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.

Dating myself

Want to know something that kind of sucks? Long distance relationships. Of course I love my girlfriend, but on days like Valentine’s it can be rough. I have a Valentine, and she is someone I really, really care about. She is doing amazing things and the pride I feel in her is so overwhelming I sometimes feel like it all has to be a dream. How does a scrub like me get someone so incredible? So I feel ungrateful to complain, but it can be agonizing to have her hand a thousand miles away when I am walking around campus seeing couples hold hands. Even just that little bit of human contact sounds divine.

In the absence of my cuddle buddy, I am learning how to take better care of myself. I mean, to be fair, I am not very good at the whole self care thing. I’m not necessarily self destructive, I’d never actively try to hurt myself. It’s more that I push myself without regard for my well-being. I know I have limits, and I mostly know where they are. It’s just that I ignore them. With this intent to treat myself better, and my Valentine closer to Trudeau than myself, I decided to treat myself to a nice dinner. Alone.

I went to Cafe Brule and had a wonderful meal, but then again most meals are wonderful on their own. While I do like eating alone, I’ve always felt a bit sheepish about going to a restaurant on my own. Of course this isn’t any major social issue, but people do give me a bit of sideways glances. I had to wait a while because the wait staff assumed I was either expecting someone or else was stood up. Not so, the only thing I was waiting on was my food. If I’m going to tell the truth, it was one of the nicest meals I’ve ever had.

Not because it was overly fancy, just some nice comfort food for my belly, I just was able to sit and enjoy internal dialogue with myself. Depending on who you ask talking to yourself is either a sign of brilliance or insanity, but I chose to ask myself, so I got the chance to learn about myself better.

I’m still digesting and the more time I spend learning about myself the more I realize I still need a lot more time. But I think I liked that guy, and I’m eating with him again tonight.

Her eyes

A while ago I noticed a peculiar habit my family has when they talk about my partner. Whenever she comes up, my family always extols her many virtues (and there are plenty of those that I’d like to write about at a later date), she’s funny, she’s smart, she’s kind, but my family always has to sneak in “not that it matters, but she is really beautiful.” I can’t blame them, that’s how I feel too.

Honestly, looks never mattered all that much to me, I’m much more attracted by intelligence, but there is no denying that it’s a great quality that she’s one of the most beautiful people in the world. I could talk write about any of the many things that make her a real stunner, but the one that stands out to pretty much everyone are her absolutely gorgeous eyes. For those who haven’t seen them, her eyes are the most bright blue sapphires you will ever find.

They have so much to tell. They say the eyes are the windows to the soul and hers show just how beautiful she is inside and out. I could stare into them forever. The sheer amount of kindness in them always overwhelms me. Honestly, I have more than my fair share of issues. It feels isolating.

Some days I feel like I’m all alone in the world. Even when people tell me they care about me or try to understand, there is always a little piece of me that just can’t trust them always. But when she looks at me, I know that I am not alone. Seriously, they are magic. Of course there is the aspect that she just helps me so much directly, but her eyes give her a unique advantage.

Don’t get me wrong, she can do a lot to relate to me and that really does help. And her heart is so full and open that she could really help anyone. Just go read her blog and you’ll see. You don’t even need to meet her in person to see how wonderful she can be for those she comes into contact with, even online. Now imagine that, all of her heart and mind, being amplified and projected through two perfect sapphires. I hope to look at those eyes for the rest of my life.

I’ve written and rewritten this multiple times. This is probably my seventh or eighth draft. I keep trying again because I am incapable of conveying the feelings her eyes give me, and while a picture’s worth a thousand words, even photos can’t do her justice. So maybe I can’t write magic, but it should be known that even her eyes make me feel better. I love her because she makes me feel good, so I thought I’d start with my most obvious and outwardly apparent away.

Realistic escapism

For as long as I can remember, I have been drawn to escapist expressions. At the risk of sounding like a hipster, I have always loved fantasy, comics, sci-fi, video games, anything that lets me escape to somewhere more fantastical than the world I live in. So, in the stressful media world of Trump’s America, I must ask myself why I can’t seem to lose myself in the worlds I love so much.

My Steam library is packed to the gills, I have a significant reading list on my Kindle, and there is a ridiculous amount of good content on HBO, Netflix, and Amazon. So much, in fact, that I needed to get an app to sort through it. There’s a really great app that aggregates movie and TV choices called Mighty, they describe themselves as Tinder for streaming. I made sure to input a lot of my favorite things so most of the recommendations are off the charts good. Things I wanted to see I didn’t know were available to me, and things I really like were appearing with my having no prior knowledge of their existence. Here’s the thing, none of them are the sort of escapist show I have been previously drawn to, Westworld, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Stranger Things, and any number of other shows I have enjoyed throughout the years. I have watched almost exclusively documentaries.

At the beginning of the semester, I once again read Book X of The Republic for my Introduction to Literary Criticism class which gives a blistering attack on the nature of art and literature, the harshest criticism possible, for art as a whole.. I don’t agree with it by and large, but Socrates largely argues that reality is hard to perceive so having multiple lenses to distort a vision of the world can make it exponentially more difficult to see the truth. In a world of alternative facts, I am turning to the entertainment with the fewest lenses to find my joy.

Want to know what I just watched? A documentary about government surveillance. That’s not as light as In Search of General Tso, but it shows some truth. Of course everything has its own flaws and distortions applied by its makers, that goes without saying. That’s kind of the point of Socrates argument in The Republic. That doesn’t matter.

It is impossible to be a proper citizen of an Advanced Liberal Democracy without exposing oneself to the news. That is quite simply essential to functioning in the world, but frankly, it really sucks in the last few years. Real and legitimate news is under assault, and those attacking it won’t even allow us the courtesy of marking it as such. Of course right leaning sights were more problematic in the election, but its not lack of center right news available to them from reliable sources, look at The Economist, Forbes, or The Wall Street JournalThey all have political angles that do not align with me, but they have reliable records. They made their names on reliability, not on clicks.

So I turn to documentaries. True, reliable, and entertaining. Even the darkest ones are infinitely better than what I get in the New York Times everyday. Top notch reporting, but it makes me feel like I’m going to have a nervous breakdown because the truth is so much stranger than fiction with the Whitehouse acting as a reality TV show. It’s just not the strangeness I like.

Coffee coercion

Unlike the average American, I do not drink coffee. At least, I didn’t used to. The big thing for me is that as far as I’m concerned coffee tastes like wet gym socks. I really, really can’t stand the flavor or the smell of coffee. Unfortunately, there are quite a few benefits that I want to reap.

Let’s consider the word depression for a moment. A depression is an area that is pushed down. In the case of mental health, it is more than just a depressed mood, it is depression of a diverse range of features in life.

I personally feel a lot of depression as just being tired. It doesn’t matter how much I can sleep, I can’t go a day without feeling exhausted to a point of near collapse. So I really need to do something to stay awake all through class. I’m a good student, but sometimes my illness can almost drag me under during a lecture.

Medication exists, and I’ve been on some that tries to help, but i don’t like that way it feels. Lacking medically specific methods, I am turning to caffeine to get through my day.

Of course the titular coffee isn’t my only option for caffeine. But I want a source that balances health, convenience, and taste, in that order. Unfortunately, coffee seems to be the best balance of convenience and health.

Tea has caffeine. Tea is amazing. It tastes like happiness, and it is quite healthy. Most likely more healthy than coffee. Unfortunately, tea doesn’t have enough caffeine for my purposes, and it takes longer to steep good tea than it does to poor a cup of hot tea coffee, on top of which coffee is readily available pretty much anywhere you go.

Rivaling coffee in availability is caffeine rich sodas. There’s plenty of varieties wherever one goes. Thankfully USD is a Pepsi campus, and since that’s all garbage my situation is made it least a bit easier, but Coke (the Cola that is) can be more than a little troublesome.

Maybe it’s a family culture thing, but I really, really like the original cola. That little bit of acidity,  But I don’t think I need to go into how bad soda can be for a person. If you keep it simple, coffee is comparatively health.

Coffee is famous for having health evidence that can go either way for. Some studies show it’s good some say its bad, it really can go either way, but I don’t believe in alternative facts. I think there is one core truth, it might just be hard to determine, that’s why we have experts on the job.

For my money, or my health for that matter, the Mayo Clinic is a strong candidate, and they say that coffee is at worst a mild benefit, and could potentially be greatly helpful to the health of drinkers.

I still don’t like coffee. I’ve had at least three cups a week since the semester started and I’m still can’d stand that taste. But I stay awake as long as I want, so I’ll keep choking it down.

Before I go, here’s a quick fun story. Because of my schedule, I typically grab coffee right before my Russian class, and as a result, I drink coffee during Russian. I hate the taste, so I can’t help but make faces while I drink it, and often accidentally make my professor laugh as I gag to stay awake in class. That’s all, take it easy, and stay awake.

Time well wasted

I am a workaholic. I hate not having something to do, and I dread long school breaks because I feel so unproductive. I started learning a little bit of French over Christmas just to take up time. All I remember is je mange pomme de terre, and I’m not even sure if that is right. But I’ve found a problem, I overwork myself. I push too hard and then I’ll get dangerously close to having a minor breakdown, so I’ve had to teach myself a thing or two about self care in college. I’ve discovered that for myself some things work better for relaxation than others.

Strangely, I find I enjoy things more as they seem more like a waste of time, so there is a scale of things. I like listening to podcasts and books, but both of those feel at least a little like work, a little too much like I’m being productive and doing something to enrich my mind. Nightmarish I know, but only for situations when I don’t have too much stress, just a little unwinding.

One tier below that is TV and movies. It’s much more passive, and often a good deal more silly. Watching Rick and Morty can be more relaxing than reading a book about the history of NPR when I just want to sit back and relax.

When I’m really feeling the ole grindstone grate against my last nerve, nothing will do in the place of some stupid video games.

Of course there are plenty of intellectual video games with strong points to make (my personal favorite of these is Papers, Please) but I’m talking about games that are serious wastes of time. Maybe there’s a story, but that’s not the lure of a game like XCOM, Hearthstone, or Ultimate Chicken Horse.

Those are all great, but my personal favorite when I need a pick me up is Stardew Valley. There’s the incredible music, the simple gameplay, and a whole other list of things I can rattle off, but the whole experience together blends into a place I can just get lost, be happy, and grow some corn.

I’ve always liked games, but for most of my life, I could never allow myself to value them. With rare exceptions, they were basically complicated toys, not anything I could have an intelligent conversation about. Then I had a really great class last year called Humans and Technology where I really got to value a wide range of artistic mediums. And from there, I realized I don’t particularly care if they’re of any great value.

Stardew Valley is a truly wonderful game that helps make me happier when I am going through some hard times. It is an experience that helps me find happiness. If other people don’t value it, who cares. I want to do things that make me happy in my life.  If that means some good old fashioned play time with some pixelated cows, then so be it.

Look like a man

Anyone who’s seen me in the last few years knows I like to dress well. It’s been years since I didn’t own a suit, and I live in sweater vests. I own a drawer full of vests, and I have grown very fond of cardigans recently. The thing with cardigans is they require something to be worn below, and I think a plain color t-shirt is boring. So instead I wear flowery shirts and rock a Hawaiian print Cubs cap.

I didn’t used to like flowers or paisley on my clothes because I thought they were girly. As I grew to realize how stupid gendered terms like that were, I never bothered to examine my clothes. Now that I have realized the error of this logic, I am examining what I think of clothing. I have realized the problem I have. Men’s clothing is so arbitrarily restrictive.

In high school a gay friend of mine pointed out to me how boring men’s clothing is, and I think I’ve come to agree with him. Don’t get me wrong, I love both my suits and my sweater vests, but I really like to wear a fun dress shirt with them. You have no idea how difficult this can be just to get some basics.

To be fair, I can have trouble find clothes my size period, but patterns are hard to find in general. You can get some subtle stripes and a few polka dots, but nothing striking. Of course the majority of these clothes are made for business and formal wear, and that’s fine. But it is a serious hunt for any sort of style. So, what about clothes not made for men?

To be clear, I mean style as in a subjective preference for appearance. I don’t care much for fashion, and I don’t think I ever will. But I know how I want to present myself to the world. I think of myself as a fairly businesslike man who likes color and patterns. Those are really hard to find. Clothing can be a small way of expressing our stances and thoughts to the world.

For instance, my recent adventures at the Women’s March in Sioux Falls. I wore a pink bowtie because I didn’t think it seemed right for me to wear a pink hat, but I could still show support. I really don’t have much expressive clothing, but I promise that is not for lack of effort. It is partially because of colorblindness, but that is besides the point. There just is not much available to me in general.

My girlfriend wears my sweaters, and I know plenty of women who feel comfortable shopping in the men’s section and that is great. I just really wish it could go the other way. In all honesty, I love the idea of wearing dresses and skirts. I have no doubt that a good amount of people read that and subconsciously questioned my sexuality and gender identity, and to the best of my knowledge I am indeed a straight man. They just look comfy. And there is a lot of fun things made with them.

Now, I know that might sound out there, the idea that a man would be anything but a clean cut and traditional business man is odd, but hear me out. There was a time where women wearing pants would have been considered extreme, and men’s fashion is heading toward lace collars and other traditionally feminine clothing tropes. I’m no fashion expert, but this excites me.

I’ll never be a trend setter, and not all female clothing appeals to me, I’ll still probably have sweater vests and khakis as a staple. Oh, and I live in the conservative and slow to catch on state of South Dakota at the moment. It’s a wonderful state that I truly love, but I feel like it’s safe to say we’re not known for our hough couture. But all things change with time, and I just want everyone to think about it. Because I would look great in a skirt.