Category Archives: nerd stuff

#TRYPOD

During March, NPR and others are encouraging podcast enthusiasts to share their favorite content. Last year, I asked for recommendations, and my friends provided. Now I am almost always listening to a podcast: while I’m getting ready in the morning, working out or out for a walk, doing housework, driving. I use the default podcast app on my iPhone, but there are many more out there for all types of platforms.

Here are my top ten favorites, in no particular order. If you give one a listen and like it, I’d love to hear what you think!

The Sporkful (WNYC)
It should surprise no one that I like a show about food. I love food. But this is not a highbrow foodie program – it’s about the foods that we all know and love. These episodes are short and usually full of laughter. My favorite episodes are the arguments that seem insane on the surface (is cereal a soup? is a taco a sandwich?), but end up making you reconsider some of your etymological assumptions. I learned a lot, too, about the struggles of people with food sensitivities and particular religious diets through this show.

Judge John Hodgman (MaxFun)
I wish I had thought of this idea first. John Hodgman listens to disputes between people – such as, recently, “I want to convert our master bedroom into a dedicated virtual reality space, but my wife is not down” – and, after listening to arguments from both sides, decides on the issue. One of my favorite aspects of this show is the inversion of drama. Ordinarily, in court shows, we come to see people at their worst. The “litigants” in JJH present their issues not only humorously and with affection for the person they’re arguing with, but they also allow the listeners a peek into their personalities and individual lives as well. It is always charming and uplifting.

My Brother, My Brother and Me (MaxFun)
I discovered those McElroy boys through Monster Factory, a youtube show where Griffin and Justin abuse video game character creation mechanics to make hilarious and disturbing creations, all of whom they refer to lovingly as their children. This kind of joyful positivity is infectious, and it led to me finding more and more of their content (so much content).

In MBMBaM, the boys take questions from listeners and Yahoo Answers and try to give advice. Spoiler alert: it’s mostly jokes and goofs, but on the rare occasion that actual advice is given, it is always heartfelt and sincere. The best part about MBMBaM is that, in their pursuit of inclusivity, the brothers are outrageously enthusiastic about everything, and it is this aspect of their comedy that sets them apart.

I could fill this post entirely with McElroy brother content. They are prolific. It was hard to put only one of their shows here, especially since I’ve just caught up on The Adventure Zone – a DnD podcast they do with their dad – and I can’t believe how invested I’ve become in this story. It is so good. But MBMBaM was the first, and I think it’s the McElroys at their best. And now it’s a TV show! Truly, if you could use a laugh, put on anything by the McElroy brothers and your day will be a little brighter.

Reply All (Gimlet)
Even with my lousy memory, Reply All has the least forgettable content. Maybe it’s because I encounter the general themes of the show – the internet and technology – so routinely. But the stories they tell are so engaging and relatable – especially for my generation, where so much of our culture originates and spreads through the internet. Example: a few months ago, there was an episode in which Alex and PJ took calls from anyone for 48 consecutive hours. For a show that is usually very upbeat and humorous, it was rawer than I was prepared for. I think about it often. I think about Reply All content in general pretty often.

Crimetown (Gimlet)

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My Nana and Papa in Silver Lake on their wedding day – early 1950s

My dad grew up in Providence. When I came home on leave last year, he drove me around his old neighborhood, dropping names and connections that didn’t mean a whole lot to me. Shortly after that, Crimetown came out, an investigation on Rhode Island’s mob past. As I listen, the names and places that my dad told me about come rushing back. This show isn’t just RI’s past; it’s my dad’s past, too, growing up in a place where organized crime was part of the neighborhood. He loves this show.

Even if it didn’t hit so close to home, I would still listen to Crimetown. It is journalism that feels intimate and alive. I suspect they will do other cities in future seasons, and maybe it will make those cities feel close to home, too.

Planet Money (NPR)
Planet Money is my favorite “short and sweet” weekly podcast. It presents economics in current events in a way that makes me actually care. It is funny and playful. The episodes are also usually the perfect length to listen to while I get ready in the morning, and I always feel like I learned something after I’ve finished listening.

Radiolab Presents: More Perfect (WNYC)
Radiolab – the original podcast – is very good, but More Perfect is great. It only ran for a few episodes, but they were all totally engrossing. More Perfect discusses the history and events surrounding some of the most interesting decisions of the Supreme Court. If there was any one podcast that I desperately want to return to life, it’s this one. It packs a lot of fascinating insights into only a few episodes.

99% Invisible (PRX)
99PI discusses aspects of design and history that are hidden in plain sight. I found one of my new favorite blogs (McMansion Hell) through 99PI. I learn something new every time I listen; more importantly, I learn something new in a way that makes me perceive and interact with the world a little differently than before. Roman Mars also has one of the most soothing voices I’ve ever heard, which makes learning even more of a pleasant experience.

Welcome to Night Vale (Night Vale Presents)
Welcome to Night Vale is the strange show about a fictional desert town that reignited my love of podcasts. It comes off a little heavy-handed in the weirdness sometimes, but the world of Night Vale stays consistent and believable because, I think, it creates an atmosphere where not only is anything possible, but also nothing is surprising. It is thirty minutes, twice a month, which allow me to think past my expectations of “normal” and wonder, “What if?”

The Night Vale folks have a few other weird-fiction shows: Alice Isn’t Dead (a truck driver searching for her missing wife becomes involved in a surreal plot), The Orbiting Human Circus (of the Air) (the janitor of the Eiffel Tower tries to get involved in the radio show being broadcast there), and Within the Wires (the narrator of instructional audio tapes subtly coerces the listener to escape from an institution). 

Snap Judgment (WNYC)
Whereas other weekly themed storytelling podcast like The Moth engages with its rawness – one person, on a stage, sharing a story – Snap Judgment excels in composition, mixing music with personal narrative. I have never listened to an episode of Snap Judgment that wasn’t totally engrossing. Better yet, Snap is focusing increasingly on stories that don’t always reach the mainstream – stories from people with diverse backgrounds and struggles. They are usually from individual experience, sometimes from fiction, but they’re always true.

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BOAT JOB THING EXPLAINER

I recently read Thing Explainer by Randall Monroe of the xkcd/What If? fame. It’s interesting (and often hilarious) that using simple terms does not always lead to clearer understanding. Specificity can be pretty important, especially technically speaking. But the book is a lot of fun. As Monroe says in the introduction, using only the most common words in the English language eliminates the fear of sounding stupid.

So, in the spirit of Thing Explainer and sounding stupid, here is a description of my job in the Navy using xkcd’s simple writer and only the most common 10,000 words in English.

I fix the boat’s kill stick-blocker system. The system has computers with a lot of boxes. Each side of the boat has a box way up high for listening to things that send out radio waves. These listening-boxes can send out radio waves too but that might break the thing out there that we’re listening to. We can look at the numbers from the radio waves on the looking-box in the dark control room. The looking-box shows us where the radio wave sender is and what it might be. People who aren’t kill stick-blockers aren’t supposed to know these numbers, but it’s not hard to find them if you really want to.

Kill sticks move very fast. If one of these hits the boat, there would be fire and a lot of people would die and it would be a very bad day. The listening-box looks for radio waves from the kill sticks and uses computers to send those numbers to the looking-box. If we see those numbers, we have to do something about it. This might mean sending radio waves back at it, or hiding in light metal clouds, or sending off another stick with its own radio waves. There are people on the boat who can use special guns to shoot down the kill stick when it is very close, but this is hard to do when the kill stick is moving two or three times faster than sound.

Once in a while, the smaller computers turn off for some reason or the listening-box has a problem. It’s my job to find out why. Sometimes this means going outside when it is very dark and the boat is moving side to side a lot. Sometimes this means sitting in front of the looking-box for a very long time. Sometimes it means being outside in the sun and looking at all of the computer-boxes inside the listening-box. It is usually on these days that the old coffee-drinking man yells at us a lot and shows us what we’re doing wrong. I like these days the best. Most of the time, though, my job is to keep the boxes clean and check them to make sure they’re ready.

Thank you to DW (very smart kill stick-blocker friend) for thinking of “fast kill stick” when I was having trouble simplifying “missile.”

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2015 IN REVIEW

On New Years Eve 2014, my friends and I went tubing in the snow, and on the way back, the car got a flat tire. We spent hours in the cold waiting for AAA, talking and teasing each other and reminiscing about the year that was quickly coming to a close. 2014 tried to stick it to us for the last time, but we made it home just before the big countdown. After that, everyone agreed that we wanted an easy year for 2015. “Please, please just be chill.”

For me, things turned out very well. Welcome to a really long post about a really great year!

PHYSICAL
When I came home for holiday leave, I kept hearing about how skinny I had gotten. This is very confusing to me because I’m the heaviest I’ve been since 2012. (It’s also a little baffling how easily people offer commentary on my body, but that’s probably for another post.) My focus on running this year has changed my physique a little. It’s not better or worse, I think, just different.

I ran up “the hill” in Busan and around the harbor in Sydney. I set new race records (26:40 for 5k, 53:40 for 10k) and ran a half-marathon for the first time. I started training for a marathon but recently lost motivation for the longer runs. It is really hard to want to spend more than an hour on the treadmill after the workday. Plus, that kind of training demands a sacrifice from strength work. Going forward, I think I’m going to try a more balanced approach. I’m getting a little blasé about fitness because I’m sort of on autopilot now, and other hobbies have been dominating my time and attention. (Read: Fallout 4 came out.)

PSYCHOLOGICAL
I haven’t seen my counselor since the week before the court-martial (more on this another time). Not professionally, at least. I bought her a little glass kangaroo in Sydney to put on her desk, and we chatted for a while when I dropped in to give it to her. She reminded me of how far I’ve come in 18 months. She also told me what I didn’t need to be in a crisis to come see her.

My counselor is one of the best things to happen to me in a long time. If you have ever considered going to counseling but have some reservations holding you back, please give it a try! I know it can be scary, but there is nothing wrong with talking to another person to make sense of things. We do it with each other all the time! But a professional gives you a sympathetic but unbiased perspective, which is invaluable.

With the exception of a few difficult times, I’ve been consistently happy. I’m learning to manage my anxiety in a constructive way. I’m really lucky to have the Navy and my family and friends as support systems. I couldn’t have done it without them. Thank you all for being there for me, especially when it wasn’t easy and I was difficult to love.

INTELLECTUAL
My goal was to read two books a month this year, one physical and one audio. I ended up reading 41! I’m proud of this. A 45-minute walk to and from work made this pretty easy. Here are my top five faves from what I read this year:

  1. Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
  2. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
  3. Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski
  4. Bag of Bones by Stephen King
  5. Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling)

I did two online classes on edx as well and both were challenging and fun! If you want to learn about something new but don’t want to spend money or, really, deal with rigorous academic demands, I highly recommend this website.

SPIRITUAL
Still going to church, still trying to be a good Catholic. I got the chance to visit cathedrals in Nagasaki and Sydney and Zhangjiang, and while the differences were fascinating, it was the similarities that resonated most strongly with me.

I went to Christmas midnight Mass at home in an area that was mostly wealthy and white. The church and the choir were incredible, but I couldn’t help but notice how miserable the other parishioners looked. Maybe they were tired because it was so late. But, despite the beauty of the place and the joy of the celebration, the people around me made it feel like a funeral. It made me grateful for the joy and kindness that I see at the chapel on base. I’m going to miss it when I leave.

ROMANTIC
I made pretty poor decisions in terms of romantic partners this year. Fortunately, I can look back at them with only mild embarrassment instead of hurt or despair. It warrants serious reflection, though. Why do I find myself attracted to vacant, trifling people? Why do I give so much to people who give so little in return?

I don’t have the answers yet. Until I do, I think I need to be a little more choosy about in whom I invest any emotional energy.

WORK
We had a number of big certifications this year, including one for the system for which I’m responsible (which also involved a coworker and I desperately troubleshooting at the eleventh hour): TMI/MCI, 3M, ATFP, DC. We got the Battle E! I went to a few great schools, including the SAPR VA school, which was one of the most positive and useful experiences I’ve had in the Navy to date. I began my Reign of Terror as workcenter supervisor. We went to China, Singapore, Korea, Australia, Hong Kong, and Guam. I got my second warfare pin and got recognized as JSOQ, which, for some reason, doesn’t seem to happen often for my department. A big thank you to my chain of command for advocating for me!

There have been a lot of changes to my own division this year and most of them have been very positive. We got a bunch of motivated, hard-working, cheerful booters, and I adore each one of them. Our upper chain of command have been almost entirely replaced, and I’m learning a lot from our new leadership. I don’t dread going to work as much as I used to.  I’m happy and grateful to be a part of my division. I don’t think I could have said that last year. (Actually, I know I wouldn’t have – I went TAD to engineering to get away from them.)

PLAY
After coming home from one of our underways, I picked up the ukulele that had been sitting, neglected, in my closet. The challenges that frustrated me to the point of quitting seemed to fall away. I’m not good at it, but I love singing and making music, and it makes me happy even when it sounds like trash. No one has to listen to it but me! (And maybe my neighbors.)

I got a PS4 and have played The Last of Us, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Destiny, and Fallout 4, and if you’ve interacted with me for more than 30 seconds you know which of those takes the cake.

I didn’t see many movies this year, but of those that I did see, Mad Max: Fury Road was the best, and probably one of my favorite movies of all time. Honorable mentions to Jurassic World, The Martian, Spectre, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

I started writing a novel but was quickly reminded how much I struggle with writing fiction. I quit soon after. Oh well. I tried. Shout out to my friends who are still writing their stories! I see you!

Other adventures: I tried pole-dancing for the first time in Tokyo. The Patriots won the Super Bowl, and I cried about it at work. I went to Japan’s bizarre fertility festival. One of my friends made all of my favorite foods for my birthday, including a cheesecake. I bought a living room set! I went to the hot springs in Hakone. I also went to Kyoto via bullet train, where we got to dress up like ninja and samurai! I shot a bunch of guns for work (including M-16 full auto and a laser gun) and for fun (bird shoot while home on leave). I was reunited with a dear friend in Guam. I spent a day with Aboriginal people in Australia. I developed a taste for whiskey. I dressed up as Yuffie from FFVII for Halloween and spent the night in Tokyo. I hit $10k in savings. I cried at the airport on holiday leave when my friends showed up to greet me. Lots of crying this year, but, as opposed to 2014, most of it was happy tears!

GOALS FOR 2016
All in all, the best parts of this year came from my family and friends, old and new. It’s not just the big stuff, either. It’s the little moments that matter, and they most easily come to mind when I slide into one of those dark places. You guys make my world better just by being a part of it. Thank you for sharing your kindness, joy, humor, and passions with me. Thank you for being exactly who you are. And thank you for reading my blog!

Here are some things I’d like to do in the coming year:

  • Climb Mt. Fuji! The ship will finally be around during climbing season. No excuses!
  • Stay single. This will be challenging because I love to love. But I’ve been a serial monogamist since 2008, and it’s time for a break.
  • Read 48 books, or more! (I may have a problem.)
  • PCS. I guess this is inevitable but I’m still excited about it! I love Japan but I’m ready to start the next chapter of my Navy life.
  • Be more diligent about journaling. Day-to-day events seem boring and unremarkable until time passes and you realize those things were actually very special!

I’ll finish with a story:

When I was home for the holidays, my dad and I were arguing about my Life Choices. We both agreed that the Navy is not a long-term situation for me. His perspective is economical: for each year that I spend in the Navy, I’m losing money that I would make at a better-salaried job. I argued that I was living comfortably and had opportunities from the Navy that I wouldn’t get any place else, and that I was going to enjoy it until it no longer served me. Things got a little tense.

After he left the room, I complained to my brother about the argument. “What if I look back on this fight in 30 years and realize that he was right?” I worried. My dad’s girlfriend, with whom I don’t have much of a relationship, told me, very seriously, “Don’t listen to him. Follow your heart.”

She didn’t have to support me. She didn’t have to weigh in at all. She had no dog in the fight; if anything, it was in her best interest to agree, at least outwardly, with my dad. But that simple vote of confidence reminded me that it’s okay to trust my instincts, that I have the support of good people, and most of all, that things in my life are going pretty well. I’m a very lucky lady.

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