This morning coffee includes a tree

The most true thing I have read this week: Chris Mooney writes when we have a solar company that’s worth as much as ExxonMobil, I’m quite confident our politics will change.

(And yes, he didn’t write it this week. But I didn’t read it until this week.)

(The Tree, by Canuck Photography)

Maggie Koerth-Baker seems to be slowly displacing Cory Doctorow as my favourite BoingBoing writer. Today, she has me pondering whether or not I would be willing to pack up Maggie and take her to Mars. That’s my Maggie, by the way, and not Ms. Koerth-Baker. Though I’m sure she would make a lovely Martian companion.

On a parting note: A neo-nazi couple find out that they have Jewish roots, embrace the religion, and become active members of the Jewish community.

iPad: The only two reviews you need

Are you considering the purchase of an iPad?

If so, you may be a bit late — the things are moving like hotcakes would, if hotcakes were popular electronic devices. But Apple is surely producing more of the things, so it remains a valid question — and one that you have some time to ponder.

Here at the Big Bad Blog we read quite a few tech blogs, and have read numerous reviews as a result. The two best reviews — one positive, one negative — both come (surprisingly enough) from the same source: Boing Boing.

The good

The first of the two reviews is by Xeni Jardin, and is titled Apple’s iPad is a touch of genius. You may not be surprised to learn that it is the positive one.

If you want a look at the iPad’s browsing experience, what it can do, and what it feels like, this review is for you — and it’s glowing. The gist of the review is that Apple has not just taken it’s revolutionary hand-held device interface, and given it a larger format. Instead, they have actually put some thought into how that interface functions on the larger device.

The result is what you have come to expect from Apple — an excellent user interface, and an interaction with the device that is slightly inexplicable in that it is new.

If that conclusion is not apparent on reading her review, find the follow-up reviews on BoingBoing, of specific apps. The particulars come out when she drills down into actual interactions using the device.

The bad

The flip side of the iPad is given by Cory Doctorow, titled why I won’t buy an iPad (and think you shouldn’t either).

Not surprisingly, given the glowing initial review, Mr. Doctorow’s concerns are not about the device’s performance but about Apple’s closed approach. No sharing. A device design so closed that Apple will not even allow the battery to be swapped out.

It is, Mr. Doctorow asserts, a device for technophobes. The iPad moves us away from being familiar and comfortable with technology, and insists that all users be blind to what happens under the “hood” of the device we are using.

What will we do?

Ms. Jardin’s review make it clear that Mr. Doctorow is wrong on at least one count. Mr. Doctorow claims — or at least implies — that the iPad cannot be revolutionary because it comes from a large corporation.

This is simply not true. It is not true in the abstract, and it is not true here.

Mobile technology has long been about taking what we do on large scales, and putting them on small devices. From the basic idea of having a phone you can put in your pocket, to QWERTY keyboards and spreadsheet editors, phone makers and manufacturers were long trying to figure out how to fit the full-size computer (or telephone) experience in a handheld device.

Apple solved that problem for many computing activities, not by finally succeeding, but through a new way to interact with the device.

Now Apple is attempting to reverse that flow. Instead of looking how we interact with large devices and trying to apply it to small devices, Apple is instead looking at how we interact with small devices, and trying to apply it to a larger one.

As small an idea as that might be, it is significant, and has the potential to revolutionize the manner in which we interact with larger devices (regardless of the success of the iPad).

Ms. Jardin’s review makes it clear that they have found some level of success. The user experience is more than just the iPod experience in a larger package — there has been some thought put into how it should be different. This is positive.

But the remainder of Mr. Doctorow’s statements ring true.

Apple is creating a sterilized environment. Only those applications approved by Apple can be loaded to the device, and it cannot be opened for hardware modifications (or even battery changes). This closed environment is more easily accepted on the iPhone; your traditional phone does not need to be “open”. When you move closer to a pure computing environment, it becomes harder to accept a closed environment.

Due to this, in our final analysis Mr. Doctorow’s arguments win the day — we will not be purchasing an iPad. As revolutionary as it may turn out to be, at the end of the day it is only a gadget. There will be second and third generation iPads, where Apple might (we can hope) move to a more open approach. There will be similar devices that run on Operating Systems that are based on Linux or Google technology.

These devices, which are probably a year or two from surfacing, will be different from the iPad. The most notable difference is that we will be able to own them. We will have permission to open them, put what we want on their hard drives, change the batteries.

You can buy an Apple iPad, but you cannot own one.

And that is reason enough not to buy.

The morning coffee and the minty danger

A ten year old girl in Commack, NY has been suspended from school for “bringing, and then distributing bottled peppermint oil to other students.” Apparently school authorities there believe that peppermint oil, being used in this case to make water taste minty, is a drug.

(by Brian Dettmer)

Discover asks: What happened to the hominids who might have been smarter than humans?

We all know that Bono is a twat. And when he goes on record in the New York Times, naively suggesting that America could emulate China in tracking content online and eliminating piracy in the process, you could hear the BoingBoing reaction coming. Unfortunately, with Mr. Doctorow on vacation, we will have to wait for the full reaction.

The war on passengers continues

These are hard times in which to be a frequent flyer — it seems that everybody is trying to make the experience as difficult as possible. On one side are the airlines, who are busy cutting costs and coming up with brilliant ideas like forcing people to pay to side beside one another, or charging to use the toilet.

The other side seemingly at war with customers are those in charge of their safety — taking as intrusive an approach as possible to ensuring security on board the aircraft. People have decided to blow up planes using liquids, so you are not allowed to bring a bottle of water (or mouthwash) on the plane with you. People have attempted to blow up an airplane using their shoes, so you must now remove your shoes for a scan prior to boarding.

And so it goes. The terrorists come up with a new idea, passengers are hit with a new hurdle they must cross before boarding an airplane.

So it comes as new surprise that following this latest attempt, there are new rules that must be followed. Before we get to those, however, let’s recap:

1. On Christmas day, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab of Nigeria attempted to blow up a plane just prior to landing in Detroit, Michigan.
2. Some time before that, Mr. Abdulmutallab’s father warned the U.S. government that his son might do some terrorism. Blow up a plane, or something.
3. Mr. Abdulmutallab’s attempt involved the lighting of explosives that he had (it is believed) moulded to his body and hidden in his underpants.
4. Prior to his attempt, Mr. Abdulmutallab used the toilet.

Our (admittedly untrained) minds here at the Big Bad Blog have our attention drawn to points two and three. Specifically, why was the information provided by the young man’s father ignored? And how can we catch those smuggling aboard explosives in the manner described?

Points one and four are the sort of thing a nervous person would do prior to something big that is making them nervous. Emptying the bladder prior, and — as likely as anything else — procrastinating until the last possible moment before carrying out the plan. Given that it seems natural that blowing one’s self up would be cause for nerves, and passenger reports make him sound nervous, this seems more likely than attributing the timing of the attempt (and bathroom trip) to being part of Mr. Abdulmutallab’s nefarious scheme.
The Transport Security Agency (TSA) of the United States’ (admitted highly trained) minds look at points one and four. Specifically that the attempt was at the end of the flight, and the man used the toilet first.

Air Canada has reported (and BoingBoing confirmed in a first-hand account) that new security requirements have passengers confined to their seats for the final hour of the flight, during which they are not permitted to access their carry-on luggage or have anything in their laps. Neither of which, it is noted, would have stopped this most recent terrorist — even if he did something in the bathroom, he would just have to have done it a few minutes earlier.

Even if we take it as given that Mr. Abdulmutallab waited until the plane was in United States airspace, and then checked his explosive device before attempting to detonate it, neither of these facts — nor the reaction to them — are terribly pertinent to the preventative measures that are aimed to prevent the repetition of these events. Double-checking can be done at any point throughout the flight, and Mr. Abdulmutallab did not need access to his carry-on luggage in order to carry out his attack.

All in all, the (admittedly highly trained) anti-terrorist minds at the TSA have decided that the problem is customer access to the bathroom (still available during the rest of the flight), and the presence of magazines in passenger’s laps. In short, they are using this attempt as nothing but a pretense to slap extra restrictions on passengers, without any apparent benefit.

The correct course of action for the TSA should be invisible from the passenger’s viewpoint. Maybe a few more pat-downs (which may or may not have helped find moulded-to-the-body, sewn-in-the-underwear explosives), and certainly a more in depth look at those few people whose parents have called the United States government and said “my son’s a terrorist.”

In fact, we at the Big Bad Blog think that not allowing such people on an airplane without full scrutiny (and a complete search) is the irresponsible behaviour which resulted in this incident. Extra restrictions do not help. Listening to warnings and behaving with appropriate caution might.

Air Canada
BBC (2) (3)
Boing Boing
Classically Liberal (from which the photograph used in this article was taken)