This year for Lent: electronic distractions

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2640 days ago

I think I skipped last year’s Lent, and maybe the year before, too. (You can read about prior years, if you like.) But this year it was clear a few months ago what I needed to give up: my phone.

And then Lent snuck up on me. (It starts tomorrow!) I’m not ready! I can’t let go, not yet, not now! Nooooooo!!!!

So I’ve made some hasty plans. Here they are:

  1. I’m not giving up the phone entirely. I depend on it to manage most of my life, and I don’t really think I’d be better off with e.g. a paper calendar or paper lists of reminders or communicating via telegraph. Specifically, I’m keeping access to:
    1. Calling (you know, the “phone”)
    2. Text messages
    3. Email (but no notifications)
    4. Weather
    5. Music
    6. Pictures (but no notifications)
    7. Reminders
    8. Calendar
    9. All the various utilities that serve a single purpose that I don’t usually use as a distraction (e.g. Notes, Amazon, Dashlane) (but no notifications)
  2. I am giving up all the things on my phone that I use to distract myself from boredom. That means hiding the apps, disabling their notifications, and not looking at them at all between now and April 12th. These include:
    1. Twitter & Google+ (I don’t have Facebook)
    2. Safari & Chrome
    3. Newsify / Feedly
    4. Kindle (I have a Paperwhite; I’ll allow it as a substitute for a physical book)
    5. Youtube & Air Video HD & Podcasts & Audible
    6. Games
  3. Also, to keep myself from just bingeing at a regular computer, I’ll be giving up most of those services entirely (until April 12th):
    1. Twitter & Google+
    2. Feedly
    3. Youtube
    4. Watching movies and TV shows by myself
    5. Games on the computer (ha ha! I haven’t done this in years)
  4. Finally, to get the phone away from my face as much as possible, I’ll be putting it down as soon as I get home, and only picking it up if there’s some specific reason to do so.
    1. Oh, and I’ll apply a similar rule in the morning – no picking it up until after I’m showered.

Here goes!

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Technology and Lent

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4074 days ago

This website

The plugin that provided the email notification feature for this website broke with a recent update to my blog software, and it’s not going to be easy to fix. So I’m not going to fix it.

Of course, that means that the affected people aren’t going to hear that they’re affected. Sorry about that! (I’ll tell personally the few I know.)

In fact, I’m likely to switch to ikiwiki …eventually. Textpattern seems to have lost its mojo, and there have been some long-standing issues with it (like no native tagging support!) that seem unlikely to ever get fixed. And I’m hip to the cool technologies now, so a more infrastructure-like framework (i.e. ikiwiki, with git) for my blog feels like a better answer. And schmonz volunteered to do most of the work :)

That also means I’ll probably abandon tru_tags …more than I already have. There hasn’t been anything to do with it in a long while, at least not that I felt was worthwhile to be done. Most of the features that remain to be implemented require a major refactoring of the core Textpattern code, and that just seems very unlikely to happen (by me or anybody else) any time soon. So hopefully it will remain useful to the people who still use it.

This year’s Lent

I have utterly failed at this year’s Lent give-up. I have been better at going to bed at a reasonable hour, sometimes for days at a time. But I simply can’t do everything I need/want to do in my life with the few hours that leaves me between work, kids, and chores. So sleep will continue to lose to projects – although less-so than it used to. There are some nice perks to getting more sleep – I’m much more on-the-ball and willing to take on mental tasks that otherwise seem hard. But that extra value doesn’t offset the lost value from just not being able to do all the things I need to do.


Speaking of Lent, I also broke a 5-year streak of vegetarianism a week or so ago. Benjamin, Liam, and I had some extremely delicious tilapia, also breaking both boys’ life-long vegetarian streaks. Kristina chose not to participate.

We had a bunch of reasons for deciding to do it. And a bunch of reasons to not do it (i.e. to stay vegetarian). I may blog about all the tradeoffs some day soon, but for now, suffice it to say that it was a very close decision, and I’m not sure what’s next.

I made a web app!

If you recall, I started using SmugMug for my online gallery a few years ago. But when I made the switch, I left behind an old gallery site (on Menalto Gallery 1) that I’ve been meaning to clean up for a long time. It broke a while ago, motivating me to finally migrate off that old software – to ZenPhoto, which had been my long-standing plan. It took a few days getting ZenPhoto to work (when it should have been easy!), but I got it there, and I shut off the old site.

I also started this exchange with the ZenPhoto dev in which I start by being too grumpy and then he finished by insisting that his software simply must be unsupportable for him to support it. Net effect: I had to get off ZenPhoto.

But I had no alternate destination for self-hosting my images. My long-term goal is to migrate the images to SmugMug, but I want to filter them down from “every picture I took during that time period” to “just the best ones, tagged and rated” (like all the other pictures I post to SmugMug). And it will take Nathan-weeks of work to get that done, so it keeps getting put off. So in the short term I just needed a new self-hosting product, and there just aren’t any good alternatives. They’re all either old or ugly or badly designed or some combination of those three.

So I made one myself. I’ve never made a web app from scratch before, but I am quite comfortable in perl, had used Catalyst from a prior job, and I’d heard then that Mojolicious is better. So I tried it.

And wow, was it easy. Probably 8 hours total from “install mojolicious” to “the gallery is up and running on the new software”. That’s only just a little more than I spent trying to get ZenPhoto to work. Many kudos to Mojolicious, perl, and pkgsrc.

Now… ZenPhoto does way more stuff. (TONS more… too much, actually.) And this new software isn’t really ready for someone else to use it. And it has no tests. And it only does one extremely simple thing (i.e. serve nested directories of images, in name-sorted order, with no metadata).

But the code is small, easy to read, and easy to modify. (Roughly 300 lines of code, 115 lines of CSS, and 80 lines of HTML template.) The site looks really good (in my opinion). And it doesn’t require a database – just a directory full of images. And with some app-level caching and the help of Mojolicious’s preforking web server and great documentation for setting it up under apache mod_proxy, it’s about as fast is it could possibly be on my old host and slow network connection.

So ZenPhoto is out and my home-grown software is in. Here’s hoping it doesn’t need maintenance!

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This year for Lent...

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4117 days ago

…I’ll be giving up staying up late. (Starting tomorrow, the first day of Lent.) For me, that means I’ll be in bed by 11pm every night of Lent. This year will be a serious test of my self-discipline :)

Confused about why I’m doing this? See this

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This year for Lent...

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4470 days ago

…I’ll be giving up girl scout cookies – for the entire year. (This is no small thing! I ordered 13 boxes, last year!)

Why this choice? Because I don’t have time for anything else, and this one still requires self-discipline.

Confused about why I’m posting this? See here.

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Exercise for Lent

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5209 days ago

Isn’t going to happen. Every time I was awake today I thought “can I exercise now?” and every time the answer was “you don’t have time!” (Today was the first pediatrician visit for Benjamin, so it was a very full day. All was well, by the way.) I also feel like it’s somewhat crazy to try to stuff exercise into a schedule that is already insanely full, after I’ve failed so often to stuff exercise into my “normal” schedule. Plus, I figure that I’m getting a lot more exercise that I normally do, carrying a baby, running up and down stairs, doing lots of chores, etc. And raising a newborn seems to be a major exercise in self-discipline, so I think I’m going to just give myself credit for doing that (assuming I do exercise good self-discipline in this endeavor.)

Anyhow, it seemed too easy for me to just not exercise and also not publicly announce that plan, so I wanted to announce it here.

OK, done. Now on to the next item…

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A few pre-baby notes

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5221 days ago

Just a few notes that I’ve been collecting, but that aren’t individually worth a blog post. I know it’s been a while since I blogged, but in spite of some prompting, my blogging rate remains inversely proportional to my living rate :)

Kristina found a horoscope for our baby. It will be fun to check it out in a few years and see if it is at all correct.

I found a great blog article about the real causes of terrorism and the mess we are making trying to fight it. Some new information there for me, but I’m hoping that you’ll read it – because the focus isn’t just on “what’s wrong with what we’re doing?” and instead is on “what should we be doing?” As always, people are the source of the problems, and “better people” are the appropriate solution. The politicians, though, seem focused more on how to look good than how to get the job done, so we end up reorganizing all these organizations, without ever kicking out the people at the top of them that are actually the problem. That’s something I have some first-hand experience with, so it rubs me the wrong way.

I also wanted to mention that I’m deeply saddened by the Supreme Court decision that corporations can buy elections. I don’t agree with the idea that corporations have “rights” like people do, and it makes me extremely sad to see how little shame our leaders about letting corporations run the country.

I’ve also been sad lately about Obama and his fiscal policy. I like, very much, that he seems to be taking his time to think through all the issues he faces, but I don’t like his attitude that “profits and bonuses are bad,” even if he was forced into that position. I also don’t like the size of his budget, even if it is very carefully crafted. I knew when I voted for him that I wouldn’t like his economic policies; I just wish that it had turned out that I was wrong :)

Also, my calendar reminded me that Lent is coming up soon. As I mentioned last year, my plan this year is to exercise. (Remember, my focus is self-discipline, not “giving things up.”) Of course, I’m about to have a baby, so this will be rather complicated. But I’ve been putting it off long enough, so I don’t feel like I have any leeway to put it off again. This year: exercise!

Speaking of the baby – it really does seem like it will be any day now. If you haven’t been following my twitter feed, here’s my latest one. Plus our due date is tomorrow.

For those of you wondering what the name will be – please trust us that we aren’t really settled on a name, ourselves. In fact, we got a new recommendation today that we are seriously considering. So, we’ll let everyone know just as soon as we decide – and that may not be until after he comes :)

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Lent, 2009

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5566 days ago

Happy Lent! (It started today.)

As I mentioned last year, I give up something for Lent each year. It’s not for religious reasons; the purpose is really just to strengthen my self-discipline, and Lent happens to be a convenient reminder to do it each year.

Two years ago I gave up beef. Last year I became vegetarian, and somehow I’ve managed to stick with it. (Almost a whole year, now!) So this year I’m giving up food entirely.

Er, no. Not really.

But it has been a little tough to figure out what to give up – there isn’t really anything in my life that I feel is excessive right now (except maybe work). But my goal isn’t really “give something up” – it is “improve self discipline,” so that leaves other options. The two that seem most needed, in fact, are “take vitamins” and “exercise.” Both are things I’ve wanted to do but haven’t had the discipline to actually carry out.

But I’m not going to do both, and “exercise” scares me, without at least a little forethought. (I only realized yesterday that Lent starts today.) So, vitamins for me! Thankfully, I had a bottle of good vitamins already sitting around, so Day 1 was easy. I’ll need a little more planning ahead as I travel for work, but this one should be relatively easy. Hopefully, though, by the end of it vitamins will just be a valuable habit, and I’ll keep it up.

And next year’s Lent starts on February 17th, so I’ve marked that day on my calendar, and my plan is to use exercise as my discipline-improving technique next year :)

So, wish me luck. Hopefully, I’ll be a healthier, more energetic person come Easter. And if not, well, maybe my pharmacist friend is right that vitamins as just a good way to pee money down the drain ;)

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Vegetarian: Decision

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5903 days ago

(Continued from Vegetarian updates)

Well, yesterday was decision time. It came on me somewhat suddenly, when I heard on Saturday that Lent actually ended Friday. After some careful reading I decided that it really ended at sundown on Saturday, or maybe sunup on Sunday, so I just waited until Sunday as I had originally planned. Even then, I wasn’t really ready to decide – I had become comfortable as a vegetarian.

That’s not to say that there aren’t a bunch of downsides to vegetarianism! It’s just that there are also some upsides, so it becomes more of a balanced choice, rather than a restriction. I had acclimated to the vegetarian lifestyle, and I just didn’t feel like I really needed to change.

Without discussing the final decision, the preceding paragraph helps explain why I give up something for Lent each year – it’s an opportunity for me to jump a hurdle and see what is on the other side. Often it isn’t what I expect.


Vegetarian updates

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5908 days ago

(This article continues the earlier thread.)

A few updates, with only 4 days left until Lent is over and I have to choose whether to remain vegetarian.

First, I went to London and Lisbon last week for work, and had a few new vegetarian experiences, none of them particularly exciting:

  • In the airport I realized that I hadn’t set my food preferences to vegetarian when I made the reservation. I asked at the counter about it, and the ever-so-kind woman told me that it was too late to change it. Crap. It turned out, though, that I was flying business class, so I was able to choose the vegetarian option off the menu. (It was acceptable, but that’s the best I can say about it.) Close call!
  • In London, I was surprised at how many vegetarian options there were. We were only there for two days, but it was fairly easy to eat both days. I did miss a few great options at dinner, though.
  • In Lisbon, I lived on a diet of eggs (breakfast), salad (lunch), and steamed vegetables (dinner). Portugal just isn’t designed to make life easy on vegetarians. The food for non-vegetarians is fantastic (as I know from earlier experience), which made it all the harder to watch my coworkers eat.
    • When Kristina joined me on a trip back in December, we were able to find places for her to eat, but we had to plan ahead to make it work. On this trip, I just ate with the rest of the team, and had to make do with whatever was available, which was often “please have the chef make something for me.” None of it was inspiring.

Second, I weighed myself again yesterday and discovered that my earlier weight loss has reversed by a few pounds. I’m still down a few pounds from my starting weight, but it doesn’t look like the weight loss will be a continuing trend. Crap.

Finally, I gave blood earlier today, and the little test they do to see if I have enough iron in my blood came up positive (I had enough iron). That’s a good sign that I’m eating right, which is reassuring. I’ve been going to bed early the last few nights and that had me worried, but I think it’s just because I overtaxed myself on the trip to Europe, and haven’t really given my body time to recover.

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Vegetarian: Days 8-11

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5940 days ago

(continued from Days 4-7)

For those of you following along, this covers the 13th through the 16th.

Day 8 (Wednesday)

Breakfast: Egg soufflé, half a bagel (from Panera)
Lunch: Cheese pizza
Dinner: Pad Thai with tofu, tomato bisque (from Noodles)

A relatively tasty food day. I’ve started noticing that my body seems to have less resilience to abuse. For example, if I stay up late, my brain becomes abnormally dysfunctional the next day. (Emphasis on the abnormal.) I’m not certain it’s caused by my diet, but I’ve started taking (vegetarian) vitamins, just in case.

Day 9 (Thursday)

I took this Thursday (Valentine’s Day!) and Friday off work, so my normal food schedule was a little disrupted.

Breakfast: Bagel
Lunch: Veggie sandwich, cream of mushroom soup (Le Châtelaine)
Dinner: Veggie sandwich, asparagus, blackberries & blueberries

Dinner at home (with champagne) was super-tasty.

Day 10 (Friday)

Breakfast: Raisin bran with soy milk
Lunch: Smoothie (from a place in the mall)
Dinner: Spinach-artichoke dip, chipotle black-bean burger, fries (from Chili’s)

Chili’s only really has that one vegetarian option, but it was (again) quite tasty.

Day 11 (Saturday)

Brunch: Mushroom frittata
Dinner: Home-made nut burgers with cambozola cheese, fries, an apple. Later on, Jeni’s ice cream.

We made the frittata from a recipe found online, and it wasn’t particularly tasty. The nut burgers are from a recipe that my sister got from an old job, but we haven’t quite perfected it. The cheese made all the difference, though, so they were actually quite delicious.

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Vegetarian: Days 4-7

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5944 days ago

(continued from Days 1-3)

Day 4

Breakfast: Slept in :)
Lunch: Mozzarella sticks, half a black-bean chipotle burger
Dinner: Spicy lentils, rice (thanks Rowan & Erica!)

That burger (from Chili’s) was actually quite tasty. It’s nice being able to split meals with Kristina.

I watched Erica and Rowan eat a gorgeous flank steak for dinner… it wasn’t too hard.

Day 5

Breakfast: Cereal with soy milk
Lunch: Munched on stuff, but I can’t really remember what
Dinner: 3-pepper 3-cheese enchilada, black beans, rice

Dinner was quite tasty – Mad Mex is moving up on my list of good places to eat.

Day 6

Breakfast: Bagel and cream cheese
Lunch: A “TBM” (Tomato-Basil-Mozzarella) from Cosi, fruit salad, chips
Dinner: Half an iceberg wedge (salad) and gnocchi with marinara. Ate an orange later.

That TBM was downright awful. I don’t think anything was wrong with the food, but the tomato was lifeless, and the mozzarella was a little gritty. But there were no other options.

Day 7

Breakfast: Running late, skipped
Lunch: Creamy potato salad, mac and cheese, cookie
Dinner: Saganaki and a tasty feta pasta with olives and tomatoes. Ate some peanuts and a granola bar later.

For lunch, there were no other options than to eat side dishes, so I did. They were tasty, but high in dairy content :-(

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Vegetarian: Days 1-3

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5948 days ago

For the last five years or so, I’ve given up something for Lent. One year it was caffeine, one year it was TV, etc. I’m not Catholic (or even Christian, for that matter), but I believe that giving up something for a period of time is beneficial, so I use Lent as an easy marker for when I should do that. This year, I’m giving up meat. Specifically, I’m following my wife’s rules: no meat, no food that contains meat products (like gelatin), but eggs and dairy are OK. I’m told that makes her an “ovo-lacto vegetarian,” so that’s what I’ll be during the 40 days of Lent. (I will remain vegetarian on Sundays.)

That “no meat products” rule eliminates a number of seemingly safe foods: most soups, most candy bars, some nuts, and many cheeses.

I plan to periodically blog my menus and my observations about the experience here. My hope is that there will be something interesting to be gleaned by the end :)

Day 1 – Wednesday, February 6th

Breakfast: A granola bar
Lunch: Cheese pizza and chips
Dinner: Assorted cheeses, crackers, and carrots

Kristina and I occasionally go to McDonald’s for breakfast. She’s never been very excited about it, and now I understand why – having to take the meat off everything makes it just not taste good.

Day 2

Breakfast: A granola bar
Lunch: A salad (with artichoke hearts, which I don’t like)
Dinner: Went to Brio, split an iceberg wedge (no bacon!) with Kristina, had a pasta dish with sun-dried tomatoes, basil, other stuff

My company has arranged to have a different restaurant vendor (Cosi, Potbelly, etc.) come to the office every day, selling lunch to whomever wants it. I almost always just grab whatever is available for lunch, and eat at my desk, because it’s generally tasty, convenient, and inexpensive. Today, I only had one choice: that salad with artichoke hearts. Crap.

Day 3

Breakfast: A goats-milk blueberry yogurt (I’m semi-lactose-intolerant)
Lunch: Macaroni-and-cheese and coleslaw
Dinner: Pizza with mushrooms, onions, olives, and jalapeños

My department had ordered a pizza lunch for everyone, but I got there late. I was glad to see that there was still pizza left, and forgot that I needed vegetarian pizza. So I loaded up my plate, and then realized what I was doing, and then realized that the vegetarian pizza was already all gone. Crap.

So I went to the restaurant vendor, who was selling… barbecue. I had two sides: macaroni-and-cheese and coleslaw. Yummy.

We talked about going to a couple of restaurants for dinner, but none of them seemed appealing now that most of the menu was off-limits. So we ordered pizza, which was actually a tasty choice.

Also, I noticed yesterday that my sense of smell seemed better than usual. Kristina has always had a very strong sense of smell. Related? I’m not sure yet.

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