On consciousness, mortality, immortality, and the soul

Metaphysical ramblings…don’t expect them to make any sense.

I was thinking today about the whole religion and afterlife thing. It started with me not being ready to present at a meeting, and that meeting being fortuitously delayed until tomorrow, giving me time to finish getting ready for it. Which made me think “you know, I am a strong believer in the adage ‘It all works out in the end’…” Now of course there are instances where a situation or outcome is undesirable, but in that case, could it be a matter of perspective, that either the attitude was mismatched to the situation, or a misperception of scope.

In the short term, dropping an ice cream sundae on the ground does not seem to have worked out in the end, but expanding the scope, and viewing it holistically as part of a pattern of causality, perhaps it caused your food intake for the day to be healthier, or not eating the sundae put your schedule ahead by 5 minutes, which cause you to get home in time to catch the cat about to knock something off a shelf, thereby averting a disaster. Everything’s more fun with causality thought experiments, after all (bringing to mind another fun adage, “This is the best of all possible worlds”).

Now, of course, general circumstance may seem so overwhelmingly negative and perhaps lead to death. Which made me think “I can see the appeal of religion, for it lets you artificially expand scope beyond the point of death, and say that things worked out, even when it would be extremely difficult to argue that ordinarily.” Now, granted, you can expand scope beyond your life simply by switching focus to a new generation of offspring, or to humanity as a whole, but being a very self-centered sort of person, I’m choosing to focus on the individual here.

Of course, I have no such handy religious views myself, and here is why: I believe that which is termed “an individual” is at best a gestalt organism. Let me explain what I mean by that.

For the sake of argument, let’s take as a given that each individual has a “soul” which exists beyond the physical plane and persists after death. Yay, you’re immortal!

Well, not so fast. Your “soul” may be immortal, but is that “you”? I say no. Take, for instance, brain chemistry. Get whacked on the head wrong or fed the wrong chemicals, and your personality can radically shift, to the point where it can be argued you are no longer the same person. We are saying the soul is beyond the physical plane, so those chemicals aren’t affecting your soul. So what you perceive as “you” is a gestalt, then, of the soul and the physical meat that is your body. Separate the soul from the body, and you no longer have the same gestalt as before.

So even if your soul is immortal, without the body, it’s no longer “you”. At best it is an aspect of “you” but it’s no longer the same perspective, same chemical-engine of emotion and thought, or optical- and auditory-based perception. It’s not the same person. So even if your soul is immortal, when you die, that’s it, “you” are dead. That particular combination of flesh and soul is no longer.

And through all of this, the presupposition granted at the beginning is that there is an invisible immortal soul – but if that’s not true, if “you” are in fact just the byproduct of a lot of neurons dancing around in your meat brain, then when that shuts off “you” are also dead.

Now of course there are alternate ways around this – nonlinear time, branching universes, quantum interactions and the interconnectedness of all things – but for all practical purposes, dead is dead.

None of which, strangely, deters me from still believing that Everything Works Out In The End. Which I guess is the nature of belief, getting a fundamental feeling of “rightness” from a concept despite any possible logical arguments against it.

Manga and Comics on Sony Reader

manga on Sony eBook reader

The last couple days I’ve discovered how to put comics and manga on my ebook reader.

There are not a lot of sources for legal comics and manga (the Sony eBook store has a handful of titles, mostly just a few that came out at the launch of the store and hasn’t been updated since). However, there are lots of sources for technically illegal (scans of books) and quasi-legal (fan english translations of scanned japanese books, out-of-print comics whose publishers are no longer in business) sources of comics and manga.

To be honest, I’d be willing to (and have) purchase legal copies, but most publishers are unwilling to provide comics in digital form, or do so in a restrictive form, like limiting viewing to special software on a computer only. So they simply aren’t interested in providing digital content.

Thankfully, there are lots of comics fans out there scanning and posting. A few searches on Google should yield you a wealth of golden-age comics and manga titles.

To put manga and comics on the Sony PRS-505:

1. Download .zip of a manga book (or create a zip of sequentially named .jpgs)
2. rename the .zip to .cbz
3. Drag the .cbz file into Calibre (free, cross-platform app: http://calibre.kovidgoyal.net/download).
4. Click "Convert" in Calibre to convert it to an .lrf file. Leave all the Calibre settings at default except check "Keep Aspect Ratio" otherwise it will be stretched to fill the screen.
4. Copy the .lrf file onto your reader or onto an SD card or memory stick and put that in your reader.
5. enjoy!

In some cases MacOS creates metadata files that may trip up Calibre. To remove metadata files, copy the files in the command line like this:

cp -X /path/to/original/folder/* /path/to/cleanup/folder

The -X switch will prevent extended attributes from being copied.

More detailed info:
Metadata on OSX is stored in hidden files that start with ._ so if you download an image from a webbrowser called "page_01.jpg", an invisible file called "._page_01.jpg" will also be created, which may contain info like the fact the image was downloaded from the internet, and the URL it came from. This is how OSX knows to warn you the first time you try to run an application downloaded from the internet.

Chocolate Space Invaders

I’ve been playing with making chocolate things recently… I’ve made chocolate-covered mint oreos, chocolate Lego bricks with a graham cracker and peanut butter center, and most recently, I got a Space Invaders mold and made Space Invaders chocolate:

Each one has an espresso bean in the center.

Pondering extended ASCII

An examination of ASCII chars

A bit of background: the extended ASCII chars 145-148 were meant as control characters. However, Microsoft instead used them for some custom characters, namely “curly” quotes. Apple stuck with the original charset definitions, meaning that curly quotes from Word sometimes still show up as broken on MacOS. Although oddly, the entities for the same char (like “) work – apparently functioning as aliases to the “correct” upper-ASCII characters (like “).

My question is, why doesn’t this same remapping happen with the literal character? Isn’t it worth the sacrifice of some unused control characters to allow the user to see quotes as the copy editor intended them? Why punish the user because someone else used char 147 instead of 8220?

Also, if Microsoft hadn’t used those slots for their own stuff, and left it alone, then we would have those standard ASCII codes for other uses now – non-character delimiters, anyone? How great would it be if you had characters specifically for string delimiters, so you wouldn’t have to always be escaping quotes? I even notice that the original name of char 150 was “Start of guarded area”, 151 was “End of Guarded area”, 152 was “Start of string” and 156 was “String Terminator”. Sigh, for what might have been.

ASCII Num Entity Bad Char JS charCodeAt of Bad Good Char JS charCodeAt of Good
145 ‘ ‘ 145 ‘ 8216
146 ’ ’ 146 ’ 8217
147 “ “ 147 “ 8220
148 ” ” 148 ” 8221

PDAs I have known

I was thinking about it yesterday, I’ve had quite a few PDAs over the years.
I’m probably forgetting one or two, but here’s the ones that come to mind:

Casio BOSS organizer
I actually had 2 or 3 of these in succession, but I don’t remember the brand/model of the first ones. The Casio BOSS was handy – it fit easily in my pocket and stored all my phone numbers and schedules. It didn’t have any fancy extras, but it got the job done and had great battery life.

Casio Databank calculator watch
Ah, what nerd hasn’t had a calculator watch at some point? I was really fond of this one, though – although the memory was limited, it was still plenty to store all my phone numbers and schedule. And being a watch, the battery lasts for YEARS.

Palm Pilot
The first PDA I got with the ability to install apps. The Palm OS was lightweight and efficient, and there were a lot of people releasing free apps for the Palm. Good times.

Palm III
The Palm III improved on the Palm Pilot’s screen and memory and was just better in general.

Palm IIIxe
The PalmIIIxe was the same as the Palm III, but with more memory and I think a faster processor.

Kyocera Smartphone
Combined a Palm with a cellphone in a form factor that was not unlike duct-taping the two devices together. Still, I could check my email when out and about, and even though the web browser was hacky and barely better than Lynx, at least it was something.

Dell Axim X5
A capable PDA with a color screen. Bulky in design, but a nice device. Running Windows Mobile, it was more capable than Palm OS, but also not very optimized. There were also less apps than on Palm OS, and unlike Palm, most Windows Mobile apps weren’t free.

Tapwave Zodiac
I really wanted to like the Zodiac, it used the Palm OS and had a pretty color screen. The controls were perfect for games… however, the underpowered processor, small RAM, and terrible camera meant I ended up returning it after a week or two.

Dell Axim X50
A big improvement over the Axim X5, the X50 had a beautiful full VGA screen (even today, many PDAs are lower-res than that), a fast CPU, and WiFi. The mobile IE was pretty bad, but usable. App selection was ok, although one flaw with Windows Mobile is that if an update to the OS was released, each PDA manufacturer was responsible for working with Microsoft to create a custom build of the release for that PDA. Which meant that you were pretty much stuck with the OS on the PDA, and could only gaze wistfully at updates.

Danger Hiptop 2 (aka Sidekick 2)
Sexy design with a swiveling screen. However, a crappy CPU, crappy camera, poor app selection, and bad web browser had me returning it not long after getting it. It did do AIM real well, but that was about it.

iPhone 3G
My current PDA. Sleek and powerful, it comes at the expense of battery life. I didn’t get the original iPhone because at that point there were no apps for it. With the 3G iPhone, Apple launched an app store and a flood of applications quickly appeared. Interestingly, the main menu GUI is pretty much the same as the Palm Pilot, from way back when.

One thing I have noticed: over time, CPU and RAM has gotten better, but batteries really haven’t improved much. Which means I have over time gone from a PDA that could run for weeks or even months on a charge, to the iPhone, which can go maybe 2 days.