Category Archives: Personal

Well, close to me and about me.

Time

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I thought I was establishing a habit of writing frequently. But life got in the way. The really odd thing is that in my mind the last time I blogged seemed like a couple, maybe three weeks ago, not months.

There is the desire to write, the surge of ideas, the need for expression. But actually sitting down seems hard at the moment. In any endeavor the vision of what the outcome will be is usually divorced from reality. There is the struggle for what you feel is there and what you find forming on the screen or page.

I think, most of us find it hard to live in the present. We reminisce, we look forward to something. Before we know it has passed. Family, kids home, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and suddenly it is February with the tax return looming. And I will not write about politics right now.

Like everything good, I need to make it a habit. Life change – daily mindfulness, exercise, expression – write.

Track it, form the habit. Write, no matter how silly the output. And maybe I can make something of the ides stacked out there in my notes. In the flow, the self stops being the focus. Rationally, life is futile. We find or escape in the purpose we create.

Watching the painter painting…

With the sun hanging low on one of the last nice autumn days. Kate Bush singing about an Architect’s dream and painters in changing light.
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Chores done.
Sounds of birds, with Bertie, when her son was young. Indulgent? A parent’s right!
Being in the moment, all done and not wanting.
What a wonderful feeling to truly experience life.
All you have to do is be there.

Fixing Myself to Fight Getting Older

One of my favorite quotes is from the movie Dune by David Lynch, Thufir Hawat: “Remember, the first step in avoiding a trap is knowing that one has been set.” This concept is really fundamental to all problem solving, to fix a problem you need to know of its existence and understand it well.

It’s the kind of thing that must currently drive Elon Musk crazy, since they do not yet have the right data to understand the recent Falcon 9 fueling accident. For Elon, accidents are just part of the path, unfortunate but an opportunity for learning and improvement to achieve reliable and full control.

Being older is not obsessing me as might be common in our youth obsessed culture. But I do feel a slow down. My mind is fine, but the body is clearly showing some wear. One elbow seems slight arthritic, my sleep has become very disrupted, and a creeping weight issue has created “more of me” than I would like.

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My basic approach this year has been to “map the problem space.” And I have to say that Withings has been with me on this as has my Apple gear. I have really become to like their Healthmate app, which is tracking my weight, BMI, HR, and other environmental factors with their Body scale. I have started tracking my sleep with the wonderful Aura, which tracks my troubled behavior via movement and HR picked up through a sensor underneath the mattress – no need to wear a wrist device or headband. It also tracks light levels and noise. It features a neat “go to sleep” color light and sounds and wakes you gently at the right time (I tend not to need that.) I exercise with an HR strap reporting with my stationary bike cadence into Wahoo app. After realizing some trends, I have been able to take action.

  1. My weight has continued to ever so slightly keep shifting in the wrong direction. I faced the tough choice and have started to cut our carbs and now track calories with MyFitnessPal. The trending plot in the Healthmate app really made things clear. My iPhone and Apple watch are tracking my Activity level.
  2. My sleep patterns has worsened after getting better. I am reviewing changes in a few supplements and am switching back to an easier regimen and sources. I am also more careful about keeping regular hours and reducing exposure to blue light in the evening with Apple’s “Night Shift” screen settings and the wonderful f.lux on my Macs. It’s free but so nicely designed, I would gladly pay for it.
  3. I had been tracking my blood pressure. On a daily level. I saw a sudden dramatic and persistent spike to dangerous level that persisted for several days. Definitely unusual and most likely stress related. I took steps to reduce stress and ended up getting a Withings Blood Pressure Monitor that I am now using mornings and evenings automatically averaging my readings. I am happy to say I am back in the safe zone.
  4. I am also planning on starting a daily log about how I am feeling to see correlations and detect long term trends.

I don’t think it is just my playful fascination with gadgetry that makes this process more fun using devices. But the integrated tracking on iPhone and web really makes it easier and keeps me with the program. It also supports gradual changes that are easier to handle than trying dramatic change in one step.

However, I might have to get more proactive in heading out to a medical professional in some areas – like that painful elbow. Just like a car that is not maintained and gradually declines to become a wreck instead of a classic, we get “old” before our time via gradual diminishment and aches that we do not deal with.

Time to be proactive in self maintenance!

Changing Behavior

We have this concept that humans are rational. We are rational. We make decision and do them.

We don’t.

I am relatively mature, middle-aged. Based on life expectancy in the US (78.4 years for a male), I should have 14 years left. This is probably skewed due to averages, suicides etc.. Given my education and life style, I could expect more. One would also hope for new developments over the next years to improve the odds, especially if I can pay for them.

What do I want? I want to maximize my useful and enjoyable life. In a way, this mean, doing even better than I do now. I am healthy, but can feel the slowing down. This might be less to age than really physical shape. The best thing I can do for myself is to improve that. Lose weight, maybe. But mainly feel optimum, sleep better. The actions required are clear, I have the laundry list and setup (exercise corner in a nice spot on the deck), start exercise, change the diet after filling the fridge with the right stuff, meditate, write.

I also want to spend more of my time doing what matters to me.

All very clear.

But every day I fall into the same patterns, which is not THAT.

So how do you change it?

Here is what I am trying now, trying to find a way to enjoy the process:

  1. Disrupting existing patterns. Do not go to the computer the first thing to do bills, but meditate instead.
  2. Make the goals small. Ensure, you embark on the activity rather than feeling disappoint about not achieving an aggressive goal.
  3. For me: measure, keep track of stats. I enjoy that. Apple Health app, Withings, Wahoo.
  4. Set a few concise goals. They have been in my head, but Streaks now make me accountable to myself.

The goal is to have a life that is healthy and enjoyable.

Every day is a precious gift.

The Spaces In Between…

“Music is the space between the notes.” – Claude Debussy

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The most interesting discoveries often come from the “spaces in between.” Our minds create a lot off illusionary models that do not really reflect reality. What we see is reflected light – energy moving in space. When we touch matter, we do not get close to the nuclei. Matter is mainly – space. Solidity is an illusion only experienced in our scale and time.

And it is in between that the most interesting characteristics are born. Nuclear shells really determine the bonding characteristics of atoms, how they will combine with other atoms to form molecules. These are building blocks of the world – not the most basic building blocks, we probably still do not quite know those despite super colliders. As Feynman said, “There is a lot of room a the bottom.”

Systems become more interesting as they become more complex. Molecules building more complex structures all the way to life. And life forming symbiotic nets and structures, then social structures, eco systems, planets.

People are interesting and can be very creative, but they are not independent from their environment and social context, the influence of family, friends, teachers, mentors, their current culture. It is these multi faceted, changing relationships and influences that shape us and our work.

The space in between…

Thinking of my Mother

This morning I thought of my mother. I have done that many times – for 36 years now; every day I can think of.
When she died, I had been away from home for more than ten years. She lived in Africa, I in the US. In all that time, I saw her twice. Travel was expensive and I was not wealthy. There was no Skype, phone calls were expensive. Mail was with that thin air mail paper that few people today will remember. I did not write often. It must have hurt her.

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What are the thoughts and feelings, once loved ones leave you forever?

  • Regrets for being young and selfish. I did not communicate often, she must have missed me. I was young and self absorbed. Today it makes me stop, when I am resentful about my kids not calling.
  • Not telling her often enough I loved her. Today I do not hesitate to say that to the ones I love – often, an old softie.
  • Not being mindful, nothing is forever. I know that now.

These are very expensive lessons. When I was young, I was fearful of losing my parents. They made me feel protected. It turns out, once I was on my own they really would not and could not help me. Now I am the backstop of my family. I do not mind. The memory has taught me to cherish the task, the fundamental trust endowed in me by those, who come for help. My mother died young and in much pain. I am sure, the moment of passing was a relief. But I regret that she missed out on so many things including seven grand children. All her kids turned out ok. She loved children most of all. But passing at 48 she could never see any of her kids succeed, could never see the next generation.
We humans look for causality, we look for justice. This is useful for our simplified models that make us function in the universe.
Her death shows this model is an illusion. She deserved more.

The mind is willing and it is weak!

For years I have been convinced that one of the most important actions for my own development is to make a habit of writing. I write a lot of things in the course of the day that are work related, but seem to have been unable to carve out the time in the early morning for reflective and creative writing.
Today is Labor Day and we had nothing planned. I was really going to “do it” today. It is now evening. I have managed to spend the day on maintenance activities around the keyboard. Churning through thousands of mail messages that needed sorting, thinning, and archiving. Cleaning up my WordPress installation with (count it) one entry so far! Cleaning up some things in the office…
Decades ago I saw a talk by Douglas Adams, writer of the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and other comedic radio plays, books, games, etc. He was famous for procrastinating and being late with his manuscript submissions. Douglas described his writing day and the painful ritual it took to finally start writing: baths, pencils that needed sharpening, checking the lightbulb in the refrigerator. It was a funny talk I never forgot.
My actions sure remind me of that behavior.
But the Site is cleaned and set up. My MacJournal is synched.

The words must flow.