Thursday, January 7, 2016


A while back I started having stretches where I couldn't read, but did want to use my brain, so I looked critically at my list of podcasts. I found it unsatisfying, full of economics (Planet Money) and storytelling (This American Life, Radiolab, The Moth), and middlebrow miscellany (To The Best Of Our Knowledge, Science Friday, Living On Earth). Surely there are podcasts with the level of detail I would expect in a book? What do I enjoy reading about?

Ancient history. Archeology. Religion scholarship. I opened Apple's Podcasts app on my phone and updated my list.

  • The Ancient World. This is the best thing ever. It's one guy talking, but his writing is sharp and clearly puts together a vast amount of knowledge in each episode, and his delivery is deadpan. I've listened to the whole thing, and may listen to it again: J loves it, and his usual response would be "people are talking, please make it stop."
  • The Maritime History Podcast. To satisfy my jones after finishing The Ancient World.
  • The History of English. This intersperses the fascinating history of the cultures leading up to English with somnolently repetitive tables of example words illustrating cognates and phoneme shifts.
  • Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean. Scholarly lectures analyzing Biblical texts and themes. Pretty awesome, it's like the "Bible as literature" course I should have taken but never did.
  • Quanta Magazine Science Podcast. It sounds like someone is reading the magazine articles out loud, with a curious lack of narrative skill, but it's cool stuff with a gory amount of detail.
  • The Memory Palace. I don't keep up religiously, but they're little dramatic factoid bites, quite a lot of impact for their 6 or 8 minutes.
  • Welcome to Night Vale. I will not describe this, except to say it's the best radio show ever.
Honorable mention:
  • The History of Rome. The Ancient World guy thinks this is the most awesome history podcast ever; I tried it briefly, and I guess it's fine, but at that point I had twice consumed the history of Rome through the end of the Republic, and Rome just doesn't interest me that much.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

2015 in review

It's a New Year! 2015 wasn't so bad. 2016 is starting out on good notes! Well, mostly.

Our heat went out on Christmas Eve! The HVAC guy came during the day, flipped the same breakers we flipped, and it worked again. (He charges half-price for that.) Then it broke again and stayed broken. And the house was cold! We got by with a couple space heaters and our electric bed warmers, but there is no substitute for an actual forced-air heating system that's actually designed (if incorrectly) to heat a house.

The furnace guy had suggested that since it's an electrical problem, before we spend a lot of money on a fix, we could just run some extension cord and do some very minor splicing, and Bob's your uncle. It took us a couple days to get around to mapping our circuits; we were motivated by blowing a breaker with two space heaters plugged into what would plausibly have been two different circuits (living room and master bedroom).

Oh, no, my friends. It is true that we have 12 circuits of 15-20 amps each. All of those do appear to do at least one thing. The surprise was to learn that a single circuit handles:
  • 2 bedrooms
  • the living room
  • 2 bathrooms
  • every ceiling light and ceiling fan
Which is kind of insane. The upside is that there's plenty of load available on other circuits! The two outlets in the mudroom, for example, are each on separate circuits, and don't appear to connect to anything else.

Anna donned the Tyvek bunnysuit a couple times and went under the house, and drilled a hole in the floor, and I, her intrepid assistant, went to the hardware store and handed her tools, and then the heat worked again! It was kind of magical, and also nice and warm. The repair is only slightly Jethro, as Anna would say, which means it shouldn't be more than a couple of years before we tidy it up.

Much to my own surprise, I finished 76 books in 2015. Most of them don't even have pictures! I have mastered my management of e-books: I download the copy-protected files, which are then whisked automatically into Calibre, which un-protects them and converts them for the Kindle.

(Computer programmers do this kind of thing all the time, and are notorious for spending more time automating a task than it would take to do it by hand. But! If we automate it, (1) we learn something, and (2) we won't screw up the task.)

This frees me from having a time limit on my library e-books, particularly a gift with books that are either genuinely challenging (Moby-Dick, which has certainly fallen by the wayside) or just very slow and I use them to quiet my brain at bedtime (The Rise of Rome).

Speaking of Rome! I have now learned Rome's story a couple times and I don't need to read or hear about it again. It's cool, in its way, and the transition from Republic to Empire is instructive, but mostly it was an un-creative hegemon that ate the known world. Besides The Rise of Rome (which is a fine history of the Kingdom and the Republic), I listened to the entire "The Ancient World" podcast, which is amazing. It's just one guy, no sound effects, but his scholarship is deep, his writing is incredibly clear, and his delivery is spot-on. Try it from the beginning. Even J loves it: pausing it in the car while we're driving is frowned upon.

And finally, the boy. Our amazing, kind, brave, intelligent, empathic, absolutely enormous boy. He's growing up, in his own personal, neurodiverse series of fits and starts. He is clearly going to be the size of a tree.

Anna and I are still happily married. Or I assume so, since she doesn't believe me when I complain about her. =)