resolutions and all that

statue reading a book at Mozart Museum in Prague
statue at Mozart Museum in Prague

I’m terrible at making and keeping resolutions. The first week or two are great, and then it starts to slip. That’s partially why I’m hesitant to articulate them, much less share them with anyone else. That being said, I have made a few promises to myself regarding things I want to work on this year. I have hopes that enough practice will eventually turn the new behaviors into old habits.

One thing I really hope to do more of, and have been working on unsuccessfully for several years now, is to set aside time to read books. And if not physically read them, at least make use of the time I spend in my car or at the gym to listen to them. I used to consume several books a week on summer breaks from school, and even kept up the habit in the working years between college and graduate school. I think it was the combination of graduate school and home internet access that broke the habit.

Last year, I chose twelve books that I planned to read. I made it through six, finished one a day into 2012, and gave up on another. Here’s the list of books read, with links to my reviews on GoodReads:

When I made the original list, it was a mix of books I’ve wanted to read but didn’t own and books that I owned and hadn’t read yet. I thought maybe the list would make me more focused, and only 12 in one year seemed doable. In fact, I read 17 books total last year, just not all of the ones I told myself I would read. About four of the books I read were ones I found in audio format at my local public library, and they were my road trip companions for the Thanksgiving and Christmas pilgrimages to Ohio.

Ultimately, what it came down to, was a mix of feeling like the list of 12 were more like school assignments and less like something I would choose to read, even though I did choose to read them and no one but myself “assigned” them. It was an interesting experiment, but this year I’ve decided to just make the time to read, and leave the material selection up to whatever I’m feeling like or have recently discovered.

Maybe all this resolution making and breaking is a good thing in the long run. Maybe it teaches me more about how my brain works and how to trick myself into making better decisions. Or maybe I just need to turn off the computer and pick up a book.

tweaking my workflow

Over the past year, I’ve become a Lifehacker fanatic. I read the site regularly, and sometimes I even use it as a reward for finishing some unpleasant task. While I don’t do every lifehack suggested or install every app suggested, I have been making incremental changes in the way I approach things. Here are a few:

  • Earlier this year, I used HabitForge to get into a routine of going to bed by 11pm and getting up at 6am, which I’ve mostly continued to do. I’ve not done so well at the other routine of eating breakfast at home, but that is partially due to not being dilligent about having breakfast items on hand (i.e. I’ve been out of milk for almost a week now and I still haven’t remembered to pick up some when I had the chance).
  • Numerous ideas of how to process/manage email and tasks have led to my current system that is a hybrid of flags and search filters in Outlook, and the daily planning that defines my dayjob workflow.
  • I have a growing collection of DIY gift ideas for next Christmas, should my family decide to go the “make it yourself” gift route again. I’ll be better prepared this time.

I’m certain there are more things I could point out, but all I can remember right now are the relatively new ones. Everything else has either fallen away or has become so integrated that I don’t remember why or when I started doing it.

One more thing: I’m regularly inspired to clean my physical desktop when I see yet another need and cleverly organized featured workspace.

reviews on blogcritics: december

Things I reviewed in December.

December was a busy month for me, which left me little time to do much reviewing. I had hoped to get quite a bit done over the holidays, but instead I relaxed with friends and family. I think it was worth it, but it means working a bit harder in January.

A Princeton Christmas: For The Children Of Africa, Vol. 1 & 2

If you’ve heard a country version of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” one too many times this season, or if any other rendition of “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” performed by your grade school child/sibling/cousin/whatever will push you over the edge, then I suggest you pick up either or both volumes of A Princeton Christmas: For The Children Of Africa. With the selections of classic and classical Christmas songs performed by musicians who care more about the music than about cashing in on the season, these are Christmas albums worth owning.

Smart Blonde: Dolly Parton by Stephen Miller

In addition to the fairly comprehensive 60-year overview of Parton’s life, the book contains a selective discography, source notes, a bibliography, and an index – all useful tools for researchers. I particularly enjoyed looking at the 16 pages of plates of photographs of Parton at various points in her life. Unfortunately, only the most dedicated fans are likely to read the book from cover to cover.

#11

Although I am working my way through a book to be reviewed for Blogcritics, I forgot to bring it home with me this weekend, so I decided to pick up one of the books high up on Mt. TBR.

Anne & Todd McCaffrey’s Dragon Harper is a book a received for Christmas. I have been a fan of the Dragonriders of Pern series ever since a friend introduced me to them when I was in high school, and this is the first time I have not read one of the books cover-to-cover on the night I brought home a copy. Mainly, this is because I had so many lined up that I needed to read for review that I felt guilty about spending time on reading for pleasure alone. I will make sure that doesn’t happen again.

There are a few references to characters and events from both Dragon’s Kin and Dragon’s Fire, and since I don’t recall much of the latter, I’m beginning to suspect I may have missed reading that one, too. Regardless, once those connections are made and all the key characters are introduced, this book easily stands on its own with its own tale to tell. If you aren’t already familiar with Pern, you might get a bit lost in the cultures, titles, and terms. This isn’t a good book to start with, but it certainly is a fine addition to the series.

One thing that is noticeably different about this book compared to others in this series is that the authors have narrowed the range of individuals involved in the story, and have done a better job of making the names more distinct. The last few Pern books have had so many key characters doing all sorts of things that I felt like I needed cheater notes just to keep track of who’s who. I did not feel that way with this book, and I hope that future books will also have this balance and clarity.

carbonized vegetable matter

My review of Kathy Mattea’s new album Coal has been published on Blogcritics. I’ve been listening to it (and enjoying it) for a couple of weeks, but it wasn’t until I sat down to write about it that I realized how depressing these songs can be, particularly all at once. When I listen to music, it’s usually as a secondary activity while focusing on something else, and my primary concern is with enjoying the tune. It’s only when I make the music my primary focus that the words begin to sink in.

My introduction to Kathy Mattea was courtesy of my parents and their Christmas music collection, which included her album Good News. The music was what you might expect of a gospel-y Christmas album, but what caught my attention and has held it ever since is the beauty and power of her voice. Rich, warm, and expressive, it’s like an addictive drug that you keep coming back to for one more hit to stave off the pains of withdrawal.

#3

I picked up the graphic novel Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Space Between because I’m a fan of the series and because my favorite character, Tasha Yar, is on the cover. (Side note: For Christmas, some good friends of mine gave me a signed photo of Denise Crosby as Tasha Yar. It’s addressed to me and is probably the most thoughtful and unique gift I received this holiday season.) Also, I remembered reading something on Wil Wheaton’s blog about a script he wrote for Star Trek: The Manga, which is totally different, but when I was wandering Barnes & Noble, it seemed like a good idea to pick up this book.

This is a completely different animal from the Japanese manga, and is published by IDW. It’s a collection of good stories and beautiful drawings, but the finale that would tie everything together seems contrived and inconclusive. Will there be a follow-up? I don’t see any indication of that, which is disappointing.

battlestar galactica: the end

As much as I would like to, I cannot watch any more of the Battlestar Galactica episodes. On Sunday, over a week after I watched the miniseries, I finally was in the right mind frame to watch episode one. It was good, and not nearly as tension-filled as the miniseries, but I could not shake … Continue reading “battlestar galactica: the end”

As much as I would like to, I cannot watch any more of the Battlestar Galactica episodes. On Sunday, over a week after I watched the miniseries, I finally was in the right mind frame to watch episode one. It was good, and not nearly as tension-filled as the miniseries, but I could not shake the dread I felt at the thought of having to go through all twenty-three episodes of the first two seasons.

Ever since I was a young child, I have been easily frightened by visual images. I have overcome my fear of the Ghost of Christmas-Yet-To-Come; a fear that began around age six when I first saw Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. However, I still carry other visions that get the adrenaline pumping just from thinking about them. For fifteen years I had trouble using the toilet at night due to a scene from Stephen King’s IT that I stupidly attempted to watch. Even now the paranoia kicks in on occasion, and I have to remind myself that these things aren’t real and I’m safe.

So, you can see why I try to avoid watching scary movies or viewing disturbing images. These things stick with me for too long.

The trouble with Battlestar Galactica is that I am interested in the characters and the story arc. I want to know what happens, but the Cylon element is just too scary for me. Walking alone to my car on Sunday evening, I could almost imagine that a Cylon was right behind me with its red eye sliding back and forth. I knew then that I had to stop watching. It is just too much.

I have been very impressed with what I’ve seen of the series. I can see why folks like it so much. The future technologies seem much more realistic and related to current technology than those presented by Star Trek, for example. I just wish I could watch it, too. But, I know what’s best for me, so I’m stopping now. However, I do plan to read the episode summaries on the Battlestar Galactica wiki. Even though I won’t be watching any more, I still want to know what happens.

#11

If the Lord of the Rings movies hadn’t done so well, I doubt this book would have made it onto the New York Times best seller list, much less reach number one.

My sister gave me a copy of Eragon by Christopher Paolini for Christmas this past year, and last night I finally finished reading it. I’d picked it up a copy while at a friend’s house earlier this month and read the first few chapters, but then life got in the way of finishing it. Last night I decided to read a few more chapters before going to bed (early). Sigh. I finished it at one this morning, and I am still ticked with the author.

This book is a part of a series. At no point must you think that most of the mysteries will be revealed by the end; nor must you think that any conflicts will be resolved, either. Personally, I think it’s cruel to leave a cliffhanger at the end of 508 pages. This is yet another way that the author has poorly ripped off Tolkein. His depiction of Elven and Dwarf societies are very Tolkein-esque, his map of Alaga

sickness

For the past three days, I’ve been suffering with one of the worst viruses I’ve had in years. It’s not strep, although in some ways I wish it was because then I could get some drugs to kill it. Per the nurse’s instructions, I’ve been alternating between an acetaminophen with pseudoephedrine and ibuprofen every three … Continue reading “sickness”

For the past three days, I’ve been suffering with one of the worst viruses I’ve had in years. It’s not strep, although in some ways I wish it was because then I could get some drugs to kill it. Per the nurse’s instructions, I’ve been alternating between an acetaminophen with pseudoephedrine and ibuprofen every three hours, and it’s made the symptoms manageable.

This is the second time in the past year that I have been so sick I’ve spent at least three days home from work, and it would have been a third if my last illness hadn’t occurred while I was on vacation at Christmas. Since I moved to Washington in September 2004, I’ve had various minor virus infections in addition to the three major ones that have knocked me out this year. Is it the new location? Am I just getting all of the viruses that are native to the area? I know I haven’t been eating as healthy as I should be, and I’ve put on about fifteen pounds since the summer of 2004. Could my obesity be contributing to my weakened immune system?

These are the things I have been contemplating while sitting on the couch trying to entertain myself with DVDs and online browsing for the past few days.