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Heart to Heart: Year in Review

A bit more than a year ago, I created a website called Heart to Heart HD: http://hearttoheart.bahaiteaching.net/.

screenshot.4During the ensuing year, I’ve paid no attention to hits, visits, or other web-traffic statistics. But shortly after the site’s first birthday, I peeked — and was stunned to learn that it has evolved into one of the most-used, most-visited Baha’i sites on the Internet.

You can read all about it here:

http://garymatthews.com/2013/04/heart-to-heart-bahai-site-year-in-review/

And then, please leave your comments in the form provided. I’d love to hear from you.

New Ether Book from Stonehaven

There’s a “new” book from Stonehaven Press: ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Einstein and Ether by Gary Matthews. (That is, by yours truly.)

Please note the quotation marks. This volume isn’t technically new, but it’s a vastly expanded second edition with so much new material, and so much formatting improvement, that it might as well be new.

'Abdu'l-Baha, Einstein and EtherRead my introductory article here, at GaryMatthews.com. Or find ordering-and-purchasing information here, at StonehavenPress.com.

If you’re interested in the connections between science and religion, reason and revelation, then this book may well appeal to you. Designed for the general reader, it’s a popular, non-technical overview of quantum physics and general relativity, in their relation to something called “luminiferous ether”.

And of course, to the Baha’i Faith, since Baha’i sacred texts contain statements about ether that sometimes raise eyebrows.

In print form, ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Einstein and Ether is 72 pages, perfect-bound, and illustrated. The earlier version was a 28-page booklet.

This also is the first Stonehaven book to be published as an ebook. (More coming soon!) It’s available both in Kindle-compatible form (MOBI) and everything-else-compatible form (EPUB). Please note — at the moment it’s solely on the Stonehaven Press site. This means that if you download the MOBI version, you’ll have to transfer it to your Kindle yourself. We should soon have the electronic version available at Amazon, so you can download it directly to your Kindle account.

We believed it was time to create the expanded, updated version because in recent years (after the original publication in 2000), a wealth of new material on the topic has come to light. This includes a large number of recently unearthed or translated statements by Albert Einstein.

Einstein has for many years been thought of as the physicist who discredited and discarded the whole “ether” concept. That was true for a short time. But he changed his mind, and spent most of his later career revising and clarifying his original stance.

Even if you aren’t interested in the science-and-religion interplay, this book is an easy introduction to what once was a hot topic in physics and seems to be becoming a hot topic again. You heard it here first!

Happy Valentine’s Day

Dear friends and readers,

LoveapeHappy Valentine’s Day to you all. You are one and all loved by at least one very Astonished Tamale! Here’s hoping every one of you also is loved deeply and intensely by someone you love just as much.

Speaking of astonishment:

We’re pleased to note that for the second year in a row, Knoxville Tennessee — home of The Astonished Tamale! — is America’s Most Romantic City. We know this because Amazon.com, the universally acknowledged authority on such things, says so in this press release.

Amazon figures this out by tracking “sales data of romance novels and relationship books (Kindle books and print books); romantic comedy movies (digital and DVDs); a collection of romantic music from Dean Martin, Barry White, Luther Vandross, Maxwell and Miguel (CDs and MP3s); along with sexual wellness products”.

G&CMeanwhile, the famous Real Age website has just named Knoxville the nation’s Number Three city for a happy marriage — trailing close behind Salt Lake City, Utah, and Greenville, South Carolina. Plus, Knoxville is still Real Age’s choice for the nation’s “Best City for Sex for Women”. (For men, their metrics rank Knoxville the eighth worst. If anyone can explain this paradox, please enlighten us in the comments below.)

Last year, Knoxville won the Amazon top spot despite being Real Age’s pick as America’s “oldest” city in terms of “aging too fast” through poor health practices. (The Astonished Tamale! reported that news here.)

New York City can rejoice in the news that Amazon no longer considers it America’s least romantic city. That bottom spot now goes to (drumroll!) Boise, Idaho.

Is this true? Well, nothing trumps a scientific test: Just yesterday I sent an electronic Valentine Card to a couple in Boise, and instantly received (from the husband) this reply: “We’re fine but Feb 14 is just another Hallmark holiday we don’t bother to celebrate.”

So there you have it. May all of you — my dear Boise friends included — have a deliciously loving year ahead.

New Websites

screenshot.2Several long-term projects coming to fruition:

Please take a look at the all-new Stonehaven Press website at stonehavenpress.com.

This site, the storefront for the publishing company Cheri and I own, has been in the works for a long time. Way overdue, but we haven’t had the time needed to bring it into being.

screenshot.3Also its companion site, GaryMatthews.com. My personal author site, where I’ll talk about my writing, my books, publishing, book design, web design, and other topics. That site does not replace this one — The Astonished Tamale! — which is more for general-interest topics.

For me, the most satisfying thing about GaryMatthews.com is that it’s my own name — the simplest, most straightforward version of my name, and the one people actually use in conversation. For a few months I’ve had a similar site, GaryLMatthews.com. (That still is running, though now I may redesign it for another purpose. Or maybe just redirect traffic from it to the new one. Haven’t yet decided.)

For a long time, I’ve wanted to call my website “GaryMatthews.com”, but couldn’t. Someone else already owned the domain name: In fact, it’s been off the market for more than 15 years, even though no one was using it. For the story of how I finally acquired the right to use the name, click here.

Both the Stonehaven site and my writing blog need tons of work. Much more content to come — contact pages, background stuff, utilities, loads of stuff. Please make allowances for how unfinished they are. But at least you can get a good look at them and see what is in store.

screenshot.4Finally, if you haven’t recently checked out our associated website, Heart to Heart HD, please do so now: hearttoheart.bahaiteaching.net. With the help of Heart to Heart’s author, Zabine Van Ness, we’ve added a lot of useful content and functionality recently. More exciting stuff on the way.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all!

The Proposed AIG Lawsuit

As I write this, AIG — American International Group — is meeting to consider filing a lawsuit against America for…

That’s right. For bailing it out.

By loaning $182 billion to AIG, back at the start of the Obama administration.

Just so you know, here is what The Astonished Tamale! thinks of that:

As the above video demonstrates, the letters of “American International Group” transpose to spell:

  • “An amateur, reptilian crooning.”
  • “I’m an ungenial, incorporate rat.”
  • “I am unrelenting, paranoiac rot.”
  • “Ignorant manipulation career.”
  • “Alarming, uncertain operation.”
  • “I am a large, incontinent uproar.”
  • “Neurotic, ignorant apeman liar.”
  • “Alienating, un-American torpor.”
  • “un-American rat, reptilian goon.”
  • “Reptilian mountain arrogance.”
  • “A repugnant, irrational income.”
  • “Our ‘nice’, loan-pirating mean rat!”

Please note, the lawsuit already was filed by former AIG CEO Hank Greenberg. The suit originally was dismissed in November by a Federal court, but is still pending in the US Court of Federal Claims. Greenberg now wants the company and its shareholders to join him in the suit and in his appeal.

According to news reports, the company is seriously considering doing exactly that.

Greenberg’s claim is that the Obama administration, in saving the company from bankruptcy, charged too much interest. Now I don’t know the official interest rate, from the standpoint of technical finance. But after the loan was repaid, US taxpayers did make a profit of $22 billion. Is that excessive?

Lemme see … (Hmm. …carry the two …) Okay, that represents a profit of 12 percent. A 12 percent profit over a period of four years. In other words, three percent per year.

Now riddle me this: Do you imagine that YOU can borrow money from AIG at a rate of three percent per year? No, I didn’t think so either. And we certainly couldn’t do it without putting up some sort of collateral, like our home or some other trinket. (Can you say “foreclosure”?)

It appeared, at the time of the bailout, that we the people would lose, if not all of the $182 billion, at least a great deal of it. The deal was a risk that no private entity — certainly not AIG — would have undertaken.

But at a meager investment return of three percent per year, we saved AIG from bankruptcy. Last year alone, AIG stock rose 52 percent, three times the rate of the S&P’s insurance company index.

Gratitude, AIG style. Go figure.

The Windows 8 Great Debate

To my stark amazement, I love Windows 8. Let me count the ways.

But first — why am I weighing in?

Because various tech experts, including two I know, are recommending we skip this latest version of Microsoft’s operating system. At least (the advice goes) we should hold off till we’re forced into it by the purchase of a new PC.

I couldn’t disagree more. My advice: If you’re buying a PC, and you have a choice between Windows 7 or 8 — go with 8.

Windows 8Here’s why: (a) Windows 8 is easy to master. (b) It’s substantially faster. (c) It’s much more secure and stable. (d) It automatically backs up all your stuff — your data files, your software, even the operating system itself. (e) It has a ton of useful new features and utilities. (f) It’s dirt-cheap.

So true are these statements that even if you already own a Windows 7 machine, you should — in my opinion — download and install the Windows 8 Pro upgrade. Direct from Microsoft, this costs $40. Unless you purchased your Win7 system after June 2, 2012. Then it costs only $15!

Either price is a steal, but they’re good only till January 31. (In the past, Microsoft has made operating system upgrades prohibitively expensive for individuals, which is why we usually acquire them only as we replace machines.)

But what’s the debate about? Let’s turn to specifics:

 
How Windows 8 Works

Windows 8 is Microsoft’s latest attempt to embrace “tablet computing”. (Think iPads, Android slates, and smartphones). This requires a radical new look-and-feel. Microsoft’s “mission impossible” is to establish a tablet-oriented operating system (OS) that also works better than ever on traditional desktops.

The tablet side is the one we’ve all seen in the ads: a “start screen” covered with brightly colored “active tiles”. These new-style tiles lead, typically, to new-style apps optimized for tablet computers such as the new Microsoft Surface. On many models, that’s all you’ll have.

But for traditional laptop or non-mobile computers, the start screen is one click away from — your traditional Windows desktop! There you install and run all your familiar apps: Office, Photoshop, Skype, solitaire, whatever else you already do. The new Windows. Just like the old Windows.

Windows 7 Start MenuExcept — hey, where’s my “start” menu? The one I used to find at the lower left, where I’d click “start” to turn my computer off? Or to list “all programs” so I could find the ones I installed but then lost? Or get to the control panel so I could do whatever one does with that?

Turns out, the old start menu has morphed into the new start screen. Both are activated by the familiar Windows key. You can also conjure up the start screen by a variety of mouse clicks or (for touch devices) finger gestures.

It’s startling to see the old start menu replaced by a special screen that constitutes the entire user interface for the forthcoming crop of Windows tablets. Some call this duality “schizophrenic”. I find it brilliant. (Of course, brilliance and schizophrenia aren’t mutually exclusive.)

 
The Learning Curve

Critics of Windows 8 complain that its learning curve is “too steep”. Any minor improvements (they say) just aren’t worth the pain of unlearning and relearning.

What pain? I would suffer far, far greater pain sticking with Windows 7 or any earlier version. The so-called “learning curve” mostly involves features that didn’t exist before, and which we don’t have to use till we want them. We’re free to go on doing everything in the way we know, for as long as we like.

Your familiar desktop remains, and it works exactly as before. Your programs also work exactly as before. As noted above, the main “new” feature is that the “windows key” pops up a start screen in place of the old start menu.

But the old start menu was a convoluted, confusing mess. The beautiful new screen that replaces it is logical, natural, and intuitive. I started using it right away, without any instructions. The old “menu” is one I still struggle with, whenever I must go back to any computer running Win7 or earlier. (But do check this out for yourself; don’t take my word!)

I’ve also heard that familiar programs now work differently, and not as well. This hasn’t been my experience. Mine all work the same, except faster. That’s amazing, considering I’m still using some software I first installed under Windows 95. (For those who weren’t yet born, Windows 95 was the first “real” Windows, replacing the even older DOS command line. I was there.)

One program I’ve lost was my beloved MARS — Multiple Author Refer System — a search engine for Baha’i scripture. But that was already unworkable under Windows 7, hardly the fault of Win8.

 
The Speed Difference

Go to Google (or any search engine) and type in “Windows 8 speed comparison”. Scores of tech sites will pop up, reporting real-world benchmark testing. Their collective verdict is in: Windows 8 (out of the box) is faster than Windows 7 (out of the box) — even on identical hardware! For some functions, the speed differences are dramatic. Nor are they confined to obvious bottlenecks like booting up.

But out-of-the-box comparisons miss the larger story. A chronic Windows failure has been this: Over time, all versions of Windows have tended to run slower and slower, bogging down, becoming buggier and more clunky. This was true even when no new or extra demands were being placed on the operating system, and with no new software being installed. It was true no matter how many virus scans one ran, how many updates were installed, or whatnot.

This problem, though under-reported, is well-known: John Dvorak, the cranky PC Magazine columnist, calls it “operating system rot”. The causes are various. Sometimes the problem is malware (viruses, ad-bots, and other scum). Just as often, it’s the “critical security updates” Windows always is downloading and installing into itself. Plus every other program on your computer also is updating continuously. All the updates bloat your system and eventually break down into incompatibility.

Windows 8 is the first system whereby Microsoft acknowledges this problem (albeit tacitly) and does something about it. In addition to the old “system restore” function (now much improved), there is a “reset” function that returns Windows to its out-of-the box, factory-fresh condition. Better yet is a “refresh” feature that returns it to a like-new state without destroying your data files.

Finally (and best of all), you can install all your favorite apps, set up your system just the way you like it, and identify that state as your permanent target for refreshing. (Click here for an article on how to do this.)

 
Security

All earlier versions of Windows have been highly vulnerable to hacker attacks. Windows 8, by contrast, has anti-virus protection built in, and turned on by default if no other protective software is running.

Much more important, the core system elements have been totally redesigned to be as bullet-proof as possible. Is it perfectly invulnerable? No. But the experts agree that hackers will have a far, far harder time taking over your system than they had before. Witness this article by PC Magazine‘s security specialist, Neil Rubenking:

Windows 8: Secure at the Deepest Level

The article’s conclusion: “… any attack or exploit that worked against Windows 7 will fail against Windows 8.”

Elsewhere, Rubenking quotes “Black Hat” authorities who concede that Windows 8 can indeed be broken by a sufficiently trained and talented hacker. But they expect only one tenth of one percent of the current hacker community ever to attain such prowess — and most of those (they say) will end up working for Microsoft anyway!

 
Automatic Backup

We all hate doing backups. It’s a painful chore, and even those of us who do it, do it grudgingly. What a nuisance! But if we don’t, we lose valuable data files.

Windows 8 has a nifty feature called File History. You plug in an external disk (most likely one of those USB drives you see everywhere nowadays, that hold oceans of stuff), and Windows asks if you want to use it for File History. You say yes, and from then on, Windows uses that drive to keep copies of all your files. Or rather, all the ones in your “libraries” — and you can easily mark any of your folders as libraries.

But better yet is the “history” part: Windows automatically saves different versions of your files. So after you’ve screwed up your budding novel and now wish you’d kept those old chapters you rewrote, guess what: Windows has them! And will give them back to you with a mouse-click or two. Just think how many times that will save your bacon over the next few years.

Admittedly, File History isn’t yet as good as the Time Machine feature that Apple Mac enthusiasts love. But it’s good, and will only get better.

 
New Features

I mentioned Windows 8 has “a ton of useful new features”. Here’s just one:

If you have a CD or DVD, you can copy the whole thing to your hard disk as a single file (“disk image”). (It’s called an ISO file.) Once it’s on your disk, you can double-click it, and Windows treats that file as a “virtual drive” — assigning it a drive letter and running it as if it were a disk in a physical drive. Except that it runs it an awful lot faster: no spinning and whirring, no read-write errors. This is a terrific way to back up your priceless software disks, for example. You’ll think of many other uses.

 
Price

Did I mention that Windows 8 is dirt-cheap?

 
Some Closing Perspective

Anyone who, over the years, has heard me rant knows I am not a shill for Microsoft. I’ve long berated the company, griping that it had lost its way and betrayed its core constituency.

I built my first computer (the cult-classic “Sinclair”) with a soldering iron, from a pile of diodes and capacitors. Back then, the two Steves (Jobs and Wozniak) were cobbling together the Apple I in a garage. Bill Gates and Paul Allen were designing the BASIC programming language I came to love.

So I remember Microsoft back when it was an upstart start-up. It was the little guy, David taking on the corporate Goliaths on behalf of all us little guys. Between them, Apple and Microsoft brought vast computing power to the masses, power formerly reserved to large corporations. (Other companies, including Radio Shack, Texas Instruments, and Commodore, also played important roles and are under-credited.)

But Microsoft eventually became a mega-corporation itself, and started acting like one. One side effect is that Windows, when it arrived, never had the lean-and-hungry sleekness of Microsoft’s earliest software.

I kept hoping Windows would improve, but it seemed to get buggier, more bloated, more mediocre with each new version. Yet I kept using it (instead of, say, Macintosh) because it had the applications I most depended on.

Windows 8 is the first version of Windows about which I can be really enthusiastic. Don’t get me wrong: It’s far from perfect, but it’s a start.

And even if the only thing Windows 8 does is scare the living daylights out of Apple and Google, that will be a good thing. The fireworks will be fun to watch.

Have you upgraded to Windows 8? What is your experience? Please share by posting your thoughts in the comment section below.

Where We Left Off

“What’s going on with the Tamale?”

Thus inquired my friend Patricia, just last night. As a subscriber to this blog, she no doubt was puzzled at not having gotten any updates for the past four-and-and-half months. Okay, fasten your seat belts:

Peter & Zabine It was May 8-9 when Zabine Van Ness and I returned to Seattle from Hanoi, via Seoul, Korea. (See the previous article, Seoul Pancake.) I spent most of the next two weeks in Seattle as a guest of Zabine and her husband, Peter Van Ness, pictured at left.

A highlight of this visit was Seattle’s celebration of the 100th anniversary of the visit to America by ‘Abdu’l-Baha, son of the Baha’i Faith’s founder, Baha’u’llah. And for me, the chief highlight of that celebration was being its keynote speaker — one of the highest honors of my life.

Cheri-slides Finally — finally! — got back to Knoxville May 22 (having left April 24). Got back to Cheri. My dear, sweet, beloved Cheri. In our 26 years of marriage, we’d never been apart for a whole month. As great an adventure as this Vietnam/Seattle  trip was, the physical distance from her made it one of the toughest months of my life. Maybe hers too.

From that moment this till, I’ve been immersed in book-publishing stuff, web-publishing stuff, writing, trying to mow faster than our lawn can grow. And yes, there’s a lot more to log here by way of specifics. Please stay tuned.

To all the wonderful folks I met, and the many new friends I made, on this trip-of-a-lifetime — thank you for being there. Can’t wait to see you all again. Hopefully, next time, accompanied by Cheri, so the trip-duration won’t matter.

Seoul Pancake

Apologies to Rainn Wilson for the pun on his wacky, wonderful website. But facing a 13-hour layover in Seoul, Korea, I was ready to disclaim any further responsibility for anything.

Then Zabine and I got a clue: We remembered our Vietnamese home-stay host telling us of a terrific five-hour tour of Seoul we could take from the airport. Even if this tour hadn’t been a once-in-a-lifetime prize (and it was), we’d have seized it just to pass the time. (Do the math: Our 13-hour wait was sandwiched between a five-hour Hanoi-to-Seoul flight and a 10-hour Seoul-to-Seattle flight. Sleep, sorta-kinda included, but not really.)

Seoul is vibrant, high-tech, bursting with life and color. Koreans love balloons and bright paper lanterns. We visited a downtown river restoration project, the palace compound of ancient Korean kings, and a Buddhist temple. The palace struck me as harsh, austere, and lifeless. By contrast, the river and the temple were kaleidoscopic in their beauty.

Our tour included lunch at a vegetarian restaurant where most of our group ordered – beef. (Yeah, I know.) Their loss, my gain: I went with the brown rice and steamed vegetables. Not only was the dish indelibly yummy, it even provided protein, in the form of a raw egg yolk perched right there on top. Speared it with my chopsticks, I did. (At least there’s something I do deftly with chopsticks.)

Please note below the photo of Zabine with Haechi, who symbolizes the City of Seoul. If you click the thumbnail, then zoom in close enough, you can even read the fine print: “Haechi, Seoul’s symbol, is an imaginary creature that helps realize justice and enhance safety and happiness.” Count us in!

Vietnam Exit

May 9, 2012 (Tuesday) – Most of the past week – another blur. Our official reason for being in Vietnam ended with last weekend’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Hanoi Baha’i community. Normally we would have headed for home immediately. Did I explain that the earliest return flight turned out to be more than a week later?

Highlights of the past week include taking out our host families to dinner at a wonderful Hanoi lakeside restaurant, La Tre Place (aka The Bamboo Restaurant); dinners at the homes of various Vietnamese friends; a water puppet show; and a breakfast excursion at an exceptionally wonderful cafe called Tea Talk.

But the biggest highlight was the almost daily opportunities to teach people about the Baha’i Faith. One (or sometimes more) of the young Vietnamese college women who expressed an interest in Zabine’s Heart to Heart multimedia slideshow kept coming back to learn more. One of them gave a good 15 hours of rapt attention over the course of several days. (This is not a strictly Asian phenomenon: Using Heart to Heart, Zabine routinely elicits similar levels of engagement in Seattle and elsewhere. That’s another story.)

Come Tuesday night, our Baha’i shepherds, Binh and Duyen, whisked us to the dazzlingly modern Hanoi airport with plenty of time to spare. They then hung around with us to make sure we didn’t get stuck because of some airline hitch, language glitch, technical difficulty or whatnot. Words don’t exist to say how kind and wonderful these folks are.

Instead of trying to narrate a day-by-day account, I’m posting below a few of the several hundred photos I took over the past week. Please note that as before, clicking on any thumbnail will display a much larger and more detailed version: