Monday, June 12, 2017

My Listening

I have done a handful of recaps of my reading on this blog over the years, and I have done a handful of concert reviews as well, but I have never done any report on my podcast listening. Probably because it has only been the last year or so I have actively listened to podcasts. But in any case, here we are...

There are probably ten different podcasts of which I have listened to at least a few episodes over the last year, but here I would like to highlight the three that I listen to regularly and attempt to hear every episode.

This podcast began in March 2016, just under ten years since the end of the Emmy-winning series The West Wing concluded its original run on NBC. The West Wing is without question my favorite TV show, having discovered it midway through its original run when I was a teenager.

The hosts of this podcast are actor Joshua Malina, who was part of the show's main cast for the last four seasons, and musician/composer Hrishikesh Hirway. Each week's episode focuses on one episode from the show, in sequence, and in addition to discussing the plot, production, and trivia of the episode, the hosts and their guest discuss related public policy and sociocultural issues. More often than not, an issue explored in the original episode of The West Wing is either still an issue today or else still relevant in some other way. Guests have included The West Wing cast and crew members as well as current and former real-life political, military, and NGO figures.

Listen to the 1 minute, 23 second intro episode, "0.00 Cold Open" for the hosts' explanation of their project.

This podcast began just last December. The co-hosts are Ed Stetzer and Lynn Cohick, both Wheaton College faculty members. Each week's episode examines one of a myriad of theological issues, from the major timeless questions and creedal statements, exegetical commentary, comparative theology, and everyday Christian life. Highly relatable and gives a fresh introductory look at the different issues.

To date all their guests have been other Wheaton College faculty, but they've promised to have guests from other institutions and organizations as well.

Church Politics

This podcast began just this past May. The co-hosts are Michael Wear, who worked in the Obama White House as well as for the 2012 re-election campaign and is now a consultant and author, and Atlanta-based lawyer and political operative Justin Giboney. The first few episodes were groundwork, including two insightful podcasts examining the history and current focus and status of the Democratic and Republican parties, and thereafter they recap the week's political news and examine the issues based on their Christian convictions. Worthwhile listening for Democrats, Republicans, Christians, and those of other or no faith tradition all.

The podcast, presented by online arts and culture curator platform Forth District, does not (yet?) have its own website, but the first episode can be found at the Forth District website.

What podcasts do you listen to regularly?

Monday, May 15, 2017

Points and Miles

Last year, I began following The Points Guy, a combination travel blog/financial advice/life hack website. It has given me significant insights in how to leverage my own use of credit cards and loyalty programs to, as The Points Guy himself might say, turn everyday activity into exciting rewards. What follows are musings on my own use of credit card and loyalty program rewards.

Credit Cards

I currently carry three Chase credit cards. (I began banking with Chase in college and they have always taken good care of me and made me feel like a valued customer -- even as a comparatively low net worth young adult -- so I am happy to give them the opportunity to service all my banking needs.)

Chase Freedom, since 2015
Chase Freedom Unlimited, since 2016
Chase Sapphire Preferred, since 2017

Chase Freedom has rotating bonus categories; each quarter purchases in a category or two of merchants earns 5% cash back, over the usual 1%. They are usually everyday-purchase categories, like gas (as was the case in the first quarter of 2017) and groceries (as is the case in this current second quarter).

I picked up the Chase Freedom Unlimited to use for my non-bonus category spending, as this card has a universal 1.5% cash back on purchases.

Chase Sapphire Preferred is my first higher-level card. I use it for its bonus categories, restaurants and travel (and the travel category is broad, it even includes local public transit fares), where it earns 2 points per dollar.

Having the Chase Sapphire Preferred means that not only can I get cash back on my Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited purchases, I can combine the Chase Ultimate Rewards points from all cards and transfer to travel partners. I transferred 40,000 of the 50,000 points sign up bonus on the CSP to Southwest Rapid Rewards to redeem for my wife's and my flights to Vermont this summer. Which brings me to...

Airline Loyalty Programs

Living in Chicago, I am fortunate to be in the hub/focus city of three major U.S. airlines: American, Southwest, and United. I've chosen to primarily split my air travel needs between Southwest and United. I like Southwest because of the ability to easily and freely change flights as needed, plus of course the free checked bags, and United because of the diversity of its product, the potential for great mileage redemptions, and its international network access, as my wife and I desire to travel internationally during our lives -- and, of course, as a Chicagoan, I like to give my business to Chicago-based companies.

Since becoming a United MileagePlus member a couple years ago, I've earned close to 25,000 points (some through flying, and some through MileagePlus Shopping portal and the MileagePlus X app), and earlier this year redeemed for my first award flight, and found Saver Award availability to get me to Charleston for my grandma's 80th birthday party this month.

And, as I mentioned above, I moved 40,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which I could do once I obtained the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, to Southwest Rapid Rewards for a pair of round-trip flights to Vermont.

What credit cards and loyalty programs do you use?

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Music for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

I am taking a sabbatical from my full Musical Advent Calendar. I hope to prepare the full calendar in again for Advent 2017, but for Advent 2016, I will have a selection for each Sunday of this season. New posts in the series will be available on Saturday evenings.

Sunday, December 18 | The Fourth Sunday of Advent

"Adore Him"
Words and music by Kari Jobe, 2009
Performed by Kari Jobe on the album Worship and Adore: A Christmas Offering

(Song text is displayed in the video)

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever, Amen.

The Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Music for the Third Sunday of Advent

I am taking a sabbatical from my full Musical Advent Calendar. I hope to prepare the full calendar in again for Advent 2017, but for Advent 2016, I will have a selection for each Sunday of this season. New posts in the series will be available on Saturday evenings.

Sunday, December 11 | The Third Sunday of Advent

"The First Noel"
Words a traditional English carol, exact origin unknown
Music by John Stainer, 1871, adapted by R. Christopher Teichler, 2006
Performed by the Wheaton College (IL) Concert Choir, Men's Glee Club, Women's Chorale, and Symphonic Band at the 2006 Wheaton College Christmas Festival

(Song text is displayed in the video)

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and forever, Amen.

The Collect for the Third Sunday of Advent