27 January 2010

Are Printed Books an Endangered Species?

Apple’s announcement of the iPad made today a sad day for bibliophiles. Obviously the iPad is a brilliant new device; Apple’s products always are. But the iPad just brings us one step closer to the abolition of printed-and-bound books.

It started with the Amazon Kindle. Then came the Sony Reader, the Barnes & Noble Nook … With electronic reading devices, you can download a book and read it on the screen of the device. The iPad, basically an iPod on steroids, also offers this capability. Now you can digitize your music and your library.

The iPad goes a step beyond the Kindle, Nook and Reader, though, because its LED screen presents viewers with color images. The screen is also larger than those of the other readers, and it’s a multipurpose device — a reader, MP3 player and video player all in one. With prices starting at $499, the iPad is definitely worth the money.

But at what cost to the printed word? Today’s generations are already witnessing the demise of newspapers as readers turn to the Internet for their news. People want the latest news with up-to-the-minute information, so the Internet has taken over, leaving newspapers struggling to survive.

As a former journalist, I initially felt depressed about the demise of newspapers — until I realized that I am one of the guilty parties contributing to their extinction. I don’t have a newspaper subscription, and I find most of my news on the Internet because it’s convenient. Yes, I miss the smell of newspapers and the black ink smudged on my fingertips (not to mention the packing material and streak-free window washing), but evidently I don’t miss these things enough to stop using the Internet for my main news source.

I refuse, however, to contribute to the same vile eradication of printed books by endorsing or using those spiffy electronic readers, even if they are made by Apple. News is one thing, but reading for entertainment and enjoyment is another. There is no substitute for the look, feel and smell of a tangible book. Perhaps all of the books in my library will one day be considered “rare” merely because they are printed and bound.

With electronic reading devices, you don’t even own the “books” you download. You merely license them, and they can be removed from your device at any time. Conversely, once you buy an actual book, it’s yours. No one can come into your home and rip it from your bookshelves (unless we devolve into some kind of Fahrenheit 451 nightmare). It’s yours to read, re-read and treasure. You can emboss it with your personal “From the Library of …” stamp. It’s concrete, tangible and real — perhaps the only real thing about reading, which relies on your mind and imagination.

And really, I don’t want another screen in my life. I spend 12 hours a day staring at screens: computer screens, the screen on my BlackBerry, the screen on my iPod Touch, even the TV screen. The one thing I have left is books. And I won’t give them up to stare at another screen when all I want to do is become lost in a good story.

20 January 2010

Why Won't Sarah Palin Go Away?

Awesome. Sarah Palin gets a book published — proof that publishers will print any drivel these days — and now she’s all over the news again. She’s the Republican sweetheart, the winker from Wasilla, conservative wank-off material. And she could become the GOP candidate for president in 2012.

I’ve never understood the conservatives’ fixation with Palin. Did any of them actually listen to her during the 2008 presidential race? Were they not embarrassed at her lack of knowledge about our country’s history, current events or foreign relations? In fact, “embarrassed” is too soft of a word. Utter humiliation is what I felt for her. At first. Then I determined that she was just an uninformed idiot who had no business in politics.

I thought after she quit her job as governor of Alaska that the adoration for Palin would wane. That her fans would see her as a quitter who had no business in politics. What? Is she going to quit being president when the going gets tough, when a foreign nation criticizes her, when her poll numbers drop too low? Yeah, that’s certainly a person you want to see in the Oval Office.

I’m amazed that anyone still cares about Palin. If you’re looking for a strong woman in politics, a fearless leader who can weather the worst storms, a person who can stand tall against any crisis, then you ought to be looking at Hillary Clinton. But now that she’s become secretary of state, we don’t hear much from or about Clinton. Just feel-good news that she met with some country’s leader and made nice.

Sarah Palin can try to defend herself, claiming that the interviews, debates and every other time she opened her mouth during the 2008 presidential race were all unfair. That she was picked on. That she’s not really stupid. But I say the live newsreels speak for themselves.

So she has a kid with Down syndrome. Plenty of people have handicapped children. Plenty others have children with severe and disturbing emotional and behavioral disorders. That doesn’t make them ideal candidates for president. And let’s not forget that this die-hard proponent of abstinence-only education has a daughter who got knocked up at 17. So much for telling kids to abstain from sex. Yet this is still Palin’s standpoint.

So, she’s failed at parenthood, failed at serving as governor of Alaska and failed every public speaking engagement associated with the 2008 presidential race. Yet Republicans still think she’s a viable candidate for president?

I’m sure that on her book tour Palin is winking up a storm, attracting “down-home” people who use phrases like “you betcha” and drop their g’s (goin’, bein’, sayin’). And maybe those people want someone just like them for president. The intelligent populace, however, wants someone who can hold his or her own in a debate and who won’t quit the job of president because someone said something nasty about them. Oh, and it would be nice if the president knew something about American history.

It’s time Republicans set their sights on someone worthy of their endorsement. And it certainly isn’t Palin.

10 January 2010

Winter Surprises Omaha Drivers — Again

Every year, it snows in Nebraska. Because this winter has started off particularly snow-filled and icy, the roads are inundated with drivers who behave like this is the first time they’ve ever maneuvered a vehicle in snow.

I drive very cautiously and defensively in bad weather. I don’t take unnecessary risks, I always use my signal, I check and double check before I turn or change lanes. I quickly determine the right speed for my vehicle, not driving too slow or too fast. This is how I remain accident free during Nebraska winters.

I also listen to the traffic report, and if school is canceled and the roads are loaded with accidents, then I don’t drive. Sometimes the best thing to know about winter driving is when not to drive. I'd rather work from home or even lose a day of pay than risk my life or wreck my (only) car, which is paid off.

Unfortunately, even on the days when the roads are drivable, I find myself surrounded by amateurs who really should be much better at snow driving.

Myrtle the Turtle
These people are terrified to be behind the wheel when snow is on the ground. They tend to drive down the center of the road at impossibly slow speeds. True, you won’t usually find them fishtailing or spinning out, but they pose a hazard all their own because of their unnecessarily slow speed — and the fact that they are driving down the center of the road.

Me Have Big Truck, Four-Wheel Drive
These drivers believe that because they drive an enormous pickup truck or SUV with four-wheel drive, they can drive much too fast for road conditions. Sure, the extra weight of an SUV or a pickup with sandbags in back slightly reduces the risk of fishtailing, but ice is ice, moron. You’re going to go sliding no matter how-many-wheel-drive your vehicle is. Four-wheel drive helps when driving in snow, so you don’t get stuck, but it does nothing to prevent you from sliding across the icy road and crashing. And frankly, I snicker and mutter, “four-wheel drive is awesome,” as I pass by your crashed truck.

Got a Date; Can’t Be Late
These people usually are in compact cars or small sedan-style cars and driving much too fast for the road conditions. While the big truck/SUV drivers have an attitude of “Move it! I have four-wheel drive and can go fast,” these drivers just don’t think about the consequences of driving too fast on bad roads. They’ve got to get to work, and brushing all that snow off their cars slowed them down enough, and now they’re going to be late, so get out of their way!

Calling the boss to say they’re going to be a little late never crosses their minds. Instead, they try to drive their normal speed to work and ignore the fact that there are four inches of snow on the ground. Unfortunately, these drivers often end up becoming really late to work when they crash.

Extra Distance? What’s That?
When I’m driving in bad conditions, I put extra distance between my car and every car around me. I don’t drive beside another car. This is in case a car in front of me bites it, I have enough reaction time to avoid wiping out with it.

Omaha drivers have no concept of putting extra space between their vehicles and those around them. They’ll speed right past you. These drivers are always the ones that frighten me the most because they are usually driving too fast, which increases their odds of spinning or crashing, thereby increasing my odds of crashing into their dumb asses.

Dangerous road conditions are also the prime time to use that turn signal the vehicle manufacturer equipped your car with. Alas, Omaha drivers like their lane changes and turns to be a surprise. And then they act surprised when someone smashes into them.

Extra space and signals, folks. They’re good ideas.

I Need LOTS of Distance
These are probably the same drivers who have no concept of extra distance while driving, but they sure do when parking. Yes, the lines are covered up, but do you usually leave five feet between your car and the car beside you when you park? I don’t think so. But Omahans sure do when they park in a parking lot where the lines are hidden. This causes a shortage of parking spaces and just irks the hell out of me.

Awful parking skills in bad weather are a disease in Omaha. It’s amazing how many people haven’t figured out that the snowplow won’t come down their street if a bunch of cars are parked on the street. What really chaps my ass is the idiots in my own neighborhood, who have driveways but refuse to use them because they don't want to shovel them, so they park on the street. Not only do they park on the street, though, but they also decide they must park two or three feet from the curb. This effectively renders side streets one lane — and unplowed.

Who Needs Headlights?
Here’s a rule of the road that most Omahans don’t know: In fog or inclement weather, or when your windshield wipers are on, your headlights should be on. I know, it’s a tough one to figure out, and proof of this is that few Omaha drivers have figured it out. If you have trouble seeing an oncoming car, then guess what? Other cars have trouble seeing you, too. Your headlights aren’t just for lighting up the road at night. They’re also there so your vehicle is visible to others during rain, snow, fog, etc.

Omahans are terrible drivers in general, but they sure do shine particularly bright when the roads are covered in snow and ice.