Wednesday, February 18, 2015

If you can measure it, you can barely change it.

Recently, my wife and I replaced our old scale, which had been broken since before the holidays. I really shot up from 160 pounds to a bit over 180. Part of the reason I gained so much weight was simply being unaware that it was happening. We splurged and got a Fitbit Aria to complement our Fitbit step counters.

I figured that so long as I put in my walking every day, I'd keep things under control. Obviously, that's not the case. So, now I'm being a bit more mindful about my weight. In addition, we have begun taking advantage of the food logging feature that comes with the Fitbit app, although for probably the wrong reason.

You see, as the day goes by and you add more steps, your calorie burn count goes up, which also increases the number of calories you can eat. Thus, one can drink that glass of wine for a few thousand steps.

All this makes a game out of exercise and diet. Keeping score tends to do that, I suppose. The ability to step on a scale and have it automatically update our accounts makes for a sustainable game. It removes a lot of the administrative hurdles that come with tracking data.

One drawback to automatic metrics is that frequency means that the changes are small. This can be discouraging. For example, the plans offered by Fitbit give you the option of 1 pound per week, 1.5 pounds per week, and I think 2 pounds per week. That means that from one day to the next you might lose an ounce. It can be disheartening to starve and then have the scale show no change. Or, perhaps you have some pants that you want to wear again, but can't even after a week of effort.

Obviously, you should play for the long-term. But, it's mentally difficult when you are keeping score daily and even from meal to meal.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Man at Work

Man at Work
Kodak UltraMax ISO 800 film

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Good Day and Bad Day; Or Bad Day, Good Day?

Boy do I have a story for you about my day. Now that it's almost over, I feel safe having a laugh over the comedy of it. Normally, I drink a couple of glasses of wine each night for its therapeutic properties. I think tonight I shall drink to celebrate the day's close.

Let's start off with the setting. I am newly unemployed. That's bad. But, fortunately, I have skills and clients have been calling me to fix their technology. That's good. In fact, I had some subcontract work to do today. The job was quite simple, install a printer.

Then one of the partners in the business had some issues with remote access for a technical support guy trying to fix their software, so he has me try to figure out what the problem is. I know very little about the network and nothing about the software, because I'm a sub who does overflow work. That's bad.

But, because I don't freak out easy, we figure something out and determine that there is some network trouble somewhere helping corrupt their database. That could be bad, but, it's good because it's way beyond the scope of my assignment, so I can bugger off before I break something.

So, as I'm going home, my van's engine cuts out on me and I have to pull over to the side of the road. My gas gauge engages in lies and deception, so I figure I'm out of gas. This is bad.

My Mother lives nearby, so I give her a call to ask her to bring me enough gas to make it to the next gas station. She wasn't working today, so she says she'll be right over. This is good.

I try to turn the engine over again to see if I can go another few yards, but my dashboard goes crazy. I've seen this before, battery or terminal issues. So I go out and open the hood to see if I can adjust the terminals sufficiently to get the van to start. It didn't work. My Mom arrives with my brother-in-law and some gas. We put in a few squirts of gas, but without a funnel we're just spilling gas all over. In any case, we figure out that it's probably the battery that's gone bad. This is bad.

So, I remove the battery and we go to the nearest auto parts store to test the battery. Yep, it tested bad and was the cause of my problems. Knowing the root cause is good. A new battery is $129.

But it's the wrong store.

So we drive over to the right store two driveways down, where they carry that brand and can look up my warranty information. Very good.

Yes, they found my account and the battery was under warranty, but it expired two months ago. Nuts. That's bad.

But, maybe the clerk can do something for me to get around the two months. Very good.

Nope. He can't override the warranty. Bad.

But, he can get me a really good discount for a replacement battery, only $42. Very good.

But, I don't know how much money I have left in my debit card and worry it won't be enough. Bad.

It worked. We buy the battery, pop it in, and the van starts like nothing happened. Awesome! So I drive to another client's business to pick up a check and cash it.

I stop by the store and let the girl at the front desk, a new employee, know my business there. She can't find my check. Bad.

She calls her supervisor, who tells her where to look for the check. She searches once and doesn't find it. Searches again. Bingo. Very good. I thank her and go cash my check.

After cashing the check, I begin to drive home for a pit stop before going to pick up my wife at work. As I round the corner about a mile from the bank, the van putters to a stop again. I almost made it into a driveway, but it has an inclination so my van is half in and half out. Bad. Very bad. I crank the engine, and this time it cranks, unlike the other time. Out of gas, definitely this time.

Fortunately, a guy driving by sees me pushing the van and stops to help. A couple other guys who work at the place whose driveway I'm blocking help me push the van further in. Very good.

But, because it has been raining all day, the parking spot where I stop is in a puddle so my feet get soaked. Bad.

Fortunately, the place where I stop has mechanics and a good possibility of a gas can. He comes back out with a gas can. Very good.

But, he says that it has some oil mixed in for use with weed eaters. Bad.

But, he says the mechanics assure him it won't be a problem. It will get me to the gas station where I can dilute it with more gas. Good. We add a half gallon. The van starts up. I think the guy for his help.

I turn around to get in the van when I hear bubbles coming from the front tire. I look, and sure enough, there is a slow leak. Bad.

I was able to make it to the gas station. The tire is still OK. Managed to pick up my wife and kids and go home. Very good.

So, I then decide to take the van to get the tire patched. The shop is still open. I'm just in time as the last customer leaves. It turns out that the tire cannot be patched. The hole is almost at the sidewall. The patch won't hold. I only have a few bucks. I ask the guy if he can sell me a used tire, and how much? He says he can't go lower than $30. I only had $26. Damn.

But, I remember that I had some cash in the sunglasses compartment. Nice.

It is only $2. Crap.

Ah, but I might still have money on my debit card. Good.

He doesn't take any kind of cards. Cash only. Nuts!

I called Mrs. Mata to ask if she has any cash on hand, we live a few blocks away, close enough for me to walk. She doesn't answer, but soon has my oldest daughter call me back. She has $3. Very good. I asked the guy to get started and I'll bring him the cash. He agrees. I walked home in the drizzle and got the money. Upon returning, the job is done. I payed the guy. AND I have $1 left over. Very good.

So, today has been an emotional roller coaster. I am sitting here with my first glass of wine recalling the events. Over the years, I've learned to accept what life throws at me almost as well as Buddhist monks do. There is little point getting upset. You just have to rise to the challenge and find solutions to the immediate problems before you. You can't worry about what happened before or what could happen later. Focus on the problem before you.

In my youth, today would have been a day of unrelenting suckage. However, now that I am older, I see the blessings before me.

Blessing 1
Mom and my brother-in-law lived nearby and was available to help.

Blessing 2
That reminds me that I had a phone I could use to call for help. Back when I was a kid, I'd have had to walk to a pay phone.

Blessing 3
I had enough money on my debit card to buy a discounted battery.

Blessing 4
I had money to collect.

Blessing 5
Complete strangers took a few moments to help me push the van and get enough gas to go to the gas station.

Blessing 6
I had cash from cashing a check that help me get a temporary fix for my flat tire problem.

Blessing 7
It turns out I had more than enough money on my debit card than I imagined.

Blessing 8
I can toast to an interesting day with my two glasses of wine.

Blessing 9
My wife feels all kinds of sympathy for me and might be extra huggy and cuddly.

Blessing 10
I reached my 10,000 step goal through all of this.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Adding A Budget To My To-Do List

I have mentioned ad nauseam that I am a big fan of +Smartsheet and use it to track all of my daily tasks and projects. I have discovered the power of adding a budget column to my tasks sheet. Stuff that relates to me, personally, has one big sheet that gets subdivided into sections and subsections for every aspect of being Shaine Lee Mata. Currently, it's a list with over 900 items. I agree with you that I have way too many items listed.

I imagine that one could either give up on ever getting around to 900 items, or truly put everything into making a dent in the list. Yet, it seems that I am perpetually removing items that are done and adding some back. There are items that never seem to come off the list. They do eventually, but it seems like they never do.

I wondered why some items were lingering more than others. Obviously, it's because I never got around to doing them; but, what was holding me back. So, I went down the list and asked myself what was stopping me from doing each one. Too often, for those particularly recalcitrant to-do items, it turns out that it was lack of money. Often, these items have a cost that I am, have been unwilling to incur at the time.

For example, if I need haircuts for my son and for me, I know it will cost me about $30. But, if I'm a bit tight on cash this week, I would schedule the shearing for the following week after pay day. Or, if I need to buy new tires, upgrades for the computer, a tool, or whatever. It makes sense to cluster these things around when I have money, and when I see the cluster is too big, move it to the next payday.

As it turns out, having a budget cell next to my to-do item helps relieve some of that "guilt" about not getting around to doing it. In fact, I will know I have a damned good reason for not doing it. I can see at a glance that the new SSD for my computer costs $125, and is not as essential as, let's say, $30 in groceries. When I have $125 to spare, then it enters my realm of possibilities. If you have a big spend coming up, it doesn't make sense to put other big spends on the calendar around that time.

But, the budget field doesn't only apply to financial costs. There are also time costs. There are some tasks that do not cost you any cash, in some measurable way. However, those tasks may cost you time, which is also a limited supply. If I know that something will take me 2 hours to do, I may hesitate to schedule it during busy days unless absolutely necessary.

Doing three 15-minute tasks is more feasible than doing one 2 or 3 hour task. Or, let's say that I'm feeling particularly smurfy and decide to take on those 2 hour tasks in the evenings after work. This means that I would only schedule the one item for that evening rather than try to fill every nook and cranny of my evening.

When it comes down to it, adding a budget to your tasks, whether a financial or temporal budget, forces you to make your choices based on priorities. Your priorities may change from day to day, or week to week; but, the budget gives you an objective measure for choosing to do or not do something. And with that, you can rest peacefully with the knowledge that those items remaining on the list are better for you than trying to kick them out ASAP while making you broke or time-starved.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Sad To Leave Slack, A Great Product

A few weeks ago, I read an article about Slack, a marvelous business tool that is useful for team communications and project information gathering. Slack has been a hit among knowledge workers, particularly people who manage online services. I signed up for the free trial and was blown away. However, despite my deep respect for the product, I'm going to have to walk away from it.

The issue is not with Slack itself. I think Slack is the victim of the "network effect" to some extent, or the reverse of it, rather. I don't have a network on Slack. Therefore, it is a really cool way to organize project information and data streams. However, I already have invested into +Evernote and +Smartsheet.

While I do not have networks on those products either, they are rather powerful without the network. And so, I find that the ability to create streams of information rather than a giant pile of...email is a great idea. Slack makes sense in so many ways.

I have written in the past that my problem with Evernote is that I do NOT need to remember everything, thus I engage in active deleting of information. Some information is more valuable if it doesn't get in your way. So, I've slowly started to segregate information into archives, working spaces, and stuff that can and should be deleted.

With the help of +IFTTT, I am crudely reproducing some of the great Integrations provided by Slack. RSS feeds and tweets are appended to Evernote notes, which I can periodically delete or archive. Having used Slack for the last few weeks, I have learned a new way to sort information into Evernote that makes it, once again, a great product for managing my everyday needs.

Smartsheet comes into the equation because it is great for organizing work, and then I can dip into Evernote and Google Drive to attach working documents.

Standing back from it all, Evernote catches information and Smartsheet organizes it for action. This way, information doesn't get in the way of doing.