Saturday, May 6, 2023

Saturday Morning Post

Norman Rockwell's "Triple Self Portrait". Borrowed from website: "10 Most Famous Paintings by Norman Rockwell". Prints and such:

Thankfully, I've been feeling a bit back to normal lately. I'm starting to actually feel acclimated and less in a form of "survival mode". All I have to say is it's about damn time!

Feeling back to normal, it's time to re-baseline, i.e. get some perspective of where I'm at and where I maybe want/need to head. I'm thinking mostly in terms of health right now, but could extend this to other areas as I ramble

Physically, I'm doing okay. Admittedly, the prolonged cooler weather had put a cramp in my getting of steps (goal of 10k/day). Figuring out my new work schedule also made for some challenges. One thing is true being in more of a managerial role: I have a lot more meetings. This much different than having a technical work focus where I can set something down and go for a stroll. Thus, I have to be more deliberate about my schedule if I want to chip away at my step count during the day. 

This scheduling reality has my step getting more concentrated, going for longer walks and runs. Lately, I've been typically putting in three to four miles. If I'm good about getting short walks in during the day this trims back to less than two miles. Ideally, I'd like the latter situation.

As for the type of work, I'm still somewhat impatient with walking. Really, it would help to embrace walking more as a time to appreciate the outdoors and gather my thoughts. Essentially a time of active meditation. It's an important piece to balance with the cardio of running. Regardless, my preference is for doing some kind of interval training. It breaks up the time and gives me something to focus on

I do this with a free app simply called "Interval Timer" that I've mentioned in at least one other post. I'll vary anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes of higher intensity with some kind of recovery time in between. Shorter active times tend to come with higher intensity. The rest times can vary a bit as I ask how recovered I want to be between sets. 

One thing that will be helping the step count this summer is my return to a golf league. One of the fun aspects of the new job is I was able to join a league; having my first round just this past week. Frankly, my score was on the worse side of the distribution of scores. The saving grace on that is it was my first round and needed to establish a handicap anyway so a worse score actually helps me compete later on. To be clear, I was not deliberately sandbagging. I'm not that good. My hope is that golf will beget more golf this summer. 

My other physical challenge at the moment is that of a shitty shoulder. It's kind of weird though that I know a few others who are struggling with bad/frozen shoulders. Fortunately, I don't think I have a frozen shoulder and my pain is more at the deltoid/biceps point of intersection. It seems more like a small tear or prolonged strain that just keeps getting re-aggravated. An armband in the location seems to help as does being conscious of it when moving/sleeping, but it has been nagging me for probably six or seven months. I do prescribed physical therapy for it and sometimes even the right level of exercise has it feeling really good, but it persists. It's just shitty now :( 

Golf, however, may be part of the rehab. My round left it feeling more stretched out and mobile than it had been in quite a while. Even a couple of days after the round, it's bugging me a bit less. Hopefully the trend continues, and no new nagging conditions emerge. Becoming more lame would be lame. 

While taking all this time to discuss my physicality, I need to mention the other part of trying to keep healthy: my eating habits. I think Noom has played a big part in keeping me from drifting too far away weight-wise. I have gained a little since my peak days but have enough of a habit to keep things largely in check considering my recent changes. 

The previous job had more routine with less commitment to being in meetings, etc. Thus, it was relatively easy to sculpt out my diet. As with exercise, I need to be more deliberate now and, for me, that takes discipline that I'd prefer to shirk, but am realizing now that I can't. As with writings from a couple of years ago, the basics are easy: weigh in daily, drink my water, get my steps, eat low calorie food dense foods (grapes are a prime example). Do all of this persistently and lose weight. 

Going to work daily in the old job made this easy. I was separate from my pantry for most of the day. While I still have this option it counter plays to where I'm finding my best opportunities for activity, i.e. working from home. The water supply at work is also sub-par compared to the previous job where we had cold filtered water readily available. With a little more clearity/head space I'm finding that the solution really becomes planning for what I have at home. If I load my pantry with healthy stuff and limit the sweet and salty processed snacks I do better. Part of this is also loading the pantry with things I want to eat that are healthy. Perhaps even if they cost a little more. The example here again is grapes which can vary in price substantially. Popcorn is another good one for me to have around. It may not do the best on the calorie density scale, but it's better than chips/crisps and is self-limiting in that the chomping takes a little work. 

So it seems there are a number of things coming back together. Hopefully they stick, but as many of us know there is a big difference between knowing what to do and actually doing it!

Sunday, April 23, 2023

The Joys of Home Ownership

A favorite scene from "The Money Pit". Sometimes feels fitting :)

Calling weather in the mid-40°Fs (~7°C) comfortable seems absurd but that's the hand we've been dealt at the moment. At least it's warm enough to keep things thawing and to start out on some outdoor projects. I even had a tree cutting/trimming crew out this past week (I've got a recommendation if you need it) to take care of a few things including a branch that was significantly deflecting my power line, removal of an overgrown birch and trying to keep a couple of ash trees cleaned up and treated for ash borers as good as possible (although that may ultimately be a lost cause). 

The tree work is one small part of the greater home ownership challenge I've been encountering. It seems it's near time to reset/refresh on most everything to do with the house. Starting with the trees, they seem to have been planted with the notion that they'd stay small-ish. Spruces and oaks were planted way too close to the house and are now impinging on it. Most all of them will need to come down in the not-too-distant future. 

The next big thing is the roof. It's been roofing season in my neighborhood the last couple of years and the comparative appearance and wear at the edges is indicating that mine is not immune. Noting a couple spots in my garage, I may need some re-sheathing work done too. I'm not sure of the best approach on this but it will have to be done soon.

While my roof may be my biggest ticket item, other house essentials such as water heater, furnace and AC are of equivalent vintage. I may try to nurse these along as best I can. I've already had one furnace and one AC repair, albeit several years ago. I think from a cost savings perspective I'm now in that gray area where deliberate replacement may be more cost effective than an emergency service call on an excessively hot or cold day. 

That seems to cover the majority of the coming due "needs". Cosmetically, the house exterior could use some siding repair (darn woodpeckers) and a fresh coat of paint. Landscaping is also in order. Fresh shruberies (not too expensive!) for the side of the house and I'm starting to like the idea of a patio in the backyard. Oh wait! My deck also needs to be re-decked, :-/ . A fair number of the planks have gotten a little smushy. Hopefully the joists will are okay, else some replacement will be needed there as well. 

Making this list, the old cliche "raise the hood and replace everything underneath" seems to fit. There is a part of me that wonders if such suburban life is really what I want. Some, like my nextdoor neighbor seem to enjoy the daily leaf blowing and putzing about the yard. I find it droll. 

Don't get me wrong. There are some things I like. I do enjoy tending a garden. I do enjoy having space to work on things. Sometimes all that needs to get done are overwhelming. It might be time to do some analysis if a move might be a prudent choice. I'll at least hold off until I get the kids grown and off to college. The ironic part there is I'd likely need to do all the replacements as part of any sales agreement. At that point, what's the point? 

I guess the principle of doing nothing, that is giving a decision enough time that it's not "knee-jerk", still holds. For the moment, I'll just enjoy my "joys" of home ownership.

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Writing Prompts

Upping my writing "game" has been on my mind lately. One way to exercise the brain and spur some creativity is using writing prompts: story ideas generated by someone or something else. Using prompts are a supposedly a good way to exercise creativity, find some new inspiration, build some endurance at ye olde modern typewriter and just have some fun with; a sort of mental cardio. 

The challenge for me is to break away from my usual flavor of writing, which is rather functional. I tend to write to sort out my thoughts and assign some structure to my perspective and my life. More functional and purposeful. That's fine I suppose, but writing just in that genre can be limiting. I at least like the idea of being able to write more broadly. Being able to do so would probably even help out the writing in that genre, both bringing new ideas and new diversity to my prose. Hence, in writing this paragraph I just rationalized the importance and utility in writing prompt exercises. 

Where does one start? I see three parts to this: scoping the writing, finding prompts and keeping an open mind.

I was originally inclined to use "finding prompts" as the first step. However, aspects such as "how much time do I have?", "how am I feeling?" and "what do I want to work on today?" may almost play a bigger role in the exercise. Thus, scoping is key. I like the idea of targeting 500 to 1000 words in most exercises; 250 words if I'm working on succinctness or 2000 words if I want to try to be descriptive. There's also exploring of genres or even speed/typing tests. I could even envision an editing challenge. I really need to get better at reading and editing my stuff. :)

As for finding prompts, we (thankfully) live in the information age. Google is readily available with links to suggestions. Taking it a step further, we now even have artificial intelligence (AI) that can generate prompts. So far I've tried a couple of things. I've asked my Google Home to give me several prompts. The initial asks were just a generic, "okay Google, give me a writing prompt". I got three or four different prompts. All were more of a juvenile genre, e.g. a shark that goes back in time and learns a valuable lesson about acceptance. This resulted in my more direct request for a "motivational writing prompt" or a "mystery writing prompt". Unfortunately, this is where Google Home turned to it's primary charter of looking up solutions. Fortunately, my living room device has a display so I could read along. 

From there I moved to using Google on my laptop to find a "writing prompt generator". This brought me several links. One of these was to the site There I could click and refresh the prompts. These were more in the vein of what I was looking for. A couple of examples include:

"Write a 350 word story in the science fiction genre. It's about a loving grandfather and should include a revolver. Also use the sentence 'Never.' Bonus prompt: Your character is dying."

"Write a 50 word story in the fairy tale genre. It's about a ghost and should include a bowler hat. Also use the sentence 'I don't need any sleep.' Bonus prompt: The story takes place in a desert."

"Write a 850 word story in the drama genre. It's about a healer and should include paint. Also use the sentence 'Life was better on the other side.' Bonus prompt: Your character is dying."

I like that these provide some scope. And I could likely pound out a 50 word fairy tale, maybe even making it poetic, in not a lot of time. It's good to have options. 

My last search for prompts to date took me into the realm of AI. I have yet to play too much with the ChatGPT app. While I'm sure many English teachers are weary of the negative effects an AI program can have as far as plagiarism is concerned, I think there can be significant benefit to leveraging it for generating educational exercises or augmenting a body of knowledge. This post isn't about this debate, but feel free to comment (I think the power consumption involved in running the training algorithms that make the AI work is a bigger issue, but again out of scope for here). 

Here are a couple of prompts generated by ChatGPT:

"Write about a character who wakes up with no memories of their past, but discovers that they have a unique and extraordinary power. As they navigate through their new life with their ability, they must also unravel the mystery of their forgotten past and the true purpose of their power."

"Two friends stumble upon a mysterious book in a hidden library. As they read through it, they discover that every time they turn the page, they are transported to a different point in history. However, they soon realize that their actions in the past have severe consequences on their present-day lives. They must decide whether to continue exploring history or destroy the book to protect their future."

As you can see ChatGPT doesn't scope the work, at least not without asking it. It is also much more detailed in it's response. In essence it almost starts the story for you. This can take away some of the writer's creativity. However, it can also provide an easy starting point. 

The longer prose of ChatGPT's response is likely due to how the app is configured to work. It is meant (trained) to provide a more robust answer. A simpler AI configuration could probably provide something more along the lines of the response. Indeed, an AI could probably be trained to generate a whole lesson plan. Score one for the teachers! Still the power in application will come from human discernment and application of the response. 

The last tenet for doing the prompted writing is my keeping an open mind. I know there is a way I perceive the world and I know there is a preference for what I write, how I like a story told and even what I like that story to be about. There is a part of me that likes to keep it simple, Hemmingway-esque. I'm rather literal and I find as I get older maybe even my imagination gets rusty. Thus, keeping an open mind to what I'm writing may prove to be a fountain of youth, allowing me to stretch and flex ideas. It can allow me to explore new areas and augment my primary preferred style. It can still be a hump to get over. That's where even a 50 word, or even a two or three sentence, story can help. 

While I have my preferences, I am also a curious being. Pushing past my writing comfort level may encourage me to explore and enact some manner of feedback loop. With that said, I hope to take advantage and keep getting better.

A Walk

"I don't need any sleep", Amos exclaimed; leaving for a stroll in the dry desert night.

Amos saw a figure drop a bowler. He picked it up as the wearer vanished. Amos placed it on his head. Hearing someone walk behind him, the world slipped away, hat falling to ground.