Life in Practice Archive

Too Old for This Sort of Thing

Posted April 4, 2015 By Dave Thomer

I’ll be turning 40 this year, which my mother has told me I am not allowed to mention around her.

Meanwhile, my daughter will turn 13.

Not sure if the universe is trying to tell me something there.

At the moment, the biggest thing about the round number is that I won’t have to pause for a second to do the math when someone asks me how old I am. I don’t feel a midlife crisis coming on yet, but I should probably go back and reread that post about exercise and go back to watching what Ieat. I’ve been trying to cut back my beef consumption to once or twice a week. But cheeseburgers are still tasty, so we’ll see how that goes.


Not Always a Good Fit

Posted April 2, 2015 By Dave Thomer

I didn’t exercise today.

I had a bunch of excuses. I was tired. My stomach was bothering me. I had errands to run. I didn’t want to get in anyone’s way in the living room.

But they’re only excuses. I could have made it happen, if it had been a higher priority for me.

But it wasn’t. Even though I know it is important. Even though I know that putting physical exercise at the bottom of my priority list day after day has short term and long term consequences that I would prefer to avoid.

Is it rational? Almost certainly not.

Am I hamstrung by a lack of resources? Nope. I have plenty of information, people have shared strategies and techniques with me, and I have even been able to obtain some equipment to help me. My wife and daughter are both more committed to exercising than I have been lately, so I can’t even say I don’t have any role models or examples.

If I’m not as healthy as I could be, if I don’t have the success I want to have in the long run, I can’t put the responsibility on anyone else; I just chose to spend my time doing other things.

I think about this sometimes when I think about the times I struggle to help some of my students actively participate in their education. It gives me some empathy to think that some of them feel about academic work the way I feel about physical exercise. It lets me forgive myself a little bit for not inspiring a hundred high school seniors to become policy wonks.

But it also inspires me to keep trying to find ways to support them, to find the questions that they do have about the world and help them develop the skills to find answers. And it reminds me that sometimes what we need to do has to trump what we want to do.

So tomorrow I will head to the gym, and then I will crack the books. And maybe I’ll take another step closer to being the person I want to be.


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.


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.


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.


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. 🙂


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.


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.


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.


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.