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What the iPad Means to Me [Jan. 10th, 2011|09:25 pm]
Tomas Gallucci
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[music |Beethoven's Greatest]

Recently, I was asked for an in-depth review of the iPad. Let me state here right off the bat that I have no intention of doing so either now or ever. I'm simply recording my present thoughts on the device and how I have related to it so far. This is more for my personal records than it is for the general public, but it is understood that both can glean from the thoughts intended for impartation here.

I feel the need to preface these thoughts by providing the framework of my perspective for you, dear reader. I went from having one mobile device (m0bil30n3) to four (m0bil30n3, iTom, iCall and a Kindle) in less than two weeks and am brand new to the mobile space. I have been dreaming for years of getting into mobile, but I didn't have the personal finances nor could I see a reason in justifying using credit for the purchases. As it happened, I had just concluded a five-month plan to own a Kindle. I lost my flip phone which gave me four years of service and would have went on to give more had we not ultimately parted company due to complacency. This loss necessitated an immediate replacement device and I bought what I thought was the best device for me. iTom procurement was a result of a promise made to me by work, one that I thought would take much longer to come to fruition.)

I hadn't even had iCall a week before iTom was placed in my care. Despite the original DOA, iTom and I have gotten along just fine. As I suspected, iTom serves two distinct purposes: that of e-reader and of web appliance. I've not really used iTom as an e-reader as of yet. Oh, I've poked around on iBooks, the Kindle and NOOK Apps, but I've not used the device as a serious e-reader as of yet.

As an e-reader
I have liked what I have seen of the iPad's e-reader capabilities; the device is large enough that pdf files I have wanted to consume are readable at the native size. I still want to enlarge just a bit which I can do with iBooks, but navigating to a different page automatically reduces the document to 100%, forcing me, the user, to manually resize the document after every navigation.

Because all iOS devices have instantly responsive, capacitive touch screens, moving around a page isn't too bad. My gripe with the way that Kindle supports pdfs (poorly if you're wondering) is that if you want to enlarge a pdf, you are given a bounding window to select the area of the page to be enlarged. Once zoomed in, you have to use the D-ring to scroll the page and then the forwards and backwards buttons to move between pages. This forces the user to think about how the Kindle hardware works (what does this button do) instead of placing all attention on the content to be consumed. The additional frustration with the Kindle's .pdf support is that since the Kindle uses e-ink technology for its display, there is a delay between pressing the button and getting the next screen fully drawn, enough of a delay that if you are having to scroll across a page to read a line of text, concentration is broken. Perhaps the Kindle DX, because of its larger screen presents pdfs bigger natively, thus rendering the complaint nil, but the size of the DX creeps into netbook/tablet/notebook size which reduced mobility.

Simply reading text in either the NOOK or Kindle App on the iPad is an enjoyable experience, though in the spirit of full disclosure, you are reading off of a backlit screen; I cannot comment on whether a long read produces eye strain or not. I can say that simply as a reader, the Kindle wins me over hands down. When using native file formats, the text is large and crisp. There is plenty of contrast between the text and the surrounding "whitespace" which, in my opinion, allows the user to recognize text fast, which allows for more reading in less time.

I have used the Kindle for a full day before without taking a brake. The Kindle's lack of weight and weight distribution make for easy work of marathon reading without hand fatigue of holding a book. Though weight is perhaps the most immediate factor, not having sharp or cumbersome edges unlike its dead-tree counterpart also goes a long way in not fatiguing the hand.

In contrast, the iPad is much heavier than the Kindle. Though the weight of the iPad is evenly distributed, the weight can cause problems for extended periods of use. The iPad's design–nay, even Apple's own showcasing in their own stores!–lends itself to being propped up on a 30º slant. The weight of the iPad can be felt from holding it for only a short period of time; users will likely try to find a way of supporting the weight after minimal usage.

The Kindle's weakness, as I predicted, is lack of a backlight. Other weaknesses include poor pdf support, at least on the Kindle itself per the above discussion and, due to its size and display technology, inability to display media rich content.

Kindle's shortcomings become apparent when considering periodicals and typical textbooks. Newspapers present their own problems which I will address in a later article. Local papers would have to sacrifice photos and ads if they want to publish on the Kindle. Magazines and most textbooks take advantage of both the two-page spread and full color printing. Sidebars, pictures and color-coded material are also no goes on the current iteration of the device.

As an Internet Appliance
The iPad has turned out to be a great device for using at night while lying in bed. No ambient light is needed, the iPad provides its own light. Instead of being restricted to just serving up text, the iPad can do full-color, full-layout documents, play games, browse the internet and be a personal communication device. It is in this area that the iPad shines.

The iPad, and indeed tablets and netbooks have been referred to as 'tween devices. Netbooks suffer from what makes them attractive in the first place: smaller physical size; slower, lesser processing capabilities and limited storage. Smaller physical size on netbooks means less than full size keyboards to type on and no optical drives. Slower processing is required to drive down costs and keep within the thermal envelopes of the form factor. Less processing means fewer cores. Storage is limited in netbooks in part to keep the price down but also because even flash memory occupies area that can't be spared in a netbook.

So how does the iPad fare? At first glance, things are just as bad as a netbook: no optical drive. Depending on the netbook used for comparison, storage may be a bit shabby, though netbooks have moved more and more away from moving parts that can break down and on to solid state drives (SSDs).

The iPad's keyboard is virtual, which means no tactile feedback (a minus) and the screen is less than the width of a full size keyboard (another minus) but because the keyboard is virtual, you don't try to make your hands fit on small, tight keys. The predictive typing built into iOS helps make up for the lack of touch typing and with enough familiarity with iOS, one learns to use that to their advantage.

Processing doesn't come into play quite as much with the iPad. Yes, performance will always be an issue when dealing with any computation device, but as apps are optimized for the device and must pass quality assurance at Apple before the app is allowed in the App Store instead of a one-size-fits-all netbook approach, the specs of the A4 chip that powers the iPad is irrelevant.

The iPad is not a laptop replacer, nor do I foresee it becoming one in the near future. The expectation of performance ratio of so-called desktop replacements from just a few years ago compared to the power of desktops are now baseline requirements for laptops. In other words, laptops today have to be able to perform any task that a desktop can in a reasonable amount of time. Sure, desktops, due to their larger form factors and immobility can be engineered for performance than a mobile device. As such, desktops will always outperform laptops when comparing apples to apples, but there no task today that any computer user thinks, "Gee, I need a desktop to do this on."

That having been said, I have noticed myself leaving my laptop behind since going mobile. In part, this is largely due to the fact that most of the activities that I do on my laptop when I'm on the go are checking email, responding to blog comments and posts, reading news, etc. can now be done straight on my phone. iCall gives me an advantage that m0bil30n3 does not enjoy: 3G connectivity. iCall, therefore, allows me to go more places without disconnecting.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am not a globetrotter; I leave my State on average of once a year or less currently.

Keep in mind that iTom is not 3G capable. This is rather bothersome when attempting to answer the questions, "Would you give up your laptop now that you have an iPad? Will the iPad replace your laptop?"

As I have said, I have started leaving my laptop at home because quite frankly, I haven't really needed it. With iCall always on my person, I can consume news and fire off quit missives. Longer writing is usually pre-planned, so I'll know in advance if I need my laptop's keyboard. As of late I don't do anything too processor intensive and have found apps for iOS that allow me to drop the weight and bulk of a laptop in a briefcase.

As I argued when the iPad first came out, if there is a decent writing app and one buys the keyboard dock, there's no reason why the iPad won't suffice for "seen writing" that is, writing in public where one can be seen. The one disadvantage is that the user is locked into portrait orientation with Apple's iPad keyboard, though I have seen cases that come with bluetooth keyboards that allow you to rotate the iPad into landscape. The problem with Apple's keyboard dock is that it is inflexible and hence limits mobility. The problem with a foldable, mobile keyboard like those for PDAs of yore are flimsy and are not durable.

I live in an efficiency studio apartment so I'm not spread out like I would be in a multi-story house. Though I have complained bitterly about being stuck at my desk when writing and was thusly motivated to purchase a laptop to solve this problem, there are days when the 4.5 lbs of m0bil30n3 might as well be a pound of bricks. Plus, the heat it produces leave me wishing for something with a smaller footprint.

iTom has filled this gap, though I wouldn't have dropped coin for this petty gripe. iTom is great for checking email/blogs/social networks immediately upon waking without having to roll out of bed. True, m0bil30n3 served this purpose too, but again, iTom is a smaller, cooler device.

I've not taken iTom on the road yet and I'm not sure if I will. I can't imagine what I would do with an iPad in class that I can't do with my iPhone aside from taking notes, but that takes us back to the keyboard problem discussed a few paragraphs above. It's possible I might carry iTom with me to drain it's battery and benefit from the larger screen at school; I can't imagine taking it with me into town unless I'm just trying to get out of the house and want to do a lot of reading, either ebooks or online content knowing that I won't be doing a lot of creation. I think that a real litmus test for me will be taking iTom out to the lake house and seeing how well I fare without a physical keyboard.

Wrapping it Up
The advantage then that the iPad possesses is its ability to handle media, be it video, audio or full-color documents. The iPad can run apps and isn't a purpose-specific device like the Kindle. The iPad gives a bigger working and viewing surface than the iPhone, but the iPhone is just as capable given that both devices run the same software. The iPad simply comes down to consumption on a larger screen with similar content creation abilities as netbooks without the disadvantage of having to carry around a full-sized laptop.

Since iOS supports all three major ebook vendors and their software, you can sync ebooks purchased from any of those stores across devices and platforms giving the iPad a slight edge on netbooks because there is no general computing device (desktop, laptop, netbook) that currently supports iBooks. The iPads strength is its coffee table internet appliance aura– a device that can be used on the go but really is best suited to be left laying around the house to be used on demand to quickly retrieve information or provide a source of entertainment to either individuals or groups.

At least, that's the way I see it.

[User Picture]From: gradumacated
2011-01-11 02:00 am (UTC)

This was great!

A concise, balanced and informative update! It really works well as a review despite being more for your own personal use.

Interesting comments about the keyboard; it's been something that I've been mulling over in my head as well - if I'm going to get one for note-taking, how effective would it *really* be, given the virtual nature of the keyboard. I think the jury is still out, like you intimated in that section.

From my reading of your thoughts, it seems like the iPad is as good if not better for reading than the Kindle unless you're using native formats designed specifically for the reader and/or you're wanting an e-reader that is better designed for on-the-go people. I think if I was still in Melbourne and was using public transit a lot, the Kindle would be the best fit for reading on-the-go, primarily based on how - comparaitively - bulky the iPad is, though on further reflection I would probably only pick the iPad for it's greater versatility.
Question: Do you think you'd ever give up the Kindle seeing as iTom can do what the Kindle can do, only better?

I think there's still a place for them - even if it's a simple case of economics and/or Apple-phobia. The lack of an optical drive is a major drawback, although I wonder how long it will be before software starts being released on specially made flash-drives. Seems to me that it would be more environmentally friendly, not to mention a great reduction in time, labor and ultimate cost to the manufacturer. Not sure how it would work on a store-level, however - thinking about "loss prevention".

It's certainly a nifty little device, isn't it? I've always maintained that if it wasn't for the obscene monthly charges ($100+) per month to run it, it would be a great device to have. As it is, I'm happy with my Sony Ecrisson C90 (I think - it's the camera masquerading as a phone) although I did see a couple of interesting new Sony devices when I was in their store on Thursday. Food for thought for the rest of the year when my current contract is up and I'm eligible for another "upgrade". Glad you're liking it!

There's not much here that I haven't already come to the conclusion of, or heard/read about. It's nice to read about someone else having much the same thoughts, as it helps solidify my thoughts about it. All you need now is a Nook and you'll be set on e-readers! Perhaps that could be the start of your writing career... at least, it would make a good topic for some sample writing!

Really appreciate you writing this - I know how busy you are!
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[User Picture]From: schpydurx
2011-01-11 03:20 pm (UTC)

Part I

A concise, balanced and informative update!
Thank you for saying so, Sir. Are you sure there wasn't any fancying involved in this post?

It really works well as a review despite being more for your own personal use.
Or maybe that's all just psychological. I say that this is for me and not a review, which makes you want to read the piece even more to get into my head and then go, "Hot damn! That's better than Engadget's post on the subject."

I think that the virtual keyboard would work fine once you were thoroughly used to it, though I think you're always going to get better results on a physical, full-sized keyboard. I become redundant by saying anything else on this topic.

I think the Kindle is easier to read off of than the iPad. the Kindle app gives you two "pages" at a time when you're in landscape mode, so you're missing the high contrast, limited amount of text that you get on the device itself. The advantage the iPad has is that it supports Kindle, NOOK, iBooks, Know, Kobo, etc. via apps. And then you can do all this other cool stuff with it as well.

I should add that Amazon claims

Read Before Bed Without Affecting Sleep
According to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, sleep experts say that reading on closely-held backlit screens before bed inhibits melatonin production, which is critical for a good night's sleep. "The take-home lesson is that insomnia and electronic gadgets emitting light should not [be] mixed before bedtime...Kindle is better for your sleep."

I can say that when I did use the iPad right before bed, it was harder to go to sleep than having used the Kindle, but that could have been that I had this quote in the back of my head, late consumption of sugar/caffeine, anxiety, etc. I've made a mental note to address this issue after a decent amount of use of both devices.

Do you think you'd ever give up the Kindle seeing as iTom can do what the Kindle can do, only better?
The thought crossed my mind. No, I don't think I'd give up the Kindle because there are going to be times where my eyes hurt or I simply don't want a bright light shining back at me. Plus, the Kindle is smaller, so based on circumstances, I may choose to leave iTom behind opting for the Kindle.
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[User Picture]From: schpydurx
2011-01-11 03:20 pm (UTC)


Maybe as a note taking device or whatnot. I don't have a problem losing the optical drive (so says I now when I have one). I've actually considered selling my laptop and getting a MacBook Air. I'm sure that notebooks will continue to exist, but I think that with all the tablets coming out this year, notebooks' peak was two years ago. Only time will tell.

flash-memory software distribution
I must respectfully disagree with you on this point. I don't think that software will be distributed from manufactures to brick and mortars via flash memory. DVD's can hold 9.4GB of data. While I'm not naive to believe things like "640K is all we'll ever need," I cannot see any reason why, in the near future programs will require more than what a couple of DVDs will hold. Notice I said programs, not multi-media. I'd be curious to see what the largest executable on the planet is to lend credence to my theory. Now, if you want to pack 1080p, 2,3,4 or 5K video with your programs, sure I can see needed a higher capacity media; hence blu-ray.

No, I think that software will trend towards the Mac App Store. Obviously, this means downloading and therefore unlimited amounts of data, but I also mean a repository of software for your platform. Debian/Ubuntu already provide this with Aptitude; Red Hat uses RPM/Yum. Bandwidth and transfer speeds will continue to increase while better compression techniques are discovered. This combination will ultimately solve the distribution problem. The added benefit will be limiting piracy because it will be worth the cost to the end-user to have one-click install and upgrade.

Using existing fiber optics and/or recycling the cables already laid will have less of an overall economic impact, methinks, than producing millions of distributable devices that eventually will be thrown away. Let's not forget that recycling still hasn't really caught on with consumers because someone has to pay to haul the material off to the recycling plant where skilled labor has to be employed, etc. etc.

Yes, it is very nifty, though I've yet to be in a situation where it has truly saved the day with it's information retrieval capabilities. As far as cost, I was already paying $87 for my flip phone that made calls and sent text messages. If I find that 900 anytime minutes isn't enough being on AT&T's network (almost all of my friends are on Verizon) I will just eat the cost of unlimited minutes, reducing the amount of on-demand porn I watch to compensate. Whereas my monthly bill should be around $110 under my current plan, it was going to cost $120+ on Verizon to run a Droid. Thus far, I have no complaints with my choice of device, plan and coverage. I suppose that being a homebody in a metropolitan area large enough to have infrastructure yet small enough to not have the coverage problems that California/Vegas/New York/DC/etc. have is my saving grace.

I'm glad I could provide a valuable service to you. Consider this value for value vis-sa-vi the times you've sent me much-needed funds to get through some hard times and my lack of discipline.Consider my blogs to be to you what No Agenda is to C-SPAN.
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[User Picture]From: schpydurx
2011-01-11 04:04 pm (UTC)

Re: This was great!

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[User Picture]From: newmistakes
2011-01-11 04:26 am (UTC)
That's a very thorough review, and gives me food for thought as I start considering whether to go digital with my bookiness. Thanks Prof T!
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[User Picture]From: schpydurx
2011-01-11 02:36 pm (UTC)
You're more than welcome. This is why I do what I do: to inform and instruct.

Trying not to repeat myself, I'd consider what kind of content you're going to be reading. If you need pictures, sidebars, etc. Kindle isn't for you.

I should mention that there are some python scripts out there that will strip the DRM off of books bought in the NOOK store which will allow you to put them on your Kindle, though you may need to convert them via Calibre before you load them onto the device. The only drawback to this is that Kindle's WhisperSync only syncs content purchased from the Kindle store, so if you were going to read on your phone or computer, you'd have to download the file manually along with an appropriate reader and find your place manually. A bit annoying, but it beats having to buy two e-readers. Of course, if you have an iOS device, you don't have to worry about this: NOOK and Kindle and even Kobo and the Kno all have clients for iOS, Mac, PC and Android.

Food for thought indeed!
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[User Picture]From: newmistakes
2011-01-12 03:23 am (UTC)
You lost me on a few things here, I may have to read this a few times to process (not very IT literate, yes it is my only failing). I keep putting off buying a kindle (I'll only need it for ebooks so that seems like the best option for me out of what you recommended), but I just know that the moment I do something extra snazzy will come out - like they'll fix the backlight problem or something.. so I keep holding out and holding out.
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[User Picture]From: schpydurx
2011-01-12 02:36 pm (UTC)
What I basically said is that NOOK books do not work natively on the Kindle, which ought to be a "no doh!"

I then went on to say that NOOK books have copyright protection (DRM == Digital Rights Mangement) on them which is part of the reason that you can't directly load NOOK books on the Kindle. To solve this problem, there are some Python scripts that can be used to remove the copyright protection. Once stripped, you can move the files to the Kindle, but you might need to convert formats, say from .pdb to .mobi. There's an open source program called Calibre that will convert between the various e-book formats for you.

The drawback to putting NOOK books on the Kindle is that you can't sync how far you've read in the NOOK book between your iOS device and any form of Kindle/Kindle App.The reason for this is that the content didn't originate from Amazon, so Amazon presumes that this is a personal file you added to the device (which, quite frankly, it is) and as such you have to manage across devices manually.

I then went on to say that if you had an iOS device (iPod Touch, iPad, iPhone) you can download various clients or apps for all of the major players out there selling ebooks, so instead of converting files to put them on your Kindle, you could just go straight iOS.

All better?
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[User Picture]From: newmistakes
2011-01-12 09:19 pm (UTC)
Yes, thanks for dumbing it down for me :)
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[User Picture]From: schpydurx
2011-01-12 09:29 pm (UTC)
It's just another service I provide.
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[User Picture]From: schpydurx
2011-01-12 02:37 pm (UTC)
Go ahead and get the Kindle when you have the funds. You won't regret it no matter what snazzy thing comes out next. If you want ultimate compatibility with any device out there, get an iPad, iPod Touch or an iPhone.
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[User Picture]From: newmistakes
2011-01-12 09:20 pm (UTC)
I feel reassured in my Kindle choice - thank you!
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[User Picture]From: schpydurx
2011-01-12 09:29 pm (UTC)
You're quite welcome.
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[User Picture]From: panacea42
2011-01-12 12:52 am (UTC)
Great post! FWIW, I bought my man the Nook Color for Christmas, and he really likes it. Backlit, seems much more open than the Kindle, smaller than the iPad, but of course heavier than the Kindle. He's had some trouble with PDFs on it as well, but running them through an Acrobat converter seems to help (I can get more details if you need).
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[User Picture]From: schpydurx
2011-01-12 02:50 pm (UTC)
Great post!
Thanks! I always feel I did something right when you leave me comments. I am honored.

he really likes it.
I once read an advice column for women where the author said, "If you want your man to do whatever you want non-begrudgingly, give him a beer and a blow job as often as possible." I see you have applied the spirit of this very well indeed. Pray tell, what did your man get you for Christmas? I'm hoping it's something shiny that has a piece of fruit on it with a bite taken out.

As for myself, I just couldn't fall in love with the NOOK. I've held the NOOK Color for less than 30 seconds, long enough to know that the device is plagued with the same problems that the NOOK is plagued with.

Yes, the NOOK has attempted to be more open with lending books, supporting pub and non-DRMed formats, but I don't think that NOOK is real competition for either the Kindle or the iPad. Of course, Amazon won't release their numbers and Barnes and Noble has followed suit, so it may be the case that the only ereader that's selling is the iPad.

He's had some trouble with PDFs on it as well, but running them through an Acrobat converter seems to help (I can get more details if you need).
I'd be interested to know what kind of troubles pdfs are giving P and am VERY interested in the conversion info.
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[User Picture]From: panacea42
2011-01-13 01:08 am (UTC)
give him a beer and a blow job as often as possible
Have you been spying on me? :-P~

what did your man get you for Christmas?
He cooked an amazing leg of lamb dinner, and his undying love and affection!
We basically don't exchange gifts on xmas, but he was making noises about getting an e-book reader and it was a bit of a last minute impulse buy. I'm not one of those people that says, "Well, I spent $XX.XX on you, I expect the same value back!" For me, if you're giving a gift it's all about the giving, not the return. The look on his face when I gave it to him definitely made it worth it!

Re: the PDFs, there was one that didn't render the images on the nook, and others had font problems. He ran them through Preflight in the full (paid) version of Acrobat which probably won't help, but there are apparently a ton of PDF converters/cleaners out there.

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[User Picture]From: schpydurx
2011-01-17 10:36 pm (UTC)
Have you been spying on me? :-P~
No, but if you have DVD's for sale...
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[User Picture]From: schpydurx
2011-01-17 10:44 pm (UTC)
For me, if you're giving a gift it's all about the giving, not the return. The look on his face when I gave it to him definitely made it worth it!
I have to say I think you just contradicted yourself. By saying that the look on pgleason's face made it worth it, you did get something in return. I'm not a believer in true altruism, you understand; I believe that the person doing the deed always gets something back.

That's not to say that I think that you gave to get. I'm simply saying that I think doing an act of charity returns some good back to the person doing the work. This isn't a bad thing, just the way I see the world.

That having been said, I've always enjoyed giving gifts that the other person wasn't expecting but needed or wanted very badly and have only required their gratefulness in return. Sadly, I keep missing opportunities to engage in this kind of behavior; as such, I think I may have forgotten how.
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[User Picture]From: panacea42
2011-01-18 10:01 pm (UTC)
You are absolutely right, I agree with you 100% -- I should have phrased that differently. What I actually meant was getting a material item back; not that I didn't have a desire for his gratitude. The joy that gives me is wonderful!
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[User Picture]From: schpydurx
2011-01-18 11:27 pm (UTC)
Oh, I knew what you meant and I didn't want to be a dick about splitting hairs. I actually felt bad writing my response. But I did want to express my personal beliefs on the matter.
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[User Picture]From: panacea42
2011-01-19 12:26 am (UTC)
No problem at all! It's funny, Philip and I had a discussion about altruism very early in our relationship, he also doesn't believe that "true" altruism exists...I explained that when I do something "nice" I definitely get value (or have gotten value) in return. He suggested some excellent books for me to read, the first one I believe was Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene".
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