Friday, October 30, 2015

Praising "In Our Time"

"In Our Time" is my favorite podcast.

The show is a brisk 40-45 minute discussion on all manner of subjects: history, art, literature, and science. The host is Melvyn Bragg, a British writer/broadcaster with a firm grasp of whatever the subject happens to be. His guests are three academic specialists in the subject matter: a panel of articulate scholars.

When I first learned about this podcast, I picked out the subjects that were of interest to me: engineering, science and math. As I grew familiar with show and its format, I found that Melvyn's manner made any subject seem vibrant. He could produce an almost urgent note in his guests. I've listened to many great talks about history (both popular and obscure), art, poetry and literature.

All the guests are steeped in their subject. Whereas Melvyn has broad taste and knowledge, his guests are at the proverbial deep end of the pool. Without exception the scholars are articulate about highly specialized knowledge, and their enthusiasm for their subject can be quite infectious.

Melvyn would surely be considered a Renaissance man: a person with diverse interests and talents. It's clear that he prepares a certain way before each show, and he is the one that dictates the pace and the angle of approach. He defers to his guests, but he makes it clear that it his show, and he keeps things lively and brisk.

Add this show to your podcast collection, and broaden your mind!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Product Placement

I pulled my 2007 Subaru Legacy sedan into the Panera parking lot. It was a short distance to the door, but it was raining. I pulled up the hood of my New England Patriots hoodie, and jogged across the lot. The restaurant was full of people: no one wanted to prepare anything at home, I guess. I ordered a Strawberry Poppyseed salad for myself. My wife calls it a candy salad because there's so much fruit in it, but I like its sweetness. As my order was being prepared, I pulled out my Apple iPhone 6, and browsed for pictures of the Minium, a new minimalist smartphone. Eventually I got my food and I went back outside. I looked up and rain drops fell on my Theo Bosrand glasses (705 Matte Black). I began running to the car, wishing I had worn a hat instead.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Beating an Addictive Game

In July I started playing "Can You Get to Twenty" on my iPhone. It's a pairs matching game that is very simple to understand, and you can play it in a web browser here:

The game has a gentle start as you go from matching 1 tile to 10 tiles, but once you reach 10, the tiles are linked, and this can only be described as diabolical. The game increases its speed remorselessly, and I found myself bug-eyed watching all the tiles for matches. Once you start matching 15 tiles and beyond, it's haywire.

A full game from 1 to 20 would take about 10 minutes, and each time I played my body and brain would go from a relaxed to furious and frantic. I loved the sensation, however, and each time the game finished, I immediately pressed play to try again.

Was I ever able to reach 20? Yes, and I tweeted about it! But the game doesn't end at the glorious final match. The game instead continues, and once again you dive into a delicious hyper-active state.

I knew I had issues when I began to play the game immediately after dinner. No reading, no computing, no writing. Just this video game. It does allow you to start at the higher levels, so I'd start up at 15. Immediately, I'd be thrown into the hellfire of the final levels, but it was exactly what I was craving.

After a session of playing the game, my heart would be racing. It was hard to reset myself. I didn't like how long it took before I could fully unwind myself from the energy that the game generated. I didn't like how the answer to unwinding was often to play the game some more.

One night after reaching 20, and not sure whether I should start another game, I decided instead to delete it. I was feeling addicted to the game, and I didn't want to lose any more control. I did make sure to buy the in-game purchases, to reward the designers. They definitely created an addictive game, though just a bit too addictive for me.

Friday, July 31, 2015

U-Haul People

I refilled a propane tank at a nearby U-Haul, where people seem always to be in transition.

I saw a woman alone, her car filled with belongings. Was she returning a truck? Or scouting one out? I imagined that she was moving away. The stuff in her car was the gear she needed when she got to where she was going. Maybe she was making the last trip to her new place.

I saw a bunch of people that looked like a family. One or two parent looking types. One or two sibling looking types. They were hugging each other, in front of a U-Haul truck whose hatch was still open, allowing me to see what looked like an apartment's worth of stuff. It's early for students to be arriving in Boston, but maybe it's not too early to make a trip to a Midwest or West Coast school?

I saw a young couple, proceeding slowly from the office, papers in hand. "They've got each other," I said to myself. Maybe they're moving in together, and they needed a truck to to consolidate stuff.

The attendant made the propane tank hiss. The odometer read three gallons. He capped the tank, and gave it to me. Did people at the U-Haul look at me, and deduce that I was the local?

I drove away and at the first stoplight, I realized how familiar I was with this road. I could go left, right, or straight, and it wouldn't matter: I could get home. The familiarity is comforting and suffocating at the same time.

When the light turned green, I went straight.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Becoming An Adult

My wife and I were chatting about money one day. It's a frequent touch point: the everlasting discussion about money. My daughter was with us, and she asked "Is this all adults talk about? Money?"

"Well, we talk about you a lot!"

All kidding aside, it's an intriguing question. It made me glad our kid was interested in us adults. She'll be one soon enough.

I remember the exact moment in which I truly felt like an adult: at the real estate closing for the house where we now live. I sat at a table with a few lawyers, the current owners, and some real estate agents. My wife was there too, and maybe she felt the same way: "I'm doing an adult thing here!"

We decided on a house in November 1996 and closed in March 1997. Along the way we had to make lots of decisions. We had to hire a lawyer, sell a bunch of stock, figure out the inspection process, buy furniture, and lots of other tasks that I have now forgotten. All of this may sound like run-of-the-mill bureaucracy but the closing felt like momentous occasion.

While it may seem that adults only talk about money, in reality what adults talk about are decisions. That's the essence of adulthood: decision making. Small decisions. Big decisions. Inconsequential decisions. Humongous decisions.

These decisions become your history and experience, and that helps because decision making never ends. Spend a few years making decisions and you'll be talking like an adult before you know it!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Neal Stephenson

I attended a book signing event for the author Neal Stephenson. His new book Seveneves was just released, and he was on tour promoting it.

He's written over a dozen novels. I have read only two, but they were memorable and impressive to me. The first one that I read was Snow Crash. The first chapter alone was enough to make me a fan. He wrote that the core competency of the future United States was pizza delivery. The second book was Cryptonomicon, a multi-generational epic about code, cryptography and the ties that bind.

The question and answer session with Neal was fascinating. He fielded a handful of questions about his process as a writer, and I had the feeling people were taking notes. (I certainly was.)

He dispelled the notion that he does a lot of research. "Real researchers would be horrified at what I do for research," he said. The way he gathers ideas is more like strip mining, he joked.

He said that planning out a novel is not the best way to write. The time you spend planning is very short compared to the time you spend writing. Be open to new ideas as you write, he suggests.  He did say that it's helpful to have a general idea of what you want your characters to do. (In the acknowledgements of his book, he said it took him seven years to develop and write his latest novel.)

When it came time for the book signing, a line quickly formed with what seemed like 200 people. Some had copies of his older books, and some had his new book. By the time I got up to him, I was in such a dazzled state that I didn't say anything as he signed my book. "How are you?" he asked. I blurted out that I was fine, and then said I was a big fan. "Well, I hope you like this book then." I've read the first 100 pages, and I think I will!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Some YouTube Favorites

My YouTube favorites channel has almost 150 videos on it. I added one a few days ago, and that made me realize I haven't shared this list on my BLOG. In no particular order, here are some of favorite YouTube videos.

1. Bread and Milk. Oh, this is funny. This was the video I added this week, after getting another Vic DiBitetto video of his forwarded to me. It perfectly sums up the craziness of last Winter and his expression is spot on.

2. Risitas - Las Paelleras (Original video with English Subtitles). The hysterical laughter from Risitas and the rapid-fire Spanish are usually shown with comical subtitles to hilarious effect. This is the original conversation, and Risitas' laughter plus Jesus Quintero's great reactions are excellent.

3. Los Santos By Night - GTA V PS4. The groove of the music (50's Manhattan by Jesse James) and the perfectly chosen images from Grand Theft Auto V by The XXI make this a go-to-video of mine. Dark, rainy, murky atmosphere.

4. Star Wars without John Williams. That final scene of Star Wars IV is a rousing medal ceremony, and it's a great finish to that great movie. This video replays it without any of that rousing music, and the effect is startling and a bit funny.

5. GoPro on the Ice: Sidney Crosby. I've always wondered what a great ice hockey player sees when they're skating and handling the puck. This is it. Very eye-opening. (The one with PK Subban is possibly better, but the puck handling by Crosby is sick, as the kids say.)

6. Time Lapse of a Television Editor. I've always harbored the idea of becoming a film or television editor. This time-lapse shows just how difficult and tedious that job might actually be.

7. Joe Bonamassa Guitar Jam With Michael Casswell. This is for guitar geeks only. Joe Bonamassa is a master guitarist, but the generosity with which he exchanges riffs with Michael Casswell is perfect. His compliment at the end is just great.

8. Crazy Koala Fight. Koalas! So serene and gentle. But apparently they snarl and get into fights. The reaction from the person recording the video is amusing, and the sounds at the end are actually frightening.

9. The Dark Knight Trailer Recut - Toy Story 2. What YouTube favorites list would be complete without a mashup? This is my favorite one: mixing the solemn audio and sound from The Dark Knight with the bright and cheery images from Toy Story 2. This is epic.

10. Undercover Karaoke with Jewel. How would a successful singer perform in a Karaoke bar? Jewel and the team from Funny or Die show that a modern pop star would blow away the amateur performers.