Shiny and Chrome

When I got my first summer job for my grandpa’s construction company, I knew what I wanted to buy. I wanted a computer. My mom was always a technophobe, so I only had really limited experience for most of my life, and in spite of (or maybe because of) that I am very much a technophile. So, what was my small budget going to purchase?

Spoilers, my first laptop was a Dell Inspiron 13, and my current computer is a Lenovo Y700. But when I was looking I saw these weird new things called Chromebooks. They were (and still mostly are) cheap laptops that were basically a version of the Chrome browser with a couple cool tricks. In my days of low technological understanding, I wasn’t sure if it would be able to take Google Docs offline like I planned to do for debate, so I didn’t get one. I thought they might have been a flash in the pan, but they are honestly looking more appealing by the day.

Most of the cool things about Chromebooks (insane security, frequent updates, dirt cheap) are still largely there, but so are the limits. It’s still mostly just a browser. That’s changing. As of last year, Google started to make the Google Play store available on certain models of Chromebook, and recently announced that all new Chromebooks in 2017. What’s more, they announced a set of new computers from Samsung called the Chromebook Plus and Chromebook Pro. They’re both plenty powerful, but they are made from the start with the intent of having Android apps available. So, any fears I once held about enough features are largely absolved.

The most common work related programs are word processors. Originally, Google Drive was available to this end, and even as I write this on a Windows 10 computer I still prefer to use Google services for pretty much everything. But the reason I like platforms like Windows and Android is they are open, and I like having the choice to do with my things as I will. So more options for productivity is never bad, and Word for Android is actually a solid choice.

Here’s the thing, Word Online has been available in the Chrome browser for some time now, but that isn’t full Word, and it isn’t available offline. Those are conditions that most people can live with, but Word for Android can go offline. Still it isn’t full Word. Here’s the thing, I don’t think that is actually that big of a problem for 95% of people. Most of us don’t do anything but type and maybe mess around with the font a little. The features that Android Word lacks compared to Windows and Mac are edge cases at most.

Think about it, how much do you really do on you need your computer to do. If you’re a video editor, engineer, or PC Gamer, yeah, you need more muscle and specialized programs than Chromebooks can provide in the near future. Android games are obviously a thing, with some lighter spin-offs of classics like Civilization Revolution 2 or the full multi-platform Hearthstone (the greatest F2P game available), and there are some very basic video and photo editing apps available, but for those really dedicated, we still don’t have enough for everyone.

But what about the people who spend most of their time on social networks, shopping, streaming shows, or writing? I honestly think that is the majority of what most people do. That would certainly explain the popularity of smartphones and tablets, and think about the great things you get in exchange. The hardware is lighter, so it is one, well, lighter. Chromebooks, even those with larger screens, are thin, light and easy to carry around. Even more, the lower specs can provide for dramatically better battery life. For as much as I like my laptop, having a core i7 and a discrete graphics card can really drain a battery, even with lighter work. So, will my next computer be a Chromebook? Eh.

Getting an OS closer to Android that takes less space and more battery life are almost exclusively advantages for me, and most of what I do on a computer would be done as well or even better on a Chromebook. As for the rest, well I’m a nerd who likes PC gaming. I like Hearthstone plenty, but I’d miss Stardew Valley, Diablo, Skyrim, and any number of other games I already enjoy, and am looking forward to. The games are what will hold me back at this point, but I don’t know for how long, and if you don’t need a high end computer, why are you spending the money? You can get a Chromed out OS for pretty cheap.

My cyborg side

If it isn’t obvious by my… everything, I’m a technocrat. As I’ve said, I like technology and I truly believe it can help our society but this relationship is very intimate. People, mostly angry middle aged folks on their first trip to the internet, worry about the singularity. Given that my previous roommate has minor biomods, it doesn’t seem all that far off. But I think we’re already at the point that technology is a part of who we are. Specifically, I want to talk about our phones.

It’s a cliche at this point, but nothing is more intimate to the average person that their phone, and that’s not just in America. Smartphones are the most common internet connection in the world. They know our schedules, our social media figures, our opinions (I’m writing this from my phone), and every other detail of our lives. It’s to the point that a large amount of people are comfortable with regularly purchasing items from the bathroom. Full disclosure, that includes me. That makes them an extension of who we are. That’s why I love my phone so much.

While talking with my sister Ariel recently, she voiced a feeling I never realized I had. On consideration, iPhone’s are sterile. Because they all feel the same, these very intimate expressions of who we are don’t seem like anyone. They represent conformity, the norm. They’re fine. Nothing bad. But there is nothing unique. I want an extension of who I am to reflect my greater whole.

Our dependence on smartphones is a solid meme. I understand why its easy to laugh at, but its kind of wonderful to me. We are augmenting our evolution. If God made us in his image, it only seems fitting that we create new and intricate things. These things are now part of us. We need to be aware of it and pay attention like any part of who we are, but we also need to appreciate it for what it is. It’s us.

Silver linings

I won’t beat around the bush, 2016 was a bad year. I refuse to believe that it is just media coverage, this was a bad year. But there were a few things this year I really liked (mostly entertainment stuff for the purposes of this Post) and got me through, so I want to talk about them.

Music

The first thing is actually tied to an early unfortunate event, and that is Blackstar by David Bowie. I remember the moment I read about his death. I had “Lazarus” playing on Spotify when the Rolling Stone headline showed up on my Twitter feed. If you haven’t heard the song, it is Bowie’s song that kind of acknowledges mortality. That’s been read into plenty, but at least I’ve had something to listen to from the get go.

I really can’t mention 2016 without mentioning Kanye’s new album. I adored The Life of Pablo by Kanye West. I’ve written about Kanye already and recent events have shown some interesting turns in his persona, but Pablo gave me a lot to identify with and lean on for strength. Also, just go ahead and lump his concert in there because I’ll remember that little trip with Grace for years to come.

I actually saw quite a few concerts in the second half of my year. After I saw Kanye, I also got to see MC Lars, a longtime favorite of mine. He was every bit as nice as I could have hoped and the show with Mega Ran and mc chris was high octane and unique.

This year I had the habit of getting tickets to concerts as Christmas presents, the final show I went to was a Christmas show from Trans Siberian Orchestra. They make an incredible spectacle, but the highlight for me was when they had a tiger change into a dragon change into an attack helicopter. I still don’t know why they did that, but that has yet to affect the degree to which I care.

Film

The next thing I loved was the new Coen Brothers movie Hail, Caesar! which really shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s on HBO at the moment, and that’s good because it’s hard to explain all the reasons I like this venture without ruining a lot of things, not by killing plot points, just really cool and odd jokes. If nothing else, the sheer amount of incredible names should speak about why I’d be so thrilled by a period movie like this.

Sandwiched between the album and the tour, I binged some serious TV and I have to say, Netflix had a good years. Bojack Horseman has been going strong for a few years, but that blend of flippant humor with serious and potent commentaries on sensitive issues (i.e. mental illness, abortion, nontraditional relationships) is something that I can’t get enough of. Also, I didn’t expect to like Stranger Things, but there are few things made that so perfectly fit with what I live. I know I’m not from the 80s, but I don’t care. Just as I liked the setting of Hail Caesar! I adore that aesthetic that permeates so many things I love.

The other source of TV that entered my life was HBO. My family never paid for the cable subscription. We still don’t. But I subscribe to HBO Now so I’ve gotten to enjoy what they’ve put out, and it has been some wonderful stuff. I enjoyed Westworld and Veep but my favorite has to be Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. I’m impressed with the sheer variety they can produce and there has yet to be a time I could not get out of a funk with those three magic letters.

Games

Before I say anything here, I must acknowledge that I’ve been playing a lot of older games this year. For instance, I’ve only recently gotten into Skyrim. Not the remastered on on consoles. The PC version. No special mods. I just finally found what makes it fun. If you want to know what has had a major emotional impact, look to Spec Ops: The Line. It incredibly subverts expectations to show what war is like. To be fair, I haven’t been to war. I probably never will. But I definitely can understand the stress there. That’s just the beginning of my list of older games I liked this year.

Another thing that was incredibly cheery was Stardew Valley. I love that game. I have never experienced something that so easily made me feel comfortable. When I think about the gameplay itself or the story, there’s nothing all that impressive. But the loop always makes me feel productive and relaxed. When paired with the incomparable soundtrack, it’s basically a digital blanket I can cuddle into.

In terms of time sinks, there has been little that could compare in my life to Sid Meier’s Civilization series, and Civ VI is not an exception. I don’t know if I like it as much as IV yet, and I certainly haven’t spent as much time with it. But its on its way. That could easily get to be my most played game. Full stop, It’s going through the roof as we speak. Twenty hours in a week, thanks to winter break. Life is sad sometimes.

Tech

I need to give a shout out to my phone here. I’m on my own phone plan now, and I adore the phone I have for it. While I don’t have the brand new OnePlus 3T, that wasn’t announced until a few weeks after I got mine, but I don’t care. I love my OnePlus 3. In our society, our phones have gotten to be an expression of who we are. My iPhone was fine, but I think this represents who I am better. It’s a smart buy when considering value. It’s unique because no one else has it. That’s my problem with Apple products. They all blend in. They look nice, but boring. Where my phone is concerned I want to feel unique, and it is.

Person

I can’t mention Stranger Things, Westworld and trashing on Apple without thinking about the person who spurred me to watch it, my wonderful girlfriend Allie. I try to keep an air of professionalism with this silly blog and not directly address her, but she is definitely my favorite thing about 2016. I’m not an easy person to be with, but she seems to be sticking it out. She leaves for Canada soon, but I know I’m the luckiest guy in the world to have her. She makes me happy. I love her, and she’s my favorite thing of the year.