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Get More from Your Commute

Our commutes don’t have to be dead time.

Who doesn’t have a commute any more?  Mine is relatively short now.  Less than 30 minutes, actually.  But, when I lived in Chicago, it was at least an hour each direction, whether I was behind the wheel driving or riding on a train or bus.  I used to read during the riding part of my commute, but, when I was driving, I would have loved Commute Kit.
Commute Kit is a website that gathers together Podcasts, Emails, Aggregators and Apps with various themes to help you fill the time on your commute.  The podcasts are split between those under, or over, thirty minutes, depending on your commute.  Obviously, the non-podcast options are only really suitable for people who have a passive commute either as part of a car pool or a mass transit rider.  Since I live in Houston, where most commutes are measured in drive-time, not miles, the podcasts are what interest me the most.  Those are broken down into “Fascinating Stories”, “News”, “Great Interviews”, “Fun, Games and Comedy”, “Big Ideas + Creativity”, and “Business Startups”, to match your desires and goals.

I haven’t actually started using this yet, but I think I may.  If nothing else, it may give me something else to talk about in interviews, when I start having them, besides the business at hand.  My experience has been that getting people to like me in an interview matters more than my actual qualifications, which, theoretically, they’ve already determined by what my blushing bride assures me is an impressive resume.
Anyone use something like this to make their commute better?  Share in the comments!

Tools for Job Searchers

Not exactly a set of “fun” links, really.

I still work in Oil and Gas, albeit in IT, which means there are a lot of layoffs.  And, there are more coming.  Even though I’m in IT, and they need use like they need electricity, I could go at any minute.  So, in solidarity for those who have already lost their job and those who might still, I’ reposting several links to resources for job seekers.

First, for those who are still employed, but who have lost their boss, here’s some advice from The Muse, via LifeHacker, about what to do when your boss resigns which might prove useful.. The first suggestion is good advice for us all right now; Don’t Panic. And, frankly, I’d add to the list they give you a bit of my own advice. Be helpful to the new boss, or anyone who’s left. They probably just walked into a bad situation that they may or may not be fully prepared for so do them, and yourself, a favor and help out. For that matter, make sure you’re a team player and everyone knows it. Naturally, you should have been doing this all along, but, if you haven’t, now’s the time to start.
Secondly, if you are out there searching already, or think you might be, make sure your resume is in order. Need help? Try this collection of Five Free Resume Building Apps from Techrepublic. If you’re stuck writing your resume, maybe because you haven’t written one in a while or even never have, these can be a good way to get started. If you have a resume already, and are searching, you may want to try customizing them to the particular job you’re applying to at any given moment. If you need help with that, check out Resunate, the Smart Online Resume Builder.
You just load up your current resume, then add in the job you want to apply for and let this website tell you where your resume matches, or doesn’t match, the job description. Then, as if that weren’t enough, they actually let you create a new resume based on the changes, automagically!  Of course, always run it by an actual human being that you trust before sending it to anyone. If you’re using a placement firm of any kind, a good way to test their quality is to send the resume to them for feedback. The good ones will actually give you feedback.
Finally, once you get as far as an interview, Fortune and CNN have a list of Five Questions to Ask Your Next Boss to determine if you’ll be a good fit. People always forget that an interview is for the candidate to evaluate the company, position and boss, as well as the company to evaluate the candidate. This article gives you some great ideas to try and see how you’d fit into a new organization.  Just because the job market is tough doesn’t mean that you should just grab anything, if you can help it.

So, I hope that none of my readers has lost their job recently, or been too greatly effected by layoffs, but, if you have been, I hope these links help. Also, remember, we aren’t our jobs, so go do something fun this weekend that connects you to people outside of work.
Good luck, y’all.

Makin’ Bacon

No, seriously, I’m talking about actual bacon not some silly double entendre.

Also?  If you don’t like bacon enough to read this, why do you even read my blog?  I mean, seriously, do you even get me?
I actually had a talk with one of my doctors about bacon and how if I had to die of something, I was okay if it was bacon.  She suggested that it would be healthier for me to pass it up occasionally.  I responded with the idea that life is short and every opportunity to eat bacon may be my last, so could I afford to pass it up?

In any case, I’m talking about making bacon.  Or, rather, the folks over at the Art of Manliness have shared a tutorial for making your own bacon.  Real bacon, mind you, not some sad, turkey substitute.  And, well, thoughts on manliness aside, I can’t help but wonder if I can convince my wife to maybe try this with me.  I’d have to invest in a smoker again, since our old charcoal grill finally gave up the ghost, but I think it would be worth it for home-made bacon.  Man.  That sounds good this morning.  Bacon.
Hey, do what you want, but I’m going to go get some bacon.
Enjoy your day and your weekend!

5 Photo Exercises

Did you get a new camera at Christmas?

If you did, maybe you’re still learning just how that camera works.  I know, when I got my first digital camera it took weeks of fiddling around to get comfortable with it.  Not only that, but, since I hadn’t really been a photographer in the first place, there was a lot I didn’t know.
I’ve upgraded since then, and even then, I’m sure my camera has features that I haven’t even tried.  And, I have to admit, lately, I haven’t been doing a lot of shooting in any case, so I’m pretty rusty.  Back in the old days, when I was relatively fresh to working in the IT world, a wise supervisor told me that the best way to learn something was to have a project that required what I was learning.  It’s sound advice.  Having that project automatically set goals and directed my educational efforts.  Learning a new camera is the same as any other technology.  So, what project to start?  Well, how about a project-like alternative; Five Photographic Exercises to Learn What Your New Camera Can Do from Digital Photography School.  (Don’t panic because the link takes you to a “school”, the exercises are free.)

These five exercises are meant to run you and your camera through some basics which will get you familiar with your new toy and, hopefully, brush up your basic camera skills at the same time.  You may even be able to run through them all this weekend, but I recommend that you take your time and really follow every step of the process carefully.  That way you’ll get the most out of it.
And, then when you’re done, think about doing a 365 Project, where you take a photo or self portrait every day for a year, like I did with my first camera.  Or, maybe, the less-intimidating 52 Project, which is the same thing but just one photo a week, instead of one every day.  At least one fellow photographer said that took the pressure off her when she did it.

Anyway, that’s two things you can do with your camera, whatever kind it is, this weekend and year!
See you next Friday!

Make a Planet

I’ve got nothing this week, so I’m offering a world.

My wife and I have been sick the past week or so, which has left me with not a lot of mental bandwidth for my regular posts and writing.  Also, my attention span is short, but at least I find that I’m more easily amused.  One thing that amused me probably a little too much this week was Oskar Stålberg’s Polygonal Planet project.  It comes in two forms; downloadable, which you can find along with a description of the “game” at the link, or playable-in-browser, which is here.  The premise is simple, really, you basically build or customize your very own little planet with ice caps, and plains and forests, and even cities.  All through the use of some very simple tools and pointing and clicking.
I spent a little time playing with the one on-line.  It’s fun, once it finally loads, which does take some time.
It’s worth the wait, though.  There aren’t people running around on the planet you create, but the water flows and it even has its own, little moon orbiting around it.  It’s oddly peaceful to watch slow turn on its axis once you’re done editing, as night flows into day, over and over.
One word of advice that’s not clear; if you want to remove something that’s there, right-click on it instead of left-clicking.

Anyway, if you’re sick like me, and not up to full capacity, it’s a fun diversion.  Honest.

“Hey Siri!”

Who’s afraid of artificial intelligence?

So, the week before Christmas, my wife and I finally upgraded our sad, old iPhone 4 and 4s to shiny, new iPhone 6s.  (That’s an iPhone 6 for her and me, not a single iPhone 6s, just to be clear!)  Ever since, we’ve been walking around shouting “Hey Siri!” at our respective phones.  It’s actually kind of funny.  And, I’m glad that I found Siri after I married my blushing bride, or I’m afraid I’d end up like Joaquin Phoenix in Her.  Seriously, the voice-recognition and the intelligence built into this software is pretty amazing.  Of course, when I read that Apple had a deal with Wolfram Alpha, I understood why the improvement was so incredible from the last version I’d seen.
In any case, we’ve been exploring the limits of what Siri can do.  Of course, I cheated and looked up a couple guides to get the inside scoop as fast as possible.  Here are four I liked:
First, at TechRanker.net, there’s How to Use Siri.  It’s a good guide and pretty comprehensive, including step-by-step information on how to turn on the “Hey Siri” function.  If you use no other guide, use this one.  I especially like the hint to associate my wife’s contact with the nickname “wife”, so I can now just tell Siri to send my wife a text while I’m driving.
Next, there’s Secret Siri Commands over at imore.com  They didn’t add much that the first guide didn’t have, but it did call my attention to Siri’s ability to flip a virtual coin for me.  I’m sure I’ll be using this to make important life decisions soon.
There’s also the Siri Tips and Tricks at BGR.com, which added a couple things, like the command for taking a selfie and some other app-related hints and suggestions.
Finally, there’s the amazingly comprehensive site dedicated to Siri, Siri User Guide.  This is the site that clued me into the fact that they were using Wolfram Alpha.  For the non-geeks, this may not mean much, but Wolfram Alpha is the single most impressive natural language “answer-engine” so far in the public domain.  This is what lets you ask Siri actual questions and get significant answers.  And, as an IT professional, it is what provides me with the best advice I can give to the Siri novice; just talk to Siri like you would a person.  Of course, that’s what Apple wants you to do in any case, but, really, just ask Siri questions like you would anyone else.  I think you’ll be surprised with the results!

Anyway, for those of you who don’t have Siri, you can still enjoy Shit Siri Says, which is funny no matter who you are!

 

Starting Your New Year

So, here we are, the first day of a brand, new year!

Honestly, it’s a pretty arbitrary demarcation of time.  I mean, it doesn’t even really sync up with any significant natural phenomena, like a solstice or anything.  So, really, the whole idea of a “new year’s resolution” is pretty random.  What’s so special about the “new year” and why make resolutions about it?  Still, you know most of us do it, to some degree or another, even me.  This year, I’m going to try and journal more, as I mentioned in my annual birthday missive.  But, maybe you want something more fun to resolve this year?  Well, luckily, I have another annual ritual around here.  Yes, that’s right, it’s time again for me to shill my Amazing New Year’s Resolution Generator!

Hey, don’t scoff!  One year Comedy Central linked to that!
Well, anyway, it tends to be heavily slanted toward kissing strangers and drinking tequila, so it’s not so much a New Year’s Resolution generator as it is a mischief generator, but it’s still free and something to do while you drink on New Year’s Day while you nurse your hangover.
Have a great new year, y’all!

Christmas Music for Free

Yes, free Christmas music.

Normally, I share this sort of thing well in advance of Christmas, but, well, time got away from me.  Still, I love Christmas music of almost any kind and everyone loves things that are free.  So, combining the two is my way of spreading some holiday cheer!
For a number of years, Stereogum would gather free MP3s from various indie bands that had a Christmas theme.  They stopped doing that in 2011, but the music is still up, if you don’t mind something a bit long in the tooth: 20 “New” Indie Rock Christmas MP3s for 2011 You can download them and burn them all to a CD for easy playing in your car.

Or, if you’re looking for more variety today as you open presents and celebrate the holiday, which, incidentally, is my favorite holiday of all, check out the Accuradio selection of free, streaming Christmas music.  There’s “stations” there with a ton of different themes, including every variation on “traditional” that you can imagine.  There ought to be something there for everyone.  And, again, free, so there’s that.

Enjoy, and I hope you have a very, merry Christmas!

Star Wars Fun and Games

The new Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, opens today, and, in honor of that, I thought I’d share some Star Wars related links.

The first, which I hope is fun for everyone with a website, and who remembers the original Star Wars, Episode IV, A New Hope, is the Star Wars Crawl Creator. Do you remember the giant, yellow text “crawling” through space at the start of that movie?  Well, it was the first time we’d seen anything quite like that.  It was, if you’ll pardon the over-used expression, iconic.  And, now, if you follow that link, you can make your own!  Maybe I’ll use it in a promotional video one day, or find a way to use it for the 404 page on this site.  Until then, though, go ahead and mess around with it for yourself.  It’s fun!   There are other games and apps there, at the official Star Wars website, and all the ones I looked at were free.

The other thing I’ll link to is a bit more esoteric, but also fun.  At least, if you’re a word nerd like me.  It’s the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Sonnet Generator.  Yes, that’s right, it’s a webpage that lets you answer four, simple, little questions and then spits out a Shakespearean-esque sonnet about, well, Star Wars.  It’s funny and more fun than it sounds.  Honest.  Go ahead and give it a try!

And, then, of course, hit the movie!  I’m personally seeing a matinee, quite probably as you’re reading this very post!
Have a happy Friday and weekend!

 

It’s My Birthday

Yeah, it’s my birthday again.

I’ve survived another lap around the Sun, mostly in spite of myself and due to the grace of God.  I almost didn’t bother with a birthday post, because I mostly think of my birthday as just another day, but, it’s sort of gotten to be a tradition with me to make this post every year, so, here I am.  Honestly, it seems kind of impossible to me that I’ve survived this long, but, according to the actuarial tables, I can still expect quite a few more years on this crazy planet. Which is a good thing because, in spite of being statistically middle-aged, I come from fairly long-lived stock and there are so many things still undone in my life.

I can’t say that it’s been the easiest year, but, then again, it sure hasn’t been the hardest year I’ve ever had, either.  I still work too much and need to take more vacation, which I will starting next week, actually.  I still haven’t done as much photography as I’d like, or written as much. Neither here nor on Diary of a Network Geek, which is my other, “original”, blog.  In fact, I barely keep up with my regular Friday posts!  And, my flashes sat so long on the shelf with batteries in them that I almost lost them to corrosion!  I’m already making plans to fix that this coming year and I hope to share the results with you, or at least links to it, here.  I don’t know about the writing, though.  It takes so much uninterrupted time to write and I never seem to have that any more.  Maybe when I retire I’ll finally get around to writing the great American science-fiction novel.
As always, my relationship with my wife, Sharon, makes everything else I do have more meaning, though I wouldn’t say that I live only for her.  And, while she’s managed to work on her general health and fitness, I haven’t yet.  That’s something else that needs to change, at least according to my cardiologist!

One of those two domains I mentioned last year, FindMyDecorator.com and FindMyPhotographer.com, is up and running.  So, if you’re a photographer trying to make the transition from amateur to professional, at least sign up for a free account on FindMyPhotographer.com and see if we can’t help drive some traffic your direction.  I have invested in a teach-yourself WordPress programming and development course that I’m slowly working through, so I plan to improve the design and functionality over there this coming year.  And, of course, I plan to help my darling wife get her site, The Organizing Decorator, up to snuff, too.  (In fact, toward that end, I’m gifting myself an annual subscription to Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom this year!  It’ll improve my photos and it comes with training so I can make the most of it!)

And, of course, my birthday wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention all the other famous people who had the good luck to be born on this particular day. Famous people like Frank “Chairman of the Board” Sinatra, Jennifer Connelly, Bob Barker, Gustave Flaubert, who is the author of Madame Bovary, the painter Edvard Munch, and Wells Fargo founder, Henry Wells. Not to mention, Mike Pinder of the Moody Blues, Tim Hauser of Manhattan Transfer, Dickey Betts of the Allman Bros, jazz musician Grover Washington Jr, and former mayor of New York City, Ed Koch.
All heady company to be sure, but for whatever reason, it tickles me the most that I share a birthday with Frank Sinatra. I guess it’s because he was such a unique and original character who really fought against and beat some long odds to become an amazingly famous, generally well thought of personality. I can only hope to do the same, one day.
Also, I think it’s interesting to note that on this day in 1896 Marconi first demoed radio and, again on this day, in 1901 made his first Trans-Atlantic transmission. (Though, of course, all right-thinking people know that Tesla was really responsible for those first advances in radio.)
And I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the computer mouse made its debut just four days before my birth! How crazy is that? The mouse, which makes graphic interfaces so practical and easy to use, is actually four days older than I am!

This coming year, my wife and I are going to try an experiment to see if it improves our life; the Five Minute Journal.  If you haven’t heard of this, it’s pretty simple.  Every day, this journal asks you to list things that you’re grateful for and a few other positive prompts in the morning.  And, at night, it asks you to think about what would have made the day better.  Everyone who’s done it says that it really helps them be more positive, which both my wife and I would like to be.  Hopefully, next year I’ll be telling you what a success it was!
And, I think I’m going to start a Five Year Journal, too.  It would only be a few more sentences each day and it may be the start of a longer, more interesting journaling adventure for me, which I hope will help me take a longer view of my everyday life.  (And, yes, it’s also inspired by Samuel Pepys, the most famous diarist of all.)  And, I hope, that all that prompted journaling will help me jump-start my writing in other places, too.  Only time will tell!

So, in any case, there it is.  Things are going pretty okay.  We’re a bit deeper in debt than we’d like but we can still manage to pay our bills comfortably and still have a little fun.  I have high hopes for the coming year as both my wife and I get our health in better order and we start really living more intentionally.  Not just me, but both of us.  I really think this is going to be a good year.
You know, after forty-seven of them, you’d think I’d gotten the hang of living sooner than this, wouldn’t you?  Well, according to my father, the first fifty are really just getting you ready for the best parts.  I hope he’s right!

Thanks for hanging out with me on this ride so far and I look forward to the coming year!