Nov 232018
 

Ugh, so much for getting back on a regular blogging schedule. I came down with a nasty infection over the summer, followed by a flurry of less severe but still annoying health issues. I began to worry that I was approaching my expiration date and I withdrew into myself for a time. But thanks to excellent care from my doctors and team of nurses, I slowly recovered and now I’m pretty much back to normal. I now have to take a medication for high blood pressure, but that seems like a small price to pay in order to remain on this mortal coil for a while longer.

Anyway, I’ll try to do a better job of being more consistent with my blogging going forward. Here are a few random thoughts that I’ve been meaning to share:

  • The Haunting of Hill House is one of the best TV shows that I’ve seen this year. It’s a visually sumptuous story that finds horror in both the supernatural and in the dynamics of a broken family.
  • Minnesota Democrats performed even better than I thought they would in the midterm elections. They would have complete control of state government but for the fact that the Senate was not up for re-election (except for one seat). I’m hopeful for progress on initiatives that will make health care more affordable and accessible to those who have fallen through the gaps of the ACA marketplace. MinnesotaCare for all, perhaps?
  • The Packers are not a good team this year. Injuries seem to plague the Packers every year, but I’m beginning to wonder whether a change in coaching might be in order. For too long, the team has relied on a strategy of giving the ball to Aaron Rodgers and hoping for the best. But that strategy depends on a deep pool of talent in the receiver corps, which they don’t have right now.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. And thanks for reading.

Nov 232018
 

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley StartupBad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t typically read business books, but the fall of Theranos is a story that intrigues me because so many smart people failed to ask the questions that could have exposed the company as a complete fraud before it became a darling of Silicon Valley. Carreyrou provides a fascinating account of the fear and paranoia that permeated the culture of Theranos even in its earliest days. Elizabeth Holmes may not know much about chemistry or engineering, but she excelled at creating a cult of personality that borrows heavily from the autocrat’s playbook; something that Carreyrou emphasizes repeatedly throughout this extensively detailed book based on his own reporting for the Wall Street Journal.

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May 172018
 

For decades, people with disabilities who wanted to play video games (especially on consoles) had to improvise their own accessibility solutions. Perhaps a relative could help you modify a controller or maybe you could find a custom-built device on the Internet that would meet your needs. But these solutions tended to be expensive, finicky, and completely lacking in technical support. Console manufacturers simply didn’t recognize that they had customers with disabilities who wanted to play their games. That may be changing, though. This fall, Microsoft will release the Xbox Adaptive Controller, the first Xbox accessory that is specifically targeted at gamers with mobility impairments. The base unit (which will sell for $100) includes oversized buttons as well as 19 (!) ports for adaptive switches of various types. Here’s a video providing a closer look at the XAC:

While I don’t play on consoles (I’m a PC gamer from way back), it’s so exciting to see a major corporation recognize that people with disabilities can enjoy gaming if they are provided with flexible hardware and software. I hope that other companies take note and make a concerted effort to be more inclusive of gamers with all types of disabilities. Over the years, I’ve noticed that an increasing number of games include options to improve accessibility in the software, but accessible hardware has always been difficult to find. The XAC could represent a genuine shift in how corporations perceive both their relationship with and responsibility to customers with disabilities. A decade ago, a mass-marketed and relatively affordable accessibility device would be unthinkable. A decade from now, I hope devices like the XAC are commonplace.

May 062018
 

The Star Tribune reports on young people with disabilities who are forced to live in nursing homes because of a dire shortage of home care workers across the state. Medical Assistance (the Medicaid program that funds most long-term care for Minnesotans with disabilities) pays only $12-$13 per hour for personal care assistants, which is simply not enough to attract people to a demanding profession with variable hours. The most obvious solution would be to increase the pay of these workers and disability advocates are working hard to convince the Legislature to do just that. The legislative session ends in a couple weeks, so if you’re in Minnesota, please consider calling your state legislators to ask them to support a pay increase for PCAs so that people with disabilities aren’t forced into lives of isolation.

Plenty of people with disabilities (including me) live with the nagging fear that we could end up in an institution because of a lack of adequate staffing. I’m fortunate to have a devoted team of nurses caring for me, but it would only take the sudden loss of a couple nurses for me to face the imminent possibility of life in a facility. Articles like this remind me both of how lucky I am to live at home and that my independence hangs by a tenuous thread. I’m also regretting that I read some of the nasty, dismissive comments that accompanied the article–Ayn Rand has no shortage of acolytes around here. I remain hopeful that lawmakers will recognize that they must act to preserve Minnesota’s position as a leader in supporting people with disabilities, but we need to make some noise to ensure this happens.

Apr 292018
 

The Underground RailroadThe Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a brilliant novel that employs devices of magical realism to chart one woman’s treacherous odyssey as an escaped slave from antebellum Georgia. Cora’s journey (facilitated by a literal underground railroad) is an exploration of American white supremacy in all of its forms, from paternalistic condescension to systematic genocide. Through Cora, we witness how the institution of slavery poisons everything that it touches, including the ideals on which the nation was founded. The book also challenges the reader to ask whether anyone can ever truly escape slavery.

This is not a comforting book, but it makes for compulsive reading. I tore through most of it in a weekend. I’ll be sure to add Whitehead’s other books to my ever-growing “to read” pile.

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Apr 282018
 

I’ve enjoyed nearly all of the Marvel movies since Iron Man arrived in 2008. This is the first one that really captures the epic scope and high stakes of a comic book event. The story spans the galaxy, which gives most of the characters an opportunity to shine without making the film seem crowded (which was a problem with the previous Avengers films). I do wish we had seen a little more of characters like Black Widow and Shuri–here’s hoping they get more attention in the concluding chapter.

Thanos and his lackeys are appropriately menacing, but the movie also gives Thanos a surprising degree of pathos. His actions are horrific, yet not without context. He’s probably one of the more interesting villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The visuals, particularly those set in space, are gorgeous and contribute to the epic tone. But even as the universe is burning around them, the cast cracks wise and poke fun at each other. The Marvel movies have perfected the art of the light touch in comic book movies; something that other studios still can’t seem to emulate.

The quiet yet apocalyptic ending is sure to spark petabytes of debate on Reddit. I thought it worked well; it sets the stage for some big changes to the franchise while keeping the exact nature of those changes unclear.

In conclusion: a vastly entertaining movie that will stand up to repeated viewings. Infinity War is a brilliant capstone to the past ten years of Disney’s world-building and I look forward to seeing what comes next.

Apr 092018
 

Red Sparrow (Red Sparrow Trilogy #1)Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book taught me that a spy’s life consists mostly of:
– traipsing around foreign cities at all hours of the night;
– eating;
– having amazing sex; and
– more eating.

Kidding aside, this is an entertaining and well-crafted spy novel. Dominika Egorova, a Russian intelligence agent who is also also a synesthete (look it up), is a fascinating character and I enjoyed the opportunity to get inside her head. The plot is satisfyingly twisty and the author’s background as a CIA station chief gives an air of authenticity to the tradecraft described in the book, but the sex scenes are straight out of the Middle-Aged White Guy’s Fantasy Generator.

The recipes at the end of each chapter are also a nice touch. I really want to try that caviar torte. Looking forward to eventually finishing the trilogy and checking out the film adaptation.

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Apr 062018
 

Tim Pawlenty’s decision to run for a job that he already held for eight years is baffling. When he left office in 2011, Minnesota’s public finances were a hot mess; a sea of red ink created by years of budgeting gimmicks. He repeatedly cut health care and other supports for the most vulnerable among us. The first shutdown of our state government in modern history happened on his watch. And now he’s asking voters to look back on his tenure with misty-eyed nostalgia and give him another chance to make Minnesota mediocre again.

This isn’t to say that Pawlenty wouldn’t be a formidable candidate. He has the resources and connections necessary to mount a well-financed campaign and he may be able to convince enough Republicans that he’s their best bet for winning a statewide office; something that the Minnesota GOP hasn’t accomplished since 2006. But in an election year that is likely to favor Democrats, will Minnesotans be clamoring for the return of a conservative who has worked as a bank lobbyist for the past several years and who ran a failed presidential campaign that summited the heights of forgettable human endeavor? Perhaps, but after enduring the Trump-lite rhetoric of his first campaign video, I’m not too concerned at the moment.

Mar 312018
 

At this point, news of another corruption scandal within the Trump administration is not surprising. These stories have become disturbingly routine over the past year, as have the shrugs from the vast majority of Trump supporters in reaction to such news. Trump’s election has opened my eyes to the fact that many Americans are basically cool with a corrupt form of petty authoritarianism as long as they feel that their tribe is part of the “in” group that will benefit from said authoritarianism. Human history certainly provides plenty of examples of our willingness to get behind a strongman who promises to protect us from those people, but it’s depressing to watch these tendencies play out in real time.

During the Cold War, we framed human conflict as a struggle between competing political ideologies. It seems more accurate to frame conflict as a struggle between our most basic and twin natures: the desire to surround ourselves with people who are just like us in a society shaped by a powerful few and the desire to find a way to live alongside those who are different from us in a society shaped by democratic norms. Our darker instincts seem to have the upper hand at the moment, both in America and around the world. Perhaps all of our history will be a pendulum swinging between the impulses writ large of our better angels and our inner demons. I want to believe that the pendulum will begin to move in the other direction soon, even as the daily news tests my optimism.

Mar 222018
 

Trump’s appointment of John Bolton as national security advisor marks the start of the second season of the ridiculous drama that is this administration. The second season promises a much darker tone as the plot careens from one global crisis to another and viewers struggle to keep up with the backstabbing machinations of Trump’s inner circle.

Except that this is real life and innocent people could die because a crazed ideologue will be advising our president on foreign policy. I had harbored hope that we could muddle through the next few years without this president sparking a true catastrophe. That could still happen, but I’m feeling less confident after this evening’s developments.