Life in Practice Archive

Tumbling Down

Posted September 30, 2013 By Dave Thomer

So, I said to myself, Dave, you have way too much free time. Why don’t you start exploring a new social network?

Dave, I replied, that’s a terrific idea. Let me open a Tumblr account now!

What I have found so far is that while Twitter is very good at giving me a feed of links to interesting stuff to read, it’s not super-great at visuals. And Facebook provides info and a way to get at image galleries, but I’m not crazy about the layout. Tumblr hits a sweet spot of combining text and images in a way that I can get good chunks of information just by looking at my feed, and then also have links to follow for more in-depth reading.

So far, this is largely taking the form of interesting GIF, such as:

Motivational Biden: Combining fun pictures of the vice president with a healthy dose of affirmation.

Working at a Nonprofit: Some very skilled humorous caption writers.

Dan Wilson Sketchbook: The guy who wrote Closing Time and songs with the Dixie Chicks and Adele can also draw. Way to make the rest of us look bad.

Wired also has a pretty good tumblr too.

I gotta think there are comics artists using Tumblr as well, but I haven’t spent the time to look. One of these days.

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How Much of Your Life Is It Worth?

Posted January 13, 2013 By Dave Thomer

My continued and growing uneasiness with football continued this week with the confirmation that Junior Seau had CTE – the brain disorder that numerous football players have been diagnosed with from repeated head injury – and a story in the Miami newspapers about the injuries that Jason Taylor endured during his football career. The latter article ended with Taylor saying words to the effect of, “Knowing what I know now, I would do it all again.”

As Pattie and I were talking about it, she mentioned hearing someone say that if you offered a baseball pitcher a pill that would ensure he won 20 games a year for a decade but take 5 years off his life, he’d swallow the pill before you finished the sentence.

I guess it’s not really too surprising, though. We all make choices that are likely to reduce the sheer amount of time that we live in exchange for enjoying the time that we are alive more. I joked to Pattie, “Yeah, well if you put a cheesesteak in front of me and doctors tell me it’ll take a day off of my life, I’ll probably eat it and all I get out of that is enjoying the cheesesteak.”

Maybe we don’t think about it, but that’s the tradeoff we’re making. I’d like to live forever (with my family and friends) AND get to eat cheesesteaks, but apparently that wasn’t in the blueprints.

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One Bad Pun and One Baking Tip

Posted January 11, 2013 By Dave Thomer

So off and on over the last couple of years I’ve been trying to nail down the art of baking sticky buns. I had recipes from America’s Test Kitchen and the Joy of Cooking that were almost but not quite what I was aiming for. So I took the Joy of Cooking recipe and tweaked it by adding a small amount of cinnamon to the dough and a small amount of vanilla extract to the glaze. That was an improvement, but they were still a little dense in texture. So on the last batch, I used cake flour instead of all purpose flour. I really do think it made a big difference – the buns felt a lot lighter to chew. (Don’t get me wrong, they’re still absurdly dense and sticky. They have a name to live up to.)

So in order to get the cinnamon and brown sugar filling onto the dough, I use a sifter to avoid clumps that will crystallize during the baking and hurt the texture. While I was making the buns the other night, I had to look for the sifter, and as I was talking to myself, I couldn’t help remembering that I have another sifter the exact same shape and size. So my talking to myself to find the object became a wonderful Return of the Jedi pun, as in my worst James Earl Jones voice I intoed:

SIFTer . . . So, you have a twin SIFTer . . .

Fortunately, Pattie did not leap up, yell “NOOO!” and proceed to chop off my hand. Yet another reason I’m a lucky guy.

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What I Meant to Say

Posted October 9, 2012 By Dave Thomer

Didn’t get to post Tuesday – trying to stay caught up on sleep to help stay ahead of the cold that’s going around the house.

Almost finished New New Deal, and looking forward to reviewing it. I have had no problems reading it on my iPod, which surprises me. Still keeping an eye on the Kindles, but it’s feeling less urgent.

Wondering what I’m going to spend the day obsessing over in a month when there’s no new polling data. Probably the midterms.

Watched a little bit of football over the weekend now that the regular refs are back, but I’m not dying to jump back into it.

There’s a pile of graphic novels calling my name. Hopefully they’ll stop me from buying any more Kindle books for a few days. :)

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This Could Become a Habit

Posted October 7, 2012 By Dave Thomer

So, a few days into my e-reading habit, I’ve finished the three sample chapters I initially downloaded. I’ve downloaded a fourth, but I may not get to that for a while because I went ahead and bought The New New Deal and I’ve been reading it on my iPod. Holy smokes, I could get used to this. Having a book in the palm of my hand is ridiculously enjoyable. I don’t have to worry about how I’m holding it or keeping the page open of what have you. I’ve read the equivalent of 200 pages so far and it hasn’t caused a ton of strain. It’s a fairly easy to read book, so I don’t know if I’ll want to use the iPod for everything, but it’s working so far. I saw the Kindle Keyboard marked down at Staples today, and compared to the iPod the gray e-ink screen was really unappealing. I think I’m going to wait until I can try a Paperwhite in a store before I take the plunge. Heck, I may wind up talking myself into a tablet at the rate I’m going.

New New Deal is a worthwhile read so far, at least if you’re someone inclined to support the Obama Administration. It’s doing a pretty good job of explaining how the Administration managed to achieve a whole lot on the policy end while taking a rake to the face on the PR aspect. I’ll try to write a fuller review when I finish.

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Dipping My Toe in the E-Reader Pond

Posted October 5, 2012 By Dave Thomer

I love books. Here in my rec room/office I have four bookcases, with more shelves in the garage and a couple of piles of books in various spots around the house. Those cases include a bit of a backlog, of books I bought but then didn’t find the time to read before other topics – and other books – earned a higher priority. Over the course of the summer I’ve found myself interested in a few titles, like Chrisopher Hayes’ The Twilight of the Elites, Michael Grunwald’s The New New Deal, and Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise. But I just can not justify bringing more paper (text) books into the house. I think Pattie would beat me with them.

So I’ve been thinking of getting an e-reader. I’ve heard a lot of good things about e-ink readers like the Kindle and the Nook. While I can tear through popular fiction or a “journalistic” book pretty easily, by grad school I had gotten to a point where 30-60 pages of academic text could lead to headaches, eye strain, or other cases of “boy I don’t feel like reading right now,” and that was with paper. If I read that sort of thing on my computer screen, I got frustrated even sooner. So hearing that e-ink is much more similar to reading on paper than reading on a screen got me interested. The gray screens were still a bit of a turn off for me, though.

Both the Kindle and the Nook have come out with versions that have a built in light that helps illuminate the screen and make reading even easier. I’ve played with the Nook SimpleTouch with GlowLight, and it seemed pretty nice. The reviews of Amazon’s Kindle Paperwhite have been even better, but that’s a new product that’s in so much demand that if I order one now I might not get it until November. And I don’t know when stores will have it available for me to test out.

In the meantime, I’ve decided to play with Kindle apps on other devices. In once sense, this defeats the purpose, because now I’m back to reading on a monitor or similar screen. But it gives me a sense of how the system works and lets me know how those devices would work as a backup. The fact that Amazon lets me send sample chapters to my devices is nice as well – it lets me check out those books that intrigued me and see if I want to plunk down my money for them. I sent a sample of New New Deal to my PC, and one of Twilight of the Elites to my iPod Touch. I probably should have done it the other way around. I can already tell that Hayes has a much more academic tone than Grunwald and his book will probably be a denser read, so the smaller type on the iPod isn’t super helpful. That said, the reading experience isn’t bad. The electronic versions of the text put a lot more space between the lines of text than a lot of print books, so it doesn’t feel as dense to me. That means each page or screen is relatively small – I’m estimating that there are around 8-10 words per line on my Touch screen right now, with about 22 lines of text. On the PC screen, with much larger type, there’s more like 6-9 words per line. I may give myself an RSI if I try to read anything too long on these devices, but that’s a welcome tradeoff to avoid the headache that would result from denser text.

I have to say, I am really intrigued by the experience. Hearing about an interesting book on the web or from a friend and being able to start reading it right now is really pretty exciting. I think I’ll play around with my existing devices, maybe buy a complete text or two, and see how I do before I go all the way and purchase a dedicated reader. But I definitely expect to move most of my book buying to the digital realm in the very near future.

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Hitting the Reset Button

Posted September 10, 2012 By Dave Thomer

Playing a little bit with the time space continuum, AKA the timestamp, on this post. I’ve talked about my natural nocturnalism before, and it’s pretty clear that it doesn’t work well with a schedule where you need to be out of the house by 7 AM. Last week I would get home, take a nap in the evening, then get up to watch convention speeches and blog, then try to take another nap in the early AM hours before getting up again for work. I have definitely concluded that that is not a schedule conducive to my long term sanity. I think I could probably make a 9 PM to 3 or 4 AM schedule work and fool myself into thinking I’m doing a night owl shift, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to function missing the prime time hours so often.

You’d think that by this point of my life my body would have adapted to this sun thing you normal people are so fond of, but so far, no such luck.

OK, back to tweaking my lesson plan for Harrison Bergeron and egalitarianism. Catch ya tomorrow.

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Family Time

Posted September 9, 2012 By Dave Thomer

Celebrated my niece’s second birthday today, which was nice. My mom gave me an office chair that she found uncomfortable and which seems like a vast improvement over the last one I was using, but we’ll see how it holds up over the next few days.

I also gave my brother back is copy of Batman #430. It’s cover-dated February 1989. It’s the first Batman comic published after “A Death in the Family,” the famous story that killed the second Robin as a result of a 1-900 number reader poll. (Am I the only one who remembers news stories about Robin’s death like they were last month?) It was also the comic he bought when he started collecting comics, and he started a month or so before I did. So it’s the beginning of a hobby and a collection that’s been part of our family for two decades. Since he decided not to collect Batman as a regular title and I did, he traded it to me somewhere along the line. He was younger than my daughter is now when he bought it. Now he has a daughter of his own. The cover has a couple of folds and wrinkles. The pages are a little yellow. The story’s been written out of continuity by at least a couple of universe-changing events DC Comics has published in the last 20 years. But in spite of that – maybe because of that – he wanted it back, and I was happy to give it to him.

He’s promised to give me another copy, which is certainly a fair trade. To be honest, I’m just glad he gave me a reason to pull it out of its longbox and relive the memories.

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Reading Choices

Posted September 8, 2012 By Dave Thomer

It’s amazing to me how much I can read thanks to the Internet. When I was a kid, I’d get one newspaper a day and maybe a newsmagazine or two each week. Now I’m practically inundated with online magazines, the blogs connected to those magazines, blogs by experts in fields like political science and education. Now that it’s election season I can totally get lost in it. And now I’m thinking about buying a Kindle. I can’t keep up with the information I already have and I’m trying to get more.

And I spend so much time dashing from site to site that I don’t know if I’m actually processing the information or finding ways to add to it. I’ll worry about that another time. Right now, I’m just gonna enjoy living in the future.

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Can’t Get Into the Game

Posted September 4, 2012 By Dave Thomer

I am sure that mine is not the only household where this is true, but it certainly defies stereotypes. My wife is far, far more interested in the start of the NFL season than I am. I was already feeling iffy about the sport giving its reliance on violence and the possible effect on players’ brains, but throw in the fact that the NFL has locked out its referees and I just can’t bring myself to care. I’m willing to at least listen to the conversation when a struggling business says it has to reduce costs to stay competitive, but the NFL is such a money-printing machine that I have no sympathy when it tries to avoid sharing that wealth with the people who actually make the games happen. (And yeah, no one watches the game for the refs. But who’d watch a sport where anything goes or where the players were expected to call their own penalties?)

Meanwhile the NHL is getting ready to lock its players out as well. Never mind that the sport already has a hard salary cap and that the last contract negotiation involved big salary rollbacks. The way TV networks are throwing insane money at live sports programming these days, I can’t really buy into the league’s claims of poverty.

I don’t even want to talk about the hypocrisy of college sports. But you can go read Michael McCann discuss Ed O’Bannon’s lawsuit against the NCAA.

I dunno. I used to be able to overlook the rooting-for-laundry aspect of sports fandom because these business, for all their mercenary nature, were supported by and helped to sustain a kind of civic identity. But if I don’t like the organization and what it does, should I want it to represent me? Should I tie myself to it just because of its location?

If you were to suggest that I’m going through this in part because I’m a Pennsylvanian whose state university and its athletic program are currently undergoing a major identity crisis, well, I don’t think I could argue with you. But I think there’s a deeper issue that recent events (and not-quite-so-recent-events like the Eagles signing Mike Vick) have forced me to think about, and that make it harder to be entertained by the games.

On the upside, it’ll probably improve my productivity if I have my Sundays free.

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