Thursday, June 24, 2010

eReader update

Some years back, I purchased a Palm device as an eBook reader. Oh, I might not have chosen it if the only thing it could do was display books, but it does more than act as a reading device. For half a decade, I have read scores of eBooks and used the Palm for my calendar, quick notes, and as a portable phone/address book. At the time, I thought spending a hundred and fifty bucks was a bit much for it, but in the long run, I have enjoyed cheaper books, being able to read at night, and less junk in my purse. Nowadays, it will die after just a couple of hours of reading, and battery life has always been a problem. In the past few months, the cover has worn out, the charger won't work so I have to use the USB port to recharge it, and when I pull it out, folks look at it the way folks in the eighties would look at an eight-track tape deck. Like other fans of eBooks, I am looking for a replacement reading device.

Being an Apple aficionado, I view the iPhone as a good candidate. Like the Palm, an iPhone would serve multiple purposes. But, that small screen won't be much better than what I have now, and newer should be markedly better, don't you think?  No doubt, well-heeled eBook readers who like Apple products will probably opt for the iPad, and that is the most appealing alternative. But, it won't fit in my purse, and while it is a real computer, it won't really replace my Macbook, so I can't see spending the bucks for one of those.

Amazon has been perfecting, and dropping the price of the Kindle. The second generation device isn't as butt-ugly as the first one, but I am not ready to buy one just yet. Amazon's content is probably better than most, which is a better selling point than the reader itself. If I were a student again, having to read large textbooks, the oversized version would catch my attention, but black and white magazine content is so retro.

I considered the eBookman, marketed by Fictionwise, five years ago, and there are a few of those still around. But its successor is the Nook, a WiFi capable dedicated eBook reader sold by Barnes and Noble. The price of this device is currently $149. Since Fictionwise, my favorite eBook vendor, is now a subsidiary, moving my pre-purchased content should be easier if I decide on the Nook. Barnes and Noble has my sophomore novel, Trinity on Tylos, on sale for under three bucks. That's a deal, folks! If other small press books are priced similarly, that would put new books into used book price range. Quite frankly, when just purchasing the content, and not the paper and cover, I think that a new eBook really should be less expensive than a new print copy, so plenty of low priced content is absolutely necessary. And, of the eBook readers available now, apart from Apple's elegant designs, the Nook has the best form factor, too.

Let's see... we have price, content, and long battery life. If it only had a light for night reading, I might be sold on the Nook.

In the mean time, I am reading Girl Gone Nova on my Palm and Interred with Their Bones in print.

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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Now That's a Parkway

Seventy-five years ago, in a time of deep economic troubles, the federal government decided to put some people to work. The leaders of those days noted that there were beautiful national parks in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia and the Great Smokies National Forest in North Carolina and Tennessee, so they decided to build a roadway to link them. This road, initially known as the "Appalachian Scenic Highway" took over fifty-two years to complete; the last stretch being laid around Grandfather Mountain in 1987. It was built, for the most part, by hand. There are many rock walls and tunnels on the roadway, and creating it gave skilled and unskilled Americans (and new immigrants) jobs for many years.

Unlike other roadways, this one really is a parkway. As in a road which is also a park, patrolled by forest rangers, with wildlife in abundance. Now known as the Blue Ridge Parkway, it is a specially built 469 miles of road without a single stop sign, red light, or store. There are scenic overlooks every couple of miles, and there are rest stops every hour or so. The park service does operate a few facilities, well off the roadway, such as a Folk Art Center, but there is no commercial traffic allowed, and that means no 18 wheelers. It's an amazing accomplishment, and the most marvelous part is the Linn Cove Viaduct, which is a long, freestanding bridge which curves around Grandfather Mountain.

While there are many famous parks in this country, the most visited national park is the Blue Ridge Parkway. Some people visit it annually, and I recently spoke with a lady who tours it every spring, summer, and fall. Since the speed limit is 45 mph (or lower) most people take several days, so they can stop and tour some of the sights. In addition to overlooks, there are numerous visitor centers, and some state parks which adjoin the national park.

In the Atlanta region, the new thing is to name a road a "parkway." Most of them end up at a jail or a shopping mall. I am not kidding. In my home county, Jackson Parkway goes to the jail and an overpriced courthouse. Barrow Parkway ends at the jail and a more efficient court facility. Sugarloaf Parkway has Discover Mills Mall on one side and the Gwinnett Arena on the other side of I-85. Modern leaders could learn a thing or two from the vision of those who, in 1935, planned and created the parkway.


Thursday, June 03, 2010

Required Reading

My high school biology teacher spoke with some derision about my generation, because he said we didn't know how to cut up a chicken. I have long forgotten his exact words, but the gist was that we thought meat originated a supermarket, all wrapped up in shiny packaging. My own children think that meat from a grocery store is "kinda gross" and prefer to think that it comes from the kitchen of a restaurant, preferably sliced, diced, cooked, and slathered with melted cheese. But, I am a farmer's daughter, and I know how everything from bacon to chicken wings gets from farm to freezer case. My dad grew tens of thousands of chickens, but wouldn't eat it. Ever.

As a reader with a strong preference for fiction, I wouldn't have chosen The Omnivore's Dilemma for my to-be-read stack of books. My daughter didn't choose it either, but one of her professors had it on his reading list for ecology. As she worked her way through the text, she kept saying, "Mom, you have to read this." So, when her semester ended, the book ended up in my stack of books. Last week, this non-fiction examination of the American way of eating became my book of the week. Due to its length, it took more than a week for me to digest it, pun intended, but I have enjoyed the feast. The author, Michael Pollan, is a a professor and sometimes columnist for the New York Times. In this book, named one of the best books of 2006 by the New York Times, he puts to work his ability to explain complexities in a way that a layperson can grasp. Seldom have I encountered anything so well-written, yet so basic to life.

"What's for dinner?" used to have more to do with what was in season in the garden and/or what the hunter had been able to shoot than the policies of some federal agency, but no more. Americans are living and breathing corn. Yes, corn. There's corn in the fuel tank of your car, and there's more in the DNA of your hair. That's because U.S. government policy pays farmers exorbitant amounts of money to grow corn, and once harvested it is transported to various industrial settings and made into darned near everything average Americans eat. There's high fructose corn syrup for sodas and baked goods; then it is made into additives with weird names which contribute to processed foods, and it is the principle component in feed for livestock. Even if the livestock, such as cows, don't normally eat corn because it can't be properly digested. In our country, bovines are "corn-fed" because there is a government sponsored industry which makes it so, and the main consumer of antibiotics is the livestock industry. Without the drugs, the cattle would sicken and die.

When Pollan describes the feedlot where Steer 534 eats a combination of hybrid corn, urea, antibiotics, and animal waste, I cringed. That is, of course, the reaction that is intended. Anyone who both reads and thinks will have to force down a commercially produced burger, once having seen the feedlot and slaughter house in this detailed exposé of the industrial farm system. The pastoral Virginia farm where cows dine on grass and chickens fertilize pastures and produce eggs which are so good that they are marketed to gourmet restaurants is quite a contrast. For those Americans who hunger for change, the industrial farming/food technology system is a great place to start.

Lest the reader think this book is mostly negative, please realize that Pollan takes the reader through four different nature-to-table scenarios: modern industrial food technology, organic food technology, locally grown farm products, and the hunter/gatherer mode of way back when. Each one has some merit, as well as some faults.

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, is a big book. Not just in length, but in the subject matter. It tackles the interwoven relationships which affect and are affected by our nation's food chain. This includes the environment, politics, the economy, the health of the planet and our nation. This book blends enlightenment and motivation. Being a "locavore" will foster better health, for people, animals, and for the planet.

The prof was right— it should be required reading for everyone.

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