Stephen Thrasher, Comet Smasher

Sailing Class

Wednesday, April 30, 2008 by Stephen

We went!

Tonight Rachel and I took the first of a three-class series to get certified to sail at the MIT sailing pavilion. Once certified, we will be able to take people out in a Tech Dinghy - one of the many perks that comes with our new gym membership. With time, we may even be able to take larger groups of our friends out in the Rhodes 19 or even a blue water sailboat, which rests in the Boston Harbor. Usually, though we'll just be puttering around on the Charles River as part of the Boston skyline.

sailing.mit.edu

0 comments »

Back in the Saddle Again

Tuesday, April 29, 2008 by Stephen

Last April, I purchased an annual membership to the gym. A few weeks later, I fell off the fitness horse after spraining my ankle while playing soccer and did not go to the gym at all for an entire year. Oops. Despite that experience, Rachel and I decided to sign up for a family membership. I will give her a tour tomorrow.

This gym is huge. Here are the facilities, off the top of my head:

  • Olympic sized swimming pool with diving area
  • Two floors of workout equipment, including Olympic lifting platforms
  • Gymnastics room with rings, springboard floor, pommel horse, trampolines, ropes course
  • A bazillion basketball courts
  • Ice skating rink
  • Indoor and outdoor tracks
  • Indoor and outdoor tennis courts
  • Squash courts
  • Indoor soccer court
  • Wrestling room (I use it for the climbing ropes)
  • Sailing and crew boathouses on the river
Last time I worked out, I followed CrossFit. There are two main ideas with CrossFit:
  1. Fitness is a well-rounded thing, involving speed, endurance, agility, power, balance, accuracy, etc.
  2. Shorter, higher intensity activity is better for you than longer, lower intensity activity.
Those are obviously a matter of definition and opinion, but I think they're sound ideas with a lot of weight behind them.

I hope exercise and stretching will help get rid of my RSI. My RSI surfaced not too long after I stopped going to the gym last year.

Labels:

0 comments »

Jobs

Monday, April 28, 2008 by Stephen

Stephen is out again. We hope that the right combination of mechanical anti-inflammatories (a.k.a. ice) and chemical anti-inflammatories (a.k.a. ibuprofen) will soon start to work. Thanks to my new orthopedic doctor for that new vocabulary.

Tonight, though, Stephen has allowed me to post something of my own.

I need a job. Not "need" like I need sleep every night or food every day, but I need a job. I've been looking for about three months - networking, submitting applications, checking websites for job availability, and there's not a whole lot out there. Part of my problem is my current skill and interest set. I'm a licensed attorney, with a whole lot of experience researching and writing about international trade and investment agreements.

Sound boring? You should read the agreements.

But the policy implications and economic theories fascinate me. And those skills and interests probably would not be problematic, except for the second part of my job quandary: location. Unfortunately, to the extent that legal jobs in international relations are available, they are NOT available in Boston. And we're not moving.

So, in order to make this work, I've gone several different directions. I've looked into working for local non-profits doing work internationally (there are about three: ACCION, Oxfam, and RootCapital - and they're not hiring). I've tried to make connections in the world of immigration law (a BIG legal issue here in Massachusetts). And I've made a few attempts to contact government agencies in the area, such as the Massachusetts Office of International Trade & Investment. I've also got myself a short-term, part-time fellowship writing on (guess what!) the policy implications of international trade agreements for long-term development.

The big question is: now what? Now that I've networked until I met everyone in the entire city doing work in these areas, now that I get depressed pretty much every afternoon about my inability to acquire gainful employment, now what? I keep thinking I need to revamp my job search strategy - be willing to "sell out" and just get some experience (assuming a law firm would even hire me now) or be willing to work in a job that doesn't use my law degree or my interest in international relations just to have a paycheck. But broadening my search that much seems overwhelming. Any ideas? I'm open to suggestions.

~Rachel

Labels:

2 comments »

Memory

Sunday, April 27, 2008 by Stephen

Stephen is out sick today; his RSI is really getting to him. So today I am writing as he dictates about his new excitement over memory-assisting software.

Stephen says:

A few years ago, my friend Shane introduced me to the idea of spaced repetition in learning. The other day I read this article on wired.com about a guy who wrote a program called SuperMemo, which facilitates spaced repetition learning. Then I found an open-source program called Mnemosyne, which does a similar thing. Rachel helped me download Mnemosyne and plug in an example flashcard with an equation on it. It may have a few bugs, but it seems to work alright. Once my hands get better, I plan to write a script to format some Bible verses as flashcards. I apologize to all of you who are on the edge of your seat waiting for my new Bible memory system. Unfortunately, Rachel refuses to write the script for me.

Rachel says:

Thanks for your patience.

0 comments »

RSI

Saturday, April 26, 2008 by Stephen

I've been working some long hours the past few weeks, and my wrists and hands are having trouble. I get pain in several different spots, mostly along the back of my right wrist, from a repetitive strain injury. Rachel went to the doctor recently for this, too.

Here's what I do to help out:

  • Workrave — Computer program that keeps tabs on keyboard and mouse use and forces breaks, suggesting exercises during the longer breaks.
  • Cold packs — The blue gel kind you put in the freezer. Apply three times daily, though I haven't done that much.
  • Ibuprofen — Fights inflammation.
  • Ergonomics — I set my chair at the recommended height and use a keyboard tray.
  • Launchy — Computer program for launching computer programs. Helps to avoid using the mouse. I hear it's similar to Quicksilver for the Mac.
  • Mouser — Use the keyboard to control the mouse, in case mousing is the problem.
  • Stretching — Nerves could be impinged at my shoulder or neck, so I stretch those ... from time to time.

Really what I need to do is stop using the computer as much as possible. I also wonder if strength exercises would help.

1 comments »

What's to Come?

Friday, April 25, 2008 by Stephen

I'm nearing the end of my month of blogging, and lately I've been looking for short and sweet topics so I can get to bed at a reasonable time. This short and sweet post is about what happens after April, when I don't promise to post every day. Here are a few ideas for the coming months:

  • Work through the exercises in Light, Science and Magic with set-ups, process, and final photos.
  • Dig unprocessed photos out of my archives and make them presentable.
  • Record some music and post MP3s.
  • Travel around Boston and document some interesting out-of-the way spots.
  • Read some chapters for Librivox, the free audiobook resource.

What say you? Is there anything in particular you would like me to write about?

0 comments »

Photo Club Expo

Thursday, April 24, 2008 by Stephen


My photo club at work is having an exposition. That's what it's called when we print up some photos and put them in a conference room for a few hours. The nice thing is that I end up with a print after it's all over.

Tomorrow, I will submit this photo of Guatemala's Lake Atitlan with volcanoes Atitlan, Toliman, and San Pedro (left to right). Today I enhanced the contrast of the volcanoes. For the first time today, I made the connection that the cloud at the top of Toliman might be a lenticular cloud, though it doesn't quite look smooth enough. Here it is, closer in.

Labels:

1 comments »

Sam Davis Has a Cow

Wednesday, April 23, 2008 by Stephen

On April 11, I talked about my guitar lessons with Sam Davis. I mentioned that he has a giant cow. The other day I was in Porter Square, and Sam's cow was in the window of the Cambridge Music Center. The cow's name, Darla, was written on her side, along with instructions to search YouTube about Darla.

So here we go - Darla on YouTube.

1 comments »

Feelin' a Little Sick

Tuesday, April 22, 2008 by Stephen

I came home with a scratchy throat, a headache, and a general weak feeling, so I went right to bed. I feel a little better now.

So I'm posting something short and easy. I've been meaning to put up my old blog posts from before I used Blogger. Today, I put up my first-ever blog post.

0 comments »

My Work Bathroom Experience

Monday, April 21, 2008 by Stephen

I recently moved offices at work to a brand new building. It has some problems, like the AC running in my office in winter loud enough to keep me from hearing teleconferences and causing people to tape cardboard over their vents which increases the pressure in offices with no cardboard...

The bathroom has problems, too.

First, the faucet. It's one of those faucets that you press, and a mechanical timer shuts off the stream after a few seconds. Few means about four. This annoys people to no end, since they have to constantly press the handle, and it shuts off invariably just before they rinse the last bit of soap away.

Second, the soap dispenser. The soap dispensers work on a proximity sensor. They are hyperactive, squirting soap whenever you get anywhere near. I wonder if the sensors sense heat and whether washing with warm water sets them off even more.

Third, the sinks. Our shallow sinks measure a single foot across. It feels tight. Along with the hyperactive soap dispensers, this creates a perfect storm where soap squirts out every few seconds as you wash your hands. The sink is so small, you almost can't rinse your hands without receiving an unwelcome plop of liquid soap, quite possibly on your shirt sleeve.

And finally, with a twist, the urinal. There is nothing wrong with the urinal. In fact, I think it is wonderful. There's nothing great about the urinal itself, but let me take upon myself the task of explaining how a urinal can be wonderful.

I am an amateur photographer. As a photographer, I often notice the way light interacts with objects. I really like the way the fluorescent light interacts with the tile and the chrome plumbing. The light is directly above, and it reflects off the tile at a shallow angle so that you can see a bright reflection in the chrome. But the tile does not reflect light directly to your eyes, so the tile itself does not look bright, even though it acts as a secondary, reflecting source for the chrome. This creates what Light, Science and Magic calls invisible light. In addition, the light fades off and forms a gradient along the tile, which can be seen in the chrome very nicely. All in all, it looks very nice, a rich visual experience, a piece of "found art."

The sink experience is getting better. I found the manual for the faucets online and learned how to set the timer. Now they stay on for around twelve seconds. I'll try to find out if the soap dispensers are tunable. Maybe I can put something over the sensor to affect its range and/or direction.

1 comments »

My Birthday Sweater

Sunday, April 20, 2008 by Stephen

My parents-in-law gave me this sweater (and this coffee) for my birthday.

Today I played four-square in my new sweater.

Rachel took this picture with her birthday camera.

2 comments »

Giant Daisy

Saturday, April 19, 2008 by Stephen

I like stitching photos together. Last fall, I thought I'd try my hand at stitching macro photos together, and I worked the bugs out a little bit taking photos of a leaf. More recently, I tried my hand at a daisy.


This is 26 photos stitched together using Hugin and Enblend. I am unhappy about the background. It is yellow tissue paper, and I had a light behind the paper, and I hoped the texture would come through more. I plan to photograph just the paper and replace the background. With a slightly larger background, this photo will be 50 megapixels. Not bad for a 2.5" flower.

This should look good at 30"x30". I'm thinking of doing a series of these and have some plans in the works.

Labels:

0 comments »

Dreams

Friday, April 18, 2008 by Stephen

I have weird, involved dreams.

Just the other day, I had a dream that involved getting on the MBTA Blue Line. Only the Blue Line had been upgraded to a clean, sleek bullet train that ran above ground through green valleys. Monumental stone staircases dotting the valley sides served as entrances. When I got on the train, the stainless steel interior had no windows. A robot offered to build hi-fi entertainment systems around passengers as they rode.

I took an imaginative fiction creative writing class my sophomore year of college. We had to record our dreams, and after a few tries, they became quite detailed. I continued to record them for a short while after the class ended. Here's a dream I recorded early morning June 29, 2000. I've included early morning sketches from my journal to enhance the story:

"In some sort of school. One of the assignments or tests is to run in a race. I'm out of shape because I haven't been running, and we are all starting the race late. The track is made of asphalt probably a street, and is very wide, and it is under about six inches of water. We start to run, and somebody shouts to go the other way. This happens several times, and we reverse each time. Then, as we're headed opposite our original direction, a tall, lanky, short-haired guy tears around the corner toward us with a number on his chest. We turn and go. I stop off at Munth [an undergrad campus house] and start washing things or something in the second floor bathroom.

"I'm in my grandparents' house, and it's much more rickety than their real house. You can see the coast in the distance out the window. As I look out, I see a column of smoke rapidly rising in the distance. I think of fires since I've been reading Report from Engine Co. 82 by Dennis Smith. But it shoots upward too fast, so I think it might be a bomb, though the column is too skinny.Then a second one goes off real near. I yell at everybody to go to the cellar, thinking there might be some hope but nobody moves. I run around for a while and then ask to see what the news report says. Someone turns on the TV for a second and then turns it off again.

"Then Jimmy pulls me over to look at a laptop. He found a webpage for a guy who makes prank bombs. The second blast, as I see when I look out the window, has frozen like this:"

Labels:

0 comments »

Intelligent Design and Me

Thursday, April 17, 2008 by Stephen

In the eighth grade, I went to a Christian school. In computer class, the instructor didn't have lessons for the last week of school, so he showed us a video series on Creation Science. I was psyched about how science supported a biblical view of a 6000-year-old universe.

Later, I became discouraged about this science, as it appeared more and more simplistic. Non-creation-type scientists made theories and collected data and reformulated their theories, while creationists didn't really interact with the evidence for widely accepted theories of a four-billion-year-old Earth. They broke off pieces of the evidence and focused on those.

When Intelligent Design first came out, I was encouraged to see some real arguments. As I understand it, these are the arguments:

  • For some biological structures, there is no pathway by which they could have evolved; they are as simple as they can be. On the other hand, they are still incredibly complex, so that the odds of their spontaneous creation are low. This is the "irreducible complexity" idea.
  • If you came across a tablet with writing on it in the desert, you would ascribe its creation to the work of a person, not a natural process. Thus, we can recognize design. This can be applied to God's design of the universe.
  • Related to the previous point, the universe is fine-tuned for life, for human life specifically. This is sometimes called the "anthropic principle."
These look good on the face of it, but in the 10-or-so years since Intelligent Design became popular, the first two haven't shown much merit. "Irreducible complexity" is a unprovable idea. You would have to think of all possible ways a biochemical feature could come about and show that all of them combined have a very, very low probability. The argument about the appearance of design is more of a philosophical debate; how would you quantify how much a certain feature looks God-designed? A Christian would say, "It all looks designed," and an atheist would say, "Nothing looks designed."

The last one, the anthropic principle, is fascinating, but it has philosophical difficulties. More on all of this later.

Labels: ,

0 comments »

RSS Feeds To Which I Subscribe

Wednesday, April 16, 2008 by Stephen

Here are the non-personal blogs I subscribe to.

Labels:

1 comments »

I Crocheted a Blanket!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008 by Stephen

Over Christmas break, I saw a blanket that I liked at my brother's house. My sis-in-law made it. I thought to myself, why don't I make one of these to pass the time when I have to listen to something but have enough attention for something else? So she had Jimmy send me the pattern.

So I order some yarn and get to work. Not long after, I find out that there's a Stitch Club at work, and that they're doing a blanket drive for Project Linus. Great! Now I have something warm and fuzzy to do with this warm and fuzzy blanket which doesn't quite match our curtains. I finished it, a full 50" x 50", in March. See the photos below.


I like the border, which is done with reverse single crochets, giving it a rope-like look. I also like how the pattern looks much more complicated than it is. The final step is to sew the Project Linus tag onto the corner. Then I can take it to the donation party, which won't be until June.

Labels:

5 comments »

Birthday Blessings

Monday, April 14, 2008 by Stephen

Rachel and I both have birthdays in April. We are between birthdays at the moment, and last night we had a party to celebrate. I made pizza, way too much pizza, and the leftover dough is exploding in the fridge at the moment.

Rachel gave me the DVD for "In the Shadow of the Moon," my favorite movie. It is a documentary of interviews of Apollo astronauts, and it is amazing. Also, I hear that a new movie about Neil Armstrong is in the works.

I gave Rachel a camera, and our community group gave her a camera pouch and a new purse. Our community group got me a very nice baseball glove, which will come in handy during the summer softball season.

2 comments »

Giving to Solicitors

Sunday, April 13, 2008 by Stephen

This morning someone came to our church door asking for money for a bus ticket to Hyannis. We sent a deacon over who offered to go buy the ticket for her. Then she asked for money for breakfast while she waited for the ticket. He offered to buy her food. She finally left in a huff, saying we didn't really want to help her. Over the course of the 15 minute interaction, her story changed several times.

Whether it's the bus ticket or change for the subway or change for gas or whatever, like most people, I'm skeptical of solicitors on the street.

I think I have a solution: gift cards. But you have to be careful about gift cards. Grocery stores and drug stores carry Listerine, which might be too much of a temptation for the alcoholics out there. I purchased gift cards for Subway sandwiches once, and that worked well, but the local franchise doesn't sell gift cards, and I don't know if they accept them. Right now the best solution I've heard (thanks, Tyler) is Dunkin Donuts. Not the best food, but at least it will get them a donut and coffee, and they're everywhere around here.

Any thoughts on gift cards for panhandlers?

2 comments »

My Job

Saturday, April 12, 2008 by Stephen

I am a rocket scientist. Though this term applies to all aerospace engineers whether or not they work on rockets, I do work on a space vehicle that maneuvers using rocket engines. If you can find it, check out Advice to Rocket Scientists from your local library. The first chapter is, "Who is a Rocket Scientist?" The author mentions several things that qualify a person as a rocket scientist. I meet these:

  • Have a degree in aerospace engineering
  • Work at Draper Lab
  • Work at NASA or a NASA contractor
  • Work on airplanes or space vehicles
Yes, he calls out Draper specifically.

The vehicle I work on is Orion, what used to be called the NASA Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV). It looks like the Apollo CSM but bigger. It will fit 6 people to low Earth orbit, such as when going to the International Space Station (ISS), and 4 people when going to the moon. Unlike the Space Shuttle, Orion will have no wings and no big payload bay. Though Orion will not go to Mars, at least not the way NASA currently envisions it, it will be a major step in developing the technology and experience we need to go to Mars.

I work on Guidance, Navigation, and Control (GNC) systems. Specifically, I have worked on simulating, designing, and analyzing deorbit guidance, burn execution, rendezvous targeting, and to a lesser extent, thrust-vector control, reaction control jets, and aborts. Right now we are gearing up for Preliminary Design Review (PDR).

Labels:

0 comments »

Guitar Lessons with Sam Davis

Friday, April 11, 2008 by Stephen

I took lessons from guitar teacher Sam Davis for several months before deciding that I didn't practice enough to benefit from them. Sam gave me enough material that I could go through it for a year without reaching the point of diminishing returns.

His teaching style was interesting. It was very theoretical, with a sort of drill or two for each concept. He spent quite a bit of time writing down the concepts of the day onto loose-leaf paper while I tried them out. That was probably good for me, because I rarely tried them out any other time.

Sam's personal style was also ... interesting. His basement apartment has a kitchen covered with cow spots. Covered. As in floor, ceiling, counters, cabinets, etc. Even his tea kettle is cow-themed. If that wasn't enough, he has an animatronic cow with its own stall in his entryway that comes out mooing to the tune of "Old McDonald Had a Farm" while half a dozen plush monkeys bang cymbals together and colorful lights flash all over the place. Sam's cow (Dalia?) has been featured on HGTV's show, "Look What I Did."

Sam is also a member of the Funky White Honkies. The Honkies are a 15-or-so piece dance band, complete with two percussionists and a horn section. Rachel and I saw them twice at Johnny D's in Davis Square. The second time, Sam played guitar and sang while hanging upside-down and getting his shoulder-length hair cut off.

If you have a minute, take a look at one or two of his flyers.

Labels:

0 comments »

Got My Print!

Thursday, April 10, 2008 by Stephen

The Third Pond print came from mpix.com yesterday morning. It was flat, not rolled up, just like I hoped. I was thinking of mounting it with no matting, but it's so dark that I think it needs a dark mat to bring it out better on our white wall. Without a mat, I would mount it on Gator Board and bring it a little out from the wall. I wish my monitor were color-calibrated.

I poked around yesterday for other places that sell big prints, and I hit the jackpot. El-Co Color has a panorama special, 30"x60" for $30 (!), though you have to buy at least one other order, say 20"x30" for $10 (!). They print on Fuji Metallic, too. El-Co Color will be my go-to from now on. I might print my daisy on Fuji Metallic at 30"x30" (cropped from 30"x40") for $25.90 (!).

This reminds me of an idea I had for wall decor: NASA images. NASA pictures are all in the public domain, so you can freely print them. How about one of these:
Full earth from Apollo 17
Buzz Aldrin on the moon
Hubble Ultra Deep Field

Maybe I'll get a 30"x40" print of Buzz Aldrin for my office for $20 (!).

0 comments »

New Styling on the Ninja 250R

Wednesday, April 09, 2008 by Stephen

The old:



The new:



The first image is of the 2007 model I owned for 6 months in Houston. Kawasaki hadn't updated the styling much since before 1990, but it still turned a few heads and was a lot of fun. The second image is of the 2008 model from the Kawasaki web-site. The new bike still has a low MSRP of $3500. I have to admit it looks tempting, and I still own my old helmet!

Last night Rachel and I were out for Rachel's birthday dinner (happy birthday!) to a Korean restaurant when I saw the new 250R. It's hard to tell that it's a little bike.

0 comments »

Moral Arguments for God

Tuesday, April 08, 2008 by Stephen

Lately, I've heard a couple of talks by Tim Keller and William Lane Craig arguing that morality is a strong evidence for God. In the past week, I've felt that they missed something. They didn't argue against their opponents' strongest arguments. Their argument was a "straw man", one that convinces only by appearances.

Here is the argument. In a purely natural universe, without God, morality cannot be objective or universal; things aren't supposed to be a certain way, they just are. The person who buys naturalism, however, cannot help but say that exterminating Jews or eating babies is universally wrong, an objective moral truth. The naturalist perspective is therefore contradictory, and the universe with God makes much more sense.

That makes sense, and it sure did annoy the people who asked questions at the end of Craig's talk. But there's something wrong with their argument: people often say that morality comes from biological and social factors; what if the belief that morality is objective also comes from biological and social factors?

In other words, a person can believe philosophically that morality isn't universal and believe motivationally that morality is universal, and there still is no real contradiction. Imagine this conversation:

Believer:
Without God, morality cannot be universal.

Unbeliever:
Okay, I can accept that. I believe neither in God nor in universal morality.

Believer:
Aha! But you believe that eating babies is universally wrong.

Unbeliever:
True, evolution and society have ingrained in me the belief that morality is universal, even though I know philosophically that morality is not universal.

Believer:
Then you have a contradiction. A universe with God is much more consistent than your viewpoint.

Unbeliever:
I disagree. My brain is sufficiently complex to resolve the contradiction between my philosophical belief and my motivating belief.

Believer:
But then morality is just preference.

Unbeliever:
True, but those who believe in objective morality also have preference for which morals are objective. Now leave me alone. My biologically and socially conditioned brain doesn't like to think about how eating babies is not universally wrong.

Am I wrong? Help me out here.

Labels:

4 comments »

Beer and Wine

Monday, April 07, 2008 by Stephen

I like my beverages sweet. There are those who like bitter beers and dry wines, and I question whether they like the beer or just the idea of the beer. Manly men like manly beer, no? I have heard people speak reverently about manly beers bucking society's trend toward light, feminized beers. That's choosing your food by ideology. That's buying image and identity. Would they still have liked the beer if it were organic? Or how about if it were marketed toward the opposite sex?

While I can enjoy a manly beverage, I much prefer a slightly sweet wine or, yes, even a sweet beer. A few months ago I tried Scaldis, a 12%, slightly sweet Belgian beer, and I liked it. In very small amounts, I find dessert wines, honey meads, and tawny ports superb.

For a while, I bought only manly drinks. I let this list of
manly drinks [campussqueeze.com] guide my ordering choices for a few months. Now I try different things and just see if I like them.

A yet-to-be-published book, The Wine Trials [amazon.com], showcases 100 inexpensive wines that beat out expensive wines in blind taste tests. In the study, they labeled wines with different prices to see how price affects preference. One take-away message is, drink what you like, not what you think you should like. I have to admit, though, that I still feel silly ordering a drink that comes with an umbrella.

3 comments »

First Conference

Sunday, April 06, 2008 by Stephen

A few days ago I received word that my paper submission to the 2008 AIAA GNC conference was accepted. It was a goal of mine to present my thesis research at a conference this year. Just before the draft deadline, I condensed the content of my 102 page thesis down to 25 pages in one weekend. I am glad it paid off.

My thesis is now online here. I am most proud of the graphics. All graphics in my thesis are vector graphics.

The conference is in Honolulu in August. I will have to see my grandparents while I'm there.

Labels: ,

1 comments »

I Ordered a Print!

Saturday, April 05, 2008 by Stephen

Just now I ordered a print of this picture I took on our honeymoon:


This is Third Pond near Blue Hill, Maine in August. The 24-inch print will go on our living room wall. It is a panorama stitched together from 7 images, with the brightness evened out using enfuse. Apparently there is another program that does the same thing called TuFuse, which is written by the same guy who wrote PTAssembler, the panorama stitcher I used to use. I might have to take another look at his program and see what improvements he's made.

Labels:

2 comments »

Getting into Podcasts

Friday, April 04, 2008 by Stephen

My dad gave me a Best Buy gift card for Christmas (thanks, Dad). Last week Rachel went and picked up a Sandisk Sansa Clip mp3 player for me (thanks, Rachel). My old player feels like a brick (an iRiver iHP-120); my new one is something like 0.9 ounces. I figured out the podcast thing so I can listen to programs while walking to work without weighing down my coat pocket.

A year ago, I picked up a pair of Shure E2c headphones from Target for $100. They go into your ear-canal like ear plugs. I can have the volume very low and still hear most everything despite wind, crowds, or traffic. There are two problems: 1) they can get uncomfortable after a while, and 2) you can hear your own footsteps really well, so listening while walking (or performing other internal mechanical operations like chewing, etc.) can be annoying. Try plugging your ears and stomping on the floor and you'll see what I mean. It can get pretty loud.

I might give up commuting with my Xootr for most days so I can listen (don't plug your ears while in traffic!).

To download podcasts for my non-iPod, I use Juice (see screenshot). I synchronize to my player using an entry in my backup utility, SyncBack.

Screenshot of Juice
Since I listen during my 20 minute walk to and from work, I now have 20 x 5 x 2 minutes = 3 1/3 hours per week to listen to audio. As with most things I do, I went all-out finding podcasts. Here's what I've downloaded:

Keeping:

  • Audiobooks with Annie (10-30 min, weekly) — A librarian reads public domain classics. Right now she's reading Anne of Green Gables. Each podcast is a chapter. I'm catching up from chapter 1, and she's on chapter 33.
  • Car Talk Call of the Week (5 min, weekly) — That's what I'm talking about! Just the highlights.
  • Classical to Go (5-10 min, weekly?) — Recorded in studio at WGBH in Boston.
  • Mission Network News Podcast, 2min (2 min, daily) — News about the field of Christian missions. Options for 1, 2, 5, and full-length ("interviews") clips.
  • MIT News (5 min, weekly) — Not too high a priority, but short enough to stay for now.
  • This Week @NASA (5 min, weekly) — NASA news.
  • Philosophy Bites (50 min?, weekly) — British people discuss philosophy in bite-sized chunks. I really like this one.
  • WBUR Daily News Update (5-10 min, daily) — Boston news, one story per day.
On the edge, I might get rid of it:
  • NPR: Justice Talking (50 min, weekly) — Discussion of law and society issues. Long, but might be worth it. So far topics have included pornography and college admissions (two separate topics).
  • NPR: Science Friday (5-10 min, 3 each Friday) — Topics about science. I might be selective about which podcasts I listen to.
  • Veritas Forum (1.5 hrs, varies)— Public talks at colleges from a Christian perspective. Whether I keep subscribing depends on how often they come out.
Already gone:
  • Car Talk (50 min, weekly) — Too long, as I hinted above in the "Call of the Week" podcast bullet.
  • MPR: New Classical Tracks (5 min, weekly) — Review of new classical music recordings. Nice idea, but I don't buy new music very often, and I think I prefer a podcast without someone talking during the music. NPR has a ton of those. MPR is Minnesota Public Radio, I think.
  • Stand to Reason (50 min, weekly) — Christian apologetics. Good, but too many announcements. Content density too low, wish there was a "content only" feed.
  • Travel with Rick Steves (50 min, weekly) — Rick Steves! But too long.
  • Word Nerds (50 min, weekly) — Etymology, word facts, etc. I never even listened to this one; there are just too many. In any case, there are shorter word podcasts, like the Merriam Webster Word of the Day.

Labels:

3 comments »

Fire Truck!

Thursday, April 03, 2008 by Stephen

Our landlords locked themselves out of their apartment half an hour before I arrived home from work. Rachel helped them out with phone numbers and such. When I came home, a police officer was here. He apparently called the fire department. From what I can tell, the fire department cut the knob off their apartment door. For the little assistance we gave, our landlord gave us a bottle of [yellow tail] chardonnay (I think the brackets are part of the brand name). Fire truck!

0 comments »

Once a Day in April

Wednesday, April 02, 2008 by Stephen

April 2 resolution (happy birthday, Thomas; we'll take you to a pub next time you come up here): write a post every day for April. Tell your friends! Subscribe to my blog feed! I checked yesterday and saw that I have only 2 subscribers through Google Reader.

Yesterday I pulled an April Fools prank at work. You see, there are three coffee machines in our cramped kitchen on the 6th floor. These three machines serve fewer than 100 people, non-coffee-drinkers included. I put up a memo next to the coffee machines saying that due to counter space constraints and new appliance purchases, the facilities office would be down-selecting the coffee machines to just one machine, and that people who want to run the coffee machine could submit formal proposals to obtain exclusive coffee-serving rights for the 6th floor. I made sure it sounded real enough but then was completely absurd when you thought about it (e.g., I mentioned that proposals involving fair trade coffee would be given preference, and I specified that the coffee equipment could take up no more than 30 inches of counter space). I think someone didn't get the joke, since it was taken down before the end of lunch.

2 comments »

Some Things I Did Since Last Posting

Tuesday, April 01, 2008 by Stephen

Sell my motorcycle.
Move back to Massachusetts.
Start taking guitar lessons.
Sprain my ankle.
Stop working out.
Plan a wedding.
Start playing the djembe drum for church.
Move to a new apartment.
Get married.
Go on honeymoon to coastal Maine.
Change church community groups.
Go on business trips to Houston.
Change offices at work.
Read another 500 pages of Les Miserables.
Display a photo at church coffeehouse.
Stop taking guitar lessons.
Sing in the opera chorus for Don Giovanni.
Join the photo and stitch clubs at work.
Try my hand at macro panoramas.
Crochet a blanket for Project Linus.
Start listening to Podcasts.

0 comments »