30 October 2010

About Those E-Readers

I want an e-reader.  Desperately.  Enough to make what is, for me, a large financial commitment for a relatively new device and to continue that commitment with future purchasing.  This is a device I would use constantly, researching, reading for school, and feeding my insatiable sci-fi/fantasy habit.  So why don't I own one yet?

Over the years, with an increasing understanding of finances, I have come to be frugally minded.  I track where every dollar of our money goes.  Later this morning, I'll be doing the weekly accounting as well as setting up the few bills for November that are not on auto-payment.  But this emphasis on the value of money leads me to an interesting mindset: I believe very strongly in buying the things you want.  No, really!

The worst purchases I have ever made are, without a doubt, the ones where I compromised quality for cost.  Not because they were a bad decision or didn't meet the criteria I had set out, but rather because I hated them.  Hated that they represented my inability to obtain what I wanted.  Every time I look at a purchase like that, I think about the compromise I made and what I gave up, rather than the value that I added or how much I like the product.  As my favorite personal finance blog says, money is mental and emotional as much as it is rational.

Hence, my husband and I have a strategy for managing the emotional side of money: buy what you want.  I'm not saying go impulse spend or go into debt, but save the money for the product you want, not the one that's 50% of the cost for 75% of the features (technically a better value but not satisfying!).  This is the same reason that we own and use our 27" CRT television rather than buying a big screen TV.  We want one of the best on the market and we'll wait until we've saved the cash for it, rather than wasting money on an inferior product.

So back to those e-readers.  I was excited about Barnes & Noble's announcement of the NOOKcolor this week.  It seemed to be the e-reader I was waiting for.  After looking through the specs, however, it's not even close.  Here are my criteria in a rough order of precedence:
  1. E-ink screen, not LCD.  I want to read in bright sunlight on car trips.
  2. Multiple file support, including .pdf, .doc, .docx, and .epub.  Others are a plus, but those 4 are required for my continual use.
  3. Color.  If I'm reading a .pdf for school, I need to see the definition on graphs.  Yes, there is a company out there that has developed a color e-ink screen; they're "in talks" with manufacturers.
  4. Note taking.  I'm creating an electronic commonplace book for myself and I need to be able to move quotes from books or articles to OneNote.
  5. Expandable storage.  I'm a book acquisition nut and one day I'm going to blow through the device's limit, especially with all the public domain books that are available for free.
  6. Easy to use.  This includes understandable menus and fast refresh rates for quick page changes.
  7. 3G.  Wi-fi is great, but if you want me to impulse buy books on a road trip, 3G is a must.
  8. Web-surfing.  I don't need to do extensive web searches, but access to an online dictionary, Facebook, Wikipedia, my blog, my email, and blogs I follow are a must.
  9. Other pluses: .mp3 player, long battery life, nifty accessories, ability to lend e-books.
It's really not much to ask, considering that all of these features are available on some e-reader device.  The problem?  They aren't available on the same device.  The Kindle misses #2, 3, 5, & some of 9.  The Nook misses #3, 6, & 8.  NOOKcolor misses #1, some of 9, & possibly 6.

I hope that some manufacturer wises up soon and realizes what could be done with an all-inclusive e-reader.  In any case, I'll be reserving my cash until MY e-reader appears.

25 October 2010

Catching Up

As I said last time I posted, I've had many topics I wanted to post about in the last week.  But fate in the form of training orders arrived today and, consequently, my week just became busier.  So instead of doing separate posts about each, I thought I'd post the links to articles I've read and let you enjoy them yourself.
  • Freakonomics: Pesticide Politics - The Freakonomics blog, by the authors of the bestselling book as well as other contributors, is one I follow and enjoy because of the wide array of topics and viewpoints presented.  This one discusses pesticide in produce and centers on a favorite topic of mine: the misappropriation of science to scare people who don't understand science.
  • Reason: Of Mice and Men - An interview with one of the scientists cited in the Freakonomics article.  It's older (1994) but a great source for insight into a true scientist's mind.
  • Wired: The Geek Syndrome - Wired is a magazine and online site for people who revel in technology and science.  I often find informative and largely unbiased articles on a variety of topics contained within.  This article, also a little older (2001), is about the increasing prevalence of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) diagnosed in the children of geeks.  It describes Asperger's syndrome extremely well, so it's worth reading just for that, but it's more interesting when you consider that recent studies show that ASDs are increasing across the country, which was not known in 2001.  One day we're going to understand autism spectrum disorders better and we're going to look at our society as a whole and say "Duh.  Of course it's that way.".
  • Wired: Autism-Spectrum Quotient - I include this even though it's not an article because anyone who is interested in personality dynamics will find it interesting.  It's a 50 question test designed to look for autism tendencies in persons of normal or above-average intelligence, i.e. to locate potential high-functioning autism or Asperger's syndrome cases that may go unnoticed because of overall smarts and coping abilities.  I wasn't surprised by my own score... were you?
  • TEDTalks: Temple Grandin - (19:44) Speaking of autism, one of the world's most famous autistic persons is Temple Grandin (there was a movie made recently about her that you can find on TV occasionally).  This is a speech by her about the need for all types of thinkers.
  • TEDTalks: Steven Pinker - (22:39) Pinker has a couple of books out that I already wanted to read; after listening to this talk, they're going on my Christmas list.  If you've read Freakonomics or its sequel, SuperFreakonomics, you'll very much enjoy this talk about the brain and its characteristics.
There was more, but that's probably enough link-spam for one day.  Enjoy!

    22 October 2010

    Brain Survey

    When it rains, it pours... I went from being solidly bored most of last week to freakishly busy in a hurry.  We're in Atlanta (traveling blog!) for a friend's wedding this weekend.  Somehow that compressed my week into one frantic day after another and it's not going to quit till some time next week... maybe the week after.  Ugh.

    All of that to say that I've had a number of topics I wanted to blog on in the last few days that I haven't had time to formulate into decent posts.  So here's a highlight of my brain over the last week:
    • Homework - I'm half way through my 2nd class, doing really well, just staying busy.  This class requires reading and responding to a case study every week, the shortest of which was over 80 pages. This week's is 137 pages and I should be reading it instead of blogging!
    • Trip Preparation - A 3 day trip is tricky because you do all the prep work of a longer trip without the payoff.  Plus, pretty much every second of this weekend is booked, which I hate; I was looking forward to some down time while we're away.
    • Craft projects - Namely, the gift for my friend whose wedding we'll be at tomorrow.  Unfortunately, it's not going to be ready in time.  I worked on it all the way up here today (6+ hours of work) and I'm still at least 8 hours away from completion.  Is putting a picture of a not-quite-done project in the card a faux pas?  On the plus side, the Yankee capes for the dogs seemed to have worked out.  Which brings me to...
    • Yankees - Who are playing for the American League Championship this week.  They fell behind 3-1 but gained some ground (post-dog capes) and are 3-2 tonight.  Championships are stressful in our house.  Hopefully they'll win tonight and tomorrow and go on to the World Series.  And then in two weeks I can finally watch a normal TV show!
    • Dress shopping - My husband finally talked me into getting a new dress for this wedding, so we went shopping today to find one.  Five shops to find a dress, three of which didn't have a single long dress.  Not one... apparently cocktail length is in this year.  Finally found one we both liked, a little more expensive than I intended.  If I get the use out of it that I got from my last one, that'll be fine.
    • Haircut - After threatening it for months, I'm finally having my hair chopped off tomorrow.  I can't wait!  Pictures to follow shortly.
    • Thanksgiving - Which, if you hadn't noticed, is approaching at a velocity around Mach 1.  Actually, I was making quiche last night and there was a little dough left over.  It reminded me of my sister; when we were kids, she would use the leftover dough to make a little center piece for the pie.  Our mom would throw it on the pie for the last few minutes of baking.  I hadn't thought of that in years.
    • Christmas - If Thanksgiving is coming up at Mach 1, Christmas is moving at something close to c.  My wish list is almost done, but normally by this time of the year I've started picking out gifts for my family. Not even close this year.  At least the Christmas budget is completed.
    I promise a more interesting post soon.  I found two articles on pesticides and the misappropriation of science that I wanted to comment on, so that's probably next.  Hope everyone has a great weekend!

    20 October 2010

    Yankee Beagles

    If you've ever met my husband, you know he's a Yankees fan.  Actually, maybe even if you haven't met him... his fandom is that strong.  Since the Yankees are on a bit of a dive this week (as in, 3-1 against in a 7 game playoff series) I decided to finish this project.  And by "finish" I mean "do" because even though I've had the material for over a year, I hadn't actually cut anything out before today.  Take a look:
    Yankee capes
    These are little capes for the dogs.  Those of you familiar with my Facebook page know that a couple years ago I made some bandannas for the dogs which have our football teams on them.  Specifically, they are reversible so the dogs can "cheer" for either the NY Giants or the SF 49ers (guess who cheers for which team?).  George has wanted some similar doggy gear for the Yankees, so today he gets his wish.  And they only took an hour to do!
    Close up
    I'm not sure why I cared enough about dog gear to really work on those straps... they were the hardest part with all the turning inside out.  Other than that, the cape material is fleece, so not much sewing is required.  Very easy!  And hopefully they'll bring some luck to the Yankees tonight!

    Further dog-modeling pictures are likely coming soon.

    15 October 2010

    New Blanket

    I went on a bit of a creativity spree yesterday and worked on a couple of lapsed projects.  I was going to take pictures of the dog blanket that I finished last night, but I encountered a problem:

    I thought the pictures could wait and I intended to try again this morning.  This was the result:

    I guess I must have done alright.

    14 October 2010

    Forget Baby Mozart... try The Chieftains

    I find connections in odd things.  I often think that if I have any unique talent, it's pattern recognition (and possibly an above average memory).  For instance...

    In one of the more brilliant musical combinations ever produced, the Chieftains and Nickel Creek do a mind-blowing version of "Raggle Taggle Gypsy" on The Chieftain's CD Further Down the Old Plank Road.  I dare you to sit still while listening to this song.  And the great thing is that this song is such a great representation of Myers-Briggs Personality Types.  No, really!
    • The SJ's are the bass line... steady, reliably on beat, a small number of notes, rarely (but occasionally!) caught up in the emotion of the story, only changing speed or pitch when the complete music demands it.
    • The SP's are the flute, the pipes... flirtatious, jumping in and out of the song, drawing the ear's attention, reliable in their unceasing movement.
    • The NF's are the melody, the vocals... the human story, the emotion, the commonality amongst the other parts.
    • The NT's are the mandolin... fast but (mostly) on beat, piquantly staccato, sometimes unnoticed, most notable when contrary to the rest of the music.
    Of course, that still leaves the fiddle and cello... assuming there's a cello right there at the beginning... it may be a second bass.  And maybe a lighter stringed instrument... a harp or a Tiompan.  Not sure, there's a lot going on in this song.  Every time I changed the equalizer settings, I heard something new.  Not a bad life metaphor... change your bias, observe a complex new world.

    I should note that in grand family tradition, I must have listened to the song over 20 times in a row while writing this post (my husband is thankful for headphones).  I'm still not tired of it.

    Also, iTunes has no equalizer setting for "bluegrass" or "folk".  Really, iTunes?  The best preset you can do is "acoustic"?

    12 October 2010

    Why We Need the Explorers

    This was just too beautiful not to post.  Brian Cox is a physicist who has a lovely way of explaining the wonder and magnificence in science.  This particular video is about the true value of science in response to government budget cuts of research and science programs.

    I watched many TED Talks today but this one hit home.  Enjoy.

    10 October 2010

    Scheduling Request

    I can't believe that I haven't posted in three days.  I spent most of a day this week watching TEDTalks which always yields something worth talking about.  In theory, I was doing research for a paper and although I found three videos I think will help in the future, I have to own up to having watched most of the videos out of sheer curiosity.

    Which actually leads me to an issue I'm having lately: scheduling my time.  I'd like to make a small change that would help organize my day (Pareto Principle, anyone?).  I think the change I need is when I wake up.

    I'm a night owl... I naturally fall asleep after 11 and get up after 8.  And that's perfectly fine, I get my full night's sleep.  The problem is that lately I'm falling asleep around 1 and getting up just before 10.  This creates a cascade failure of a day.  I skip breakfast because it's lunch time.  After lunch, I have to do all the repetitive housework tasks I was planning to do in the morning.  Once that's done, it's on to whatever has to be done for the day (i.e. bill paying, homework, spouses' club).  By the time my husband gets home, I've had no time for myself, half of what I needed to do isn't done, and it's already time to cook dinner!  I then try to squeeze in what family time I can get.  And of course, I spend my last hour or two reading to get some me-time, often staying up just a little later to finish a chapter or section.

    What I think I need is a long day to exhaust me and then a reason to get up on time the next morning... and the next... and the next (and also to make myself put the book down before 11, but a couple long days in a row will take care of that).  I had no problem getting up early for work a year ago and I think it's because when I woke up I felt like I was accountable to someone.  So what if I made a regular appointment with someone in the morning... say, walking at 7, every week day?

    It's the kind of elegant solution that appeals to me. It's simple and doesn't require time consuming preparation or costly equipment.  It's repeatable (studies show that 30 days of doing something makes it a habit and that it's better to repeat daily than less frequently).  I'm unlikely to skip out because I'm accountable to someone else and I have no excuse for other things I should be doing at 7.  Walking also helps me accomplish other goals: fitness, health, exercise for my dogs.  And best of all, it takes advantage of what I know about myself: that when I wake up early and regularly, I get more done, no extra scheduling or carrots/sticks needed.

    Need to exercise more?  Get up earlier like me?  Need help doing something? I'd be happy to reciprocate with being your accountability partner.  So who's up for daily morning walks?  

    07 October 2010

    The Way of Kings

    First I'd like to do a little dance to the tune "I'm done, I'm done, I'm done!"  Because The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson is, after all, a 1,007 page book.  Fortunately, it didn't feel that long, maybe more like 700 pages.  Which is still long, but not as long... more like two regular novels rather than three.

    The Way of Kings has three main characters: a general, a slave, and a scholar.  It has religions, magics, science, history, visions, thieves, aristocracy, soldiers, slaves, characters who know too much, characters who know too little, romance, treachery, battles, betrayal, and so many twists you'll see some and think you're safe (you're not).  I love the scholar, the heretic atheist Jasnah, and her apprentice, the questioning devout with an agenda Shallan.  They're a brilliantly written pair of women, particularly Jasnah, who strikes the perfect balance of surety and uncertainty that is present in scientific thinkers of all ages.

    This is a book that's obviously going to appeal to fantasy fans, especially those with a history of enjoying the epic fantasy sub genre (think door-stopper books).  But I have a small plea, if I may: Try it.  Yes, it's 1,007 pages.  Yes, it's full-blown high, epic fantasy.  Yes, it's the first of a ten(?) book series.  Yes, there are some made up words and odd names.  Despite all that, or perhaps because of the author's skill with those traits, it's a wonderful Story.  No fiction or mystery or romance author world-builds like this and it reveals something subtle about the way you and I perceive life.  Besides, if you don't like it, think of all the hassle you'll save yourself by not being able to buy the rest of the as yet unwritten, unpublished series!

    My more complete review can be found here on Goodreads (minor spoiler warning).

    04 October 2010

    Look Out the Window

    The view from my backyard this evening.
    Remember that first star you used to wish on as a kid?  The evening star?  This is it... only (and get ready to impress your kids/friends/unsuspecting strangers) it's not a star.  It's Venus!  Ta da!

    Go ahead, roll your eyes.  I know you knew but you have to admit... it's a cool picture.  My backyard rocks.

    Depending on the timing, Venus can conversely be the last "star" to disappear in the morning.  Historically, Pythagoras (yes, the triangles guy) is credited as the first to figure out that the morning and evening star were the same heavenly body.  Venus also has phases, just like the moon.  Galileo was the first to figure that out, courtesy of his improved telescope.  Today, you can see the phases with a pretty cheap telescope or even a pair of binoculars.  How cool is that?  And how crazy is it that I don't own either!?

    You can actually see Mercury with the unaided eye as well, but only if you have a fairly clear horizon (it's visible above the horizon just before sunrise and just after sunset) and then only for a few weeks a year.  To see another planet with the naked eye, check out the night sky after the crescent Moon rises on the 10th.  The red dot off of its bottom right quadrant is Mars.

    For stargazing tips, check out StarDate or better yet, Space.  

    One last astronomy geek out moment: this month is a great time to see my favorite constellation, the Pleiades cluster.  You've seen it before... it's the background image of this blog.

    Changing Seasons to Think Ahead

    It's Fall!  It's Fall!  It's Fall!

    Well, at least temporarily.  I'm sure Summer will rear its head one more time, but the weather for the last few days has been gorgeous.  In the mean time, I know it's fall because after I got up this morning, the dogs resumed their daily cold weather ritual of trotting downstairs and laying in the sun beam in the living room.  It's terribly cute, especially once it gets cold out and you can watch the dogs scoot as the sunbeam slowly precesses across the floor.

    Since I've been looking at my upcoming schedule for the last few days, I'm seriously in the mood for Christmas to be here.  We're already invited to 3 holiday events and there's December's book club to look forward to.  I was looking online this morning to find a local astronomy group for stargazing (unsuccessful, still looking) and stumbled across this little gem: a local Nutcracker show!  It's apparently put on by a non-profit ballet group on the gulf coast for one day in December.  No info on price, but the shows are Saturday the 4th, at 2 and 7 pm.  Who wants to go?!?

    Also, who wants to go to the symphony?

    02 October 2010

    September Book Club

    One of the true joys I have in being currently unemployed is that I've had time to not only pursue my own diverse reading, but to join a book club started by a friend of mine.  The ladies in the book club are an exceptionally interesting group and we always have fun meetings.  We even manage to discuss the book at least a quarter of the time!

    Last month we read Addition by Toni Jordan, a new Australian author.  We all enjoyed the book very much but the best part of the experience was, of course, the discussion.  The book's protagonist, Grace, suffers from OCD brought on by childhood trauma.  That led us into a discussion of what OCD-like tendencies we all have.  Our list included everything from hand-washing to eating food in even pairs to playing number games in our heads.  I play number games with digital clock readouts (which is pretty common) and, when I was a child, could calm myself by counting in multiples of 2.  2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64... I used to be able to get to 2^15 or beyond  before I actually had to start adding.

    So what about you?  Any slightly odd habits (that you're willing to share) lurking in your past or present?

    An Oddity of Being an Introvert

    I AM AN INTROVERT.  In our extraverted society, making that statement is akin to saying "Please excuse my asocial behavior.  I have a condition."  According to what I've read, introverts make up 20% - 25% of the population, maybe less.  So after an incredibly busy week, I intended to write a post about an introvert's perceptive differences, specifically how I coped with a socially-oriented week.

    But it occurs to me that before you can have a conversation about introverts, you need a very clear definition.  Like many psychology terms, "introvert" has entered the mainstream vernacular in a way which retains a kernel of the original meaning but has gained some extra, incorrect nuance.  My definition of introvert stems from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), based on Jung's personality typology.  So the introvert that I'm talking about is a person who:
    • prefers small groups or solitude to large groups
    • has a small, intimate group of friends (as opposed to a large group of acquaintances)
    • lives internally, rather than externally
    • expends energy in social situations and gains energy in being alone
    Perhaps more importantly, an introvert is not (necessarily) shy, quiet, non-articulate, or anti-social.  Most introverted adults develop coping mechanisms for the largely extraverted world and can appear socially engaged, especially to those who only see the introvert in social situations.  An introvert is also not averse to socializing or meeting new people, although they tend to avoid situations requiring lengthy contact with multiple strangers, preferring smaller gatherings of friends.  MBTI also posits that all people show a combination of tendencies.  Very simply put, an introvert can (and should!) act like an extrovert and vice versa, dependent on their personal energy levels and how good their coping mechanisms are.

    That's a long and terribly incomplete definition of introvert.  For more information about introverts and MBTI, an internet search engine will yield a plethora of results, some which are less reliable than others.  I would recommend the following:
    • TypeLogic (a website with good information about the 16 personality types, including a fun bit about who they are historically and fictionally.  I'm an INTJ, which I'll continue to post about.)
    • Socionics Types (a webpage that has a short, easy to understand comparison of extraverts and introverts)
    • Please Understand Me (a basic introduction, complete with MBTI test, but it's a bit NT-centric)
    • Please Understand Me II (further basics with some good information about interactions)
    • Gifts Differing (much more technical but also more complete; written by one of the women responsible for developing the theory)
    I'm breaking off the bit about my social week for another post.  The definition of an introvert alone is enough to chew over for the day, but let me leave off with an opinion: It's not socially acceptable to say yes to an invitation and then not hang out with people.  If an extravert is alone and suddenly needs company, she calls someone and goes out.  If an introvert is with a group and needs to be alone, can she suddenly say "I need to be by myself, see you later?"  I don't think our society is set up for that.  What would you all do?  Do my introverted friends have a way to deal with that situation?  Or do you have tells, ways to know that an outing will be too much?