What I’ve Been Up to Lately

Beach in Cancun, taken by Michael Graham Richard

Moving to Ottawa
In a little less than a month, Mélanie and I will be moving to Ottawa. We’ve found a small but comfortable apartment, and it will be our first time actually living together.

While doing research to prepare for the move, I found many cool things that I think will help make our lives better. They are:

  • Dumping the phone company and going 100% voice-over-IP. I find Bell Canada’s prices for plain old voice phone outrageous in the Internet era, and felt it wouldn’t be right to support them out of inertia. The company I signed up with is Babytel.
  • Switching to a new ISP (TekSavvy) that can do dry-loop DSL, so that I can connect to the internet from a phone line that isn’t active for voice calls. This ISP doesn’t throttle traffic (unlike most big ISPs in Canada) and offers premium routing for better pings.
  • We bought a Mac Mini so we can use it as a media center (music, photos, films, TV series, etc). Plex is a free and open source app that allows you to do that and use a remote. This should replace a bunch of other electronics while also allowing me to do more scientific distributed computing.
  • I read up on the best air-filtering plants; NASA had a study on this, and one of the authors of that study wrote a book that I’ll borrow from the library as soon as we move. I like having some plants around, and figure I might as we get those that will have the biggest impact on air quality.
  • Mélanie has asthma and some allergies, so I did a bit of research on ways to help her breathe easier. Found some air vent filters that look like they could help some.
  • The apartment is small, and I tend to go to bed later than Mélanie… So at first I looked into air purifiers, figuring the noise they make could help her sleep better and we’d have better air quality, but my research mostly told me that these devices didn’t do a very good job. So instead I looked into white noise machines. This one sounds good (literally). I figure that if it gives us both better sleep, it’s worth the money.
  • I also want to get headphones in case one of us wants to read, and the other wants to listen to music or something like that. Not sure which model to get yet, but I’ve heard good things about Sennheisers.

Follow Up on “What You Can Measure…”
I recently wrote about some challenges I gave myself. I’m happy to say that it’s working well, possibly better than I expected.

On the fruits & vegetables side, I’ve kept to the “5 extra portions a day, what goes in regular meals doesn’t count” rule and since then (about 5 weeks ago) I’ve eaten 198 portions of fruits and vegetables (lots of carrots, bananas, apples, bell peppers, oranges) that I wouldn’t have eaten otherwise. That’s a big win for me, and I intend to keep doing it for as long as possible.

My other challenge was to read at least 4 pages a day from a molecular biology textbook (on top of the other things I read — yesterday I finished reading a biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer, for example). The reason was that while I loved reading it, it was more arduous than the other books I was reading, the textbook is big and heavy… I was always finding excuses to avoid it and wasn’t making good progress. At the rate I was reading it, it would have taken me years to go from cover to cover.

Well, in the past ±5 weeks I’ve read about 155 pages, and I’ve only missed two days (completely forgot about it). This means my real average is higher than 4 pages a day, and I should hit the back cover in about 6-7 months. I consider this another win, and plan to keep doing this – or something similar – with technical books (and maybe also with online video lectures). The goal is to avoid the “hay fire” trap, where I start with really high motivation and burn out quickly and kind of forget about the book (even if when I do actually pick it up I find it fascinating).

Reading on the beach in Cancun, taken by Michael Graham Richard

Trip to Cancun
In February, Mélanie and I went to Cancun, Mexico, to visit her grand-parents for a one-week vacation. It was my first time south of New York City, and I enjoyed it quite a lot. The first photo in this post was taken on the beach there, and the second one shows what I spent a lot of time doing (in this case, reading a compilation of letters by Richard P. Feynman).

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