User Interface Design is Underrated (Why Windows 8 Sucks)

Microsoft’s latest operating system, Windows 8, was such a failure and so widely hated that the man in charge of its development was fired within a month of the software’s release. Criticisms of the operating system are many, but the main failure of Windows 8 is that it ruined the User Interface Design that people had come to expect from the Windows product line. For one thing, the software tried to force mouse and keyboard users on desktops and laptops into using a touch screen interface meant for tablets. It also eliminated the Start menu and replaced the famous Windows Start Menu icon with a button that essentially does nothing except bring up the tablet interface. Instead of being able to access your installed applications or browse your computer’s files, you got shunted to a tablet menu that is difficult to interact with. Another extremely annoying feature of Windows 8 was the fact that the user had to make 4 or more button clicks just to shut down or restart their machine. Getting rid of the Start Menu meant they had to introduce a new way to shut down via the mouse, and that involved bringing up the tablet interface window, clicking on Settings, and then clicking on Shut Down and confirming with an additional click. The result of these decisions is that pretty much everyone who needs a new computer to do work or play games hates Windows 8.

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Internet Service: United States vs South Korea

In a report published by technology company Akamai, South Korea ranked 1st in the world for average download speed, clocking in at 25.3 MBPS (megabits per second). The United States, by comparison, ranked 11th, with an average speed of 11.5 MBPS. South Korea’s speed is more than twice as fast. To make matters worse, compared to the average cost for an internet connection in South Korea, internet service is much more expensive in the United States. This report by the Open Technology Institute, released in 2014, gives an extremely detailed analysis of internet speed and price in various major cities around the world. For the sake of comparison, Seoul, the capital of South Korea, averages about 300 MBPS download speeds for a price of around $50 per month. The United States, for the same price, offers an average speed between 25 and 45 MBPS.  Only the cities with Google Fiber, as well as Chattanooga, Tennessee (which has its own innovative municipal fiber network) bring this average up with extremely competitive prices for gigabit internet, the fastest service available to the consumer in the United States. The rest of the country lags so far behind in terms of price per speed that it drags down the averages by several orders of magnitude.

Why are we so far behind? The monopolies that control almost all internet service in the United States are primarily responsible for this sad state of affairs. They don’t compete with each other. While they don’t directly co-ordinate with each other in setting prices, they have little, or in some cases, no competition, and they don’t need to compete on price as a result.  They know what the other monopolies charge so they all offer poor service for a high price, in the same range so they don’t undercut each other. Between Time Warner, Comcast and AT&T, American consumers are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Why is any of this important? Does it really matter if the United States isn’t number 1 in internet speed and price? I say that it absolutely matters. We aren’t even in the top 10 in speed. Poor, overpriced internet has serious consequences. It limits economic opportunity for people that can’t afford internet access. It stifles innovation by putting technical limitations on what people are able to do with their connection. The difference between a 25 MBPS connection and a 1000 MBPS connection (gigabit) is like the difference between a children’s tricycle and a Ferrari.

The internet service situation in the United States raises billions of dollars per year for the same 3 mega corporations who spend millions of dollars a year lobbying politicians to continue to protect these failed, terrible policies that created this situation with the monopolies. The United States, the birthplace of HP, Intel, Apple, Microsoft, Google, and many more hugely influential tech companies, should be the de facto leader in internet speed and price. We should be head and shoulders above the rest of the world, but we aren’t. If we are going to remain competitive in a global marketplace, this has to change, and quickly.

The Internet vs Religion

My own personal journey away from religion was fueled by my connection to the internet from a young age. I was raised in a very religious, Christian based family and church. In high school I went to religious schools. In high school I also attended a Christian “worldview” seminar two summers in a row in Colorado, at a place called Summit Ministries, in Manitou Springs. The purpose of Summit was to provide Christians about to enter into the college world the tools they would need to defend their religion against the naysayers, to equip them to fight and win the “culture war.” After my trip to Summit, I was filled with religious zeal, and figured since  I was on the internet all the time, even back in the late 90s, that I should carry the message of Christ to the non-believers I encountered on the internet.

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Jail instead of a mental hospital

When I was arrested in Arizona in the middle of a psychotic breakdown, I was immediately taken to jail, rather than a mental hospital, which is where I should have gone. A month later I was arrested in Ohio, and in that case I was taken to a mental hospital. In the first case, I did not get better. In the second case, I was finally able to get the help I needed, my condition began to stabilize and I was able to remain stable from that point forward. What I didn’t understand at the time was that for a majority of the country, jail has become the de facto housing facility for the mentally ill. Cuts to mental health budgets throughout the country have created a status quo where not only are millions of people in the United States in jail, but the majority of them suffer from a mental illness. In a study released in 2006, the Department of Justice estimated that fully 64 percent of local jail inmates have some form of mental illness. In reality the number is probably higher.  This is all the result of policies that have weakened or even removed large parts of the mental health commitment system, enacted primarily in the 1970s and 1980s, largely during the Ronald Reagan presidency. The consequences for this are far reaching. Higher murder and assault rates, higher property crime rates, higher rates of drug abuse, and lost productivity of the many people whose lives are destroyed by mental illness.

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The Prosperity Gospel

Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request.

– 1 Chronicles 4:10

One of the most odious movements to emerge from American Protestant Christianity in the last 20 years is what is popularly known as “The Prosperity Gospel.” Although the prosperity gospel first took hold in the United States in the 1950s, it wasn’t until the book The Prayer of Jabez came out in 2000 that the prosperity gospel really took off in the public consciousness. Written by Bruce Wilkinson, The Prayer of Jabez is based almost entirely on the above verse in 1 Chronicles in the Old Testament. The simple idea is that if a Christian is to repeat this prayer on a daily basis, their material and financial well-being will improve. The prosperity gospel revolves around the idea that faith is a contract with God, and as long as the Christian maintains his faith, he will be rewarded materially in this world. While some Christians roundly criticized the book and the theology underpinning it, The Prayer of Jabez was wildly popular. The book sold over 9 million copies and reached the New York Times bestseller list.

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Why I like Magic: The Gathering more than Hearthstone

I’ve played a lot of Magic: The Gathering, and I’ve played a lot of Hearthstone. I have mainly played Magic on Xbox and PC, as well as very occasionally in person on paper, and I’ve played Hearthstone on PC and iPad. To understand what I’m about to talk about, it would help to at least have a cursory understanding of what these games are about. Here’s an Intro to Magic, and here’s an Intro to Hearthstone.

It is my opinion, after playing hundreds and hundreds of hours of both Magic and Hearthstone, that Magic is the better game. I’m not saying one game is objectively good, or objectively bad, this is merely my own subjective opinion about these games and why I think the way I do. If you like Hearthstone more than Magic, that’s great, I respect that opinion, I just don’t agree with it. To keep this comparison simple, I will mainly be comparing the Magic: Duels of the Planeswalkers video game series to Hearthstone. Paper Magic is a whole different world on its own, with multiple game types and thousands and thousands of cards to choose from, and it’s not really appropriate to compare that to Hearthstone, which has only several hundred cards and exists exclusively in a digital setting.

My reasons for liking Magic more have to do with overall game design, card and meta variety, and gameplay depth. These obviously overlap some, but I’ve divided it this way to keep this from turning into one long stream of consciousness rant. Let’s dig in.

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The Death of Pay TV

I’ve never paid for cable television. Neither have any of my close friends. I’ve never paid for a newspaper subscription either. Since young adulthood I’ve always gotten my news on the internet. My friends and I all much preferred playing video games, or watching DVDs of imported movies and TV shows to watching cable TV. After Youtube came around in 2005, and with the appearance of Netflix, I never saw the need for cable TV. I only watch cable on occasion for live sports, but in general, I can’t watch a movie on cable TV, because the experience is totally ruined by ad breaks every 12 to 15 minutes. The movie is censored, edited, cut down, and worst of all interrupted by commercials. Watching TV shows is equally annoying. I would much prefer to simply wait for a show to come out on Netflix and then binge watch it at my leisure. I could also watch on Hulu, which while it shows ads, shows fewer ads than TV and at least gives you the option of watching the show when you want. Using a DVR to record a cable TV show and then fast-forwarding with the remote through every ad break is an annoying and wasteful “solution” to commercials.

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leaving Christianity

I don’t believe in determinism, the idea that we are not in control of our actions or events because everything that happens is a result of forces beyond our control. Laws of physics, genetic imperatives, chemical reactions. I will admit, however, that determinism has merit. It explains much of what happens in the world. In many ways, we are slaves to our programming. We are influenced by the way we are raised, as well as by our DNA. In some ways we are no different from robots. We have hardware and software that are responsible for much of how we act. So on the other hand, I don’t necessarily believe in free will either. I think reality is somewhere in between.

I’m reminded of the neuroscience discovery whereby it has been shown that the brain will start acting and moving a person before they have a conscious thought about taking an action. So in a sense we are always on autopilot. It’s akin to the story of the monkey riding the elephant. The elephant goes where it goes, when it wants to, but the monkey tells a story about why the elephant is moving, pretending as if it’s in control of the elephant. In much the same way our emotions, our actions, our thoughts are like the elephant, lumbering along beyond our control, while our conscious minds are like the monkey, telling a story about why things happen, because we need certainty, reassurance. We want to know how and why things are the way they are. The desire for certainty is very powerful.

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waking up from bipolar disorder

O soft embalmer of the still midnight,
Shutting, with careful fingers and benign,
Our gloom-pleas’d eyes, embower’d from the light,
Enshaded in forgetfulness divine:
O soothest Sleep! if so it please thee, close
In midst of this thine hymn my willing eyes,
Or wait the “Amen,” ere thy poppy throws
Around my bed its lulling charities.
Then save me, or the passed day will shine
Upon my pillow, breeding many woes,—
Save me from curious Conscience, that still lords
Its strength for darkness, burrowing like a mole;
Turn the key deftly in the oiled wards,
And seal the hushed Casket of my Soul.

– To Sleep by John Keats

My bipolar disorder first truly manifested itself at the age of 19. Like most people with this disorder, it is punctuated with alternating moods of extreme depression or extreme mania (energy, euphoria, elation). At 19 I experienced a full blown manic psychotic episode, highlighted by total mental incoherence and borderline insanity. In the 13 intervening years it has been a struggle to manage this illness. One of the hallmarks of my descent into madness is a total inability to sleep. Typically, after abusing substances and not sleeping for a few days, I would begin a severe manic cycle. As I have painfully learned to treat this disorder, I have learned about the importance of sleep for my brain. Lack of sleep is my number one trigger for problems. I have always had some form of insomnia, from a young age, but as I got older it became worse. Once I finally got to the point of understanding the consequences of not sleeping and abusing alcohol in particular, I have been able to ward off any further disastrous episodes and resultant consequences. It has been five years since my last hospitalization as a result of this illness. I have been hospitalized four times, arrested twice, and should have been hospitalized on at least two other occasions. This is why, at 2 in the morning when I can’t sleep, my desire to shut off my brain verges on total desperation. A hallmark of bipolar disorder is racing thoughts, and when I close my eyes and lie down, sometimes my mind fails to shut up and drift off. I call it “the clown car going in a circle in my brain.” The internal monologue intensifies. No matter how tired I may have been during the day, when I close my eyes for some reason I feel wired and wide awake.

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the end of the American empire

It seems my country is in a downward trajectory.

The United States of America is still in an economic depression. Our nation’s economy has still not recovered the millions of jobs lost since the collapse in 2007-08.  A huge percentage of the population is either unemployed or under-employed, working on a job making at or near the minimum-wage. Working part-time with no benefits.  Paying taxes on income, on property, on purchases. A permanent underclass has been formed, oppressed, and controlled in service of the upper classes. The wealthiest, during this trying economic time, have simply managed to amass even more wealth, while unemployed Americans across the country struggle to make ends meet. The stories of the excess and abuses carried out by the banking class on the economy and the people are many. The bankers who created this mess demanded to be bailed out by the taxpayer for the good of the country, allegedly. This bailout did not fix the economic crisis. The gap between rich and poor is widening more and more as each year passes. The wealthy in this country are almost all completely out of touch with the struggles of the poorest Americans.

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