Why I switched from Apple iPhone to HTC One Android.

I’ve been an Apple customer for a very long time. I still am ‘that guy’ who harps on about Mac OS X at every available opportunity. But iOS, the operating system at the heart of every iPhone, is something quite different to that which keeps the Mac ahead of the other desktop operating systems; and that’s why this week I switched to Android.

HTC-ProductDetail-Hero-slide-04There are a million and one reasons to stick with iPhone once you’re already hooked into the iCloud ecosystem. Everything, as they say, ‘just works’. On top of that the iPhone 5’s styling is textbook Jonathan Ive; Apple’s British-born design guru who Steve Jobs called his righthand-man.

But while iPhone users have spent the last few years patting themselves on the back for not only having the nicest looking phones on the market, but the first truly smart-phones in the world, Google powered devices have been slowly but surely evolving from ‘me too’ cheap copies of the iPhone, into a whole new class of device; which with the arrival of the HTC One sees the whole Post-PC concept, first begun by Apple, taken into a radically new direction.

Upon the first arrival of the Android OS, it was true to say that most of the devices which ran it only succeeded because of how many iPhone-like functions they mimicked, but at a lower price-point. It’s easy to forget how many of the now commonplace functions of a mobile phone simply didn’t exist before Apple entered the market. But as a consequence of the corner-cutting which earlier Android powered devices had to take to keep costs and lawsuits down to a minimum, many of them merely looked on in awe at the iPhone, despite that on paper many had faster processors, bigger clearer screens, and higher resolution cameras. The weak link was the OS itself, and the image problem it gave devices that simply didn’t have that famous Apple finishing touch. Users who fell for the impressive specs while being given the sales-pitch in the showroom, soon found that after spending real time with their handset, something wasn’t quite right.

Well, I’ve lived with my HTC One for just over four days now, and I can’t begin to explain how impressively it does away with the notion that non-iOS powered smartphones are forever playing catch-up to Apple when it comes to the finer details. Those days, simply put, are well and truly over.

My old iPhone was the original model 4 — the 4S came along about 6 months into my previous contract with Three Mobile here in the UK˙; and if I’d switched-up to the iPhone 5 before the end of the contract it would have cost quite a lot of money. So since the regular iPhone 4 still ran the latest version of iOS — at least, that is, it claimed to — I settled myself with the belief that, once it came time to renew my contract and take out a new device, Apple would have come up with something to keep me happy in the intervening months; it was just a matter of waiting.

But then I started to think about what was really going on. It’s true that the iPhone 4 simply wasn’t powerful enough to run most apps properly. Back in the days when the desktop PC was the main portal through which most people accessed the internet, we were used to the notion of a computer becoming obsolete after 3 or 4 years — such was the pace of development in the sound, graphics and general processing which was happening in the PC space at that time.

But, once the notion of the post-PC device took ahold, the time it took for new devices to become old news increased dramatically. My iPhone 4 was less than 1 year old when it first started to randomly crash and run even very basic apps at a snail’s pace. Even the ubiquitous Apple Apps Store would become so unresponsive, simply by attempting to scroll through the selection of available apps, I began to contemplate an unnerving thought; and the uneasy feeling that Apple had deliberately included some unnecessarily processor hungry bits of code, just to leave users of older handsets feeling inadequate, solidified itself in my mind with the release of Siri; the voice command software which refused to run on the iPhone 4, even though the company who originally produced it had an earlier version running happily on the much slower iPhone 3.

While there’s nothing new about electronics manufacturers purposefully producing devices designed to fail, on the gambit that loyal users will simply upgrade to the latest hardware to run the latest software, the fact that this flies in the face of everything Apple were supposed to be about, leaves those of us who go all the way back to the mid-1990’s with Apple, feeling as if they’ve become the very thing they once stood sharply against, now that they are one of the world’s most profitable companies. “Think different” was never supposed to be an excuse to charge more for less; but that’s precisely the mantra Apple’s iPhone devision seems to have embraced in recent times; for shame.

Current iPhone users, who intend to upgrade to another iPhone within the next few months, should consider the following. Just one hour into using my HTC One, I’d…

• Installed a third party app without jailbreaking the device
• Downloaded a bunch of ringtones and alerts without having to open iTunes, stand on one leg, and whistle Dixie
• Switched the default browser to Chrome
• Re-installed every app which I’d previously used on the iPhone, without having to hand over my credit card details first
• Programmed the HTC One to be a remote control for my TV, Home Theatre System, and a time-shift scheduler for my PVR
• Dragged and dropped the music I want to listen to directly from the desktop without having to take a university degree course in using iTunes
• and — shock horror — I used it to make an actual phone call, and was able to hear everything the person on the other end was saying as well as they could hear me!

Listening to the Beats Audio sound system is a really weird (in a good way) experience. It’s like sitting in front of a decent home HiFi stereo speaker set-up twice the size of the phone itself. The pseudo-surround-sound software really works very well and the stereo spread is lifelike and focused, only starting to distort when you get into the ‘too loud anyway’ volume range.

The 4.7 inch 1080p display is bright and focused. It handles full HD video very easily, with no fragmentation or ripping. Every time I pick up the device, I’m as impressed all over again as the first time I switched it on by how sharp and slick looking the display is.

The case is made from robust materials which make the handset feel substantial. It’s not so thin you’d find yourself checking your pocket when out and about, to make sure you hadn’t dropped it — a common problem with the flyaway light iPhone 5.

The whole thing is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon Quadcore chip, running at 1.7GHz with 2GB of RAM. I’m old enough to remember when these were the sort of specifications desktop PC users drooled over, in anticipation of running the latest shoot-em-up video game. Not that pumping that sort of power into a mobile device necessarily means the software is capable of utilising it. Specs are vanity but software is reality, and many handhelds which boast impressive numbers fall short of delivering the sort of balances system performance which Apple perfected on the Mac and transferred to the iPhone. But, unlike previous Android powered phones, HTC have harnessed the full power of the hardware to compliment beautifully Android’s Open Source heritage — letting loose some genuinely jaw-dropping bells, whistles and impress the hell out of your friends gadgets and gizmos.

The camera, for example, is everything you’d want from a dedicated mid-priced point-and-shoot compact. As a pro-camera, I’ve been using a Canon EOS 300D for the past 10 years, but the HTC One actually performs way better in low-light. The full resolution HD video capture, which the DSLR doesn’t even do, much less at 60 frames per second, is truly staggering; and the neat slow-motion mode, which at first might seem gimmicky, actually adds a level of creativity I can imagine coming in super-useful when shooting sporting events, and other things which might happen quickly, but which the viewer wants to study later in better detail. This all adds up to actually inspiring me to go-back to my hobby of photography after a long time away, after becoming disillusioned with the flat-by-comparison performance of my other dedicated point and shoot, a Canon G10 — which at the time cost me nearly £400, doesn’t support full frame HD video and doesn’t exactly slip into the pocket.

Then there’s the photo software. HTC have made a smart move in concentrating on how the image is processed, rather than simply throwing megapixels at the ubiquitous problem of how much light it’s possible to get into a lens with a small surface area — the HTC One having just a 25mm aperture.

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the same scene, one with low-light no-flash, and one with standard settings auto-flash, between the iPhone 4 and the HTC One:

iPhone with flash.  This is not a post-process effect, it really is that washed out.

iPhone with flash. This is not a post-process effect, it really is that washed out.

iPhone, no flash.  No option for low-light mode.

iPhone, no flash. No option for low-light mode.

HTC One with Flash

HTC One with Flash

HTC One without flash, on Standard Low-Light Setting

HTC One without flash, on Standard Low-Light Setting

In both cases, getting these photographs out of the two devices wasn’t easy. The HTC One Sync software works as well on the Mac as I suspect it would on Windows, but it wasn’t as Drag-and-Drop simple as it should be. But what you gain in fast loading times, and access to the whole Android file system, is a trade off against the rather clunky way of having to wait for the software to Sync the contents of the phone with the Sync folder on the computer. Having said that, when compared to the way the process is handled by the iPhone — insisting as it does on performing the whole thing via the slow, buggy and downright horrible iPhoto software — there is no comparison. In the time it’s taken me to write this entire paragraph iPhoto is still ‘thinking’ about what to do next, just to grab two photographs. Someone should tell Apple it’s 2013, and iLife as a whole desperately needs a make-over.

To be fair to iOS, there are some things which Android doesn’t do, which the iPhone thinks nothing of. Again, this is a spit and polish, finishing touches ‘thing’, which will no-doubt be fixed over time. For example, if you want to place a shortcut icon in the Dock at the base of the screen, you have to open the Icon View of all your apps, and long-hold, drag and drop, rather than simply being able to do it from the Home Screen. Similarly, there is discrepant behaviour in removing icons from the Dock as opposed to moving them from the regular Home Screen; for example, if you long-hold an icon in the Home Screen, you get two options — one to edit the app’s details, and one to remove it from the Home Screen. But if you do the same from the Dock, the only option is to uninstall the app. Why these three different options can’t be available from no matter where you long-hold the icon you want to move is a mystery to me.

Similarly, you’re limited to having only 5 left to right sweeping Home Screen panels, which soon fill up when you include a few Widgets — and for some again mysterious reason it isn’t possible to change the order of these panels simply by moving them around in the Edit Widgets screen — something made to seem even more unusual by nature of the fact you can actually long-hold on these panes, and move them around, despite that this doesn’t actually do anything to change the order in which they appear on the Home Screen.

One thing which is a vast improvement to the way iOS handles a similar operation is the long-hold Home button function, which on the iPhone launches Siri, and on the HTC One instantly switches to Google Now — Google’s latest way of presenting location aware content on useful ‘cards’, which are populated with relevant information about your interests and local services. This is a feature Google have only recently rolled out, and it seems set to become the main way in which voice-commands and at-a-glance information are accessed via Android powered devices.

While not all of these services are as-yet up and running, the HTC One already handles speech recognition much quicker and more accurately than Siri on the iPhone 5. With two clicks you can be Googling anything at all, without physically typing a single word — and while it lacks the occasionally quirky artificial intelligence of Siri, the speed with which data is transferred and displayed is very impressive, and the actual voice recognition software seems to play a lot better with regional British dialects like my strong Northern accent; whereas Siri sometimes demands that we adopt an American accent to be properly understood.

While it shouldn’t come as a shock that Google knows a lot about search, and processing complex data in an almost magically short timeframe (that is after all the number one reason why Google are who they are) Apple’s Siri is noticeably slower and less accurate in this area — although it is only fair to point out the comparison I’m using here is based upon my experience of Siri on a friend’s iPhone 5, and I didn’t personally use Siri day-to-day on my previous iPhone when for a few weeks last year I ran the Cydia jailbreak.

Summary Cons:
There are three of four ways to do something in Android and only one of them is useful. The included headphones feel absolutely horrible and sound even worse; and unless they’re plugged in the built-in FM radio doesn’t work at all. TV Tuner software feels unfinished, although the programmable remote control with built-in IR receiver is a really nice idea.

Summary Pros:
Ridiculously pretty, bright and focused screen with great colour separation. Very nice video and stills camera. Super fast multitasking processor; no waiting for even very intensive tasks. Seamless Google integration, with voice commands way more polished and accurate than Siri for iPhone.


Why are you no longer an atheist?

A thread over at Reddit.com/Religion got me thinking about people who describe themselves as being a former atheist, and I wanted to delve a little deeper into what exactly is meant by this. So I posted another question to the Religion sub-reddit, which you can read here.

Following feedback from a number of users, I now want to ask the same question here, but ask for a little more information. To do that, I think it would be helpful to be as specific as possible; since quite a few of the responses over at Reddit are from folks who seem to have somewhat misunderstood the thrust of the original question, or the reason why I asked it. This is probably my fault for not being clearer in the way I phrased it, and so if you’re reading this because I redirected you here from Reddit, please give me a moment to explain why I asked the question again, with a little more detail. Similarly, if you’re reading this before reading the original two threads at Reddit, please go take a look at them before posting in the comments section below.

In the Reddit post, entitled ‘I’m looking for people who were atheists and became religious‘, I defined the word atheist as being ‘someone who rejects the idea that the theological texts of any religion are a true account of events which could only have been instigated by the specific God of the particular religion to which those text are thought sacred’. I went on to explain that I was not looking for ‘someone who previous to becoming religious simply did not attend church, did not pray, or was unfamiliar with the teachings of the religion to which they now belong.’

I wanted this to be clear, because the exact definition of the word ‘atheist’ itself, seems to be a constant source of miscommunication and misunderstanding, and I was keen to only get feedback from people who once understood that believing something is not proof of that belief being true, but who now believe that, in fact, it is. I wanted, in other words, to get to the meat of what happened in that transitional period between accepting that faith-based truth-claims are the exact opposite of those which are objectively true, and what thought processes ‘former atheists’ went through in order to falsify this statement of fact.

For example: Angela believes that she has £1million in the bank. She had a personal experience of what it was like to be a millionaire which was so real to her, that she began to think and act exactly as if it were true. Angela goes to a Mercedes dealership, and tells the salesman she’d like to drive away in a brand new sports car. She hands over her credit card, and jumps into her new set of wheels, and readies to drive off. But as the salesman attempts to transfer the funds from her bank, the computer refuses the transaction due to ‘insufficient funds’. No matter how much Angela insists that he tries again and again to take her payment, there is simply no evidence of her having the money needed to pay for the car — despite how hard she insists the salesman must believe the money exists for the same reasons she believes it does, and hand her the keys.

So the definition of the word atheist, which I used in the request for comments over at Reddit, was of someone who not only understands why Angela has no money, but also understands what Angela would have to do in order to prove that in fact she does. The people I am interested in talking to, then, are those who also claim to have once understood this, but who now — by virtue of the fact they claim to believe in a particular God from a specific religion — must by definition no longer hold themselves to the same standard of proof which as an atheist they once did. If this is you, please explain how you moved from the first position to the other.

What, specifically, do I mean by ‘the other’?
Some of the replies (as of 7am GMT Wednesday 10th April 2013) to the Reddit thread, were from people who consider themselves ‘spiritual but not religious’. It is only fair to point out that most of these people were apologetic for the use of this unwieldy turn of phrase — and I’ve written before about the understandable awkwardness of words like ‘spiritual’, when what we really want to say is ‘that which feels right’, but don’t know how to acknowledge the way in which this appears to shift the meaning of the word spiritual towards the emotional side of the brain and away from the intellectual; where it can be tempting to dismiss it as being merely the medium through which metaphysical truth-claims are abracadabra’d into having a greater importance than they would otherwise merit.

Please note, I am not saying that the only way for a spiritual experience to deserve being taken seriously, is if it can be proven to have originated with, or been instigated by, the particular God in which someone believes. I am simply asking how someone could ask for such a possibility to be taken into consideration, as part of their conversion story, if they also claim to have once understood why such a claim does not constitute proof of those same beliefs which they now claim to hold.

Moreover, I understand that it is not always the case that someone, who previously considered themselves to be an atheist, necessarily defined their a-theism according to the sort of definition I have given here. Many believe, for example, that an atheist is merely someone who does not pray, or go to church. But this describes many people who do, nevertheless, feel as if they are part of ‘something’ which however hard they might try to describe, ‘it’ moves further and further outside of their ability to do so, the harder they pursue that very description; least of all a description which would be of any meaning to someone other than the person who experienced ‘it’ at firsthand.

What I am arguing, then, is that however tempting it may be to place this inability to describe ‘it’ into the same part of our intuition in which we assume religious people place their faith in the particular God of their specific religion, it is nevertheless a category mistake of the kind we can do without if we’re genuinely serious about addressing ‘why questions’ with answers which do not merely seem to ‘work’ because they reenforce our existing beliefs, but because they legitimately give us a better perspective on ‘it’.

Your turn to speak
When you were an atheist, you understood that religious beliefs are not based upon evidence of God’s basic existence, but a belief among adherents to the particular religion which you now belong have about the validity of the sacred texts in which God is already presumed to exist. The question is, when did you cease to understand the obvious problems with this, and choose instead to adopt it?

Please note, I don’t expect anyone to post dissertation level replies. I’m simply keen to see if there really is any such thing as a ‘former atheist’ in the strictest sense of the word, or if it is more accurate to say that of those who do describe themselves as such, most have bounced from one set of religious arguments to another, without ever considering that atheism is not the mechanism by which we reject one set of arguments so as to replace them with another, but a standard of reasoning against which all religious truth-claims can be equally judged.

– – – – – – –

Thanks in advance for your thoughtful replies. As ever, threats of eternal torment and / or physical violence and / or cut and paste received opinions you don't actually understand will be marked as spam. Dan, this means you.

It’s the beginning of the end for Eric Hovind’s Creation Ministries, as the poster child for anti-science Christian apologetics posts a video begging his supporters for cash

Finances are running low at Eric Hovind’s creationist ministry. The writing has been on the wall for Hovind’s particular brand of anti-science for some time; his methods having been branded as ‘extremist’ even by other creationists, such as Ken Ham.

But the cracks really began to show in his tired routine, when Eric’s sidekick Sye ten Bruggencate was angrily ejected recently from The Place video podcast for using, once again, his trademark bullying tactics, while pointblank refusing to answer basic questions; leaving Eric to essentially admit their argument is based upon a string of easily identifiable logical fallacies.

Now, in a desperate attempt at damage control, since the video of his on-air confession went viral, Eric, who inherited the Dr. Dino ministry in 2009, after its founder and Eric’s father Kent was convicted on multiple counts of defrauding the US tax system, has posted a video to Facebook literally begging the few hundred supporters he has left to donate $10 a month for 1 year, to keep the business going.

Download the video here, if you don’t have a Facebook account, or watch it on Eric’s page here: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10200217130250031

Whilst it may well be the case that the current economic climate is, as Eric says, the main cause of his woes, it’s also true to say that Eric has alienated himself in as many Christian debating forums as he has those which focus on debunking his and other brands of Christian extremism. Last year, users of the Premier Christian Radio forum, in the UK, were appalled to discover that a debate hosted by Christian radio host Justin Brierly, between Eric Hovind and atheist activist Paul Baird, which was made available for free on the PCR website, had been transferred to DVD without the permission of those involved, and made available for sale on Eric’s Creation Today website at $24.99 per-copy. This was before Eric attempted to pull a similar stunt with the hosts of the Fundamentally Flawed podcast; only later reversing his decision to publish material he edited without permission.

It would now appear that staff at Creation Today and other Hovind ministries have been asked to take a 10% pay cut, after Hovind received multiple DMCA take-down notices for similar schemes, which see him dupe people into taking part in a one sided conversation about the certainty of knowledge, which is based upon the widely discredited ideas of Immanuel Kant, and a type of presuppositional apologetics known as the Transcendental Argument for the existence of God, or TAG.

Hovind won’t go down without a fight. The pressures of running a scam which borrows the language of Christianity, to take money from the vulnerable and poorly educated; which at one time bagged Hovind millions of dollars per-year, have hardened Eric’s resolve over the years. But where he once knew how to gently persuade his ready-made audience of home-schoolers and rightwing evangelicals into parting with their money, in a new less subtle development, Eric is now directly begging his followers for cold hard cash simply to stay afloat.

The empty tomb is bums on seats

Every time there is a wedding or funeral on my Dad’s side of the family, the ceremony takes place at the baptist tabernacle; the church of choice among the majority of my aunts and uncles, cousins and their kids.

It’s a really nice, welcoming place with new facilities and plenty of friendly people; who as the saying goes really would do anything for anyone.

Today we buried my beautiful aunty, Cath. She was an active member of the church, and will be missed by as many of the volunteers there as she will be in our family. They cared for her and loved her very much.

During the service my cousin sang a song which aunty Cath would have loved. My Dad read a poem which was very touching, and obviously difficult for him to read. Cath was the eldest of five kids. She looked after my Dad when he was young, and here he was reading at her funeral, after she suffered a very painful and drawn out battle with cancer — a bastard of a disease, which sucked the life out of her in horrendous ways. If there is one thing which the last few months have taught me, it’s to always give as much as you can to cancer research.

You’d have to be a particularly belligerent and miserable person to take offence at the numerous mentions of Jesus, God and the various ideas of living forever after you’re already dead which were scattered throughout the church service, up until this point. There’s a time and place to pull someone up about something they say in a religious context, and in the middle of a funeral for a very religious woman isn’t one of them. So when “Jesus said…” this and “God did…” that, I reminded myself that I wasn’t there to sell Christopher Hitchens books, but to stand by my parents, comfort my uncles and aunts, and lay a reassuring hand on the shoulder of my cousins; to say goodbye to a sister, aunty and friend we all loved.

Then the youth pastor took to the stage. “If this were a humanist service…”, he said, “Oh oh, here we go”, I thought, “…we wouldn’t be talking about Cath living on forever with Jesus Christ by her side”, he continued. “If this were an atheist funeral, we would be saying ‘that’s it for Cath now, it’s all over’. But as Christians we believe in something more than that, and we offer it up in a way which nothing else can.”

I’m using quotation marks around his words, which are not verbatim, but you get the gist; humanists are uncaring nihilists, but Christians are tip top. It wasn’t only me being particularly sensitive to words which someone else might have let go. My mother, not shy to recite catechism, and start a sentence with “As a Catholic, I believe…”, as if this ends all debate, whenever that sort of conversation crops up, nudged me gently as if to acknowledge the pastor was now firmly in unnecessarily confrontational territory, with his overall tone.

There are exactly two openly atheist members of my family, and I’m one of them. The youth pastor doesn’t know me at all, so it wasn’t likely he was aiming this particular section of his otherwise formulaic funeral gig speech at me. The other openly atheist member of my family is my uncle, who is himself recovering from cancer.

He is the man who welcomed aunty Cath into his home, when she could no longer take care of herself. Suffering a great deal himself, from the effects of chemotherapy which have thankfully now got him back onto the road to recovery, he had a house-full of friends and family almost every day, throughout her long illness, and I’m certain that even in the depths of his own painful battle with serious illness, he wouldn’t have had it any other way.

There was no way Cath was going to die on a sterile hospital ward, surrounded by underpaid staff, bleeping machines, and the unwashed hands of people visiting other terminally ill patients. So Cath died in my uncle’s house, surrounded by family, pets and love.

My uncle was the ideal person, then, for the youth paster to single out as incapable of knowing what the death of a loved one “means”. Who better to score points against, than the man whose own funeral will be a humanist affair? That the pastor did all of this in that well rehearsed and ostensibly genuine tone of voice, which men of the cloth all seem to share; that matter of fact confidence that what they’re saying is controversial only to those who lack faith, made it all the more upsetting. He had no idea how insensitive he was being; and would no doubt be upset if he did.

I said nothing. We placed aunty Cath’s body into the ground, braced our collars against the howling wind and sleet, and trundled back to the church for tea and cake.

Now, sitting with my Dad, I chat politely over a mug of tea with various church volunteers. Whoever made that cake deserves their own TV show, and it was nice to be once again in the same room as the best family in the world. The majority of them being devout Christians has never, not once, got in the way of my relationship with each and every one of them. I’m lucky.

Some people have dick heads for a family. For me, it’s the exact opposite. If anything, I’m the only one who can be a bit of a knob now and then. I once inadvertently upset my cousin by talking about images from the Hubble Space Telescope proving it’s namesake right, in observing distant objects which formed shortly after the big bang, that the universe is expanding at an exponential rate. We know words like ‘proof’ and ‘evidence’ aren’t big with Christians, but the way in which I wove it into proof the bible is “full of shit” could have been phrased a little more diplomatically. But that was a long time ago.

Back at the church, the youth pastor appeared. There’s a famous scene in Fawlty Towers, where Basil is so desperate not to mention the war, in front of his German hotel guests, that he goes straight for the goose step, after inadvertently mentioning the invasion of Poland.

The pastor shakes my Dad’s hand, who then introduces me: “This is my son, James. Unfortunately he’s an atheist”. “Unfortunately?!”, I retort, “There’s nothing unfortunate about it, Dad. I’m proud of it, but thanks for the introduction”. This, by the way, is how my Dad is. It’s pointless to get upset at him for it, because it wasn’t done deliberately. If there was an elephant in the middle of the room at a convention of the ‘Elephants don’t exist’ society, he’d be the first to jump on it’s back and ride it around, encouraging it to dip it’s trunk in the tea urn. There’s no bullshit with my Dad. If something needs saying, he says it, even if the only person who thinks it needed saying is my Dad.

“What about the empty tomb?”; an interesting opening gambit, which the pastor thrust forth, as if I was supposed to immediately crumble under such tough questioning. I won’t go into extended details here, on what we did talk about, but needless to say I picked him up on the insensitivity of his speech, during the service, but not before asking him about the history of the bible, which — curiously for a theologian — he seemed completely unaware of.

The jury is out on whether or not he got the message; mostly because he began throwing out so many lines from the big book of “so you’ve decided to win a debate with an atheist”, that I actually started to feel sorry for him. He is a very nice chap — and he does his bit. He’s not there for decoration. The church does ‘outreach’ like no-one’s business. They build schools in Africa; hospitals in war torn places — they are, minus their baffling belief in things which just aren’t true, a brilliant community.

Apart from having to do away with the notion that ‘Richard Dawkins is the atheist Jesus’ for the hundred millionth time; and after he failed to pull me into various semantic word games on consciousness, the meaning of life and “the bigger picture”, it was a fascinating exchange — not for the content of what was discussed, but for the mooted looks of disbelief from those who looked on, as ‘our James’ had the temerity to question the man with ‘all the answers’ — a man who is, if he is good to his word, as I write this, looking up writer Bart D. Ehrman, an author of whom he was previously unaware, and whose work will hopefully cause the pastor to think twice, in the future, about approaching a former Christian like me, with the one about Josephus proving Jesus was the creator of the universe in human form — a staggering non-sequitur he was happy to abide by, even after spending half an hour with me; the recently bereaved humanist, of whom he so ironically described as incapable of understanding Christ, not an hour earlier.

But the ultimate pay off was reserved for my dear Mother. She asked the pastor if he’d ever been to a humanist funeral. “No”, came his reply, to which my Mother — the woman who upon discovering many years ago that not only did her only son no longer consider himself Catholic, but no longer a believer in God — immediately interjected, “You should go to one, they’re very nice. It’s all about the person, and their life — very beautiful”.

I’ve never been more proud; not only because this was from a woman who would have previously considered someone who isn’t a Christian as being one and the same as the devil himself, but that she had realised this was the wrong way to think about humanism, and changed her view accordingly — so much so, that now here she was defending humanism in front of the man who had dismissed it as bereft of meaning, during his sermon.

I helped the pastor pick up his jaw from the ground, placed my hand on his shoulder, and giving him a broad smile delivered the line that you just know he had hoped to lay on me, when this whole conversation began; “I hope I’ve given you something to go away and think about”. He smiled, but before he escaped, I nonchalantly asked one last question while he was off guard. “Does the empty tomb thing bring a lot of people through the door?”. “Oh yes, plenty. We’re doing very well”.

Job done.

EDIT: It’s probably worth pointing out that ‘bums on seats’ used in the title is an English expression for getting plenty of people into a venue, and not ‘bums’ as-in the Americanism for ‘tramps’ or ‘drifters’.

Why did the Pope really resign?

So long, and thanks for all the cash!

So long, and thanks for all the cash!

When Pope John Paul II died, the Vatican issued a press statement claiming that six hours before his death, his last words were “Let me go to the house of my father”. It would be later shown that Karol Józef Wojtyła had been in a coma for days, and unable to speak for months.

When Pope John Paul I died, just 33 days into his papacy, the Vatican issued a press statement saying that he had suffered a heart attack; later leaking through unattributed sources “close to the Holy See” that this was possibly brought on by his smoking and drinking. This so infuriated his personal physician and lifelong friend that he refused to sign the death certificate until a postmortem had been carried out. He was denied this request, while the body was embalmed in secret.

It would be later revealed that 24 hours before his death, Albino Luciani had issued a decree, that all Vatican officials wanted for questioning by American prosecutors were to be handed over with immediate effect. The crimes of which they were accused ranged from laundering Mafia drug money through the Vatican bank, to lurid connections between senior Vatican officials and international organised crime syndicates such as the outlawed masonic order Propaganda Due, or P2.

One Vatican official the American prosecutors were particularly keen to talk to, was an American Bishop called Paul Marcinkus. Top of the agenda was to establish whether or not Marcinkus’s personal fortune had come from the sale of fraudulent bank trading bonds, and why it was that under Pope John Paul I’s predecessor, Antonio Maria Montini, Marcinkus had authorised the sale of Vatican property and land, the profits from which ended up in Marcinkus’s personal bank account.

Under Pope John Paul II Bishop Paul Marcinkus was actively promoted, and went to the grave never having answered a single question about his involvement in financial irregularities which led the collapse of Banco Ambrosiano, the death of journalist Mino Pecorelli, the death of Italian banker Roberto Calvi, or the curious circumstances under which Albino Luciani’s body was disposed of — despite that he and one or two other senior Vatican officials would have directly benefited from his death; both in terms financial and in terms of protecting their considerable reputation.

Today Joseph Ratzinger announced his retirement; the first time in 600 years a papacy has ended through means other than the death of the Bishop of Rome. The Vatican issued a press statement saying that one of the most important theologians in the world was stepping aside as he could no longer carry out his workload.

While there may well be a great deal of truth to this, it is also the case that the Church is running out of legal loopholes to hide behind, in its refusal to issue an unconditional apology to the victims of child rape, and other forms of physical and sexual abuse around the world, carried out at the hands of Catholic priests.

People who were the victims of a secret system, which was issued and enforced by Ratzinger when he was a Cardinal under Pope John Paul II, and who were forbidden by this system from complaining of their abuse to law enforcement on pain of excommunication, have for years had to sit and watch their attackers being actively protected by the Church, who moved priests on from diocese to diocese, where they would repeatedly offend.

Since this first came to light, the legal claims against the Church in America alone are estimated to have cost the Church close to $6 billion — and this is before a full investigation into why the secret system was allowed to include clauses which specifically prevented sex abuse victims from going to the police, and who ordered the inclusion of such provisions has been fully carried out.

The net around the Vatican, and the still living Cardinals and Bishops who presided over the use of the secret system is tightening. What was once dismissed as a conspiracy theory, and treated with contempt by the mainstream media, is gradually revealing itself to be the web of corruption, criminal neglect, and a coordinated pedophile protection ring which victims of the secret system have always maintained the Vatican designed it to be.

Today, in the radio and television news media, supporters of the soon to step aside pontiff, have been lining up three abreast to paper over the cracks in Ratzinger’s public image. Tomorrow the newspapers and Catholic opinion formers will aid and abet the telling of the narrative the world’s richest religious institution wants Pope Benedict XVI to be remembered by.

In reality, somewhere within the belly of the beast, decisions have been taken not on spiritual advice from the heavens, but from legal advise right here on planet Earth, that are designed to protect the Church from the landslide of legal claims which could potentially bankrupt it in its previously most profitable markets; the US, Ireland, and South America to name but a few of the territories where child rapists have been protected for years, at the behest of the man who today we’re told is “one of the world’s leading religious thinkers”.

Ratzinger’s replacement will inherit a ledger containing the names of rapists around the world; many of whom continue to say Holy Mass every Sunday, before a congregation completely oblivious as to their unpunished crimes. The new Pope’s choice is therefore simple. He can finally once and for all reveal the secret documentation, which Pope Benedict XVI has held for the last twenty or more years, and mark a turning point in the history of the Church which future generations will remember as the beginning of the end for the Catholic Church. Or he can choose to keep the documentation secret, as did his predecessor, and continue to ignore as a “media exaggeration” the thousands of people around the world, who were raped in the confessional, beaten in the vestry, and brainwashed in the classroom.

The early signs, however, for a more positive outcome are good. The Vatican is fond of coded meanings and hidden messages in the language they use, particularly to the mainstream media. We’re told, for example, that the Pope is “fully aware” of the ramifications involved in the resigning of his post. This could be interpreted as a message from the Pope to the sinister forces within the Church itself who believe themselves above the law.

It could also be argued, that a former Pope is in a much better position to ensure that his message of “if I’m going down, you’re going with me” actually means something concrete, if he is still alive to ensure the correct course of action is finally taken under his successor, in a way in which it could not under his leadership. We live in hope; but one thing is for certain — if today’s announcement isn’t about an awful lot more than what we’re being told it is, this itself would be a Vatican first.


Decrescent USB to HDMI converter on Mac OS X

Just took delivery of a Decrescent USB to HDMI converter box, from amazon.co.uk. Here’s a quick review.

One of the things Mac users pretty quickly learn to get used to, is the failure of European distributors of USB widgets and gizmos manufactured in China, to mention that the said device also works perfectly well under Mac OS X if you download the appropriate driver. So I was happy to see in the description for this USB to HDMI converter that it was indeed OS X compatible, and that the installation CD ROM included Mac software.

Sadly the CD ROM disc which shipped with the device was the mini style half-sized type, of the kind the music industry used to (and may well still) use for CD Singles; which are incompatible with slot loading CD ROM drives of the kind which all iMac, MacBook, and MacBook Pro’s were fitted with prior to Apple phasing out CD ROM altogether with their latest line of laptop and desktop machines. Slide-draw loading CD ROM drives are also increasingly rare on PC laptops and desktops.

Sadly Decrescent have compounded this issue by failing to host a link to the driver download direct from the product description page on their website, so I had to contact tech support via telephone. But after speaking to a very nice young lady, a link was sent to me via email, although curiously this was to a file hosted on MediaFire, as opposed to the product manufacturer’s site.

If you came here from Google, desparately searching for the driver software as I did until I contacted tech support, you can download the driver from this link.

Screen Shot 2013-01-21 at 14.15.28Teething troubles aside, a couple of minutes later the software was downloaded and ready to be installed. The .zip archive (above) contains the Windows and Mac version, but the Setup.app for OS X opens the Snow Leopard version by default, so you’ll have to manually open the Installations folder and choose the build for Mountain Lion, if you’re using the latest version of OS X.

After installation the Mac needs to restart, because the Display System Preferences pane needs to be updated, so your new third display can be positioned next to your second and first (see opposite).

Using the device:
iMac computers only have one display output in addition to the main built-in screen, and many people use this for a second VGA display to extend the desktop space, so that software ideally suited to a second screen, such as TweetDeck and Photoshop tools free up the main display for fullscreen applications, leaving the main working space uncluttered.

I personally like using the second display for plugins and editing screens in Apple’s music sequencing software Logic Studio Pro. I also have this display configured for portrait mode, but this means that when it comes time to watch a movie, I would either have to disconnect the second display altogether, and run a cable from the Mac to the HD TV, or sit at the computer desk to use the Mac as a TV — which seems an awful waste of the large screen on my nice big TV.

Luckily this device does away with all of that, by simply extending the two screen limit to three, by adding your HDMI compatible TV to the System Preferences Display Settings pane, which converts the desktop video out to 720p via the Decrescent branded hardware; which also contains a neat Audio Input that merges the Headphone Output of the Mac into the HDMI output, so the sound from the Mac doesn’t have to be routed to a second home theatre system, to be correctly positioned in the stereo sound field around the centre of the TV screen.

This means that watching High Definition movies either rented from iTunes or played from within VLC Media Player truly integrates the iMac into your home theatre set-up, without having to convert the video file into a format compatible with your Smart TV’s built-in media player, and copy it onto a USB stick — saving a lot of time.