how to work new devices (sometimes hardware, but most often software) is now a constant feature of modern high tech life. In days gone by, a new device might come into my life every few months, but now it’s more like every few hours. The concept of the iPhone, and probably the iPad, includes encouraging the constant addition of more and more apps. Each app has at least a small learning curve, which consumes some amount of human energy.

Other than causing fatigue, do the apps do anything? The best thing they do is speed up information gathering. Whether the subject is world politics, scientific research, movies, or restaurants, it’s possible to get information faster. This could lead to better decisions. The problem is that our brains can only go so fast and only hold so much. Like John Henry racing to put down rails against the steam hammer, we can’t possibly keep up with the pace of our powerful computers.

So we have to figure out when to say, basta! On any given day, we have to be careful about turning to too many fresh tasks and forgetting what is really valuable. We have to quit downloading apps all the time and read something beautiful and profound, like Frost or Proust. Small, slow, and error-prone as our brains are, we need to protect and care for them and nourish them well.