Monthly Archives: May 2008

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The Misery Index

Categories: A Day in the Life, Just Add Photo, Let's Go M's, Tags: , ,

The world of finance, of which I’ve become just slightly more aware/interested lately, has something called a “Misery Index”. Herein, undesirable conditions for individuals like unemployment and inflation are combined to demonstrate just how much harder it is to be financially viable under those conditions. I’ve been thinking a lot about personal misery indexes lately, in part because all the meters seem to be pretty high.

Misery Index: Weather Edition

Hey, if a popular TV show can put four words together in a non-sequitir with a colon in the middle and the word “Edition” on the end, why not me?

In any case, this would be the index that determines how frequently a given city or town has weather where the high stays below 72 and the low stays above 32, with no interesting “weather events”, such as rain or extremely high winds. While many people might make an index desiring such a state, mine would uptick the misery for every day where such conditions were met.

I’m guessing San Francisco gets a 325 (the scale is 0-365, of course). Higher is more miserable.

The only thing intolerable (or indeed, even less than stellar) about the Bay Area is the weather. And my goodness, is it ever intolerable. This much middling, piddling, nondescript but still a little crappy and cold weather is just killing me. Give me rain, snow, heat, frigidity, anything but this. I mean, look:

The last time it got over 72 was May 17th, when there were, admittedly, 4 days of decently warm weather. The last time it got below 32… the data I’m looking at doesn’t go back that far.

I need some extremes, some seasons, something other than slightly miserable weather for months on end.

Now I’m really curious what would score well (low) on my Misery Index… I’m guessing places like Chicago and Albuquerque, which have weather I love. It would be great to find a site with actuals (averages don’t really cut it) for a year or two and just run the numbers.

Misery Index: Personal Edition

I stayed home from work today with a raving migraine. Despite vastly improving my migraine status with my own self-regulation and stabilization of caffeine intake, combined with the profuse wearing of sunglasses and maintaining a non-fluorescent work environment, I still do get migraines from time to time. And this was a doozy that made the idea of being on a BART train, let alone sitting in front of a desk for 8 hours, utterly laughable. It was starting to clear by about 6:30 or 7:00 this evening, this after I had spent basically all but an hour or two in bed from waking up at the parallel time in the AM until 3:30 in the afternoon. In a word, joy.

Last night, I got a $328 bill from AT&T. For calling Canada. You are no longer handling my long-distance, AT&T. SBC was a wonderful company, but AT&T is currently proving itself to have ravaged everything that was even a little good about SBC. I’ve hated AT&T my whole life, and owning the Giants’ ballpark isn’t going to get them out of this. I called Qwest this morning to switch long distance, and my internet might be on the block next. The hate I cannot exaggerate. I actually wrote a diatribe on the memo portion of my check.

I have seemingly forgotten how to play poker. Which is not a big deal (none of these things are what we would call a big deal), but it makes everything else worse, or at least feel a little more miserable. Of course, there are just enough times when I play really well, but get outdrawn at the last second that really cut to the quick. But still, early May was one of the best poker periods of my life. That time is gone.

I am no longer in Albuquerque. The trip was great, but it’s over now. And I’m left with that drought where I have no scheduled trips or breaks to look forward to. Having something to count down towards is an essential part of making life less miserable. And I’m fresh out. And there may be the ‘Deis debate reunion thing in August in Vegas, which would be great (though less so per the paragraph above, I suppose), but August is a long way down from now.

There are other things I could put here, but I really should self-censor. They are in arenas that it is just best if I don’t post about for the time being. But they are probably the most difficult/miserable items.

And the M’s are 20-34. This is, however, somewhat mitigated by the fact that the best game of all 54 of them was last night and I got to watch all 9 innings. It was a 1-0 shutout gem where Yuni Betancourt (my second-favorite position player on the current team) smacked a rare homer to cement a Bedard/Morrow/Putz strikeout-laden shutout victory, a second straight over the defending champion Red Sox.

This last fact is the only happy thing I can really think of today. That, my friends, is – what’s the word? – miserable.

Apologies for the complaint-laden post, especially when all of them are mild and only really combine to make for much misery. But in the sine-curve lifestyle, one has to take the chutes with the ladders.

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Epilogue

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Strangers on a Train, Tags: , ,

Yesterday, I worked a half-hour later than normal because suddenly things happened right at the end of the day that it seemed best to attend to then and there. Then I went to eat at Chipotle after work, mostly because I was hungry, but also because of new and slightly silly influences laden in the whole nature of yesterday.

So these factors combined to put me on the steps up from the platform of Downtown Berkeley BART about 45 minutes later than normal – at 6:30 instead of 5:45.

Racing up the steps, I heard a voice from one of them, a cautious and inquisitive “Storey…?” And one pretty much can’t mistake that for someone calling to somebody else. I turned around to see an older, taller impersonation of one of my old Seneca kids. Smiling at me and saying hello.

Now I have long envisioned meeting Seneca kids later in life – all grown up or at least much older. And most of the time, the picture involves me losing a number of teeth or worse. Most of these visions are in the context of nightmares – not a week ago I was back on the halls of a Seneca house, somehow training someone else and dealing with one of those bedtime blowout disasters that made us all love the place so dearly. But with all the same kids from ’05, but now three years older and still living in a house designed for those younger than they were at the time. Good times.

But here was not only a kid who had been there back in ’05, but one who had specifically antagonized me more than other staff. Actually a favorite of many of the staff, truth be told, but one who always just had it in for me. Granted, he was one of the least violent and troublesome youth and had actually even been placed before I left. But there was none of the torment or targeting, none of the sour glares I recalled from nearly two years in the house with him. Instead, he smiled and asked me where I worked now. I happened to be dressed up, so it was all too clear I wasn’t still at Seneca. And I guess he was still in the loop over there somehow anyway.

We talked for 2 or 3 minutes; nothing major, nothing earth-shattering. It was a little awkward, but a good comfortable kind of awkward that denotes that you both understand the other is authentically happy to see you, that the awkwardness is space and time and nothing innate. We shook hands at the end, and I told him he’d done well. He has. He’s graduating from 8th grade (he proudly noted that “I stayed in school!”), he’s stayed out of the system, he seemed like a “normal” kid, just sitting with friends on the steps of a BART station, waiting on a train.

While still working at Seneca, there seemed to be a network of information about people. One worked so intensely and closely with kids, so personally, and then they were often whisked away to places unseen, never to return for so much as a visit. Yet still, managers would talk to other centers and people would get grapevine updates. But upon leaving Seneca, one’s connection to information dried up. I mean, I’m sure if I’d stayed close with a bunch of people still working there, it might’ve been different, but in all likelihood, they still wouldn’t have been folks in the know. There’s no way of knowing the rest of the story. How did that person grow up? Did that turn out okay? Did they stay or go?

So it’s nice to get a postscript here and there. To come face to face with the past and have it smile back. To think that maybe, just maybe, something turned out okay in this world.

By the time his train roared into the station, I was gone.

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Just Say No! (or: Do Quit Your Day Job)

Categories: A Day in the Life, Tags:

I would imagine that having a day job is a lot like being a drug addict.

It’s the simile I’m imagining, by the way, not what having a day job is like in the first place. I know all too well what having a day job is like, and my guess is that it’s about as productive, useful, and advantageous to one’s life as being a drug addict. For most people.

Having no experience with drugs, I can only go off other people’s various accounts of them in literature, popular media, and personal discourse. From what I can tell, both drug addiction and day jobs are extremely time-consuming and debilitating experiences that promote a sense of true hopelessness and despair, often overridden by a soft exterior of feelings of familiar comfort. Both instill a demanding routine that will soon leave no room for anything besides the drug/job in one’s life. Both require very little commitment of time and energy up-front, but will eventually enervate one’s soul with unpayable sky-high demands on time and energy. Both thus alienate people from those who are important in their life (replacing them with other, less important characters) as well as from the expenditures of time in their life that would actually provide value or meaning.

Instead, the only pursuit that can be accepted by the drug/job is cyclical self-promotion of the drug/job itself. The day-to-day physical and emotional demands of the drug/job increase exponentially with use, while the payoff of each declines proportionally. More and more energy and exhaustion is required to simply maintain a level of equilibrium, and the days of getting excited about something tied into a drug/job are quickly left behind. While the initial pull was the high/money, the apparent felt value of these declines substantially despite outside thought appearances that they are more and more necessary for existence. The more one has a high or money, the more one thinks one needs it, but the less actually utility one gains by it.

It’s no wonder, then, that we have a society that’s so hooked on day jobs. The same marketing techniques that have kept generations jailed or on the street are keeping vastly more equally enslaved and desperate behind desks or in cubicles. By carefully constructing societal perceptions to present day jobs as a positive and beneficial element of society, there is an additional reinforcement that drugs can never live up to: namely, that one is more likely to be accepted and touted by one’s peers if one does day jobs. While there may be particularly intense communities where drug use achieves the same effect, there is nowhere where this impact is as strong as possession and maintenance of a day job in earning respect from young and old, family and friends, confidants and strangers.

And yet what good does the average day job actually do? Most all jobs in America have been designed around a service and/or consumer economy. Basically the job that most everyone has is to feed things back into the machine that guarantees jobs to others. It’s all founded on the willing (or drug-induced) suspension of disbelief into the fundamental premise that it’s somehow good and/or necessary to have a day job in the first place. Even non-profits seem laden with this innate perspective that people are better off employed than unemployed. And while I can make concessions to the concept that a standard of living beats poverty, I’m having a hard time these days really accepting that employment does anything but devastate quality of life to roughly the tune of a deep-seeded heroin obsession.

But like drugs, day jobs are notoriously hard to escape. Even for people prone to write posts like this, there are numerous insidious factors of socialization, societal structure, and cost of living that make it incredibly difficult to break the cycle of employment. No matter the strength of the desire to walk away, it often takes cataclysmic events (see: May 2005) to get someone to actually break their bonds with a day job. And just like drugs, it is exceedingly hard to stay off day jobs once one has actually managed to break the habit the first time. One is easily coaxed back in by memories of the more positive aspects. The highs stand out, while the lows fade in the grass-is-greener recollections of a turbulent past. One is often drawn back into the same drug/job, but more often a new drug/job that offers new excitements and slight distinctions that color one’s experience and provide the illusion that it won’t be as bad this time.

It will be. It is.

I need rehab.

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Facebook ‘Em

Categories: A Day in the Life, Blue Pyramid News, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , ,

I’ve spent far too much of my weekend trying to develop an application for the much-ballyhooed Facebook. We’re nearing a year since users could create Facebook apps and over five years since the original Country Quiz came out, so I figured: why not combine the two? After all, Facebook only has eleventy-billion members, so there may even be one or two who haven’t taken the Country Quiz already.

The problem is that I’ve never really learned PHP or MySQL. And rapidly, these are leaving HTML in the dust. You say increased functionality, I say decreased usability to require people to pay $100/hour for tech support. Whatever the real motivation (a combo no doubt), wrestling with the edges of what one knows about these things as a self-taught intermittent web designer is roughly as much fun as being the feature entree at a banquet for piranhas, big cats, and twenty-six-foot-high spiders. But perhaps slightly more painful.

This is not necessarily a cry for help. But if any of you have, say, designed a Facebook application in the past or really love explaining PHP to novices, I wouldn’t exactly say no.

With or without assistance, I optimistically (naively?) believe that I can get this thing chunked out before June. Depending on the timelines of other projects (it was, after all, a setback in the new quiz I’m working on that enabled me to thus spend my weekend in the first place). And then I will be begging you all to download and use (read: beta test) my lovely new application.

I’m pretty much set with the whole thing, except getting (A) results into profile boxes and news feeds, (B) view friends’ country functionality, and (C) invitations to friends to add the app.

Which is pretty much everything.

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My Life with Food

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Tags: ,

Food and I have never been friends.

Food is like that friend one has when one doesn’t have a car, who one doesn’t really like or enjoy spending time with, but they have a car! So you hang out with them and get to go places and do things, but putting up with that person is a real pain in the rear and even makes you question, at times, if going places is all that important after all.

(I never had that friend in real life, by the way. The only people I remember regularly relying on for such were my parents, Fish, and Schneider, and I really like all these people a lot.)

The point is that food and I have a long and often tortuous history. Most of my childhood arguments with my parents were about food (at least those that weren’t about haircuts). I didn’t like it – really, any of it – and while I didn’t enjoy feeling hungry, I often preferred the sensation to what was being passed off as “food” at any given meal. A whole lexicon of dealbreakers on food developed, usually summarized into “green things” by my parents, which referred to most any type of parsleyish seasoning in otherwise almost tolerable edibles. I actually liked a lot of the big “green things” that people refer to with that phrase, such as broccoli, celery, or green beans, but if it was microscopic and green, there was no chance. I really could taste these things (or more often feel them – texture was a big deal) and they really did ruin food. My parents were skeptical that anyone could really detect such things and I think often assumed it was psychological. On these grounds, they tried to leverage my love of the color green into an affinity for “green things”. No dice.

And as one can imagine, I spent my childhood being ridiculously thin. There were many jokes about my profile being invisible and I was always able to squeeze through inhumanly tight spaces (though I did get stuck in a window in the Science Center for a really bad 45 minutes in high school). And always I was told to stretch my stomach, to eat until I could feel the stretching.

But as I have aged, as my father predicted, my hatred for many foods has softened. In large part, it’s just been a process of attrition – I was so often told to try things and so often told to eat as much as possible to “stretch my stomach” that I eventually found more and more foods palatable. I am still the pickiest eater any of my friends know, but the range of things I’ll eat positively dwarfs what I’d consume fifteen years ago and I was only recently able to get away from the idea that I have to eat till I am in physical pain to “stretch” my stomach. After all, I’ve suddenly been putting on weight. And while I’m still on the low end of normal in the much-vaunted BMI (body mass index), I’ve been increasingly troubled by the facts that my gut sticks out and that my thighs now touch each other.

This is a tricky issue to talk about, because people are extremely sensitive about weight and many of them have been pretty much straight-up angry with me when I bring up that I’m starting to worry about mine. I don’t really know what to say about this, except to really try to expound on exactly how much of a non-issue this has not only been for me in the past, but I always assumed it would be in the future. Yes, it was probably silly to assume that I would spend the entire rest of my life effortlessly rail-thin and always able to eat as much as possible of whatever junk I wanted. But at the same time, the same people who told me that this was silly also told me it would be impossible to do this at any time. And yet that was a full quarter-century of my experience – no matter what I ate or how “bad” it was, I never put on weight and never had health problems associated with what I ate. And while we can learn from what others tell us if it resonates with our experience, it’s very hard to do so when others’ advice not only contradicts but actually rules out one’s actual experience.

But the impossible dream expired after about twenty-five years, and suddenly I began to slowly realize that what I was eating actually impacted my body. This had literally never happened before… there had been no relationship between intake and output. I would eat massively or fast and stay exactly stagnant in weight, appearance, and feeling. But suddenly about a year or two ago, I was fluctuating like everybody else.

It’s taken about 18-24 months for me to make some sort of peace with this and realize that I should be proactive in correcting this or face suddenly having to take warnings about obesity seriously. I hasten to add that it’s not that I’m obese now (or even close) or in jeopardy of becoming obese tomorrow (or even the next day). It’s that I have realized, after two years of being mortal in the arena of food, that I will no longer blithely be able to consider myself immune to the concept of obesity for the rest of my life unless I change my habits now.

This is a bit of a struggle, because I really don’t like much food and I really can’t stand planning around the concept of food. Scheduled meal times don’t work for me – I’m usually either full or starving and there’s very little turn-around time between these two states. So I eat when I’m starving and don’t when I’m full. I tend to eat one or two foods over and over and over again until I get sick of it and then move on to the next food. And I basically only eat out, a product of both the starving/full quick-change dichotomy (little time and energy for the protracted food preparation process) and in order to incentivize myself in actually trying to eat instead of just riding out the hunger and winding up with a migraine or something. If eating has a fun component beyond the drudgery of having to consume food, I’m more likely to do it.

I guess you’re wondering at this point how I’m gaining weight when my gut instincts are so adversarial to food. I’ve been wondering too, somewhat incredulously, and this has really kept me from truly facing the issues I’m dealing with regarding food until the last few weeks.

I guess it’s a little like the habits one picks up when one’s single. At first, when one hasn’t ever dealt with a real romantic situation, let alone love, one doesn’t really have any bad habits around the gender of one’s attraction. They’re just people and one may be interested, but has a certain amount of innocence in such interactions; one is ready to be surprised by love.

But once one has had a serious relationship fail, one picks up all kinds of bad habits that become increasingly hard to unlearn. One starts seeing every member of the attractive gender as being a possible interest and gets increasingly focused on this as a daily expenditure of time. It’s almost impossible, no matter how much one may want to, to ever return to that first-love innocence of one’s youth and shed all of the trolling outlook on life one had to learn when one was first bitterly single.

Similarly, I’ve spent so much of my time learning bad habits about food. Not just the stomach stretching thing, but also to associate eating as something to increase and encourage in myself, and sometimes even to seek out more weighty foods in order to not be quite so thin. And now that I’m not only not rail-thin, but am actually over the weight I would consider ideal, it’s trouble. Returning to one’s gut intuition is not as easy as one thinks after spending so much time learning something different.

So now I have to make a plan and rules to get myself back where I want to be. I’ve decided that 130-135 is a reasonable place to be; a place where my gut and thighs would sufficiently recede but people wouldn’t stutter in horror about me just getting off the boat from Somalia. This is even “BMI”-approved… 130 would put me at a BMI of 18.7, when the border between normal and underweight is 18.5. How perfect is that?

After topping out at 150, I had some work to do. Although thanks to help from my India trip, which I guess was pretty active (because I felt like I was eating constantly), I haven’t been back up quite that high. Though my first few weeks after India, plus splurging on my trip to Chicago cemented the undoing of much of India’s good work. I basically started this plan at 147.

The plan has been pretty simple, and underway for about 3-4 full weeks, with the brief interruption from Chicago. I have a list of foods that I’m allowed to eat when I’m hungry. In general, these foods have been pulled from a narrow list of foods that disproportionately make one feel fuller than their calorie count would indicate. There are all sorts of articles and indexes on the web about this – satiety indexes and such. It was a revelation to me that calories have extremely little to do with how full one actually feels after eating. Much like money has absolutely nothing to do with the amount of work one does. In both cases, sometimes they coincide, but more often they don’t.

There was another angle to this food thing – I’ve had some recurrent acne and have attributed it after much research to a possible Vitamin A deficiency. I have since probably discredited this hypothesis, but it’s why carrots, which (like pancakes) make one hungrier than one was before eating them, are on this list.

The List:
-Bran Cereal
-Carrots
-Honeydew Melon
-Potatoes (boiled)

Plus, I get one totally free meal a day, where I can eat whatever, wherever. It goes without saying that I’m not to go hog-wild at such meals and eat a double-meal or something, but my low threshold of fullness helps automatically keep this in check.

It wasn’t until the last couple days that this exhaustive list of four foods for all eating outside of one meal/day was starting to wear on me. Thus I have added two brand-new foods!:
-Celery
-Lentils

This diet has knocked me down to 140, though there seems to be some push-back at this line. My nadir was 139, which was pretty exciting, since I could really see a dramatic difference in the distribution of that weight differential. I’ve stabilized in the 139-141 range, but seem to need some sort of prolonged or new move to get below that.

Then there’ll be a larger issue of what it takes to maintain the 130-135 range and whether it requires upkeep of these habits or a slight shift to something different.

After several weeks, I’ve established that this regimen is healthy, effective, and sustainable. It makes me appreciate the one meal out a day more and not have to worry as much about what I’m going to do to fulfill hunger when hunger arises. The foods on the list are simple to maintain, and basically all of them can be eaten raw and stored easily. No preparation time, no real thinking time, just getting eating over as fast as possible – the way it was always meant to be.

Meantime, I can watch my nephew Paul V grow up and see him be exactly like me (through 7 years of life, he’s nearly identical in his relationship with food). Maybe I can warn him about what happens at 26 before it’s too late for him and he has to resort to a plan to maintain what I grew up thinking would always be automatic.

Maybe he’ll just have to find out on his own.

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