Thursday, April 29, 2010

The mud creature that lives without oxygen

From Zoologger - 07 April 2010 - New Scientist
Assigned the genus Spinoloricus, the animal is less than a millimetre long. The other two new loriciferan species Danovaro found resemble water fleas, one given the genus name Rugiloricus and the other Pliciloricus. Some specimens contained an unfertilised egg.

The beasts live in conditions that would kill every other known animal. As well as lacking oxygen, the sediments are choked with salt and swamped with hydrogen sulphide gas.

None of the animals has mitochondria, the "power stations" that generate energy from oxygen in the cells of all oxygen-using organisms. Instead, they rely on structures called hydrogenosomes, which generate energy from molecules other than oxygen, including hydrogen sulphide.

Hydrogenosomes are well known in protozoa that live in oxygen-free environments, but the three new creatures are the first animals to be found that rely completely on them. One possibility is that the loriciferans acquired the hydrogenosomes from protozoa.

What was Goldman doing in the Abacus deal?

James Kwak of Simon Johnson's Baseline Scenario, says,
I recommend [a post by Randy Waldman], in which he takes apart Goldman’s claim that it was brokering a trade between a long side and a short side. Goldman likes to say this because it implies that the long side had to know there was a short side, and hence the failure to disclose Paulson’s role was not material. But that’s not what was going on.

Goldman was creating a new company (a CDO of any variety is a new legal entity) and underwriting bonds issued by that company. In this case, the company’s “business” was writing derivatives that were essentially highly customized credit default swaps (since the swaps mimicked what would have happened had there actually been a synthetic CDO). An underwriter’s role is to induce investors to put their money in the company it is underwriting, which means talking up the qualities of that company while also disclosing its defects; it is not to broker a trade between investors who want the company to do well and other investors who want the company to do badly. And even if the “company” in question is a synthetic synthetic CDO, that doesn’t change.

High court decides case about a cross in a national preserve

My first impression was that this is a no-brainer mistake on the part of the Supreme Court. Here's what I wrote originally.

From the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
The U.S. Supreme Court today overturned a lower court ruling that had ordered the removal of a cross from a World War I memorial located in California’s Mojave National Preserve. Prior to the high court’s decision in this case, Salazar v. Buono, a federal district court had ruled that allowing the eight-foot-tall cross to remain on the preserve (which is a national park) violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. The same district court later ruled that a 2003 federal law aimed at eliminating the Establishment Clause problem by transferring the property around the cross into private hands was an invalid attempt by the U.S. Congress to evade the district court’s earlier ruling. But in its decision today, a divided Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the lower court had not properly considered the validity of the congressional statute transferring the property, known as Sunrise Rock, from public to private hands.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, in announcing the judgment of the court, stated that Congress’ intent in passing the land-transfer statute was to maintain a war memorial rather than to promote a particular religious creed. “By dismissing Congress’ motives as illicit, the District Court took insufficient account of the context in which the statute was enacted and the reasons for its passage,” Kennedy wrote. “Private Citizens put the cross on Sunrise Rock to commemorate American servicemen who died in World War I.” Accordingly, the high court ordered the district court to reconsider whether the land transfer changed circumstances enough to allow the cross to remain without violating the Establishment Clause.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens said the district court had been correct both in its original ruling that the cross should not be displayed in the preserve and in its subsequent decision that the land-transfer statute did nothing to alter the fact that a sectarian religious monument essentially remained in a national park. “The land-transfer statute mandated transfer of the land to an organization that has announced its intention to maintain the cross on Sunrise Rock,” Stevens wrote. “True, the government would no longer exert control over the cross. But the transfer itself would be an act permitting its display.”
Congress is in thrall not only to Wall Street but to religion as well. Unfortunately the Supreme Court tends to side with the special interests in both areas. In neither can one reasonably attribute this position to traditional corruption—no one is claiming the Supreme Court was paid off. But it seems to me that this shows that thought corruption runs deeper than money.

On the other hand, the NYTimes provides further explanation. First it quotes Kennedy's statement in favor of the land swap.
The Interior Department could not leave the cross in place without violating the ruling that the display was unconstitutional, Kennedy wrote, "but it could not remove the cross without conveying disrespect for those the cross was seen as honoring. Deeming neither alternative satisfactory, Congress enacted the land-transfer statute."
That strikes me as a dishonest argument. Do we ever allow the constitution to be violated because some people claim they are offended by what it says? I don't think so.

But the Times also notes that
Congress had authorized a land swap with the Veterans of Foreign Wars, trading 1 acre of land around the cross in exchange for 5 privately owned acres elsewhere in the preserve.
This seems to me to make a significant difference. I hadn't known about the exchange. I thought that the government just gave away the land. If that's not the case, and if the exchange was at least a fair exchange for the government, I don't see why that is objectionable. If the cross had been erected on one of those private parcels, presumably it would have been ok.

The question now seems to me to turn on whether the exchange cheated to government economically. Are the 5 acres it got worth as much as the one acre it gave up in the exchange? Perhaps the one acre is more valuable because it is higher or more prominent, etc. If it was a fair economic exchange, I would have no objection. But I haven't seen an answer to that question.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Breathing While Undocumented

Linda Greenhouse of the on the new Arizona law on illegal immigrants.
Everyone remembers the wartime Danish king who drove through Copenhagen wearing a Star of David in support of his Jewish subjects. It’s an apocryphal story, actually, but an inspiring one. Let the good people of Arizona — and anyone passing through — walk the streets of Tucson and Phoenix wearing buttons that say: I Could Be Illegal.

Lawrence Lesssig's latest

Help here.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Single Handful

Tricycle Magazine's Daily Dharma for today quotes from "A Single Handful" by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu
The Buddha refused to deal with those things that don’t lead to the extinction of dukkha [suffering]. He didn’t discuss them. Take the question of whether or not there is rebirth after death. What is reborn? How is it reborn? What is its “karmic inheritance”? These questions don’t aim at the extinction of dukkha. That being so, they are not the Buddha’s teaching nor are they connected with it. They don’t lie within the range of Buddhism. Also, the one who asks about such matters has no choice but to believe indiscriminately any answer that’s given, because the one who answers won’t be able to produce any proofs and will just be speaking according to his own memory and feeling. The listener can’t see for himself and consequently must blindly believe the other’s words. Little by little the subject strays from dharma until it becomes something else altogether, unconnected with the extinction of dukkha.
Buddhism at its essence.

Friday, April 23, 2010

"The firing squad please"

Utah used to allow prisoners sentenced to death to choose between lethal injection and the firing squad. Ronnie Lee Gardner—who seems to have exhausted his appeals—chose the firing squad. But he will be one of the last prisoners permitted to make that choice. According to a story in the NY Times,
Utah is phasing out firing squads because of the media attention and bad image they cause, legislators and corrections officials said.
Bad image? Utah wants to kill people but not look bad while doing it?

By the way, here's how it works.
Procedures for the last two such executions in Utah, which officials said would largely be followed with Mr. Gardner, had five unidentified officers using identical .30-30 hunting rifles from a distance of about 20 feet. One rifle — which one unknown to the shooters — was loaded with a blank. The condemned man was strapped into a seat while wearing a black jumpsuit and a hood, with a white cloth circle placed over his heart to provide a target.
Does that really look worse than stapping someone down and injecting them with a lethal serum? I guess it's a matter of taste. Perhaps its the blood resulting from the bullet wounds that makes them cringe.

Coyne on Dawkins, Fodor, and Piattelli-Palmarini

Jerry Coyne is an evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago. He has a long review that covers both Richard Dawkins' The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution and Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini's What Darwin Got Wrong.

Coyne starts with Dawkins, supporting his position on evolution.
Imagine for a moment that a large proportion of Americans--let's say half--rejected the "germ theory" of infectious disease. Maladies like swine flu, malaria and AIDS aren't caused by micro-organisms, they claim, but by the displeasure of gods, whom they propitiate by praying, consulting shamans and sacrificing goats. Now, you'd surely find this a national disgrace, for those people would be utterly, unequivocally wrong. Although it's called germ theory, the idea that infections are spread by small creatures is also a fact, supported by mountains of evidence. You don't get malaria unless you carry a specific protozoan parasite. We know how it causes the disease, and we see that when you kill it with drugs, the disease goes away. How, we'd ask, could people ignore all this evidence in favor of baseless superstition?

But that's fiction, right? Well, not entirely, for it applies precisely to another "theory" that is also a fact: the theory of evolution. Over the past quarter-century, poll after poll has revealed that nearly half of all Americans flatly reject evolution, many clinging to the ancient superstition that the earth was created only 6,000 years ago, complete with all existing species. But as Richard Dawkins shows in his splendid new book, The Greatest Show on Earth, the theory of evolution is supported by at least as much evidence as is the germ theory of disease--heaps of it, and from many areas of biology. So why is it contemptible to reject germ theory but socially acceptable to reject evolutionary theory?

One answer is religion. Unlike germ theory, the idea of evolution strikes at the heart of human ego, suggesting that we were not the special object of God's attention but were made by the same blind and mindless process of natural selection that also built ferns, fish and rabbits. Another answer is ignorance: most Americans are simply unaware of the multifarious evidence that makes evolution more than "just a theory," and don't even realize that a scientific theory is far more than idle speculation.
Coyne just published Why evolution is true, a book with similar intent, namely to explain evolution as not only true in fact but a true theory as well—at least so far as any scientific can be pronounced true.

Nonetheless Coyne is very complimentary to Dawkins. He spends a lot of time repeating some of the evidence and giving Dawkins credit for explaining it well.

Dawkins describes selection as an "improbability pump," for over time the competition among genes can yield amazingly complex and extraordinary species. Here's how he describes the evolution of tigers:
A tiger's DNA is also a "duplicate me" program, but it contains an almost fantastically large digression as an essential part of the efficient execution of its fundamental message. That digression is a tiger, complete with fangs, claws, running muscles, stalking and pouncing instincts. The tiger's DNA says, "Duplicate me by the round-about route of building a tiger first."
Only Dawkins could describe a tiger as just one way DNA has devised to make more of itself. And that is why he is famous: absolute scientific accuracy expressed with the wonder of a child--a very smart child.
In one passage Coyne discusses the evidence for evolution that comes
from the "bad designs" of animals and plants, which, Dawkins observes, look nothing like de novo creations of an efficient celestial engineer. His favorite example--and mine--is the recurrent laryngeal nerve, which runs from the brain to the larynx. In mammals it doesn't take the direct route (a matter of a few inches) but makes a curiously long detour, running from the head to the heart, looping around the aorta and then doubling back up to the neck. In the giraffe, this detour involves traversing that enormous neck twice--adding about fifteen feet of superfluous nerve. Anyone who's dissected an animal in biology class will surely agree with Dawkins's conclusion: "the overwhelming impression you get from surveying any part of the innards of a large animal is that it is a mess! Not only would a designer never have made a mistake like that nervous detour; a decent designer would never have perpetuated anything of the shambles that is the criss-crossing maze of arteries, veins, nerves, intestines, wads of fat and muscle, mesenteries and more."
(The real reason I started writing this blog post was to quote that paragraph!)

Coyne goes on to discuss Fodor, and Piattelli-Palmarini' What Darwin got wrong. Coyne, like every other review I've seen of this book, is puzzled by how F&P (as he refers to them) could have gone so far wrong. To take just one example,
F&P claim, for example, that selection could never produce winged pigs because of developmental constraints: "Pigs don't have wings because there is no place on pigs to put them. There are all sorts of ways you'd have to change a pig if you wanted to add wings. You'd have to do something to its weight, and its shape, and its musculature, and its nervous system, and its bones; to say nothing of retrofitting feathers."

Haven't F&P heard of bats? Bats evolved from small four-legged mammals, probably resembling shrews. You could say the same thing about shrewlike beasts that F&P did about pigs: how could they possibly evolve wings? And yet they did: selection simply retooled the forelegs into wings, along with modifying the animal's weight, shape, musculature, nervous system and bones for flying (no feathers needed). One of the great joys of being a biologist is learning about the many species in nature whose evolution would appear, a priori, impossible.
I don't know anything about Piattelli-Palmarini, but from my reading of Fodor it seems to me that he wants to say outrageous things almost for the sake of being outrageous. Fodor is a colorful and forceful writer. He presents himself as wanting to appear reasonable while confidently exploring ideas others would fear to investigate. Well he is certainly doing that in this book. But in this case, he seems to have stepped out of his area of competence—and using philosphical tools to attack evolutionary biology just doesn't get very far.

Coyne's own explanation of how F&P got to where they are in this book is the following.
I've pondered long and hard how two thoughtful intellectuals could go so wrong. Behind much of F&P's animus toward natural selection, it seems, is their disdain for evolutionary psychology. …

But evolutionary psychology is a red herring here. F&P are surely entitled to criticize evolutionary psychology, and evolutionary psychologists may be expected to reply. Motivations aside, F&P's attempt to undermine evolutionary biology is a quixotic and misguided undertaking. Their claim to have nullified 150 years of science, and one of humanity's proudest intellectual achievements, with some verbal legerdemain, is not only breathtakingly arrogant but willfully ignorant of modern biology. In the end, F&P's contrarian efforts are all belied by the world of Richard Dawkins--the flourishing field of modern evolutionary biology, where natural selection remains the only explanation for the wondrous adaptive complexity of organisms.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Rob Carter's stop-motion history of Charlotte, NC

in less than 10 minutes. From

Rob Carter

End Too Big to Fail

From Simon Johnson.
Call your Senator, call Senator Harry Reid (Senate majority leader), and call the White House. Tell them that you support the Brown-Kaufman SAFE banking act (unveiled yesterday) – as an amendment that would greatly strengthen the Dodd bill by capping the size and leverage of our biggest banks. Politely ask the people who answer the phone to make certain that this amendment gets an “up or down vote” in the Senate.

The Brown-Kaufman act is our best near-term chance to reduce the size of Wall Street megabanks that are too big to fail and that threaten our economy. (If you don’t understand why this is important, read 13 Bankers; quickly – this could all be over by this time next week.)

Tell everyone you know why this makes sense and ask them to make the call also. These calls will determine the outcome. If the Democratic leadership understands the groundswell of support for breaking up big banks, the Brown-Kaufman proposal has a chance to come to the floor – and who exactly on the Republican side would like to be on the record as opposing it?"
I attended Simon Johnson's talk when he was in LA last week. He was clear about what was needed to be done. Here's a description and some pictures from the talk, including a link to the video.
From The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

A federal district court in Wisconsin recently ruled that the annual declaration of a National Day of Prayer, established by Congress in 1952, is unconstitutional. The decision is being appealed, and the judge has stayed the ruling, saying it should not be applied until the appeals process is complete. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama has stated that he will go forward with his plans to officially proclaim May 6 as the National Day of Prayer for 2010.

The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, conducted in 2007 by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life, shows that prayer is a common religious practice in America, with nearly six-in-ten adults in the U.S. saying they pray at least once a day. However, frequency of prayer differs significantly by religious tradition, age, gender and income.
Why am I posting this? It continues to amaze me how many Americans live in such a world of religion. On the other hand, perhaps "pray" shouldn't be taken that narrowly. Would mediation be considered prayer? Would feeling amazed and appreciative about the wonders of life be considered prayer? I recently saw one of the episodes in the Discovery Life series. It's absolutely amazing the variety of life forms and strategies for survival. If an appreciation of natural wonders is included in the notion of prayer, then prayer is not necessarily an act born of superstition. In that case, I don't understand the ruling of the Wisconsin court.

Perhaps the question should be asked more crisply.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

My Way - Abstract Maps

From UrbanTick

Krugman, The Fire Next Time

From The Fire Next Time, Paul Krugman.
On Tuesday, Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, called for the abolition of municipal fire departments.

Firefighters, he declared, “won’t solve the problems that led to recent fires. They will make them worse.” The existence of fire departments, he went on, “not only allows for taxpayer-funded bailouts of burning buildings; it institutionalizes them.” He concluded, “The way to solve this problem is to let the people who make the mistakes that lead to fires pay for them. We won’t solve this problem until the biggest buildings are allowed to burn.”

O.K., I fibbed a bit. Mr. McConnell said almost everything I attributed to him, but he was talking about financial reform, not fire reform. In particular, he was objecting not to the existence of fire departments, but to legislation that would give the government the power to seize and restructure failing financial institutions.

But it amounts to the same thing.
The rest is here.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Space vs NBIC

From Managing NBIC
At this point in history, tremendous human progress becomes possible through converging technologies stimulated by advances in four core fields: Nanotechnology, Biotechnology Information technology, and new technologies based in Cognitive science (NBIC).
The preceding was written in 2005. Do we even hear about NBIC any more? Here's a current summary. But it's certainly not from a mainstream source. Yet work proceed in all four areas. There's just less over-excited talk of convergence these days.

But what's my point? My point is that all four of the NBIC areas share one thing that distinguishes them from Space. (This blog post was inspired by Obama's speech on space and the future of NASA tody.) The four areas focus on information manipulation—the moving about of physical objects that represent other things, and doing it with relatively small amounts of energy. In contrast, space requires lots and lots of energy to move things about. Obama talked about developing a new "heavy lift" rocket. That's big energy technology.

Humans have succeeded in the past by developing big-energy technologies: factories, transpiration, etc. But we are succeeding in the present—and most likely in the future—by focusing on small-energy technologies, namely NBIC.

I guess it's still true that we need big-energy technologies. We still fly; we still manufacture machinery, etc. But all those big-energy technologies seem somehow 19th and 20th century. The late 20th and the 21st century seem destined to focus on small-energy technologies, where a little bit of energy provides a lot of leverage.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Nonduality of Good and Evil

From Tricycle Magazine
Because it emphasizes mindfulness of our thought processes, Buddhism encourages us to be wary of antithetical concepts, not only good and evil, but success and failure, rich and poor, even the duality between enlightenment and delusion. We distinguish between the opposing terms because we want one rather than the other, yet the meaning of each depends upon the other. That may sound abstract, but such dualities are actually quite troublesome for us. If, for example, it is important to live a pure life (however I understand purity), then I need to be preoccupied with avoiding impurity. If wealth is important for me, then I am also worried about avoiding poverty. We cannot take one lens without the other, and such pairs of spectacles filter our experience of the world. — David R. Loy
Nice thought.

The Secret of the Banks’ Success

The Secret of the Banks’ Success - Paul Krugman Blog -
Back in early 2009 I was skeptical about the ability of major banks to recapitalize themselves out of profits. I was wrong, it turns out. Here’s why:

Financial-industry profits have soared, probably because banks that can borrow money cheaply — because they have an implicit guarantee from the feds — are more or less guaranteed money machines unless they do something stupid; and gross stupidity has been placed temporarily on hold.

This has been good for the TARP, which won’t lose much money.

Beyond that, however, I find this ominous. We got into this mess because we had an over-financialized economy, with finance making a share of profits out of all proportion to its actual economic contribution. And now it’s baaaack.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Bach, Toccata and Fugue in D minor, organ

Fantastic. This was posted in December 2005 and I hadn't heard of it until now. A friend of my wife's sent it to her.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Citizens United Against Citizens United

The return of the 60s

From Hallucinogens Have Doctors Tuning In Again.

Scientists are especially intrigued by the similarities between hallucinogenic experiences and the life-changing revelations reported throughout history by religious mystics and those who meditate. These similarities have been identified in neural imaging studies conducted by Swiss researchers and in experiments led by Roland Griffiths, a professor of behavioral biology at Johns Hopkins.

In one of Dr. Griffiths’s first studies, involving 36 people with no serious physical or emotional problems, he and colleagues found that psilocybin could induce what the experimental subjects described as a profound spiritual experience with lasting positive effects for most of them. None had had any previous experience with hallucinogens, and none were even sure what drug was being administered.

To make the experiment double-blind, neither the subjects nor the two experts monitoring them knew whether the subjects were receiving a placebo, psilocybin or another drug like Ritalin, nicotine, caffeine or an amphetamine. Although veterans of the ’60s psychedelic culture may have a hard time believing it, Dr. Griffiths said that even the monitors sometimes could not tell from the reactions whether the person had taken psilocybin or Ritalin.

The monitors sometimes had to console people through periods of anxiety, Dr. Griffiths said, but these were generally short-lived, and none of the people reported any serious negative effects. In a survey conducted two months later, the people who received psilocybin reported significantly more improvements in their general feelings and behavior than did the members of the control group.

The findings were repeated in another follow-up survey, taken 14 months after the experiment. At that point most of the psilocybin subjects once again expressed more satisfaction with their lives and rated the experience as one of the five most meaningful events of their lives.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The benefits of walking around—both literally and virtually

The other day I was talking to a couple of people about non-relational databases. I remembered that some time ago (more than 6 months but less than a year) I had come across a non-relational database that I thought was very interesting. But I couldn't remember its name. I promised to see if I could find it and send a pointer.

In the course of our conversation one of the people I was talking to noted that there is a movement now that supports development of non-relational databases. It refers to itself as No SQL.

When I got back to my computer I did a search for "NoSQL." (Actually I first searched for "No SQL", which worked fine, but the proper search is for NoSQL.)

The first two results of that search, Wikipedia/s NoSQL page and N*SQL, both had links to Neo4J, the database system I recognized as the one I had looked at earlier. (The third, fourth, and fifth results were sites that criticize NoSQL databases and the NoSQL movement.)

I sent the links to my friends and learned something myself, namely that there is now a community of non-sql database developers and users and that it's name is NoSQL.

Had I not been walking around, that wouldn't have happened.

The Web is obviously a way to encounter this sort of accidental but useful information virtually. Simply by browsing blogs, etc. one just runs into interesting pieces of information.

Of course remembering that one had run into them is another thing. But I remembered enough about Neo4J to find it again when needed. So that sort of information is generally not completely lost.

P.S. Stew, if you're listening, Aerospace should have a blogging capability that is as easy for everyone to use and to monitor as the rest of the web does. This is one of the potential benefits.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Great effects and humor

Uploaded by onemoreprod. - Arts and animation videos.

The Conceit of Self

From Tricycle Magazine's Daily Dharma
The conceit of self (mana in Pali) is said to be the last of the great obstacles to full awakening. Conceit is an ingenious creature, at times masquerading as humility, empathy, or virtue. Conceit manifests in the feelings of being better than, worse than, and equal to another. Within these three dimensions of conceit are held the whole tormented world of comparing, evaluating, and judging that afflicts our hearts.

- Christina Feldman, "Long Journey to a Bow" (Fall 2008)

Click here to read the complete article.

From Wordnetweb.
Conceit. S: (n) amour propre, conceit, self-love, vanity (feelings of excessive pride)

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Lawrence Lessig's latest video

It's 51 minutes. But watch it anyway.

Require corporations to get shareholder approval before spending money to support political positions

Take Action for the Shareholder Protection Act
Because of the Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, CEOs can now spend unlimited amounts of other people’s money in politics – money from shareholders, most of probably don't fall in line with the corporate agenda these CEOs support.

Don’t let your nest egg become a political weapon for the corporate agenda. The Shareholder Protection Act (H.R. 4790) proposed by Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.) would empower shareholders to vote on whether or not to allow corporate executives to spend corporate money on political campaigns.

Public Citizen set up a page where you tell your representative in Congress to support this act. Check it out at

Thursday, April 01, 2010

The bottom line on the iPad

From David Pogue’s Review of the iPad.
The iPad is not a laptop. It’s not nearly as good for creating stuff. On the other hand, it’s infinitely more convenient for consuming it.
Apple has pegged Americans as the ultimate consumers.

Confirmed by Farhad Manjoo in Slate.
So far I've done almost nothing with the iPad that I couldn't have done on either my computer or phone. If I were to run into a kind-hearted mugger tomorrow who forced me to give up only one of my gadgets, I'd throw him the iPad without hesitation. I need my phone and my computer to get things done, but I don't really need a tablet computer. The iPad is a luxury—like Steve Jobs' Mercedes roadster, it's the sort of thing you buy if you've got extra money and you want a fun, stylish gewgaw.

So, why would you pay at least $500 for a machine that merely replicates your other gadgets' functions? Because the iPad is the best media-consumption device ever made. Or, to put it another way, there is no better machine to use on the couch, the bed, or in the bathroom.