Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas Presence

Merry Christmas 2009

One of the big highlights of Christmas was hanging out with these 3.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My 2009 Christmas Card

LDSH Exterior (4)

Well, believe it or not, Christmas time has rolled around again. The older I get the faster each year seems to go. And yet, when I look back at what all has gone on in the last year, it's clear that there was still plenty of time for things to happen. If this is your first time coming to check out one of my Christmas cards, I guess I'll say, by way of explanation, that I try to give a thorough recap of the year that has passed with a few photos and a lot of links to other blog posts and photos for those of you who want to read or see more about a specific thing. If it gets a bit long-winded along the way, I apologize, and won't be offended if you just scroll past the text and look at the photos. :) (Note: clicking on any of the photos will take you to my account, where, with a free membership you can see any of the pictures at full-size.)

One of the things I did plenty of this year was travel. In fact, at one point in the summer, when I did most of my traveling, I felt like had maybe over-vacationed. Maybe I was just compensating for not doing much vacationing in the last few years due to that whole finishing-my-PhD thing that I had going on. In any case, I have so many vacations to talk about this year that I thought I'd intersperse them through the rest of my yearly recap.

But first, I guess I better talk about how I was able to afford my vacations. Last year at this time, I had just accepted a position as a Medical Informaticist with Intermountain Healthcare, here in Salt Lake. I started January 5th, so I'm coming up soon on my year mark. It's been a really enjoyable experience so far. I've been working a lot on setting up a tool to let our doctors fill out death certificates electronically. When I first started it was just at a theoretical stage and now, a year later, we have a lot of progress to show and are hoping to have that up and running for a pilot test early next year. My boss and co-workers have been very enjoyable to work with and that's made the whole experience that much better. Definitely happy with my decision. Most days I work from my shared office in the basement of LDS Hospital. Random fact: the photo at the top of this Christmas card was taken just outside of the hospital near my office.

**************** Vacation Time! ********************

The first real vacation I went on this year wasn't even until the 4th of July weekend (I had to accumulate some time off before I could take some, you know?). My good friend Jon (who you might remember from last year's Spring Break trip to NYC), now goes to school at Univ. of Washington in Seattle, a place I had never been. So for the 4th of July weekend, I took a quick trip up there and enjoyed some of the fun that Seattle has to offer:

From Kerry Park
The Space Needle

Public Market Center
Pike's Market

Fremont Troll
The Fremont Troll

Fireworks over Lake Union
Fireworks at Gasworks Park over Lake Union

More Seattle photos.

Day 1
Days 2 & 3


Even though I started working full-time in January, I still had some loose ends to tie up with my degree. In a meeting with my committee, just before the holidays last year, I got some direction as to what writing they would like me to do to get final approval on the text of my dissertation. After taking a few weeks to settle into my new job, I got back to the task of writing in February. In order to avoid some of the distractions of working at home, I found a sufficiently boring spot at the local library where I was able to to buckle down for a few nights a week and was able to get the last bits of writing finished and approved by my committee. Definitely a huge relief to get that taken care of. Then after a few, relatively painless rounds of formatting corrections with the Thesis Editor, I got everything ready and printed in time to officially graduate in Spring of 2009.

My family and a good friend (Eric Harris) joined me at Kingsbury Hall for the School of Medicine's commencement ceremonies. I know some people don't really care for graduation ceremonies, and to be honest, I have to agree that they are rather boring. However, I have always felt that commencement serves as a good moment of closure on a round of schooling. This time around was extra fun because I got to wear some fancy robes that weren't just plain black and got "hooded" as well.

PhD Graduation 005

PhD Graduation 044

More graduation photos

**************** Vacation Time! ********************

After kicking off July with my trip to Seattle, I followed up with a 10 day period later in the month in which I went on 3 separate vacations. I dubbed it my "Week o' Vacationing 2009". The first trip of the week was a weekend jaunt down to St. George in an SUV full of friends for some extra-warm weather and to see "Footloose" at the Tuacahn outdoor theater.

Swimming at Sand Hollow
Swimming at Sand Hollow

St George Temple Group Photo
Visiting the St. George temple

At Tuacahn
Waiting for the Show at Tuacahn

More St. George photos

Day 1 in St. George
Day 2
Day 3


Around the same time that I was finishing up my writing I also went to see a doctor about some persistent discomfort I'd been having in my side. In the end that was determined to be some pain originating from the muscles between my ribs, but along the way, I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes. That diagnosis led to my making some changes in my diet (basically reducing the carbohydrates that I eat) and starting to exercise more regularly. As a result, my blood sugar levels are back within the high end of normal. As an added benefit, I've also lost around 40 pounds in the last 9 months. Dealing with diabetes continues to be a constant in my life, but it's not something that I worry about a lot right now and served as a good impetus to make some healthy changes.

**************** Vacation Time! ********************

The 2nd vacation of my Week o' Vacationing was a family vacation in Park City. George and his family came up from Texas and we got to spend a few fun days together with them at a nice condo that my parents rented in Park City near the Olympic Park. We had fun times doing Park City stuff (Olympic Park, Alpine Slide, Outlet Malls, etc) and just being together. Definitely a fun few days. Fun to get to play with the nieces and nephew, too. Ben and I were even in charge of dinner one of the days and I feel like we did a pretty great job of putting together kabobs on the grill. (Kabobs: 2009's food of the year).

Park City - Family Vacation 2009 008
Playing with Austin and Elise

Park City - Family Vacation 2009 014
Being silly with Lucy

Park City - Family Vacation 2009 042
Kabob Night

More Park City photos

Day 1 in Park City
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4


Also at the end of March (March was clearly a crazy month), I moved from the place I'd been living in for the last couple years into a very nice house that a friend of mine from my ward had just purchased. By the end of my time at my previous place, I was getting worn out of being in charge of finding new roommates all the time and dealing with management who didn't really like us living there, so moving into a place where someone else was in charge of everything has been a nice change of pace. People keep telling me that now is a great time to be in the market for a place of my own, and I've started saving money toward that end, but given how nice the place I live in now is, and how much I enjoy my roommates, I really don't feel like I need to be in any big rush. I guess it's potentially something that could happen in the next year. Check back next year, I guess. :)

**************** Vacation Time! ********************

The 3rd and final portion of my Week o' Vacationing was a quick camping trip up to Yellowstone National Park. My first time ever going there, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. Not only did we manage to avoid any seriously bad weather (far from typical for my camping experiences), I got to see lots of cool stuff in a short span. Geysers, waterfalls, bison, elk, spectacular canyons... and had a great time with some great friends. Definitely would recommend Yellowstone to others. So many of the sites were very accessible. The roads take you very close to some beautiful sites, and then it's just a short walk from the parking lot to see them. I know some people like the feeling of being alone in nature, or of being some place that very few people have been. I was perfectly fine seeing this stuff with 400 other people, if it meant I only had to do a 10 minute hike. :)

Old Faithful
Old Faithful

Herd of Bison
Part of a big herd of bison that crossed the road in front of us

Lower Falls, from Red Rock
Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River
More Yellowstone photos

Day 1 in Yellowstone
Day 2
Day 3


Yet another thing that happened in March was that I started shopping for a new car to replace my (not so) trusty 1996 Nissan Sentra. After doing a fair amount of research, I decided that what I probably wanted to get was a new Nissan Altima. After a variety of test drives and dealership visits, I was finally able to settle on a new 2008 Altima that I drove off the lot with only 180 miles. It's been really nice to have a car that I've haven't had to worry about breaking down and that has all of its parts working. So much so that I've enjoyed putting over 10,000 miles on it in the last 9 months. :) I'm finally driving a car that was built in the decade I'm driving it in, although I guess, depending on how you count the decades that might be coming to end in a few weeks.

**************** Vacation Time! ********************

In the middle of August, I embarked on a week-long adventure: a 5-day cruise to the Bahamas with my roommates and other good friends from my ward. We took a red-eye flight to Miami (that I was able to sleep through better than most) and departed from there for points southeastward. Our stops were Grand Turk (in Turks and Caicos), Half Moon Cay (an amazing private island owned by Carnival cruise lines), and Nassau (capital of the Bahamas). In addition to mostly beautiful weather and spectacularly delicious dinners, some of the highlights included swimming in gorgeous blue water, swimming with and feeding sting rays, a catamaran ride to a reef for snorkeling, and winning a collection of ship-shaped trivia trophies.

Half Moon Cay
Group photo at Half Moon Cay

On the catamaran
Sailing on the Catamaran

Trivia Celebration
Some of my trivia winnings

(Many) more photos from our cruise

Day 1 of the cruise
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5
Day 6 & 7


In September of this year, I (as usual) had a birthday. I turned 31 this year, and had a fun evening of dinner and bowling with some good friends. It's a little weird to think about being in my 30s, but to be honest I mostly still feel about the same as always. I do feel good about being done with school and having a job that is satisfying and that pays well. I really can't complain about where my life has taken me so far. I feel blessed to have most of my family nearby and to have made so many great friends. When I returned to Salt Lake in 2000 after completing my mission to Argentina, I only really had 1 or 2 friends in Salt Lake. Now, I can honestly count hundreds of people as good friends, and most places I go I run into people I know.

31st Birthday 025
Birthday Bowling at Bonwood

**************** Vacation Time! (Kind of) ********************

In what was my last trip of the year, I went to San Francisco in November to attend the Fall Symposium of the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA). I didn't attend last fall as I was in the midst of wrapping up my dissertation and didn't have any funding for travel, so it was nice to catch up with some good friends who've moved on to other locations, or even friends who are still here in Salt Lake, but that I don't see much these days.

I managed to find a little time to take a cable car down to the wharf one morning, and then went to Wicked one evening. Aside from that it was mostly a business trip.

Coming down Hyde Street
Looking out the front of the cable car at Alcatraz

San Francisco 2009 (AMIA) 087
Me at Wicked

More photos from San Francisco

More about my trip


Now, obviously traveling wasn't the only fun I had this year. Some of the other fun things I enjoyed were:
  • Being a first-time Utah Football season ticket holder. Not the amazing season we had last year, but still a good one, and very fun. They went undefeated at home, so I can at least say that they won every time I was in attendance.
  • Concerts. Two concerts stand out in my memory as having been especially fun: Girl Talk & Lupe Fiasco at the U's Grand Kerfuffle, and They Might Be Giant's Flood Anniversary show.
  • Photography. I wouldn't say I do a lot of photography for photography's sake, but I did get out a couple times this year to take pictures of stuff that I thought turned out nicely:

    Where Snow Shacks Go to Die
    a spot in Murray where a bunch of Snow Shacks were stored for the winter

    Fall Foliage 2009 037
    some shots of fall color that I took in Big Cottonwood Canyon
It's become a personal tradition to give a report on my dating life each year in my Christmas post, and this year is no different. I am somewhat pleased to report that, as of this writing, I've been on 22 dates this year with 16 different girls. That's up a tad from last year (20), and the year before (16). I wish that I could say that the increased dating has resulted in my actually entering into some kind of serious dating relationship with any of these girls, but sadly I cannot. I did try to do better this year at going on more than a single date with girls, and 10 of these dates were not first dates, so I guess I made some improvement there. Suffice it to say that I continue "en la lucha, che" as the Argentines are fond of saying.

As I bring this Christmas letter to an end, I just want to comment on how truly blessed I feel. I'd be remiss to not acknowledge the hand of the Lord in my life.

I have so many wonderful people in my life that fill it with joy and fun, that even when I have minor setbacks they aren't even enough to make me feel down about things. To be finished with school (quite possibly forever), and in a job that I enjoy is a big relief and reassurance of the Lord's guidance throughout my life. Being diagnosed with Type II diabetes was a pretty big downer this year, but I'm grateful that I was able to have it diagnosed almost as a fluke, without having to go to the Emergency Room in some kind of diabetic shock or something.

Though I'd prefer to have my own family by now, I'm grateful that I've been able to make so many great friends here in Salt Lake, and hopefully I've been able to make their lives better with my presence, the way that they've done for me. A friend reminded me the other day that if I'd been married years ago, I probably wouldn't know her or most of the people I associate with now. And while I'm sure that I would know other people instead, I feel really good about how things have worked out so far and the opportunities I've had in place of having my own family.

In any case, I've probably already gone on way too long. I'll leave you with a collage of some more fun photos from the year gone by.

2009 Friends Collage

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all!

Monday, December 07, 2009

Old Book, New Book #14: Atlas Shrugged -> The Dark Frigate

Atlas Shrugged

It's over! Our long national personal nightmare is over! And by that I mean that on Friday after work, I finally finished reading Atlas Shrugged, a book I started reading back in March. I know. 9 months seems like a ridiculously long time to be reading a book (we'll save the discussion of how it's taken me 12 months to read Genesis, Exodus, and Leviticus for another day). But here's the thing: Atlas Shrugged doesn't fall into the same category as most books. In fact, I'd say that in many ways, the plot points of Atlas Shrugged serve as a framework for Ms. Rand to present a collection of essays, thinly veiled as the kinds of things that a character in a novel might possibly say. Which means that the plot moves along at a relatively snail's pace. I would definitely not classify this book as a "page-turner". The speechify-ing reached its pinnacle near the end when one of the character proceeds to make a speech that lasts for 70 pages.

That said, I wouldn't say this was a "bad" book, or that, for the most part, I didn't enjoy reading it. It just didn't have a lot to make me hurry back and see how things turned out.

In reading Atlas Shrugged, I think what I will take away is a stronger conviction that governmental redistribution of wealth is not good for the country, and a bit of a change in philosophy about the wealthy. This change had already begun when, during President Obama's campaign, he would often ask if anyone in the audience made more than $200,000. Because he was only going to raise taxes on those people. Because that's too much money, I guess. And anyone who makes that much money must be a bad person and deserve to be punished. In reality, probably because there are fewer voters who fall into that group than not. (Kind of like how the AARP is going to bankrupt America's future because young people don't vote). I can understand that people who make more money can afford to pay more taxes, but a flat tax would also provide that. Anyway, the idea that taking money away from people who worked to earn it and giving it to people who didn't seems pretty unfair. I know I'm certainly oversimplifying things a lot, and I can understand there are many shades of gray here that I'm glossing over. Just trying to summarize a bit of the thoughts that I had while reading this book.

I'm not sure I would wholeheartedly recommend this book. Ayn Rand's got to have a shorter book somewhere that does a better of job of describing her philosophy succinctly. Haven't read the Fountainhead. Maybe that one does.

The Dark Frigate

In any case, it feels good to have finished Atlas Shrugged. Maybe I can enjoy some lighter reading for a bit now. The next book I started is "The Dark Frigate", the next of the Newbery Medal winners that I happened to pick up last time I was at the library. Not as famous as the other two that I've recently read. In fact, in trying to find a decent link for it to put in the my sidebar book list (way down at the bottom), I had to look hard for a paperback edition that was still in print. Anyway, I just found it on the shelf at my local library, so if you wanted to read it, I assume it'd be relatively easy to find.

Another old one, written the year after The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle. It appears to be the story of a young man, recently orphaned who gets into some pirating adventures. Had never heard of it prior to looking at the list of award winners. Guess I'll find out why.