Category: technology

Welcome Kindle, goodbye Facebook

By , 20 May 2010 8:29 pm

I suppose I have come to terms with both arrivals and departures in technology this week. In case you hadn’t noticed, the first volume of the Lamb among the Stars series is available free on Kindle for another week and has done very well. It is currently hovering around ten in the charts and if you haven’t downloaded it, please do. If you’re British you will be asked to pay VAT. How you pay VAT on an invisible object is somewhat beyond me but never mind. Actually not only do I not have a Kindle but I’ve never actually seen one; people apparently do import them over to the UK but they have not been officially released here yet. Rumour has it a European version of the Kindle reader will be released sometime in the autumn but at the moment I don’t really have a feel for how it will work. Anyway I have tried the book both on my iPhone and on the PC and it looks very fine indeed. I have to say that if we could put all of our books on something like a Kindle we would probably have the equivalent of an extra spare room. But I suspect the hundred terabyte Kindle is someway away and I like the tactile feel of books.

I realise that it’s over 10 years ago that someone first started to talk with me about electronic books but it now seems as if they are reality. One interesting implication that I have found mentioned on the web is whether or not we ought to write now primarily for e-publishing. The idea is that as you write you should add – presumably in some form of hypertext – references, quotation sources and possible expanded sections. Producing this sort of thing has vaguely crossed my mind as I am starting working through a new book, but I’m going to duck it just at the moment. I’ve no doubt though, that someone somewhere is preparing a work of fiction that will be first and foremost an e-book and only secondarily a paper book.

And I have also decided to say goodbye to Facebook. It’s a combination of things. I rarely use it, there are growing security concerns about it and the bizarre artificiality of having people as ‘friends’ who you have never met has increasingly irritated me as my ‘friends’ have got more numerous. It has also been pointed out that for a teacher to allow students to become his ‘friends’ is to risk reducing that already perilously narrow gulf between learner and teacher. So if you suddenly don’t find me on Facebook, don’t worry, it’s nothing personal. Anyway you can always with get me through my website. [One downside I have just found is that all my comments on the Lamb Among The Stars Facebook page have been removed. Oh dear!]

It strikes me that this complicated process of accepting and rejecting is something that we ought to continuously do with all these gifts that technology bestows upon us. The fact is as I labour on with the new book I occasionally wonder whether I wouldn’t be much better off without the Internet at all. In fact sometimes I wonder whether a pad of paper and a good fountain pen is all you really need.

Have a good week

Rethinking the Internet

By , 13 November 2009 6:32 pm

If you remember my Lamb among the Stars books you will remember something called the Technology Protocols where the Assembly critically and carefully evaluated any technology before adopting it. This, of course, is in total contrast to our own dear world where we blunder in first and only worry later. Anyway this week I have been thinking about the Internet. My meditations were triggered by references to comments by Eugene Kaspersky, the eponymous Russian CEO of Kaspersky Labs, who wants the abolition of net anonymity and for us all to access a newer faster and cleaner web through a digital passport.

My ponderings were heightened when, having received an e-mail from the DXO Labs saying that version six of their excellent (if slightly expensive) photo processing software was now available I checked on the Internet for reviews on it. To my astonishment, I found that within two days of the software being launched six or seven sites were already claiming to offer cracked downloads. (Incidentally, don’t even think about it; there is an awful lot of evidence that most – if not all – of such sites are teaming with viruses.) So what are we to do with the Internet?

There’s certainly a lot morally wrong with the web. There is cracked software with viruses, porn, Facebook bullying, slander, an awful lot of lunacy as well as an almost infinite number of ways to separate you from your money. (We had a missionary friend staying with us last week who, while checking his e-mail, found that he had an apparently authentic message from an old friend saying that he was in Nigeria and had been robbed and urgently needed some money to get his passport replaced. It was merely the latest twist on an old, old scam.) I suppose too, if you want to look for them, there are also terrorists and paedophiles.

And yet…. I was talking at length recently with someone who has worked an awful lot with the cults and he said how difficult they are finding the Internet. In the ‘good old days’ the cults specialised in restricting information to members. Knowledge was trickled down on a need-to-know basis and very heavily censored. If a Jehovah’s Witness, say, wanted to find out any alternative view on their religion he or she had to find a Christian or secular bookshop and openly purchase a book. Now though, a few keystrokes will reveal websites of ex-members, lurid details of scandals and very good arguments against what is being taught. In short, in the age of Google it’s hard to hide dirty washing, whether it be intellectual or moral. And the best argument against Kaspersky’s dream of the new, passport-only Internet is that it would be a bad day for truth if it ever came to be. I have no doubt that there are those in Beijing, Saudi Arabia and say it not too loudly, the Kremlin, who would love to see such a tamed, controlled and neutered Internet.

So what do we do about the Internet? Quite simply I don’t know. The problem in evaluating the problem from a Christian point of view is that here several competing concerns come together. A first is the Christian commitment to the publishing the truth: for nearly three hundred years Christianity grew as an underground organisation. And I am old enough to have helped smuggle Bibles across the Iron Curtain. A second concern is that we wish to protect the weak; I may have seen through that Nigerian scam but would everybody? A third concern is that we know that there is a spirit of corruption in the world which ruins even good things so that, in hindsight, the corruption of the Internet was almost inevitable. ‘Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ is a profoundly Christian saying. That applies very well to the awesome transnational potential of the Internet.

Yet even if I have no specific remedy I have no doubt that we need to do some thinking about what is happening. The temptation is that because of the very complexity of the problem we simply shrug our shoulders in despair. I think Eugene Kaspersky is wrong but he is right to open the debate.

New additions to the family: Part 2

By , 29 August 2008 12:38 pm

First things first: many thanks to all of you who congratulated me, and by extension, my son and daughter-in-law on their new offspring. We went to see them at the weekend along with Alison’s mother and it was a great moment to have all four generations present. (Although, for those of you who have forgotten, four-day-old babies do very little.) The significance of the event was enhanced by a newspaper report the day before saying that Britain now has more elderly people than children. I’m afraid I can’t remember exactly the statistics and how they defined ‘elderly’ but you get my point. We are an ageing population; babies are getting to be an endangered species.

Anyway, the other new addition I promised I would talk about is my new iPhone 3G. As readers of my books will know, my protagonists in the Lamb Among The Stars use a ‘Diary’, something so close in shape and size to the iPhone that if we do come to filming (and thanks for those suggestions, by the way) there will have to be some clever work done to stop people from saying ‘oh look he’s just copied the iPhone’. My diaries have vastly superior facilities: most notably a ten-year battery, which is clearly fantasy; you’d be pushed to get an iPhone 3G to last 10 hours. Anyway when I started writing the books, this type of thing was very much science fiction; laptop computers were weighing in at 20lbs and had coarse green-on-black screens, and mobile phones were brick-sized. Is it any wonder people write about swords and sorcery rather than technology?

The reason I got one was that my old phone had come to the end of its contract and I felt that an iPhone would save me having to fire up a computer quite as frequently. So, after two weeks use, what do I make of it?

Well, I’m pretty impressed. I have been using Windows Mobile/Pocket PC organisers and phones ever since they came out around eight years ago and have amassed a considerable expertise in handheld computing. And you know what is the best thing about the iPhone? I don’t need to use any of it. The thing just works. One of the most damning things about the Pocket PC was that you never saw a woman using one. This isn’t sexism: women, of course, are far more sensible than men and shun any sort of technology that is far more trouble than it’s worth. They took one look at the tiny screen and saw that they had to poke around with a toothpick on it and decided that it really wasn’t worth it. The iPhone however is very different. Not only do you not need to know anything about computers, you are positively discouraged from fiddling around with the insides. You can only get applications (for the most part sensibly priced at a dollar or less) from Apple. This means that your phone is never contaminated by poorly written bits of software which you can never completely uninstall but which gradually accumulate, slowing your phone down. Towards the end I used almost every day to have to reset my Windows mobile phone and each time it took three or four minutes before the thing would boot up properly. I don’t even know how to do a reset for the iPhone; it doesn’t seem to need them.

No, in almost every way it’s a super piece of work and I’m looking forward to some of the applications that we are promised. One slight negative is that so far there is no real word processing software, probably because Apple, in their wisdom, have not yet got round to creating a cut and paste facility. So you don’t get to write a book on it. Yet.

But everything else just works. Ultimately, in terms of operation, it’s made not for geeks, but for users. And the beauty of that is that the iPhone itself rather retreats into the background. In that respect it’s a little bit like a good writer; the tale – not the teller – is what engages our attention.

Have a good week


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