First Report on Using the iPhone


Today I received a comment at a different post asking what I think about the iPhone now that I’ve been using it for a few weeks. Here’s my reply.

Almost daily I’m amazed by the iPhone. I never used a cell phone for email before owning an iPhone. It’s a breeze. Text messaging has a cool and pleasing look, and message history person-to-person stays in your stream until you clear it (like Apple Chat application). (Unlimited text messaging with AT&T costs $5 a month.) The Safari browser is incredibly stable and quick, using the network options on the iPhone. And, of course, there’s the ease of syncing iPhone apps and their databases with their corresponding apps on my Apple laptop.

The truly remarkable thing about the iPhone is its power to run applications designed for virtually every purpose. As one of my colleagues told me after I flipped for the iPhone, “iPhone users size each other up based on the applications they have downloaded to their iPhones.” I’ve discovered there’s a little (sometimes large) community of enthusiasts for specific applications. It’s like you join a club and make new friends simply for having such a little thing in common. And I have to admit, it’s pretty satisfying when, (a) you ask someone if they have some application, A, and they say no, then (b) they watch your quick demo of A on your phone and confirm the “Wow!” factor with their own exclamations, and (c) they start searching to download A on their own iPhones. Yep. I’ve had this happen. Always makes me feel my app choice was “right.”

Speaking of apps, here are the ones I have on my phone as of this moment:

(1) First screen (left to right, top to bottom): Things, iCal (standard), Google Calendar, Camera (standard), Settings (standard), TripCase, Packing, Maps (standard), Clock (standard), Stocks, Weather (standard), Quickvoice, Text (standard), iTunes (standard), Notes (standard), WunderRadio

(2) Screen two: SplashID, Calculator (standard), Corkboard (standard), iTweet 2, Photos (standard), Fast Web, App Store (standard), AppSniper, link to home page on my laptop browser, Pandora, AOL Radio, Contacts (standard), iFitness, Fandango

(3) Screen three: iPhoneHome, iLounge, iPhoneApplication List, iPhone Widget List, Widgeteria, Wordress link, PocketExpress

(4) Screen four: White Pages, Yellow Pages, IMDb link, iCafe, iPhone Freak, WOWIO, Tor.com, Memoware, WebScription, Biola Portal link, Night Stand, YouTube (standard)

(5) Screen five: Alarm System, Equate, Quip, Eye Security, KitchenCafe, iRuler, Google Earth

(6) Screen six: Stanza, WordBook, WordBreaker, Dictionary, eReader, Classics, 3000Facts, History

(7) Screen seven: Travel, Urbanspoon, Park Maps

(8) Screen eight: iTakeCredit, Daily Finance

(9) Screen nine: FlightControl

Many of these “apps” are links to online services or web pages, which are launched when you select the app. Notice that I have nine screens. The first screen utilizes all the screen space available, with the maximum of 16 apps visible (four across and four down). Other screens show fewer apps. This is because I’ve organized my apps into broad categories or themes, and separated them by placing them on screens by theme. I discovered this possibility quite by accident. But it’s very handy. (There’s lots about the power and versatility of the iPhone that you learn simply through use. I’ve also perused three or four books devoted to iPhone use and discovered a handful of useful tips I probably wouldn’t know about otherwise. For example, holding down the caps key—a metaphor for keeping your finger on the shift “key” on the keypad—and sliding it to a letter of the alphabet capitalizes the letter. This is convenient when you want to cap a word in the middle of some text, for instance. Simple trick, but very handy.)

Some of the apps are iPhone versions of applications I’ve been using consistently on my laptop (Things and Splash ID, for example). I haven’t used all of the apps I’ve listed. The ones I use the most are: everything on the first screen plus Splash ID, Fast Web, App Store, AppSniper, Fandango (used it last night to find a movie and location while on the road), and FlightControl.

FlightControl is the only game app I mess with. You get addicted to landing airplanes and helicopters. I enjoy recommending this one to people (especially guys) because they have all liked it so much. I’ve found that if there’s someone in a small group who isn’t interacting and looks bored, I can launch this app, hand it to them, and watch them come to life.

It’s easy to move apps around onscreen and from screen to screen. So in recent days I’ve had two travel-related apps on the home screen: TripCase and Packing. This is because I have a trip to St. Louis this weekend. When I return home, I’ll move these apps to the screen reserved for travel apps. TripCase stores my flight itinerary and tracks any changes in flight schedule, keeps me posted, and sends the same information to designated “followers” (e.g., anyone meeting me at the airport). TripCase has other features I’m not using for this trip. Packing is a database app that keeps a master packing list arranged in categories, and any specialized packing lists I create for specific trips or kinds of travel. I’ve created a packing list for St. Louis, so that everything I take with me is included. I’ve kept list like this on my laptop until now. This app puts everything at much more convenient disposal. And I’ve often wished I had a list I could consult before returning home to make sure I don’t leave anything behind.

I haven’t actually used FastWeb so much yet. But it speeds of web surfing on the iPhone without launching Safari. Fandando speaks for itself. AppSniper is great for tracking applications you have discovered but haven’t purchased, and for being notified when the price on those apps is lowered.

Every phone is fully customized by the configuration of apps.

Are you convinced yet?

***

Thanks, Tim, for asking the question that prompted this post!

TR on Reading Fiction for Personal Improvement


Book Cover.TR's Letters to His SonsThe American President that most fascinates and inspires me is Theodore Roosevelt. I’ve read several biographies, the best of which is by Texas A & M historian H. W. Brands. I also enjoy collections of TR’s essays and letters.

In a letter to his son Kermit, written from the White House February 3, 1906, the President reveals something of the way he viewed fiction:

Dear Kermit:

I agree pretty well with your views of David Copperfield. Dora was very cunning and attractive, but I am not sure that the husband would retain enough respect for her to make life quite what it ought to be with her. This is a harsh criticism and I have known plenty of women of the Dora type whom I have felt were a good deal better than the men they married, and I have seen them sometimes make very happy homes. I also feel as you do that if a man had to struggle on and make his way it would be a great deal better to have someone like Sophie. Do you recollect the dinner at which David Copperfield and Traddles were, where they are described as seated at the dinner, one “in the glare of the red velvet lady’ and the other “gloom of Hamlet’s aunt”? I am so glad you like Thackeray. “Pendennis” and “The Newcomes” and “Vanity Fair” I can read over and over again.

If TR felt he could read such titles by Thackery over and over again, it is because he did. Thackery is mentioned in many of his letters. Here the father takes pleasure in a shared enthusiasm with his son. And why is he so pleased with the boy’s reading predilections? Apparently because of the power fiction has to form character, to provoke thought about values and truth, and to encourage wise decisions in life.

Evidence for this dominates the quotation. Notice that TR is, in effect, counseling his son about choices in marriage. He is very subtle in this.

It’s pleasing to see that this accomplished public figure had such a relationship with his children that he would write about such things in his letters from the White House.

From the quoted portion of Roosevelt’s letter to Kermit, there is much of positive value to glean:

  • He takes time for his children in the midst of major official responsibilities.
  • He writes in a slow, reflective pace.
  • He guides by example.
  • He engages his son in discussion of ideas and values on the basis of a shared interest.
  • He shows genuine enthusiasm for great literature outside his range of responsibilities.
  • He exemplifies a manner of reading fiction that is directed by the desire to grow in wisdom.
  • He advises the young without preaching at them in any condescending fashion.
  • He regards his son as a peer in the realm of ideas.
  • He looks for points of contact between the fictional characters he meets with in reading and living individuals he knows personally.

It’s enough to make you want to go back and read David Copperfield, and check out the works he cites by William Thackeray.

William Makepeace Thackery, Painted by Sir John Gilbert

William Makepeace Thackery, Painted by Sir John Gilbert

Works mentioned in this post:

Kindle users should know that there is a Kindle collection of over 100 of Thackery’s publications (including the three mentioned in this post) that you can get with a single purchase (cost: $4.79 at the time of this post). Click here. I like the Kindle!

Book Cover.TR's Letters to His Sons.2The quotation is from page 80 in The Letters and Lessons of Theodore Roosevelt for His Sons, edited and compiled by Doug Phillips.

Does “Somewhere in Between” Mean “Ideologically Neutral”?


At Politico.com, Michael Calderon has a piece assessing the significance of the drop in viewership at CNN—“CNN fades in prime-time picture.” The brief article is mostly just straight reporting.

  1. Viewers seem to rely on CNN the most at election time, while turning to other cable networks during the long intervals between elections.
  2. CNN just won a Peabody Award.
  3. Doubts have been raised about whether CNN will be able to compete with MSNBC and FOX.
  4. CNN president Jon Klein says yes and that he can explain evidence to the contrary.
  5. Anderson Cooper is CNN’s most valued trick pony, followed by Campbell Brown (who’s about to return from maternity leave).
  6. Cooper’s ratings have fallen off dramatically in recent months, and it’s expected that this will continue.
  7. CNN staffers and former staffers report that concerns within the ranks are greater than reported by Klein.
  8. The critical demographic is viewers ages 25-54.

These are the “facts”—except for the part about the trick ponies, which I slipped in. And there’s a reason why I use the term “trick pony” to refer to cable TV “news” anchors. To begin, the persona of an anchor is crucial to nabbing and keeping viewers. Everyone acknowledges that. But we should wonder why.

The answer may seem obvious. Take CNN, for example. They claim to be “the most trusted news . . .” Leave aside the question whether the tag captures the truth. Why would they be trusted more than the other networks? Remember, the answer has to have something to do with persona. So why would Anderson Cooper, the leading news anchor for CNN, be, in effect, the most trusted news reporter, period?

The answer we’re supposed to come up with is that CNN is ideologically neutral, and Anderson Cooper is the embodiment of that neutrality. And, we must remember, ideological neutrality is good . . . if it’s news you want.

Calderon begins to reveal this outlook early on, when he contrasts the CNN strategy with the “more opinionated programming” at FOX and MSNBC. Notice that—FOX and MSNBC are “more opinionated” in their programming. Maybe that’s true. But what does it mean, and why believe it?

Well, a network can be more or less opinionated. FOX and MSNBC are “more.” So CNN is “less.” Thus, it follows that CNN may also be airing “opinionated programming,” but just not as much as FOX and MSNBC. But then, what is this more or less of opinionated programming? And are viewers supposed to be able to tell when it’s happening and when it isn’t?

Surely things aren’t that simple.

I think we can agree that Keith Olberman is an opinionated guy, and that he unleashes his opinions pretty regularly on his show at MSNBC. Sean Hannity comes to mind when thinking of FOX. So does Bill O’Reilly, who has created a whole new meaning for the phrase “I’ll let you have the last word.” (If you’re a guest with whom he disagrees, he will, indeed, “let you have it.”)

We agree in thinking that prominent anchors at MSNBC and FOX are “opinionated” because it’s obvious. But here’s the significant point: what’s obvious is what their opinion is. That is, they make it obvious that they are presenting an “opinion” because they tell us when they are giving us their opinion.

Why is this so significant? Because opinions don’t always come flying at us with banners telling us that we’re in the trajectory of an opinion. Often they sneak up on us, clothed with disclaimers that their message is completely “objective.”

Calderon is mistaken in suggesting that CNN is ideologically neutral on the grounds presented by him in his piece. Being neither overtly conservative nor overtly liberal, in the style of FOX and MSNBC, respectively, does not mean that CNN is “in the middle” or “neutral.” It has been convincingly argued that they are not neutral but considerably left of center.

Viewers need skills in detecting the ideological commitments of media outlets, the more so when their commitments are more subtly packaged and publicly advertised as “neutral.”

BlogLogic: “Christian Fundamentalist Terrorists” Outed?


It would happen at The Huffington Post. Contributor Shannyn Moore shocks the world today with her post warning us all about “Christian fundamentalist terrorists.” Her contention is that Jim D. Adkisson is a Christian fundamentalist terrorist. He’s the scurrilous individual who killed 2 people at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church as a result of firing 76 rounds and a shotgun.

Her complaint is that this Adkisson guy, who was charged with murder, “should have been charged with terrorism.” This suggests that she believes that terrorist acts are distinguishable from murder in general, that terrorist acts are in the category of worse or worst, and that perpetrators of such acts should be regarded and treated differently, i.e., more severely.

On the face of it, this is an odd thing for someone on the far left to say. Liberals on the far left are better known for rubbing out such distinctions. So it is initially heartening to see one of their own take up this cause.

It is disconcerting, on second thought, that this apparent shift is more likely an expression of the left’s characteristic animosity toward a certain brand of Christianity—the “fundamentalist” brand.

Moore thinks she’s making a sound argument for a definite position. But really she sounds angry, rather than calmly rational. In her post for today she spools out another specimen of BlogLogic. “BlogLogic” is the endearing term I use to denote digitally viral fallacious reasoning spread by bloggers and infecting unsuspecting readers who are ill-equipped to pick out the flaws.

The first problem with Moore’s argument is that her conclusion is too vague to be useful. She doesn’t define this term that she’s applying with such gusto to specific individuals: “Christian fundamentalist terrorist.” Maybe she thinks the meaning of her label is obvious—a Christian fundamentalist terrorist is a Christian fundamentalist who happens to be a terrorist; or maybe a Christian fundamentalist terrorist is a terrorist who happens to be a fundamentalist Christian.

It’s doubtful that this is quite what Moore means. She seems to be plugging for a stronger link between terrorism and Christian fundamentalism. Part of what makes this murderer, Adkisson, a terrorist is that he is a fundamentalist Christian. Otherwise, he would simply be a murderer. It’s as if he killed in the name of, or for the sake of, or out of commitment to Christian fundamentalism.

I’m not sure this is quite a strong enough link to satisfy Moore. Adkisson could be more of a nutcase than a Christian fundamentalist, and still kill in the name of, or for the sake of, or even out of (fanciful) commitment to Christian fundamentalism.

It seems, then, that Shannyn Moore deliberately employs the phrase “Christian fundamentalism” in connection with terrorism in order to shame Christian fundamentalists. And this, it has to be said, is itself shameful. Moore is simply poisoning the well against a block of conservative Christians who do not, as a group, sanction the heinous crimes of Adkisson and others. If she thinks there is something inherent in the belief system of people broadly considered Christian fundamentalists that incites the exceptional and incalculably immoral behavior of persons such as Adkisson, then she needs to demonstrate that with evidence. She, of course, cannot.

So Moore’s conclusion is vague because her use of the phrase “Christian fundamentalist terrorist” is vague—or not. If not, then her reasoning is specious and onerous, because it is maliciously ad hominem.

There are more problems with Moore’s thesis. She does not say precisely what distinguishes an act of terror from any other murderous act. There’s also a confusion in her understanding, both of the law and of ordinary application of the concept of terrorism. Clearly she believes that Adkisson should be tried as a terrorist. But one need not commit a murder to perform an act of terrorism. There are terrorists who do not commit murder, nor even conspire to commit murder. And whether or not Adkisson’s action was a form of terrorism, it was an act of murder. He can and should be tried for murder; he almost certainly will be found guilty.

Moore isn’t satisfied with the charges. They don’t go far enough. Why? Surely things wouldn’t be any worse for Adkisson if he was tried for terrorism rather than murder. So how does Moore calculate that more would be accomplished, as she seems to think? Well, for starters, it would stigmatize a large segment of the Amerian population. It would place them under suspicion. Is that really what Moore wants?

Shannyn Moore seems to confuse hate crimes with terrorism. She should consider the difference. Terrorism, as that concept is applied most broadly today, constitutes a threat to national security. Terrorist acts may be motivated by hatred, but they are not merely “hate crimes.” They usually involve conspirators whose ideology entails a denunciation of all other ideologies, and violent action against those ideologies.

Use of the term “terrorist” has evolved considerably since 9/11. Shannyn Moore would like to see the concept stretched even more broadly to encompass those she calls “Christian fundamentalist terrorists.” If she wants to make her case rsponsibly, she’ll need to tidy up her definitions of key terms, locate incentives to perform acts of terrorism within an ideology that can justly be called “Christian fundamentalism,” demonstrate that Adkisson and similar characters are appropriately affiliated with Christian fundamentalists and not lunatics who can call themselves whatever they want, and establish her generalizations on the basis of a sufficient (i.e., far greater, number of cases).

Meanwhile, she should cease and desist her use of the phrase “Christian fundamentalist” in connection with terrorism. And, consistent with the culture of the left, it seems reasonable to ask that she apologize to Christian fundamentalists nationwide for carelessness in her use of this phrase.

* * *

Note to Shannyn Moore: I’ve linked this post to the comment section of your post with a trackback. If I’ve misrepresented your position, or you wish to add the clarification that I claim is needed for your argument to work, I welcome your response.

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