Archive for Random Thoughts

Anxiety and Phone Calls

I don’t like talking on the phone. There are two reasons for this, I’ll get one out of the way quickly because it is less important than the other.

A key component for me when conversing with people is being able to see them. When you consider that I am posting this to a blog and I’m fairly active online (and have been since the late 80s in some form or another) it seems counter-intuitive. But, in my brain, this is writing, which is different from talking. I can write, and people write back, and if I get a particularly heated or spiky response from someone, I’m not on the spot to immediately reply. I can take my time and consider the position and give a thoughtful rebuttal if it is warranted. When I talk to people, how they react, in their face and body, to the things being said supply great information for keeping from kicking over too many hornet’s nests, and also to encourage conversation if the response is positive. But when on the phone, all that drops away, and I can’t see a person rolling their eyes or gritting their teeth or fidgeting with their fingers. They might be doing those things, but I can’t see them. I don’t like this.

But the larger reason why I don’t like to talk on the phone is almost a post traumatic stress response. For years, for more than two decades, I have worked in some form or another in a customer service related position. These days I do much more programming than support, but being at a smaller company I still have to occasionally answer the phone. Because my jobs have almost always leaned toward support instead of service the people I talk to usually are having a problem and not just asking a question. And more often than not they are angry about the problem. I can do my best to try to defuse their anger, but it doesn’t always work. So the bulk of my experience using phones is to have someone yell at me.

These days, when I need to make a phone call, I pick up the phone and before I start dialing I can feel my heart speed up. My foot will start to tap or my leg start to twitch. I might even feel my face flush with heat and break into a little sweat. I know, I know, that the majority of the people I speak to on the phone these days are not going to yell at me, but I’ve been conditioned. I cannot stop my physiological and psychological response.

It’s a terrible thing that I should probably talk to someone about so I can get past it, but healthcare in this country… I won’t go there, it makes me angrier than having to talk on the phone. Anyway, so that’s why, if you need me, you should email me, or text me, or catch me on Facebook, or just drop by the house and we’ll play some board games. All of these options are better than calling me on the phone.

Kids Today

This post probably isn’t going to go the way you think…

I’m at the gym. I’ve just spent 30 solid minutes swimming. I’m tired. As I’m at the locker getting ready to shower, two gentlemen in the same aisle are having a conversation.

Gentleman 1: I just don’t get it.
Gentleman 2: Me either.
G1: They just want to sit at home and stare at screens.
G2: Yep.
G1: When I was their age, sure I had an Atari, we even had a computer, and TV, but I still went out riding bikes and playing with other kids, and sports and camping and all that.
G2: The kids today have changed. It makes it hard on us parents.
G1: It was never this hard for my parents.

This was the point where I stepped in.

Me: You mind if I jump in?
G1: Your kids spend too much time inside too?
Me: Oh, it’s not that. Let’s me ask. You have kids, right?
G1: Yeah.
Me: And they have bikes?
G1: Yeah.
Me: And when they ride them, do you make them wear safety helmets?
G1: Of course!
Me: When you were their age, you had a bike?
G1: Indeed.
Me: And your parents, did they make you wear a helmet when you rode it?
G1: No, but things were different then.
Me: How?
G1: It was more safe.
Me: No, it wasn’t. Riding a bike today is exactly as dangerous as it was when you were a kid. The only thing that has changed is that science now understands injuries better, and studies have shown that kids on bikes can survive bruises and scrapes, but a head injury can be traumatic and lasting. Wearing a helmet significantly reduces the chance of sustaining a head or brain injury.
G1: So?
Me: That was true back in the 70s and 80s too, we just didn’t know it yet. You should have been wearing a helmet back then. Your parents were terrible parents.
G1: They didn’t know any better!
Me: Right! And if they had told you to wear a helmet, you probably would have thought it was dorky. And if they said you couldn’t ride the bike without the helmet then you probably would have ridden the bike less and played more Atari.
G1: What are you saying?
Me: Kids today have changed, but not entirely on their own. Kids today are sometimes reacting to how parents have changed.
G2: What’s wrong with parents changing?
Me: Nothing. Just stop blaming the kids for it.

Then I went and showered.

I admit, I don’t understand a lot of things that kids do these days. But I’m pretty sure my parents didn’t understand what I did all the time either. And so, when I see a kid do something that I don’t get, rather than lament “Kids today!! Ugh!!” I try to understand why they’re doing it instead.

 

Time Keeps On Slippin’

I felt like I needed to say something before I got to being absent from my blog for four months. I’m about 15 days shy of that, so anyway, here I am.

Things have been…

In 1996 I got my first real official job in the IT field. Before then I’d been kicking around retail while pursuing my degree, but in 1996 I signed up for a work-study program with the college and got placed into a gig fixing computers and doing network stuff for a healthcare company. For the next 5 years I would climb upward in the systems administration side of the IT world, and then through a confluence of events of which I am only partly responsible, I had to switch silos and started climbing the software developer side of the IT world.

18 years I’ve been working in IT. For a brief moment I had an office of my own, something that I didn’t think I would ever get. Then I had to give that up in order to get help. So I don’t have an office any more, but I’m a department head. Sure, I’ve only got one guy working beneath me, but it is more than zero. The last time I had people working for me I was managing the video department in a Kroger.

I’m knee deep in RESTful APIs and mobile app development. It is frustrating as all hell, but I’m learning on the run again, which is one of the things I do well.

And I’m sitting again. By that I mean that the great standing desk experiment has ended. Did it work? Maybe. As I’ve told people, after standing all day it felt good to come home and relax. I was less restless the past year. But, I’ve embarked on a new venture – going to the gym – which is going to necessitate that I don’t spend all day standing. A convertible desk would be ideal, but also expensive and in some ways annoying. You can’t win ’em all.

Anyway… I’d spent a little time today looking at WordPress themes, for the main site, but ended up setting up a new one here, which led to me renaming the blog and making other changes, and realizing that I hadn’t written in a while. So here, I’ve written.

Tomorrow…

A Sequence of Events

My father passed away on November 28th in 2013. In 2014 the 28th was Thanksgiving and I was worried that I would have trouble with the day. And while others in my family seemed to struggle, even if they hide it fairly well, I found myself no worse off than I had been on Thanksgiving the year prior, where we had a good time but missed the presence of my father who was in a nursing facility recovering from surgery as he had been for some time.

That night, a year prior, we got in our cars and went to visit him, taking him a plate of the Thanksgiving feast. He was very happy that we had come, as he’d been very upset that he would be unable to attend. I was glad we’d gotten everyone to come.

The next day I came to visit him, because I needed him to sign some checks. A few for bills and a couple for Christmas gifts for out of town family, his children from his previous marriage. I didn’t stay long. Then on Saturday I was sick, and being sick I couldn’t go see him, so I called him and told him I couldn’t come by and probably wouldn’t be by on Sunday either. I told him that I loved him, and he said he loved me too. These weren’t things we said often, he and I, and I couldn’t tell you why I said it that day, but I did. I suppose that’s about the best last words to have with someone.

The flu or cold or whatever I had hit me hard, and I was down for the next few days, taking time off work to get well. Then on Wednesday morning my brother called and told me dad had been taken to the hospital. Or maybe he called to tell me about the first incident of dad passing out. I honestly don’t recall the phone calls of that morning. We went to the hospital, my wife and I, both sick and wearing masks to hopefully limit our possible contagion. He was in the ER when we arrived. He’d coded four times, once in the ambulance and three times in the ER, or at least that’s what I recall, and then we was taken to the ICU. He was alive, but dependent on machines. He’d had, they believed, a blood clot, and we waited on a doctor to come assess his brain function, to let us know the chance of recovery.

Later that morning, we had them turn off the machines and allowed my father, whom the doctors gave no chance of recovery, to pass.

So, as I said, Thanksgiving, on the anniversary of his passing, went much more smoothly than expected. By the weekend I was sick again, another flu, and Saturday morning I broke down as I recalled our last conversation. Then on Wednesday after Thanksgiving, I broke again. The date, it seems, doesn’t matter as much as the repeating of a sequence of events. I suspect in the coming years that the Saturday and Wednesday after Thanksgiving will continue to be rough for me, especially if I get the flu.

Over three years ago, someone who had been my best friend for a decade died on Christmas Day. Every year I expect the day to be difficult, and while I have a moment or two of sadness, I’ve never broken down. In 2010, when it happened, we heard about it while driving home from Christmas with the family, and it had snowed, and was still snowing. My wife wishes for a white Christmas every year, and if we every get one I wonder what it will do to me.

2014, or the Year Fink Beats the Stomach

2014Resolutions

A tradition since 2002, here are my resolutions for the year…

  1. Fitness: this is the big one. I’m going to be 40 in October, and I want to be able to take one of those “this is what 40 looks like” photos that make people jealous. I’ve got a spare tire around my gut that I’m weary of carrying. To that end, I resolve to…
    • walk/jog/run the neighborhood, every street, 3 times a week
    • go to the gym at least 1 time a week, I get up at 6am every weekday but don’t go to work until at least 8, so I figure I should be able to fit a gym visit in there somewhere, especially since I’m already paying for it, and when I don’t go to the gym I will be doing the 5BX, I bought the book last year and figure it is time to do it, I’d like to make it a habit
    • do 10 pushups, 10 situps and 10 squats for every TV show I watch, either I will watch less TV or exercise more, so it’s win-win
    • do random exercises while working, I already stand for 8 hours a day, so throwing in the occasional set of squats or dropping down for a few pushups should be easy to incorporate
    • eat better … I loath nebulous goals like this, it just isn’t S.M.A.R.T. but after a bout of buying veggies from the farmer’s market, I know it is something that can be done but can also waste a lot, so I need to spend some time educating myself on diet and figure out how best to change in a way that doesn’t result in so much compost
  2. Writing: I think I resolve this every year, but I don’t actually follow my own advice and make a plan that is capable of being followed, so this year I resolve to…
    • write in the mornings, I get up at 6am every weekday but don’t go to work until at least 8, so I figure on days that I don’t go to the gym I should be able to fit some writing time in there
    • blog about the fitness stuff, this is a good excuse to write, so as I walk and hit the gym and eat better I will write here about it, something I should be doing anyway
    • start using my phone, or buy a special device, to record things I think about in terms of writing, lots of times I have ideas when I am not in a position to write it down, and I need to solve that

I think that’s a good set of things to resolve to do. I wanted to include something about publishing a piece of writing, but I really need to just get down the habit of writing first. Perhaps at the mid-year 4th of July update on my progress and course correction I will feel like adding it in.

Memorial Park

I had an idea. I’m pretty sure it is crazy. I’m also pretty sure that’s why I like it.

A Memorial Park.

Imagine a place, a decently sized green space. With flowers and trees, open grass spaces, maybe some picnic tables, a bit of playground equipment perhaps, and all surrounded by a wall.

Now imagine this place is a cemetery.

Not filled with tombstones with coffins buried beneath them. The only people interred here are ones who have been cremated, and their ashes mixed in with the soil. When you brought a loved one to be laid to rest here, you would bring the container of ashes, you’d be allowed to inter a small portion of it yourself at a ceremony at the location of your choosing. The rest would be interred later by the staff, spread out all over the park. Your loved one would get an engraving in a brick on the wall, or in a sidewalk or path.

And the park would be open to the public, for picnics and play.

Would you want to bury your loved ones there? Would you want to be buried there?

There are, I think, some beautiful cemeteries in the world, filled with gorgeous statues and crypts. But most cemeteries are lines of bland headstones, markers on a patch of earth beneath which a coffin, often expensive, rests holding the remains of a person. They are, by and large, generically depressing places, devoid of life, and I just don’t think that it how I would want to spend my eternity.

I want to build my Memorial Park, but I have no idea how to go about it or if it would be worth it. Is it even legal to have an area where cremation ash is interred into the soil and people are allowed to play there? Is it sanitary?

These are questions I suppose I should look into, though at least on some level is has to be okay because 6 years ago there were people interring ash beneath trees.

The Standing Desk – Month Eight

It has been a long time since I checked in on the desk…

Our office moved, and I used that as an excuse to build a new standing desk. Still out of IKEA pieces, but this time without that pesky other desk below it.

20130820_134302

It is much nicer, and I don’t feel quite so ghetto. Also, I have my own office, so I’m not surrounded by sitting people.

But how has it been?

On the 4th of July, I ran the Peachtree Road Race. It’s an annual 10K in Atlanta. I’ve done it a few years now, but one thing I noticed this year is that I didn’t get the usual aches and pains in my legs that night or the next few days. I’m going to give credit for that to the fact that I had been standing for 8 hours a day for nearly 6 months at that point.

I haven’t noticed any major weightloss, but I have noticed more energy during the day and in the evening, when I go home, I’m less restless. I actually want to sit down and relax to end my day, whereas before I would get home after sitting all day and feel antsy.

All in all, I feel the standing desk has been a win. I’ll be sticking with it.

Knowing and Seeking

I love knowing things. It is one of my favorite things. Knowing stuff is totally awesome, especially when people ask questions and you have the answers. Knowing is, as they say, half the battle. The other half is seeking, or curiosity.

Too many people stop after knowing.

A while ago, I spouted this on Facebook and Twitter:

I love telling other people how to do their job. I hate that I have to tell other people how to do their job.

And it is a truth I have long lived with. Because I love knowing things, quite often when I interact with someone on a professional level I know a lot of things about their job, and since I also love sharing my knowledge, when the knowledge I have can fill in a gap or point out a flaw, I feel awesome. I also don’t mind when people point out something I didn’t know or missed, because I know I would have done it to them given the chance.

When I don’t know a thing, I like to learn that thing – assuming there is some advantage to doing so. I mean, I don’t know how to ballet dance, but I’m also not in a hurry to learn to ballet dance as I don’t see an immediate benefit to it. This attitude tends to lead me to acting like a detective. If something is broken, I immediately start trying to devise a way to figure out how it is broken and how I might discover a solution.

When this is my job, when it is an item under my purview, this is what I do. And when I say that I hate that I have to tell other people how to do their job, what I really mean is I hate when I have to do the detective work for an item that isn’t in my purview.

Example. I have a customer. That customer uses my service in conjunction with the service provided by another company. The customer has a problem and it appears that both services are not working. I examine my side and determine that my service is working, and only appears to be failing because the other service is not working as expected. The person working at the other company says their service is working and my service is failing. I give the customer a list of simple tests to perform to illustrate the problem. These tests are not being done on my service but on the other service, and the results illustrate that the other service is broken, returning improper results that is leading to the failure of my service. These tests are very simple, take less than a minute to perform, and prove conclusively where the problem is and even point to the solution. So why didn’t the guy at the other company suggest it?

Because it’s easier to point the finger at someone else than it is to solve the problem.

Meanwhile, now that I’ve caused the problem to be fixed, the customer likes me, doesn’t like them, and is open to listening when I suggest that they should switch to another provider for that other service.

If you don’t take care of your customers, someone else will.

Three Week Rolling Average

graphOnce again I am back on the weight loss kick. This time we’ve joined a local co-op for a weekly fruit & vegetable basket so that we will have better foods to eat in the house. So far, this is working. We aren’t crazy, we aren’t trying to go vegan or anything, but we have eaten a few meals with little to no meat.

We are also giving juicing a shot. I’m not sure we are ready to go full on with a juice fast or anything, but it is interesting to make up a couple of glasses of vegetable/fruit juice and have it leave me feeling full for hours. If you know me, then you know I almost never feel full – I’m always hungry, except after juice. Weird.

Anyway, being that we are doing the eat better thing, and we also joined a gym, I’ve also started weighing myself. One of the things I hate most about weighing myself is the wild fluctuations you’ll see. According to the Hacker’s Diet, which I don’t recommend as an actual diet guideline but do recommend for learning some facts about how weight and weight-loss works, a lot of your weight change has to do with water, we are 80% water after all, and the odd thing is that people often increase their water intake when dieting. Take this example, you work out one day – running, lifting, etc – but drink a couple of gallons of water; then one day you sit on your ass playing video games and drink a glass of water. Chances are, the workout day may cause you to gain weight and the lazy day will cause you to lose weight. Crazy, right? That’s why you should never let a single day weight-in get you down.

To that end, I created a spreadsheet in Google Docs that will maintain a Three Week Rolling Average. Right out of the gate, let me say that this is only a “three week” thing if you put in a weight every day. If you skip days but don’t skip rows, it’s a 21 latest values average. But, if you don’t skip days on the sheet, and every day you don’t actually weigh yourself you just copy the weight from the previous day, you’ll get a nice running average. Bonus: the second sheet is a graph. Oh, and also, those numbers aren’t real, just an example.

The great thing about the rolling average is that it helps mentally negate a spike in weight. Once you get yourself in the mental space that the number on the scale doesn’t matter and what does matter is the current average once you’ve entered that number from the scale into the spreadsheet, it reduces the anxiety of stepping on the scale. Over time, the average helps smooth out the curve and you can get a picture of the real trend your weight is taking. As humans, we tend to remember bad things more acutely than we do good things, and so we’ll weigh ourselves every day but only remember the days we were disappointed in the number, leading us to feeling like the weight-loss isn’t working. With the average, however, you can see the spikes and valleys and where your real weight actually rests, and that one bad day isn’t the end of the world.

So, copy the document to your own Drive and start tracking. Let me know if you run into any problems with it.

Earth Day 2013

GlobeFace it, short of nuking the Moon so that a large chunk of it falls to Earth and breaks the planet in half, we aren’t going to destroy the Earth. It will continue its journey around the Sun and spinning on its axis long after the human race has wiped itself out. Earth Day efforts are about making sure we aren’t shortening our time as a viable species on this planet. And in previous years I’ve written about ways that you can do your part mostly by focusing on saving yourself money. That’s not going to change really…

First off, as always, I love not getting junk mail. 41pounds is still around and they do good work. If you do nothing else for Earth Day, do this. The mantra of being better is “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” and it should be done in that order. The single most important thing you can do is not to have trash to begin with, Reduce. Then, Reuse items you have. Lastly, seek ways to Recycle trash into new things to avoid harvesting of more resources. Before I stumbled upon a company that would eliminate my junk mail, I would get at least 5 or 6 pieces of mail, per day, minimum. And rarely was any of that worthwhile mail. It was credit card offers and other mailers, all of which went from my mailbox and into the trash. Now, I sometimes go two or three days without getting a single piece of mail. If you don’t get it, you don’t have to throw it out. If enough people don’t get it, they’ll stop printing it.

Still not getting phone books. The opt out is so very nice. You should do that too.

Last year, we had some people come to the house and clean out the ventilation. They found construction garbage in there. The house was built in the mid 1990s. That stuff had been sitting in there for fifteen years. It wasn’t exactly cheap. Hundreds of dollars were spent. However, since then, our heating and air conditioning has worked better, more efficiently, and more cheaply. So, I recommend looking into that if you think your house might need such a thing.

In a sort of anti-Earth Day move, we are looking to have a bunch of trees cut down… but they will be replaced with better trees (because seriously, pine trees are pretty useless to the average person) and a garden. I’ll be posting more about that once it starts happening.

And, of course, coming up on the weekend of May 4th and 5th, the neighborhood is having it’s spring garage sale event. Hopefully people will come and buy my junk instead of buying the exact same things for much more from Amazon.

On another note, eating healthier is also usually better for the rest of us. The better you eat, the less packaging the food tends to come in, and therefore, less trash. Reduce, both your impact and your girth. Over eating and poor eating are also linked to lots and lots of health issues, and with the way the cost of healthcare is going, you want to limit your health issues as much as possible.

Anyway, enough Earth Day rambling out of me.