Tuesday, October 31, 2006

10/7-8/2006 - History according to Bob

So here's the next installment of "stuff I like that you might, too." Today, my first podcast goes up: History according to Bob.

Bob has been a high school and college teacher and has those qualities that I liked best in my college professors. He is opinionated, does his own work and speaks with a care-free ease that suggests he lives and breathes history. He talks about whatever he wants and seems to have encyclopedic knowledge on just about everything.

This is one of only two podcasts that I actually listen to more-or-less daily (the other being a basketball podcast). In addition to having the qualities above, I also like the length, typically 8-12 minutes. For my 22 minute commute, it allows a full show + 1 other, just what I want.

Now that I have listened to quite a few of these, I am getting a sense for a downside of Bob. Although he talks about whatever he wants, a lot of what he wants to talk about is military history -- very much not my thing. One of the reasons I have stuck with him (there are other history podcasts) is that he manages to breath life into even this particular subject.

And if 50%+ of his material is military, I can say two more things for him. First, his military material is quite diverse. I have listened to lectures spanning, the Hun, Macedonia, The French-Indian war and WWI, to name but a few.

Second, the rest of his stuff lives up to the "whatever he wants" description. A small subset of his topics include ancient religions, oddities of royalty and a series on U.S. presidential elections (now that's what I'm talkin' about...)

Bob is generally the first podcast I listen to every morning and he's always a great start to the day.

26,000 historic steps over these 2 days. Cheers,

10/5-6/2006 - Like father, like son

With great delight, we are in the process of stepping up the level of books we read to our eldest.  While we used to be firmly in the "picture-book" phase (and he still enjoys a good picture book every now and now and now and now and again) we are increasingly reading him books where the plot is as crucial as the pictures.  With no pictures to look at, the boy has nothing else to do but look over my shoulder at the words.
Last night I was reading to him from "Mr. Popper's Penguins" when he stopped the narrative.
"Daddy?  Why are those numbers there?"
"It's an address, buddy.  You know, like our address."
People always asked me when I knew that I wanted to be an actuary.  In truth, the answer is sometime after I got my first job.  But I was probably destined to be one.  When I was a kid, I used to sit on my mother's lap while she read stories.
"What's that?!"
"The number 5, JG.  We're on page 5."

27,700 numerical steps today.  Cheers,

10/2-4/2006 - Austin, MN

So today I arrive at Austin, Minnesota, with the lovely url of:


And why does it merit this lovely url? Because spam, yes, spam, is associated with the town. For example, check out the Museum of Spam. "Just as every Elvis fan longs to visit Graceland, SPAM fans worldwide now have their own pilgrimage to make," as it's website proudly proclaims.

And who wouldn't want to go visit the 5-foot replica of a spam-burger, or see nearly 5,000 cans of spam from all over the world? At the museum, I learned that

  • spam (originally spiced ham) was invented in 1937.
  • In World War II it was used to feed soldiers, at least in Russia.
  • The 1,000,000,000th can was produced in 1959
  • In 1968, the word "spam" was said for the 1,000,000,000th time
  • In 1970, the word "spam" was said for the 1,000,000,000,000th time

Spam. It isn't just advertisers anymore.

36,000 steps over these 3 days. Cheers,

Cheers, cheers, cheers, cheers, cheers, (cheerity cheers, wonderful cheers)

Sunday, October 29, 2006

9/30-10/1/2006 - Evolution and Chess (redux)

One of my loyal readers (okay, my mom) pointed out that I read many blogs and listen to many podcasts, but almost none of them appear in my links. I have often enjoyed following links from blogs, so I'm a little embarassed not to have set this up properly on my blog. So, I will endeavor to update my links, introducing (or reintroducing) each as it goes up.

I'll start with the blog that was particularly of note: Chevolution. This blog is written by a friend of mine from high school with whom I have, unfortunately, lost touch. I found it one day when I was searching for a blog about the debate between Evolution and ID. It was the top hit.

Jason (who identifies himself on his blog) is a math professor at James Madison University (not one of my favorite presidents, but in the top 50%) and his blog is mostly about the debate. When he grows weary with it, his thoughts turn to math, chess, string theory or whatever.

He has a delightful (often scathing) style of writing and it's a good read. Warning: if you are a proponent of ID, or just don't like to see the movement bashed, this is not the link for you.

31,300 evolving steps over these 2 days. Ook.

9/27-29/2006 - Judge, MN

Here come da Judge!
Here come da Judge!
Here come da Judge!
Here come da Judge!

Well, Mapquest has done it to me once again. I thought that I was walking from Rochester, Minnesota to Judge, Minnesota. But when I look more closely at the map it provides (see second Judge above) I find that I have walked to the corner of 85th and 2nd in Rochester, about a quarter of a mile from Rochester International Airport (be sure to check out "The Wright Stuff" when you pass by).

This is not the first time I have identified a city in Mapquest and walked there only to find that the World Wide Web had no idea what I was talking about. A weird curiosity of mapquest. As a good rule of thumb, I recommend that you not walk to random cities on the advice of mapquest.

Incidentally, you can only imagine how easy it is to identify a lack of city by googling "Judge + Minnesota."

45,900 steps over these 3 days. Sock it to ME!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

9/25-26/2006 - Baby no more!

It is with nostalgic tears in my eyes that I take this occasion, more-or-less 1 year from his birth, to announce that our youngest has graduated from baby status. Henceforth, on this blog, and possibly on related blogs, he shall be known as The Toddler.

Being the quantitative fellow that I am, I am always looking for metrics to track my sons' development. With walking, I naturally counted "steps taken at once." At first, he would occasionally take a step to go from where he was to mummy's skirt. As he gained a little confidence, he would take 2 or 3 steps at a time. He really turned the corner (figuratively, not literally) 2 weeks ago at Grandma and Grandpa's place. While playing in the backyard I watched him take as many as 8 steps several times over the course of a 1-2 hour play session. The real difference here was that he could catch himself before falling and get back to neutral, so he could take another step or two.

Back in Boston, he's getting to the point where he'd rather walk than crawl. Yesterday, I watched him toddle his way across the living room and I realized that we were in a new world.

25 steps today! Hurrah!

15,400 toddling steps over these 2 days. Cheers,

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

9/22-24/2006 - Rochester, MN

If you expected to find Rochester in some other state, you're not alone. Rochester, MN was settled by, among others, a man named George Head, who felt that it reminded him of his home city, Rochester, NY.

Unlike some of the cities through which I have recently traveled, Rochester is substantial, driven by many of its larger institutions. The one that most caught my interest was the Mayo Clinic. I must admit that I have always associated the clinic with Arizona, and they do indeed have several facilities there, but they also have thousands of employees in Rochester.

For those that don't know it, the Mayo Clinic is a medical facility boasting almost 45,000 employees. They treat tens of thousands of patients every year, but what they are known for is their research.

I have run into the Clinic both professionally and personally. Among their many specialties, they do seem to focus on those diagnoses that are more uncertain to treat, like allergies and muscular skeletal disorders. In both of these cases, doctors are hampered by ambiguous tools and disagreements as to proper treatment.

As a patient, it can be very frustrating to ask questions to which all the answers are "I don't know." But it was not too long ago that many more diagnoses were characterized by such discussions, and research has brought more answers than most of us are prepared for. I cannot express my gratitude enough, that the Mayo Clinic is out there fighting the good fight.

43,000 healthy steps over these 3 days. Cheers,

Monday, October 16, 2006

9/20-21/2006 - Inaugurating the new season

To everything, there is a season.
Thank goodness this one is over.
On to more walking!

19,900 post-celebratory steps today.  Cheers,

Friday, October 13, 2006

9/18-19/2006 - Presidents!!

Well, the results are in: Of those who responded, 100% selected FDR as favorite president, but were evenly split between Reagan and Nixon as the second-least-favorite.
For a little extra mirth, please read the comments on the previous post...
I think that everyone should have a favorite and least-favorite presidents (and probably second-least-favorite, all things considering).  It helps one sort out the traits one admires, it helps focus future elections, and hey, it's fun.  I've mentioned before that my favorite president was the first one.  Readers of my blog are probably aware that my least-favorite is the current one.  What may surprise my readers is that my second-favorite president is Adams, my third favorite is Jefferson... just kidding.
It's hard to narrow Washington's contributions to the country to a handful of bullet points, but some of what effect my opinion were his wisdom (and moral fortitude) in stopping after two terms, his unclouded view of foreign relations, and his view of the dangers of partisanship.  His greatness is hidden beneath the surface, but manages to sneak through in so many small ways across his career, from his participation in the Continental Congress to his well executed retreats.
Bush?  I can respect that his goals are not always my goals; a President has a lot to think about and my priorities can't always come first.  What bothers me most about the past 6 years is the aura of untruthfulness that pervades them.  It's not that I can point to any impeachable offenses, but from "sexed up" evidence for WMD, to the no-bid contracts, from the willful ignoring of scientific findings, to the secret programs (and calls for freedom from oversight) and -- worst of all -- the muzzling of actuarial opinion, I really find it hard to ever trust motivations.  I can only hope that every future administration will inspire more trust than this one has.
Now, in all fairness, I'm sure that much of placing Bush at the bottom has to do with having lived through his administration.  Had I suffered through Pierce or Harding, might I have elevated Bush to the lofty "least favorite?"  Probably not.  But Pierce wins my second-least favorite by a nose.  I doubt that anyone could have held the union together in 1850s, but Pierce seems to have been singularly the wrong guy for the position.  Always described as "a decent enough fellow" and was probably fine as a senator, but he just wasn't a president.  Between the "Kansas-Nebraska act" and the "Ostend Manifesto" managed to alienate just about everyone in the country, but not in any way that helped them work out their differences.  Pierce eventually departed from public life on his way back to alcoholism.
15,200 nattering steps today.  Cheers,
(P.S. Where's 9/17?  That was the marathon which has already been pretty well blogged...  That also will help explain the really low footage over the next couple of days.)

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

9/15-16/2006 - Where in the world is J. G. Fellow?

Avid readers of my blog are probably aware that I am way behind in my posting of cities (moreso than the near 1-month lag in blog dates suggests).  As a result, said avid readers may be curious as to where I "really" am.  I am happy to report that I have arrived at Mount Rushmore and am knocking at the gates of Wyoming.  A quick glance at the map on my wall shows me that I have traversed more than half of the continental U.S. in the past 11 months.  I've walked more than 4.5M steps, more than 2,300 miles, but I have plenty of work ahead of me.
I have more than three million more steps to take here in the U.S. before I cross back into Canada (British Columbia).  Once there I get 1.2 million steps good behavior before I find myself in a veritable zone of non-humanity.  Another 2.6 million steps will take me to the first of my national wildlife preserves (Kluane).  And then I will get to indulge in 2 million steps of reserved wildlife before turning myself in at Anchorage.
But enough about the future.  Whilst I dawdle beneath the chiseled features of men whom I admire, I get to consider one of my favorite subjects -- Presidents.  I'll write more about this once I actually get to the point where I am posting South Dakota, but for the mean time, let me ask you, dear readers:
  • Who was your favorite President?
  • Who was your second least favorite President (after Bush or Clinton, depending on the color of your state...)
  • What drew you towards or away?
24,000 contemplative steps over these 2 days.  Cheers,

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

9/13-14/2006 - So long, old friend

With a heavy heart, we cancelled our subscription to TiVo today.  We were among the first customers and TiVo has been very good to us.  I actually had to talk the Wife into it.  At the time, TiVo was advertised as a tool to allow you to pause the game so you could check on the crying baby.  Wife rolled her eyes and said "look, it's your toy, if you want to try it, go ahead."  What we didn't really understand was the wonder of recording shows automatically and saving them for later.  Wife, who has always had a chaotic schedule, suddenly had the ability to watch several shows she had never watched before.  When, 2 years later, they increased our monthly service fee by a dollar or two, she ordered
"Pay the man!"
Flash forward another 5-6 years and we are cancelling.  We have recently decided not to continue to have TV service in our house, and TiVo serves little purpose in such case.  In this day and age of diminishing customer service, I didn't expect much from the call.  I was pleasantly surprised.  My service representative was shocked at our cancellation: 
"You've been with us forever!  What makes you want to cancel now?"
I explained and she was understanding.  She tried to offer me 2 free months, but realized how little that did me and quickly took care of business.
If we ever return to the world of television watchers, TiVo won't be too far behind, but for now, it was what we had to do.
30,000 asynchronous steps today.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

9/10-12/2006 - Saint Charles, MN

And now for my first stop in Minnesota -- Saint Charles. This sleepy city of 3,300 boasts a few special events, such as the Winona County State Fair and Gladiolis Day. Further, if you manage to build hotels here, in Virginia and "States," you might net $750.

38,900 steps (I want to be the boot!) over these 3 days. Cheers,