One More For the Road: The Laugh-Out-Loud Cats are back!

Back in 2007, Adam "Apelad" Koford created a marvellous, funny, weird alternate history for the then-viral phenomenon of LOLcats, running-gag memes of cats whose superimposed dialog had many odd grammatical quirks: the Laugh-Out-Loud Cats," a pair of comic-strip hobo cats straight out of the 1930s, who found obscure and clever ways to riff on our contemporary LOLcats. Read the rest

The Fifth Risk: Michael Lewis explains how the "deep state" is just nerds versus grifters

Michael Lewis is a national treasure, whose gift for explaining how finance grifters think and operate has spawned a whole genre, which he dominates with books like Liar's Poker (an insider view of the S&L crisis); The Big Short (a character-driven, crystal-clear explainer on the financial engineering that led to the 2008 crisis), and Flash Boys (the shitty math and bafflegab behind high-speed trading); and now, The Fifth Risk: an astounding and terrifying book about the experts who fill the ranks in the US government and the Trump-administration grifters who are destroying the work they do to keep us from dying of tornadoes, nuclear accident, food poisoning and a million other dangers, large and small. Read the rest

The winners in a massive roundup of the 100 Best Pens are surprisingly affordable

The writers of New York Magazine's Strategist tested "dozens upon dozens of gels, rollerballs, felt-tips, ballpoints, and fountain pens" and published a ranked list of the top 100 pens in existence. Read the rest

"Privacy Not Included": Mozilla's guide to insecure, surveillant gadgets to avoid

"Privacy Not Included" is Mozilla's Christmas shopping (anti)-guide to toys and gadgets that spy on you and/or make stupid security blunders, rated by relative "creepiness," from the Nintendo Switch (a little creepy) to the Fredi Baby monitor (very creepy!). Read the rest

Winners Take All: Modern philanthropy means that giving some away is more important than how you got it

Anand Giridharadas was a former McKinsey consultant turned "thought leader," invited to the stages of the best "ideas festivals" and to TED (twice), the author of some very good and successful books, and as a kind of capstone to this career, he was named a fellow to the Aspen Institute, an elite corps of entrepreneurs who are given institutional support and advice as they formulate "win-win" solutions to the world's greatest problems, harnessing the power of markets to lift people out of poverty and oppression. Read the rest

Review: The Oneplus 6T is almost as nice as a flagship handset for a fraction of the price

When I need to futz with an Android device, OnePlus is the company that I typically turn to. For the money, you won't find a more capable handset in North America. The OnePlus 6, thanks largely to its zippy performance and Android Oreo's being a joy to use, was the first Android device I was able to live with as my daily driver. The OnePlus 6T is, with the exception of a few minor tweaks, very much the same handset as its predecessor. I'm very OK with this.

Under the hood, there's not much to see: OnePlus has used the same Snapdragon 845 processor. The version of the 6T that I took for a spin comes packing 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. It's a speedy-feeling set of specs that served me well with the OnePlus 6 and now, the 6T. Apps, fly open, I've yet to see any interface lag and I've no complaints about how quickly either smartphone does anything.

With the OnePlus 6T, users get a 3,700mAh battery. Given that I've grown accustomed to the low level of battery that my aging iPhone 7 Plus leaves me with at the end of the day, I was pretty pleased with how much juice was still left in the 6T when I set it down for the night. While it might not come with wireless charging baked into it, the OnePlus 6T's Dash quick charging technology more than made up for its absence. I'll take a rapid charge over the simplicity of not having to plug a cord into my hardware any day. Read the rest

America, Compromised: Lawrence Lessig explains corruption in words small enough for the Supreme Court to understand

Lawrence Lessig was once best-known as the special master in the Microsoft Antitrust Case, then he was best known as the co-founder of Creative Commons, then as a fire-breathing corruption fighter: in America, Compromised, a long essay (or short nonfiction book), Lessig proposes as lucid and devastating a theory of corruption as you'll ever find, a theory whose explanatory power makes today's terrifying news cycle make sense -- and a theory that demands action.

I love the Garmin Tactix Charlie, so it'll likely get lost or broken

I destroy Apple Watches. It's not intentional. It just kinda happens. The first Apple Watch was a Series 1 piece of wrist candy. I loved how it kept reminders for me to take my medication, pay my bills, and all of the other things that my PTSD-addled brain refuses to keep track of on my wrist. I hated how slow it was to respond to requests and that it wasn't possible to hide apps that I never used from its interface. It died in a torrential downpour.

Same thing for my second Apple watch. It was a Series 2. While it was a little bit faster and the OS was a tiny bit more agreeable, it was unable to avoid being smashed by a passerby at a street market in Costa Rica. From the impact, it looked like it had met with a single, focused impact, like the tip of a knife or another object that wouldn't be agreeable to have in my body. I'm sure that it's over reacting to say that my Apple Watch saved my life, but I think about this often.

I am not made of money. I cannot afford to buy watch after watch (although that's kind of what I've ended up doing). Smartwatches provide me with a level of utility that makes my life a lot more manageable. It took some time, but I came to the conclusion that the best smartwatch for me was one that I could not kill.

Enter the Garmin Tactix. Read the rest

#SAD: Doonesbury's collected Trump strips afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted

Since 1987, Doonesbury has been pricking Trump's bubble, and Trump hates it; Trump even instructed the ghost writer on "his" "book" Surviving at the Top to devote several pages to denouncing Trudeau as unfunny (you can read all of Trudeau's Trump strips in last year's Trump retrospective collection, Yuge!). Read the rest

Review: This case for my Surface Go is wicked heavy but wicked good

One of the biggest problems surrounding my use of expensive electronics is that my lifestyle isn't kind to fragile things. While we're in transit between campsites, our RV rocks, bumps and heaves. Sometimes, no matter how securely I've stowed my gear, shit happens. Shit happening cost me $600 for a new MacBook display last summer. When I'm not in the RV, the gear I use for work gets chucked in a backpack. One of my laptops was destroyed falling off the back of a motorcycle. Another got fried in Costa Rica by the heat. These experiences have driven me to become a little bit more paranoid about protecting my gear over the years. Sometimes, protecting my kit means making compromises. Slapping on a $70 UAG Metropolis case for the Microsoft Surface Go feels like one of those.

Don't get me wrong, there's absolutely nothing wrong with the Metropolis. UAG makes rock solid cases and their beefy-looking design aesthetic agrees with my sense of style. The case, available in three different colors, is primarily made from rubberized plastic. Without the Surface Go in it, the case is semi-rigid, which makes it easy to slip on to the tablet. Once it's sheathing your Surface, however, the Metropolis is pretty difficult to remove. That's gotta be worth some bonus points: I've used cases, in the past that came off all too easily when the object they were meant to be protecting got dropped.

The corners of the case boast extra padding that'll hopefully help to protect against a cracked display if I ever suffer a case of the butterfingers. Read the rest

Review: Wasteland 2 for Nintendo Switch

I played Wasteland 2 when it made its debut, four years ago. Despite my Love for Brian Fargo's work on Fallout 1 and 2, I never did manage to finish it. There's something about working in front of a computer, seven days a week, that keeps me from wanting to sit in front of my laptop during my downtime.

However, in the weeks since I was given a review copy of it for the Nintendo Switch, I've been enjoying the holy hell out of it.

If you're not familiar with the franchise, its premise is pretty simple. You and your squad mates are new recruits to the Desert Rangers: the only real peacekeeping force in post-apocalyptic Arizona. It's your job to range out and aid the folks under your protection. You'll kill bandits, attempt to negotiate peace between warring factions and uncover insidious threats. The game lets you choose whether you want to start with a squad of four pre-made rangers, each with different skills and strengths, or role your own. This time around, I chose the latter. As I accidentally created a pretty strong team, it's worked out pretty well so far. That's all I'll say about the game, plot-wise. Wasteland 2 might not be new to many of us, but there are some first-timers that might be reading this. I don't want to blow the story for them.

I will however, talk about game play.

All of the interactions you'll have with NPCs are text-based. Given the small size of the Switch's display, the game's development team could have blown it by making the text too small for older eyes, like mine, to read. Read the rest

Swarm and Nexus: finishing the Zeroes trilogy with perfect form, as powered teens threaten each other -- and the world

In 2015, Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti published Zeroes, a wonderful, intricately plotted YA thriller about the discovery by a group of teens (all born in the year 2000) that they have a variety of extremely millennial supernatural powers, which grow in strength in social situations; in the years since, the authors have finished the trilogy with two more excellent volumes: 2016's Swarm, which introduces out-of-town powered teens and raises the stakes to life or death for the Zeroes' whole hometown; and 2018's Nexus, which sends the Zeroes off into conflict with the US government, and a massive army of not-exactly-but-sorta-evil powered teens who have all the crowd magic of Mardi Gras to work with, in a battle over the fate of the human race itself. Read the rest

The Communist Manifesto: A Graphic Novel

On the 170th anniversary of the publication of Karl Marx’s and Friedrich Engels’ The Communist Manifesto, British graphic novelist Martin Rowson has produced an illustrated adaptation. Apart from a few pages of prose, the whole work is presented in the style of a graphic novel.

The preface describes how the middle-aged Rowson became smitten by Marx and Engels' exciting prose when he was only 16. Aside from expressing his great admiration for Marx’s writing, as well as his own critical stance, he furnishes the reader with some historical backdrop to the completion of The Manifesto. Marx had been commissioned to write it by a socialist group in the summer of 1847, but, under pressure, succeeded in producing it at the beginning of 1848. Significantly, that was before the outbreak of revolutionary movements in Europe later on in 1848. Rowson goes on to explain that the initial publication failed to attract the attention of many people. Only after the events of the Paris Commune in 1871 did the pamphlet receive a wide audience and a publication renewal.

The illustrations create an atmospheric accompaniment to the Marx figures whose speaking balloons relay the text of The Manifesto. The graphics pair nicely with the text with dense images that impart the feeling of the clashes of historical forces (classes) or with the dramatic rendering of the first lines of The Manifesto in which a spectre appears, so Hamlet-like in two dark and foreboding images to haunt the reader’s mind. There is plenty of theatricality too: images of Marx interacting from a stage with a hostile audience (Rowson’s added flourishes added to enhance the exposition in a stimulating theatrical way). Read the rest

Review: CleanMyPC makes for lazy computer maintenance at a reasonable price

One of the nice things about owning a MacBook is that, more often than not, you don't have to give too much thought about what's going on behind the scenes. Mac OS is stable as all get out. Most users will never need to fart around with terminal commands or futz with file structures. As much of a cliché as it may be to say it, it just works.

Most of the time.

I discovered, over the years, that as stable as Apple's software experience typically is, there are a few ways to improve on things by tweaking and cleaning my SSD up. These are not tasks that I am good at. Admittedly, this is likely due to the fact that I've been too lazy to learn the ins and outs of making my computer do tricks outside of what my work requires. As such, I let apps do the behind-the-scenes heavy lifting for me. I've relied on MacPaws' CleanMyMac for years to clean junk files from my computer and maintain my drive's health. I can't remember how much I paid for it, back in the day, but I've very likely gotten my money's worth out of it.

The only thing that I likely know less about than what goes on behind the scenes of Mac OS is what in the name of Hell makes Windows 10 run. While I find the OS and the software I run on my Surface Go to be adequate for churning out words and a bit of photo editing, I haven't got the slightest idea of what to do in order to keep my new Windows 10 PC healthy. Read the rest

Woman World: the hilarious man-free apocalypse we've all been waiting for

Woman World started life as a webcomic created by Canadian cartoonist Aminder Dhaliwal to explore the premise of a world where "men have gone extinct" and women have to "learn to talk again because they're not being interrupted" -- what could have been a one-panel joke turned into one of the most remarkable, funny, compassionate, ascerbic, hilarious comics of its day, and that day is now, because today is the day you can get Woman World, a book from Drawn & Quarterly collecting the comic so far.

Schneier's "Click Here To Kill Everybody pervasive connected devices mean we REALLY can't afford shitty internet policy

Bruce Schneier (previously) has spent literal decades as part of the vanguard of the movement to get policy makers to take internet security seriously: to actually try to make devices and services secure, and to resist the temptation to blow holes in their security in order to spy on "bad guys." In Click Here to Kill Everybody: Security and Survival in a Hyper-connected World, Schneier makes a desperate, impassioned plea for sensible action, painting a picture of a world balanced on the point of no return.

Japanese Whisky: beautiful book about the best booze east of Glen Garioch

Beautifully produced and incredibly satisfying, Brian Ashcraft's Japanese Whisky is more than a handsome primer about some of the world's best booze. It's also an assured and familiar exploration of the drink's history and culture in the world's fourth-largest whisky market, complemented by outstanding photography and dozens of tasting notes.

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