28 January 2012

Cedar Waxwing

A report in the Iowa Ornithologists Union mailing list shared that someone has driven through Water Works park during their Friday lunch and spotted a flock of Cedar Waxwings there.  Since I haven't marked them off my life list, I headed down there this morning and, thanks to the detailed report that they were in the crab-apple trees by the entrance, it didn't take me too long to find them.  There were probably a couple dozen of these sharp looking birds zipping between trees and snacking on the crab-apple fruits.  They are very slick trim birds and their colors and markings are so distinctive, the black mask, the vivid bright yellow tail band, and the red dots on the wing tips. 
A great way to start my sunny Saturday!

25 January 2012

Oscar Nominations Announced

Check them out here.  And while there you can take a stroll through Oscar history, download the Oscar app, see what Oscar topics are trending on twitter and all sorts of things. 
One month to decide what to wear, what to cook, what movies to pick and try to view as many good ones as possible.  I've got a ways to go, but I'm going to have to look over the list to try and find some that catch my interest.
[edit.  I came across this video compilation of some of the cinematic hits of the 00's.  There were quite a few I didn't know, but lots that put a smile on my face too.]

24 January 2012

Classical Ringtone

This video clip has been all over the last couple days, but if you haven't seen it, check it out here
Cell phones going off in public are always awkward, now try in the middle of a violin concert.  This violinist doesn't miss a beat though.  Good stuff. 
[sidenote: who still has that ring on their phone?!?!]

23 January 2012

2011: Fave Tech Tools List

A short list of the technology I've gotten the most use/enjoyment from in the past year.  This was going to be a year-end list, then I sort of forgot about it.  Instead, I'll release it in honor of the upcoming, National Digital Learning Day (February 1).
For this list I am going to focus on non-hardware items, but let's be clear...I love the hardware I am working with.
  • My iPod has been the best money I've spent for a good 2.5 years.  It gets constant use and is holding up fine.  Hopefully it will last at least four years like my first one did.
  • After being a slow to warm to it initially, my iPad has become a vital sidekick in my job.  It is also probably my favorite training to give.
  • AppleTV.  Really this is a service and a hardware, but I like it!
  • MacBook Pro.  What is there to say, other than I love it?  I don't want to it ever slow down or grow old.  It handles multiple programs with ease, has massive amounts of storage and has helped me get a little more familiar with the day to day operations of Macs. 
So here is my list of some websites, iPad apps, programs that I love and think others might too:
  • Dropbox - It meets my three evaluative criteria:  free, works across platforms (PC, Mac, Mobile), and syncs automatically to the cloud.  Although I wish the free storage allotment was a little more generous (2GB), I have bumped mine up to 4.25GB through referrals (Thanks everybody!)  I save all my personal documents and projects here. 
  • Evernote - Again, the seemless syncing of changes and additions, whether on my work PC, my home Mac, or my iPad is fantastic.  I even have it on my iPod so I can pull up book lists, grocery lists, to-do's, etc, while I am out and about.  Create notebooks with typed info, pictures, audio recordings or hand-written items.  The only thing I'm still pining for is being able to add hand-written notes on top of pictures or typed notes. 
  • Flipboard - Visually, this app is a treat.  It takes all your personal social feeds (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr, Google Reader, Instagram, etc) and turns them into a magazine that contains exactly what you are interested it.  A publication curated just for you!  And the Flipboard-created feeds (FlipTech, FlipCool, FlipStyle, etc) are a great way to explore and find some new ideas.  Beautiful on the iPad and recently released for the iPhone, caboose has given it a thumbs up also.
  • ESPN3 - English, Spain, Italy, Germany, France soccer matches at your fingertips.  During the fall I was able to see college football games that I otherwise would have missed.  India vs Sri Lanka cricket match?  check.  I don't like that they check your internet provider to see if you ESPN is available in your area and, if not, you can't access it but overall it is pretty great.  And if your bandwidth can support it, the picture in picture option or the 4 games on 1 screen options are fun.  Pair this up with a projector and a blank wall and you have a massive big screen TV for the game!
  • Jing - Wonderfully simply little screencasting software.  I use it for work to make short (there is a 5 minute max) videos to send to people showing & telling them how to do something.  It records your screen and your voice and uploads it to a website so all you have to do is email someone a link.  Fantastic tool for teachers to provide verbal, personal feedback on papers, projects, etc. 
  • Twitter (and twitterfall) - Although I don't really tweet anything much, I do follow twitter and find a lot of useful resources and ideas for my job.  I like to think of it as my own customized professional development.  Twitterfall is a nice website that I like to have up on one half of my screen when I am in the office and using my dual monitors.  You can have searches going to follow a news item, pull tweets from a particular geographical area, or just have your twitter feed showing.  I feel like I am really just scratching the surface on twitter but I'm happy with what I'm getting from it so far.
  • Nike Training Club - The fact that this app is free still blows me away.  There is so much wrapped up in this app and it works so perfectly, I would totally have paid for it, and that is coming from someone who almost never pays for apps.  This is like having a personal trainer in your ear, coaching you through dynamic, intense workouts while your music plays in the background.  You can choose the type of workout your want, your experience level, or muscle group and there are 30 or 45 minute workouts to choose from, as well as short 15 minute focused sessions to add on to your cardio workout.  It tracks your minutes, gives you badges and rewards.  And these are tough workouts, so be ready to work.
  • Skype - The best technologies usually are not simple, but at least they seem that way.  They just work.  Skype has been such a fantastic tool.  Videochatting, nothing totally space-aged, but it works and works well.  It shrinks the distances between us.  I use it all the time personally and love helping teachers get going with it in their classrooms.  It's a great way to conference with that guest speaker who, logistically, would not ever be able to meet with them.  Or to "visit" classrooms around the world.
  • Open-source learning (iTunes U, Khan Academy, TEDtalks, podcasts, etc) - I know this is lumping a lot together but I just feel like this is a shift in the structure of education.  And add it in the possibilities with the new iTunes U app and iBooks Author and I think we could be seeing a fundamental shift.  It is a shift that makes accessability to computers and high-speed internet all the more important, especially as we work to shrink the gap between the haves and the have-not, at-risk demographics.  Exciting stuff.

20 January 2012

Etta

Timing "coincidences" (if that is what you believe they are) are such odd things.
Last night I was poking through the 69 cent section in the iTunes Store.  We had quite a fun time, listening to all the 'One Hit Wonder' lists, "80's Hit'" lists, etc.  I ended up buying a couple songs and putting a few more on the wish list to ruminate on for a few days before plunking down my cash.  One of the ones I purchased was "I'd Rather Go Blind" by Etta James.
And this morning, I read that she had died.  :(
Well, I listened to that sad, soulful song several times today in honor of her. (And "At Last." Those opening strings and then her first words...so good.)

19 January 2012

The Beauty of Kitchen Time

The following scenario is just one of the many things I love about cooking and something that popped into my head tonight after making a top-shelf tuna casserole.  Woah, wait, I hear you saying, "how can tuna casserole possibly by top-notch?'  Well, let me just say that it involved mushrooms and onions sauted in butter, three hard-boiled eggs, three cans of tuna, Mexican crema, two cheeses and was topped with stoppable's homemade hot sauce.  And all ingredients were things already on hand.
I really love the moment that happens when, after all the prep work, recipe reading, step following, cleaning up after yourself, assembling it all you get to let it simmer, bake, cook down or, in this case, pop in it the oven, and you set the timer.  Now you have this wonderful moment when you get to sit down on the stepstool that is in the kitchen explicitly for this purpose, or,  like at my old apartment, sit down in "the perch" (a wonderful little spot on the end of the counter with your feet on the radiator looking out all the windows).  After standing for who know's how long you get to sit down and take a load off.  Ten minutes, twenty minutes, an hour, whatever.  You sit by the stove, basking in its heat on this cold day.  As the dish starting to heat, cook, and come together you start to smell the aromas of all your hard work.  You grab a book or you relax and enjoy a drink and just enjoy the music (Jack Johnson in this case) and soak in those lucious lazy restorative minutes all for yourself.  And then, to cap it off, the timer announces that you have a delicious, piping-hot dinner awaiting you.
Life is too good sometimes. I hope you all had nice warm dinners on this chilly Iowa winter eve.

17 January 2012

MLK Day (a day late)

I know I'm a day late on posting this, but moments after reading a friend's blog post about Dr. King, I saw this article from GOOD and thought it was unique enough to share.  I like the one I've pasted below and also the one on science and religion.
"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."

16 January 2012

Romney on Education

NY Times article on Mitt's thoughts on education provides some helpful disclosure.
"Mitt Romney Offers Praise for a Donor's Business"

15 January 2012

Veggie Soup

Combining my agenda to eat up more of what we have already in our kitchen with my stomach's urge to make & eat some soup today, I decided to put together a vegatable soup.  I didn't want to follow any recipes so I looked over a couple and then closed the books and improvised from there.  I love using up things already on hand and, in addition, the soup turned out pretty darn tasty! 

1 white onion, 7-8 small carrots, 5-6 staulks of celery (using all the inside little ribs and leafy parts too), 5-6 cloves of garlic, 1 shallot, 1 leek.
Heat some EVOO, saute the veggies til the onions soften.  Add a can of chopped tomatoes, a can of chick peas and a box of chicken broth.  Season to taste with salt, pepper & herbs.  Simmer for 20-30 minutes.  Blend in batches, return to heat.  I topped mine with some grated Parmesan since that is what was in my frig.  Bon Appetit!

14 January 2012

More Tebow? Yes please.

Honestly, I'm not scouring the internet for articles on Tim Tebow to blog about.  I have not watched a single NFL game this year and while I respected him when he was at Florida, I wouldn't classify myself as a superfan.  But, his is the subject of a lot of press and, like that last article, I thought this one was too good to share.  And, thankfully, it does not focus in the slightest about his talents on the gridiron.
He is a good dude.  And I like good dudes.  And I think good dudes need to get more media coverage.  Thanks Rick Reilly for a good article.
"So that's it. I've given up giving up on him. I'm a 100 percent believer. Not in his arm. Not in his skills. I believe in his heart, his there-will-definitely-be-a-pony-under-the-tree optimism, the way his love pours into people, right up to their eyeballs, until they believe they can master the hopeless comeback, too."

10 January 2012

316 yards courtesy of God?

The Wall Street Journal asked Fr. James Martin, my favorite Jesuit, to pen his thoughts on Tim Tebow's fantastic overtime win performance from the weekend in the article "Is God Answering Tim Tebow's Prayers?"  The stat sheet showed that he had 316 yards passing, 10 completions, 31.6 per catch.  A very popular number with him, John 3:16 is often on his eyeblack during games. 
I thought this article was great, much more than just a fun, timely headline.  It offers some serious insight and explanations into several hard to digest concepts, not just is God helping Tebow to succeed.  Why to bad things happen to good people? Why are my prayers not always answered how I want them to be?

Thierry Comes Home

Arsenal has secured the services of Thierry Henry on a 2 month loan while he is on break from the Red Bulls of the MLS.  Henry is the all-time leading goalscorer at Arsenal so fans went bananas when he stepped on the field yesterday against Leeds.  He came on in the 68th minute with the game scoreless and ten minutes later had sent the stadium into raptures by slotting home the winner.  Watch here.

09 January 2012

New Hampshire Debates

I wouldn't say I "missed" the New Hampshire debates, so let's just say I didn't watch them.  Which works out fine because this live-blog by TIME magazine of the two sessions is pretty humorous and spared me from tuning in.  It also does a nice job showing how ridiculous these debates can be.
The Rick Perry misuse of the word "literally" at 57 minutes is pretty great and their attempts to share what they would be doing if they weren't at the debate, at minute 100, is fabulous. 

08 January 2012

Maffitt Resevoir

The Iowa Ornithologists Union has a message board that I signed up for this week and it has turned out to be a good learning resource.  It's helpful to read what species of bird people are seeing, when and where they are finding them and how they go about their searches.  There were several mentions of Maffitt Reservoir on there and a co-worker had mentioned that place to me months ago as a great running route (6 miles, can't wait to try it) so I thought I'd check it out Saturday morning.  I was there by 7:45, and could see the sun shining from behind the trees as it was coming up.  It is a really great place, picnic areas, lots of paths down to the water, driving paths along three sides and a nature trail connecting on the fourth side.  I saw two different families of deer, ~15 Trumpeter Swans, maybe a 100 or so Canada geese (and a few Cackling Geese in there too I think), a group of Common Goldeneye which were very pretty although skittish, juncos, and four Common Merganser.  There were a couple other duck types there but I couldn't identify them without a scope.
A little over an hour and a great start to my day.  I will definitely be heading back for nature, running and also summer relaxing.  More pix on flickr (including NYEE pix!)

07 January 2012

2011 in 5 Songs

I want to start this post by sharing my deep appreciation with every single person who sent me their five chosen songs.  This project is SO enjoyable for me.  It combines so many things I love...music, sharing & gaining new music tips, lists, a bit of technology, and most importantly communicating with friends and family that I probably wouldn't otherwise.  Since I am not organized enough to send out Christmas cards, these emails, while brief, at least give me a reason to reach out to people and hear a bit on how their year was, share with them how I am, and here a sentence or two about why they chose these songs.  Music is one of my go-to conversation starters and I love it for that.  Enough rambling though...on to the pick list!
We have more people involved this year, 23 (two late additions take us to 25!), which is fantastic.  I hope to keep growing by a few people each year.  Maybe next year I'll say that everyone I invite should forward on the invitation to 1 other person.  That is the only thing I don't like about this list is that I am the only person who knows everyone on here.  So it is VERY enjoyable for me to read and listen to, knowing each persons personality, but not everyone can share in that.  Let me know what you think.  I'm also going to think about ways I could include 1 sentence explanations for each song.  I feel like that really adds something.
The variety is fantastic, like last year.  Local bands and world pop smashes.  Rock bands and classical flutists.  Different languages, countries, continents.  Florence + the Machine made the list four times...with three different songs! And I now have a dozen or more songs that I want to go buy on iTunes and several artists that I want to check out more.  
This link has the list in pdf form.  Save a copy to your machine if you so choose.  Each song is linked to a YouTube video except for two that I couldn't find on YouTube so I linked to the song in iTunes.  I also put all the songs into a YouTube playlist so you can just start it and play through the songs without all the clicking.  A quick glance at the YouTube play counts shows that the most viewed was Nicki Minaj's "Super Bass" with 212 million and the least viewed was Rogue Valley's "Onward and Over" with 117. 

So a heartfelt thank you to all and here's to a wonderful and musical 2012.  Happy listening!

05 January 2012

Surprising Comments On a Great Day

1:
I walked into a 2nd grade classroom this morning where a class of rapt faces encircled their teacher as she made a picture book come to life.  A tall stranger darkening their door never goes unnoticed in school and heads twisted around as a few "Who's that?" whispers were let loose.  The teacher ignores their questions and I approached her to assist with her email setup.  As she was explaining the situation, the girl who obviously was the leader of the pack, sitting front and center, asked her classmates in a strong, authoriative voice, "OK. If that is your parent, raise your hand." She was not pleased when no one fessed up. 

2.
Basking in the 60 degree temps and wonderful sunshine after work today, I ran a couple laps around Gray's Lake and then walked another one with Nicole.  The place was busy, so there was some great people watching as we made our way around.  As we crossed the bridge, we picked up a snippet of conversation as this guy was talking to his lady: "I'm a lady's man!  What can I say?"  He was obviously floundering a bit in trying to explain or excuse something.  "I'm just a lady's man, ya know?!  Like this guy, he knows what I mean," he continued, pointing at me.  Not sure what I was supposed to do, I could only laugh it off.  Definitely entertaining.

Bench Celebrations!

Peter Dill, walk-on for Seton Hall's basketball squad was highlighted recently by ESPN for his, umm, enthusiastic and creative celebrations.  It's a minute and eight seconds that will brighten your day.  The dude has eight career minutes for the Pirates but he definitely has found a way to squeeze joy into his routine.
I plan on breaking out the hammer of Thor after I help my next person set up their iPad.

04 January 2012

Photoshop Disasters of 2011

There were a few on this list that were pretty hilarious. 
My favorite is the H&M swimsuit model heads with the same body.  Great stuff.  Crazy to think about doing that for your job. 

01 January 2012

2011 Book List

Rediscovering Catholicism - Matthew Kelly.
I fully support the idea behind distributing these books. There are some definite shortcomings and omissions, if not outright mistakes with the efforts of the church to connect and retain its members. And I also like that, while the book does point a few fingers, it mainly tells readers to look in the mirror and start there. I did feel like he could've boiled down his message in many areas, but maybe that is to be expected from a public speaker. I know that I have been able to take away a few tips that have helped in my own spirituality.
Outcasts United -Warren St. John.
A Jordanian woman comes to America for college, ends up staying and making her own way.  While doing so, she stumbles onto a large refugee resettlement community and ends up starting a soccer club.  Her own story along with the stories of the boys on the team are amazing. 
Fury - Koren Zailckas.
Picks up where "Smashed" left off, ~age 23.  Follows Koren through a very rough break-up, move home, therapies and pregnancy situations.  Throughout it she unpacks some serious feelings and emotions about her family, her past and herself.  Good, but not quite as grabbing to me as her first book. 
Smashed - Koren Zailckas.  (re-read) 
Great to re-read.   And having read the follow-up, it is interesting to go back and get a preview of some real self-image and character issues that, while evidenced in alcohol abuse here, definitely continued through to the next book.  This is a raw and harrowing look at a female teen social & personal experience.
I read this really only due to my interest and admiration for Pat Tillman.  The book is much more than a look at him.  It is an emotional look at the role of the mother of three sons, two of whom decide to join the Army Rangers.  Her mental stress and total focus on finding out the facts about her son's death is captivating and exhausting to read at the same time.  Her pain comes through clearly in the pages.  It does not paint the leadership in our military in a positive light.
The ESPN World Cup Companion -  Roger Bennett & David Hirshey.
I read this after the fact, trying to squeeze a little more enjoyment from the magical event that only takes place every four years.  Lots of good info, good pictures and it is entertainingly written. 
A Table in the Presence - Lt. Carey Cash.
This offers a look at the buildup to, and craziness of, a major firefight in Baghdad through the eyes of the company chaplain.  I had a little trouble sticking with it as it cut back and forth from narration of the troop movements and happenings to the spiritual experiences and backgrounds of the men.  The hunger for spiritual guidance and acceptance that the chaplain met with, and possibly helped create was interesting to read about though.
Enemies of the People - Kati Marton.
I really devoured this one. The story was amazing and the characters so well described and detailed that, by the last page, I felt like I knew them, especially her father.  The post WWII time period in Hungary seemed so captivating and constantly changing. 
Mister Pip - Lloyd Jones.
A fast read because the story is told so simply, so unencumbered by anything but the core characters and how they are all bound in someway to Great Expectations.  It was a great novel but I kept having to remind myself that is was supposed to by set in the mid-90's because the primitive lifestyle of this island tribe made me think it was much earlier than that.
Rouge Warrior - Dick Marcinko.
I remember seeing this at a bookstore in Omaha when I was in junior high or high school and thinking it looked good.  But I never got around to picking it up until this year when, all within the same week, Seal Team Six took out Osama Bin Laden, I watched GI Jane on TV, and this book caught my eye from caboose's bookshelf.  I enjoyed it and the guy sounds like an incredible combatant, but I was hoping for a little more info about Seal teams and could've done with a little less "I'm this incredible, take-no-shit bad ass." But I suppose that is a good indication of the general mentality that it takes to succeed in that type of military operation.
How I Learned to Cook - Various, edited by Kimberly Witherspoon.
This collection of culinary beginnings from elite chefs was a fast, fun read. It probably could've benefited from a little more stringent editing because some of the stories were great, insightful, emotional and meaningful, but others were trivial, crass, or just lame.  They are super short so it was no problem to skim through the dogs and enjoy the good ones.
Why Students Don't Like School? - Daniel T. Willingham.
This was the reading for the master's class I took this summer.  Actually pretty readable and interesting, for a book on cognitive development and education psychology.  A lot of things that are sort of "no surprise there" type stuff, but it provides a deeper look at them and also explains how it impacts the classroom.
Pele: My Life and the Beautiful Game - Pele.
The king of football narrates his life.  What I liked about the book is how his general good-natured-ness and positivity came through in his story-telling.  His candor on racism and race relations, as well as his mistaken business decisions are refreshing.  The guy loved to play and he loved an open, creative, aggressive style of play.  Oh, and he was the greatest to ever play, winning pretty much every challenge that was presented to him.
Rome 1960 - David Maraniss.
The Olympics are a wonderful massive event for me and I enjoyed the telling of all the sagas from the summer games in Rome.  The magic and emotions that make the Olympics so powerful were well-embodied at several points in the book too.  I am now a fan and admirer of Rafer Johnson.  The combination of the cold war antics, civil rights, women's rights, the beginning of the TV coverage (and Jim McKay's reign), the beginning of performance enhancing drugs all made for a great read.
It Happened on the Way to War - Rye Barcott.
I was eagerly looking forward to reading this after I first saw it at Prairie Lights in Iowa City.  I had to wait a few months but my wonderful public library hooked me up.  The book didn't disappoint.  The author is a highly driven Marine and NGO-founder, who does have a pretty helpful New England upbringing with two college professors for parents, but that doesn't diminish the extent that he goes to get involved and take action.  Part of the second half of the book that deals with his military experiences gets a bit tiresome but the parts dealing with Kibera (the largest slum in Kenya) and all the work to found and fund an NGO is very interesting.
Until Death Do Us Part - Ingrid Betancourt.
This book had been on my "To Read" list since the author was freed from her six year kidnapping by guerrillas in an audacious rescue.  It was fast read but her passionate work to reverse the culture of corruption and drug czar-controlled government in her home country of Columbia is inspiring.  I am now putting her newer book that came out in 2010 on my list.  It covers her time as a captive.
The Life & Times of the Thunderbolt Kid - Bill Bryson. (audiobook)
Nothing I've read of Bill Bryson's has come close to "A Walk in the Woods", when I discovered his writing.  This book was still enjoyable despite less frequent laughs, mainly because of the nostalgic look at the lifestyle of South of Grand Des Moines in the 50's and 60's.  
My Life With the Saints - James Martin, SJ.
Following this Jesuit's facebook page got me interested enough to want to know more and, although it got a bit tedious in a few parts, I did enjoy this book.  I think it will be great to re-read over time but more on a chapter at a time basis with breaks in between.  His facebook status's and short Advent videos were great so I'm hoping to pick up his new title "Between Heaven and Mirth" on audiobook soon.  

That's my reading for the year.  I totally stalled out the last few months of the year so I am hoping to find time each night or lunch to things rolling again.  If I had to pick my favorite three, I might say "It Happened on the Way to War", "Outcasts United" and "Enemies of the People" and I can't say that I disliked anything on the list.