Diarizing my life

Sorry for the horrible "diarizing" in the title, but the word fits for now. 

In addition to this blog, on which I'm aiming to make a daily post of some kind, I'm also recording the days in the fifth year of a 5-year diary (many, many gaps of white space in previous years), and am playing with the 1-Second Everyday video app on my iPhone. 

Each medium contains a different message, as it were. The blog is the stuff I clean up and show to people, the diary holds some minutiae of the day (weather, errands done, people met, movies seen), and the video app records a blink of visual time. Two days ago, I shot a second of our still fully lit and decorated Christmas tree from my chair in the living room. Today, I shot a second of the bare tree lying on our snowy curb.

Each medium forces me to think a bit differently about what is worth remembering. They are all, in some way, about paying attention. I wonder what I will see.


Four-Quadrant Movies

In the world's neverending quest to quantify, there is the concept of the "four-quadrant movie." I'm sure there are demographic breakdowns like this for any industry, and this may serve as a simple heuristic for making quck decisions, but geez -- isn't it also a Procrustean bed?

Liz and I recently saw Darkest Hour and The Shape of Water. Neither of which I think would appeal much to quadrants 1 and 2 (men and women under 25 years old). There is no quadrant for "popcorn-worthy movie," which seems to be the basis of our movie-going decisions.


I have tried various technological or mental gizmos over the years to help me fall and stay asleep: white noise machines, small fans, mantras, working my way through the alphabet naming flowers or birds or superheroes, or tensing and relaxing my body from the feet up.

A few months back, I tried something different and I now tend to fall asleep and get back to sleep more quickly.

It's not a new idea by any means: I listen to music through my Bluetooth headset as I go to sleep. If I wake in the night, I simply put the music back on and away I doze.

Two keys that make this work for me: the music and the hardware.

What came first was the music. I don't know why music works for me; it could be that the music distracts the busy analytical part of my mind enough so the sleepy part can shut everything down.

In my iTunes music library, I created a playlist folder called "Zleep" (it sorts to the bottom) and in it, I have playlists for the following:

  • Some time back, Moby released a playlist of slow, droney tracks that he created to help himself relax and sleep. Each track is from 17 to 35 minutes long, so I created playlists holding just 2 or 3 tracks at a time. I usually find myself asleep within a few minutes.
  • If my mind is feeling overactive, I listen to Sharon Isbin's complete Bach lute sonatas. This album is in its own playlist and lasts about an hour. I can't remember ever listening to the whole thing; I think my mind has associated this CD with sleep for so long that I am usually gone by the third or fourth track.
  • Max Richter's From Sleep is a minimal, ambient album, not as electronic or droney as Moby. More rhythmic. There is piano, strings, some vocal chant -- rather melancholy, truth be told. It's an hour long and is excerpted from the much much much longer work Sleep, which is intended to reflect a complete 8-hour sleep cycle. As one Amazon customer puts it, "Playing it a little louder, it also works fairly well as somewhat somber background music for dinner parties." Sold!

And that's it. When I go to bed, I pick whichever playlist stands out and crawl under the covers. If I get up in the night, I'll simply start playing it again.

The other key to making this work for me is my LG HBS-730 Bluetooth headset. I've had these for so long the button locations are in my muscle memory.

I use a bit of black tape to cover up the blinking blue light. Whenever I wake in the night and want to hear the music again, I simply press the Play button and the active playlist starts right up.

I like this "collar" style of headset for sleeping. It does not obstruct my head movement and does not get in my way. I sleep on my side, so it's easy to magnetically dock an earbud when I'm sleeping on that side.

My sleeping problems seem to be 90 percent licked. The waking-up-and-not-raring-to-go-in-the-morning problem is still there, but these things take time.

The Potato Hack

I just finished boiling about 5 lbs. of red potatoes, eyes and blemishes removed but much of the skin intact.

They're now sitting in two good-sized containers in the fridge. I'll carry one of them to work tomorrow and those cold potatoes, with a bit of salt, are all I'll eat till suppertime, when I eat a normal meal with my wife.

That style of cold-potato eating is called PBD -- or "Potatoes by Day" -- as found in Tim Steele's book The Potato Hack. The book is quite well-written, with a dip into an 1880's article on the efficacy of potato diets, the history of potatoes, the science of potatoes, and recipes.

The actual Potato Hack is eating only cold or reheated potatoes for 3 days straight. Some people can lose from a quarter to a half pound a day on this regimen.

I've tried the hack twice and could only make it a day and half before I caved. Despite cutting the experiment short, I lost 3 pounds on the first hack, so I will testify to its weight-loss effect. Unfortunately, I was also swept away by incredible hunger pangs and thoughts of food distracted me for hours.

For whatever reason, I find the PBD variation easier to deal with. In communication with Steele on his web site, he suggested I vary up the potatoes for different times of day or meals. So cold boiled potatoes for lunch, perhaps, with maybe baked potatoes or baked russet wedges alongside mashed Yukon golds for supper. I've not tried that but it's a good idea.

The goal of the hack is not to eat only potatoes for ever and ever, though there's a guy who kept a video diary on YouTube where he ate only spuds for an entire year. Yikes. The goal is simply to "reset" your digestive system, give it a break from the standard American diet, and then go on with your life. The way I use the PBD hack is to establish a stable eating habit during the early part of the week, when my will power is strongest and when I can leverage the power of routine. Even if I don't lose any weight, I can easily maintain where I am.

One of the first things people ask me when I talk about the hack is, "I thought potatoes were high on the glycemic index and the starch turns to sugar in your body."

That was my belief too. But Steele makes the point in his book that, while cooked potatoes do indeed act like that, cooled potatoes do not. The cooked starch cools to become "resistant starch" -- basically fiber -- and so one should not experience a glycemic spike from the cooked then cooled potatoes. Reheating cooled potatoes can reduce some of the resistant starch, but when they're cooled again more resistant starch is created.

Steele goes into quite a lot of detail on resistant starch and its favorable properties in supporting better gut health. I was impressed by his research and presentation of the scientific literature.

I first heard of The Potato Hack via the Critical MAS site, where MAS has helpfully collected all of his potato-related posts into a single Best Of page.

MAS made several points that swayed me to try it. One was that potatoes are noted for their high satiety -- you will "feel full" faster with potatoes.

One of MAS's more compelling arguments is that eating plain cold boiled potatoes severs the flavor reward connection in our brains. One of the reasons we mindlessly eat more than we need to is because we crave a variety of flavors and textures. By eating unexciting cold potatoes, you're taking in calories, feeling full, but not reinforcing the flavor-reward connection. You'll likely stop eating sooner when the body feels sated rather than eating to discomfort or regret.

One of the key ideas I picked up from Tim Ferris' slow-carb diet (SCD) was that we already eat the same few dishes anyway, week in and week out. When I did the SCD, I ate the same lunch at work Mon-Thu of microwaved lentils, veg, and poached chicken breasts or thighs, with some apple cider vinegar and Tabasco splashed on. For months. I appreciated not having to think about what I'd do for lunch that day. My wife really dislikes eating the same meal more than twice in a row, but for whatever reason, I have no problem with it.

So taking my cold boiled potatoes to work tomorrow suits me just fine. I will not go hungry but I'll also consume far fewer calories than I would on a normal eating day. It's simplicity itself, and a hack I still find interesting and fun to do.

Word of the Year: TRUST

I quit adopting New Year's Resolutions some years ago. But I liked the idea of an official "fresh start" of some kind. A Google search for alternatives led me to find Christine Kane's Word of the Year scheme.

If coachspeak makes your skin crawl, then let your eyes glide over "intention" and "upleveling." Instead, simply consider the idea that an aspirational or inspirational word could help you more than a list of rules and regulations.

Christine includes a PDF (you need to provide an email address to get the PDF) of questions and fill-in-the-blank items intended to help you think through what you want from the year and also, just as important, what you tend to avoid.

She includes a list of sample words (Yes, No, Prayerfulness, Risk, Pioneer) and some good provoking questions to help you think about why this or that word may be a good match for you in the coming year (i.e., "How do you already embody this word? How do you not embody it? List 5 habits that would help you embody the word fully.")

I have found, for myself, that the word should scare me a little bit. It's a word that makes me want to, in Christine's words, "run in the other direction." That for me is a sign that a part of myself needs some loving attention. The word becomes a teacher or perhaps a lighthouse, guiding me rather than pushing me.

During a particularly challenging work year, I chose the word "Leader," a word and concept that absolutely terrified me. It's not part of my self-image at all, particularly in the workplace. I'm not sure I became the leader I thought I needed to be that year, but it encouraged me to live up to that word, in the ways I thought best. I'm sure I carry some attitudes from that year into my work today.

Christine suggests placing a reminder of the word in your path every day. Let it work on you, don't force it to work on you.

I use a FollowupThen biweekly email with questions and prompts to remind me of my word and think about whether it continues to be useful to me.

My word this year is rather a plain one: TRUST. Trust what? Myself and my intuitions, mostly. I tend to look outward for "expert advice" for lots of things -- for too many things possibly -- instead of just trusting my own experience and my own wisdom. Look inside this year, rather than out.

Trust that I will get the answer I need when I need it. Trust that I will always have the resources to meet whatever challenge it is I may face, and that I will be OK if I don't.

I could have maybe chosen the word "Relax," since that seems to be my ultimate goal. But it isn't. The goal is something bigger, the person I want to be is someone bigger.

Happy New Year.

Reformatting Time Capsule

Backups via Time Machine to our 2TB Time Capsule have not gone smoothly the last several months, with the backup always stopping with an unexplained error.

After reviewing this 2010 page from Joe Kissell on troubleshooting Time Capsule problems, I tried Disk Utility and then finally opted for a complete erase of the drive and a fresh Time Machine backup. The dialog UI has changed, of course, and it took a bit of spelunking to find the Erase command in the Airport Utility.

The fresh backup copying seems to be going OK so far, and I'm hoping this brings an end to these intermittent failures.

Update, 2018-01-01: This did not help; still getting the error. May try another erase and then a hard reset of the Time Capsule. More later.

Amazon Live Chat Support = Refund

Liz wanted to return one of the gifts I'd purchased for her from her Amazon wishlist. She tries to only flag items covered by Prime and that are "Fulfilled by Amazon"; if we have to return an item, then those are indicators of free UPS shipping back to Amazon.

But the item we wanted to return today was showing that I'd be paying almost half the purchase price of the item for return shipping -- for a Prime item Fulfilled by Amazon. Huh.

A few quick searches uncovered an interesting workaround: engage in a Live Chat with Amazon Support. I gave the guy my order number, the specific item name, and said I needed to return it. He immediately created a return slip for me and said there would be no shipping charge. In a few minutes, I got an email with the return shipping label. Later this afternoon, I got an email from Amazon confirming the full amount of my refund.

So: if you're not getting the full refund for a return, try starting a Live Chat with Amazon Support, and see if that works for you.

Two Very Different Travel Days

Instead of driving 13 or more hours from Durham, NC, to Lakeland, FL, for Christmas, we decided this year to fly.

We got to the airport last Friday, Dec. 22, about 2.5 hours early because we're like that. The Allegiant flight was delayed about 2.5 hours. When a plane arrived, it was of a different configuration than the previous plane (or something) so that our pre-printed boarding passes could not be used. The Allegiant staff used every computer they had, even laptops, to look up every passenger individually to manually check us in, as was done in days of yore.

We arrived at the Sanford airport, picked up our rental car, and arrived in Lakeland at about the same time as if we'd driven down. Tired, but not exhausted. I'd still say waiting in an airport 5 hours for a flight is still better than driving for 13.

On our return flight today, the circumstances flipped. We drove from Lakeland to Orlando and were stopped cold by sludgy traffic along the accursed I-4. The traffic never stopped but it didn't get better till a few miles before our exit to the 417 toll road that skirts Orlando (I would pay anything to avoid Orlando forever).

By the time we filled the rental car with gas (had to go to two service stations), turned it in, tromped to the terminal, sped through a pretty light TSA line (invest in TSA Pre, seriously), and found our gate, Allegiant announced that boarding had started for our flight. The check-in went so quickly that the full plane sat on the tarmac for 20 minutes waiting for the official departure time. The flight was quick, the FastPark shuttle drove up just as we walked to the curb, and we were home within the hour.

The whole experience whipped by so quickly, I couldn't process what was happening. It was uncanny how dissimilar the two days were.