Category: Reviews

What I’m watching: March 2019

Here’s the March edition of What I’m Watching! Only two shows this month, but I’ve got a lot to say about both of them.

First off, I’m still watching Battlestar Galactica – I’m in the middle of season 3, and oh my god the feels. Not just about what’s going on in the show, but about the entire show in general. I’m not sure how many of my readers have already watched Battlestar Galactica, so I’m not going to talk about potentially spoilery things, but I will talk about some of my favorite aspects of the show.

One of those favorite aspects is how insanely talented the entire cast is. I may dislike some of the characters – Gaius Baltar, I’m looking at you – but gods, when it comes to playing Gaius, James Callis does an amazing job of bringing that beautiful idiot to life.  It’s the same with all the actors – I can’t think of a single one that makes me think “ugh, this guy again?” Plus, all the characters are so human – the entire show is full of the characters doing what they think is right.  There’s no black and white, no absolute wrong or absolute right. President Roslin, Admiral Adama, Starbuck, and Lee, everyone’s so human it almost hurts at times. Everyone’s just trying to do what they think is right. And each actor looks like they’re pouring their heart and soul into their roles, and it makes for one hell of a compelling story.

Speaking of characters being human: I love how Admiral Adama is a father figure to practically everyone on Galactica. (There’s a reason I call him Space Dad!) Sometimes that results in rough situations, especially with Lee, and sometimes it results in such heartwarming scenes that it almost makes me want to cry.  Space Dad is best dad.

I haven’t just been watching Battlestar Galactica, though. I’ve also been watching The 100, a show I started a few years ago when only season 1 was available on Netflix. I recently picked it back up again, and I’m really enjoying this show too.  So far, I’m in the middle of season 3, and the show definitely evolves over the course of the episodes I’ve watched – it’s gone from “juvenile delinquents doing stupid things while trying to survive in the woods” to a really solid and interesting sci-fi drama.

The show takes place almost 100 years after a nuclear disaster wipes out almost all life on Earth, and starts out in space: specifically, on the Ark, which is a massive space station constructed from existing stations after humans fled the disaster and went to space. Humans have been living on the Ark since the nuclear disaster occurred, and things aren’t going all that well when the show starts.  Overpopulation is becoming a problem, and while steps have been taken to try and slow down population growth (couples can have only one child, and criminals are sentenced to death by getting sucked out an airlock), the Ark is still in trouble: specifically, their oxygen supply is dwindling, and drastic measures must be taken to keep everyone on the station alive. Chancellor Jaha and his advisory council think that maybe Earth might be an option, but they want to make sure that the planet is safe before they send everyone down there to make new lives.

Enter the 100: a collection of kids and teenagers who’ve been put in detention for various crimes they’ve committed, all waiting until their 18th birthday to be re-evaluated and either released back into the population, or “floated” out an airlock. Instead of keeping all these kids and teenagers around until they hit 18, they’re chosen for a special mission. The 100 are sent down to Earth to see if the planet is livable again. The first part of the first season focuses on the 100 as they deal with their new situation, and find out that they might not be the only humans that survived.

The cast is full of talented actors, and includes some of my favorites, like Alessandro Juliani (also known as Felix Gaeta from Battlestar Galactica) and Henry Ian Cusick (who played Desmond in Lost). The story is really gripping, and I really love where the writers are going with the plot.  Speaking of writers: The 100 is based on a series of young adult fiction books by Kass Morgan, and I definitely enjoyed the books – but after book 1 and the first part of season 1, things really start to diverge.  It’s been interesting to see how very different the show is from the books, and see what the show writers do with the source material that Kass Morgan wrote.

And that’s what I’ve been watching this month!  Stay tuned to see if I ever finish Battlestar Galactica, or to see what other shows I end up picking up along the way!

Review: Stardew Valley (the mobile version)

Oh, Stardew Valley. You’re one of the reasons I bought a new gaming laptop (although you can still run on my old ThinkPad). I’ve spent many hours planting and taking care of farm animals and trying to get friendly with the villagers. And now, I can do all that on my phone, thanks to the recent mobile port of Stardew Valley! It finally made its way to Android a few days ago, and was released for iOS a couple months ago.  My review focuses on the Android version, but I’m pretty sure everything’s the same on iOS. For those of you who’ve never played the game before, Stardew Valley is a farming simulator, similar to games like Harvest Moon, where you’re responsible for taking care of a farm. In addition to making sure your farm succeeds, you also get to make friends with the villagers, as well as eventually start a family if you want to. You even get a pet! (I’ve got a cat.)

I’ve been really pleased with the mobile version so far – the developers did a good job of making it as enjoyable an experience on a mobile device as it is on a full computer.  The controls are easy to pick up – you can either tap a location on the screen and your farmer will move to the tapped square, or you can hold your finger on the screen and your farmer will follow in the direction of your finger. The entire interface in general has been customized for small touchscreen use, which definitely makes playing easier. For example, your entire inventory is visible on the left side of the screen, and you can scroll through all your items and tap on the one you want to use to make it the active item.

Farmer Ëlinyr, about ready to start her day, while Robin is hard at work building an expansion to Ëlinyr’s house.

The interface for shopping has changed slightly, too – while it’s not universal for all shops (for example, Marnie’s shop listings are displayed a bit differently than the items in Pierre’s general store), it’s definitely geared towards mobile use and makes it easier to tap on what you want to buy.

Let’s buy a chicken! Because everyone needs chickens.

The crafting menu, as with other similar menus, are also mobile-optimized:

Let’s make ALL THE THINGS for the farm!

Another thing I’ve really enjoyed that’s exclusive to the mobile version is the ability to zoom in and out on the map, which has come in helpful when I’m looking for things to forage or just want a large overall view of an area.

Oh hey, there’s a spiceberry down on the lower left corner of the map!

Plus, it has all the original story and townsfolk you’ve all grown to love, plus the new farm types that were released when co-op mode became available! It’s very easy to lose a few hours playing on the phone, that’s for sure.

That being said, there are a few things missing from the mobile port – specifically, co-op mode, saving games to the cloud, and the ability to sync games between devices and computers. While they’re not a deal-breaker for me, some folks might really miss these features. There is a work-around to make it so you can play save files from the desktop version of Stardew Valley on mobile (link focuses on iOS version of the game), but it’s a little labor-intensive and involves a lot of shuffling files around. I’ve just been setting up a different type of farm on all the devices I’ve been playing on, so I get to explore all the different farm types.

There are also a few things that have taken some getting used to, like the automatic tool choosing – sometimes it doesn’t work as intended, and you’ll need to manually choose the tool you need to do a job (like when cutting grass, you’ll need to manually select the scythe before attempting to cut anything down). There’s also an auto-fight monsters mode in the mines, but in order for that to work well, you’ll need to select your sword before starting to do any mining – otherwise, you’ll just end up attacking with your mining pick, which isn’t as effective. Also, I’ve found that it’s really easy to accidentally select an item from my inventory while trying to navigate to the left side of the screen, and if you’re not careful, you might accidentally end up giving it away to a villager if you don’t switch away from said item before trying to talk. (for example, I accidentally gifted Penny an artifact that she really didn’t like, whoops)

Overall, the mobile version of Stardew Valley is great! There are some bugs, given that the game just got released, but I’ve only encountered them when trying to play on my Chromebook (which I was able to fix by restarting the Chromebook), and the developers are working hard to get them fixed. If you love Stardew Valley, are okay with not having co-op mode and cloud saves, and have a little extra cash laying around, you should definitely pick it up for your mobile device.

Stardew Valley on the Google Play Store – $7.99

Stardew Valley on the iOS App Store – $7.99

What I'm watching: January 2019

What I’m watching: January 2019

Hi folks, and Happy New Year!  You might remember a post I made a few weeks back, about some resolutions I made for the blog for the year — one of them was writing more reviews, especially for TV shows. I watch (or at the very least, listen to) a lot of TV while I’m crafting, and I mean a lot. While I don’t know that I’d be able to write great, in-depth reviews on the shows I’m watching, I could at least share some of the shows in my Netflix and Hulu queues and share my thoughts on the shows without too many spoilers.  (And possibly share some shows I tried out but didn’t quite get into.)

So, here’s what I’m watching this month: Battlestar Galactica and The 4400.

Battlestar Galactica (2004)

The main cast of Battlestar Galactica.

Battlestar Galactica is a show I’ve been meaning to watch, well, since it came out almost 15 years ago. I had friends in college who were obsessed with it, and I’ve had friends in the years since who were big fans. When I started dating Ross, he was working through re-watching the series and was somewhere in season 2 before Neftlix lost the licensing to it.  Now it’s on Hulu, and we’ve started watching it together as our evening “let’s watch this together” show. I’m sure most of you readers have at least heard of it before, but if not, here’s a short summary from Hulu (who explains it better than I could):

Battlestar Galactica continues from the 2003 mini-series to chronicle the journey of the last surviving humans from the Twelve Colonies of Man after their nuclear annihilation by the Cylons. The survivors are led by President Laura Roslin and Commander (later Admiral) William Adama in a ragtag fleet of ships with the Battlestar Galactica, a powerful but out-dated warship at its head. Pursued by Cylons intent on wiping out the remnants of the human race, the survivors travel across the galaxy looking for the fabled and long-lost thirteenth colony: Earth.

We’ve only watched the first six episodes (and the miniseries) so far, but I’m already ridiculously attached to many of the characters. When Starbuck ended up in mortal peril in episodes 4 and 5,  and then managed to get herself out of it and back to Galactica, I cheered with the rest of the crew and got a little misty-eyed. I feel for President Roslin and Commander Adama as they make some tough decisions in order to keep what’s left of humanity alive and safe. I’m always looking forward to the next episode — and I’m glad Ross and I are watching an episode or two a night so I don’t binge-watch the entire thing over a weekend.  I like being able to enjoy each episode, process it, and then go watch the next episode tomorrow.

Battlestar Galactica on Hulu

The 4400

The main cast of The 4400.

The 4400 is a show I stumbled across on Netflix while trying to find something to watch while crafting.  I’d just blasted through Season 3 of Travelers (a show I really enjoy) and was looking for more sci-fi to watch, and Netflix suggested this.  The premise seemed alright (albeit a little cheesy): 4400 people, each of whom disappeared in a beam of light anywhere between 1938 and 2001, are deposited on the shores of a lake in Washington state by a bright ball of light.  None of these people have aged a day since their disappearance, and some of them have come back with special powers (such as the ability to heal or see the future).

The show follows Tom Baldwin, an agent of the National Threat Assessment Command (NTAC) as he and his partner, Diana, investigate events involving the 4400.  It also follows a handful of the 4400 themselves, including the following:

  • Maia, an 8-year-old girl who disappeared in 1946 and returned with the power to see the future
  • Shawn, Tom’s nephew who disappeared in 2001 at the age of 18 and returned with the power to heal/kill
  • Richard, a 29-year-old Air Force pilot who disappeared in 1955
  • Lily, who disappeared in 1993 at the age of 27 and returned mysteriously pregnant

While the show does have some cheesy moments, it’s pretty enjoyable.  It also doesn’t hurt that the show’s creator, René Echevarria, was a writer on Star Trek: Deep Space 9, and one of the producers (Ira Steven Behr) also worked on DS9. (And speaking of DS9: Jeffrey Combs, who plays Weyoun and Liquidator Brunt in DS9, also stars in The 4400!) I’m in the middle of season 3 right now (I think I started the show sometime last week), mostly due to all the time off I’ve had recently, and I’m curious to see where the show ends up going.  If you’re looking for something in the sci-fi realm to watch and don’t mind if the show gets a little silly at points, you should try The 4400.

The 4400 on Netflix

Game review: Patchwork

Yes, there is a board game that’s essentially about making a patchwork quilt. My friends J and Kasi bought this game recently, and when J pointed out that they had a game about making quilts, I had to play it.

The box for the board game Patchwork, with game pieces surrounding the box.

In Patchwork, two players compete to make the most complete (and highest-scoring) quilt they can on a 9×9 game board. Gameplay is pretty simple — players move tokens along a board (called the “time track”) to determine whose turn it is, and as players move along the board they can collect extra buttons or small patches to help fill in empty spots on their board. Each space on the board represents a unit of time, and each of the patches has a time listed on them, indicating how many spaces you’ll be moving along the board.  (After all, quilting does take time!)

Around the time track is the collection of quilt patches you can choose from. During each turn, players have the option to purchase a quilt patch or earn extra buttons by moving to one spot ahead of your opponent.  You’re limited in which quilt patches you can buy, however: a marker works its way clockwise around the circle of patches, and you can only choose from the three patches in front of the marker. This is where sometimes moving ahead of your opponent can come in handy, if there aren’t any patches you can afford or any patches that fit on your board — you can simply choose to earn extra buttons, one per spot you end up moving along the board.

The game Patchwork set up and ready for play, with a square board that keeps track of player turns and differently shaped pieces of various colors representing quilt patches surrounding the board.
The game, set up and ready to play!

The buttons that players collect are really important.  Not only are they the game’s currency, but they also help determine who wins at the end of the game: whoever has the most buttons at the end of the game wins.

Game pieces from Patchwork, each displaying a button cost and a "time" cost. One patch has three buttons on it.
The patches that have buttons on them really help you out in this game.

As you can see, some patches have buttons on them – and those help you out as you move around the time track.  If you move past a button on the time track, you earn a button for every button that’s on your quilt.  The bigger your quilt gets, the more buttons you can earn at a time. (At one point, I think I was earning 15 buttons every time I hopped over a button on the time track — my quilt was very decorated!)

Patchwork game board with a couple of pieces on it, arranged to make a small, irregularly-shaped quilt.
My patchwork quilt, early on in the game. I didn’t end up winning – I had too many blank spaces at the end, boo.

When both players get to the end of the time track, that’s when you figure out who the winner is.  First, you count up how many buttons you’ve earned, and then subtract the amount of blank spaces on the board from the amount of buttons you’ve earned.  Whoever has the highest point count after that is the winner!  I didn’t win yesterday’s game, but I certainly had fun playing and will definitely be picking this game up for my collection.

Patchwork on Amazon

Finally got a Kickstarter I’ve been waiting for!

I think I got a little burned out on everything after Gen Con – hence the lack of a post last week.  Don’t get me wrong, I tried to get the last of my Gen Con reports put together, and there’s a start to it in the pile of half-finished blog posts I’m accumulating, but I just couldn’t nudge myself towards getting it done.  I’ll try to finish it soon, though, as there are some pretty cool vendors and artists I want to share with you all that I discovered at Gen Con.

So that this week’s blog post isn’t all just me being down on myself for not posting last week, I’m going to talk about a Kickstarter whose rewards I’ve been eagerly awaiting for a little while now.  Those rewards showed up on my doorstep the other day, and I can’t help but share them with you all, because they’re so beautiful!

Yep, that’s right – the Name of the Wind Art Deck Kickstarter started shipping last month, and I finally got my goodies.  They were definitely worth the wait, that’s for sure.

Now, this isn’t the first deck of cards that’s had artwork from Name of the Wind on them – a deck was released a few years ago (also the product of a Kickstarter, if I remember right), with artwork by Shane Tyree depicting the characters we all know and love. I’ve got the Shane Tyree deck as well as the new ones with art by Echo Chernik, and it’s really interesting to see how each artist envisioned the characters.

From left to right: Auri, Denna, and Kote, with Shane Tyree’s art on top and Echo Chernik’s art on bottom.

The coin that I got as part of the rewards is beautiful – and pretty hefty, too!  I’d be afraid to flip it and accidentally dent a table with it when it lands, haha.

The prints are beautiful, too – I can’t wait to get them framed.  I’ve been especially excited about them, since I love Echo’s work, and it was really exciting to get to meet her at Gen Con.  All in all, I’m really happy with the quality of everything – the cards feel great in your hand, and the artwork is absolutely wonderful.

Now I just have to figure out what to do with four decks of Name of the Wind playing cards. 😛

Book review: Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher

For a thousand years, the people of Alera have united against the aggressive and threatening races that inhabit the world, using their unique bond with the furies—elementals of earth, air, fire, water, wood, and metal. But in the remote Calderon Valley, the boy Tavi struggles with his lack of furycrafting. At fifteen, he has no wind fury to help him fly, no fire fury to light his lamps. Yet as the Alerans’ most savage enemy—the Marat horde—return to the Valley, Tavi’s courage and resourcefulness will be a power greater than any fury, one that could turn the tides of war…

-from the Amazon Kindle book description of Furies of Calderon

You might be more familiar with Jim Butcher’s other works, especially his Dresden Files series, but he writes more than just the adventures of Harry Dresden – more recently, he wrote The Aeronaut’s Windlass (which I’ve read and will likely review later), and back in 2004, he wrote the first book in the Codex Alera series – Furies of Calderon.  I’d been meaning to read through the series for quite some time, and started the series late last year – and I’m currently working on the last book in the series.  Furies of Calderon is the start to what I feel is a really great series – it seems like a bit of a hidden gem in the fantasy world, as I don’t really hear people talk about the Codex Alera series as much as, say, Game of Thrones.  The world of Alera gripped me more thoroughly than the world of Westeros – I couldn’t put down any of the books in this series, and Furies of Calderon is no exception.

Furies of Calderon and The Codex Alera series has some very interesting inspiration.  The series was, believe it or not, inspired by a writing challenge where, at one point, Butcher said “give me two terrible ideas for a story, and I’ll use them BOTH” – and the ideas given were the Lost Roman Legion and Pokémon.  I was a little skeptical about the possibility of the series being based on ancient Rome and Pokemon (both things I enjoy), so I did some research – and it’s apparently true. (Check out the sources at the bottom of this post – there’s an interview at Comic Con with Jim Butcher where he talks about this!)  This book series is totally based off the Lost Roman Legion trope and Pokémon.  Somehow, Butcher took those two terrible ideas and made an engaging and enjoyable fantasy series out of them – and Furies of Calderon is the first book in this series.

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Another tiny little review: Loot Letter

Anyone remember the tiny little review I did ages ago for a tiny game called Love Letter?

Well, apparently that tiny little game has spawned a tiny little parody. World, meet Munchkin: Loot Letter.

You know it’s going to be silly if it’s in the realm of Munchkin.

A quick refresher: in Love Letter, your goal is to get your love letter to the princess. You’ve got a small deck of cards which are numbered, and there are various amounts of those numbered cards – there are far more of those lower number cards than higher number cards, and there’s only one 8 – the princess. Once you get the princess, you pretty much win the game unless someone forces you to discard her.

Well, Loot Letter is pretty much the same – only there’s no princess. Only loot. And Ducks of Doom, and a Dread Gazebo. And a lot of potted plants.

I got the chance to play Loot Letter with some dear friends over dinner recently, and it was quite a bit of fun. J and Kasi had played it on their own previously, and found out there’s a lot less strategy involved and a lot more luck when playing with just two players. Adding a third player, though, made things more fun, and introduced more strategic moves to try and win the loot. Even though I goofed up a few times by not entirely thinking through some of my moves (like using a Dread Gazebo to swap hands with someone without really thinking about the effects of someone else ending up with the cards in my hand), I somehow managed to win the most loot!

If you’re in need of a short game to pass the time while waiting for food at a restaurant, or for a TV show to start, but don’t feel like something sappy, then Munchkin: Loot Letter is the game for you.

Munchkin: Loot Letter on Amazon

Spoiler-Free Review! Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

starwars

It’s the movie everyone’s been talking about all over the internet the past few weeks: the new Star Wars movie.  After the mess that was the prequel trilogy, I know a lot of us Star Wars fans (myself included) were wondering what J. J. Abrams would do with the series.  Would he ruin it or change it beyond recognition, like the Star Trek films?  (Don’t even get me started on the Star Trek films by J. J. Abrams – I like them, but… yeah.  Don’t get me started.)  Would he fill it up with lens-flares?  Would it be more of the unpleasantness that was the prequel trilogy?

I’ll admit, I was nervous about seeing this movie.  I’ve seen the prequels.  I’ve watched Episode I too many times to count, mostly because it was the first movie at the drive-in every freaking week during the summer of 1999.  I didn’t see Episode II and III more than once, though, because they were mediocre.  They felt weird, compared to the original trilogy.  I was worried that The Force Awakens would be more of what happened in the prequels.

However, I was pleasantly surprised.  Very pleasantly surprised.

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Book Review: The Lies of Locke Lamora

127455 After my vacation in Florida towards the end of May, where I tore through a ton of books rather rapidly, I found myself lacking in the books-to-read department.  I’d finished the last of the new books that came out earlier this spring, I’d read through a couple of my favorites by Stephen King, and even read through the first book in the Mercy Thompson series – and couldn’t think of any other books I had been interested in reading.  So I took to Goodreads, and looked for suggestions based on the books I’d read (that I’d actually entered into Goodreads, anyway.)  And as I was poking through the suggested books, The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch popped up.  I’d heard it mentioned around the internet as a good book to read, and so I figured, what the heck, I’ll go to Amazon and buy it.

And then I saw this review on Amazon, and absolutely knew I’d enjoy it.

“Right now, in the full flush of a second reading, I think The Lies of Locke Lamora is probably in my top ten favorite books ever. Maybe my top five. If you haven’t read it, you should. If you have read it, you should probably read it again.”—Patrick Rothfuss, New York Times bestselling author of The Name of the Wind

If Pat Rothfuss, whose books I absolutely adore, says the book is good, then by gods, I should probably read it, right?  So I picked it up.  And I couldn’t put it down.

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Chromebooks – Yay!

So Beth and I recently purchased a couple Toshiba Chromebook 2 laptops. We stumbled upon a display at an Office Depot one day and were impressed by their design and prices (Chromebooks have come a long way since the earlier models we were already familiar with), and the next day I picked up a model CB35-B3340 during lunch, and Beth, being instantly impressed with it, purchased a model CB35-B3330 the same evening. The only apparent differences between the two Toshiba Chromebook 2 models is the 3340 has 4GB of RAM and a 1080 HD IPS display vs the 3330’s 2GB of RAM and a standard display.

I opted for the 3340 due to the extra memory and resolution, and while the extra RAM proved to be an immediate benefit (tons of tabs could remain open without bogging down my fanless sweety), it wasn’t until I realized how well pages rendered when zoomed in I ceased longing for Beth’s far more readable text (my eyes would ache reading some articles, especially those fixed-width pages taking up all of a fifth of the screen real estate). Web developers, the majority of you create wonderful sites I can browse on any device and enjoy the experience. The rest of you? To hell with your fixed-width 1990s-centric “best viewed in Y browser at CRAPxPOOP resolution” pages. I know you don’t specify such recommendations these days, but I see it in your designs… you’ll never fool me!
Ahem.
See for yourself how an “I hate anything over 640×480” page renders on my Chromebook vs zooming in using handy keyboard shortcuts. Amazing. This feature alone made me fall in love with my Chromebook all over again! And for those wanting to take it a step further, the resolution of the entire screen can be adjusted. I won’t detail the steps to do this, simply press ctrl+alt+? (yes it’s all lower case on a Chromebook keyboard!) and mash the ctrl, alt, and shift keys to see a wealth of delicious shortcuts. No, I haven’t tasted them all.

Screenshot 2015-02-18 at 20.08.55
My layout sucks and my parents disowned me…

 

Screenshot 2015-02-18 at 20.09.33
…but thanks to zooming, you’ll soon forget my crippling inadequacies!

 

I’ve read several reviews bashing this Chromebook’s performance. In my not-so-humble-opinion, either those reviewers were out of touch and possessed excessive expectations, were using older versions of Chrome OS, or were just plain derp. Or all three.
The Chromebook has entirely replaced my Windows or Linux-based laptops, unless I’m gaming or in need of serious horsepower (e.g. transcoding video). The <5 second cold boot, instant-on from standby, and (in my experience thus far) 7 to 11 hour battery life has made using a laptop a more enjoyable experience than before. When it comes to word processors, etc. both Google Drive applications and Office 365 render beautifully in the browser, and even media-rich documents display with very little perceptible lag. When scrolling through a bunch of such pages quickly it’s evident I’m not on my speed demon desktop, but the delay never gets in the way of usability.
Oh, and being able to access and control all of my computers and servers thanks to Secure Shell (ssh in a browser whaaaat) totally sealed the deal in making the Chromebook my primary mobile device.

Eventually I’ll get bored of vanilla Chrome OS and install Linux alongside it, or, if I can manage to install a custom BIOS, replace Chrome OS entirely. But for the time being I’m happy to enjoy what Chrome OS has to offer and learn to work around any limitations. After all, I’m frequently asked to recommend laptops for friends and coworkers, and for those who can’t (rightfully so) justify spending over $300 for something they’ll use for internet browsing, word processing, and streaming, Chromebooks are a wonderful alternative. Oh, and I suppose being unaffected by viruses and malware is a stupidly awesome advantage over a Windows-based laptop as well!