One Book a Month

A friend of mine recently congratulated himself on achieving his 2012 goal of reading at least one book a month. He in fact managed to read 1.5 books a month. It brought to mind an incident from the past month where a friend asked for a recommendation of the bests fiction books that people had read in 2012 and I found myself unable to come up with much because I had only managed to finish nine books in 2012 with seven of those being fiction and most of those fiction books were fairly lightweight incidental stuff that I wouldn’t likely recommend.

I’ve got a growing list on Goodreads and never feel like I’m making much progress. I have a bad habit of getting distracted from even the best of books and putting it down for too long and then having to start from the beginning months or even years later. I’m thinking of setting myself a goal for 2013 of reading at least one book a month and of not putting down any fiction book in favor of another.

This last point is vital because although I am really enjoying Anna Karenina at the moment, tomorrow my copy of the A Memory of Light will arrive and it will be very tempting to put down Tolstoy in favor of Jordan as I’ve been waiting for the end of The Wheel of Time for nearly two decades at this point, and I’m certain it will be amazing. But I’m committed to seeing Anna Karenina through this time and although I’m sure that I could rapidly devour A Memory of Light, it would still be very dangerous for my goal of not setting aside novels that I then have to start over.

I think the other goal of one book a month should be very doable provided that I have it as an explicit goal. Indeed, it may even prove easier than my other goal of writing these daily blog entries – which I must confess have already become somewhat of a burden. That said the only time I actually sat in front of the computer and truly threw my hands up in a loss for something to write was last Friday night when the evening was drawing to a close and the pressure of writing something before midnight was upon me.

Since I’m only half-way through with Anna Karenina, I’m going to cheat a little bit and let it count for this month’s book. That said, I think I’ll manage to finish both it and A Memory of Light this month. I can’t imagine myself dragging out that book! Indeed, I imagine that I will find myself challenged to put the it down and focus on other things. Let’s hope so!

Another thing that I will need to master if I’m going to achieve my reading goals is the problem of getting sleepy while reading. I used to be able to read late into the night. I still remember pleasant memories of finishing Robert Jordan’s The Dragon Reborn in a frantic read through the night into the early hours of the morning and how it’s fantastic rousing conclusion energized me and led me to simply crack open the next book in the series instead of going to sleep. I think my chief problem is that when I get into bed, I put myself into a position where my body is laying flat and my head is propped up at an angle for reading. I seem to recall that my more successful late night reading endeavors happened when I could comfortably and easily sit in a position with my back in a vertical position.

This bedrest pillow might be just what I need!

Not Giving Up On Day Five

So as I sit here on this Saturday evening, I’m thinking about how I really need to arrange things so that I write these little posts second thing in the morning (first thing should be hitting the treadmill) – because otherwise as the end of the day draws closer, it really becomes hard to find the time to squeeze out five hundred words. I came very close to not writing anything this evening.

Melinda and I spent a good part of the afternoon working on finding the right ski lodging for our group ski trip to Mammoth California this April. We’re very pleased with the place that we found, and the trip is shaping up to be really fun. Unlike our previous two visits to Mammoth, this time the entire mountain will be opened, and we’ll be skiing with a large group of friends. The rental property that we found has a giant dinner table in around which all of us will be able to gather and hopefully some of us will get to indulge in the pleasure of board games during the evenings.

I’m really pleased that the first week of January isn’t even over, and yet, we have the most of the details all squared away for the trip and have the lodging reserved. Now it’s pretty much a matter of picking the exact set of flights and paying for them along with the lift tickets and ski rental reservations, and then the whole trip can be safely tucked away for the next few months.

Having one trip’s planning pretty much in the bag means that I will be free to focus on planning a trip to Italy this September as a sort of sequel trip the one that Melinda and I took for our 10 year wedding anniversary. We really enjoyed the tript to France, and it was really made possible through the valuable information found in The Gluten-Free Guide to France. As the author has also written The Gluten-Free Guide to Italy and as Italy is apparently a kind of gluten-free paradise where one can find fresh baked gluten-free breads, pastas, and Italian croissants, the question of our next European vacation seemed hardly in dispute.

Although planning this trip will be somewhat easier as I learned how to properly do it the last time and will re-use the same techniques, it’s hard at the moment to get going on planning again. When we got back from France, I was so excited about how much fun the trip had been and longed so much to return to Europe immediately, that I sublimated these feelings into planning a 2013 Italy trip within days of landing at home. I quickly ordered the Frommer’s guide and the Gluten-Free guide, and then I created a spreadsheet and an entry in TripIt. Then, I got busy and soon had a high level outline forming that now months later I seem to have misplaced. But invariably, something distracted me before I got too deep in the planning and now the effort has been sitting collecting electronic cobwebs for the last several months.

I opened up the planning documents during the Christmas break and found that while I had a good start, I was missing half of the visits spots that I had sketched out on a piece of paper months before. It meant that I would have to open up Frommer’s again and scan over the various different itineraries once again and reconstruct my own custom itinerary again. That didn’t sound like much fun on my last day or so of vacation, and so I’ve still not gotten my steam for the endeavor. I seem to recall that it took a little bit of effort to really get going on the detailed France trip plans, but that usually once I got started, it would only take something like 20 – 30 minutes, before I was really engaged.

So with one set of plans nearly concluded, I anticipate starting my engines in earnest on Italy 2013 next week.

Returning to Work

Getting up this morning was hard.

As is typical for me, it was actually easy to achieve consciousness – my dogs have me well trained to wake up around 7:45 no matter how late I went to sleep the evening before. What is always hard is the simple process of scraping myself off the mattress and starting the mechanical process of preparing for the returning to normalcy after a nice, long break.

My first struggle for the day was an internal one versus the little voice inside that whispered seductively how it would be so much easier if I just skipped exercise this morning. I have a month-to-month membership at a gym that is about five minutes from my house. I am trying to get into the habit of daily exercise in the morning before going into the office. I’ve been doing it on and off since November. One thing that always makes it a little hard to find proper motivation is that I have to drive (even if only for five minutes) to get to the gym. Instead of fighting a perhaps losing battle to get into the car, this morning, I decided to try out my wife’s treadmill desk. This substitution may very well have secured victory for me as the voice of temptation was very strong this morning.

While I prefer the treadmill at the gym with its slope adjustment and heart rate monitoring, the treadmill desk got the job done today and allowed me to get some exercise while I read some more Anna Karenina on my Kindle. I love how eReaders allow you to read under many conditions where in the past it ranged from difficult to impossible to get by with something as clumsy as a hardback or worse a paperback.

With my exercise accomplished, I showered and dressed before heading downstairs to prepare a simple breakfast of instant oatmeal and coffee for myself and a gluten-free breakfast bar and coffee for my wife. When I looked out the kitchen windows, I found myself again confronting a grey, uninviting day much like the one on the first of the year. Fortunately, it was no longer raining and this meant that little coaxing was required to get my dog Perrin to go outside in the backyard along side my other dog Doobie. Perrin seems almost terrified at the prospect of getting even a few drops of water on him. When he does get wet from a visit outdoors, afterwards, he comes back inside and immediately proceeds to rub himself against the couch as though he were a vampire trying to rub off the hateful burning influence of holy water.

After finishing breakfast, I packed up my things and prepared for the thirty minute car trip to the office. I decided to listen to some Nick Cave followed by a little classic Nine Inch Nails to wake me up.

It was an uncharacteristically quiet day at the office. While some people are still on vacation until next week, there are still plenty of people here. I think the stillness has more to do with everyone still adjusting from their holiday schedule to the normal office routine.

Tonight, I start a course called Computing for Data Analysis that is being offered via Coursera. I’m looking forward to it and hope that it will be a fun way to get better acquainted with the R language and its capabilities. It’s also a nice precursor to a second course that I’m taking towards the end of the month that will use R and focus more on the actual techniques of data analysis.