Life Skills Upgrade: Learning a Language

I’m not sure how it came about, but I’ve decided to learn Russian. This process has evolved how I thinking about language learning, and it’s been eye-opening for me. I thought I’d share some of the tools I’m using to learn. Maybe it will give one of you, my dear readers, the courage to explore something new!

First, I should address my reasons for wanting to learn Russian. They are fourfold:

  1. I’m fascinated by Russian culture. Dostoyevsky is one of my favorite authors from among The Classics, and his descriptions of life in Russia and the Russian worldview fascinate me.
  2. It seems that, with rising tensions and talk of a second cold war, the United State’s relationship to the world’s largest country has never been more important.
  3. I wanted the intellectual challenge of learning a completely new language. Yes, I have Spanish, but improving that wouldn’t be the same kind of challenge.
  4. Plus, Russian sounds cool.

Here are some of the resources I’ve used so far, and my experiences with them:

Pimsleur Language Course

If you follow the blog (or know me at all), you know I’m a big fan of Audible.com. They were having a buy one/get one sale on language courses, so I downloaded the first 10 lessons of their Russian language course. Right now, I’m on the sixth course. I recommend this course and method for anyone learning a language. It’s intuitive, exclusively verbal, and seems to approach the material in a learner-friendly way. The lessons are about a half hour long each, and I’ve found that they work best when you have time to listen to the entire lesson in one shot, practicing and speaking while you listen. I have found that I need to listen to each lesson about two times before I feel comfortable moving on to the next one.

Fluent in 3 Months

While on vacation in Petaluma with Lisa, I picked up a book called Fluent in 3 Months: How Anyone at Any Age Can Learn to Speak Any Language from Anywhere in the World. This book is not about Russian in particular, but about learning languages in general. Though it’s not scholarly writing, it has challenged a lot of my thinking (and my excuses) about learning languages. It’s given me the impression that this goal IS attainable. Most of all, it’s validated that I’m not crazy for trying this adventure. The book also has a web site and online community, which I haven’t had the chance to explore yet.

italki.com

The most interesting resource I’ve used so far is iTalki. iTalki is a web site (which has become more of a social network) dedicated to language learning. Each person creates a profile listing the languages they speak (and at which levels), along with the languages they want to learn. From there, you can choose language partners who speak your target language and want to learn your language. So far, I have nine friends on the site. One of them wants to teach me Vietnamese and one would like to speak with me in Arabic. Two have asked to talk to me in Spanish, and the rest are interested in learning English from me, while I learn Russian from them. So far, I’ve had two conversations on Skype with a girl in Russia named Elena. She is a patient teacher, even though talking via Skype can be frustrating sometimes. Elena is also ambitious: during our second conversation, she taught me the entire Cyrillic alphabet. Interestingly, not all of my potential teachers live in Russia. One guy I’m planning to speak with runs his Russian business from Thailand.

Google Translate

This service is much improved from its early days. It features automatic language recognition and fairly well-spoken versions of any word for which you need translation. I’m a little wary of relying on it, but it hasn’t steered me wrong yet.

Text to Speech at Oddcast

This fun little tool allows you to watch (a fake little person) speak any words you have in mind. You can also change the speed at which s/he speaks. This can be useful for slowing complicated words down.

Russian for Everyone

This page is specific to the Russian language, but it’s been a really good resource for helping me as I learn each of the letters in the Cyrillic alphabet. Each letter has an audible pronunciation guide, a sample showing how to write it in handwriting, an example of the letter in context, and other helpful goodies.

Culture and Context

Once I started learning the Russian language and meeting a few Russian people, I became curious about Russian history and culture. Once again, I turned to Audible, where I found a fascinating series of 36 lectures about Russian history. I’m only starting these, but I quickly realized how little I know about Russian history.

I think those are most of the tools I’m using so far. Which ones seem the most useful to you? Do you have any to add? If you could learn any language, what would it be?

Business Plans

I was recently asked about Business Plans.  Below is my response.

Business plans can come in any format. I actually delivered one as a rap one time! The important part is that it succinctly communicates the entrepreneur’s vision, and has some realistic numbers.

Sales projections (with a plan to hit them), economics of a unit, and a monthly break-even analysis are the calculations that are especially important to me when I look at a plan. None of that is rocket science, and some of it can feel more like creative writing at times!

Even though people use business plans to apply for funding, the process of writing a business plan forces every entrepreneur to answer a lot of questions, and the process of answering these questions is probably a lot more valuable than any funding that might be received.

I’ve used Business Plan Pro software before, and it was effective for me. Of course, the quality of plans made with software is highly variable – you only get out of them what you put into them. Here’s a link: paloalto.com/business_plan_software.

The Small Business Administration has some good links to help with writing a business plan: http://www.sba.gov/category/navigation-structure/starting-managing-business/starting-business/how-write-business-plan.

And SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired Executives, has some business plan templates that you can download and use for free: http://www.score.org/resources/business-plan-template-startup-business.

I’m not big on business planning these days. In the Army, they say that no plan survives contact with the enemy. This is often true in business, too. I’d rather have my students ship one unit, and figure out how a customer uses it. That’s when they learn their real value proposition, because we ultimately are making products and services for customers. But the process of planning has some validity, and checking for realistic numbers is the most valuable part of the process.

St. Patrick’s Faith

Note: This is from a brief talk I gave at Palm Village Retirement Community this morning, March 16, 2014.  Most of the source information comes from How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role From the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe (The Hinges of History).  I’m a big fan of Thomas Cahill’s writing.  Some of the interpretation is mine, and some is his.  Give him credit for any brilliance you find, and me credit for any faults.

St. Patrick didn’t start his life as an Irishman or as a Saint, or even as a Christian, per se.  He was a Briton, of Roman cultural origins.  His first language was not Gaelic, but Latin.

Though Patricius grew up in a Christian family, he ignored the faith of his fathers.  God used some pretty awful circumstances to get ahold of him: he was kidnapped at age 16 by Irish pirates, taken to pagan Ireland, and sold into slavery.  He spent the next 6 years as a shepherd and as a slave.  Much of the time he was naked, and his body ached from hunger and exposure to the elements.

Image by Karpati Gabor, license information and more work at http://www.morguefile.com/creative/Karpati%20Gabor.

Image by Karpati Gabor, license information and more work at http://www.morguefile.com/creative/Karpati%20Gabor.

But God used those six years that Patricius spent (mostly alone) in a powerful way in his life.  In those lonely years, when he was far from home and wandering naked on the wind-swept hills of Ireland, he later said that God had mercy on his youth and ignorance, and he was given the chance to be forgiven of his sins and convert to Christianity.

He began praying, and later claimed to have prayed more than a hundred times per day during those years.  After six years of captivity, God told him in a dream that a ship awaited him 200 miles away at the coast.  He rose, obeyed this message from God, and was taken back to Britain.

The story of Patricius’s conversion rings with echoes from Acts 4:13.  As Peter and John were before the Sanhedrin, “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.“  Though St. Patrick later went through ecclesiastical training, his writing suffered from the 6-year gap in his education.  He remained, functionally, an unschooled man who walked with God.

God called Patricius, again using a dream, back to Ireland.  God called him to the people who had enslaved him.  If we were to see Patrick in our day, we would say he had a checkered past.  We would call him damaged goods.  We’d excuse him if he never recovered from the harm.  We might even call him a little crazy.  “Six years alone would do that to a man,” we’d say.  But he let himself be wrecked by God, and it turned out for God’s glory.

Some people have called St. Patrick the first cross-cultural missionary.  The apostles, with the possible exception of the apostle Thomas, never made it past the borders of the Greco-Roman world.  St. Patrick, some 300 years later, went to a people not his own.  He carried the gospel boldly across a cultural boundary.

Jesus said, in Matthew 11, verse 12, “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of God has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.”  He may as well have said that about St. Patrick.  He demonstrated the gospel to the people of Ireland with power.  We don’t know how many of the stories about him are true, and what has grown from legend into fancy.  But we know that he demonstrated God’s power to warlord, kings and anyone else who would listen.  As the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians chapter 2, verse 4, “And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”

Year later, St. Patrick had the opportunity to fight back against slavery.  He was the first person in human history to speak unequivocally against slavery.  This time, a British king sent raiders to the coasts of Ireland to seize thousands of slaves.  Patrick worked both by direct appeal to these kings and politically, through the church in Britain, to try to obtain their release.  Only a former slave could write so forcefully about the evils of slavery, and only one redeemed by Christ would argue for the release of the people who had held him in captivity.  God takes our wounds, and if we give them to him, they CAN result in His glory.  But usually not in time for our suffering to make sense.

So as we remember the day of St. Patrick’s death tomorrow, don’t think about Leprechauns and pots of gold.  Remember a man whose pain was used by God, who was willing to forgive those who enslaved him, and whose life mission was to demonstrate the power of God in obedience.  He was a man who saw no clear dividing line between this life and the next, who left open the possibility to see the finger of God at work anywhere in his world.  Even in the pain.

Among other writings, this prayer of St. Patrick survives.  If it’s okay, I’d like to pray it as our closing:

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ’s birth with his baptism,
Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,
Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension,
Through the strength of his descent for the judgment of Doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of Cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In prayers of patriarchs,
In predictions of prophets,
In preaching of apostles,
In faith of confessors,
In innocence of holy virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.

I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me:
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptations of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in multitude.

I summon today all these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul.

Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me abundance of reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness,
Of the Creator of Creation.

Welcome to the world, Caleb Joseph Shinn!

It was a dark and stormy evening.  Well, maybe not any more dark than any other night at 11:30 pm.  And it wasn’t exactly stormy, though it had been raining earlier on that fateful March 2nd.

Caleb smiles during his first full day outside of his mommy.

Caleb smiles during his first full day outside of his mommy.

Lisa had been experiencing medium-intensity contractions for about the past day and a half.  The children (Liam and Clara) were nestled all snug in their beds, while Lisa and I pondered dozens of other clichés in the living room downstairs.  We were 5 minutes from finishing an episode of House of Cards, when Lisa lost her ability to focus on the riveting plot conclusion.  This is when I knew that things were getting serious.  She was timing contractions, and their frequency increased to less than 4 minutes apart with 60 seconds or more duration. (I’ll try to keep the technical terms to a minimum and the jokes/literary allusions dialed up for the remainder of this story.)

Lisa decided to employ the Bradley Birthing Method this time around.  Since we weren’t able to attend a full class, we did the next best thing: we bought the book, and at least one of us read it from cover to cover.  The other one of us (ahem) skimmed a few key sections, but didn’t do as much homework as he probably should have.  But he DID know enough to recognize that Lisa’s sudden switch to a serious mood is one of the emotional signposts of labor.

The car was packed, the mother-in-law/babysitter arrived, and I bundled Lisa into the car for the mile-and-a-half trip to the hospital.  But not before a few intense contractions, which Lisa took like a champ lying on the floor outside the bathroom, on our bed, in the kitchen, or wherever else she happened to be at their onset.

During the 11:30pm trip to the hospital, Lisa felt a pop and asked me to consider violating the speed limit.  I did what any wise husband would do, and gave the pregnant lady whatever she asked for, without question and without delay.  Her bag of waters had broken, and labor was progressing fast toward delivery.  Being Lisa, she was more concerned about ruining the seats in our car than anything else.  That didn’t happen, but it was the first time we’ve had the bag of waters break before reaching the hospital. (Scratch one more experience off the great bingo board of life.)

I made my delivery (which was getting Lisa to the hospital in time).  But only barely.  We were the only parents giving birth at the Adventist Health Family Birthing Center in Reedley that night.  They rushed us into the birthing room closest to the front door, and asked for a urine sample.  Lisa’s look told them in no uncertain terms that this request wouldn’t be fulfilled.  We got her to a bed, but only barely.

Lisa had about two very serious contractions, and let the two nurses present know that she was ready to push.  “But we haven’t even had a chance to check you!” they protested.  But their experience and expertise showed, and they didn’t protest for long.  It was time for action, not excuses, and they rose admirably to the challenge.

When the lead nurse, Tisa, checked the cervix, she raised her eyebrows and said, “You’re ready!  It looks like the doctor won’t be making it to this one.”  She quickly paged him, if only for the sake of formality.

Some minor bed adjusting followed, which allowed Lisa to get into the birthing position she preferred: a 45-degree tilt, which I carefully measured and supervised.  It was the only thing I could control and my only meaningful contribution during that phase.

Lisa’s second push revealed the crown of a head filled with dark brown hair.  Another push of two showed a very blue little face, and then the reason for this: the umbilical cord was wrapped around the little guy’s neck.  The two nurses and I glanced at each other, and, as if by mutual consent, we all suspended our reaction to see what would happen next.  What happened next was another good push, which got his (relatively) broad shoulders out of the birth canal, and allowed Tisa to unwrap the cord from the baby’s head, and also a very blue little arm.

The last of the baby (his curled-up legs) slipped into view like a greased banana emerging from a sandwich bag.  And with about the same drama and oddity.  The nurses quickly set him on Lisa’s shoulder, where he turned pink with the rapidity and effect of a Hyper-Color Shirt. (*5-point bonus for you if you remember these!)

I cut the umbilical cord, severing the baby’s physical connection to Lisa permanently, a process which I expect to repeat in various forms for the next 20 years.  He took a few shaky breaths, and I felt like a father bird must feel when he watches his hatchlings fall from the nest for the first time.

The rest of the process was less tense, especially for the doctor, who strolled in a few minutes later wearing a t-shirt from his alma mater and looking around to see what he’d missed.  There were shots and washings and  measurings (21 inches long) and weighings (8 pounds, 10 ounces) and footprintings and other processing steps, few of which lend to interesting analogy or comparison.

After watching the baby for a while, I came a crisis point.  I couldn’t keep calling him ‘The Baby’ for the rest of his life.  Sooner or later I was going to have to slap him on the butt and give him his name.  I looked at the little guy, and didn’t see the utility in the first of those two steps, so I decided to skip it.  I named him Caleb Joseph, because the other option under consideration just didn’t feel right.  I held him and, in a mini-ceremony that seems like something my dad would be fond of, declared his name for anyone who happened to be around and listening.

Caleb, now possessing a unique identifying moniker, set about working on the next most important thing in his life: getting some food.  He seemed to be reaching out to put anything nearby in his mouth, and seemed especially happy when his efforts paid off.  He latched on right away, and fed like a teenage boy pulling up to a yard-long trough of ice cream.  He manifested his first display of unbounded enthusiasm.  His greed was pointed at sucking and eating, and was therefore excusable.

After all the excitement was done, Lisa and I looked at each other.  “So that’s it, eh?” I asked.  “Yep,” she answered, “we have a baby!”

American Success: A Lie?

Allow me to tender a thesis: that America’s global hegemony is based on an incredible optimism which drives boldness, innovation, creativity, and many other noble, success-yielding characteristics.  But this optimism is based on a narrow set of conditions found in the late 1600s and the early 1700s that weren’t sustainable.

Here were some of the conditions: The American Colonies had several notable advantages over England, according to Paul Johnson, author of A History of the American People.   Johnson talks about the myriad advantages enjoyed by the colonists in this era: meat was more plentiful than in England, so the average height of a colonial man was several inches taller than his British counterpart; wood was plentiful; ‘the new world’ was agriculturally rich and seemingly limitless in size.  Land, though granted by the British crown, was effectively free for use by most.   This may have been one of the only times that good, productive land was effectively free for so long.

Americans enjoyed many advantages because of these conditions: they grew larger families, literacy rates were higher, and government, which extended from across the Atlantic, had a necessarily weak grasp on society in an age of slow communication.

While these conditions were clearly unsupportable in the long term, (land eventually became more scarce as property rights asserted themselves in full measure, and government eventually sprang up in greater measure on this side of the Atlantic) they may have bred into the American spirit an ethos of wild optimism that marked American expectations and conduct, even down to our present age.

What do you think? Are there counterpoints to this argument?

Things I’ve Noticed 1: Art

I’ve decided to start a new series here on the blog.  I will share things I’ve noticed.  I see little things here and there, and wonder about them.  I thought about starting a different blog to house these thoughts, but how many blogs does one guy really need?!  Here’s he first in the series:

I was in San Francisco a few months ago, and I noticed some things about art.  I was in a beautiful high-end art gallery near Ghirardelli Square.  The salesperson took quite a bit of time with me and walked me through several art pieces.  Reproductions of the art in question were selling for $60,000 and $70,000.  This was an enjoyable experience.

After visiting the gallery, I stopped to watch a street artist one block down from these same galleries.  She was dirty, a bit rude, and looked destitute.  She asked if she could draw a picture of me for a dollar.  I declined, but ended up giving her a dollar after she chided me for taking a picture of her.

It took me a few minutes of reflection to notice that she was engaging in the same creative process as the artists whose work was on sale 300 feet away: making art for sale.

This made me wonder about the value of art.  It it only display that makes a piece of art valuable?  Is it availability?  I realized as I handed her the crisp dollar bill that I was paying with a piece of art: a portrait of George Washington, that’s available to anyone willing to provide a dollar of value in exchange.  I briefly considered the possibility that the George Washington portrait pointed to availability driving value, but I realized that the street artist in front of me was willing to provide me with an original for a very small amount of money.

I realized instead that the value of art comes from context.  The salesperson in the gallery was willing to learn about my taste and sell me on the story of the pieces of art I was considering.  The person on the street was not cognizant of the source of her art’s value.  If she was, she would be able to charge me for the application of her talent.

What will tomorrow’s web be like?

I see four trends converging, and I want to make a prediction about how they’ll collide to provide a type of experience that we’ll have on the web of tomorrow.  Those four trends are:

  1. Immersive
  2. Mobile
  3. Video
  4. Immediacy

Immersive

Many developers are striving to provide a more immersive experience.  Whether it’s better

use of space within web sites and web apps, fullscreen options on everything from video players to desktop applications, it seems everyone is looking to add a fullscreen button to their users’ experience.  Users have become intuitively conditioned to look for indicators of this immersive-style experience.  How to do I know?  W

hen I’m using a computer, tablet or mobile device with my children, they constantly scan for the fullscreen button, and ask (beg) me to use it.  I can hear their little voices chanting, “Fullscreen, fullscreen!” in a half-cute, half-annoying chorus of kid-tech-love.

As a matter of fact, I’m composing this blog post in WordPress’s Fullscreen, distraction-free writing experience.

Mobile

We’ve been hearing for years that someday more people will be accessing the web via mobile phones.  Well, someday has arrived.  According to a Pew Internet and American Life Project study from two years ago, 28% of Americans access the web primarily from their mobile phones.  And 68% of American smartphone users access the web via their smartphones every day.  And this is in the US, where broadband mobile penetration is growing slower than in Africa and Asia.

Video

Cisco estimated in 2011 that the sum of all video content will make up 86% of internet traffic by the year 2016.  When I visit a web site to learn about something, my first instinct now it to look for a 2-minute intro or example video.  Video is increasingly a big deal.

Immediacy

When I talk about immediacy, what I’m really referring to is the low latency of internet-delivered content.  That means that people are figuring out how to deliver content is ways that don’t make you wait around, watching the content load.  Our attention spans are being conditioned to this kind of experience. Designers and developers will continue to push forward our expectations for a low-latency experience.

Where it’s all leading

So when you smash these trends together, what do you get?  The potential for some very interesting stuff.  I think we’re going to see immersive content that blends video with vector-based artwork that we’ll experience on mobile devices (tablets, phablets, Google glass, etc.).  Essentially, we’ll be able to watch little pieces of non-square video in cartoon-like worlds that load quickly on mobile devices in immersive viewing formats.

How will this happen?  That’s the interesting part.  I think it’ll be achieved using HTML5 (or its successor language).  Right now, HTML5 has canvas tags for displaying video content without using a browser plugin.  I predict that these tags will take on more and more attributes, and we’ll start to see blends of little pieces of video, along with vector-style artwork.  Vector is low-latency, and video is rich in experience.

This will happen in much the same way that javascript went from a language for adding simple interactivity to web sites (like a simple submit button) to a full-blown webapp-programming framework (that render products like Gmail).  I don’t think anyone expected the complexity, or the code libraries and other support tools, that we’ve seen emerge from javascript, which started as a more basic programming tool.

In the same way, HTML5 (and its offspring) will bring us some very interesting experiences in the future.  Ever wanted to live in a cartoon?  You may get that chance in the future.

Paul Buxman and the role of disappointment

I spent some time with Paul Buxman today.  He’s a friend of mine, and also a really talented artist.  We check in at least once a year, when he brings in the year’s crop of paintings for me to photograph and archive.

Paul’s paintings tell stories on more than one level.  Visually, each painting tells a story about a slowly fading agrarian way of life in California’s beautiful central valley.  But taken collectively, they tell a story about the artist.

When I see Paul’s entire collection from a year, I see changes.

Paul used more red paint this year.  When I asked him about it, he told me that this year he discovered red, and brought it out from the back of his paint-box.  I also noticed more purity in the colors he chose, and he confirmed that he spent less time mixing colors this year.  I also noticed some different kinds of composition creeping into his work, and more diversity in the nature of his subjects.  His paintings this year feel a touch more realistic, and also a little more wild; a little less controlled.  All these facets of his art make me wonder about Paul’s life, and the events that shaped the artist this year.  So I asked.

Paul told me that this has been the best year of his life.  When I asked why, he started listing off events and feelings that seem to me like anything but the ideal year.  But in looking back, he’s been able to see God’s hand in his life and in his family this year.  The struggles he has been through this year have brought his life into sharper relief.  They’ve brought out the reds.

I’m challenged.  I’m challenged to accept the hard things in life as a gift from God; as his tool for molding me into the shape He wants for me.  I’m challenged to try putting myself into places that seem less safe.  I’m challenged to work harder, as if I’m working on things that benefit someone else instead of me.  I’m challenged to let God show me where to find the red paint.

Goals

(Insert standard statement about the time between blog posts, along with inevitable apology, here.)

I’m reading about goals for a leadership and organizational behavior course I’m taking.  The reading is a little academic in nature, which I really appreciate.  Some of the important things I’ve learned (that are borne out by actual, peer-reviewed research):

  • People tend to set higher goals for themselves in the workplace than their supervisors would have set.
  • Higher goals lead to higher achievement.
  • Goals that are shared are more likely to be accomplished.
  • The process of setting and working on goals, not the prospect of reward, is what actually improves performance.

So what personal goals am I working on?  I’ll share a few.

  • To study 64 hours for each of the two classes I’m taking this semester.  It should probably be more, but this is the amount I feel I can actually achieve.
  • To exercise at least 5 days per week.
  • To be consistent with reading the Bible.
  • To avoid checking my e-mail (and looking at Facebook) before 1pm.

Lofty goals, you say? Aye, say I.  They wouldn’t be worthy if they weren’t.  So what am I doing to achieve these goals?  Well, setting them was a good start.  But I didn’t stop there. Measuring them is the next step.  Here’s where to tech comes in.  I use a series of specialized iPhone apps to record my progress. (Click on each app name for a link to the Apple App store.)

I use iGoal Pro 2 to track my study progress.  It allows you to easily set time-based goals, then run a timer track your progress.  It allows for pretty-looking  charts and graphs, which are all-important to a data hound like me.  Progress so far? I’m 6% of the way finished with my study goal for one class, and 4% of the way toward my other class.  Not bad so far, but I need to pick it up if I’m going to hit 128 hours.

I use iFitness to track my exercises.  (This has since been removed from the iTunes App store, but I still use it.)  iFitness is great for tracking both which days I make it to the gym and what I do while I’m there.  Again, it has pretty charts and graphs.  Pretty is important, and it helps me to make sense of the data.  How am I doing so far?  Well, I’ve been to the gym 29 times (and I’ve been running twice) since January 1st.  If you include the running, that’s just barely more than 5 days per week.  Besides tracking, I also set out my gym clothes next to the bed before I go to sleep.  Help me to actually get up and get it done in the morning.

I use the great Bible app from YouVersion.com to both read the Bible and track my progress.  They have pre-built reading plans to help you set and achieve goals with your Bible reading.  There’s also a feature that will actually read the Bible to you, and this is what I use.  I have a set time every day when I listen – it’s first thing in the morning.  I listen while I get dressed, get to the gym, and warm up.  My only beef with this app is that the audio tends to cut out about 2/3 of the time if you change internet sources (ie move from wi-fi at the house to a 3G connection as you travel.  How am I doing on progress toward this goal? Well, this measure is a little more tricky.  I’ve started and re-started this goal several times.  But I CAN tell you that I’m 24% of the way through the Bible.  In the books of Judges and Luke, specifically.

I’m using Evernote to track my fourth goal.  Evernote is actually a note-taking program, but I’m using it because of it’s ubiquity.  It has free apps for the Mac, iPhone, and the web. So I can pretty much always  able to log my progress, no matter where I happen to be working.  This one is a little less automated, but it’s still working.  I use Text Expander and a keyboard shortcut to automatically insert a datestamp and timestamp. (The keyboard shortcuts are ‘ddate’ and ‘ttime’.)  How am I doing with this goal so far?  I’ve only been tracking this since the beginning of February, but here’s a screenshot of my log.  This goal might bear some explaining.  I’ll keep it short: I get more work done when I’m not living or working out of my e-mail inbox.  Hence the goal.  (Also, don’t expect a reply from me on anything first thing in the morning.)

That’s long enough, but I hope you picked up a tidbit or two about goals.  And feel free to ask me how I’m doing with any of my goals.  That’s part of the reason I’m sharing them!

 

Disneyland Day 3

This was a Magic Morning for us, which means we entered the park an hour before it would normally open.  We’ve already seen almost everything we wanted to see, so we took the chance to ride Dumbo (again) and go on the Finding Nemo Submarine ride.  Then Clara and Mommy waited in line to be the first to meet the Princesses at the Princess Fantasy Faire while Liam and Daddy waited in line to be the first people onto Tom Sawyer’s Island (which is being rebranded as Pirates’ Lair).

I lost Liam on Tom Sawyer’s Island, which was distressing (but only for me).  I found him with the help of another family, who helped me scour the island.  I found him in time to see Mommy and Clara steam past on the Mark Twain paddle-wheeler.

We reunited in New Orleans Square to listen to a group of pirate singers, then headed out of the park toward Disney’s California Adventure!

Our first order of business was lunch, and we ate at the Taste Pilots Cafe, which is a hanger converted into a restaurant.  Our table was right next to a big picture of the Bell X-1.  (Made me think of you, Dad!)  Lisa and I have great Bleu Cheese burgers, while the kids enjoyed chicken strips and fries.

Then we rode on Ariel’s Undersea Adventure which, like almost every other ride during our stay here, had no lines.

We debated over our next move, but decided that a nap was strategically important.  So we headed back to our hotel, which has an entry directly into the middle of California Adventure.

After nap time, we headed back into California Adventure and went to the Hollywood Backlot area for Mike and Sully’s Adventure.  Then we attended the Animation Academy, which is something I’ve been looking forward to taking Liam to.  He has really been enjoying drawing lately, so I thought it would be cool to meet an animator and get a drawing lesson.  The experience wasn’t what I hoped.  We all learned how to draw Mickey Mouse, which was pretty cool.  But I had hoped for more one-on-one interaction, and the experience moved a little fast for his age level.  Nevertheless, he professed happiness with the experience.

Our next destination was A Bug’s Land, which was perfect for the kids.  A litte lame for bigger people, but perfect for little ones.  We went on four rides (one of them twice in a row), with no waiting in line.

We continued our meandering exploration of California Adventure and came to Paradise Pier. Lisa rode the California Screamin’ roller coaster while I took the kids on King Triton’s Carousel.  Then we reunited to wait in the longest line we’d yet seen: the line for Toy Story Midway Mania.  The half-hour wait was totally worth it; this was a really fun, interactive ride.  You wear 3-D glasses and play a variety of midway-type shooting games.

We headed back to the Pacific Wharf Cafe for a really yummy dinner.  They have soups in sourdough bread bowls, which are made on-site.  Both my broccoli cheddar and Lisa’s Monterey clam chowder were wonderful!  This place tops my list of places to eat again in Disneyland.

We headed back to the hotel to meet Uncle Jon.  He was waiting by the fireplace at the Napa Rose, a beautiful dinner spot at the Grand Californian Hotel.  Jon put the kids to bed for us and stayed with them fo Lisa and I could go out for drinks and dessert to celebrate our 10th anniversary.

Overall, it was a great third day at Disneyland.  Lisa and I were both surprised at how much we enjoyed California Adventure.  Lisa said that she might have enjoyed the ambience even more than that of Disneyland.  We look forward to exploring the park more today.

For our fourth morning, we have tickets to a character breakfast with Ariel at Ariel’s Grotto in California Adventure.  Clara is especially looking forward to this.  We’ll also buy some souvenirs today.  We told the kids they could each pick one item to buy, so they’ve been looking and debating for the past three days.  It’ll be fun to see what they choose.