Monday, 30 April 2012

Random Photographs

While waiting for some chinese takeaway to arrive, I took a couple of photographs.
The tulips the dearly beloved got me recently, with a broken power supply in the background. 

The planned money for the delivery. Turns out the bloke didn't have a fiver, so I got to keep all the change. Yay. Ish.

Achievements 8 - Triumph despite adversity

Today I have an interview for a job! eek.
  • Read an article about how Women Need Makeup. Did not rant. Much.
  • Did my mobilityWOD. One minute at a time. Holding a full squat is hard, yo.
  • Used google hangouts (for the first time) to talk to some very dear people on the other side of the world
  • Double-checked and finalised tomorrow's grocery deliveries.
  • Polished my boots.
  • Got to interview on time.
  • Instead of wallowing in despair, talked about it to people online and felt better.
  • Went to gym seminar despite feeling horribly drained.
  • Did a workout. Beat last week's run time. 
I still feel utterly awful. Emotionally, today was a Bad Day. BUT I got everything done I set out to do IN SPITE OF THE SAD so in that sense, today was an EXCELLENT DAY where I WON THE EVERYTHING. 

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Achievements 7

More doing stuff! Including some things I forgot to include in earlier posts.
  • Signed up for a 12 week 'Lose and Shape Up' program at my gym. This is a theory and a group training session a week; the training seems to be mostly bodyweight suspension exercises, which fits nicely in with my endpoint fitness goals.
  • Signed up for a 6 week amazingly nerdy challenge at Nerdfitness
  • Got 10hrs sleep.
  • Had a cup of oolong tea. I think it's nice, but ... not as nice as jasmine pearls. Since I can't have much caffeine, I'm going to go back to my jasmine as soon as this packet is finished.
  • Figured out an outfit for interview tomorrow. May post a photograph for review later.
  • Read all the website from my prospective employer.
  • Finished reading "Diaspora" by Greg Egan.
  • Got up to Ch 11 of "Agile Web Development with Rails".
  • Nerded some more about my Ardvino design.
  • Got a fair way through Book 1 of A Song of Ice and Fire. 
  • Got clothes out for tomorrow.
  • Packed gym bag for tomorrow night.
  • Packed handbag for tomorrow day.

Achievements 6

  • Stacked and ran dishwasher
  • Prodded the dearly beloved into doing his laundry
  • Packed books for return to amazon
  • Was democratic (voted in Queensland elections)
  • Watched a few episodes from Mobility Workout of the Day, because I am horribly inflexible at the moment, and I know that's causing a lot of my ongoing pain issues. Fixing pain is a good idea.
  • Took some photos on the way to the pub, whatever. And posted them.
  • Thought really hard about the Ardvino project. Did some mockup sketches on paper. Thought about sensors, power, data, and UX for supporting webapp. 
  • Got to bed early (8.30pm).

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Random Photos

I've been taking some photos more or less at random of late, so I'll post them here.
I might do a 'proper' post at a later date, or I might not. Without further ado:

Achievements 5

  • Wrote and posted a review of the coconut yoghurt I bought yesterday
  • Took my washing in
  • Made breakfast (mmm mashed spud)
  • Rejected a job application request from a recruiter 
  • Asked a different recruiter for more details for another job
  • Read "Distress" by Greg Egan
  • Read up to Ch 7 of "Agile Web Development with Rails", 4th ed, by Sam Ruby, Dave Thomas, David Heinemeier Hasson et al. And did all the exercises
  • Bought next month's phone credit, and fixed the auto-top up 
  • Made and ate lunch
  • Went to the gym and worked out. A lot. Ow.
  • Went out after the gym to a mate's changing-jobs party, and did not drink anything except some fancy-pants nutrient water type stuff with extra electrolytes
And now bed. zzzz.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Food Review: CoYo Coconut Yoghurt Mixed Berry

I'm comparing this to the Greek Yoghurt Company mixed berry yoghurt, because that's what I fondly miss, and also what this product seems to most resemble.

Nutritional info: Soy, dairy, gluten and lactose free, no added sugar.
Per 100g: Energy 155kcal; Protein 1.4g; Fat total 15.2g, saturated 11.8g; Carbohydrate 4.9g, sugars 0.8g. Ingredients: Coconut milk (97%), tapioca starch, Xylitol, blueberries, blackberries (min 10%), selected probiotic cultures.

Starting with nutrition - well, its a lot lower in sugar than greek yoghurt, and also rather lower in protein, I think. Fat is significantly higher. Still, a tub comes in at about 375kcal, which isn't too bad for a full meal (as opposed to a snack). Off the bat, opening it up it smells right - that sharp/sour tang of the cultures you'd expect. Mixing it around, it's very solid/thick, much more so than natural greek yoghurt. On to the taste analysis: it's definitely made from coconut. Oh, yes. But it isn't sweet, or really all that sour. People who like their natural/greek yoghurt sour will call it bland, and people who like it sweet probably won't find it sweet enough. Personally? I like it. Could do with a few more berries, maybe a drizzle of honey, though. The mouthfeel doesn't quite have the same creaminess/fattiness that I remember from greek yoghurt.  Overall? A good product, one that I'll buy again, but probably not every week.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Achievements 4

  • Got to Ch12 of 'Learning Optimism' before sleeping.
  • Took in and folded the washing I did yesterday.
  • Put a load of my clothes on, including the gym shorts I'll need tomorrow.
  • Inbox: 0/42 awww yeah.
  • Responded to G+ messages.
  • Did my online grocery shopping for next week's order (Note: vast improvement over doing it after when I prefer to have it delivered)
  • Packed a backpack to go to the physio and foodshopping afterwards, instead of running out the door with only my handbag and making my back sore carrying delicious food home in a supermarket bag. 
  • (re)started a food diary at 
  • Played the first two (and so far, only available) levels of .
  • Wrote a shopping list.
  • Finished reading and blogged a book review of 'Learned Optimism'.  
  • Washed my hair.
  •  Made and ate lunch (cheerios! well, kind of - kosher cured turkey and beef cocktail viennas says the label)
  • Hung out washing.
  • Received books.
  • Frowned. Books damaged. Took photogaphs, filled out amazon returns thingy, printed labels. Decided to return them probably Monday or Tuesday. Accomplishment++
  • Wrote a blog post about task management.
  • Went to the physio.
  • Went to the Planet Organic shop in Bayswater and got foodage. Well, it's near Bayswater. Got extra daily constitutional by getting off at Paddington. 
  • Started reading "Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives" by Richard Swenson.
  • Unpacked backpack, packed bag to go out tonight.
  • Went out! 
Aaaand with that, I'm out the door. 

But it'll only take 5 minutes or, The importance of sticking to the point

I have, for several years, been quite a fan of the Getting Things Done method espoused by David Allen in his book, "How to Get Things Done: The Art of Stress-free Productivity."

One of the key parts of the strategy is that if you have a task, that will take 5 minutes or less, do it straight away.

If you've been following my achievements posts, you may notice that the vast majority of tasks there take 5 minutes or less. It is incredibly easy for me to fill my day with very small tasks. Don't get me wrong; they are things that do need to get done. But - well, let's take an example. Today, I intended to have breakfast early. I went to the kitchen and made myself a cup of tea, while stacking the dishwasher, tidying up the bench, filtering some water for my water bottle, reading my current book, put my laundry in the washing machine, filled my water bottle, packed my handbag into my backpack, went to my desk, sat down and ... realised I hadn't made breakfast. So many tiny little tasks, strung themselves together, and I was distracted away from my original intent.

The next time I went to the kitchen to make breakfast, I put breakfast on *first*, and *then* hung out my washing. The books arrived midway through the hanging-out. I finished hanging out the washing, served up breakfast, and opened the parcel to find my books damaged. having been recently reminded of how easily I get distracted into a chain of small tasks, I posted on twitter, but did not immediately take photographs or go to my desk to start the returns process. I ate my breakfast first - although I did get up to grab a notebook and pen to take notes on the book I started reading. After I finished breakfast, *then* I took photos, printed labels, updated my achievements post.

But those tasks did need to be done - and putting off minor tasks because, well, they're minor is always a temptation. Perhaps I should schedule a block of time of a morning - say, after breakfast and shower - to do all those little, niggling tasks that pile up.

Has anyone else encountered the endless-little-tasks bug, and if so, how do you manage to still get those tasks done and avoid using them as procrastination?

Book review: 'Learned Optimism' by Martin Seiglman

A quick synopsis. In the first third of the book, Martin puts forth the hypothesis that success and happiness is tied to how optimistic or pessimistic a person is. This trait has three major axes: Pervasiveness, Permanence and Personalisation. He follows up this hypothesis with a test (to measure your own levels). The middle third of the book is mostly a number of case studies, with digressions into the positive use of pessimism and pessimism/optimism in children, and the use of this hypothesis to predict educational, sporting and political results. The last third of the book is about how to learn to be optimistic (and when).

This book is very american-centric. I think it could also have been written in about half the verbiage, and occasionally his meaning is unclear. However, as pop-psychology books go, it is fairly concise, approachable, and rigorous in his treatment of his own hypothesis. He readily admits to changing his ideas in the face of new evidence as his hypothesis has developed over time, a precious thing in this kind of book. It was rather repetitive, but I've been told that I'm unusually sensitive to such things, and I suppose for an audience used to being bombarded every five minutes with mostly-repeated ads it wouldn't even be noticeable. Also, his treatment of conflict within marriage is laughable.

In the positive realm, I think that his hypothesis has something to it. I know that in my own life, I feel happiest when I feel that what I do makes a difference to how I feel - and that in the pits of darkest despair, the overwhelming characteristic was that I felt that there were no solutions, nothing I could do to fix myself, nothing I did was right, etc. I'm sure those feelings are familiar to many people. Seiglman postulates that it was my internal dialogue that was reinforcing these feelings and making my bad situation worse. Optimism here is not about denying that something sucks - it's about defining it as temporary, not about you, and limited in its impact. That is to say, this too will pass, it wasn't your fault, and it won't ruin your entire life.

He provides many examples of different internal (and external) dialogues involved. He suggests keeping a diary of adverse events, beliefs about these events, and consequent actions. Part of solving any problem is figuring out there is a problem. To break the constant negative self-talk, he suggests using distraction as a first aid measure, or disputation as a longer term curative. I do think his examples are somewhat shallow; I certainly put up more of a fight with myself than he seems to think should be the case. But then, I'm a champion at holding opinions, and I'm very good at argument. Most people aren't quite so strongly trained as I am.

Today, I think, his techniques have been expanded and incorporated into Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and Neuro-Linguistic Programming. After all, this book was written in 1990, and a lot has changed in the world since then. Overall, it's a good book for learning where modern techniques started, but it has significant gaps, and is definitely pop science. I found it interesting, but for dealing with my current issues would go for something significantly more recent and more thorough.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Achievements 3

Today, I:
  • Stacked and unstacked the dishwasher
  • Had breakfast before midday
  • Installed spotify
  • Confirmed a job interview booking for Monday (OMG!)
  • Bought books to update my technical Library, in both deadtree and soft format
  • And then I read some of them
  • And got them delivered to my Kindle
  • Wrote a blog post about my thoughts on how high to aim when setting goals
  • Gave the nice BA man my details so he can take my money and give me flights to Seattle and back
  • Washed the sheets
  • Emptied the bins
  • Got an up to date rails development environment going on a vm on my windows machine, a vm on my ubuntu machine, and my ubuntu machine
  • Swore a lot. I'm sore. This is an achievement because I'm sore from GOING TO THE GYM YESTERDAY WOOOOOOO!
  • Hung out the sheets
  • Put the tulips the dearly beloved got for me in a vase instead of the  packaging they came in
  • Chairdanced and sung along to a bunch of songs
  • Sat up straight most of the day instead of hunching over like usual
  • Caught up on Twitter
  • Inbox down to 0/48 !!!!!! GO ME YAYAYAYAY
  • Made the bed with clean sheets
  • Had lunch (2 meals today, yay!)
  • Refilled the rinse aid dispenser in my dishwasher
  • Read Ch 1-3 of 'Learned Optimism' by Martin Seligman

Okay. I'll rest on my laurels there, I think. Tallyho.

Questioning the 'aim high' ideal

I've been engaging in a round of goal setting and whatnot as part of self.fix() lately. Looking at the advice out there, it seems that a common wisdom is to set barely-achieveable goals, on the theory that if you fall short, hey, you improved, awesome. The idea is, the higher your goal (so long as it's within the realms of potentially realistic) the more you'll achieve in a given period of time.

This is not how I work.

I've tried that approach in the past, and what's happened is the first time I slip up I get a little bit depressed (because I know how slim the margin of success is) and it gets worse as time goes on. Not to mention that the further I'm going to undershoot, the more anxious (and depressed) I get about the whole thing as time goes on. Or, I go all out - and break myself in various ways.

This time, I'm trying a new approach: lots of small goals. Part of this is my Achievements posts; they're recording the tiny, mediocre, mundane goals I achieve on a day to day basis. A way of reminding myself that I am accomplishing something.

Likewise my fitness goals. My workout yesterday set a baseline from which to improve. Whilst I do have very long term goals, these bear little to no resemblance to my shorter term goals. 

So I have goals like eating twice a day, cooking four dinners a week. Improvements on my current situation, and a bit of a stretch for me right now, but certainly not earthshaking or awe-inducing.

I was asked yesterday by one of the guys at the gym what I'd aim to get out of a 12 week lose and shape up course. When I told him that I would aim to increment my exercises such that I would see an improvement over the course of a month, he ran off the spiel about aiming high. When I told him that I'd tried that, and it was for me a recipe for depression and failure, he was surprised, but became less so when I explained the burnout and the anxiety/guilt mechanisms behind it.

I know that with mediocre goals there is, for most people, a temptation to coast and rest on their laurels. Not so for me; until I get to my endpoints, every time I achieve a goal, there will immediately be another replacing it. When I get to the point where I can easily do 10 knee pushups, for instance, I'll start alternating with full pushups until I can do 10 full pushups easily. As I achieve each goal, I'll plan an extra increment beyond the new goal.

For me, continual adaptability is the key; life throws me curveballs, and in order for those to not completely throw me off, I need to have a maximally flexible approach. At the same time, I desperately need structure and plans to follow, otherwise I'll sit on my backside and do nothing at all.

The constantly incrementing mediocre goalset seems, to me, to be a way to satisfy these seemingly mutually exclusive needs.

What are your thoughts on goals, planning, goal setting, and how they interact with success and failure?

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Achievements 2

  • Finally transferred home-made chicken stock from icecube trays to ziplock baggies. 
  • Thought about dinner and got meat out of the freezer to defrost. There will be stew. Stew, I say! And maybe dumplings. Not 100% paleo, but well, I do have stuff to use up. And a husband to keep happy. Even if he does make the kicked puppy eyes when I say 'NO TOUCHY' when he tries to lift the lid and check on the dumplings before they're done. Speaking of, I'd better get out more meat and do a bigger batch this time. Last time there were no leftovers and I was all :( because I wanted it for lunch. This time, there will be leftovers! I hope.
  • Had peppermint tea of awesome instead of softdrink for non-water drinking stuff.
  • Put together my gym bag (gym clothes, deodorant, change of undies and socks, pen, notebook). 
  • WENT TO THE GYM. 15min run/walk (1.5km), 3x12 one-arm rows with 4kgs, 3x12 airsquats, 6 knee pushups, 2x30sec planks from knees, a lot of stretching. 
  • Asked about the lose and shape up program running at the gym - 12 week course, primary motivation is accountability and in-person support. I'm thinking about it.
  • Collected my voicemail for the first time ever in the UK.
  • Remembered to buy diced bacon and non-milk on the way home FROM THE GYM. 

Right. Time to make dinner. And have a long, hot bath.

  • Made dinner. Beef and ale stew with gluten and diary free dumplings. Was very tasty.
And now, sleepytime.

Achievements 1

To encourage myself and to help me think more positively about myself I've decided to keep a record of things I achieve by doing frequent blog posts. I'm not dating them, because some days I may do none, and others I may do many - either way I don't want to beat myself up for not doing one on a given day, nor do I want to not post because I've already posted that day. What I am not going to record (not here, at any rate) is my fails - past experience tells me that I'll use it as ammunition against my self-image. No achievement is too small or too large for this space. Without further ado, achievement points:
  • Caught up on my twitter feeds.
  • Reduced my inbox from 500/770 read/unread to 269/440. 
  • Washed household towels and cleaning stuff and hung it out.
  • Stacked and ran dishwasher. 
  • Ate an omlette.
  • Got the veges from my weekly veg box put away, and started thinking about uses (muahahaha).
  • Cleaned out the definitely past it veg from the fridge and washed out one of the veg drawers because it was growing, ewww. 
  • I put more files in MusicBrainz Picard to continue my ongoing fix-my-music-collection effort. This has been going on for at least a year now, but hey. If I get a little further every month or so, I should get through it all, right?
  • Finally got around to soaking my ecloth dishscrubby thing in hot water and vinegar because it was starting to smell yuck. 
  • Watered my poor, suffering christmas tree. 
  • Moved the google swag from the living room to the kitchen where it belongs (fluro green cups, hurrah!)
  • Put the cushions back on the couch and the couch-throw away.
  • Filed the recipes that have been sitting on top of my printer for ages in my recipe folder.
  • Had oolong tea for the first time ... and by finding that link discovered that company does loose leaf tea, which I swear they didn't in January. YAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAY *cough* as you were.
  • Did *NOT* immediately purchase a metric *or* imperial ton[ne] of tea.
  • Listened to some more of my backlog of 'A State of Trance' podcasts. Yes, I know. But I find it braincalming and energy-making, so there.
  • Looked at Spotify, but they don't do Linux yet. Their website doesn't list my phone either (HTC Sensation) but I can download and install the app anyway. Sent spotify a note telling them it's missing.
  • Remembered to put my kindle on the charger.
  • Wrote this.
Right. I'll post another one if I get much more done today. 

Monday, 23 April 2012


Well, self.improve() anyway.

I'm fed up with being sick and tired and sorry for myself and weak and unfit and bored and depressed. I feel stale and old and useless, which is a bad way to feel.

So. I'm fixing my diet, going towards a Paleo diet (which is, incidentally, gluten and dairy free by default, hurrah). This means: fewer carbs, more protein, probably a lot of bulk meals stored in the freezer. I've stared this process by changing my weekly shop slightly, and soliciting some recipes that are simple to do in bulk and store well.

I'm fixing my exercise, or rather, initiating some. Tentatively, I'll start with something like this:
- 5min warmup on treadmill
- 10min of intervals on treadmill for distance
- One-arm dumbell rows, 3 sets of 10
- Air squats/travelling lunges
- Plank, hold for max time;
- Bicep curls (for grip strength);
- Tricep dips
- Stretching.
 In about an hour. I'll try and do that once this week, and twice next week, adding weights as I can.

I'm fixing my brain. I'm getting off the ground with my ardvino project from the software side, and listening to a backlog of podcasts. I'm reading books other than my comfortable reads, including nonfiction. This week, "Programming Language Pragmatics" by Michael L Scott. I'm writing blog posts.

I'm fixing my social life. I'm actually going out to my weekly meet (and staying sober), I'm reading my twitter feed, and I've reactivated some old accounts on various forums to try and get some engagement there.

I'd appreciate encouragement and support. I need it, I think.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Stasis and words to live by.

I've written about my diagnosis here and here. Lately, I've come to the realisation that I'm not going to adjust by myself to my current situation. At the moment, it's a pretty good day when I manage to eat and dress before midday - and it's a very rare day indeed where I have a sufficient creative impulse to cook, take a photograph, or even think about writing or knitting or coding.

I've been in stasis for some months now. I rarely leave the house, I rarely want to do anything at all, and whilst I'm beyond the only-able-to-stare blankly stage, it isn't by enough to live a life I'd consider satisfactory. That, combined with the coping with a new environment stuff has given me a mid-range depression. Well, I'm not suicidal or anything like that; there are many days where I want to just curl up and cry, and I'm anxious about every little thing, but, well, I've been worse.

Still, this isn't good. The anxiety, for instance, is giving me on-and-off insomnia, as well as putting me into spinlock. If I break the spinlock enough to quieten the anxiety, I start passing out because of the hypersomnia (and not taking my meds because adding a stimulant to insomnia is a bad idea). If I'm too tired and not doing anything, my anxiety starts ramping up, and then I stop being able to sleep. It's not healthy, and it's ruining my ability to make the most of my limited energy. I'm talking to the doc about it, but it's a bit of a waiting game.

I have two sets of words that I'm trying (and often failing) to live by: the Prayer for Serenity, and the Litany Against Fear.

God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference.

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

The hardest thing is holding on to hope - the hope that I can find a specialist who can improve my quality of life, be it through mitigating my symptoms, or through helping me accept them. 

Aesthetics and empathy in art.

I had an interesting discussion a couple of evenings ago, about art and how it works.

It grew out from a discussion of autistic spectrum disorders, and how they work. Art derives value in the audience from two sources: aesthetics and emotional evocation.

In art that primarily relies upon aesthetics, the form and structure of the piece tend to be the primary attribute of appreciation. Architecture, code, some music are artforms that rely upon the audience's response to structure.

In art that primarily relies upon emotional evocation, the value of a piece depends upon how hard it tugs upon the emotions, and the degree of empathic response in the audience. Painting, most music, movies, and poetry tend to fall into this category. Of course, there's very few art pieces that are purely one or the other, although most of what's traditionally regarded as art falls into the second category.

Emotion-based art is all about the empathic response, and this is where I run into problems. I have a certain level of empathy, hard won through study and practice, but when it comes to art - well, okay, the Mona Lisa is certainly executed well, and Vivaldi has some really awesomely complex music, and I'm filled with awe that Beethoven could have come up with his stuff in his head - but emotional response? Well, I need a good study guide for that, because I'm not sure what it is I'm supposed to be feeling. Music is relatively straighforward, because I started studying music at 4 - minor key means sad, major key means happy. Well, okay, I'm a touch more sophisticated than that, but mostly because I've spent a lot of time associating music with events, looking at lyrics (where applicable) and that kind of that. But at an opera I haven't researched, I have no idea what's going on, most of the time. More in-your-face art which has more obvious (and more culturally reinforced) emotional cues I get much more easily; a movie like 'Children of Men' for example. I've read a lot of dystopian fiction, the movie's got sound and pictures, it's set in a society that has a great many similarities to mine, and I'm familiar with the cultural assumptions in the movie. Essentially, I've got the background I need to get the empathic responses I'm supposed to.

But I've spent a lot of time and effort studying to get there - I doubt the neurotypicals in the audience have poured hours of their lives into figuring it all out. I still fall short in a lot of ways. Art galleries - I find them interesting for the history, for the technique, for the responses of others. I need to be feeling pretty happy about myself, too, otherwise I often tend to end up feeling alien, which I'm pretty sure isn't the intended effect.

Even art that finds its greatness in the evocation of emotion I appreciate first and foremost on its structure and form. Because empathy, in its absence, is the defining characteristic of ASD. So I appreciate Escher and Goedel and cathedrals. That's where I find beauty and greatness, much more easily than in Michelangelo or Handel or movies.

I'd appreciate any thoughts on this from others; I'm aware that I'm being fairly naive in my treatment of how art works, but hey, gotta start somewhere.