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Recovering from a Windows 8.1 System Refresh

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Something happened to your Windows 8.1 computer, right? You saw the option to “Refresh your PC without affecting your files”.  Your computer assured you that “[i]f your PC isn’t running well, you can refresh it without losing your photos, music, videos, and other personal files.” It says so right here:
Refresh your PC without affecting your files

Probably like you, I decided to believe Microsoft’s friendly description, and I clicked the “Get Started” button. In my defense, I didn’t see a lot of other options left, since my Windows Updates had stopped updating several months ago, and nothing I tried or found on the interwebs seemed able to get them to work again.

If you have not refreshed your PC yet, and are just thinking about doing so, let me say that it does what it does well. The words above are just somewhat deceptive (a refresh is a lot more destructive than it implies), but there are some things you can do to make recovering from the refresh much easier and less painful. I’ll explain that below…

If you have already pushed the button, and you are just logging in after the refresh, there are a few things you should do right away while you still can. I will explain that below, as well…

Finally, if you have completed a format and reinstall of Windows, or if you did a refresh but you did not find this article until a while after the refresh, there are still some things here that make your life easier now and in the future…Read More »Recovering from a Windows 8.1 System Refresh

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Newsies: A Movie Ahead of Its Time [Gallery]

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In April 1992, Walt Disney Pictures premiered something that had not been seen in six years: a big-budget movie musical. The movie, Newsies, was helmed by established choreographer Kenny Ortega in his directing debut. The story loosely follows the adventures of a group of young newspaper carriers in 1899 New York City. The “newsies” stage a strike against Joseph Pulitzer and other child labor exploiters of the day. Much of the story is advanced directly through song and dance.

The history of Hollywood feature-length musicals dates back to The Jazz Singer of 1927, reaching record numbers in 1929 and 1930. Musicals stayed strong through the mid-50s, before largely falling out of favor by the end of the 60s. Movies continued to include songs, dances, and even occasional musical numbers, but the idea of telling the story through song and dance had become a rarity. Rock musicals, where established musicians performed in movies focused on the performers’ music, gained some popularity from the 60s through the 80s.
The 1986 Little Shop of Horrors, directed by Frank Oz and starring Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene, was a film adaptation of a successful off-Broadway musical comedy. Little Shop was a critical success, nominated for two Academy Awards and two Golden Globe Awards, including Best Motion Picture in a Comedy or Musical. Its success seemed to indicate that audiences were finally ready for Hollywood to release more musicals—musical comedies at least.Read More »Newsies: A Movie Ahead of Its Time [Gallery]

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A bored-looking student sitting at his desk.

Mediocrity Squashes Creativity

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Within the U.S. public education system, mediocrity has become the standard by which students are judged. Furthermore, students are strongly encouraged, or even required, to embrace conformity, and, in return, are poorly prepared for a noteworthy future. Students are educated in a system that appreciates academic ability and achievements, but only pays lip service to creativity and inquisitiveness. Few parents raise strenuous objections to this status quo.
In a small percentage of cases, parents simply may not care—they have many other important things to worry about in their lives. Others may be concerned about the outcomes, but believe the “experts” are more qualified than they are to determine educational policy, so they do not make waves. Some do make waves, attempting to work within the system through parent–teacher organizations, attending school board meetings, fundraising, or otherwise getting directly involved in the schools. For others, the system appears hopelessly broken, so they largely withdraw from it as far as they legally can by homeschooling their children.Read More »Mediocrity Squashes Creativity

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The official USDA Organic seal in color.

What Does Organic Really Mean?

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Consumers have a mind-boggling array of foods to choose from at the grocery store. Some foods appeal to families on a tight budget, others are marketed to shoppers with high-end tastes, and others are designed to provide calories in as little time as possible. A large portion of shelf-space targets people who want food that is healthy, nutritious, and wholesome. Such foods are generally easy to spot, because their claims are boldly declared on the front of the package: “Low Fat”, “Low Carb”, “Whole Grain”, “100 Calories”, “Only 90 Calories”, “Enriched”, “Locally Grown”, “All Natural”, “Organic”, and the list goes on. However, only one of those claims is legally defined and verified through independent, third-party certification: organic.

The term “organic” has several meanings that depend on context and how savvy consumers are about organic food production. Chemists use “organic” to refer to compounds that contain carbon. In the agricultural industry, it refers to “the quality of resembling an organism—that is, a living system in which a number of parts cooperate to the benefit of all” (“Organic and Locally Grown Foods”). Many consumers have a much narrower view and associate organic food only with improved nutrition, less pesticide residue, or better taste. Others focus less on the qualities of the food and take it up as a moral or environmental cause.

Each of those perceived meanings are valid; however, they are only part of the whole story.Read More »What Does Organic Really Mean?

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Photo of a blue Handicapped Accessible sign next to a door.

(In)Accessible Website Usage

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This was a homework assignment for a class on Designing Accessible Websites. I describe my experiences interacting with the Web while simulating different disabilities.

I’ve been interested in accessibility issues for many years. I have had a few different friends with all sorts of disabilities, and I have been a volunteer and student worker in the Disabled Students Programs and Services (DSPS) office. Most of my experiences have been with the blind. One of my friends had an acquired brain injury (ABI) following a traffic accident.

As a result of these experiences, I have taken a keen interest in making my Websites as accessible as possible. I actually tried all four of the experiences (a. using my computer without a mouse, b. using a screen reader to browse the Web, c. using the low vision simulator, and d. using a color blindness simulator). I’ll give you a few thoughts about each below.

Read More »(In)Accessible Website Usage

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Dave Murray smiling while in the hospital's pre-op unit.

Father’s heart surgery, stroke, and death; and Mother’s anemia

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Updated 25 October 2013

I just looked through the search terms that people use to find my blog. It is obvious that most people accessing this page are scared and looking for answers about a parent or other close family member going through, or about to go through heart surgery, an Arctic Sun therapy, or a stroke. It breaks my heart to see some of the search terms, because I understand and empathize with your pain, confusion, and frustration.

I don’t think this page will give you the answers for which you are looking. It is a record of the events that my father, mother, and I went through, along with our friends and relatives who stayed updated via my blog. It is a snapshot of one family’s experiences, and yours will likely be very different.

In addition, my father’s surgery was very complicated. It involved two valves being replaced, a MAZE III procedure, and, while they were in there anyway, a triple bypass. The cumulative risks of those added up to a 1:20 chance of not making it through the very lengthy surgery (11+ hours). Unfortunately, my dad drew the short straw, and ended up hitting that unlucky 1 chance in 20. The odds were that he should have made it. His chance of dying in the next two years without the surgery was nearly 100%, and his quality of life up to that point would have been very poor. He wanted the chance at a better life, so I still think he made the best decision.

Read More »Father’s heart surgery, stroke, and death; and Mother’s anemia

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A cute girl throwing a screaming tantrum.

How to deal with “I want it now!” in kids

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You’re at the circus, Disneyland, the zoo, or the fair. Suddenly your child spots his or her latest “must have” item. The finger points, the hopeful look appears in the eyes, and the words “I want it!” are uttered. What happens next can be an opportunity or a nightmare depending on how it plays out.

I suggest that when a child waaaants something, ask them if they want to buy it with their allowance (they do have an allowance, right?). If they don’t want to spend their money on it, then they have to trade something for it. Ask them which item at home will they part with in exchange for the shiny new thing. Obviously, the thing they have to give away needs to be something fairly equitable. No giving away furniture, sensible clothing, etc.—something else that was a shiny new impulse purchase is best. If the new thing is a big-ticket item, the thing they give up needs to be important to the child, too. This helps them learn to value what they have and also understand that everything has a cost.

My parents also had several other good tricks up their sleeves. Read More »How to deal with “I want it now!” in kids

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Review: Alice in Wonderland (2010) [Gallery]

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Alice in Wonderland is a fun and exciting movie, and it was excellent in IMAX 3D. If you are expecting the original Disney animated feature, there are a few very well done nods to it, but overall, this is a grown-up adventure fitting a grown-up Alice. There is lots of eye candy (and I mean that in a good way) for both adults and children, but many of the scenes are too intense, disturbing, or scary for younger viewers—especially without adult supervision.

Aside from several “gloomy” sets, and two disturbing ones (involving beheadings and decapitated heads), Tim Burton seems to have finally left his juvenile fascination with the grotesque, heavy Gothic influences, and dark humor. Perhaps it was a positive influence from Disney, but the movie had an overall uplifting feel to it, despite many side trips through dark places. I hope that Burton will continue to “lighten up” in his future works, while maintaining his wonderful sense of style, surprise, and hyper-reality.

Mia Wasikowska was a brilliant casting choice. Her character development from a dazed and confused innocent (almost annoyingly so) to her final state of mind was very well performed. She is a beautiful actress, and does a fantastic job—very believable.

Johnny Depp was terrific—as always. His accents and mannerisms were zany, but avoided the creepiness of his Willy Wonka performance.Read More »Review: Alice in Wonderland (2010) [Gallery]

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My Life According to Disney

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"Dreams Come True" fireworks display over the Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland with Walt and Mickey's statue in front.

©Tom Bricker CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Flickr

Instructions: Using only song names from ONE ARTIST, cleverly answer these questions. Try not to repeat a song title or use the artist I used. It’s a lot harder than you think! Be creative! Some questions may not apply to a particular artist, and some songs may suggest great new questions; adapt the questions as the music inspires you. Re-post as “My Life According to ____________”.

“A Cowboy Needs a Horse” (from Mickey Mouse Club)
1. “True To Your Heart” (from Mulan)
2. “Honor to Us All” (Mulan)
3. “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” (Disney’s Annie)
4. “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” (Toy Story)
5. “I’m No Fool” (Mickey Mouse Club)
1. “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” (Mary Poppins)
2. “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” (Song of the South)

Read More »My Life According to Disney

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Until we meet again…

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Cat and Dog at the windowAfter a long, chronic illness (though mostly without pain or appearing very sick), I had to put my 16.5 year old cat to sleep today. :’-(

She was diagnosed with CRF (Chronic Renal Failure; failure of the kidneys, a common ailment in older cats) about two years ago. She was given only six-months to live. I learned how to give her subcutaneous injections (under the skin between the shoulder blades) of lactated ringer solution (similar to saline solutions) to help her kidneys function better. I tried to feed her a special diet, but she refused to eat it. Eventually, I just fed her whatever she would eat and figured her quality of life was more important than the quantity of months. I feel very fortunate to have had two years instead of the six months.

For a cat, she lived quite a life.Read More »Until we meet again…

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I (dis)like you because… Um…

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©Andrew Senay CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Flickr

©Andrew Senay CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Flickr

It is sad that so much of the fighting, intolerance, and hatred of “the other” seems to align itself along the lines of, and even within, organized religions. Jesus, Mohamed, and nearly every other religious leader taught their followers that we are supposed to love and care for our fellow brothers and sisters. Instead, we use their words and the words of the great religious texts to revile others and separate us from them. I suppose it could all be attributed back to “original sin”, and take the easy way out by assuming that there is nothing that man can do about it because of that act. Personally, I think that is a defeatist mentality. Instead, we have to work hard to overcome hatred, intolerance, bigotry, and mistrust—first within our hearts, then within our religious organizations and countries, and then with those outside our comfort zones.

A favorite line of mine from Men In Black is, “A person is smart. People are stupid.” A paraphrase of another saying I like is, “Why hate a group of people, when there are so many reasons to dislike them on an individual basis?” Sure, it’s rather a negative thought, but it points out that there are likely many reasons to like a person, too. I can’t remember who, but someone told about their adventure visiting Iran during the Bush-era. They feared the worst before their trip… Would they be treated badly just because they were American? Would they be persecuted? Would they be injured or harmed? While in Iran, they did hear some negative comments about America, but generally they were treated very well. There may have been some resentment toward America as a concept, but that was never passed on to the visitors. The individual was likable for so many reasons, that there were no reasons to let any dislike of the group (America) influence them.
Read More »I (dis)like you because… Um…

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