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i hate books 2010-01-22 14:56 UTC
a confession: I hate books, and I always have. Not that they're a whole bunch of words, thoughts, stories, etc. compiled into one thing, and that they've been the primary means of developing and maintaining the collective brain of humanity across generations and distances, in large part creating the utterly kickass lifestyle that I enjoy today, when compared to the nasty/brutish/short existence of my forebearers - that part's fine. It's the physical aspect that sucks to me. You don't have to look too hard to find someone who revels in the paper-ness of books and savors holding them and smelling them and thumbing through them and all that - I just don't get it.

I didn't like them in the late 70's and early 80's when I did most of my paperback reading. I remember the frustration of holding the thing and keeping the pages from curling out of sight, especially toward the front or the back of the book - and as it got dark, I didn't like having to hold uncomfortable positions to keep the words in range of little night lights. I hated losing my place - either due to my bookmark dropping out in between reading sessions, or me dropping the book - and having to spend a minute or more to find it when I pick the book up.

I didn't like textbooks in high school, college, or law school - a low point was when I slipped and fell with a backpack full of legal textbooks on an icy hill in Ithaca, NY, spraining my ankle so bad that I had a blood-drain-bruise-line around the bottom of my foot for a couple of months. I've done what I call coma-reading - going through the motions of reading several pages (or more) without paying attention at all, then realizing I either need to re-read from back where my brain stopped working, or just move on. I attribute at least some of that to the crappy physical features of the books distracting me -- of course, sometimes it has been the brain-crushingly-boring text itself.

I started on electronic reading as soon as I could - even on CRT monitors. I picked up an HP 95LX handheld computer in, I guess, 1995, then got the first Treo when it came out in 2002. I don't think I'll get a Kindle (DRM bugs me more than books), but I've been reading on my G1 phone a lot. Holy crap - what an improvement! You can even set most of these devices up to scroll at a comfortable speed so you can read without moving at all (but to the extent that your preferred rate is variable, this really doesn't work). Backlighing completely removes the getting-dark problem, and all the issues that go with that. You start reading where you left off last time with zero effort. Coma-reading is a thing of the past. I could go on. (btw, a friend showed me her Kindle, and it's awesome in the areas I'm talking about - but no DRM for me - maybe I'll get a rooted one someday and read public domain stuff on it).

What motivates me to write this is that a bookstore which has been under my office for the last 10 years (probably longer than that) is having a going out of business sale. Ack! I'm not going to miss it - it's true... I've been watching as the inventory thins and the prices drop, and it's been interesting to watch what sells and what doesn't as time bears on. Currently, they're near the end - 65%-90% off, and the fixtures are for sale - there are 4 days left (if you believe the signs), and not too many books left. I finally bought something - a probably useless coffee table book on Jazz - $3.25 with tax - down from a printed price of $22.95 on the back cover (it's soft cover) - there were lots more of them. Other things still around are Rob Zombie calendars, books on witchcraft, romance novels, self help books, and a lot of various other things - people's distaste apparently applies to particular genres, and then to particular titles in more favored genres. Anyway, if you want a big softcover book on jazz, act now!
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romance of the twelve kingdoms 2009-07-08 03:50 UTC
current reading The Romance of the Twelve Kingdoms - kind of hard to keep up with the many, many characters, but if you can read without many distractions it's not too bad. Great story! Those were some cold m*1!#F*(*#@s!

rats - that translation only goes through chapter 12 :( - now I'm going to have to find the rest.
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capitalism - the unknown ideal 2007-07-06 06:33 UTC
It's summer - the time that the minds of the parents of school age children turn back to their reading lists. Being on a fairly long business trip, I thought I'd have some extra time to catch up on reading. This turned out to be untrue, but I did get some reading in on the plane, and a little more since I got here.

My current selection is "Capitalism - the Unknown Ideal", primarily by Ayn Rand. It was written when her career was in full swing, and includes articles by a few others, including Alan Greenspan.

And what better place to read about the undeniable virtues of laissez-faire capitalism than India! This is a place that, despite some empty propaganda to the contrary, has clearly rejected the concept of economic rights and has left each individual to his or her own devices. I can see the bustling city out the window of the back seat of this plush Toyota SUV in which I'm riding. Hold on a minute, we're stuck at a traffic light among a haphazard array of rickshaws and motorbikes, and there's a 4 year old rapping insistently on my closed window -- very distracting -- OK, we're off again, horn blaring. Much better.

Ayn's just not connecting with me -- she seems to make quick, unsupported assertions, followed by internally consistent but isolated logical discussions, and frequently invokes the names of Hitler, Stalin, and others, seemingly to elicit a strong reaction from her readers. I remember that she's from the Soviet Union, and must know more about these baddies than I do. She also tends to quote liberally from her earlier books and articles, and not from much else.

Her treatments of the value of individual rights are appealing, and her portrayal of the use of "the common good" and other economics-rights doctrines as the basis for tyranny and oppression is interesting and believable, but the nagging suspicion that she has omitted or perhaps obscured something important tugs at me throughout. Off to the left, across a few piles of rubble and litter, I can see several makeshift lean-tos, each constructed by placing a plastic tarp across the tops of two parallel fences about 8 feet apart, then hanging regular blankets down the sides to the muddy ground, forming walls. Bright colors, nicely done. There are some depressed looking dogs lounging outside - fairly healthy looking - not mangy, and each appears to have all four legs.

Rand argues that a system that allows each individual to pursue what he or she wants to the extent of his or her abilities, while providing a framework for the interpretation and enforcement of contracts and protection from physical violence, results in the optimal condition for all people. There is no such thing as wealth, goodwill, welfare, etc., that is owned by the community, but rather all is owned by individuals. It is individuals who are served by society (in the manner described above), rather than the other way around. Exceptionally talented individuals will, in their quest for personal gain, throw off amazing benefits for all the other individuals in the form of technology and other advances. Less exceptional indviduals will enjoy less, but will be much better off by virtue of being around the first group, and each will get everything that his or her less exceptional talents allow. The most deserving indviduals will quickly and naturally acquire most of the wealth, and everyone else happily snaps into place. Fortunately for some, the people with money are free to dispose of it as they wish, and out of pity will provide some money to those who are in desperate need of it, because they're nice. But they don't have to. But they can, because it's their money. Meritocracy - difficult to dismiss.

Then it hits me -- what's missing is human nature! Not that part of human nature that makes people do selfish things and take advantage of powerful positions, but rather that part of human nature that makes it so that people *need* stuff, not want, but need, and also that part of human nature that makes people be helpless infants, infirm, old, that part that makes them want the best for their children and that part that makes them die. That's what's missing.

Briefly, the system she describes makes sense if everyone has equal bargaining power and can take or leave any deal on the table. But when someone has to have something like food, clothing, shelter, etc., then the equation changes in a way that defeats the neatness of her system, it seems to me. Lots of people need things, some more than others. Further, are we to assume that the children of these most talented people are also the most talented? If Rand wants us to believe so, then she conceals a strand of eugenics that most would find objectionable, to say the least, and in any event the kids would not have acquired wealth through their own merit, which is an essential part of her system. If not (and I think our experience confirms not), then she has a problem -- what happens to the money when the parents die? 100% inheritance tax? I've heard that advocated, but not by her - maybe I need to keep reading. Such a tax would sit in stark contrast to her otherwise hands-off ideal government, and I'll be impressed if she navigates through that bear trap of an inconsistency. If there's no tax, then the money goes to the kids, right? But what that means is that generation #1 is a meritocracy and generation #2 is an inheritocracy. A fool and his money are soon parted? Maybe so, but just because you're not talented enough to make lots of money and change the world doesn't mean you're a fool. In Rand's world making lots of money is the destiny of the bestest people, but I don't hear her talk about those who merely have the guile to hold on to lots of money, mainly by manipulating money-less people who are beholden to their own unmet needs (and therefore to those who can meet them for a short time), and not by improving the world. Maybe I need to keep reading, so I will.

This post is getting long - I'll continue with another later.
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powells bookstore 2007-06-14 23:17 UTC
oh yes, and Powells Bookstore - a really really big bookstore on the edge of downtown portland that you should visit if you like bookstores.
which aisle was this?

there was a really cool post signed by a bunch of science fiction authors, protected by plexiglass (presumably they remove the plexiglass if you can show that you're a real sf author and you want to sign) - failed to get a picture :(
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from science and sanity 2006-07-04 23:41 UTC
"Imagine that we are engaged in a friendly serious discussion with some one, and that we decide to enquire into the meanings of words. For this special experiment, it is not necessary to be very exacting, as this would enormously and unnecessarily complicate the experiment. It is useful to have a piece of paper and a pencil to keep a record of the progress.

"We begin by asking the 'meaning' of every word uttered, being satisfied for this purpose with the roughest of definitions; then we ask the 'meaning' of the words used in the definitions, and this process is continued usually for no more than ten to fifteen minutes, until the victim begins to speak in circles --as, for instance, defining 'space' by 'length' and 'length' by 'space'. When this stage is reached, we have come usually to the undefined terms of a given individual. If we still press, no matter how gently, for definitions, a most interesting fact occurs. Sooner or later, signs of affective disturbances appear. Often the face reddens; there is a bodily restlessness; sweat appears--symptoms quite similar to those seen in a schoolboy who has forgotten his lesson, which he 'knows but cannot tell'. If the partner in the experiment is capable of self-observation, he invariably finds that he feels an internal affective pressure, connected, perhaps, with the rush of blood to the brain and probably best expressed in some such words as 'what he "knows" but cannot tell', or the like. Here we have reached the bottom and the foundation of all non-elementalistic meanings--the meanings of undefined terms, which we 'know' somehow, but cannot tell. In fact, we have reached the un-speakable level. This 'knowledge' is supplied by the lower nerve centres; it represents affective first order effects, and is interwoven and interlocked with other affective states, such as those called 'wishes', 'intentions', 'intuitions', 'evaluation', and many others. It should be noticed that these first order effects have an objective character, as they are un-speakable--are not words."

- A. Korzybski

UPDATE: What Al didn't mention is the sucktastic tedium that bursts forth as soon as the victim realizes how many words will need to be defined, as well as the tendency to use increasingly short definitions as the scale of the excercise unfolds. Maybe people in the 1930's had much longer attention spans and less other stuff to do, but nowadays, I think attention lapse (possibly accompanied by affective disturbances such as acute irritation) will set in long before one reaches the first order effects. It's cool to think about it, though.
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