Aug 102015
 

So after writing not long ago that I would hold off on upgrading to Windows 10, I did exactly that yesterday. Based on my reading, it seemed that most upgrades were proceeding smoothly and I decided that the risks were minimal. My own upgrade took less than an hour and was entirely uneventful. All of my installed programs were still there after the upgrade and everything is working normally, including my assistive tech. Kudos to Microsoft for finally implementing a seamless OS upgrade process.

As for my impressions of Windows 10, it’s essentially a re-skinned Windows 7. The live tiles on the Start menu are interesting for the first five minutes, but the overall design feels a bit disjointed. I still can’t figure out the difference between “Settings” and “Control Panel”. Windows 10 also forces white title bars on everything, which makes my desktop feel like the digital equivalent of working in a NASA clean room. I will definitely be signing the “Hey Microsoft, Your White Title Bars Suck!” petition.

If you’re considering whether to upgrade, I recommend doing so. It’s a vast improvement over the travesty that was Windows 8 and Windows 7 is getting a bit long in the tooth, so it seems likely we’ll all be using 10 before long. And because I can’t imagine Microsoft releasing anything with the awkward moniker of Windows 11, I expect Windows 10 will around for a long time.

Aug 062015
 

I started watching The Daily Show sometime in 2000, just before the madness that was the Bush-Gore election saga. Jon Stewart’s brand of baffled, snarky liberalism became an essential part of my media diet, helping me cope with a Bush administration that seemed grimly determined to keep America in a perpetual age of war and fear. Stewart was the first media figure of my generation who seemed capable of speaking truth to power without sounding naive or inarticulate. His brilliant writing staff’s mastery of finding just the write video clip to undercut some grandstanding politician presaged the constant fact-checking that now occurs every day on social media. Interviews like the one below with the obnoxious CNBC financial “guru” Jim Cramer perfectly embody Stewart’s fondness for using someone’s own words to expose them as fools and/or hypocrites:

The Daily Show may have lost some of its edge in recent years and Stewart could have done a better job of diversifying both his on-air talent and his guests, but he also introduced us to other incredibly funny and smart people like Stephen Colbert, Larry Wilmore, and John Oliver. Fifty years from now, American satirists and comedians will still be citing Stewart as an influence. I’m excited to see what Trevor Noah will do with the show, but I’m going to sorely miss Jon’s presence on my TiVo.

Jul 292015
 

Since I’m on vacation this week, I thought it might be a good time to experiment with the new Windows 10 upgrade. But while early reviews are generally positive, they also indicate that it might be better to hold off on upgrading until the OS is less buggy. Windows 7 still serves me perfectly well, so I’m happy to wait for a more polished release. OS upgrades always make me a little nervous because I’m never certain if my assistive technology will be compatible. Specifically, the developer of my on-screen keyboard dropped support for the software several years ago, so I can’t rely on them for future fixes.

Whenever I do upgrade, I’ll post some brief thoughts here.

Jul 262015
 

Is that a big number “50” I see on the distant horizon? That can’t be right. I’d better enjoy my early forties before I stop buying new music altogether and start watching an inordinate amount of CBS programming.

And no, I haven’t abandoned this blog, at least not yet. But I need to figure out how to make it interesting to me again. It’s become much too convenient for me to tweet out whatever snark is on my mind. Compared to that, writing complete and cogent paragraphs is hard. I’m on vacation this week, so perhaps inspiration will hit me while I’m playing my nth game of Hearthstone.

Thanks for all the birthday wishes.

Jun 262015
 

This week has reminded us that the United States is, at its heart, a progressive country. That progress does not always come quickly or easily and there can be long stretches of time when it seems like things will be ever as they are. But in fits and starts, we bend the long arc of history a little closer towards justice and equality.

In the wake of a horrific terrorist attack at a Charleston church, we came to the much-belated realization that the Confederate flag represents the worst of our country’s history and it is not a symbol that should be flying over state capitols. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court turned back a cynical challenge to the Affordable Care Act that, if successful, would have left millions of people without health insurance. And today, the Court affirmed that marriage equality is the law of the land.

Any of these events would have been momentous. Together, they represent a period of rapid and long-overdue change that will probably leave some people feeling confused, overwhelmed, or even angry. We may not recognize it now, but history will regard this time as a critical juncture in the country’s evolution and I feel so fortunate to be a witness to it. Here’s to the ongoing work for a better future and the countless anonymous people who will make it happen.

Jun 212015
 

The Supreme Court will rule on King v. Burwell in the coming days and the outcome could determine whether millions of people will continue to receive subsidies to purchase health insurance. But as Ezra Klein rightly points out, a ruling against the government won’t destroy the Affordable Care Act. In blue states that have set up their own exchanges (like Minnesota), the ACA will continue to function as if nothing had happened. It’s people living in red states who will suffer the  consequences of an adverse ruling. And some Republicans may rue the day that this suit was filed in the first place. They’ve had the luxury of taking potshots at the ACA without having to propose a serious alternative. If millions of their constituents suddenly learn that they are losing coverage, Republicans will be pressured to come up with some kind of solution. Whether they can pass anything is another matter entirely.

I’m still cautiously optimistic that the government will prevail, but a bad decision won’t realize conservative fantasies of a wholesale dismantling of health care reform. There will be turmoil and some people could suffer real harm if Republicans refuse to act. The law itself will remain and most states will eventually find a way to ensure their citizens enjoy its full benefits.

Jun 212015
 

Fourth of July Creek is full of broken people struggling with their past and present troubles in the rural Montana of the early 1980s. Pete Snow is a social worker who does his best to make life a little better for local families coping–barely–with poverty, addiction, and mental illness. Pete also has his own problems, including alcoholism, a broken marriage, and a teenage daughter who both loves and resents him.

In the course of his work, Pete meets Jeremiah Pearl and his son Benjamin. They live deep in the woods, where the elder Pearl educates his son in the ways of apocalyptic Christianity, elaborate government conspiracies, and white supremacy. Pete’s first impulse is to help them with offers of food and clothing, but he becomes fascinated with Jeremiah and tries to understand how this man descended into paranoia and fanaticism.

The book is at its best when it slowly reveals Pearl’s tragic history. Henderson skillfully manages the tricky task of eliciting sympathy for Pearl despite his cracked worldview. But the novel stumbles in its portrayal of women. Every female character of note is a mess of one flavor or another. I began to wonder if any well-adjusted women even existed in this fictional corner of Montana. I’m sure that Montana, even now, isn’t a bastion of feminist enlightenment, but I really hope it’s not quite so bleak as portrayed in the book.

Henderson is a talented writer and I look forward to his next work, but I hope he can tell a story that portrays women as something other than punching bags and sexual outlets for disaffected men.

Jun 092015
 

The AV Club is doing a pop culture retrospective of 1995, a year that has a special significance for me. It’s the year when I first began to feel like an adult. I graduated from college that spring and moved to Minneapolis a few months later. When I wasn’t trying to comprehend the basics of contract law and torts, I spent quite a bit of time navigating this newfangled thing called the Internet.

And now all of that is 20 years ago. Ugh. I’m going to put on some Oasis and order a sports car on eBay.

May 162015
 

Mad Max: Fury Road is a movie whose engine never stops roaring until the credits roll. It’s a brilliantly executed return to the post-apocalyptic wastelands of The Road Warrior, but Fury Road makes that movie seem like a leisurely Sunday stroll in comparison. The plot is simple yet elegant: an extended chase sequence that ebbs and crescendoes in tightly choreographed displays of chaos. Max (Tom Hardy) is once again the tortured loner eking out a grim existence in the wastelands until he’s captured by Immortan Joe, a warlord with a death fixation. Meanwhile, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), launches a plan to liberate her master’s most favored sex slaves and take them to safety. As you might imagine, things don’t go according to plan.

Director George Miller makes sparing use of computer generated effects, which gives his scenes of automotive mayhem a more visceral feel. The chrome and sand flying across the screen is tangible in a way that the superpowers of the Avengers still aren’t. And while Max may be the titular hero, Furiosa is the movie’s true moral center and the character with the most depth. Theron joins the pantheon of female action stars (including Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hamilton) whose presence elevates their movies from the generic to the compelling. Fury Road‘s feminist themes have managed to elicit growling and howls from the caves of the men’s rights advocates, which is another reason to love this movie.

May 132015
 

Soylent is a “food replacement product” that has been getting some recent buzz. It’s a powdered drink that is supposed to provide total nutrition without all the hassle of grocery shopping or, you know, chewing. It seems to be targeted at millennials who are too busy coding or designing the next Uber to grab a bite to eat. Here’s a video of some Vox staffers giving Soylent a try:

I have one thing to say to the creators of Soylent: pfffft. I’ve been living on a liquid diet since long before your cute little startup came along. It’s called Osmolite and you can buy a case of it on Amazon for 36 bucks. It doesn’t even require mixing. I haven’t done a taste comparison, but I’m betting that Soylent and Osmolite share the same bland flavor. I can’t personally comment on Osmolite’s taste since it goes directly into my stomach. But I do find it quite convenient to eat while I’m asleep. In fact, I think I’ll have some right now.