Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Updates and Observations

Just back from Chicago, visiting the SOOTTAD for her birthday. Great trip, felt kinda stupid flying back Monday morning rather than staying an extra day. I think the idea was that I'd get back into Boston a little after noon and actually get in a half-day's work. It turns out that I probably could have gotten more work done if I had just staying in Chicago and worked remotely -- somehow the flight totally drained me and I ended up just kicking around the house reading a book rather than working -- I'll have to mention that to the senior partner of the group... right after I let him know about my new nap schedule that I'll be taking up at the office. Right.

So anyway, great trip. We ate well: a fabulous meal at Blackbird (although the one bottle of wine and split glass of port totally schnockered us -- geez we are such lightweights) and then another overindulgent frenzy at HotChocolate. I am amused that in both instances, we were complemented by the server on our manner of dining (lots of apps, lots of variety), and only in the latter occasion did it seem like he was being gratuitously obsequious. I would very much like to go back. HotChocolate, in particular, which seemed like the perfect place to just spend a long leisurely afternoon and evening drinking and snacking with friends. Hopefully the SOOTTAD will write something up about the meals sometime soon.

Of course, the whole getting up early thing went out the window with the hangover Saturday morning. And then sleeping in Sunday, was just, well, nice. Maybe I've never really given this early-rising thing a real chance at taking root, but in my experience, I've been able to feel awake: conscious, alert, ambulatory. Whatever. I'm awake. But I don't think I've ever felt rested. Sunday, getting up around 11, even though it was clear that I could have rolled over and gone right back to sleep, it was really nice to feel rested: refreshed, recharged. Sadly, I want more, but I had to be up before 7am to catch my flight, and now I'm back home and I have to readjust again to get up for work. I haven't decided whether I'll try to get back on that horse or just switch over to a slightly more constrained naturalistic approach. We'll see what happens as the week progresses.

Cat2 hasn't been doing that well recently. He was puking pretty much every day and I finally got him to the vet a few weeks ago. The diagnosis came back Friday (right before I flew out to Chicago) Severe Inflammatory Bowel Disease. He's been prescribed Prednisone and Flagyl, which has been a challenge to administer. They're both pills, the Flagyl cut into quarters, and I'm no stranger to pilling cats (Cat1 was on heart medication for a number of years), but Cat2 has an uncanny ability to disgorge pills even when I get them into the back of his throat, which isn't supposed to be possible. (I guess this figures for a cat that was vomiting daily.) The trick? Put fresh wet food in the bowl, pill, hold mouth shut, then distract with the food. So far, so good. We can only hope that his attention span is short enough to prevent him from catching on.

So, recent observations:

  • On one of the previous visits to Chicago (a rainy weekend, as I recall) we had noticed several large intersections where the traffic was being directed by the police, even though the traffic lights were still working. They seemed kind of redundant at the time. So on Friday, after exiting the train station, I wait at the first major intersection (Division and Ashland, I think) waiting for the light to change so I can cross. I'm not paying particularly close attention to the lights, just observing the traffic patterns, so it takes me a while to realize that the traffic lights are out. Oh. So basically it's a free-for-all and I just have to pick a moment, go, and hope for the best. I make it across without too much difficulty (hey, I've lived in Boston for 15 years) and notice that the power still seems to be on -- it's only the traffic lights that are out. Huh. And then I see a police cruiser reach the intersection. I wonder if they're there to bring some order to the situation. Nope, they find an opening, cross the intersection and are gone. Huh. Chicago is a very odd city.
  • Charlie cards are coming. (Actually, more accurately: CharlieTickets) They were installing new turnstiles at Alewife when I left and they were letting people in free at Maverick when I came back, the old token turnstiles being out of commission (and who knows what was going on at the Airport stop -- the terminal shuttle busses took us to Maverick). I still find it odd that they chose to name the new card system after the character of a song who got stuck on the T and could never get off. And the irony that the song was written as a protest over fare increases and that the new card will actually make fare increases easier to implement is also not lost.
  • We learned on our Oakland trip that Jambong (a favorite Korean noodle soup dish we used to routinely get at a local restaurant in Lawrence) is actually a Chinese dish. At least, that's what my Korean friends told me. I wasn't really having any of it since the only places I've had it have been at three Korean restaurants around the Boston area, and zero Chinese restaurants. Well, I had a hankering for Jambong (did I mention the hangover?) on Saturday and well... wouldn't you know it, all the Korean restaurants we visited that afternoon kept telling us it was a Chinese dish. And then one sent us to the Chinese restaurant that served it. (I may eventually write about the experience over at Foodnerd.)
  • Tomato plants seem to be growing pretty well. Sadly, they don't seem to be fruiting. They're making flowers, but the flowers are just dying off. I'm not sure if it's because of all the crazy rain or if there's a problem with the soil that I need to address. Unfortunately, not a lot of time to hit the garden store these days.
  • The grapes and raspberries, on the other hand, are doing quite well. My only concern is that the critters don't get to them before we can enjoy them.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Bad news for the SOOTTAD

"Blast Furnace Heat Sets In"

She was commenting on the weather just yesterday, and then this morning (up at 0700, go me) I hear on the radio that they're issuing heat warnings in several cities across the country, Chicago amongst them. (And thankfully, not Boston -- here, we only have to worry about tunnel collapse.)

It's not a good sign when your weather makes national news. Hopefully it'll break, or at least ease up, by the time I get there this weekend.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

A few thoughts on sleep

So it's day 2, and I'm already wondering if I'm doing this thing right. The grand plan was to try to get myself waking up, well, getting up earlier -- I already wake up several times in the early morning, something which I actually find kind of annoying, but it'd be nice to feel well-rested and alert while getting up at an earlier time. It's entirely possible that I'm actually chasing a fantasy here and even people who successfully adapt to being morning people still feel like ass when they wake up in the morning.

So I got up yesterday at 7:45AM and basically did the same this morning, despite going to bed around 1AM last night. I did wake up at 6AM, but I figured, why push it? A quarter-of-eight seemed perfectly reasonable. Except that when I'm getting enough sleep, I'm usually up by 8 or 8:30, so am I just being stupid here? Leaving my body to its own devices (and letting it get enough rest), I'll probably be back on my usual schedule by next week. But now that I'm sleep depriving myself, who knows? Generally, when I listen to my body, it's done me right. This tack may be inadvisable and fraught with peril.

And if I'm really trying to change things, I probably should be shooting for a wake up time closer to 6AM. At the moment, I'm rationalizing that I'm nudging myself in that direction by under-sleeping and getting up at my "usual" time, and that will help me get to bed earlier so that I can work my way towards the new target time.

So far, I've felt like ass both mornings. I've also gone for a run shortly after getting up, to try and help sync my body clock to the earlier time. The runs haven't felt particularly good, but I do tend to feel a bit better afterwards -- it's probably just a good thing to get the blood flowing, but it's also a kick in the ass telling my body: "no, I'm really not kidding about this waking up thing; it's time to get moving." Tangentially related because I say so, I'm attributing my not having fun at the dance last night to being generally cranky from the lack of sleep. (And the SOOTTAD being in Chicago, but that's really a secondary issue, more of an inability to recover problem.)

So it's morning, I'm up, and I basically have to force myself to not just go right back to bed. I go for a run, do stuff around the garden. Mmm, bed. So I surf the site of the guy who wrote the original early-riser article, and end up reading about his experience with polyphasic sleep. And the things that resonates are the bits about dreaming during short naps and the feeling refreshed afterwards. I also buy into the idea that naps provide mental breaks that can allow the subconscious to go to work, problem solving and improving creativity. Naps good.

Maybe I'm really polyphasic? Or I should at least consider trying it? Probably not, given that I sure do seem to like those big blocks of sleep at night as well. So perhaps biphasic sleeping? It's mentioned in the wikipedia article I linked to above. The sense I got was that it meant sleeping fewer hours at night but effectively getting you nap on sometime during the day, but when I Googled it, it mostly came up with people who were trying to get an extra couple of hours of wakefulness by spliting their sleep time into two shorter periods. Not really the same thing, and I don't really think I have the discipline for the latter, or interest really, since the sacrifices that you have to make to your schedule (not to mention reports of feeling tired or outright failure) aren't worth it to me. What? You mean I can get an extra 2.5 hours of wakefulness (awakeness?) if I go to bed at 8:30PM and get up again at midnight... uh, why would I want to do that? However, it did come up with an interesting article on a slightly different pattern:

This new view of a natural night's sleep in two phases is based on an old view of human behavior - pre-Edison. Before the invention of electric lights, darkness was mankind's companion during long nights, and sleep was typically punctuated by an hour or two of what sleep experts call "quiet wakefulness."

Dunno. Maybe I was on the right track when I just let me body do what it wanted. It was something I picked up in a psychology class way back when in high school, where there was this idea that when you were falling asleep during a lecture or while reading a textbook it wasn't that it was boring, but that your body was tired and needed sleep. (Because maybe it *was* boring, but that wasn't why you were drowsy.) It's one of the reasons I try to avoid caffeine. (within reason, of course.)

Of course, I'm still not sure how to work in that afternoon nap in when I'm at the office. (Does anyone think this will ever fly?) Man, do I miss those days of working from home. (and not working, from home -- by which I mean unemployed, not "working" from home.)

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Experiment

A few weeks ago, I came across this post on "optimizing your life" which I found somewhat intriguing. It's been a year of exploration and change for me -- I've been doing acupuncture, trying to get regular massages and trying other forms of therapy in addition to my usual "get as much exercise as you can and sleep until you feel rested" approach. And I buy into its basic premise:
Many years ago an old friend and I were discussing the meaning of life. He said, "I don't think the point of life is to accomplish a certain level of external success. I believe we're actually here to acquire and enjoy experiences."
If you're going to spend most of your time experiencing rather than accomplishing, then perhaps it makes sense to focus on the quality of your daily experiences and not merely on the heights of your accomplishments. It's nice to have a truly fantastic day where you accomplish something wonderful, but what about your normal days?

When you realize most of your life will be consumed by normal days rather than extraordinary ones, you may feel motivated to raise the overall quality of these normal days.
It sounded right up my alley: the zen-like being and experiencing -- valuing the moments -- but also somehow working to enrich those moments. After reading it (and re-reading it to write about it), I think most of what seems to resonate with me are the things that I already try to do or that I agree with but which have fallen below the radar or by the wayside.

I don't buy into the audio learning thing, especially while exercising (generally speaking, exercise intrinsicallynsicly high-quality experience for me), but that's just part of my priorities -- he even says that it's about the overall concept, not the specific menu items. (I also don't think self-employment is for everyone, whatever.) But I remember my initial take being somehow... off, something which nagged at me until I was finally able to hash it out while talking to the SOOTTAD.

What it came down to was the wayside. You know: the things that I recognized as things that I thought had value, but my brain was too occupied with the other stuff that I had to get done so I forgot, or I just didn't get around to doing them, because, well, it was late and I was tired, so, you know... bed.

It kinda reminded me of Stephen Covey's "big rocks" -- the thing where you make time for the important things first (the big rocks), then fill in the spaces with the rest (very small rocks, gravel, sand, germs, etc.). Except that I've got this massive pile of big rocks.

I actually had a meditation practice for a while there, probably doing it for a month or two. What happened? I got back from vacation and I had a million and six projects to finish and I needed to be in the office for work because we hit a schedule crunch and frisbee season had finally hit its stride. Stopped reading and playing piano, too.

There are just so many hours in a day.

But Dude, you say, change number one is "getting an early start."

Well yeah, there's that. He even links to some of his other articles on becoming an early riser and how to train yourself to get up to your alarm (pretty cool, actually). I'm actually familiar with the always-get-up-at-the-same-time concept that he talks about, but I must admit that I'm a bit skeptical. I mean, I buy into the concept at a theoretical level, but logistically, when it comes to real-world implementation, there are definitely some issues, at least for me personally. We're not all created equal, after all.

For one thing, I've actually tried it before -- I think the last time was a few years ago and I got to the end of week three and came down with a massive cold.

Yeah, that went well.

The other thing is how my body responds to the lack of sleep, which is to say, not well. When I'm tired, my brain and/or body pretty much shut down. That's basically the idea -- you don't get enough sleep one night so then you're all tired and stuff the next day and you go to bed earlier. The problem is, that next day I still need to be functional, generally speaking, and generally speaking, I'm not. I played this game last Wednesday when I got up at 6AM to drop off Cat2 at the vet. I was up late the previous night working, so I was operating on maybe 5 hours of sleep. And by 11AM I was having a hard time concentrating at the office. By 2PM, it was an effort just trying to stay awake, let alone actually get real work done. I slogged through the rest of the day, and barely stayed awake on the drive back to the vet around 8PM when Cat2 was finally ready to be picked up. I got home around 9:30PM and, at that point, I had to eat dinner. And after talking to the SOOTTAD (we considered trying this getting-up-early business just for shits and giggles since she had to be up for a meeting herself the next day) I got sucked into some work and ended up going to be late (past 1AM) again. The next morning, I woke up at 5:58AM, realized that starting a day at the office at that point was going to be an egregiouslyiously bad idea and went back to sleep.

The real world has an annoying way of throwing wrenches into the works.

It's back to the big rocks: Is work a big rock? Talking to the SOOTTAD? At some point, you run out of room and you have to start reclassifying your rocks. And that doesn't even include the other things that I would consider to be part of the experiences of a life well lived: spending time with friends, going out dancing, seeing a show... things that I'd like to plan to do, but if I'm operating under go-to-bed-when-I'm-tired, there are a lot of things, a lot of important things, that are going to get jettisoned.

When I read the article, I see the author going to the gym (iew), listening to personal improvement audio broadcasts, meditating, working in his home office, reading, journaling, talking to his wife, spending time with his family. There may be more, but that's all the insight I get. And honestly, that's probably a life well lived. And within that life, it doesn't seem that difficult for him to say to himself: "gee, I'm feeling a bit tired this evening, I guess I'll just call it a night." There's a certain flexibility there for that.

In my life, the life I am currently living, (and enjoying, for the most part, mind you) things don't fall into place so easily.

But, that being said, I'm going to try to see if I can make this work anyway. An experiment, of sorts. Clearly, this wasn't going to start on a workday. (After vet day, I got up so late on both Thursday and Friday that I didn't get into the office until after 10:30am on both days. Whoops.) However, I figured that I could afford to be a little non-functional during the weekend. So today, when I woke up at 7:45AM, I got up. (went to bed close to 2AM last night -- going away party for some friends, talked to the SOOTTAD on the phone and then puttered around on the interwebs while eating some real food. Did I mention that I had two glasses of Kir Royale and a slice of chocolate cake for dinner at the party?)

However, there is another issue, which is that when I'm tired and I do have the flexibility to respond to my body when it tells me it needs sleep, I'll just crash. At, like, two in the afternoon. (actually, today it happened around 4:30pm.) The SOOTTAD seems to think this is some kind of adapted behavior from ancestral hunter-gatherer days. Something about hunting in the morning resting during the heat of midday and then resuming activities again in the late afternoon/evening. Yeah, maybe that, or some kind of whole siesta thing. I dunno. There are also historical records of me getting to bed early (say 8-9PM) after not getting enough sleep the previous night, where I've just woken up at midnight or 1AM, unable to get back to sleep. And then there's that whole thing where I keep myself awake when I'm overtired and I end up getting heartburn the next day. (usually this happens on roadtrips, or when there's a significant time change involved, but it's also been known to happen just from, well, slogging through a couple of days back-to-back without enough sleep.)

Anyway, I know there are going to be challenges, but we're gonna give it a shot. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Dead Flies and Circle of life

Originally uploaded by tallasiandude.
I'm not sure what the deal was today, but it was like a plague of flies. I must have caught and/or killed nine or ten14-15 in the house in the last 24 hours. And they pretty much showed up all sudden-like sometime last night. I was wondering if I had left some food spoiling in the trash under the sink or something but it turned out my friends RB and MJ were experiencing the same thing in their condo downtown, so I guess it's just some weird thing going down in the 'ham. Happy Fourth with-the-flies!

I was having a hard time catching them until after my run this morning, when I was finally able to take out my first one with a quick swat of the hand while stretching on the floor in the living room. I didn't really think much about it, and I hit a few more around the house as the day progressed, eventually finding several around one of the windows in the kitchen. It was at this point, two dead fly carcasses lying on the windowsill, that I noticed something odd. The ones there had already been somewhat remarkable in that, on more than one occasion, My blow had simply stunned a fly -- one would initially look as if I had killed it, its body motionless, legs angled skyward, but a few moments later, it would have righted itself and begun moving around the local area before I was able to finish it off with another frenzied set of whacks.

Anyway, another fly that I thought I had killed seemed to be moving, albeit somewhat strangely. And then I realized that *it* wasn't moving, it was that there were other things moving near it. And leaning in... oh god -- larvae*. Maggots. There was a whole ball of them writhing en masse away from the body. Still more were accumulating under the fly itself, moving it about haphazardly as they writhed their way out of their parent's dead body.

Fascinating. But exceedingly high on the ICK factor.

And then I remembered the other flies that I had swatted, and left, around the house...

I went back to the living room and took a look at the dead fly's body as I took it outside. There didn't seem to be any activity there. But when I returned and took a closer look around where it had laid, I could see them: tiny little squiggles, slowly spreading out across the living room floor. I wiped and squished, and, holy crap, I really hope I got them all, or a whole new wave is going to show up in a few days. Not to mention that the whole concept just totally gives me the jibblies: I'm sorry, your whole body filled with offspring, ready to burst forth as soon as you take any kind of injury? And if that doesn't happen, presumably at some point they're just going to decide that they're coming out, and well, thanks mom, you've been swell, but we gotta move out on our own.

Have I mentioned, iew?

And now I'm afraid of killing them, for fear of them spreading and multiplying -- I've been catching them and chucking them outside. And I can only hope that they're not finding their way back in.

*Actually, poking around online, they actually look more like eggs, which would make more sense... except that they're autonomous, which would make them even creepier. I don't think it matters. It's just gross.

Life change, crazy-go-nuts

Hey, Happy Fireworks everybody.

Sorry for sorta disappearing like that, but y'know, sometimes life is like that.

So I must have been totally delusional to think that things would have settled down right after I got back from vacation. For one thing, it's catch-up after being away for almost a week and a half. And then, between the final push of projects in the last month of the semester at school, a ramp up of schedule pressures at work (no more working from home -- *sigh*), not to mention frisbee season hitting its stride, there really wasn't much time for this blog business on either the reading or posting side.

And then there was the added bonus of a sudden, renewed interest in househunting, so we've been surfing the real estate listings, scheduling viewings and checking out financing. (The SOOTTAD even flew out to check a few places out so we could both have more tangible points of reference.) And then there's been all this craziness trying to find a reception site and... um, oh yeah, did I mention that the SOOTTAD and I got engaged?


So, uh, yeah... things have been a little crazy recently.

Perhaps I'll really be able to get back to writing, but work is still really busy (it's a holiday weekend and I've billed 16 hours, and counting, since Saturday) and there's still the matter of needing to finish a case study for school that's now 2 weeks overdue.

So, hopefully I'll be back eventually. I'm pretty sure it'll be before Labor day, but no promises.