My Favorite Podcasts for the Background

When I’m at work, I concentrate better when I have some background noise. It helps the tedious tasks go faster, and I feel like having something to tune out helps me focus on what I’m looking at more. My work environment isn’t all that noisy, so I bring podcasts with me when I go to work. There are no commercials, like when listening to radio, and I can pick what programs to listen to based on my mood. My workplace also blocks online radio, so music-wise, I’m limited to what I can fit on my player, and that can get boring sometimes.

Here are some of the podcasts that help me get through the workday (in alphabetical order).  You’re best off googling the title to get the best source for whatever your podcast downloading program is, which is why I haven’t included links.

All Songs Considered: A song sampling podcast. Features lots of different artists, so I’ll always hear something new. They tend to pick non-top 40 artists, which is great for me, as I’ve felt like the charts have homogenized lately. Updates weekly.

American Radioworks: The name of this show is deceiving. It’s actually about education. I may not be in academia anymore, but I like to pay attention to it. This show isn’t always using the most recent news stories, just stories that are interesting and related to education. It covers K through college topics, so anything goes. Updates weekly.

Ask Me Another: A quiz show from NPR featuring puzzles and a bit of music. They have a guest every week. It’s very similar to Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me (below), but the puzzles could be about anything, not just the news. Also has more of a trivia aspect than the Sunday Puzzle (below). Updates weekly.

BBC World Update – Daily Commute: A morning news summary from the BBC. I love the BBC because compared to most American news sources, they are truly neutral about U.S. news. They have a bias, of course, but it’s a bias that is very easy to spot, and doesn’t bother me. They also tend to focus on international news more than American news sources. The show normally focuses on two to three stories, and reads headlines in between. Updates weekdays plus an extra on the weekend.

Fresh Air: This show feels like mostly a pop culture show; they interview authors, musicians, film-makers, etc. Most of the time the interview is just about their work, or their influences, or their history. Not a lot of opinions to be dramatic about. Tends to feature lots of clips or examples of the works. Updates weekdays with a “highlights” episode on the weekend.

JapanesePod101: I actually have a minor in Japanese. I haven’t used much Japanese since then, but I try to at least make sure I’m listening to a little bit of this. This podcast features a short (roughly 10-15 minutes) lesson, normally using a conversation. They include a translation in the lesson, and put a transcript in the lyrics of the mp3 file. There’s an associated website (which I haven’t used because it requires a subscription for serious use), and other languages. If I ever decide to learn Polish, I’ve decided that I’ll try this first. Updates weekdays with an extra “news” (i.e. advertisement) segment on Sundays.

NPR Story of the Day: It may seem like I listen to a lot of podcasts, but even I don’t like to have to juggle too many episodes. All Things Considered and Morning Edition are actually really interesting news programs, but to get them in podcast form would require downloading a lot of episodes each day. Updates daily.

NPR Sunday Puzzle: A quick game, normally a word based one since it’s hosted by the guy who makes the crossword puzzles for the New York Times. Not as fun as some of the other posted shows, but it at least gets the brain thinking in a different way. Updates weekly.

Snap Judgment: Stories on a theme, with added sound effects and music. Similar to This American Life (below), but with a little more rhythm. Also, doesn’t follow a three act formula; some of the stories are only a couple minutes long. Updates weekly.

Splendid Table: A show about people who like to talk about food and think about food. It’s almost like something that would be on Food Network, but on the radio. Relies on their website if you want to get recipes, but what cooking show doesn’t? Updates weekly.

Tell Me More: A mixed news show, with interviews and round tables on various topics. It often leans toward current events, especially politics, typically with a focus on issues related to diversity. Since it’s NPR, they have to present a neutral view, of course, but it’s one of the few U.S. news sources I can listen to without head-desking. Updates on weekdays.

This American Life: A show with stories on a theme. Normally done in 3 parts. Updates weekly.

Thistle and Shamrock: A collection of celtic music from NPR. I actually used to listen to this on my local NPR station back home, but the one here in Oklahoma doesn’t seem to carry it. Thankfully, there are podcasts. Unlike All Songs Considered (above), there is very little talking about the actual music. They tend to just let it play. Updates weekly.

Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me: A quiz show based on the news. Lots of repeating gags, and tends to include an interview. Humorous way to keep up with current events. For me, it’s heartening when I get all the questions right, because it makes me feel like I haven’t fallen out of touch, despite not having cable. Updates weekly.

You Bet Your Garden: A show about gardening. Full of lots of tips and tricks for fruits, vegetables, and ornamental plants. The format is that of a call-in style show, with an interview sometimes and a question of the week. It mostly focuses on in the ground gardens, which isn’t super applicable to me right now, but may be in the future. Updates weekly.

Blog Roll and Feedly

So, I was originally inspired to start blogging because I read so many blogs. It’s kind of strange to me now. I have moments where I’m like “Nobody reads this, and I often have huge breaks between posts. I don’t even come up with my own recipes half the time! What on earth do I think I’m contributing to the Internet by writing this stuff?”

Then I remember how excited I get when I’m trying a new recipe, and figuring out the best way to plate it for a pretty photo, and how I found this new cool thing I want to share, and look at what my garden is doing, and—*gasp for air*. Yeah. But I had to start somewhere, and the somewhere that I started at was reading other blogs. I started with bento-related blogs, as I was just starting to bento, and I was a bit of an otaku back then. From there I moved to regular food blogs, fashion blogs, gardening blogs, and more.

If you’d like to see what I read, you can check out my blog roll on the right. It doesn’t have everything I read (I read blogs written by friends that I’m not sure they’d be comfortable with me sharing), but a lot of my favorites are in there.

Now, something that’s been going around the internet lately is the news that Google is closing the doors on Google Reader, their RSS aggregator. This was the way that I’d read my chosen blogs for many years, and so I had to find a new way to read them. If you also use Google Reader, I recommend checking out this Lifehacker post. They have some great suggestions for other readers. The one I’ve chosen to go with is Feedly. It’s actually a Chrome extension, but since all my copies of Chrome are synced through my Google account, it works just fine for me. I like that I can group the categories, and I LOVE the magazine view. (Before you make fun of me, I never wanted to take the time to dissect the Google Reader settings.)

Another thing that I really love about Feedly is that since it syncs through my Google account, I can also use the mobile app on my Android phone.  What I like to do at home is go through the posts and clip things I like or want to remember to Evernote.  If I’m using Feedly on my phone, I can mark certain items as “Save for Later” and then do the clipping at home. (The Evernote app for Android is cool too, but they don’t really clip well together.)

If you’re looking for a new RSS feeder to replace Google Reader, or you’re just getting started in the world of collecting blogs (seriously, it becomes an addiction after a while!), I recommend giving Feedly a try.

2013 Personal Productivity Method

Sometime before the start of the year, I decided to reevaluate my productivity methods. I was still running on a modified version of GTD when I started my job, and while GTD was great for grad school, at work I use a different method. There’s a task list built into Outlook, and I make other to-do lists by hand. It’s very rare that I’m working on more than one big project at once, and the projects I have had so far are pretty linear in nature. A lot of productivity methods would just be over-thinking it. After all, if I’m already being productive (and I’m happy with how productive I’m being) then I don’t need to change the method, right?

At home is a different situation. I started my new job in May, but a lot of things haven’t gotten done at home the way I’ve wanted them to. I’ve passed off a lot of the home maintenance to Andrew (he’s still a grad student with a flexible schedule), and I haven’t touched my personal projects in months. Andrew started looking for a job earlier this month, so I needed to get my butt in gear and try to be more proactive at home.

Part of my problem is that I often try to juggle too many tasks at once. I guess because they were all side projects, I’d just pick them up and drop them when I couldn’t manage them anymore. And I had a never-ending list of them. To tackle this, I brought the list down a little bit by getting rid of a bunch of things that I’ll never get to. Will I ever take the time to learn how to properly work with watercolors? Probably not. I’d rather focus on my sketching, or Chinese brush painting. So, I can get rid of the supplies I’ve been hoarding for that eventual “someday”.

The second thing I did was start a Kanban, with some modifications. Kanban starts from the very simple idea of having a visualization of where you are in your process, and limiting the number of things that you are working on at any given time. The simplest Kanban has a “To Do”, “Doing”, and “Done” columns. It can be more elaborate depending on your process. Here’s a sample from mine.

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I have a separate board for my blog posts, and I keep my huge backlog of project ideas in Evernote. My “Ready” column represents things that I could start after getting a little bit of prep done (acquiring supplies, etc.). My “Set” column is for projects that could be started as soon as I finish one of the ones I’m working on. No more prep is necessary. “In Progress” and “Done” should both be obvious. I limit myself to 5 tasks: 2 large multi-step projects, and 3 smaller things that just require a reminder on my part. For example, “Organizing my music collection” would be a big project. I have to sort the music, make sure all the tags are good, find artwork, rip any new CDs I’ve acquired, check for new albums from my favorite artists…you get the idea. However, “Reset iPod for gifting” isn’t a huge project. (I gave a friend my old iPod, as it still worked and she had been complaining about her mp3 player.) When it comes time to work on a project, I set a timer, Pomodoro style, and get to work.

I don’t use the Kanban for everything. I need to remember to take some books back to the library? I put that in my calendar task list on my phone. I have a widget so I see the list almost every time I turn on my phone. Appointments and other time-sensitive things are the same way. They go in the calendar.

The last bit is trying to form daily habits. With Andrew around, I wouldn’t meal plan, or pick up the laundry, or make a real dinner, or…well, a lot really. Once something is a habit, of course it sticks, but it takes a long time to make something a habit, and I’m really bad about change. So I got an app called TASK:LIFE on my Android mp3 player, and it gives me a little reminder and scores me on how well I’m keeping to my habits. It’s quite versatile, as it can handle things like “Exercise 4 times per week” that aren’t quite daily, but would be regular tasks. Maybe I should put “Have a spa day once a week” in there. Hm.

In any case, I still keep some elements of GTD around. I try to empty my inbox every day, and use a trigger list to come up with any to-dos I might have forgotten. I also try to do quick things (e.g. pay rent) right away, and if it’s not quick, I add it to where it belongs in the process above.

What’s your productivity method? Do you do a mix like I do, or are you a one-method only person?

2013 Resolutions

Ah, yes. I’d almost forgotten it was New Year’s. There’s something horribly depressing about looking back on the past year, and saying “Man, I didn’t do anything.” Which is why I’m not doing that. I may not have done my resolutions, but I did a lot of things last year.

Things like:

  • Got Married (twice! The legal paperwork, and then a nice ceremony later)
  • Decided not to stay in grad school (link)
  • Got a new job (link)
  • Bought a car
  • Started saving for retirement and paying off student loans (thanks to aforementioned job)
  • Continued learning about Real Food
  • Started working out regularly again
  • Attempted a garden again (and learned from it, even if I didn’t get much out of it)
  • Blogged regularly for a whole month!
  • Chipping away at the reading, recipe, and craft project lists.

That’s a lot for only one year.

This coming year, now that I’m settled into my job a little better, should be good for a lot of the goals that I didn’t finish. (It’s amazing how many little pockets of time you find when you don’t have homework or papers to write or research!) As before, I’m going to have a few yearlong goals, and then some goals that will be spread out throughout the year. This is healthier in the long run because it keeps you from trying to change 12 things at once and then failing.

Yearlong Goals

  • Zazen for at least 15 minutes every day. I’ve been trying to get a meditation habit going, but I’ve been afraid that it will make me fall asleep in the morning or late at night, and on my previous schedule, when I came home from work. Now I get home from work a bit earlier, and so not as tired.
  • Lose weight. Previous years, I’ve said I want to lose 50 pounds. That would bring me back to about high school weight. I’m still going to try for that, so I’m really going to focus on cleaning up my diet and adding in more exercise. My workplace has bonuses for things like this, so that’s an added incentive.
  • Real Food lessons. I’m still subscribed to my online class, so I’d like to focus on finishing it out, and making more real changes. A tentative idea is to do one big real food project once per week.

Sectioned Goals

  • Socialize with Friends. I’m a bit of a lurker on Facebook and other media, and I haven’t done a lot of in person get-togethers with people. I’ve been a hermit in grad school, and I’m an introvert, so socializing takes active effort on my part. So I’d like to really try to make that effort. Ideas: tea parties, google hangouts, and game nights. My birthday is in January, so that makes for lots of great excuses for getting together. Also, think of ways to hang out with friends that don’t have to involve food. You can’t use going out for dinner as your only way of hanging out.
  • Crafting projects. I’ve got an ever growing pile of ideas and projects I’d like to do, but I haven’t gotten to them. I’d like to carve out at least an hour per week to work on a side project like this. I plan to devote most of the warm weather months to this (in Oklahoma that means about April to October).
  • Piano. I have an electric piano that’s just collecting dust. I took lessons once upon a time. But I haven’t devoted serious practice time since I graduated undergrad. In the late fall, I’ll start practicing for the Christmas season, since I have several books of Christmas carols in varying difficulties.

Of course, there are lots of little goals too. I’ve realized that a lot of my projects aren’t things that I’m excited to do, they’re just things that I thought would be neat to do. I can Craigslist those and pass them on to someone else. I’ve really been focusing on decluttering the house, as I grew up in a house of packrats. These days I’m more inclined to throw something I’m not using out than keep it. Little things that one would think are no-brainers, except they’re the first things to go when you’re in grad school and feeling like you’re rushed all the time.

What did you accomplish last year? What did you learn? How are you going to apply that to this year’s goals?

Update on Life

I haven’t been posting a lot lately.  I would apologize, but life’s been pretty busy.  I’ve been doing a lot of paperwork in prep for my new job, and just doing my daily routines.  I will be getting some new posts up in the near future.  I do have a lot to post about, especially as we get closer to the end of the semester.  My garden’s been planted, I’ve been trying new recipes, and I’m planning to do a complete fashion makeover in the weeks before my new job.  Switching from academia to industry is going to be a tough transition, but I’ll be sure to keep you all aware of what’s going on as much as I can.

2012 New Year’s Resolutions

Well, the end of 2011 is near, and that means time for New Year’s Resolutions.  This past year has been half productive and half not.  This last semester was particularly bad.  I’m beginning to feel burnout, after having been in school for 9 years (after high school) straight.  I’ve convinced myself to give it one more semester before I call it quits or not.  I currently have a pretty sweet situation, and having to look for a job is not something I want to think about right now.  It’s a complicated dilemma, because I’ve already invested a lot of time, but I never really wanted a Ph.D. or to do research anyway.

So that’s one resolution, I suppose.  To give this next semester a good strong go for my research.  But I don’t really count that.  This year I’ve decided to do two sets of resolutions, a year-long set, and a set that I’ll work on every few months, similar to what I did this past year.  So, here we go:

Year-Long Resolutions

  • Get down to 125 pounds – This goal has been off and on for the better part of my twenties.  I ignored it last year in favor of trying to eat healthier, and it seems my weight has stabilized at about 175.  However, that’s still overweight, and so I’m giving myself a whole year to try to lose the weight.  I’m using an iOS app called Fatwatch.  It’s a neat little program; instead of you dealing with the ups and downs of individual daily weights, it looks at an overall trend, and tells you how many calories you are over what you need to maintain and also how many calories you need to cut to stay on track with your goal.  It also has a built in “mini” exercise program, meant to be done in 15 minutes.  It’s based on the Hacker’s Diet, a book written by a programmer on how he lost weight.  He basically espouses a calorie counting, calorie restriction only diet, which I’m not interested in.  But I did like the idea of the trend line, and using your daily weights to help calculate if you’re maintaining, gaining, or losing weight.  The maintaining part is particularly important, because I don’t want to yo-yo.   The 125 number is based on being in the middle of the “healthy” weight range based on BMI (which I think is bunk in most cases), and I don’t know if I’ll actually reach it, but we’ll see how far I get.
  • Continue to follow the Real Food Lessons – I’ve still been following the lessons on GNOWFGLINS, albeit slowly.  I still think they’re a great learning tool and a great learning experience for me.  In fact, Wardeh is having a free webinar on how to transition to eating Real Food.  I’ve already registered.  I’m going to keep working through the lessons throughout the year, and hopefully slowly integrate them as habits.
  • Zazen – During Ango, I was great at first about doing zazen every day.  Toward the end I trailed off, and then I tried a two-day retreat in December.  I didn’t get through the whole two days, but it is important to my spiritual practice that I develop this habit.

Tri-Monthly Goals

  • Fashion Makeover – I recently purchased a mini-makeover pdf from Sally at Already Pretty.  I’ve been unhappy with my fashion/style for a while now, and while I’ve done a couple closet purges, I still don’t feel like I have a cohesive style.  It feels like it jumps around from super casual to super formal.  I’d like to get it a little more together, especially if I might be looking for jobs in the not so near future.
  • Crafting – This was a goal last year that didn’t happen.  While I need to do some crafting in the first three months for my juggling club, those aren’t personal projects.  I’m hoping to work on carving out some time for this, as I have a lot of hobbies.
  • Piano – This is another goal from last year that didn’t happen.  I got an electric piano as a graduation present , 5 years ago now.  I took piano lessons once upon a time, but it’s been a long time since I played.  I’d like to get back in the habit, especially if I have to give up some of my other hobbies in the future due to research or jobs.
  • Getting back in touch – I’m horrible about keeping in touch with friends.  I’ve gotten better, using Facebook and Google+, but lurking and reading other people’s posts and making the occasional post myself isn’t really communication.  I’d like to get back into a regular email or chat habit with friends who I used to be close to.
I think that’s more than enough on my plate for 2012.  I might add in a workout habit, but I want to wait and see how I feel about that.  And that’s not counting all the other things that might happen to completely change my plans.  What are your resolutions for the coming year?  Or do you not believe in making resolutions?

Catching up before the new school year

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So, I haven’t posted in about a month.  What have I been up to?  Well, the picture above should give you a clue.  My local grocery store had a bulk produce sale, so I decided to take advantage and finally try my hand at canning.  I put up a two jars of diced tomatoes and  two of whole tomatoes.  The above jars are cherries for baking.  I also made an attempt at cherry jam, but unfortunately I didn’t cook it long enough and it’s more like a cherry syrup.  Andrew assures me that it is still tasty.  Next year I’ll try again, and see if I can try other produce.  Maybe go to a few U-Pick farms to get it.  Since I have a pressure canner, I may also try to put up some homemade soups.  That’s my true canning dream.  Freezing things is ok, but the defrost time deters me from really getting into it.  The idea of opening a jar and dumping it in a pot, now that’s appealing.

I’m still working through the real food courses at GNOWFGLINS.  I’m not going through them as quickly as I like, but I promised myself I’d take this one step at a time.  Just getting better quality ingredients is a challenge.  Conventional food is cheap, temptingly so.  I did do a few experiments with soaking rice in with a small amount of acid, which met with mixed results.  One time I forgot to reduce the water afterwards and ended up with very soggy rice.  But every other time it was fluffy and soft, which wasn’t a common occurrence before.

The idea behind soaking grains is that grains, being seeds for plants basically, have defense mechanisms that  make it difficult to digest.  (This is a very broad summary.  Blogs like GNOWFGLINS explain this in much more detail, and I’d basically be copying their work.)  But using an acid or a live active dairy culture (yogurt, buttermilk, etc.), reduces these defense mechanisms.  Sprouting also works, supposedly, by moving the grain from seed to plant.  However, there seems to be some debate that this makes the defense mechanisms worse.  There’s an interesting discussion on the subject, and whether or not you should soak your grains in the first place, here.  My personal take is that soaking is probably best for me, though I’m willing to experiment with sourdough later, which is an alternative to soaking and sprouting.  Sprouting involves getting a supply of wheat berries, which would be expensive.

In other news, the semester is very close to starting, only about a week away.  What does this mean for the blog, especially since I just started posting again?  Well, I’m glad you asked.  My plan at the moment is to continue with my goals (crafting goal starts in September).  Andrew almost gave me a heart attack by suggesting that we might do our wedding in the spring.  We’re not, but the idea of having only 6 months to get into a shape I’d consider suitable for my wedding scared me.  So I have a new workout plan, and in September, I hope to start it.  I might write a future post on that.  School also means I’ll be carrying my lunch to campus, which will mean possible bento posts.  I’m going to be starting work on my research this semester, but no more exams means that my stress levels should drop significantly.

So keep this blog on your readers!  I may post about everything and anything, but I’ll definitely try to keep posting.