Friday, December 19, 2008

My 2008 Christmas Card

Boston Common Christmas Tree

First off, Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope that this holiday season finds you well, even with the tough economic times we're facing. Hopefully you can find joy this holiday season in things that money can't buy.

I'm going to try to sum up my past year and looking back it seems like it's been a pretty full year. Definitely the #1 focus of this year has been completing my PhD research and writing my dissertation. I successfully defended my dissertation back toward the end of October, but haven't quite managed to get my committee to explain everything they want me to finish up in my final edits yet, so I'm not completely done. But getting close. Which feels good. Just not as good as being completely done would feel. Or so I imagine. In any case, it's definitely been an exercise in patience throughout the entire grad school process, and it's rewarding to be reaching the end.

Along with completing my research and the bulk of my writing, I also was able to get my first paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association (JAMIA) which was both exciting and rewarding. You should be able to view the abstract here even if you aren't a subscriber.

I'm also currently in the process of lining up a job for when I finish. I have a generous offer on the table here in Salt Lake and recently traveled to Boston for an interview with another great applied informatics group. Hopefully I'll have made a decision on that by the end of the year. UPDATE: Since the time I was drafting this, I came to a decision and decided to sign with Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City, and will be starting in January.

Speaking of my recent trip to Boston, I also did a fair amount of traveling this year, most of it school/work related. However, my first, and probably funnest trip of the year was back in March when my good friend Jon and I headed to New York City for Spring Break. We have another good friend, Randall, who lives and works out there, and he and his wife were gracious enough to not only let us crash at their place in Queens, but also drive us to and from the airport, show us around town and just be amazing hosts all around. Thanks, Randall and Traci! Definitely a fun trip.

Jon and Jake Times Square

Randall & Jake 404

Manhattan from the Brooklyn Bridge

You can read more about the trip in these blog posts:

Trip to NYC - Day 1
Trip to NYC - Day 2
Trip to NYC - Day 3
Trip to NYC - Day 4
Trip to NYC - Day 5
Trip to NYC - Day 6

and the Flickr photo set of the trip is here.

In late April, I had my first school/work-related trip, a brief trip to Madison, Wisconsin for a job interview out there.

Wisconsin State Capitol Building
Wisconsin state capitol building

A few more photos are here.

Also in the Spring, I went fly fishing for the first time, out to the Green River with my dad and older brother, and even managed to catch a fish on a flyrod. To be honest, there weren't a lot of fish caught by anyone, so I was happy to at least catch one.

My first fly fishing catch

While my brother and his family were in town we also had a "vacation" to Salt Lake City, that involved staying at a hotel, going to the aviary, and playing laser tag. It's always fun to get everyone together.

Then in late June, I went to Las Vegas with a group of friends, just for the weekend. I'm not a huge Vegas nut, but as long as I'm only there for a couple days, I can usually find a few things to do that I find entertaining.

Bellagio Fountains

I wrote about the trip here, and there are some photos here.

In early July, I made another quick trip, this time to Washington, D.C. for the annual NLM training conference, my 5th and final time participating in that conference, as my NLM grant ended in August. To be honest, it really didn't feel like a vacation. I was mainly focused on making revisions to some papers I was working on at the time, and I really didn't take much time to do any sight-seeing. I did get the chance to have dinner one night in Alexandria with my old roommate Chris, so that was nice.

After D.C., I was able to take a break from traveling and work on finishing up my writing. However, as I didn't finish up my degree by the end of summer semester I had to enroll for Fall Semester, the one bright side of which was being able to get student football tickets for another great season of Utah football. This year's team went undefeated and will be playing in the Sugar Bowl on January 2nd. This year's home schedule featured amazing last minute victories over Oregon State and TCU, and then a less stressful win over BYU to cap the season. My friend Jon, who started grad school at Washington in Seattle flew home to go to the BYU game and we had fun storming the field after the big win. Here's a blog about the game.

Hanging Out on the Field

Interestingly enough, my first year in graduate school was the year Utah went undefeated and then played in the Fiesta Bowl. Nice bookends for my grad school years at the U. In another interesting coincidence, my first year at the U for my bachelor's degree was the year that the Men's Basketball team lost in the national championship. I've definitely been lucky to see some great years of sports at the U.

And as previously mentioned, I did just recently return from a trip to Boston for another job interview.


Some blog posts about that trip are here:

Trip to Boston - Day 1
Trip to Boston - Day 2
Trip to Boston - Day 3
Trip to Boston - Day 4

and there are some photos here.

I'm still single, and still attending the same singles ward here in Salt Lake. We always seem to have a large number of fun activities going on, and fun people are always moving in (yay!) and out (boo!) of the ward. In February, our Elders Quorum was split and I was called to serve as one of the two new Elders Quorum presidents. It definitely hasn't been as stressful as the first time I served in this calling, but sometimes I wonder whether that is a good or a bad thing. I'm sure there is more that I could be doing, but hopefully I'm doing an alright job of things. I definitely feel blessed with good counselors in my presidency, even though I've just replaced my 2nd counselor for the 2nd time as they keep getting married on me.

EQ Shooting Activity 059
This was from an EQ Shooting Activity we had this past summer.

Speaking of marriage, I'm of course not married, but still en la lucha ("in the struggle") as we used to say in Argentina. As far as I can tell from my records, it looks like I've been on 20 dates so far this year, up from 16 last year (an increase of 25%), and 14 the year before. In case anyone is interested in that sort of thing.

I guess it also bears mentioning that I turned 30 this past September. I don't really feel all that different, but I guess with finishing up school and getting close to taking a career-type position, I am starting to feel a little more grown up.

30th Birthday
Picture from my birthday party

One of the highlights of my birthday was this video from my niece, Lucy, wishing me a Happy Birthday:

It doesn't get much cuter than that does it? :)

Looking back at the year that was, it definitely seems to have been full of fun, adventure, and accomplishment. I feel blessed to have had multiple great job options at a time when many people I know are struggling. I am so grateful for the many blessings in my life including my wonderful, loving family, and the very many friends that I've been blessed with. The older I get the more I think about the people in my life, and the less I think about the stuff. Once again, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Today's Lesson: Don't forget to check the air in your spare tire as well

So, on my way to lunch I discovered that I had a flat tire. I pulled in to where I'd be eating and figured I better get my eating in while I was still outside the 3 hour window the drug testing place had given me to get my liquids in for the day, and then after eating I could deal with the flat tire.

I'm not sure I've ever had to change a flat on this car in the 5 years I've had it, but I did know that I had a full size spare just in case, because I hate having to rely on those tiny donut wheels. Also, I was able to make use of my trusty trunk blanket as a barrier between myself and the melting-snow-wet parking lot.

I didn't really have any problems getting the flat tire off and the spare back on (lots of practice as a home teacher, friends, etc.) only to discover upon lowering the car back down that my spare was also flat. :( At first I wondered if I was actually dumb enough to put the flat tire back on and put the spare back in the trunk but further inspection showed that this was indeed the spare (as seen by the lack of snow gunk on it), and it just happened to also be flat.

Luckily, despite my disdain for tiny donut tires, I did still happen to have one in my trunk -- yes, I do have two spare tires in my trunk at all times -- and I was able to begrudgingly take the spare off and replace it with this donut. I then took both flat tire to a tire place near my apartment and dropped them off for repair. I'm now home doing laundry (khaki pants and trunk blanket) and being glad that a) I had two spare tires, and b) my drug test isn't for another 90 minutes still, and my having a flat tire didn't result in my not showing up and possibly resulting in my being barred from employment.

The Big Digital finds gainful employment

I made a decision today about my career. For at least the immediate future (and perhaps even beyond), I'll be working as a Medical Informatician at Intermountain Healthcare here in Salt Lake City. Details to come. I have to go eat some lunch so that I can avoid drinking more than 12 ounces of liquid in the 3 hours preceding my drug test this afternoon.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Trip to Boston - Day 4

Despite thinking that I'd be able to sleep in on Tuesday, I ended up waking up quite early and not being able to get back to sleep. So I proceeded to get ready for the day, pack up most of my stuff and head downstairs for complementary breakfast. After that I watched some TV and did some reading and then took a short stroll over to the mall nearby to pick up a few souvenirs.

I then walked back to the hotel and got ready to go. My flight home wasn't leaving until 4, but I had to check out by noon, and I didn't really feel like leaving my luggage there, going out sight-seeing, and then coming back yet again, so I just decided to head over to the airport a little early and hang out there until my flight. I was able to get some reading done while I was there and I really didn't mind the time.

The flight home was fairly uneventful, although without free movies it did seem to take a bit longer than the trip out. I did watch some TV -- caught the Daily Show and Colbert, and before too long I was home. I had the weird experience of landing nearly an hour before our scheduled arrival time. Not sure what happened there. Luckily my ride was able to come quickly and I didn't really wait very long at all.

Phew, glad to get this trip blog completed. Now I need to get working on my Year in Review Christmas Card post. Hopefully coming by the end of the week.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Trip To Boston - Day 3

Man, it's really taking longer than it should for me to finish writing up this trip to Boston...oh well, on we go....

Monday morning, I got up bright and early, as my contact in Boston was coming to pick me up at 8:15 to drive me out to the office in Wellesley, about 20 minutes outside of Boston. I ate the free breakfast at my luxury hotel and then got ready for the day. I was down in the lobby around 8:10 and around 8:30 I figured I better call and make sure my ride wasn't lost. He wasn't. Just had to stop for gas.

Anyway, he drove me out to the office and then began the deluge of interviews. I think I had at least 9 separate meetings. I guess you could call them interviews, but most of them really didn't feel like interviews. More like introductions with a few questions mixed in as we were getting to know each other. I think every one ended with them asking me "what other questions do you have?" and me not really coming up with more questions than what I had already asked. I met with a pretty broad variety of people, from the head man down to the developers. I was impressed with most of them, although my interview with the developers (two Russians who were both named Mike) was pretty rough. I really didn't feel able or prepared to answer the types of questions they were asking to the point that I had to fight to keep myself from laughing at how ridiculous the meeting went.

After about 7 hours of these meetings, I got to end the day by giving a presentation of my dissertation research. I feel like that went pretty well, although I think my main objective at that point was just to get it over with.

After everything was done, my contact drove me back to my hotel, where I took a while to unwind and decompress from the crazy day. Once that was done, I realized that I was pretty hungry, and would need to venture out on this super cold day to find some dinner. I figured if I was going out, I ought to at least consider heading back downtown to maybe do some shopping, so I ended up going back down by the Quincy market and eating dinner at fancy place down there -- I felt like I ought to treat myself a little after my long day. I also did a little bit of shopping down there.

Fanueil Hall
Faneuil Hall at night

Then I headed home and crashed. I was dead tired.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Trip to Boston - Day 2

My 2nd Day in Boston was a Sunday, so I started it out with a little public transit journey to church. There was a light snow falling but nothing serious. I made my way to the nearest T station and took it back toward downtown and then transferred lines and headed back to Cambridge, heading out to Harvard, where the singles wards meet.

"T" Trains at the Lechmere Station

I arrived at the Harvard Square station with a little time to kill, so I took a little detour over onto the Harvard Campus where I took some photos of some buildings that looked cool, but I really have no idea what they are.




I then made my way over to the chapel and got to remember what it's like to be new at church, something I haven't done in a loooong time. For the most part it wasn't too bad. Finding Sunday School was a little tricky, and the time between sacrament meeting and sunday school was kind of awkward.

After church, as I wasn't going to have much time to be a tourist on Monday or Tuesday, I resolved to go see some of historic Boston, aka the Freedom Trail that pretty much everyone had recommended to me. I hustled home after church, changed, and headed back to the train. I decided to skip the northernmost portion of the trail that only seemed to have a couple sites and would have made the overall distance considerably longer.

I got out in Boston's north end and headed over to a cemetery near the river that I found especially interesting. The headstones were so thin and old. Very different that what I'm used to seeing. The Old North Church (of Paul Revere lantern fame) was just down the street from there, and continuing southward there was a Paul Revere monument and Paul Revere's house (which I opted against paying to enter).

TD Banknorth Garden
The Boston Garden is historic, right?

Looking toward downtown
Looking toward downtown from near the Garden.

Snowy Cemetery

Snowy Cemetery
The Copp's Hill Burying Ground

Old North Church
The Old North Church

Paul Revere
Paul Revere monument

After crossing a newly created park that goes over the freeway, I found myself closer to downtown, and saw Boston's Holocaust memorial, and then Fanueil Hall, and the Quincy Market. The meeting hall upstairs in Faneuil Hall was closed to the public as there was some kind of Pearl Harbor memorial service going on up there.

Holocaust Memorial
Holocaust memorial

Fanueil Hall
Faneuil Hall decked out for the holidays

Continuing along the trail, I saw a few more old meeting houses and churches, and finally found myself at another very interesting cemetery. This one had the graves of patriots Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, and John Hancock.

Old South Church?
I thought this was a church, but it's actually the "Old South Meeting House"

Samuel Adams' Grave
Samuel Adams' Grave

Granary Burying Ground

Paul Revere's Grave
Paul Revere's Grave

John Hancock's grave
John Hancock's Grave marker.

Just around the corner from this cemetery was Boston Common, a big park in downtown. It was decorated for Christmas with a tree, lights, and an ice rink where people were out skating.

Boston Common Christmas Tree
Christmas Tree at Boston Common

Ice Skating in Boston Common
Ice Skating on the frozen Frog Pond

At this point I was pretty worn-out and also starting to feel the cold. I grabbed a bite to eat at a little Greek place (chicken kabob wrap) and then headed home to my hotel where I cranked up the heat and went over my slides for my presentation the next day.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Trip to Boston - Day 1

Got up pretty early this morning and finished my final preparations. Julie and Megan came and picked me and drove me to the airport (talk about true friendship). Both my flights were less than full, which resulted in my not having to sit next to someone on either flight. Plus, on the the SLC->JFK leg, because it was an "international flight" the in-flight movies were free. So I watched "Get Smart" and "Hellboy 2", two movies that I didn't get around to seeing this summer. Pretty good deal if you ask me.

Anyway, I arrived safely in Boston, managed to find a shuttle over to the "T" station, and make it to my intended final stop. After getting off the train, I was unsure of which direction I was facing, and I ended up walking a couple blocks in the wrong direction before figuring it out, and then coming over to my hotel, a Holiday Inn Express in Cambridge.

After unpacking, and watching the 4th quarter of Florida's win over Alabama, I headed out to find some dinner, ending up eventually at a Cheesecake Factory in a mall not too far from where I'm staying. Just a little weird eating there alone, but as a bonus, I didn't have to share any of the bread.

I took a few photos on the way home, but don't have them on the computer yet.

Tomorrow I'm heading out to find a singles ward near Harvard, and hoping to hit the Freedom Trail as well. Good night.

Update: Here are some photos from my night walking around east Cambridge.

Skyscraper Courthouse
This tall building dominated the skyline in the area I was staying. I was thinking maybe it was some tall, skyscraper prison, but it turned out to be just a courthouse. Of course, that could also mean there might be some prisoners up there.

Crooked Doors
The crookedness of this house intrigued me. I could never live in a house like that.

HOLIDAY inn express
I got a cozy room at this luxury hotel for a pretty good deal (~$80/night) thanks to My biggest fear using Hotwire (where you don't know which hotel you are booking until after you've booked it) was that I'd end up far from public transit lines, but it turned out to be only a few minutes walk from the nearest T station. Really no complaints about the hotel. Wireless internet worked just fine, free breakfast was satisfactory.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Old Book, New Book #12: The Best of H.P. Lovecraft -> The Miracle of Forgiveness

Best of Lovecraft

After what seemed like a pretty long time, I finally finished up "The Best of H.P. Lovecraft", and I have to say that it was a pretty good collection of short stories, and especially interesting considering how old these stories are, written at the beginning of the 1900s. Lovecraft has some favorite words ("eldritch", "Cyclopean", "foeter") that appear in probably all of these stories, and most of them fit within a mythology all of Lovecraft's creation, commonly known as the Cthulhu Mythos. The crux of this mythos is that at one point in the far distant past, the Earth was ruled by "Great Ones" who came from outside of our solar system and then were somehow killed off or forced to hide under the sea. These Great Ones, including Cthulhu, are waiting for their chance to retake power and rise again, and dark cults deal with them and work for their renewal. There were many variations on this theme in the book, dealing with creepy things coming from space or from under the sea. Other common themes were dreams, the ability to travel across space, and the ability to separate one's consciousness from one's body. Anyway, towards the end, the theme seemed to feel a little repetitive, but overall it was a decent read. The other interesting thing that Lovecraft almost always does is start the stories at the end. Like "the story behind the mysterious death/disappearance/etc of so-and-so is an interesting one". That kind of thing, where you usually already know how the story ends. Which is definitely not typical in today's fiction, and, for me at least, seemed to limit the suspense of some of the stories. However, sometimes there was a twist in which the story then continued forward once we'd caught up to the beginning, after going back and telling the backstory, if that makes sense.

Miracle of Forgiveness

The next book I've started is obviously a big change in theme, topic, subject matter, etc. I'm generally not the best at reading non-fiction, including books of a religious nature. But I was at the library the other day with just a few minutes to find something new to read, and after looking for a few works of fiction that I've been meaning to get to and not finding them, I remembered that I'd been thinking about reading this one. I've already heard "The Miracle of Forgiveness" spoken of highly, but at the same time, it seemed to carry a stigma with it along the lines of it being something that was only read by people working through serious sins. Which, from the few pages I've read so far, doesn't seem to be the case at all. A lot of what Pres. Kimball is talking about is the universality of sin and the universal need for repentance and forgiveness. Certainly having heard about this book for a very long time, it feels like I should know everything that's going to be said, but I'm sure there's more to it than might be assumed at first glance.