Improving E-books

One of the things I really like about eReaders is the built in dictionary.  Unfortunately, they aren't always comprehensive and, of course, fail when an author is making up new words.

So I came up with an improvement: eBooks should bundle a book-specific dictionary that can be merged with the standard dictionary while reading that book.  This allows books to provide specific definitions of uncommon words and new words.

I'm re-reading The Lord of the Rings right now and Tolkien uses a lot of obscure and archaic words that are real (but which my eReader's dictionary doesn't know) and he also has a million made up words in Elvish, Dwarvish, Entish, "common tongue," etc.  It would be helpful to be able to look those up as well.

So...Amazon, go make it happen.


I've observed an interesting phenomenon in my life.  I describe it as cognitive versus emotional empathy.  Wikipedia seems to back me up on making a distinction between the two, though the field is apparently rather fuzzy still.

At some point in my life I developed cognitive empathy.  I don't know when it was which suggests to me it was probably before high school.  Cognitive empathy being the ability to understand someone else's emotional state and being able to predict someone else's emotional state in a given scenario.  That is, I could recognize and understand that someone would feel devastated at the loss of a loved one.  But recognizing that reality didn't cause me to feel any emotion myself on the matter.

I could watch movies and see something tragic happen on screen.  I could understand that the character would feel pretty upset, but it wouldn't produce any emotional response in me.

During high school the mother of a friend-of-a-friend died.  A bunch of us attended the wake to support the friend.  I understood that it was painful for the friend and their family, but I didn't have any particular emotional reaction myself (except feeling awkward and out-of-place and not knowing what to do).

Then at some point in my life I developed emotional empathy.  This only happened within the last 7 years.  For the astute readers, this coincides with when I got married.  While that's a possible factor, I'm guessing the more likely connection is that I went through my mid-to-late twenties and brain development is still occurring in pretty important ways during that time frame.

By the late 20s, "there's better communication between parts of the brain that process emotions and social information—like what people think of you—and the parts that are important for planning ahead and balancing risk and reward," says developmental psychologist Laurence Steinberg of Temple University.

Whatever the reason, I developed this new emotional empathy which means I feel emotional responses to the things that happen to other people I observe (read, watch, etc.)  I find this really interesting since I definitively didn't have this reaction before and noted that lack and then it developed.

For example, today I was reading a blog post from a guy at church about when his first baby was born a few weeks ago.  Some time after the baby was born his wife had a complication and began hemorrhaging.  There was no time to address pain control and he cowered in the corner holding their infant daughter while his wife screamed in agony as the doctors tried to save her life.

It makes me emotional just to write those sentences.  That must have been absolutely terrifying.  8 years ago I could have read and recapped that story recognizing that it would be awful, but not feeling any emotional response.  Today I can internalize being in that room and the emotion is powerful.  It instantly conjures up images of Heather and Corinne when they were born and Jess lying in bed resting.  Having the peace intruded by a puzzled expression from a nurse then shattered by a medical team and chaos and fear.  It makes me think of Jess' surgeries (back when we were dating).  The urgency.  The uncertainty.  The helplessness.

I'm sure those experiences contribute to my ability to experience emotional empathy more acutely in this case.  This happens to be a particularly strong example, but other less-personal connections still occur.  I'm fascinated by that mental process and that change in how my brain responds to the world around me.

I know you want to know what happened to the woman.  As the medical team began to understand and deal with the situation someone did usher the husband out of the room.  They saved her life and she's home now.  She needed ~3 liters of blood.  The average human body has ~5 liters (though pregnant women have more).  Again, terrifying.

Vacation Wall Art

We rearranged the family room a few months back and took down the pictures that had been on the wall.  I had an idea to put up in their place and it's finally finished (for now).

I took some deer netting and hung it on the wall to use as a structure to attach pictures to.  If I could find a lighter color net I would since the wall is a light color, but I'm not going to worry about it too much.

The pictures I'm going to hang are prints from some of our prominent family trips and I made a travel map for each trip indicating where we went, how we got there, and when the trip was.  The travel maps are surrounded by the pictures from that trip.

I like how it came out overall.

The finished product:


The individual travel maps I made:

2014 - Texas - Trave Maps

2013 - Utah - Travel Maps

2012 - Colorado - Travel Maps

2011 - Connecticut - Travel Maps

2010 - Florida - Travel Maps

Mr. Fancy Pants Shirt

I've been needing a new white dress shirt for many months now.  The collar on my old shirt was pretty beat up.  But shopping for dress shirts is lame so I kept putting it off.  As I was considering my need of a new shirt I was thinking it would be nice to have a shirt that actually fit properly, which seemed like it would entail shopping for a shirt and then getting it tailored.  That seemed even more lame than just shopping for a shirt.

My custom shirt from Tailor Store as it arrived from Sri Lanka (minus packaging)

So, as I am wont to do, I did my research.  And I found Tailor Store.  It is a Swedish company which allows you to order custom-designed and custom-fit shirts without leaving home!  You might be thinking that a custom made shirt is going to be expensive.  It can be, but it doesn't have to be.  Tailor Store offers a poplin, white, cotton fabric for $49.  So I figured it was worth a shot.

You can customize every single aspect of the shirt if you want to: fabric, button color, thread color, cuff style, collar style, pocket, embroidery, elbow patches, etc.  Despite the level of customization available the user interface is quite good.  I'm impressed they were able to keep it as simple as it is.  I was just going for a classic white shirt, though, so my design process was pretty straightforward.

But the real convenience is the custom fit.  If you put in your height and weight they'll set some starting values for all of the needed measurements and they provide explanations and tutorial videos for how to take each measurement.  Jess helped me take the actual measurements to make the final adjustments.

Once you place an order the information is sent off to their manufacturing facility in Sri Lanka where it's custom made and then shipped out.  Shipping does cost you though, $20.  So the total cost for the shirt was $70.  But that's still pretty great for a fully custom-designed and custom-fit shirt.

I placed the order on October 8 and received my shirt today, October 19.  Eleven days to have it custom-made and then delivered from around the world is pretty good in my opinion.

And it fits great.  I am very pleased with the result.  If I had need for more nice shirts I'd definitely order from them again.  And since the measurements are already done it would only be a matter of designing a new shirt and placing the order.

My new custom-fit shirt from Tailor Store (it needs to be ironed)

NASA Apollo Pictures

Last week NASA released a bunch (over 10,000) of original images from the Apollo missions on their Flickr account.  They're all Public Domain images so anyone can download the originals and use them for anything they like.  I flipped through and picked out my favorites and cleaned them up.  I'll probably get some nice canvas prints made of some of them when Canvas Press has sales.

Here are my top 10 after cleaning them up.  I've uploaded my full versions so you can download them yourself if you want to make a poster or canvas print or something.  Clicking an image will open the full-size version, which you can then save to your computer using right-click -> Save image...21060968314_bcca0b9191_o_kbd 21065336993_765fba69b6_o_kbd 21082003763_9471526a7e_o_kbd 21472205930_d42afbe79a_o_kbd 21492224000_7f7d5991a8_o_kbd 21496319710_4d7bd28063_o_kbd 21653924176_26f5a10ce1_o_kbd 21667234912_ac412e1fb9_o_kbd 21693186921_68e0b6d72f_o_kbd 21912171516_ea0ef12faf_o_kbd