Fornication Once Again

Not a term you hear much these days, fornication. For those of you without the benefit of a Catholic education, fornication is the sin of having sex with someone who isn’t your spouse, a puzzling concept in a day and age when few still believe in sex after marriage.

Michelle Mulherin’s (FG) use of the word in a Dáil debate was amusing, but rather distracted from the issue. This being that the courts have found – years ago – that there are circumstances where a woman has a right to an abortion, but the legislature has never overturned existing or created new law to decriminalise it in those circumstances. It’s such a touchy subject that even an ostensibly woman-friendly party like Labour are avoiding it. (This attempt to correct the situation was sponsored by the tiny Socialist party.)

The basic problem is that the issue is not open to reasoned debate – not when a significant proportion of people (probably a minority now, but still a blocking one) stick with the Pope‘s opinion that human life and its concomitant rights begin at the moment of conception. It’s an extremist position, but it effectively closes down the subject. If abortion is murder, how can you even discuss it?

Others do take different stances. That humanity begins at birth, or that there is some stage of development after which a foetus may be said to be human. The latter though is really passing the buck. There is no medical definition of humanity, the start of human life – conception, birth, some point in between – is a matter of how you define life and how you define humanity, a philosophical question with no definitive answer in science, or indeed in scripture.

This being the case, can we not accept that the only relevant opinion here is that of the woman?

Copyright Law Used To Harm Artist. Again

Laughing Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae) perc...
Laughing Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae) perched on a Silver Wattle (Acacia dealbata), Waterworks Reserve, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s an advert on TV from Colman’s the English mustard people for their instant beef gravy. It features a dancing bull. Made out of gravy. Dancing. All over the table. To I Like The Way (You Move). Semi-translucent. Gelatinous. Gravy.

It makes me want to vomit. And not want to vomit, for fear that what came out would dance.

By a weird series of associations I’m reminded of Land Down Under, the other other Australian national anthem. Remember the flute solo on that? The guy who played it was found dead yesterday. Greg Ham.

Did you hear he was sued for that solo? By the holders of the copyright to the famous Australian campfire song Kookaburra. It was a great source of sadness to him apparently, and coming so soon before his death – an appeal was dismissed just a year ago – you wonder if there wasn’t a connection.

I’m terribly disappointed that that’s the way I’m going to be remembered – for copying something.

Of course, it’s not copying. If you know both tunes – and you probably do – you can certainly hear a similarity. But not an imitation, something a lot more subtle than that. It’s a musical allusion, a vital part of how composition works. One tune has its associations. Another alludes to it, subtly weaving those associations into its melody. Poetry often does something similar. It is not theft, but art.

The composer of Kookaburra doesn’t appear to have thought she was being ripped off. But after her death, and thirty years after Land Down Under was a hit, her publishing company realised there was some free money to be made. In doing so it was they who committed theft. Their license to cheerfully exploit other people’s creativity enabled them to rob a talented musician of five per cent of the proceeds of his most successful recording. But far worse, they stole his reputation.

So What If It’s Sharia Law?

This image has nothing to do with the article, I just like it.
(Image by Glyn Lowe Photoworks via Flickr)

It didn’t take them long to find a hater, did it?

A Muslim – an Irish man, not a furriner – was talking on the radio about a hold-up with the new Muslim graveyard in Dundalk. They’ve been campaigning for this for six years, and thought they had secured it – only to be told by the local authority that, according to a law of 1888, all burials are supposed to be in a coffin. Islamic practice is to bury a person directly in the ground.

It should be a human interest story about a community unable to bury their own family members in the town where they live. But, someone has to phone in to complain that Muslims “Always want things their way”. Ireland’s Mr. Creeping Sharia.

Now don’t get me wrong, I revile Islam. The religion is anathema to me because… Well, because it’s a religion. I pretty much despise them all. Religions are dangerous confusions of morality and mythology, systems of absolute authority founded on fear of the different and the unknown.

Which you have every right to believe in. A right, what’s more, that I will defend to the death. This is what religious activists pretend not to understand about secularism. We don’t want to stop you doing your religion. We want to stop you stopping other people doing their religion. The law should not impose one person’s faith on another. Freedom of conscience is sacrosanct. I might think that what you believe causes a great deal of harm to you, but as long as it doesn’t cause you to harm others I have to respect your right to believe it.

Of course there will be times when beliefs and the law conflict, and it goes without saying that the law of the land has primacy – whatever the Catholic Church chooses to believe. But the entire point of democracy is that law can be changed. It is not holy writ, it is decided by people to suit their will and their changing needs. So we can accommodate other people’s traditions – if we want it to.

It would be different if the tradition could harm others, if say there was a danger of disease associated with coffinless burial, but I don’t think anyone is seriously suggesting that. The law of 1888 serves no function now except to make life that much harder for a small minority. And it seems only to be supported by the sort of bigoted zero-sum shithead who phones into radio programmes to advocate making life harder for minorities.

The Galaxy Note In Depth – 1. Form Factor

Not how Google Earth looks on the average phone. Click to appreciate the full-size image

It isn’t yet possible to definitively review the Samsung Galaxy Note. We still await Android 4 (Ice Cream Sandwich), which has the potential to make huge differences.

Some of you have phone-buying decisions to make right now though, so I’m going to start at the finish and try to answer questions potential buyers might have. Questions like “Well, should I get this phone then?”

Yes, unequivocally. I can quit early today.

Oh all right, some more detail. Matthew already gave us a thorough run-down of the Note’s hardware and features, so I’ll try to talk more about personal impressions.

So what have you heard about the Note? That it’s big. Huge. Unwieldy even. Some reviewers said it would be difficult to use, even predicted that you would drop it all the time.

They were all wrong. There is nothing impractical about the Note’s size. It feels strange to hold at first, and you will worry you might drop it. But without wanting to tempt fate, a month has gone by sans fumble. Maybe it helps that I bought a case for it, but – though I certainly would recommend getting a case for a piece of glazing like this – I think it’s more just a matter of getting used to it.

You find yourself using it in a more two-handed way than you would a phone of less unusual dimensions – if you have tiny paws like mine at least. Since launch Samsung have actually added the option of a smaller number pad offset to the side to make it more usable with the thumb, but I dial a number so rarely these days I’m perfectly happy to do it with my other hand.

Some reviewers said people would point and laugh at you if you made calls on it in public. That was nonsense too. The public is used to big-screen phones like the Galaxy S II or Droid Razr. The Note is bigger again, sure, but not startlingly. I don’t think I’ve had even a second glance so far. Kind of disappointing really…

So there is very little downside to the the sheer vastness of the Note. The upside is out of all comparison. It’s just… so damn beautiful. (Look at the screenshot of Google Earth above. And remember, that’s been scaled down to fit in here. Click on the image to see the actual pixels.) And yet, also practical. The extra real estate makes everything work that bit better. Browsing, reading, using apps, watching video, entering text on the screen keyboard. The Galaxy Note is an ideal satnav device for example, its big screen allowing you to check out your route at a glance. Plus you can use it in portrait mode, which when you think about it is the way that satnavs really should have been designed in the first place.

Any faults? I don’t think so. Some said the colours were oversaturated, but I find them fine; perhaps Samsung tweaked that. It’s pentile instead of ‘proper’ RGB which means it has a lower effective resolution, but the pixels are so tiny you really can’t tell. It’s small for a tablet, yes. Some tablet-specific apps are going to be impractical, especially when Ice Cream Sandwich allows those written for Honeycomb to run on it. But it’s the biggest tablet you’ll ever get in your pants pocket to bring with you all day.

And yes it’s perfectly comfortable in your pants, despite every other review warning that it is “only for those with bigger pockets” or words to that effect. We learn from this that a lot of technology writers are either (a) surprisingly wary of new things or (b) tiny.

Next time, we’ll get to grips with that pen.

Excellent Gadget Time

I was saying that by turning off the always-on data connection, my Android phone will get through a full day with plenty power to spare. And that’s not jealously husbanding the battery either, but fully indulging what the phone can do. Including 3G data – when I actually want it.

Pretty neat, but what when I want to really rip it? Actually spend a whole day browsing, for example. While simultaneously live-streaming geotagged video. Desire expands to meet the limitations of the battery.

And yet, there is a way to have effectively endless battery life. How? It’s simple. Charge one battery while you use another.

You own a spare battery, right? Oh, you have an iPhone. I’m sorry. I suppose you can charge a spare iPhone.

There are a number of solutions to charging a battery while it’s not in your phone. This though is quite the tiniest I’ve ever seen. I saw some of them – different brand, but identical device – in my local electronics shop on clearance for 60 cents each. What to lose, I thought. A couple of days later I came back and bought all the ones they had left.

It works for many common phone and camera batteries. You adjust its prongs to match the contacts (an LED tells you when they’re right), clip it on, and plug it into any USB socket. It’s really about as no-frills as charging can get, and it weighs a barely-perceptible 11 grammes. Worth carrying just as an emergency backup in case you lose, break or forget your normal charger. It even has key ring!

I’m fortunate in that Samsung provided a collapsible travel charger, so I can fit that, a short USB-to-microUSB cable, the spare battery and one of these chargers all into an old glasses case. Plus headphones and spare stylus pen. That’s all I need to charge the phone or the battery. Now I can travel forever.

Good Bad Photography (2)

Pixlr-o-matic

image
This was a perfectly safe-looking house before I let Pixlr-o-matic at it

Oh, I’m liking this one. Pixlr-o-matic, unlike the Instagram and Hipster I discussed earlier, is not about applying pre-set combinations of effects. Instead you can choose the combination, from three different categories called Overlay, Filter and Frame. Plenty come with it, and you can quickly download many more – even seeing them applied in preview before you download, which is pretty amazing.

This is a really well thought-out app in the way that it manages to combine speed with flexibility. Obviously it takes longer to use than one of the others, simply because you have so many more options, but it means you can apply your own tastes rather than be restricted to the aesthetic ideas of an app’s creator. And to speed things up you can remove effects from the interface, getting ones you don’t like out of the way or even reducing it to just a few favourites. The rest remain accessible, but are a few taps away. For me, that flexibility easily outweighs the extra complication. There’s room for both types of app on a phone of course, but I see myself using this one far more often.

A couple of other great features:

A button to apply a random combination of filters that you can keep hitting until you’re pleasantly surprised. It abandons all control, but adds fun.

Single-click cropping to square. It just cuts off the sides, unfortunately there’s no zooming or panning, but it’s quick and it’s great to have the choice.

Best of all though, Pixlr-o-matic allows you to save your pictures. Are you surprised that that’s a bonus? Too many of these apps are so “social” that there is no option to save an image to your phone! You can only upload it.

This is the one Facebook should’ve bought. Maybe they just couldn’t pronounce it. Far, far better than Instagram or anything else I’ve found so far. And it costs exactly one billion dollars less.

Get it here.

A Day To Remember

Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci, Galleria d...
Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci, Galleria dell' Accademia, Venice (1485-90) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Guess what happened in history today? I mean aside from the sinking of the Titanic.

The birth of Leonardo Da Vinci. And, the opening of the first McDonald’s.

1452: The last man to become both the greatest artist and the greatest scientist of his day was born.

1955: The enterprise that sought to squeeze the most possible cow into the most possible people began.

I propose that the United Nations declare the 15th of April world What The Hell Happened day.