Life, This Turbulent World

Worrying has become one of my closest companions over the years. Everyone worries, but I do it a lot. Debilitation from constantly racing thoughts of how I could be spending my time, interrupt spending my time. My mind and being is not at its peak when my thoughts are spinning. I do things to try and alleviate this and calm my brain down; meditation, exercise, diet. Over the years I’ve tried all sorts of remedies and recommendations from various sources. I’ve only found a few things that really work, but with a racing mind, it’s hard to keep at them.

I want to change that.

My companion, named anxiety, is not a friendly companion.

What Anxiety is for Me

Being a geek and doing my research, I know I’m not alone in this. Folks in our field of technological creation are generally intelligent and so anxiety is not an uncommon presence. In The Relationship between Intelligence and Anxiety: An Association with Subcortical White Matter Metabolism, it was shown that:

“…a high degree of worry in patients with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) correlates positively with intelligence and that a low degree of worry in healthy subjects correlates positively with intelligence.”

For me, anxiety presents itself in numerous ways that are problematic towards my happy existence. Anxiety manifests itself physically in all the ways it can: physical pain, knots in the stomach, headaches, racing heart, troubles sleeping, restlessness. More personally alarming to me, however, is the way it manifests itself mentally: troubles concentrating, incomplete projects, inability to be in the moment, troubles being happy, depression. This is something I experience every single day and it is not a pleasant way to be.

The Importance of Destroying Personal Anxiety

First I need to clearly describe why I want to destroy my personal anxiety. I tried to start listing the various reasons as to why I wanted to destroy my personal anxieties. Things like:

  • Being fit
  • Being happier
  • Clearer ideas
  • Calmer life
  • Better partner
  • Better friend
  • Live more
  • Create more
  • And so on…

These are all things that I think everyone generally strives for in life. Enumerating these reasons for wanting to alleviate my personal anxiety, I realized:

I want to be a better person.

I have lots of difficult goals that I want to achieve. I cannot obtain them by being the person that I am. I need to be a better person. With such a great and magnificent world, there is so much I still want to do but I am holding myself back.

Actionable Data

Experience working in technology has taught me something very important: you cannot determine success without measurement. My wife bought me a Fitbit for Christmas. The Fitbit is a simple little wristband that measures my physical activity. This allows me to know how much I walk, how well I sleep, and generally how active I am, without much effort. For the first time in my life, I feel like I have a personal API. When I had the numbers in front of me to see how active or inactive I was or wasn’t, I started to feel like there was something I could do about it. Previous attempts at tracking my health or performance went by the wayside since they were manual processes.

I now automatic, actionable data about my physical self and I feel more obligated to do something since I can easily know what the result will be. This has been the motivation of thinking for the past week.

I was eating the same advice I’d given to CEOs and business owners:

“You cannot know how to improve or what to do to move forward if you don’t have accessible and actionable data in front of you to measure your progress.”

The tools that Fitbit offers on their website allow you to create a custom tracker. Having physical data automatically tracked, it makes sense to track other things that cannot be automatically tracked, alongside this data. I plan on using this to allow me to not only improve my physical self, but hopefully track and improve my emotional self and anxieties as well.

List of Anxieties

I had data on my physical self, so I could get started on that, but I needed data on my emotional and mental self. Since there isn’t an easy automatic way to track the mental anxiety, for now that the best thing I could do was create a list. I knew this list needed to be simple and accessible from everywhere. Seeing as how I’m already a big fan of Evernote, I went ahead and opened it up and started a new note.

Sitting for a moment, I began listing the worries that immediately entered my head.

  • Blog post
  • Personal project
  • Wife’s website
  • New platform at work
  • Existing platform at work
  • Car
  • Money
  • Savings
  • Weight & Exercise
  • Old client work
  • Friends

Blog Post

The last post in this blog was in February of 2013. That means 2013 was the worst year of writing since I started this blog in 2007. Every day I think of finishing a draft or writing a post. I dream of new titles for posts or new content but I don’t actually do anything. I would like this year to be different but I need to be able to measure my progress. I really enjoy writing and I get good feedback from it as well. Along with the other benefits, it’s a no brainer that I should destroy this anxiety and just do it. I need to finish this blog post and attempt to write at least one post a week for the rest of the year.

Personal Project

I have a personal project that has been in the works for many years. Countless hours of research has gone into this product. I get quite a few offers a year to advertise on the site. I have a lot of members and good, consistent traffic, but I can’t seem to bring myself to improve things. I need to start spending time on this project because I know it will be a good investment in the long run and people love the site. I cannot work on this project at work so I need to spend some personal time on it. I must devote at least 2 hours of time to my personal project(s) per week.

Wife’s Website

My wife works for a scuba shop. Like all scuba shops, they have difficulties scheduling customers along with dives and equipment. I started on a project to take care of this problem but haven’t finished it. My wife asks me for it all the time and I don’t ever make time to do it. There isn’t a huge amount of work needed to finish it, I just need to do it. I need to devote at least two hours a week to my wife’s website until it is completed.

New Platform at Work

I’m working on building a new platform at work and it is consuming me at work and at home. I need to get more accomplished at work and spend more time enjoying life at home and not worrying about it. I love the ease and flexibility for creating gantt charts you can get over at Tom’s Planner so I have a tool to track my progress for this platform. I need to stay within 2 days of planned delivery dates for the new platform to feel good about my progress on it.

Existing Platform at Work

Our existing platform here is profitable and successful. I didn’t create it but I am now the one who will be available to make changes to it. I have a tremendous desire to improve the platform so much that we can’t help but use it all the time for ourselves as well. I want to make the existing platform at work an integral part of our own daily operations.

Car

Unfortunately, I still own a car. I wasn’t able to sell my Jeep before leaving the island so it’s still there. It’s currently being rented but I’m really tired of having to worry about it. I really need to get my Jeep sold. I need to figure out how much I still owe, how much I need to make, and get it done. I need to figure out a solid plan for selling my Jeep.

Money

I have some outstanding debts from folks that owe me money. I am not a confrontational person and am generally trusting so I have procrastinated on this and I think about it all the time. I need to communicate with people who owe me money to balance my finances and decrease insecurity.

Savings

Money has never been a strong suit of mine. For the past few years, I have made a good living, but have not been able to save a lot from it. When I do have money saved, I feel more secure and less anxious about things. For a while I was able to put a couple hundred dollars aside in savings every check but with a recent move and the holidays, that behavior has gone by the wayside and it simply cannot. I need to get my savings back up to where they were before the move and continue the habit of saving a fixed percentage of my income.

Weight & Exercise

Tracking the amount of exercise I am or am not getting throughout the day has definitely made me more aware of my weight as well. While we have a scale in the apartment, we have no idea of the accuracy and I don’t want to track anything manually if I don’t have to. I’m excited to get the Aria scale and add it to the information that is being logged. I want to exercise more and be more fit so using my personal tracker and having my weight and BMI be tracked as well will be extremely useful. I want to look and feel more comfortable with my body by losing 10 lbs and reducing my body fat.

Old Client Work

I have an old client that I did web design for who still has a few tweaks they need for their site. I’ve been procrastinating on this even though it isn’t a tremendous amount of work. I need to make the final adjustments for my old client’s website so I don’t think about it anymore.

Friends

Since moving to downtown San Francisco, things have been incredible busy for the past couple months. Now that things are starting to settle down and settle in a bit, I need to build a bigger social circle than just work, wife, and cat. There are a ton of possibilities for things around here, I just need to do them. I kick myself every day for not taking advantage of the fact that I live in one of the most incredible cities in the world for the work I enjoy doing. I need to go to at least 2 social outings or gatherings per month.

List of Actionable and Measurable Life Changes

Now that I’ve listed out my anxieties and applied a measurable goal to them, I have a list that looks like this:

  • I need to finish this blog post and attempt to write at least one post a week for the rest of the year.
  • I must devote at least 2 hours of time to my personal project(s) per week.
  • I need to devote at least two hours a week to my wife’s website until it is completed.
  • I need to stay within 2 days of planned delivery dates for the new platform to feel good about my progress on it.
  • I want to make the existing platform at work an integral part of our own daily operations.
  • I need to figure out a solid plan for selling my Jeep.
  • I need to communicate with people who owe me money to balance my finances and decrease insecurity.
  • I need to get my savings back up to where they were before the move and continue the habit of saving a fixed percentage of my income.
  • I want to look and feel more comfortable with my body by losing 10 lbs and reducing my body fat.
  • I need to make the final adjustments for my old client’s website so I don’t think about it anymore.
  • I need to go to at least 2 social outings or gatherings per month.

That’s much better than a list of anxieties. I can track every single one of them; automatically with my Fitbit and Aria or manually on the same platform, or by simply crossing something off of the list in Evernote. Already today, I’ve gotten responses from folks who owe me money, and I’ve finished this blog post. I’m feeling less anxious already.

Here’s to hoping 2014 is my least anxious, most successful, and best year so far. And here’s to hoping I’ll have the data to prove it.

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Geekery, Technology

After being on computers for 25 years, I did something I’ve never done before: I purchased a Mac. For the last 10 or so years, I’ve owned PCs or laptops that were setup to boot to Windows or some flavor of Linux. That flavor of Linux has been Ubuntu for a long time. Until 12.04, and Unity came along, this was a pretty happy experience. I stuck in the 10.x versions, only dabbling in the 11.x versions until 12.04 came out. I’ve written many blog posts regarding Ubuntu and the use of Ubuntu over the years. I’ve even written open source software for it. You could even say I was a fanboi for a while, trying to push all my friends and family away from the evil of Mac or Windows to the open beauty that was Ubuntu.

Over my years of computing, I too had developed a completely biased sense against the Apple ecosystem. The oft-touted cries of “walled garden” or “my device, my rules” or “locked into Apple” arguments were valid to me. I couldn’t, for the life of me, understand why people were paying so much money for something that seemed so obviously wrong. My mind has been changed and I would like to share the story of how it happened since I’m much, much happier for it.

Here’s a screenshot of the very last time I booted into my Ubuntu installation to push some files onto an external drive:
Goodbye Ubuntu

This is representative of the constant, buggy struggle that Ubuntu became for me. All I had was a dual monitor setup on an NVIDIA card with an Intel chipset. Nothing particularly special or weird, it was a rig I had built to play Battlefield 3 back when I used to still be a gamer. I decided that, in addition to my laptop being a dual-boot machine, I needed my PC to dual-boot since I would be working from home.

The Struggle

The first struggle came when trying to setup a wireless USB adapter. I was able to find a driver and fire up the abomination that was NDISwrapper. Unfortunately, I had to end up Googling around for hours to find a solution consisting of modifying the driver itself before the USB adapter would work. Once it was actually working, it would just randomly stop every once in a while. This never occurred in Windows. This required me to remove and re-insert the USB adapter, constantly. I actually moved my PC onto my desk instead of on the floor because I got sick of bending over to take care of this.

Next, came the display. Ubuntu, for some reason, labeled my two monitors as “Laptop” and treated it as a single screen. This meant I could not use the regular display configuration. I was forced to use the NVIDIA display configuration utility. This also meant I constantly struggled with apps not knowing how to go to a full screen properly, weird issues dragging windows around, and other oddities.

Onto the window manager. Beyond the frequent crashing for no particular reason, there were constant glitches. Leave the computer for a while and come back? Title bars for windows would become glitchy and unreadable. Restoring a window from being minimized? Sometimes it’ll just be white. Go ahead and minimize and restore it again to fix. Icons randomly disappearing from the dock, requiring a restart of Unity? Yup, pretty consistent there too. Not only this, but the experience felt laggy. On the beefy machine it was running on, I expected the performance to be smooth and responsive but it was quite the opposite.

Unfortunately, none of these bugs were consistent enough to recreate reliably which meant I just had to deal with it until it because so infuriating that I would have to find a fix.

I decided enough was enough and Unity was not going to work for me. At the login screen, it’s possible to select GNOME instead of Unity so I gave that a shot, assuming going back to GNOME would work. As soon as it booted in I was greeted by a monitor that didn’t work and a window full of error messages. After Googling around for a while, I found some configuration changes to make in my xorg.conf file and was able to actually get it working. I was met with even more errors and problems so I decided it wasn’t going to work for me. I decided to switch back into Unity.

When I came back? All of my settings were gone. All of my changes to use a sane Alt-Tab in the CompizConfig Settings Manager, my keyboard shortcuts, everything. I was back to what it was when I first installed. Extremely frustrated, I decided to give the Mint side of things a try and give Cinnamon a shot. Again, a few weird problems, but got that running as well. Cinnamon didn’t quite fit the bill either. I ran into a display issue or two and found myself actually missing a few things from Unity so I decided I was going to dig in and really give Unity a shot. I didn’t want to jump ship to an entirely different flavor of Linux because I had already invested so many years in getting used to the Ubuntu experience.

When I purchased a printer for my computer? Of course Ubuntu had no idea what to do with it. Of course there was a run around necessary to get it working. Even the mouse had problems. My old Logitech MX500, for one reason or another, would spam the logs in dmesg whenever I was using the scroll buttons on it. Sound would skip while listening to music using anything Flash or HTML 5 related like Grooveshark or Pandora. The whole system would lock up occasionally pegging a quad core CPU for no reason at all. Sometimes, it would just crash entirely.

How I Want to Spend My Time

When I’m at a computer, its because I want to get things done. Gone are the days where I have time to tinker around and spend countless hours Googling for some obscure mail archive to find I need to change “bop” to “boop” in /etc/something/config.ini. The amount of time that I had to spend doing this crap was growing instead of shrinking. This is not a good direction for an operating system to go.

Over the years, I’ve developed enough acumen to get a lot done in short periods of time. I’ve found that I work in extremely productive bursts. This means, when I’m ready to get down to business: I’m ready to get down to business. I don’t want anything getting in my way. The glitches I had experienced in previous versions of Ubuntu were ones I could fix, get out of the way, and not have to worry about again. They were re-produceable, identifiable, and the fixes worked for me.

With Unity and 12.04, the glitches were random, weird, didn’t offer any useful information, and were downright annoying. Some fixes would work for a while then stop working. Some bugs, like the aforementioned blank window, I simply couldn’t figure out after a couple hours of Googling so I just got used to them as best I could.

Hours Googling, being frustrated, and being bumped out of the zone due to random glitches was no longer acceptable for me.

Making the Switch

I knew I had to make a switch. At my most recent job, I was given an iPhone 3G (at a time when the 4 was new) and it was the first Apple product I’d owned. It was an okay device but it was a hand-me-down and I was much more impressed by the 4. By the time the iPhone 4S came around, I was eligible for an upgrade. I decided to take the plunge and it literally changed something inside me. My immediate thought after experiencing the device was: “I want to build things for this.”

Exploring many options for iOS development, I looked into building a Hackintosh for a while until I realized it wasn’t going to be as stable an experience as I wanted. Since I could still get the development done I needed to and had recently built a gaming rig, I couldn’t justify the switch. So I just dreamed of eventually having some spare dough around to drop on a Mac, but wasn’t terribly serious about buying one.

Fast forward a year or two and it was Christmas time. I wanted to get something nice for myself that I would enjoy. I struggled back and forth again over justifying the cost for dropping into the Mac ecosystem. Back and forth I went until I decided, yet again, I couldn’t quite justify the switch. I bought myself a New iPad ensuring I would be able to return it if I didn’t like it. Of course, I loved it. My wife gave up her Kindle Fire usage and we shared the iPad. It was incredibly powerful, had a beautiful screen, and was light years beyond any tablet experience in terms of responsiveness, design and construction. I had another “I want to build things for this” moment.

Now the desire for iOS development was getting stronger. The MBP Retina came out and I was absolutely drooling over it. I wanted one so bad, but, I still couldn’t justify the cost. “I’m not building anything in iOS, yet. Maybe I’ll hate the OS and be stuck with a $2,500 bad decision. Walled garden. Non-customizable.” Those were the thoughts that were keeping me from taking the plunge.

Taking the Plunge

Eventually, I was sick and tired of not being able to spend time developing in the zone due to random glitches and small problems. I didn’t want to spend hours or days finding solutions. In short:

I was tired of spending time on my computer working on my operating system instead of working on my projects.

I carefully considered all my options. We don’t have an actual Mac store here, so I didn’t have the pleasure of being able to identify, play with, and choose the right Mac for me. I had to go on specs, the advice of others, and my gut instinct.

I wanted the MBP retina, of course. My friend got one and it was an absolutely incredible machine. The design, the responsiveness of the SSD architecture, the retina display; it was beautiful and I was jealous.

Since it was my first foray into the Mac environment, I didn’t want to be disappointed. I decided that I would be much happier if I purchased something on the lower end, in case my pre-conceived notions about the OS were correct. I had a choice between the Air, the MBP and the Mini. My local store was constantly out of the upgraded versions and Apple does not ship here.

I decided the base MBP would be the best decision for me. The reason being: I had no idea where I was going to feel a bottleneck on the OS during my development. Would I really be CPU bound? Would not having SSD really slow things down that much? I had no previous experience so I had no idea if those things were worth it. The MBP was upgradeable, so I could fix anything I perceived as a shortcoming in my experience. With the Air I was locked in and I didn’t know enough to know whether that was okay with me. The store was constantly out of the upgraded Mac Mini version, so I settled on the last, base 13″ MBP they had in the store.

I was elated bringing the box home. The unboxing was, of course, elegant and easy as my previous Apple products had been. The physicality of the product was awesome. I turned it on, went through the simple configurations, and was up and running pretty quickly. While waiting for the initial setup to complete, I started reading about the various things I could do with my new OS. I started reading about the trackpad and the gestures that were possible. I checked out some things that were “must install” for every user and started to make a list of the OS X apps I had always wanted to try.

Welcome to OS X

The operating system came up and it was beautiful. The responsiveness, the elegance, and the simplicity were awesome. Being a consistent hater of trackpads over the years, it was one of the first things I played with. I had read reviews of it being incredible before and they were not exaggerating in the slightest. The gestures make sense and are very useful. The trackpad itself worked really well and wasn’t constantly triggered by my thumbs accidentally brushing them.

Then I started to dive into the operating system. What I found was absolutely shocking: it was far more customizable than I had ever dreamed. Want to move the dock around? Sure, go ahead. In Ubuntu? Nope. Want to change how the mouse scroll wheel works? There’s a program someone wrote for that. Every tiny adjustment I wanted was available either directly in the OS or through the installation of a simple program.

Ubuntu had introduced the ability to launch a program or find something from the dash and I had started to like it, even though it was buggy and extremely slow in a lot of cases. Spotlight? Completely blows it away. It’s fast, responsive, and gets me to the program or thing I’m looking for every time.

Every device I hooked up to the machine worked flawlessly. Printer? Plug it in, it finds what you need, and you’re good to go. Monitor? Plug it in and it recognizes it correctly and makes it available to start working right away. External hard drive? I plugged it in and it immediately asked me if I wanted to start using it for backups. It’s like the OS knew what I wanted and was eager to please every step of the way instead of the struggle I was used to. I didn’t have to tell it, nay smash it with a hammer in the face to force it, to get it to work. In other words:

OS X delivered the experience I wanted Linux to, and more.

What’s My PC Up to Now?

My PC now sits on the floor under the desk. Beyond grabbing some files off of it: it’s dormant. I keep it around in case I need to boot up Windows and test something or if I get the itch to start gaming again. But, I am now a 100% Mac convert.

The hardware is great. The OS is a constant pleasure. All my time that I want to spend developing or doing things is actually spent developing or doing things instead of the constantly interrupted, buggy experience I had before. Because it’s Unix-based, everything is familiar or easy to learn since I spend most of my time in a terminal.

Instead of finding a brand new and unfamiliar experience, I found the experience I was looking for Linux to be: a great and consistent environment for me to get things done.

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Life

Bill, the cheese guy.

William Hyde

He was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life, let alone on St. Thomas. His cool demeanor, his patience with everyone and his ability to bring a smile or introduce wonder into people’s lives was unrivaled around our little island. There are few people I’ve met who could successfully stump everyone with knowledge about a particular subject. People extremely familiar with his passion could still find something to learn; a moment to listen to Bill.

I spent many hours discussing the subtle differences between two parmesan cheeses with him. The dryness of one was due to one factor. The flavor of this due to another factor. What did the cows, sheep, or goats eat? What was the temperature like? Was there a cold snap somewhere in some weird place in the world that caused this certain coloration? Bill was sure to know.

He was never without a story about visiting the farms in far off towns in far off countries to see where certain cheeses were made. They were all captivating and wonderful. These were personal stories about him and his life. They were stories about where he had been and what he had done. He would leave out the parts about how much it must have meant to visit a small cave, where cheese was aged, on a farm in some remote area of the world. While exceptional, he wasn’t telling stories to talk about himself, he was telling stories to talk about his passion.

“To have lived a life like that and only deliver the information important to the subject at hand is an unselfish and exceptional trait in someone who is truly passionate about what they do.”

I met Bill through a friend and visited with him a few times a month to just talk about cheese and food. We’d talk about life sometimes, but we would eventually be drawn towards some new Morbier or a new Buffalo cheese that I should try. I couldn’t walk into Gourmet Gallery without visiting the cheese counter to see if he was there.

Peering across the store towards the back, you could see him moving deftly behind the counter, placing a particular cheese here, another there. Directing his employees, trying to get them to also be passionate about what they were doing. He would catch your gaze and a small smile would cross his face. The smile would turn to a grin as he would motion for you to come closer to the counter. As you start walking, you can see him slowly take off his gloves and walk to the back counter. There, he would move a few things out of the way and grab a couple of large boxes; their weight unclear in his confident stride.

The boxes would be plopped down and before opening them, Bill would greet you with a smile and ask how everything was going. While you responded, he would already be putting on his gloves and you could see the twinkle in his eye as he decided upon the perfect slice of cheese for you to taste. Without knowing it, you are suddenly tasting exactly the type of cheese you hoped you’d get by walking up to the counter. As you savor the experience of the incredible food he has just provided you with, he begins to open the boxes. Some new cheeses that had just arrived and he couldn’t wait to share them.

His face would light up as he would open the box.

“Oh! This is great. This is the truffled goat cheese that I was waiting for.”

“What does it taste like?” would be the question sure to be asked.

“I don’t know, let’s find out!”

As Bill would unwrap the cheese the story about the farm would begin to unfold. What the animals ate, where the farm was, what he had to go through to get this cheese to this remote island. A slice for him and a slice for you. The way he could describe cheese and food was great. He didn’t need to use a massive vocabulary of some pretentious sommelier. He knew what the flavors were, knew how to pick them out, knew what they were from, and he was correct.

I brought many friends to Gourmet Gallery, to the cheese counter to have an opportunity to meet Bill. It’s not very often that we get to meet people in life that are so incredibly passionate about what they do. People who have personal and wonderful stories about what they work with. People who aren’t afraid to share or teach. People who want to share something about the world with someone else because they love it so much.

That was Bill.

Bill was murdered, in part due to his kindness. He was abducted and beaten to death after trying to give a ride to one of his attackers. A minor, a teenager and someone he knew.

I write this in the hopes that more people can know what was senselessly taken from us. A kind, incredible and interesting individual at the age of 65, the day after Thanksgiving, just short of two months after finally hanging up his cheese gloves and taking a break for himself.

He addressed his friends one more time in his weekly emails regarding his free wine and cheese tastings:

Dear Friends,

Well, some good news and some sad news....

First the good news! This Thursday the 2nd Pre-order of French...and possibly 
Italian..as in Gorgonzola Dolce, cheese will be touching down in St Thomas...
in perfect time for Friday's Wine and Cheese Tasting!

I haven't caught up with Phillip to see what wines will be offered so can be 
of no help there!

Now the sad news! I've resigned my position at Gourmet Gallery...sadly, as 
I said. I've been working 7 days and 5 nights for the past 2 1/2 years and I'm 
really, really tired. That being said, as complex as the new, expanded deli has
become...it really requires someone working many more hours than there are left
in my days and evenings!

I have enjoyed a great time getting to know you, our customers and sharing OUR 
enjoyment in good food, good wine...and most importantly, good company. I will 
miss you all!

Enjoy the Cheeses and Wines this coming Friday!

Bill

I will always enjoy cheese and wine a little more thanks to you, Bill. I hope to carry a fraction of your passion later in life, that I may share a love with the world as you shared with me.

Rest in peace.