BACKUPS (cont'd)

So, backups.

  • On my Time Capsule (ca. 2015) I get the same bland unhelpful error message described on this blog post.
  • I got the same error message when I moved the Time Machine backup to my Western Digital 2TB external drive (ca. 2010). I've been using the latter mainly for miscellaneous photos, DVD rips, and the like. A junk drawer, of sorts, with not many valuables.
  • Is the problem the Time Machine software or the drives it's writing to? I can't tell.
  • I used Disk Utility to 'repair' both drives, which wound up deleting the last good Time Machine backup on the Time Capsule, and I think wrecked the WD2TB. I cannot now write or edit any file on the WD2TB.
  • Most hard drives have an average life span of about 5 years, so it's past time to upgrade the WD2TB, I suppose.
  • I have key folders synced with Dropbox, and my and Liz's user folders backed up to Crashplan. So our really critical stuff is still OK but it would take time to restore all those files. I would feel more comfortable with one or more full local backups.

Here's my plan, such as it is:

  1. First, do no harm. Stop trying to repair these devices. It just seems to bollix them up more.
  2. Focus now on getting one or more reliable local backups of this iMac.
  3. Buy a 4TB external drive and plug it into the iMac. Use Disk Utility to format it and split it into two 2TB partitions.
  4. Use Carbon Copy Cloner to create a bootable backup on one of the partitions.
  5. Use Time Machine to create a versioned backup on the second partition. Cross my fingers that it will work.
  6. STOP! Get two local backups and verify they work before fiddling any further.
  7. Use Disk Utility to wipe and repair the WD2TB. If the drive continues to cause problems, securely wipe it and recycle it.
  8. Document our wifi settings in Time Capsule in case the next step clobbers them.
  9. Perform soft and hard resets on the Time Capsule as necessary to see if that will help kickstart Time Machine backups there.
  10. Take the damn thing to the Apple Store if I can't get it working as I'd like. Has the disk gone bad? Do they need to puff more blue smoke into its inner circuitry?
  11. If it's not the Time Capsule, but the Time Machine application? Lord, I do not want to go there.

I'm using Joe Kissell's Backing Up Your Mac ebook as a guide for planning and thinking through the local backups.

EVERYTHING IS A MESS AND ALL IS WELL

At the start of Awareness, Anthony deMello shares the secret divulged by all mystics of all faiths,

[A]ll is well, all is well. Though everything is a mess, all is well. Strange paradox, to be sure. But, tragically, most people never get to see that all is well because they are asleep. They are having a nightmare.

I started writing a little list of various troubles – not great ones, but small ones – afflicting me at the moment:

  • The looming government shutdown does not bother me as much as the deadend nature of my job. Updating my LinkedIn and resume are dutifully done. There is not much to look forward to.
  • I continue to put off dealing with my long-term finances, a delay that I’m sure will bite me later.
  • My Time Capsule and an external drive have both decided to pack it in – I now have no backups of my iMac.
  • Squarespace promises a lot but in many small ways it disappoints.
  • My office, which I’d tidied just last week, is now a mess.
  • And on and on…

If deMello is right – and let’s assume he is – then all is well.

My job, my computer, my office, my finances, my health – they are my nightmare. They are real and cause anxiety only as long as I am in the dream.

But don’t they call out to me? Don’t I have these serious feelings to let me know that action must be taken?

Maybe. I find myself saying “We’ll see” a lot more lately.

Sometimes the best thing to do in an emergency, is nothing. My external drive is flaking probably because of something I tried without knowing what would happen.

First – particularly when we’re dealing with the physical world – do no harm. Don’t make things worse by taking unnecessary, thoughtless, fearful reactive action. If what looks to be a problem is just a nightmare, I could be making things worse.

One of my coaches, Mary Schiller, posted a video emphasizing one of her basic points: don’t take your thinking seriously. Don’t take your feelings personally. Our experience of life is bigger than our little thoughts, bigger than our overwhelming feelings.

Don’t get stuck there.

As deMello says later in that passage,

Waking up is unpleasant. It’s irritating to be woken up…Even the best psychologist will tell you that, that people don’t really want to be cured. What they want is relief; a cure is painful.

So how am I dealing with these – let’s call them “situations”?

I am copying the files that can be copied from my external drive to my iMac. I will go to work tomorrow. I will put a few things away to keep my office tidy.

When I don’t engage with the nightmare and fret about how awful it is, ideas come to me in the quiet. I try them out. I get more ideas.

I wake up a little before going back to sleep.

FROM CRASHPLAN TO BACKBLAZE

After I renewed my Crashplan subscription last August, they announced, bless their hearts, they were leaving the consumer space to focus on business-only plans.

The Crashplan folks have generally been derided and criticized for that, but let’s count our blessings.

  1. They did not just pull the plug on my account so the data is unavailable. That’s happened to me with other vendors.
  2. They are honoring my subscription, so that Crashplan is still backing up my files through August 2018.
  3. This gives me enough time to find another online backup provider and get in a full backup before my account shuts down.
  4. Given Crashplan’s exit from this space, many vendors are offering discounts or plans to transition Crashplan users to their new platform.

Crashplan had a functional, unlovely interface; still, it also sported a few features that other vendors did not have and it was rock-sl. So, moving to a new vendor will involve trade-offs.

My use cases for online backup are few: back up all my key documents (mainly my Documents and Photos folders), always be on in the background to upload new or changed files, and easy download or restoration of files.

Crashplan has worked in the background for the past 5 or so years. Once I set it up, I left it alone and never touched it again. I only really ever needed to recover files using Crashplan one time. But that one time was the Black Swan, the big event no one is expecting that has outsized consequences.

That event was the 2015 burglary of our house where the bad guys stole my MacBook and my wife’s laptop, among other small items.

Yes, I had a Time Machine backup … but we now had no Mac devices of any kind in the house.

I bought a Chromebook and was able to log in through Crashplan’s web interface to download and find information we needed. We were also able to download a zip file of specific files from my wife’s account to her Windows work laptop so she had her most-needed files at her fingertips.

When I bought an iMac as the new home computer, I installed Crashplan immediately and it is running to this day. I’ve never had to open it for any reason.

I’m going with the Wirecutter’s recommendation of Backblaze as my online backup provider.

Based on my use pattern, this is a service I will interact with very little once I have set it up. If I need something right away, then I’ll have Time Machine (if I ever get the blamed Time Capsule working again) or a bootable backup. But I feel more comfortable knowing that, in the case of another Black Swan, I have a safety net.

COFFEENOMICS

Liz and I have an informal tradition of going to a local bakery/deli place for
breakfast when there’s a federal holiday. It featured coffee urns in the center of the dining area where patrons could refill their cups. 

As the bakery is across the street from Duke's East Campus, I'm sure people camped out at a table all day with free wi-fi for the price of a single bottomless cup of coffee.

The place just reopened after a few weeks of renovation. On ordering, we discovered that the “bottomless” cup of coffee was gone. Coffees are now refilled by the counter staff -- and refills are $1.

The coffee instantly tasted less good.

I can't say I blame the establishment for the policy change. Were I in their business, I'd probably do the same thing.

Nevertheless, we’re now looking for a new breakfast joint.

 
 

Restarting my diet, such as it is - 2

The key tool for me will be a weight-tracking chart made with pen and graph paper.

The chart format is described in the 1975 book Total Fitness in 30 Minutes a Week by Laurence E. Morehouse and Leonard Gross (long out of print). I first heard of this book through Mark Forster’s article.

The goal of the chart is to help you track losing a pound a week. This is a sustainable and non-superhuman rate of loss that should, we hope, prevent feelings of deprivation and will-power stuggles.

Here’s how Morehouse presents the graph in his book:

Weight tracking chart, graphed

  • Dates run along the horizontal axis.
  • Weight is on the vertical axis. Each block on the graph represents a half-pound, so weight amounts are placed on every second line.
  • Starting from the upper left, count down two blocks and over seven. Make a dot. Continue counting down two and over seven, making a dot at each intersection, till you get to the lower right. In the image, those dots are on days 7, 14, and 21.
  • Use a ruler to draw a line from upper left to lower right connecting those dots.

That line determines your weight control program. My graph runs from 1/13 to 2/20, about 5 weeks. Every day I weigh myself, my weight will be above, below, or on the control line. For fractions of a pound, round up or down to the nearest half-pound.

Morehouse describes the protocol:

  • The objective is to always be on the control line.
  • If you’re below the line, eat what you want so you’re on the line tomorrow.
  • If you’re above the line, then reduce the food and increase physical activity so you’re on the line tomorrow. Morehouse recommends eating 200 fewer calories and burning 300 extra calories by physical activity.
  • By the end of the first week, you should know what foods or activity are needed to stay on or below the control line.

Morehouse makes the point that your daily weight will of course fluctuate for any number of reasons; some we can control, some we cannot. But for the purposes of this exercise, treat the weight as true and adjust accordingly. As Morehouse says,

We pay attention to the scale, particularly since it’s such a good source of motivation, but we don’t take it too seriously.

If you’re above the line for several days in a row, then it ain’t the weather; do what you need to do to bring your weight below the line. But if you’re below the line, hooray! Take advantage of the fluctuation.

Keep tracking your weight in this way till you reach your target weight. In my case I’d like to be 195 lbs. So, if all goes well, I’ll get there sometime in mid-May.

There are spreadsheets out there (the Hacker’s Diet being one) that track one’s weight daily and smoothe out the fluctuations. And any app store is lousy with weight trackers.

So why use pen and paper? For one thing, I like looking at the chart and seeing how long this will take. It reminds me that sustainable weight loss is a slow process – slower than I’d like, frankly. But whenever I’ve tried to lose faster than this, I would rebound to some degree. 

Making the chart involves me in the process and updating it every morning is also more active than simply typing my weight into an app. When I record the weight and note its position relative to the control line, I immediately begin planning my day’s eating and activities.

What do I do when I’m over the line? When I figure it out myself, I will post it here!

RESTARTING MY DIET, SUCH AS IT IS - 1

I have paid for Herbalife, Diet Center (where I had to weigh in weekly and eat at least one large salad and one large apple a day), protein shakes, meal-replacement shakes, olive oil to do the Shangri-La Diet, lots of chicken breasts and veg for the South Beach Diet, lots of chicken, beans, and eggs for the Slow-Carb Diet, lots of potatoes for the Potato Hack, and a nutrition consultant, who is the only one who did me any real good – I lost 17 lbs. under her tutelage.

I have always been a fat kid and a plump adult. At one point in my 20s, I joined a gym and weighed in at about 250 lbs. I’m 6’3", so some people were kind enough to say I carried it well, but still…I knew I could look and feel better.

At my lowest, I weighed 195 lbs., but I was so stressed out by the seeming chaos of my life at the time that I could not enjoy it.

I have purchased and read over my adult life maybe 25–40 books and ebooks on diet and eating.

There is always a new twist on old thinking, new takes on old food, and new perspectives on the bizarre problem of a fat society in a starving world. I am convinced now, based on the current science and thinking, that exercise is good for the body and the metabolism, but eating is what controls your weight.

There is a great little formula I picked up from somewhere on the ’Net:

  • When it comes to exercise: more is better than less, faster (or more intense) is better than slower, anything is better than nothing.
  • When it comes to food: less is better than more, eating slower is better than eating faster, nothing is better than anything.

For the last several years, I’ve settled on a few basics:

  • Real food, not packaged food.
  • More protein, more veg and fruit, fewer simple carbs.
  • If I snack, snack on protein.
  • No calories counting or food weighing.
  • Skipping a meal or fasting for 20–24 hours is easier than anything else I can do.
  • Know thyself and thy environment. As the week wears on, I am more susceptible to binging or eating foolishly. Plan for this. If I’m at a buffet or party, plan how I will eat so I don’t overindulge.
  • But sometimes, I’m going to binge. Forgive myself and get back on the horse.
  • Less is better than more, nothing is better than anything.

I sustained a weight of 203 lbs for most of 2017, till we travelled for two weeks through Nova Scotia, Cape Breton, PEI, and Grand Pre. We ate out for most of our meals, like you do.

I weighed 207 lbs when we returned in July and I could never get below that. With the gorgings of the holiday season just past – plus all the foodstuffs given to us and to each other as gifts – my weight has not gone below 210 lbs.

In the next post, I’ll lay out my current plan.

RESTARTING MY EXERCISE PROGRAM, SUCH AS IT IS

I went to the Y and aerobics classes in the ’80s, used the weight machines with my gym memberships in the ’90s, bought a NordicTrack, went to yoga classes, bought my own set of dumbbells, bought a dozen exercise tapes and DVDs, and I don’t know what all.

Since about 2007 or so, I settled on using kettlebells as my primary resistance and cardio fitness tool. After sustaining a shoulder injury using them in a group class setting, I now meet with a trainer every couple of months so she can correct my form and write out custom routines. While I like classes for some things, I prefer one-on-one coaching with the kettlebells – it’s too easy to hurt myself otherwise.

I had a pretty good kbell routine last fall, but a cold and then a cough that wouldn’t go away stopped me. One of my rules is to not work out when my body is fighting illness.

My method for starting or restarting a new routine is to take it slow. The goal for my current routine is to do 5 sets of exercises with a 35 lb. kettlebell. So tonight I did 2 sets with a 25 lb. bell. Next time I’ll do 3, and so on. When I’ve done a week or two of 5 full sets with 25 lbs. using excellent form, then I’ll start the 35 lb. bell with 1 or 2 sets and work my way up again.

After a six-week layoff, re-establishing the habit and routine of exercise is more important to me than hitting a weight or rep target. Planning which evenings I’ll exercise (I prefer exercising at home after work), setting up the space, doing my warm-ups – getting back into the rhythm of all of that is crucial.

Along with this vigorous exercise, I need to go back to walking more regularly (my FitBit daily goal is 10,000 steps, which I hardly ever hit in winter) and adding some sprints once or twice a week.

I also want to get back to a regular yoga routine. I sit so much during my days while the kettlebell work shortens the muscles. So stretching those muscles and realigning my posture 2–3 times a week is important as I enter my late 50s.

From Safari Back to Chrome

On my iMac, I’ve used the Chrome browser for many many years. This was an artifact of my using a Chromebook immediately after the 2015 break-in; it served as my primary computer for quite a while. Even after I got this here iMac, Chrome remained my preferred browser since I used it on both platforms.

Over that time, I’ve tricked out Chrome with just the extensions I want and I’ve gotten used to how it works.

With the arrival of the iPad Pro, I decided to give Safari on macOS another try. I believe in shaking up my routines now and then, and I wanted to see if using Safari made a difference.

I liked the Handoff of bookmarks between the macOS and iOS, and using Safari on the iPad is a great experience for me. I may try the Chrome iOS browser but feel no great need to do so.

However, Safari and I did not hit it off on the iMac. I was able to roughly reproduce my Speedial setup using Safari bookmark folders, but it felt clumsy to me. I did not notice that Safari was any faster than Chrome.

But what I really missed were the extensions and customizations. I am very used to the bookmarklets lining my Chrome toolbar to email a link to myself, run a site search, add a bookmark to Pinboard, and many other things. I could not reproduce this easily in Safari.

But the killer extension for me on Chrome is Video Speed Controller. Since videos now rule the web, and I tend now to do my at-home tech training via video rather than reading, I like the control of speeding up, slowing down, and skipping through a video with simple keystrokes. Not just on YouTube, either, most any HTML5 video.

I could not reproduce this functionality in Safari. And I did not see the sense in running Safari for everything except video when video is ubiquitous.

So I’ve gone back to Chrome on the iMac and feel much more comfortable. Thus endeth the experiment.

On Making the “Teacher” Video

The course was titled “Make A 5-Minute Documentary in 7 Weeks” but it was almost seven months before I uploaded my Teacher documentary to YouTube.

Here are some notes on the experience.

The People’s Channel

The class was held at The People’s Channel in Chapel Hill, where we learned the basics of using a Panasonic AC90 camera, recording video and sound, using an extra microphone, unpacking and packing the tripod, and so on. The class fee included an Individual Membership to TPC for a year, allowing us to check out the camera and use TPC’s iMacs for video editing.

All TPC asked in return was 1) don’t break anything and 2) the privilege of showing the documentary you made using their equipment. They include many of these short films about people and the community in their program rotations alongside their longer-form programming.

Shooting the Video

I shot all the footage in a single weekend. J. Michael Pope, the subject of the documentary, happened to be performing at a church that Sunday with one of his students. He also arranged lessons in his studio with four of his students that I filmed almost in their entirety. Plus, we did a 30-minute interview.

By the end of that weekend, I had about 8 hours of video. This is where it’s easy to intimidate yourself. How was I going to create a 5-minute video out of all that footage? Where do I even start?

Sage Advice

Local video artist and potter Jason Abide taught the class and passed along some good tips.

  • Just sit and watch all the footage one time through without making any notes.
  • The next time through, watch with a notebook. I gave each clip a name, and noted timings of when songs started or when Michael said or did something I thought illustrative of his teaching style. I also made notes on some themes I saw emerging from the footage.
  • Don’t overthink this. Editing is mainly about cutting things away. Plonk the bits you like best in a row, and start cutting away the stuff you don’t like.
  • Use jump cuts for transitions. Viewers are used to them from newscasts and television generally. You can always change the transitions later.

Final Cut Pro X

Shooting footage is easy; editing it into a product is hard. For the 7-week class, fully 5 weeks were spent coming to grips with Final Cut Pro, a struggle that lasted for months.

Despite Jason’s advice to keep it simple and just cut, “simple” and “Final Cut Pro” do not go together.

The trouble here was that, in addition to figuring out what we wanted to say with our movies, we also struggled with learning the basics of how to make Final Cut Pro X do anything. We could see in our minds’ eye what we wanted the finished product to look like, but FCPX did not make it easy for us to realize them.

Aside from the overwhelmingly busy interface, there’s also the FCPX nomenclature. I still do not know the difference between libraries, events, and projects and those are basic concepts in FCPX.

My Sad Sad Story, Boo-Hoo

I could possibly have bought FCPX for my iMac, but I did not want to pay $300 for an application I did not expect to use again.

This meant using the iMacs at TPC.

Trouble #1: they were only open till 7pm a few nights of the week, and I work first-shift. I could have rearranged my schedule but the work upheavals that drove me to take the class also compelled me to stay close to the office.

Trouble #2: the only other time TPC was open was Saturday from 10am–2pm. So I had a four-hour window once a week during which I would have to relearn how to use FCPX, reacquaint myself with my footage, and try to make some sort of visible progress.

Trouble #3: Sometimes TPC would be closed on Saturday! After the second time this happened, I sent myself an automated reminder every Friday to call TPC and check their Saturday schedule. This saved me wasted trips a couple of times.

So my hands-on time with the footage was limited and there would be some occasions, such as when we went on vacation, where I’d be gone for weeks at a time. Whatever momentum I’d built up would be long gone. Hence the months needed for editing.

Lessons Learned

  • As Jason advised, don’t try to learn everything about FCPX. Search Google for “FCPX 10.3” (include the version number you’re using) to find specific help as you need it. Then write it down in a notebook so you find it faster next time!
  • That said, search on “FCPX cheatsheet” or “FCPX keyboard shortcuts” and bookmark or print the more helpful items. Jason encouraged us to learn and use basic keyboard shortcuts we’d use 98 percent of the time: start, stop, reverse, forward, zoom in to the timeline, etc.
  • I found a few excellent Lynda.com FCP tutorial videos that I returned to often. On Saturdays, I’d start my work session by looking at the tutorials to review and remind myself of the technique or method I would use that day.[1]
  • Dedicate a notebook to the project and use it to collect your notes on timings, themes, learnings, etc. I noted FCP key shortcuts in the back of my pocket Moleskine.
  • I spent weeks simply reviewing the footage, and marking and organizing sections of clips for both the interview and the b-roll (or secondary) footage. This made compiling the first half of the video go more swiftly than I expected.
  • As the video took shape, I’d start each work session by watching it through twice, noting any nips and tucks that were needed, deciding on the next steps, etc.
  • I treated Michael’s interview as if it were recorded for radio. I edited, trimmed, and clipped silences, hesitations, etc. so it sounded tight. I knew I could cover the awkward jump cuts with my b-roll footage illustrating whatever he was talking about.
  • As Faulkner said, “Kill your darlings.” When I got rid of the bits that I really loved, the story fell into place.
  • I saw the movie in layers. Get the interview foundation solid, then add b-roll on top of that to add visual interest and variety, then play with the audio so the music or interview would fade in and out, then add the titles and credits. And then, sit and watch it over and over to tweak as needed till it looked smooth, to my eye.
  • Near the end, I thought I needed three full 8-hour days to finish the thing. But by working on it a little at a time, I discovered to my surprise that I was done after only two Saturday sessions. I was stunned at how quietly it came together.
  • I learned yet again that I can start from a place of zero knowledge and create something. I just have to keep showing up and doing the work.
  • Some creative decisions are ones of necessity, but they can still be really good decisions.
  • Some ideas come to you when you’re looking in the other direction. While I was making the bed one day, it occurred to me to end the movie with Pope saying “Excellent!” at the end of Ron’s solo. You hear him say it throughout the movie, so it’s natural and unforced.
  • When I hit on ending the video with Pope exclaiming “Excellent!”, I thought of it as simply a nice button so we wouldn’t go out on a blank screen. He says this often during a lesson and it’s so expressive of his personality as a teacher. I didn’t realize till later that it could be interpreted on other levels: that he was proclaiming the movie as “Excellent!”, and that he was also saying it to the viewer who just sat through a mini-lesson with him.
  • Be ready for that moment when a big project that has occupied your mindspace for months is now done. Because it will leave a vast echoing space behind and the question, “What next?” Have something waiting.

 

  1. Unfortunately, Lynda.com removed the best documentary-based FCP course, one that followed a producer making a news piece on enticing CEOs to consider U.S. veterans for jobs. I wish I had noted the producer’s name, because she had lots of great tips and advice that saved me loads of time. Alas, gone without trace.  ↩

TEECCINO

I did not start drinking coffee till my mid to late 20s at my first job. My bad nightowl habits, along with the early days of David Letterman’s late night show, meant I was usually sleepy the next day.

My doctor recommended drinking one cup of coffee in the morning and one after lunch to wake me up. “Treat it like a drug,” he said. “Not as a beverage or a dessert.”

That advice lasted for a little while, bless him. It was not long before coffee became my go-to drink of choice.

Herbal teas I never quite got the hang of; too fruity, most of them. And Earl Grey and the other black teas were not that tasty to me, either.

But coffee, that usually hit the spot. Except at night. I could drink decaf in the evening, sure, but even so – I was always a little suspicious that it had a little caffeine in it.

Several years ago, I read some blogger trying to wean himself off caffeine. He touted a product called Teeccino, an "herbal coffee" beverage he was using a coffee-substitute.

The local Whole Foods carried it and I tried it. It has since become one of my favorite hot  evening beverages, along with peppermint or ginger teas (my tastes have expanded, thank you).

Teeccino is made from a blend of chicory, dates, figs, etc. and is totally herbal without caffeine. What I like about Teeccino is that it’s thicker and more flavorful than the usual herbal teas; you brew it, rather like you brew a cup of coffee. I rotate among my preferred favors of Hazelnut, Mocha, and Java. With a splash of half-and-half and a bit of sugar, a cup of Teeccino strikes a very comforting note for me, especially in these dark winter months.

The only trouble with Teeccino is that it’s finely ground, and our tea ball’s mesh did not keep the grounds out of the drink. I’d tried using a gold filter cone, which worked OK but only OK; the water took a while to seep through and the cone was a mess to clean out.

What has taken my Teeccino experience to the next level is a wonderful Christmas gift from Liz: a Finum brewing basket.

The basket sits in the cup, the cover keeps the beverage hot as it steeps, hardly any grounds or sludge seep out into the cup, and cleanup is a breeze.

Teeccino and the Finum brewing basket: Highly Recommended.

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.

Sleepytime

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.

What Did Jesus Look Like?

The 2015 BBC News article What Did Jesus Really Look Like? is still interesting, even in the afterglow of Christmas. The article is a great blend of historical fact and art history tracing how Jesus has been portrayed in Western art through the centuries, where some traditions started (the beard, halo, and flowing robes hail from Byzantine influences), and some deductions about how he may have actually looked.

Traveling with my iPad Pro 10.5

One of my reasons for purchasing the iPad Pro was to replace my Chromebook as a travel computing device. Here's what I've been using my iPad for on this trip:

  • Reading downloaded ComiXology comics on the frankly beautiful screen using ComiXology's Guided View mode. Seeing individual panels filling the whole screen helps these old eyes. I could have done the same on the Chromebook using the ComiXology web site, but the Chromebook's screen isn't as good. Also, using ComiXology's iOS app, I could download the books I wanted and read them on the airplane or anywhere else without needing a wifi connection.
  • Checking and responding to email, of course. I use my Apple Bluetooth keyboard when I want to type anything longer than a quick message. The iPad and this keyboard are a great combo, with all function keys and many common keyboard combos that work just as expected (but no Forward Delete!).
  • Reading comics and Kindle ebooks on the airplane, something that would have been more cumbersome with the Chromebook. I have never read Kindle ebooks on the Chromebook, as reading them via the web was my only option. I carried a separate Kindle Paperwhite for those occasions.
  • Writing this blog post using the Squarespace editor. There are some restrictions to editing on a mobile device, but I can create and publish posts. The Chromebook, however, would have offered the full suite of editing and styling functions from its web browser Update: I originally wrote this in the Squarespace editor when the wifi went out before I hit Save, so that I lost all the edits for that session. Lesson learned! I'm now drafting this in the Drafts app. The Chromebook also offered offline editing but that kind of violated its whole reason for existing, so I never used it for extensive writing.
  • Downloaded the Doctor Who Christmas special via the Amazon Prime Video app. Again, I could have viewed the video on the Chromebook if I had a stable wifi connection. Where we're staying on the road, the wifi connection is iffy (wiffy?) (no). 
  • Used the You Need A Budget (YNAB) app and my credit union's app to track my expenses. I could have done this via the Chromebook also, though YNAB's iPhone app makes it dead easy to capture expenses on the fly.
  • Slipped it quickly into and out of my backpack, where it weighs less than the few books and notebooks I keep in there. The Chromebook was bigger, bulkier, and it's AC adapters were impossibly awkward in size and weight when I wanted to travel light. The iPad Pro is a clear improvement.

I'm not really doing anything different on the iPad than I could do on the Chromebook. I'm reading, watching video, writing, surfing the web. But what I'm doing is easier and more fun on the iPad. It's the best all-In-one computing device I've ever used.

Six More Little Words

The same coach I mentioned in the previous post asked me in a later session to sum up a motto or philosophy for myself in six words. Instead of compressing a single philosophy into six words, I thought of three two-word phrases to (as always) give myself options. Still, they add up to a single philosophy, I think.

The six words I picked were:

Eyes open. Straight ahead. Keep walking.

They're good words for me, I believe. I tend to duck my eyes at things about myself I don't want to look at, I distract and divert myself, and instead of marching ahead, I sit, stop, and ponder. Sitting and pondering is not a bad thing to do, but I believe I've resorted to that behavior more often than was warranted. Taking action, moving ahead, doing the work even if I don't know where it leads: these are the behaviors I'd like to become my default tactics.