Asked & Answered: What tech do you use?

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Asked & Answered is full of questions that people ask me through  online that wouldn’t be appropriate answering anywhere else. Send me your questions on Twitter.

The funny thing about giving people answers is they ask more questions. Some days back I answered some mail about what sites I visit on the daily. Your responses were awesome and appreciated. I figure, it’s time to answer another.

What’s tech do you use?

When I was a young geek (Yes, 16 year old Travis. I’m finally willing to own that.) I wanted every piece of gadgetry I could get my hands on. My first desktop PC, the one I would write my first Harry Potter website on, was a Gateway all-in-run running Windows 98. I had AOL and a hunger for code. A ThinkPad R40 and Dell Inspiron 2600 followed it.  Before I could afford my own upgrades mom rented me an HP Pavilion from one of those Rent-A-Center places just so I could stay inside and keep playing games and learning about the internet. That was before she realized she’d also crippled my social skills for life and likely wouldn’t be getting grand children. When I got my first job I’d replace a PC once every year or year and a half. There were times when I even had two PCs.

Today, I hate technology. I loved those days when everything was new and exciting, but to 26 year old Travis PCs, phones and media players are just tools. I’ve found a center where technology takes a backseat to life, I think. My choice in computers reflects that. I don’t own a tablet and I’ve been thinking about selling my XPS 13 for years. My only PC is a Microsoft Surface Pro 3. It’s my ereader, my desktop, my notebook, my everything away from home. I have a nice Lumia 930 smartphone and two Xbox One consoles too, but the Pro 3 is my prized possession.

Maybe one of these days I’ll do an office tour like my man Scott Hanselman does.  I reviewed the Surface Pro 3 for enConnected a month after I purchased it.

Asked & Answered: What sites do you read?

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Asked & Answered is full of questions that people ask me through  online that wouldn’t be appropriate answering anywhere else. Send me your questions on Twitter.

What sites do you read every day?

Honestly, you’d think may I’d read a lot of Microsoft news. Sometimes that’s true — particularly if the company has a major announcement in the works. Often times, that isn’t true at all.

I’ve endorsed it hear before, but Longform.org is my go to place for detailed content. I’m also a big fan of The New Yorker and The New Republic. Reading everyday reporting is cool, but sometimes you want someone to dig deep and fully explore their ideas. I like to read intellectual things, but that’s not me exclusively. There are days when you need celebrity gossiping random garbage to put your mind at ease. I visit Media Takeout for that thanks to a longtime friend of mine who first introduced me to it. For all media, nothing gets better that Awesomely Luvvie.

For gaming, I am a huge fan of Polygon. I still love them, but I also keep an eye on GameInformer, no one does detailed content like they do. It still feels well researched and professional, something I wish I got from other places. Scott Hanselman’s blog is terrific for technology and things beyond it.

I don’t visit that many Microsoft sites. Thurrot I browse frequently, though not a huge fan of Paul, he’s a terrific source for just about anything that comes from the company, like it or not. AllAboutMicrosoft is my bible. It’s just habit at this point. I don’t read any Windows Phone specific news sources because I’m not a huge fan of any of them really. One of the main WP websites is pretty tasteless, the other just isn’t my thing.

And Now For An Endorsement: Longform.org

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I enjoy sharing things that I like here. It’s a way to free myself from the confine’s of enConnected’s technology and entertainment focus and just talk about the stuff that I use every day. Over the past year I’ve really fell in love with longform. Think of longform reporting as a news piece with better bones and more to offer. My favorite curator? Longform.org.

These guys offer an absolutely terrific app and podcast too.

I Wrote This: Daredevil review

CHARLIE COX as MATT MURDOCK in the Netflix Original Series “Marvel’s Daredevil” 
Photo: Barry Wetcher
© 2014 Netflix, Inc. All rights reserved.
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If most superhero movies are a firecracker, Daredevil is a sparkler. You’re filled with anticipation from the moment you light it. It shines brightly in your hand the entire time. You have time to appreciate how the light reflects on the pavement below. You notice how the sparks dance in mid-air. When it does go out — as all things must do — you realize what you saw was something you can judge in its entirety. There’s a journey and a destination that you can appreciate.

Read on at enConnected

‘The Xbox One Handbook’ is my first book

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For years I’ve kicked around the idea of experimenting in digital publishing. On a trip to Washington in February I decided that I think too much. Instead, I’m going to just do it. (Yep, I laced up some Nikes and everything.)

My first ever experiment in digital publishing will be The Xbox One Handbook. As the name suggests, it’s meant as a companion guide to Microsoft’s console. When it’s finished it’ll be available on Kindle. To gather feedback I’m writing The Xbox One Handbook in chapters and sections and publishing them over at enConnected. The first part, A Guide to the Kinect 2 Sensor is already up. Let me know what you think.

A Prison Story: Profit By Any Other Name

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Along came the sunlight. Two days had passed since Christmas, since all the merriment. Two days since millions of people around the world had all insisted that they’d celebrated their deity by stringing up brightly colored lights to a tree and singing songs about a green monster who’d ransacked the houses of a small town and run away with everyone’s holiday goodies.

In the middle of a field sat a concrete monster of a building, rounded in barbed wire and bathed. That sun, that bright, godforsaken center of Sol, had the back of my next sweating – not that the perspiration was its fault. I was inside the concrete monster in front of large bay window hoping that I’d be able to make it in to see an uncle of mine. He’d been remanded to the building for more than decade and we’d recently struck up a correspondence.

One of us had written to each other once a week since my aunt passed away from cancer. Years before there’d been a blowout. Of course, he was in prison then too, so it wasn’t a blow out in the usual fashion. I’d stopped driving up to see him because I didn’t have a reliable car and my worst fear in the world was being stuck on the side of some road. Yeah, too many episodes of Unsolved Mysteries will do that to you too.

I received a letter one day blasting me for not being supportive, for not having more compassion for what he was going through inside. Nineteen year old me thought that the letter was ridiculous. Twenty-six year old me thought that letter was bogus too, but understood the situation more. Age was kind to me. It’d pushed my hairline up a few inches and given me new tools to understand what was going on in someone else’s head. I’d could always understand the world, but grew up not-fully grasping interactions with people around me. When you’re stuck in a place against your will and it seems like there’s no one willing to back you up, you think things. I understand the nature of captivity and being a human lot more than I did then.

I stood in that prison welcome lobby with all that glass a different person. I was ready to have a real conversation with him about what he planned to do when his stint was over. I was anxious to hear his attack plan. I don’t get eager often, but I was today, burning sunshine and all.

Which was why I found it ridiculous that after standing there for twenty minutes they wouldn’t let me see him.

Two guards sat at a computer station talking back and forth about my visiting history. They wondered why they couldn’t find me in their “system.” They had me sit down in front of that window with its unfiltered light and wait while they researched this particular hiccup.

“When was the last time you were here,” a lump of woman asked me. “In September,” I said. “Was it a special visit,” she wondered. “I was hear telling him his sister had died.”

She made busy work on the computer in front of her, presumably looking for something that said who I was officially. You know, as if the Virginia State driver’s license that was good enough to let me through a TSA checkpoint, buy alcohol, and vote for the governor whose picture sat smiling to the left of her wasn’t official enough.

Her working diligently allowed me to take the whole situation in. There were people, like me, waiting around behind the desk. They’d been cleared to see their loved ones. A set of lockers and vending machine sat to the far left, people were stuffing anything and everything in those. Another guard was taking coats and running them through the metal detector. I heard another guard from behind a partition instruct a visitor to throw away a tissue that sat in his pocked used. You know, because the used tissue was a threat to prison security.

I don’t have a problem with authority figures. There are laws that need to be enforced, and punishments that need to be administered. Right then, I stood staring at the guard behind the desk’s ridiculous looking black framed glasses, two-toned hair and smug face it occurred to me that I’m not exactly a fan of those who profit off those punishments. Unfairly, I stood there quietly focusing my disgust with society on her.

I’ve always noticed an air of content whenever I’ve come to this prison. How much do these guys make? Is it enough to explain why they always seemed so relaxed and comfortable? They seem to have a regular appointment with a hair stylist, each appointment resulting in a hair design more audacious than the last. Their demeanor wreaks of job security. “It’s a tough job,” I thought to myself. “Cut these guys a break.”

I took back my license after the guard with the two-tone hair and her boss had passed their judgment. According to them, I’d only been allowed to see my uncle months prior because their “system” was down. Basically, she threw them, that other visitor’s center crew, overboard. They hadn’t known who I was then which meant that they shouldn’t have let me in. They couldn’t let me in now because I hadn’t registered in advance on their website – even though I’d already filled out a form the last time.

When the mind works properly it thrives on analyzing information. As I walked to my gray Fiesta I wondered about the families of the people who’d committed crimes in the State of Virginia. I thought about the price they pay for knowing and caring about someone in a prison complex in the middle of nowhere surrounded by cheap motels and a McDonalds with poor customer service.

The people inside a prison have been found guilty of crime by a jury of their peers. We all sit idly by and let the prison system punish them with no problem. What about their family members, their wives, husbands and children? These innocents didn’t stand in front of a jury, but they’re paying like those inside.

Statistically, families of inmates are more likely to be poor, which in turn means they’re less likely to have internet access. They’re less likely to have a reliable car that’ll make it out to the middle of nowhere. Even if they have reliable transportation, they’re less likely to have what it takes to drop a full tank of gas to get them there.

Families of prisoners are less likely to have that extra money lying around, but services like JPay take a cut of every transaction – there’s no way there isn’t a comfortable profit margin in their rates. Supporting an inmate is ridiculously complicated. There are monthly phone services that you need to pay for. Stamps that you need to pay for – god forbid some kind of email service was implemented at no cost (JPay offers paid service of their own). The vending machines in the prison visitor center charge amusement park rates for a Pepsi like staring at the drab walls, guards’ well-kept hair and audacious finger nails is a sick tourist attraction.

I know that they’re guilty of a crime, but it’s hard to understand why anyone is comfortable with the roadblocks and profiteering going on here. Some of our most vulnerable children turn into criminals. We lock them away, give them nothing in terms of trying to better their lives when they get out. We make money off their dreams; we charge them for jail-house certificates that might not earn them enough to stop for a cheeseburger on the route leading back to society. It’s profiteering, plain and simple and we’re all comfortable with it. At the very least, we’re all willing to look the other way and justify it to our friends with, “Well, they shouldn’t have did what they did to get in there.”

How comfortable are we with mugging their families though. Are ok with setting up arbitrary roadblocks to visits in the name of security; are we pleased by every time we manage to sell their families sugar water at absorbent prices because it has been miles since it felt safe for them to stop and buy something at a more reasonable price? How about selling them cheap clear wallets for their coins for which the prison profits. Taking almost half of the $100 their families couldn’t spare already in the name of “punishment?” What about telling people who are statistically less likely to have access to the internet to go online and register for their visit 90 days in advance.

We’re all comfortable with punishing law breakers. At what point did we all become ok with letting the state use some of our guilty, but vulnerable citizens as bait for a cheap shake down?

Turns out, arm chair philosophers were right. Crime does pay. We were just looking in the wrong direction expecting the hand off.

And Now an Endorsement: Dark & Day by Israel Gray

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I’m realizing more and more that young adult fiction is a comfortable thing for me. The first fiction book I ever read for fun was for young adults. If you’re wondering, it was that ridiculously beloved series from J.K. Rowling. A few months ago, I was sent a copy of Dark & Day by Israel Gray and after stalling in it a few times because of my workload I finished it this week.

I found Dark and Day to be a pretty good book. You’re following Jono, a young boy who lives in Polari and is exactly the healthiest of guys. He has a normal family, but it’s clear he doesn’t feel that he measures up. He’s even more worried about what’ll happen when he joins The Dark’s military academy.

Dark and Day is a book that plays on your sensibilities. And writer Gray isn’t subtle about it. In between envisioning what it was like to visit the military academy I played around with the book’s themes in my head. Jono is forced by weak health to choose between serving in the military and getting the upgrades he needs or staying home and struggling with them for the rest of his life. At a sanctuary another character mentions in passing that how good can a government be if they require the sick to sacrifice they’re life to get what they need. I’m paraphrasing, but I’ll always remember that line.

Pacing, felt off in this book, particularly before arriving at the military academy. While some characters felt fleshed out and life-like, I was left wondering about motivation and a lack of character development. I’m hoping that Jono has a clearer progression from normal pre-teen to hero in the next book. I felt like that should have happened before this book’s finale, but Gray is planning a series and I can understand why I’d be left wanting more.

Dark and Day is worth every bit of $2.99, I know because even though I was sent a copy I purchased another halfway through so I could keep it in my Kindle library. It’s a great book that filled my need for twists and coming of age stories. If you share that same need, it can fill it for you too. Even now I’m still wondering which side is right, the Dark or the Day.