Tag Archives: Hobbies

What a difference an year makes!

A year ago, the Koorse family was hanging on by a thread. We had just had baby Arin. My workplace was awesome enough to grant me paternity leave and we had come to Florida to spend our first months with our son in a sunny climate instead of the brutal cold of Maryland. However, the first few months with a baby are challenging – even if you’ve been through it before and you think you know what to expect. The entire family was feeling sick, the baby was colic, and his big sister had no idea what was going on.

Fast forward one year. Dahlia, Arin, Megan, and I are partying on the beach in Cape Canaveral. We’re mostly healthy and we are all very happy. My son is cruising around on two legs and my daughter is swimming in pools and sharing her toys. While work-life balance was rough, we’ve made it through this crucial period for our family. Life is good.

I’ve been thinking about this blog very frequently recently. When I first set it up in 1998, I used it to win a business school representative election. In 2001, I started using it to communicate about my Peace Corps experience. In 2005, it became a forum for showing how challenging it can be to transition back to life in the United States after living abroad. In 2008, it became an infrequently updated collection of ideas about the non-profit world. In 2015, it was all about my first baby. In 2019, it’s been all about my second child. What is it about now?

I stay away from most social media. However, I am passionate about politics around the world and group dynamics. I do think I want a forum to express my opinions and collect feedback. 2020 is going to be about finding a new way to share my interests on the blog and to participate in the rich online communities that sponsor activities that align with my values.

Malcolm Gladwell

One of the main benefits of being at the Gates Foundation is the large number of special guests and speakers we have every year.  Last Friday, we hosted a chat with the brilliant Malcolm Gladwell.   I had never read any of his books before but I had heard glowing reviews for Tipping Point and Blink.  The focus of his discussion was his new book – Outliers.  Despite the name, the real intent of the book is not to point out what is unique about an individual or situation, it is to present the unique set of circumstances that lead to an “outlier”.  He was brilliant!  Some of the things he discussed:

• Why rice growing traditions in Southeast Asia have led to higher math test scores
• Why most elite hockey players are born during the early parts of the year
• Why the birthdate of a majority of our software tycoons is within the same three year period

I purchased his book for a friend and got it signed, however I could not stop myself from reading it from page to page over the past weekend.  It is brilliant!

The inauguration of Barack Obama is tomorrow.  One of Malcolm’s most interesting speaking points was that America sees Obama as an outlier but in many ways he is not.  Symbollically he might be the fruition of Martin Luthor King’s dreams, but technically his background doesn’t match.  In the end, it doesn’t really matter.  Tomorrow we will have an inspiring new president with an inbox from hell.  I have tremendous faith in him.

Hobbies (Prior to Peace Corps)

Here’s a list of some of my hobbies in no particular order!!  This includes sports, favorite bands, favorite people, and a whole bunch of other junk.

Digital Photography

My first camera ever was a digital camera that I bought after countless hours of research online.  After seeing a friend’s Nikon 950 digicam in action while I was in Florida, I knew I had to have one.  Digital photography is absolutely incredible.  Its great taking a picture of a person, and then checking your LCD instantly to see if it came out right.  Its fantastic to take three hundred pictures in one outing, stick them on your PC in seconds, and then take it out for some more action without having to wait for them to get developed.  Its also awesome to take the pictures and Photoshop them to perfection to truly capture the moment.  But the greatest thing about it is that I can fit a lifetimes worth of pictures on one CD (which is nice if I ever have to evacuate a burning building… or flee from an invasion).

My first digital camera was an Olympus D450Z and I recently traded it in for a Canon S110.  Despite its minute size, it’s built out of steel and has awesome picture quality.  But with digital photography, it takes more than great equipment to get the perfect shot.  Even Adobe Photoshop can only do so much.  If you’re interested in learning more about digital photography, check out http://www.dpreview.com/ .  I also highly recommend Adobe Photoshop Elements if you are looking for solid image editing software without going broke.

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Musical Taste

I love all types of music, but I have a particular affinity to techno, classical, and rock.  My favorite groups are Linkin Park, Nine Inch Nails, Tupac, Prodigy, Offspring, Loreena McKennitt, Cirque du Soleil, Bach, Clifford Jordan Quartet (jazz), Missy Elliot, Gravity Kills, and Weird Al.  I like anything with beat or rhythm that conveys energy.  Slow music drains me.  I’m a big fan of movie soundtracks with classical music such as ones for the Gladiator and Lord of the Rings.

I’ve also begun to enjoy some forms of country music.  I’m really enjoying Charlie Daniel’s The Devil Went Down to Georgia.  I like Shania Twain, but I’ve heard she’s not really country!

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I have to admit that this is another one of my quirks… I love listening to music through headphones.  I like them better than speakers or even live shows.  There’s something about their isolation and detail that makes me feel like I’m getting a private screening of a musicians best performance like I’m a special VIP!!!  I’ve gone through dozens of headphones in my quest to find audio bliss with pricetags ranging from $5 to $500.  I’m so nuts about headphones, that I’ve purchased dedicated amplifiers for them.  But I’m not alone.  Check out http://www.head-fi.com/ or http://www.headwize.com/ for more headphone fanatics! I’m also going to share some secrets with you.  The two best headphones I’ve ever used (and the only ones I currently have) are the Koss KSC 35 and the Etymotics ER-4P.

The KSC 35 is the most comfortable, best sounding active use headphone I’ve ever used.  I have it on my head while I’m working out, running, doing laundry, etc.  They are a hundred times better than anything out there for active use and they only cost $30!  They may be discontinued soon, so buy them soon!  They are open headphones and don’t block any noise in and out of them which is usually good for most situations. 

On the other end of the spectrum I highly recommend the Etymotics ER-4P earbuds.  These closed (block outside noise) headphones cost $270 and look cheaper than the KSC 35s mentioned above but have the most incredible sound qualities I’ve ever heard.  They are difficult to put in the ear and tend to attract earwax (yuck!) if your ears aren’t perfectly clean (I’m neurotic about this).  They also SHUT out everything in the environment around you such as planes, rockets, TVs, noisy roommates.  This allows you to create your own little heavenly audio experience regardless of your surroundings.  They are awesome!

I go to http://www.headphone.com/ for most of my headphone purchases as they tend to have decent deals.  You can also get them from other headphone users in the marketplace of the headphone community sites I mentioned earlier which has saved me considerable amounts of cash!

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I’m a huge fan of college football and college basketball.  I think college sports are played with more passion and enthusiasm than anything in the professional leagues.  I do enjoy watching NBA games, but pro football doesn’t do it for me. I abhor baseball (playing it’s not that bad, but watching it is torture).  Golf is great, but it’s become too Tiger-centric.  He’s too good!!!  As far as athletes go, I think Iverson is unbelievable.  While I question his attitude, I really admire his energy.

When I get a chance, I enjoy watching women’s tennis as well.  With the Williams sisters, Hingis, Davenport, and Capriati,  Women’s tennis is so much better than men’s tennis. They’ve got real personalities and they look great!

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Weight Training / Running

Running has always been a passion of mine.  There is a point during a long run where your current worries melt away and you can focus on what is truly important.  I run for this “high” and it really helps me deal with life.  I used to run track and cross country in high school, and although I was never very good, I enjoyed it very much.  Interestingly enough, my mile times and my pleasure from running have actually gotten better over time, and I think I may do pretty well in the Boston Marathon in 2005 if I keep it up.  Currently I plan to escalate my running till I get 50 miles a week, at which I will begin hill workouts and further improve my mile times.

My current workout routine is a mix of size and tone sets.  I am attempting periodization, but I might just shift to the retro workouts if it doesn’t get me the results I need.  My goal is to someday get 250 pds * 8 reps * 3 sets on bench (which is my weakest area by far).  That’s as far as I want to go. 

I’ve kept a journal of my training for two years now, and I believe that its an important asset to my workouts.  You’re really the only person who knows if you’ve been faithful to your workout and the only one who really cares.  The journal keeps me in line even if I’ve got a partner to work with… it’s a permanent reminder of when I’ve been lazy and when I’ve been effective.  It’s empowering to see how far you’ve come since the day you started a training program!

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Web Design

As you can see, web design is another one of my passions.  I believe that a well designed web page is the true indicator of how serious the person/organization is.  After all, a web site is open to the entire planet… if someone wants to be taken seriously, they better make the best online impression they can.

I’ve been working online for six years, and it started off as a hobby that I never truly believed would take me anywhere.  For six straight days I was obsessed with creating my first web page.  I read an entire book about Photoshop 4.0, HTML, FrontPage and a whole bunch of web technologies.  I never imagined that those skills would give me opportunities well beyond anything I would learn in class!!  I’ve worked on several commercial websites, including some coldfusion sites for NASA, and I’ve been part of many successful and unsuccessful online ventures. 

I think the best is yet to come in terms of web design.  We have not even begun to tap into the power of the Internet, and web designers are in the forefront of molding this incredible resource.  I can’t wait for the day when I can truly create some incredible websites without having compatibility issues between IE, Netscape, and the evil known as AOHelL (America on Line for those not acquainted with its misery… good for you).  Its a pain designing for the lowest common denominator.

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Politics / World News / History

I am a news buff and my favorite topic has always been politics.  There is no such thing as the perfect political system and the proof of this is our wonderful United States of America.  The basic premise that it is a country of the people has already been challenged by the last election, and I am certain that the fact that more people are placing our system under scrutiny will make it crumble. With the recent attacks on the US, more and more liberties are being pushed back on our list of priorities in favor of security.  Also interest groups, the unchecked media conglomerates, and lawyers will rip us apart.  Every political system is based on trust, and trust is waning. Why?  Because people are noticing that the system created 200 years ago isn’t really evolving fast enough… its being exploited and no longer fits the spirit of the founding fathers.  That being said, its still the best political system in the planet.  Sad fact.  I’m going to miss seeing it change while I’m in the Peace Corps and I think that the USA I will come back to is going to be very different from the one I left.  What is my political affiliation?  I’m a liberal with conservative values!!!  I typically vote democratic (my stance on most issues is democratic), but I admire the character of Republicans such as John McCain and Colin Powell.

I also love world news.  US News is pretty uninteresting except for the occasional wackiness, but the world around us is becoming a very fascinating and troubled place.  The false sense of security our Americentric news systems give us are a far cry from the events in the Middle East and South Asia.  I have a feeling that this sense of security will vanish soon as well.  It took its licks during the September 11th crisis, but the country is closing itself up again.  I’m not looking forward to it, but its time that we realized that the US is still part of this planet… and it is no longer the world power that it used to be.  I’m a big fan of the European Union, and I think that it is the beginning of a global trend in international politics.  Mergers!!!

History also fascinates me.  I love reading about the historical conflicts between regions and the origins of war.  I love reading about war because it seems ironic that war is a means of achieving peace.  Sure, you can sign treaties and have non-violent protests, but it seems like the only conclusive agreements in history have been written in the blood of soldiers on battlefields.  What is it about the human race that places land and ideology above the lives of our species?

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Videogames / Computergames

I love videogames and computergames.  I know that these games are the only things really pushing mainstream technology today.  I don’t really enjoy playing them as much as enjoying how intricate and amazing they are.  There are several games that I think push the boundaries of imagination and are driving us closer to getting to a virtual reality.  And thats the pinnacle of any game… to make the player feel attached (or addicted) to a virtual world through the eyes of a virtual hero.  Here’s my list of top ten games getting us to this utopia:

  1. Star Control II – The greatest villains of all time, the greatest game music ever, the unbelievable story universe, and epic battles.  This game came out ten years ago, but I have yet to see another game with it depth.  You can probably find it free on the web somewhere.
  2. Civilization – If you haven’t played this game, you need to.  Its graphics are outdated and there quite a few sequels out there, but it offers more replayability than any game. Essentially, you take control of a race and attempt to create a glorious civilization by building wonders, conquering and spying on enemies, conducting trade, inventing new technologies… its historical and its strategic maneuverability are awesome.  I remember the time when my Mahatma Gandhi laid waste to Rome with a batallion of catapults.  Unfortunately a hundred years later (in game time) Stalin broke our treaty and destroyed my capital city with a battleship 🙁 
  3. Baldur’s Gate / Planescape: Torment – Awesome role-playing games.  If you’re used to the linear crap that is the Final Fantasy series (relax, I like them too… especially VI), then the pure control you have in this game may not be for you.  After a while your characters will feel truly alive… especially when two of your fighters team up and kill your mage!!  I haven’t played the Baldur’s Gate sequel, but I hear it offers over a hundred hours of game play in its main storyline!  Planescape has one of the best stories I have ever seen in a game.  Check it out too! 
  4. tie: Metal Gear Solid and Diablo – Metal Gear Solid is the closest cinematic type game where I’ve felt that I had some control over the main character.  Its production values are so high that I still consider it the epitome of great console game play.  Diablo came out a while ago too, and truly revolutionized the role-playing genre.  Point and click to attack… its simplicity while offering depth was a predecessor to the games listed at #3. 
  5. UFO Enemy Unknown – This game took off the same time the X-Files did.  Conspiracy?  Maybe, but I absolutely loved it.  The surprise attacks on my base by aliens, the raids on alien headquarters, developing blasters off of alien tech, and protecting civilians from the alien threat.  Some of my most memorable moments were when I came out with a surefire way to wipe out an alien species only to have my away team destroyed by a new variant.  I’ll never forget the time one of the aliens brain washed Scotty into blowing up himself and his comrades with a grenade.  That was priceless!!  ..sob..  poor scotty..
  6. Soul Calibur – I had never really been blown away by the way a game looks before I saw Soul Calibur.  For a long time, this was the reason to own a Sega Dreamcast.  Friends would come over for hours just to look at the gorgeous battles.  The controls were responsive and easy to master.  The greatest fighting game of all time!!
  7. Virtua Tennis – The second best reason to own a Dreamcast!! The graphics were great and four players could duke it out on a game that was incredibly easy to play and fun to master.
  8. Half Life – The game that redefined the first-person shooter genre by introducing a plot that involved more than blowing away the bad guys.  Although the ending is suspect, the game was thrilling.  Did that hostile just chuck my grenade back at me?  
  9. Master of Orion – Civilization in space.  ‘Nuff said!!
  10. tie: Chrono Trigger and Skies of Arcadia – Chrono Trigger was an awesome game with incredible music and a fantastic storyline about a group of teens who save the world by traveling through time.  You could fight the final boss at any point in time, and when you finished the game, you could play through it again retaining your old stats!!  You could also try and discover each of its 12 unique endings.  Its sequel unfortunately wasn’t as good (Chrono Cross has the most convoluted storyline ever).  Skies of Arcadia was the best RPG for the Dreamcast.  Had awesome ship battles, incredible graphics and a good story.  The characters were really fleshed out and not cookie cutter like most Squaresoft heroes!!  

There are so many titles that almost made this list, and probably would have made the list on another day.  I think that the X-Box is going to beat out the PS2 and gamecube in the long run for no other reason than Microsoft is unstoppable!!!  As far as my favorite console of all time, I have to pick the Sega Dreamcast although it will soon be out of commission.  Never have I seen so many fantastic games from a console underdog.  May you rest in peace, my faithful Dreamcast!!

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eBay is the world’s leading online auction service and I am an ardent believer that the average price of an item through eBay is its true market value.  It is the ultimate marketplace!  I use it religiously to buy and sell my items, and often get more money for an item than what it cost me.  I  have no doubt that I can purchase a used good (one that retains value such as headphones or used video games 🙂 etc.) and sell it without a loss after carefully playing with it for a while.  I’m always shocked by how much people are willing to pay for an item… I guess with millions of potential bidders, there’s always going to be one that thinks any price slightly lower than retail value is a good one.

Make no mistake about it – eBay is a seller’s market.  They don’t ship until they receive the cash, and they have the power to describe the item as they see fit.  The only thing that keeps the buyer safe is the seller’s reputation and their (the seller’s) desire to protect it.  Feedback is the key to keeping people honest on eBay and it works extremely well.  I’ve been using it for 3 years and my feedback rating is pretty good!  Check it out by clicking here.  It’s a source of pride for me and I would never do anything to endanger it!

Here are my tips on using eBay.  I hope you find them useful!

As a buyer, only bid at the last possible moment with the highest amount you are willing to pay.  If you email the seller, make note of how long it takes them to respond as this reflects their ability to deliver the product to you as well in a timely manner.  Make sure your seller has good feedback.  No feedback is a sign of trouble as no one can vouch for the seller who may be legitimate or may be trying to rip you off.  Bad/neutral feedback is also a cause for concern (although there may be underlying issues) because it usually takes an extreme case for another buyer to post it.  Typically though, the seller is expected to leave positive feedback for the buyer once they receive the money and the buyer is safe from reciprocal negative feedback if they feel like they got cheated in the end.  Most problems end in either neutral feedback, no feedback, or a resolution outside of eBay.  I haven’t had too many issues with purchases off of eBay, but I can honestly say that its far too typical for the final value of an item to be higher than what you can find it for at some online store using an online coupon.  Make sure you check out bargain sites before you make a bid on a product.  Despite that fact, eBay is still the best as you get the item for the lowest price based on your available info and the seller typically gets the highest price that they can get for it. Its a win-win.

As a seller, make sure that your auction listing is detailed and has great pictures of the product.  You do not want to appear unprofessional… this is still a business transaction! Do not understate problems with the product, but be willing to provide more details if someone inquires via email.  NEVER put a poor title on a product.  If the product has already been listed in several past auctions, look at the title that received the most bids.  Use the keywords in that title for your auction as well.  This will prevent potentially disastrous auctions.  Also never use reserve auctions as they will turn away potential bidders who may not be willing to risk bidding to a possibly high reserve price.  Instead, make the lowest amount you are willing to accept for the item its starting bid value.  I typically start my auctions at $5 as I trust eBay to get me the best possible market price in the end.  Lastly, when dealing with items that may attract younger audiences (such as video games or comic books) be wary of bidders that seem childish.  They may be underage and could screw up your auction.  Sadly, with adult auctions I feel the same way about users with @aol.com email addresses.  While this may be a horrible stereotype, AOL users tend to need more direct guidance in completing auction requirements and following through on commitments. Remember that you can cancel bids and block bidders… I typically do that if I feel worried about a particular person with zero or negative feedback.  Check and respond to email about auctions as soon as possible as it helps the bidder feel confident about bidding on your item.  And when the auction is over, send the bidder an email about payment options ASAP and send the product immediately after receiving the money.  Its good etiquette to provide positive feedback to the bidder once you get the money, and then ask the bidder to give you feedback once they receive the item.  Protect your reputation at all costs if there is an issue or it may hurt future auctions and eBay purchases!

I highly recommend that you do not start selling on eBay until you have at least a 30 feedback rating.  This means that you should make positive and fast transactions with eBay sellers and request for feedback until you have a decent reputation.  Once you are at that point, sell away and enjoy the magic of eBay!  A little money can go a long way.

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I’m a nut for technology.  I always want to buy the latest and greatest technology for my laptop etc.  I’ve gone through at least five mp3 players and had a number of non-Palm PDA’s.  I prefer spending on technology over getting food, beds, and any other overrated necessity.  All of last year, I slept in a sleeping bag on the floor of my apartment while I bought a ton of cool stuff for my computer system.  This was compounded two  summers ago when I purchased a non-essential top of the line IBM Thinkpad off of eBay for a huge price tag… I had a lot of explaining to do.  Here’s my current setup:

  • IBM T20 Thinkpad… Pentium 700, Titanium reinforced surfaces, 512 meg of ram, 14.1 inch screen, thinklight, s-video out, dvd player, 18 gig hard drive, 12 gig secondary hard drive, internal modem/100 bt network card, S3 Savage 3D Mobile Chipset…. this system is awesome even if it isn’t top of the line any more!
  • Compaq Ipaq 3650 – The color PDA that almost makes me want to through away my laptop.  If it had a real hard drive, it would be no contest.  Way better than my old REX 6000 although it is a lot bigger.  It’s taken over my life!  I even have a magnetic VAJA case for it that acts as my wallet.
  • Sony MZ-R700 Minidisc Recorder – Minidisc retains all the sound quality of CDs in a small package, and with the new MDLP technology around 2 hours and 30 minutes of music can fit on one cheap minidisc.  You can also put 5 hours of voice on it.  Sold my beloved Rio 500 because I can do mp3’s with this device.  The only problem with it is that everything is in realtime… I can’t transfer 2 hours and 30 minutes of music on it in seconds.  It takes 2 hours and 30 minutes!  But it makes up for it in build quality and battery efficiency (50 hours on one AA!!!).
  • Canon S110 Digital ELPH – 2.1 Megapixels of Digital goodness!! This camera takes excellent shots that are fantastic for websites!  It’s a pocket sized wonder that takes great 1600 by 1200 pics and 30 sec movie clips.  I’ve got a waterproof kit for it that will let me take pictures underwater as well.

This is a very, very expensive hobby… but all of these items are well used and are absolutely necessary!!! 🙂

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