Friday, January 27, 2012

Five Ways the Government Spies on You ~ LockerGnome

Five Ways the Government Spies on You ~ LockerGnome

At least read the last paragraph of this prescient article:
Bottom line: Everything you do or say in public should be done with the knowledge in mind that someone or something is monitoring you. Virtually everyone on the street has a camcorder and/or camera in their pocket, and a vast majority of people have access to the Internet, giving them the ability to upload these videos and/or images on sites and social networks that are accessible by the entire world.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Use of Force--William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)

The Use of Force--William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)

Just read this. Thought I'd share it. It's about a doctor (Williams was one) who gets a house call and tries to save a little girl's life and has to use force to do it. A la Williams, it is pithy prose. (You could say such about some of his poetry.) Could've been more emotionally evocative I feel if Williams wanted to dive a bit deeper. Well written.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Review: Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

A pack of foma (lies)! Bokonon would say about this book, and he'd be right, as he usually is. But, as he himself tells us, that is not such a bad thing. What a wise man.

Cat's Cradle (1963) is a book about a guy, John, who wrote a book, the one he narrates, but begins by trying to write another book, The Day the World Ended, about the day the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and what famous people were doing on the day. The research for the book drives the protagonist to search out the offspring of one Felix Hoenikker, co-inventor of the bomb, a child-like, emotionless genius. In the process, he finds himself on the island nation of San Lorenzo with Newt, Angela, and Frank Hoenikker. It's a peculiar place where one man, "Papa" Monzano, rules as dictator over a technologically barren land. The only thing that keeps the natives going is Bokononism, a religion outlawed on the island, punishable by death (via the dreadful hook) that celebrates lies and above all man. The founder, Bokonon, is a fugitive, which seems to be good for everyone, including Bokonon.

I chose to read the novel because I'm a Vonnegut fan and because when grading his own books against himself in Palm Sunday, Vonnegut gave Cat's Cradle an A+ (as well as Slaughterhouse Five). So I figured, this was the one to read. While I evidently don't think this is a great book, I do think it's good.

The book is, if I may say so, a kind of atheist manifesto. Bokononism is used by Vonnegut as a means to satirize religion.  Bokononism is based on lies, which Bokonon figures people would enjoy more than the harsh reality of life on San Lorenzo. This is just another way of saying that religion is BS and people like it because it paints life romantically. (We get it Vonnegut: you're an atheist!) In other words, the Bible is the Delacroix of life. Atheism is more like a Hopper. Sure you probably like Delacroix better (who doesn't?), but perhaps Hopper is more relevant. (Not my words, Vonnegut's!)

I enjoyed the the satirical depiction of religion. For example, in the explicitly fictional creation story of Bokononism, life is nothing more than mud that got to sit up and say, "Nice going, God!" and "I feel very unimportant compared to You." The concise Calypsos (poems) of Bokonon sprinkled throughout are, also, a good touch and some of them are quite insightful. I like this one:

Tiger got to hunt,
Bird got to fly;
Man got to sit and wonder, "Why, why, why?"
Tiger got to sleep,
Bird got to land;
Man got to tell himself he understand.

There are some substantial boring bits in the book. They're located toward the middle. I got a hundred or so pages in and then considered whether I should continue reading or not. I hate that. Whenever that happens, I have two real choices: stop or read faster. I read faster. The last time I had this dilemma it was with Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, which I didn't review because I hated. I chose to keep reading but not fast enough. It was a waste of time and I'm mad at Heinlein now and refuse to read him anymore - I don't care how smart the guy was. I hear Stranger in a Strange Land is good, but I really don't know. I really don't know. I really don't fucking know.

Where Cat's Cradle starts to pick up, really pick up, is toward the end of the book. This is probably intentional and not a coincidence. The way it picks up toward the end reminds me of Moby Dick, which saves most of the action for the very end. Vonnegut begins Cat's Cradle with, "Call me Jonah," echoing the first line of Moby Dick while also highlighting an important figure in the book. Cat's Cradle is no Moby Dick, but it's classic, witty, surreal Vonnegut.

I enjoyed the book and think other Vonnegut fans will, too. I've already read the free Kindle sample for Mother Night and think I'll read that, as well, though I have quite a few other books I want to read before then. (Have any recommendations - science fiction or literary?)

That's my review. No spoilers. How about that?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Alain de Botton: Atheism 2.0 - YouTube

Alain de Botton: Atheism 2.0 - YouTube

A very good Talk. Turns out there's a name for people like me, people who don't believe in any religion but understand the ways in which it is important as a cultural invention, according to Alain de Botton: atheist 2.0. (I went to a Jesuit university. I've said it before and I'll say it again, very religious Christians are some of the nicest, most magnanimous people I have ever met.)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Why I Became a Vegetarian

It didn't happen overnight. It was a slow process. In fact, I always joke that it took me less time to stop being a Christian than being a meat eater. For me the two things were linked. If you believe in what the Bible says, that animals have no other purpose than to feed our bellies and provide occasional company, then I guess killing them and even torturing them, since they have no soul or feelings, as the Bible teaches, is OK. I guess this is way animal rights as a movement has taken so long in this country to develop and make way. If you don't think so, look at India. On the other hand, if you believe in biological evolution, which is what made me disbelieve in Biblical creation, than it's hard to reason that killing animals is OK. Not only are we animals. But we all share a common ancestry. Therefore, it can be supposed just on this that many animals, especially those more like us (mammals, primates)  have the same emotions, feelings, and thoughts that we do. That is, not only do they feel pain but they feel sad and distressed, too. And who's to say that another organism's life should end here or there. Who are we? Owners of all creation? Ha.

Some would say: Hey, look, this eating-each-other thing is normal - look at nature. We are the dominant species and what do the dominate species do? Eat the subordinates. Yeah, but animals also rape and kill each other and we don't condone that, right? Evolution tells us what the order of things is, what traits are favored by nature, but not what is right and what is wrong. Survival of the fittest is just reality. But reality kind of sucks. I don't think it's cool that lions are killing zebras and gazelles and wildebeests right and left to survive. But they have to. We don't.

And that's my point. We don't have to. So why? Honestly, I think that most people don't. They eat their chicken nuggets and pet their dogs. (How different are chickens and dogs? How do you know?) They feed their kids bacon as they watch Babe. Cowboys mourn the death of their horses, but slaughter cattle. Sure, you can argue they have to to make a living or feed their families. But you don't. Not in the twenty-first century. Not if you live in a modern city. So why? Do you not think that the pain and suffering of an animal is important? I do. I feel, after all. Do you think they don't feel pain? Stab a cow and see if it winces. Do you think we can kill animals painlessly? I don't. No knife is sharp enough. But even if we could. Why? Wouldn't you rather sustain yourself without killing another feeling, breathing organism, one that has experiences and connections, however insignificant to us, to others like it. That seems to disregard the uniqueness and the gift that is life.

On to my story. I watched a few of the Faces of Death videos when I was sixteen or so. I would never have watched these videos if it wasn't for my friend at the time who got a copy somehow. Seems illegal. Well, those videos made me physically sick for a week. Many of the videos contained images of animals being slaughtered. (Chickens getting their heads chopped off and running about; cows having their throats cut by a machine and a gallon or so of blood gushing out, the cow trying to get away; pigs being beaten and electrified to force them into their execution machine.) If you haven't seen an animal slaughtered and eat meat, you should. It isn't going to be a pleasant experience - hopefully. But I think it's a matter of personal responsibility. I'm not saying you'll change your mind or that you'll now be able to eat meat guilty free (somehow knowing what it takes, the sacrifice, to get you that hamburger), but I think it's just something you have to do.

After losing God, I began to lose my appetite. I would order hamburgers and remember the images. I'd felt bad. And, honestly, I'm thankful that I did, and do. Shame and guilt are wonderful things. Without them, we'd be monsters. I remember deciding one day I'd become a vegetarian after much guilt and contemplation. Friends doubted me. My dad tried to sabotage me. Those people are out of my life now. And I've been a vegetarian ever since.

For vegetarian/vegan alternatives to fast food, clothing, and shoes or more about the general topic, click here for a previous post.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Kindle 5

I've owned a Kindle Touch 3G now for over a month. I bought the one with the offers and sponsored screensavers because I'd figured it wasn't going to be a big deal, and it hasn't been. Overall, I'm really happy with my purchase. The touch screen makes the reading and annotating experience a whole lot better (more intuitive and a lot faster), which is why I didn't mind paying $150 for the upgrade from the Kindle 3.

I'm already thinking about the next one. This is how I am with technology. Part of me wants to work in the field. But the other part realizes I don't have the credentials. Nevertheless, here are some things I'd like to see in the Kindle 5 (that is, the sucessor of the Kindle Touch, not the Kindle Fire) that would make me want to buy:

  • Color - This is obvious, right? I love the e-ink technology. I love that I can protect my eyes and avoid the tiring annoyance of eye strain for hours. However, a color e-ink display would really make the images come alive and make the reading feel more natural. Bezos (you know, the CEO?) has said that such technology is in the future for Amazon. However, such technology already exists. Doesn't Bezos and Amazon have spies? WTF?
  • Smooth, intuitive image zooming - We are already limited in color with regards to the Kindle's e-ink display. And without such zooming, reading magazines, PDFs, newspapers are all just not feasible on the device. It makes the pictures or charts or tables in a book almost worthless. Which makes the Kindle Touch a bad investment if you have e-books with such images.

  • Integration with Instapaper (and other such services) - I use and love Instapaper: it's very useful, allowing me to collect and catalogue tons of articles and stories I don't have time to read but know I definitely want to. I love that I can create my own folders, adjust font and background colors, read at night (on my iPad), and have it all synced up between my other devices. Problem is: while I'm using my Kindle Touch, I can't read my Instapaper articles. This really limits the Kindle as an e-reader. The Kindle should be expanding its horizons; it's a great e-reader, but I want to be able to read as many different media as I can to get the most of the device, which dedicated to reading (so much so that it limits itself as a tablet). Frankly, I prefer reading on the Kindle than actual book. Mostly because of the light weight, ease of annotating and searching, and the fact that it backs up all my annotations. So, Bezos needs to expand the Kindle horizon by making it compatible with services such as Instapaper and Read It Later. (I should note that several services make this unnecessary: There are several Google Chrome apps that allow you to send articles and Web pages directly to your Kindle, and there is, of course, the relatively recent upgrade for the Kindle for iPad app, that allows you to send documents directly to your Kindle via a address, which I definitely like and use to read drafts of my stories. However, they're not Instapaper. Period. Seriously, though, they don't have the folders, the customizations, and seamless convenience Instapaper offers.)

  •  Smoother scrolling - The scrolling when surfing the Web (if you can call it that) on the Kindle Touch is just slow, robotic. Faster than previous gens, to be sure, but just jumpy. It should feel natural. You shouldn't have to remember: Oh, yeah; I'm using a Kindle. (I love the free 3G, though, Bezos, so keep it up!)
  • Night reading - There needs to be a simple option to read your Kindle at night in bed. I usually use the iPad Kindle app for that, which is great. But it's a weakness of the Kindle Touch and other e-ink display e-readers. I don't know if glow-in-the-dark ink is possible, but it would be a simple, simple solution and would hardly cost anything. Perhaps there can be a very minimal backlit screen that can optionally be turned on. However, I don't think this will be as efficient as with the iPad app because, with the app, one may choose to have a black background (with white font), which is a not less straining on the eye in the dark. The Kindle e-ink screen doesn't seem to have this capability. (Unless it uses the ink as the background and absence of ink as the font.)

Also, since I made a prediction before about when the Kindle 4 was coming out and since I was only off by two months (I predicted it was going to come out in August), I'll make such a prediction for the Kindle 5. This is just for fun and it's super early, so I'll probably be super wrong (not to mention I did some research last time). However, if I'm right, people will praise me. If I'm wrong, people will likely forget. So my prediction is that the Kindle 5 will come out in August of 2012. Probably two versions: a tablet (like Kindle Fire) and an e-ink e-reader (like the Kindle Touch). The latter will likely not have color. Definitely a touch screen. And slightly better specs. I probably won't buy either. The next iPad, though, maybe.

Jeff "Like a Boss" Bezos via Wikipedia

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Why I Blog

It has occurred to me that I have yet to explain why I blog. (Although I did post an introduction as my first post sort of explaining.) Seeing as I have already published some twenty-something posts, now would seem to be a good time to do so.

I blog to promote myself as a writer. I exist. Hello. My name is James Noguera. I write fiction. And poetry. And non-fiction, too, at times. Look at me! Look at me!

Everyone knows how essential promotion is for a writer. So I do what I must. Not that anyone is pulling my arm. I enjoy putting myself "out there" and hearing (or reading) what people have to say. However, don't expect me to bop you over the head with ads or promos. That's annoying. Other writers who that, in the words of WilsonTech1: stop it! Not cool. You know who you are.

Of course, I'll let you know when my books and other publications come out. Just a few times. As long as you promise to tell your friends how awesome I am. Or just send me cash. The more you send, the less I'll have to work and the more I'll be able to write. Win-win.

I blog to share my ideas and thoughts. If I didn't, I'd go mad. I like having a soundboard. I have opinions, you know. And I'm interesting. Look at me! Look at me!

Every now and then, I like to take a brief stint written in my diary and develop it into a (hopefully) thoughtful post on the topic. I'll even do a bit of research. So you can simply sit back (or stand up on the train with your smartphone in front of your face so that you don't make eye contact with that guy who keeps staring at you) and relax. What kind of thoughtful posts, you ask? Well, I've written about such nerdy topics as a possible time travel paradox and the socialization effect of the media. Pure speculation.

I blog to connect with others (writers and fans). I want to connect with you. Yes, you! I want to read what you have to say, what you think about the things I write about - or the things you write about if that's the case. Write me an email, tweet me, post a comment on this blog (maybe to this post!), or message me on Facebook or Google+. I try to provide various avenues for you, the literate community, the writers and fans, to connect with me. I'm not aloof. Look at me! Look at me!