Monday, May 26, 2008


In celebrating holidays, we sometimes forget that holidays were originally holy days, a time set aside to give thanks to our creator for some special remembrance. Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving retain strong elements of their former status as holy days, despite the fact that we have commercialized them to ridiculous extremes. As we celebrate Memorial Day, honoring the many men and women who have served their country, we should not forget that this day is holy too. We should never forget their sacrifice nor take our liberty too lightly.

Friday, May 23, 2008


Almost as soon as the earthquake ended, China invited aid workers from all over the world to come into their country and help with the victims of this disaster. Large amounts of food and emergency supplies were gathered and were on the way within hours. The stories and video footage that came back from the devastated area were heart rendering, but the acts of heroism seemed to give hope to the ones who were suffering. People were pulled from the wreckage while their families waited. Some of them were still alive, while others were less fortunate. It is hard to conceive of such a terrible event. Then in the midst of all of this terror, pain, and suffering, I saw it. A young boy who couldn’t have been over 9 years old, was seated on a pile of rubble slowly thumbing through the pages of a book. He could very easily have been the last survivor of his family, but somehow he was finding comfort from what he was reading. All across the world, books, computers, and cell phones are reaching into areas where communications with the outside world were impossible only a few years before. We will see a change in the months to come, and it will be from people like that young man who was setting on top of that pile of rubble. Never underestimate the power of the written word or the determination of the people who read it.

Sunday, May 4, 2008


No one knows for sure when the concept of an electronic book came into existence, but ebooks in one form or another were in existence long before Google 'invented' them in 2004. The argument could be settled very easily if everyone was willing to agree on what is meant by a 'book.' The first use of an electronic retrieval system dates back to 1969 when the manufacturer of a computer placed help files on board their system. It didn't take long for this to catch on because it was cheaper, and much easier to search through an online data base than to thumb through the pages of a book for some elusive piece of data.

If you define the term book to mean something like the thick tomes that William Shakespeare wrote, then you can trace the first electronic book to Michael S. Hart's Gutenberg project where he entered over 300 manuscripts into his system by hand. With the help of a group of volunteers, he later expanded this to over 100,000 different volumes, starting with Shakespeare, the Bible, and then to other classic works.

Starting in 2004, Google offered a system that would make electronic books available in a more accessible format. Many people were reluctant to read a long book from a computer screen. There was also the possibility of being able to market a lot of books if two things were offered to the reader. One was a smaller sized reader. How small? The ideal choice seemed to be something the size and shape of the average book. The Kindle ebook reader went one better when they redesigned the case where it was tapered on the edges and more comfortable to hold. Another desirable feature was to be able to carry a whole library of books in one reader. One long novel is approximately one megabyte in length. With chips capable to holding a couple of terabytes, the ebook reader suddenly became very attractive for the man or woman on the go.

The first ebook readers had the same problem of eye strain many people were familiar with from many hours of computer use at the office. Todays ebook readers use a technology very similar to what is used to produce the numbers on the face of a watch. This results in a system that produces little eye strain and looks very similar to a hardbound book. It also saves a lot of trees.

Would I recommend an ebook reader? To that question I will give an unequivocal maybe. The price is still unacceptably high for most people, but the prices are likely to come down as is the price of the books. In the next few years most books will probably be available in both paper and digital format. Will the printed book go the way of the Dodo bird? Not in the foreseeable future and perhaps never. There is something comforting about a book that you can't get from a plastic case, and I haven't found a way to dog-ear the pages in an electronic book.