"But war, in a good cause, is not the greatest evil which a nation can suffer. War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice – a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice – is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other."

Friday, November 14, 2008

I heart my new iPhone

Last weekend, I was the beneficiary of a belated birthday present in the form of an iPhone 3G. In the short time I've had it, I have come to love this amazing device. Now, while I've always considered myself a tech mini-guru, up-to-date on the latest and greatest gadgetry, the cellular world is one in which I've lagged behind. Part of this was my desire to wait for cool new technology to mature and reach its full potential; the other (larger) part was that most "smartphones" were beyond my budget. Well, thanks to my parents, I'm the owner of the device that has set the bar for smartphones. And let me tell you, the iPhone is not just a toy; it's an incredibly useful piece of technology. It has a built-in iPod, of course, which was a big reason why I wanted it. Miramar base regulations prohibit running with headphones on any roads on base, which has always been a problem for me because when I run, I need either a) someone to talk to, or b) music to listen to. The iPhone has integrated speakers which now allow me to listen to my music while running and comply with base regulations (always important, as an officer should set the example, right?). But that's not all. The phone also has GPS-assisted locating technology, which has come in handy several times. It negates the need for Tom-Tom or Tim-Tim or Lola-Lola and other nav units of the same stripe. On the iPhone, you simply open up the Maps application, and can find your current location, generate directions to a new destination, and then follow those directions on Google-based imagery with a little blue blip showing you your real-time location. Additional apps let you take advantage of this technology in several ways. The one I've started using is iMapMyRide, which is an exercise-training program that uses the GPS to accurately map the time and distance of your runs (or walks, or bike rides) and then send it to the company's home page so you can track your training. Of course, you also get full uninhibited Internet access via the 3G cell network, which, with full bars, is pretty quick. As an added bonus, however, the iPhone can also use any WiFi network present to speed up your downloads. And you can access the iTunes store and App Store whenever you want (though, for larger downloads, you either need to plug the phone into your computer or be on a WiFi network). In the week I've had this wonderful device, I've used it extensively for a wide variety of tasks, and it rarely fails to satisfy (indeed, my only gripe is a tiny one, in that I can't add the Flash plug-in to the Safari browser which is required for content on some sites). I thank my parents for their generosity, and I thank Apple for creating an amazingly powerful, useful, and user-friendly device.

P.S. The App Store by itself is almost worth the price of admission. There's a lot of junk on there, to be sure, but also many programs, like iMapMyRide, that let you flesh out the iPhone's potential with the added bonus of being free. There are also some interesting (and educational) apps that are fun in and of themselves (and cheap!); for 99 cents, I downloaded Clint Bagwell Consulting's Manual for the United States of America, which contains the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and Constitution, the complete Federalist Papers, supplemental documents from Washington's Farewell Address to the Gettysburg Address and Patriot Act, and a complete list of presidents and elected federal officials in each state (which can be updated, for free, after each election). And I realize I just revealed my geekiness by declaring an application on American political history "fun" and "interesting". Oops.

Speaking of my parents, they visited us for the last two weeks (well, I know the truth: they came to visit Aaron. Our presence or lack thereof was incidental). Between watching our son's antics and enjoying balmy 80-degree weather in mid-November, I think they had a good time. They were so successful in acclimatizing Aaron to the beach that he went from being terrified of the water to sprinting full speed into it. They also got the opportunity, for the first time, to get a taste of the training we do. I took them and Bree to one of our simulators to show them some of the missions we perform and give them a chance to get behind the virtual sticks of our helicopter and put it through its paces. I think they all came to appreciate the challenge of flying our aircraft; I, meanwhile, have never come so close to throwing up from induced nausea in a sim.

Somehow or other I've also been able to get a lot of reading done these last few weeks. I mentioned in an earlier post that I was plowing ahead with the rest of Orson Scott Card's Ender Quartet - Speaker for the Dead, followed by Xenocide and Children of the Mind - and now I'm done. And while I found these sequels interesting in their own right, they did tend to drag the story out, especially the last book, which felt like Card was getting paid by the word and just needed to fill pages. He freely admits that he only intended to make a trilogy, but just couldn't quite fit everything into three books. Well, he should have tried harder, because the quality of his writing declined noticably with each passing book. Unless you're a hard-core Card fan, you could happily live the rest of your life having read only Ender's Game. But you should read that one. It's great. I then moved on to a standalone novel of his called Empire, which describes a mini-Second Civil War in America's near-future. The plot is complex, and some parts remain shrounded in mystery at the end, but it's an entertaining - and depressing - look at what could happen in a world where the war of words between Left and Right turns into a shooting war. And unlike the first Civil War, there's no Mason-Dixon line to conveniently divide the combatants, nor is it simply red state vs. blue state (that whole red vs blue notion is something Card believes to be a false analogy; and if one looks at a county-by-county breakdown of election returns, he's right). The only boundaries are ideological, which makes it hard to locate, close with, and destroy the enemy; on the plus side, however, it also makes it harder for seccessionist forces to pull away from the rest of the country, because rarely - with the exception of Vermont - does an entire state in Card's America have enough domestic support to do so. Throw in some high-tech war machines on the side of the rebels, and you've got a tasty techno-thriller with a chillingly believable dystopian vision. I blew through that one pretty quickly; now, I'm on to Card's "parallel" Shadow quartet, which re-tells the Ender story from the perspective of Ender's right-hand lieutenant. One might argue that Card is trying to double his money by recycling the same story, but he's not; or if he is, he's doing it well enough that I don't care. Card's story-telling is strongest when he's playing in his original "Bugger War" timeline, and the Shadow series shows us Earth immediately after its victory over the alien Buggers. We already knew that, absent the unity forced on Earth in the face of alien invaders, the global alliance broke down once the war was over, and it was Ender's brother Peter who rose to power and reestablished worldwide order as the powerful Hegemon. It was this order that allowed humanity to colonize the Bugger worlds and spread throughout the galaxy. Now we get to see how it all unfolded through the eyes of Bean, a child-general second only to Ender in his strategic brilliance. This should be fun.

Finally, I also finished my third Steven Pressfield novel, Virtues of War, a first-person confession on the burdens of generalship by Alexander the Great. Pressfield is, I think, the best writer of classical-era historical fiction of our day. He brings the epic events and heroic leaders of the ancient world to life in ways that big-budget Hollywood sword-and-sandal flicks can only hope to. Virtues of War follows in the same vein as Gates of Fire and The Afghan Campaign. The story of Alexander the Great is so full of drama and glory that it hardly needs fictionalizing; but Pressfield spins in a warrior and ethical code that makes the larger-than-life Alexander more accessible to his readers. His battle scenes are another strong point. Most classical texts tell us who was at the battle, paint the sequence of events in broad strokes, and then tell us who won without really delving into tactics or 'what it was like'. Pressfield brings these battles to life in bloody detail, and give us a hint of how Alexander's great victories at the Granicus, Issus, and Gaugamela might have felt like to the soldiers fighting them. As Bernard Cornwell brought the Napoleonic era to life in his Sharpe series, so Steven Pressfield has unlocked the early days of the West to a new generation of readers. I think I might just take part of my next paycheck and indulge in his tale of Theseus, Last of the Amazons, after work.

4 comments:

Meghan said...

It took me awhile, but I've come to really like my iPhone as well. I've got to say though, it will never replace my Garmin GPS for the car. It just cannot give good driving directions - it doesn't even talk to you.

Andrew said...

Sorry I never gave you your review... I'm glad you like it. Let me make it up to you though - download Lux. You'll thank me. If you ever stop playing.

Cincinnatus said...

Andrew, I took your advice and downloaded something called Lux Touch, which I assume is what you were talking about since it refers to global conquest and I just so happen to like global conquest. You'll get my response to the game in due time (or not at all, if it's that good).

Meghan said...

NO!!! DO NOT PLAY LUX!!!

That game makes me more angry than.... well.... it makes me VERY angry.