Mar 052014

I’m looking forward to the relaunch of Cosmos this Sunday. I have vague but pleasant memories of watching the original Carl Sagan series with my parents and it provided my introduction to the notion of scale; both in terms of the vastness of the universe and the deepness of time. I’m still a bit surprised that Fox and Seth MacFarlane are behind this project, but the early reviews seem positive and make no mention of dick jokes or climate change denialism. The fact that it’s airing on Sundays seems to indicate that Fox is hoping to attract a large audience. I’m skeptical that Americans will watch a general-interest science series in droves, but I would love to be proven wrong.

I should also try to re-read Sagan’s Contact, which made a big impression on me when I first read it back in the mid-80s.

Feb 282014

The Arkansas legislature is currently debating whether to continue the state’s expansion of Medicaid for low-income children and adults. Since this is Arkansas, a bloc of Tea Party legislators has been blocking the extension because it might make the lives of poor people just a bit less miserable. One of the opposing legislators is Josh Miller, who also happens to be a Medicaid beneficiary because of a spinal cord injury sustained in an auto accident.

In interviews, Miller justifies his opposition to the expansion with claims that it would benefit people who don’t want to work or who want to abuse prescription drugs. He also is terribly concerned that the federal government will default on its obligations and he doesn’t want to make promises to his fellow Arkansans that can’t be kept.

People with disabilities span the political spectrum and Miller and is entitled to his opinion. But his stance that some people “deserve” assistance while others don’t is disheartening, particularly given his own experience with public assistance. He isn’t the first person with a disability who wants to protect Medicaid for people like himself, yet his position as a legislator gives him a unique opportunity to shape the programs that benefit him so extensively. It’s an opportunity I would love to have. If he chooses to use that opportunity to deny health care to 100,000 people, that’s his right. A day may come when Miller’s fellow legislators want to save money by trimming benefits for people with disabilities. If that happens, will Miller be as quick to side with his conservative brethren?

Feb 252014

The Minnesota Legislature begins its 2014 session today. Governor Dayton is calling it the “Unsession” because he wants legislators to focus on repealing and cleaning up old, outdated statutes. But legislators will probably be more focused on passing a bonding bill, raising the minimum wage, and repealing some of the tax increases enacted last year.

This is an election year, so lowering taxes will be a popular cause on both sides of the aisle. If the February budget forecast shows another substantial surplus, cutting taxes may be a reasonable policy. Still, no legislator should want to return to the days of budget instability and the fiscal gimmickry that accompanied it. Any desire to cut taxes in the short-term should be balanced against legislators’ responsibility to ensure that the state is on sound financial footing.

Feb 202014

The first trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy hints at a movie that offers some goofy sci-fi fun. This may be Marvel’s riskiest film project yet. Unlike X-Men or the Avengers, Guardians isn’t terribly well-known outside comic book geek circles. Disney will have to figure out how to market the movie to mainstream audiences, which could be difficult. When your movie stars a giant talking tree and a raccoon with violent tendencies, you can’t expect audiences to just show up. But the trailer does a good job of introducing the characters and establishing a light-hearted tone. I’ll see it just for the chance to see Chris from Parks and Rec make out with a green-skinned hottie.

Here’s the trailer:

Feb 192014

During my daily commute home, I drive past the Metrodome demolition site. I visited the Dome only a handful of times and I was never terribly impressed with its accessibility. Getting the accessible seating required navigating a maze of tunnels and the spaces reserved for wheelchairs could barely accommodate my bulky frame. According to MPR, the new Vikings stadium (and the new minor league Saints ballpark) will have vastly improved accessibility.

The new stadiums will include many of the accessibility features that have become standard in most modern sports facilities: more accessible seating, closed captioning on the television monitors, lowered concession counters, etc. As the article notes, the new stadiums will also give people with disabilities the freedom to enjoy watching a game with a group of friends. This may seem like a small thing, but plenty of people with disabilities can tell stories about going to a game with friends and being forced to sit in the “handicapped section” with perhaps one companion.

I’m not sure we needed a publicity funded stadium to create a better experience for fans with disabilities, but at least my tax dollars will fund a facility that should be fully accessible to me. I still may need to take out a small loan to buy tickets for the first Packers-Vikings game in the new stadium.


Feb 182014

The blog has suffered a few technical issues over the last week, rendering it inaccessible for large chunks of time. The problems seem to be related to server transfers at my hosting company, which hopefully are now resolved. Since I’m no longer posting every day and I don’t always notice problems when they arise, feel free to e-mail or tweet me if the blog is misbehaving (thanks, Rose!).

And a pop culture update: I’m really enjoying HBO’s True Detective series. It’s a successful mashup of Southern Gothic and existential noir that has kept me interested since the first episode. Sure, it’s another serial killer tale in a television landscape littered with such tales, but the character studies give this pulpy material some heft. The show is further evidence of Matthew McConaughey’s transformation from shirtless goofball to Serious Actor. And Woody Harrelson must have cut way back on the bud to imbue his alpha male detective with just the right amount of swagger.

Like American Horror StoryTrue Detective also represents a resurgence of anthologized storytelling on TV. A new story every season should keep the series fresh and keep people like me paying for HBO subscriptions.

Feb 132014

Comcast’s proposed deal to purchase Time Warner Cable is being met with plenty of skepticism from consumer rights advocates. Given the current state of the U.S. broadband and pay TV market, those concerns are not easily dismissed. Comcast, already the largest cable provider, would gain even more control over the national broadband infrastructure and the market influence that comes with that control. This deal wouldn’t do anything to hold down ever-increasing consumer broadband rates and it may encourage Comcast to hike prices further simply because it can. Absent any further FCC efforts to regulate net neutrality, Comcast could also decide to leverage its increased market share into charging the likes of Amazon and Netflix for “preferred” access to its network.

As a Comcast customer, I don’t have many issues with the services I receive. Unlike a lot of other providers, Comcast has steadily increased its broadband capacity and speeds. But it charges exorbitant prices for that speed that are well above the rates charged in other developed nations for similar or even faster broadband access. Allowing Comcast to further consolidate its power doesn’t seem likely to result in a more consumer-friendly marketplace for such an essential service.

Perhaps the FCC will use this merger as an opportunity to push for meaningful regulations that will preserve the open Internet and granting increased access to competitors. Of course, this assumes that the FCC will find its backbone and not cower in a corner while Comcast steals its lunch money.

Feb 102014

HBO has posted a surprisingly lengthy trailer/behind-the-scenes look for the fourth season of Game of Thrones. The brief glimpses of various scenes in the video seem to confirm that this season will generally follow the latter half of the third book in the series (Storm of Swords). The show’s producers broadly hint that even more surprises await in this new seasons and I’m curious to see how fans unfamiliar with the books react to certain…unexpected…developments.

Here’s the video:

I’m finally making my way through the fifth book (Dance of Dragons) and, while it’s never boring, it has a certain plodding quality that often besets the middle volumes of fantasy series. I can see that Martin is arranging the pieces on the board for what I hope will be a satisfying endgame, but he probably could have accomplished this in substantially fewer pages. The TV series will need to find a way to remain faithful to Martin’s vision while sustaining narrative momentum, which won’t be an easy task.

Feb 062014

I consider myself a hearty Midwesterner who doesn’t hesitate to venture outside on an icy cold morning. I have walked to class on days when the wind chill was -20 and the sidewalks were clogged with snow. But this winter has tested my fortitude. Temperatures have barely nudged out of the teens for the past month and the copious snowfall has rendered the landscape a blinding white void. Other than the commute to work, I don’t think I’ve left home since early January. I’m pretty sure my broadband usage for the past couple months rivals that of a good-sized Bulgarian town.

The weather is certain to moderate soon, but I would like to at least see Her without risking frostbite or a spinout on the highway.

Of course, I reserve the right to complain in a few months that the excessive heat and humidity is keeping me indoors.

Feb 032014

Yesterday’s Super Bowl was a dull affair, as were most of the ads. But this Microsoft ad featuring a former NFL player living with ALS caught my attention:

Two things: First, people actually use Surface tablets? Second, when did the Surface get eye-tracking functionality? Because that seems like something Microsoft might want to start incorporating in other products, like the Kinect.

I did get a little misty watching the hearing-impaired woman cry when she heard the words spoken to her. Don’t hate me, deaf community.