Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Packrat

I got my house wired for Ethernet today.  Yay!  I now have a direct wired connection between both PCs, my Xbox, and my PlayStation, which should give me vastly better performance than I was getting over wireless, and allow me to stream high-def stuff like a real nerd.  I've been wanting to get this done for a year now and finally got around to having someone over.  The original estimates I got were all around $400 and this guy only charged $115, which seemed like a deal.  If only I'd just paid him from the start, I wouldn't have drilled a hole through the wall into my stairwell, which would have made the $115 an absolute steal, since now my next step is to go buy a bunch of drywall repair materials.

Now I've got two ten-foot strands of CAT-6 Ethernet cable—raw, without the ends.  My current plans are to keep these around for several years until I lose them because I can't bear to throw things away.  It's in my blood.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Renemaverick

It really annoys me that if I make the same mistake a couple times, I start to become increasingly likely to make that same mistake over and over—the error becomes reinforced.  The most recent instance of this that comes to mind is that whenever I want to reference and/or mock Sarah Palin and John McCain, the word I use is "renegade."  The word I'm looking for is, of course, "maverick."  Those two words are essentially synonymous in my mind, and when the whole overuse of "maverick" started, I would think "renegade" instead.  Now "renegade" is the only word that comes to mind for those two, and often I never even notice that I've made the mistake because it's become such a habit.

Awareness

It's extremely rare that I realize I'm dreaming.  I can't actually recall it ever having happened before at all, though I think it may have once or twice.  Twice last night I was aware that I was dreaming inside my dream.  I wasn't sleeping well at all, and that might have had something to do with it.  It was a strange experience.

I know it happened twice, but I only remember the first time it happened.  I was watching a woman retrieve a makeup case from her purse, and I noticed that it looked an awful lot like the memory card reader that I bought recently.  It even opened the same way that this reader expands and collapsed.  I thought that was very strange, and then it hit me.  I don't know how I knew, but I just did—the feeling reminded me of déjà vu, in that you feel like you've seen something before, but you don't know how or when or why.  A few seconds after this realization hit me, though, I awoke.

It happened again later that night, in the same sort of situation.  The dream included a coincidence that was apparently just too absurd for me to accept, and at that point I realized once more that I was dreaming, and then woke up.

Both times, upon waking up, I knew immediately what had happened, and my dreams were very clear to me for a few moments.  I felt very strange... almost powerful, in a way.  I had done something I may not have ever done before, and it was a bit surreal.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Sleepless in the Seattle Metro Area music awards 2008: stats

Of my top 25 tracks...

  • 8 are from debut albums
  • 11 feature strings (real or real-sounding fake ones)
  • 13 feature guitar
  • 6 feature piano
  • 14 are singles
  • 14 feature male lead vocals
  • 9 feature female lead vocals

Okay, I'm done talking about music for a while. I think.

Sleepless in the Seattle Metro Area music awards 2008: mostly dubious honors

And now, the "special" awards:

Most disappointingly overhyped album:
Feist—The Reminder

Most obnoxious yet catchy album:
Gwen Stefani—The Sweet Escape

Most annoying song:
Mouse on Mars—Spaceship

Worst album (at least it's free):
Nine Inch Nails—The Slip

Album that cost the most to import:
Quarashi—Guerilla Disco

Best music video for a song in my top 25:
Muse—Knights of Cydonia

Worst music video for a song in my top 25:
Hello Stranger—Take It to the Maxx

Only song to have a pornographic alternate version of the song's music video:
N.E.R.D.—Lapdance (highly NSFW; search for this yourself)

Sleepless in the Seattle Metro Area music awards 2008: top albums

I've also decided on my favorite three albums of the year.

Kerli—Love Is Dead
Morcheeba—Dive Deep
OneRepublic—Dreaming Out Loud

It's tough to pick one out of those, and all three are the sort of album that I want to restart as soon as it ends, but I have to give it to Dive Deep by Morcheeba.  It's soothing without being boring, varied enough, and there's not a bad song on the disc.

Interestingly enough, all three of those are the first CD I've bought by each artist, and two of them are debuts.  I strongly recommend all three.

Sleepless in the Seattle Metro Area music awards 2008: top tracks

Okay, I've done it.  With great effort over the past week I have decided on my 25 favorite tracks of 2008.  The qualifications are simple: I must have purchased the song since late 2007, the last time I picked my favorite tracks of the year, and each artist is eligible to show up in the list twice.  Though much of the music here is new for 2008, there are a few older songs that I only recently puchased that still qualify.  And without further ado, here are my top 25, with the upper half given special consideration.

Alanis Morissette—In Praise of the Vulnerable Man
Bear McCreary and Bt4—All Along the Watchtower
Bear McCreary—Prelude to War  (top 13)
Enya—Trains and Winter Rains  (top 13)
Goldfrapp—A&E  (top 13)
Hello Stranger—Take It to the Maxx
Kanye West—Love Lockdown  (top 13)
Kanye West—Stronger
Keane—Perfect Symmetry  (top 13)
Kerli—Creepshow
Kerli—Love Is Dead  (top 13)
Morcheeba, Bradley Burgess, and Manda—Run Honey Run  (top 13)
Morcheeba—Wonders Never Cease
Muse—Knights of Cydonia  (top 13)
Muse—Starlight
Mute Math—Typical  (top 13)
N.E.R.D., Lee Harvey, and Vita—Lapdance  (top 13)
OneRepublic—Apologize
OneRepublic—Say (All I Need)  (top 13)
Quarashi—Pro  (top 13)
Rob Dougan—Will You Follow Me?
Sia—Breathe Me
Snow Patrol—Lifeboats
Snow Patrol—The Lightning Strike  (top 13)
Vanessa Carlton—More than This

Through the magic of the internet, I have created a playlist that allows you to listen to all of these except Enya's Trains and Winter Rains for free.

imeem: My favorite music of 2008

Lax

And for those of you who read this through Facebook or RSS or otherwise haven't seen my "bathroom scale" counter, I'm down a cool 40 pounds now. I've kept things stable over the past few days despite eating less healthy than usual (whatever food I can scrounge up around the house since until perhaps today I couldn't really leave) and not exercising. As of this morning I was down 41. I think that my expectation of ending the year 40 pounds below where I started was reasonable after all.

Wells Fargo, I wish I could quit you

Wells Fargo, I wish I could quit you, but I'm not even your customer.

See, they've been making my life pretty obnoxious of late.  Hopefully, things have been resolved and I won't have to hear from them, but I'm not certain of that.  So, if I'm not a Wells Fargo customer, how did they make life obnoxious?

It all started a couple months ago.  In the mail I got a letter from Wells Fargo saying that I owed them a little under a thousand dollars for property taxes.  There are so many things wrong with this.  First of all, I get tons of mail from people demanding money from me regarding my house, and essentially all of it is semi-fraudulent.  It may be borderline legal, but it's all stamped as a VERY IMPORTANT NOTICE about my mortgage and how it is in dire need of some company's monitoring services, or mortgage insurance, lower rates, or whatever.  The fact that I purchased my home for a certain amount through a certain bank is public record, and this information is used to make things look kind of official.  I was certainly fooled the first time I got it, but that didn't last long once I started getting one or two envelopes of fraudbait a day.  It's slowed down to a trickle now—actually, I can't remember a time in the last year that I've gotten something about it—but I just assumed this was something similar.

This letter from Wells Fargo was even less convincing than other notices I've received.  They didn't even try to sell me on some service.  They just said that I owed them money, but they said it was for property taxes.  They didn't even explain why that could possibly make sense—I'm not their customer, my bank pays my property taxes from my mortgage payments, and, well, they go to the state of Washington, not Wells Fargo.  They said that I had two options—send them a check for nine hundred eighty-something dollars, or fill out a form with all of my bank information so that they could handle things directly.

I thought about my options: I could just report the letter to the police, but I didn't really want to get involved with that.  I could write them back and tell them that they're crazy.  In the end, I decided to report this to my bank and ask them what to do.  They investigated, and told me that it was "most likely fraud," and I should not deal with them in any way.  So that's what I did.

Many weeks passed, and I became certain that I had made the right choice until eventually I got another copy of the same letter, with the words SECOND NOTICE stamped on it, and no paper asking me for bank information.  This time they just wanted a check.  I was quite surprised to see this; I didn't think that a scammer would bother sending a second notice.  But, my bank told me to do nothing about it, so that's what I continued to do.

Last week, I got a third copy of the same notice.  It was stamped FINAL NOTICE, and a new paragraph was added to the bottom explaining that if I did not respond immediately I would be turned over to a collection agency, so I should call them immediately.  Sigh.  So, I called them.  I talked to a very disgruntled woman who was absolutely amazed when I said that I was not giving them any information on the insistence of my bank.  Even more annoyed, she assured me that the collection agency would be much less pleasant to deal with than Wells Fargo.  (So, great, now not only has Wells Fargo been annoying, but they have threatened me.)  Before angrily cutting me off, she suggested that I call my local tax office and talk to them.  That seemed entirely reasonable, and not out of line with my bank's wishes.

So I did.  I called the Washington Department of Revenue and talked to the only person answering the phones that day.  And I was admittedly surprised to find that he was cheerfully helpful and competent.  He looked up my tax records, and found out that there was some point to this nonsense.  Wells Fargo had paid my property taxes, and they wanted their money back.  The law prevents the Department from getting a refund of "my" tax money since they don't have any affiliation with me or my bank.  He was confused as to why they would have contacted me about it; they should have contacted my bank directly to sort this all out, and thought it was ridiculous that I was put through this nonsense.  But after that call, I had confirmation that no matter how bizarrely executed, Wells Fargo did have a reason for wanting that sum of money from someone, and why they wanted my bank account information.

I called Wells Fargo back and talked to someone new.  I explained to him that the person from the Department of Revenue said that they shouldn't be dealing with me at all.  He was confused by that, and not wanting to take my word on it, we had a three-way to sort it out.  A conference call, I mean.  The Department guy (same one as before since he was the only one there) gave the Wells Fargo guy a lot of details about my tax records, and told me that I should give them my bank information, and that Wells Fargo should stop talking to me about it.

They needed me to sign a document authorizing them to contact my bank to resolve the problems, and I had to fax that to them.  Luckily I was able to get into the office before the snowstorm began to send it off.  At this point I still had a small little 5% wariness that this was some incredibly elaborate identity theft scam, but in the end the only new information that I was providing them was my mortgage account number (not even my bank account number), and really, it seemed unlikely that anyone could do too much harm with that.  What are they going to do, pay my principal down?

I'm infuriated.  They've managed to take up a couple frustrating hours of my time thanks to their own screw-up.  It's not my fault, I'm not their customer, and there's no reason I can see that I should have to have done any of that.  But, I decided that continuing to do nothing on principle wouldn't help once I was turned over to a collection agency, and would almost certainly take up more of my time than doing nothing, and have more negative consequences for me in the end.  Realistically, all I can do about it is to try very hard to not do any business with Wells Fargo in the future.  I wasn't planning on it, though, so even that's a fairly idle threat.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Floss

One of the defining characteristics of my grandmother's appearance, at least in my eyes, has always been an ever-present piece of dental floss hanging from her teeth.  When I was young I spent many nights at my mom's parents' house, and whenever she would get ready for bed, she would become distracted by some chore of some sort, which would lead to another distraction, and then half an hour or more would have passed by, and she'd still have floss hanging from her teeth.  It seems like I'd see her with dental floss stuck in her teeth every time I'd spend the night there, and it eventually became part of my mental picture of her.

I'm fairly certain, now that I think about it, that I have inherited this quirk from her.  Not the dental floss part specifically, but in general: I too am incredibly easily distracted by simple chores when I'm trying to focus on a single mundane task, and I too will end up starting to do so many things while I'm brushing my teeth that sometimes I get confused about what I was even doing in the first place.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Stuck

Well, I'm not going to be heading back to Nebraska this year after all.  There's about a foot of snow here, and buses aren't running, taxis aren't running, and I couldn't even make it out of my street, let alone complete the trip to the airport.  I guess my annoyance at United over the past couple hours has been a little misplaced.  Technically, I guess they didn't really have to do anything.  They're still making my original flight—there's just no way for me to get there.  Instead, due to the winter storms they're waiving the fees for itinerary changes.  The next flight they could get me on would have been the 26th for a return trip on the 28th, and $700 for a one-day stop is not really worth it.  So, I'm heading back for the Fourth of July weekend, and I'll be staying here in Washington for Christmas.

I guess I was just really annoyed at the situation in general, and the easiest target was the company I paid a ton of money to get me to Nebraska, but it's not their fault.  An hour ago I was quite angry at them for really no reason at all.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Seven-eleven

In the past fifteen months, I've bought albums containing 711 new songs (including albums bought online, not including bonus content like demos), totaling about 49 hours of music.  I thought maybe I'd listen to all of it again from start to finish while I'm in Nebraska.  Now that I see what's ahead of me, this seems somewhat less practical than I expected.  Perhaps I'll just focus on the best of the best.

As a recap, I rated all of the following CDs 9/10:

Alanis Morrissette—Flavors of Entanglement
Hello Stranger—Hello Stranger
Kanye West—808s and Heartbreak
Kerli—Love Is Dead
Morcheeba—The Antidote
Morcheeba—Dive Deep
Muse—Black Holes and Revelations
OneRepublic—Dreaming Out Loud
Snow Patrol—A Hundred Million Suns

And I rated all of these 8/10:

Bear McCreary—Battlestar Galactica seasons 1, 2, and 3
Cyril Morin—Western Pansori
Hooverphonic—The President of the LSD Golf Club
Hybrid Tango (Tanghetto)—Hybrid Tango
Morcheeba—Charango
Muse—Absolution
Mute Math—Mute Math
Quarashi—Guerilla Disco
Rob Dougan—Furious Angels
Sia—Some People Have Real Problems
Vanessa Carlton—Heroes and Thieves

I couldn't bring myself to say any particular album was a perfect 10, but some of those nines are pretty close.  Maybe I'll change my mind over the next week.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Lightning Strike

The short version:
Kanye West—808s and Heartbreak: 9/10
Röyksopp—Melody A.M.: 7/10
Enya—And Winter Came...: 7/10
Snow Patrol—A Hundred Million Suns: 9/10

This latest batch of music has been all about albums that I grew to appreciate more after hearing them a few times. It's true for none of them as much as it's true for Kanye West's latest CD, 808s and Heartbreak. The style of this album is in stark contrast to all of his previous work in that most of it is sung and there's relatively little rap, and the slick modern production has been replaced with a slick retro sound and heavy use of a vocoder (Eiffel 65-style). Initially, I was a bit annoyed by the ancient sound of the album, and while I'm still not really certain I love it, I can definitely hear the thought and care that was put into it. The best track on here is Love Lockdown (video), the second single—fantastic tribal beat, excellent vocals, and a lovely piano accompaniment. Paranoid (featuring Mr. Hudson) is a great example of a lot of the album sounds, with a silly but fun 80s-ish beat, and vocals that are half sung and half rapped through a machine that makes Kanye sound mildly robotic. Robocop and Amazing (featuring Young Jeezy) are both really good too. Overall, while I can heartily recommend the album, I'm not sure specifically to whom. I guess it's quite a bit more of a pop CD than a rap CD, and I can see fans of Kanye's previous albums not liking this one, and people who didn't like his previous work thinking this one's great. Check out the tracks I linked to, and you should have a good idea of what it's like.

I've also been listening to Röyksopp's album Melody A.M. for a while now. It's interesting lounge-y electronica. The tracks range from Remind Me (Someone Else's mix), which has a terribly awesome music video (the reason I bought the CD) and sounds like a remix of a Nintendo game soundtrack, to the very chilled Sparks, which would sound at home on a Zero 7 CD, to So Easy with no lyrics at all. Overall I'd say it's pretty good. My main problem with it is that a lot of it is pretty subtle—if you're looking for background music, this album might work pretty well.

I kept my Enya collection up-to-date with her latest album, And Winter Came.... It's vaguely a Christmas album, though there are only a few traditional Christmas songs on the CD (O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and Silent Night). For the most part, it sounds quite similar to all of her previous work. Most of the songs are very slow, light, ethereal, and pretty, but also not terribly substantial, like The Spirit of Christmas Past. The most intersting song on here is probably My! My! Time Flies!, which actually includes both drums and a guitar, both extremely rare for her. My favorite is Trains and Winter Rains (video), which is a rather beautiful song without being so slow as most of her music normally is. Regardless, you will love or hate this album approximately as much as you loved or hated her previous work.

Finally, I've been enjoying the latest Snow Patrol CD, A Hundred Million Suns. There is a lot of rock goodness on this disc, but my favorite track is the last one, The Lightning Strike, clocking in at more than 16 minutes in three movements (What If This Storm Ends? / The Sunlight Through the Flags / Daybreak). In particular, the first portion is emotional and absolutely stunning, and the second is a nice bridge to a satisfying finale for the album. In particular, it's a strong contender for my favorite song of the year, which I'll be choosing relatively soon. In a more perky-pop way, Take Back the City (video) is a fabulous single, and Lifeboats is another slow but grand song.

Next up, I'm going to be going back through all of the new music I've accumulated this year and pick out some of the best, stand-out tracks. After that, I've got plenty more new stuff to keep me busy listening for a while.

Lean body mass

It wasn't even a good trip; I had a doctor appointment to check up on me after the first three months of my health program, and it was something that probably could have been effectively done over email anyway since mostly all he did was give me printouts of my lab test results. (Shocking news: constant exercise and eating healthy has improved my health.)

According to the tests, my lean body mass is right around 200 pounds. The numbers I've gotten from all three body composition tests I've taken so far have been within a few pounds, so I assume they're reasonably accurate. This is roughly what I would weigh if I had 0% body fat. This gives me a little better perspective on what I might look like at various weights. Since I weigh about 240 right now, it means I have about 40 pounds of fat. If I lose another 20 pounds, I'll have lost half of my remaining fat, and "half" is a heck of a lot easier to comprehend and visualize than "20 pounds." At "half" I'd actually look pretty good, I think.

It also gives a little supporting evidence to why I keep hearing and reading that body mass index (BMI) isn't really that useful for people my height. At 240 pounds I cross the threshold from "obese" to "overweight." At 200 pounds I move from "overweight" to "normal" BMI. Based on my measured lean body mass, at 200 pounds I would be a lot thinner than "normal"—that would be right around 0% body fat, and 2-5% is the essential minimum for men. If this is all accurate, that means that my minimum weight is about 210 pounds (ignoring any muscle gain between now and then), or 30 less than where I am now.

Of course, reaching my body's minimum fat level is not my goal. I don't have a goal, but if I did, that would not be it. It is, however, both interesting and useful to have some more perspective than I did before. I'll see where this all goes. It's getting harder and harder to lose weight, which is a little disheartening, but in another light it's also a bit encouraging, because it means I have made progress. I started this all without really knowing where it was all going, and slowly I find myself getting a better picture of what my body is like.


Currently listening: Kanye West—Robocop

Winter Apocalypse 2008

It snowed eight to ten inches here a couple days ago, which basically brings the area to a complete standstill.  The infrastructure for plowing the streets isn't really in place like it is in Nebraska, and people don't have a clue how to drive on snowy and icy roads.  It took me about 25 minutes to drive a little under three miles this afternoon, a journey that normally takes something like 8 minutes.  Admittedly, one of the streets that I normally take was too steep to safely ascend, so I took an alternate route that would have normally added a couple minutes.  So, the trip took approximately 150% longer than usual.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Imperfect relaxation

I'm a few days into my vacation so far, and it's been sort of relaxing.  Not super relaxing, but decent enough.  I've kept my mind off work, but I've also had a lot of stuff to do.  I still have a bunch of appointments that I need to schedule today, but I guess I'd rather get all of that stuff done now than have to deal with "necessary crap" every day for the rest of my vacation.  Still, if it weren't for taking a bunch of vacation time, I'd have to do all this stuff and work, and then I'd be really stressed out, so a state of imperfect relaxation is certainly preferable to all that.

I've been getting some World of Warcraft time in.  I got my druid to level 80 (the level cap), and my shaman is up to 77—almost there.  Once they hit 80 I'll start devoting more time to the long list of games that I really want to play that I've put on hold: Red Alert 3, Fable 2, Fallout 3 (thanks Jason), King's Bounty, Assassin's Creed, and there are probably more that I've forgotten.  My greatly increased focus on diet and exercise is taking a significant toll on my leisure time, which is starting to really get on my nerves.  Once the program is over and I don't have to deal with hours and hours of scheduled appointments each week it should become much easier to deal with, but for now, it's driving me a little bit nuts, slowly.

Needle celebration

At twelve weeks, I'm half done with my participation in the 20/20 Lifestyles diet, exercise, and lifestyle management program.  So far, I'm down 38 pounds, and I'm pleased with that.  It's been tough, but I made it through.  Well, half through.  There are twelve weeks to go—the second half is "maintenance," where I theoretically learn a little bit about how to maintain my weight and exercise once I'm all done in a still-supervised manner.  I'll see my trainer and dietitian less often than before, but my exercise schedule and diet will not really change, so in theory I should continue to lose weight at a similar rate. In theory.

At the beginning of the program I had blood tests done, and at the halfway point I had them done again.  This is to monitor how my cholesterol and other internal chemistry things are going, and make sure that I'm still getting all of the proper nutrients and such.  I failed my blood test on Wednesday.  It seems like it should be an easy test to pass—I mean, I've had blood; I've always had blood.  I failed in the sense that the person wasn't able to extract any from me.  As it turns out, my veins are made of solid titanium, and try as she did, she couldn't draw blood.  I got seven or eight holes from that fun adventure, on my arms and hands, and I've still got a bruise from it, a week later.  We rescheduled for yesterday, and I drank about 72 ounces of water the night before and the day of, just to make sure I was fully hydrated, and she still couldn't get anything out of me when the time came.  She had the needle in me, digging around and repeatedly stabbing my veins, but couldn't get it in.  Finally she gave up, and referred me to a lab in Bellevue.

So, I drove to Bellevue where I was greeted by angry people who really hated their jobs.  The first technician also failed to get anything out of my swiss-cheese-arms, and he called in the boss.  She was very annoyed, after having just gotten off the phone with an auto repair shop that had held her car for a month, but she put that anger to good use, finally getting a needle into my vein after a couple stabs, and sucking a couple tubes of blood out of me.  And this time, I didn't even black out when it happened.

Good Lord.  I've healed up, and "only" six of my needle holes are visible now.  I look like a junkie.  I can't wait to go through all of this again in twelve more weeks.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

I guess I *have* lost weight

Putting on my suit just now for my date at the Space Needle, I found that my dress belt is too large, by at least two notches.  I had to substitute a more casual belt.  I guess I have lost weight.

Fin

I'm done with work until 2009... that's a nice feeling.  I plan to make excellent use of this time.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Focus

Staying focused at work is about the hardest thing in the world right now.  Thursday afternoon I'm leaving for a big Christmas party and I'm not returning to work until the second week in January.  At this point my brain is pretty much running on fumes... maybe at 15% capacity or so.  Whether I want it or not, my mental energies are entirely devoted to wishing that I were already on vacation.  I've got a ton of important work I'd like to get done over the next few days, but I don't think it's going to happen.  I'm like a kid during the last week before summer vacation—maybe elementary school, before such things as finals.  Nothing useful is learned that week.

Wrinkle in time

I swear, the time between midnight and 1:00 is the fastest hour of the day by far.  That hour must have like three minutes in it.  12:00, 12:01, 12:02, 12-oh-what-it's-one-already?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

People who look like remotely famous people

Driving home from the gym a few moments ago, I passed a woman who looked like Mrs. Bennet walking a dog that looked like Mr. Muggles.  Then again, at 5:00 it's pretty dark around here this time of year.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Personal is personal

I have quite a few personal projects of my own—my software, my websites, and my World of Warcraft mods.  From time to time I get offers from people who really want to work with me to improve them.  Sometimes these offers even come in the form of complete prototypes.  I usually turn these down.

Even after all this time, I still feel a little bad for doing it, but I almost always do.  These are my personal projects, and I need to keep them personal, completely controlled and owned and managed and written by me.  If I don't, and they become some multi-person effort, then sure, they are more likely to thrive and live on and be useful to the public, but I'm also a little selfish—they become more and more like work, and less and less like something I work on in my leisure time.  The main reason I have all of these little side projects is that while I like to build things, so much that I do it for a living, it's simply a lot more fun to do it with the full control and lack of overhead that comes with being the only guy in charge.  If I start having to run ideas by another person, or stay on top of what other people are doing, or Heaven forbid ask people for permission before I start doing things, then they're no longer fun, and if they're no longer fun, then I shouldn't be doing them in my spare time, because I do plenty of software development work already that's not always "fun."  It's not that I don't enjoy my job, it's... that I don't want more of my life to be like my job than already is.  I have to draw a line somewhere.

Some random person from the internet started sending me modified versions of one of my World of Warcraft mods a couple months ago, wanting me to add those features into my official version, and wanting feedback and direction.  He must have spent quite a bit of time on all of his modifications.  I appreciated his attitude, wanting to help make my project better, he annoyed me.  It wasn't his fault, but I don't think it was mine either.  Time I spend working on those projects is time I'm not spending on other things (like playing games), and I have plenty of other things I'd rather be doing than code reviews and testing what he wrote.  He didn't write things in the way that I would have written them, and he added features that worked well for him, but wouldn't have been too useful for anyone else.  Basically, after all this time he spent working on his own, I just had to refuse pretty much everything he gave me.  I didn't feel great about doing it, but I can't be selfless all the time.  At work, I'm one voice out of several, and it's the job of those several to keep me in check and make sure that I'm making the right decisions.  That makes sense at work, but not in my hobby.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Increased speed / decreased speed

After about five weeks of driving to work every day (mostly due to morning workouts), I finally had an opportunity to ride my Segway to work today.  It was a really nice feeling; I miss being able to use it more.  This was my first time riding it under the rider maximum weight limit, actually, and it felt a little different.  Maybe it was just a bit more responsive, maybe it was a little faster, or maybe I just wasn't used to it so everything felt new, but it did feel a bit different than before, somehow.  The only truly obvious difference was that it didn't really slow down when going up the fairly steep hill on the way to my office; in the past, it slowed down to about half speed toward the end.  I didn't seem to use up as much battery power this time, either.  35 pounds makes a lot of difference to a Segway.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thanksgiving versus the diet plan

I actually came in under my daily calorie budget on Thanksgiving, though I should have had an evening snack of some sort and didn't—I was starving by the time I got home.  I do miss the ridiculous overeating usually associated with Thanksgiving, but I didn't do it this time, and I survived well enough.  Most of the Thanksgiving staples are actually back in my diet at this point—I can have potatoes and corn (starch) now in limited amounts, and bread in limited amounts (though it should be whole wheat).  Gravy of course isn't ideal, but hey, it's a holiday.  I don't eat stuffing or drink wine or eat pumpkin pie or put butter on things, so that all put a significant dent in my calorie intake for the day.  Somewhat surprisingly, this has been a good week for my weight loss—I'm down about four pounds for the week, bringing my total weight loss so far to 35 pounds.

I don't really have an idea of how much weight I have to lose in the first place.  It doesn't really matter to me.  As I've said, I don't want to set a goal—I just want to stick to this and see how well I can do.  If I can end the year's festivities and trip home to Nebraska and still be down 40 pounds, I think I'll still be doing really well—I'll have lost nearly 15% of my body weight in a few months.

Thanksgiving with the other parents

[I apologize in advance: I had written a lengthy, detailed post, and was just cleaning things up before posting when Internet Explorer crashed, and Blogger's autosave functionality apparently does nothing whatsoever.  Things I write are rarely as heartfelt the second time I write them.  Plus, this time around I'm much more anxious to get back to questing in Northrend instead of writing...]

This year, I spent Thanksgiving with Jason's family.  I had a really good time, and it was far less awkward than I was expecting.  I didn't really have any idea what to expect, actually.  He's Taiwanese, so I wasn't even sure if the food was going to be standard fare or something more unusual.  (It was turkey and stuffing and pumpkin pie, for the curious.)  I resolved to just figure things out as I went along, instead of trying to plan things out like I always do.

In attendance besides Jason and myself were just his parents and older brother.  Moments after I arrived, his dad started drilling me.  This I did expect, if for no other reason than the TV and movie stereotype of the protective father.  He asked me questions in a rapid-fire fashion for a good hour or so, and I got so used to it that I didn't even get around to asking questions myself: I don't know much more about Jason's family after spending a holiday with them than what I absorbed passively.  One of the first questions he asked was one of the most offsetting, and that was where Jason and I met.  Regardless of whether or not it makes sense, telling someone's father that I met him on the internet makes me feel a little sleazier than I'd like, regardless of my noblest of intentions.  But, there was no time to dwell on any one question since he had what seemed like a lengthy prepared list of things to ask me.  I've been told that that's how he gets to know everyone, but it fit my expectations regardless.  He was a little surprised when he found out how much older I am than his son, but it didn't seem to bother him.

By the end of the evening, Jason's family seemed pretty comfortable around me.  (His brother: "I know we just met, but don't mind me while I take off my clothes in the same room as you.")  Actually, the most offsetting question of the day came from his mother.  After the meal, she asked me if I was going to be sleeping there.  I wasn't prepared for that.  I wouldn't expect to sleep with someone at their parents' home ever, or at least not until after I've known everyone for several years, let alone on the day I'm first meeting those parents.  But maybe that's just my ultraconservative family speaking.  In the evening, they left to go visit a friend, leaving Jason and me there alone.  What did they think we'd be doing in that time?  Do they know their son well enough to know that it would be World of Warcraft?

Were it not for how at-ease I am when I'm around Jason, I'd have been paralyzed trying to analyze and obsess over everything in such a complicated social situation.  I wasn't really sure how much affection it would be appropriate to display: too little and I look like a jerk, too much and I look overly possessive.  In the end, what seemed natural was an inch past the fine line between friend and boyfriend: basically, occasionally having my arm around him.  I guess I'm classy like that.  But anyway, I guess it was all a success.  I'm glad that I got to meet the family.  Someday he'll have to meet mine—it's just more of a challenge since mine are two $500-700 tickets away instead of a trip down the freeway.


Currently listening: Coldplay—The Scientist

Powershowers

I did karate for a little under six years in the elementary school timeframe. I hated it, but it was either that or sports, and I didn't really want to play a sport either, and at least in karate I got to occasionally punch and kick people, so that was a plus. I did play soccer instead of karate for one summer (or maybe it was right after karate?), but I hated that even more. They put me on defense because I couldn't sustain running speed long enough to be on offense more than occasionally. I was decent at that post, but it was really boring standing there, waiting for the ball to come to me. It wasn't until right before puberty that I turned into the broad-shouldered hulking behemoth that I am today, and I didn't have any prior soccer experience, so I never got to be goalie, which I always thought would have been more interesting.

Anyway, yes, karate. Things varied over time, but if I recall correctly, usually there were three or so instructors: the main guy (the guy we were supposed to call "sensei" but nobody did—his name was Rick I think), my dad, and one other person, usually a woman. Nobody wants to take a class with their parents teaching—you'd better believe that they're watching you to make sure you don't slack off or screw up. And, call me sexist, but I always felt kind of weird being told to try to kick a woman, even if she wasn't really the delicate-flower type. Each session was about half aerobic workout, and then half practicing techniques, which was itself usually an aerobic workout. Progressing to the next rank (belt) was basically all just memorization—we'd have to memorize one or a few katas, and then perform them properly. As long as we executed each punch or kick or maneuver correctly, which wasn't too difficult, it was all a matter of remembering what order to do them in, which I found exceedingly difficult, given my long-standing poor memory. But, I'd practice really hard (not that I had a choice), and I had one of the instructors living with me, so I'd basically know ahead of time once I'd learned things sufficiently well enough to take the test to advance, so at least I didn't have to keep retaking the tests.

After each class, we'd all be in desperate need of a shower, so we'd head down to the YMCA showers. Of course, the other kids didn't have parents as instructors, and they were just picked up. So, it was usually just me, my dad, and the "sensei." Those post-workout showers were a sort of male bonding experience, as weird as that is. After taking orders from those two in a fairly military fashion for ninety minutes or so just moments before, things changed, and now we were just guys cleaning off after a workout, challenging each other to turn the water temperature higher and higher until we could barely stand it. Later, we figured that we could remove the heads from the showers to make the water pressure particularly intense, and we started calling them powershowers. I could stand the high-pressure, super-hot powershowers just like the adults, even though I'd come out bright red like a lobster, and that was kind of a nice "I'm a big boy" feeling.


Currently listening: Snow Patrol—Set Down Your Glass

Monday, November 24, 2008

Test music

It seems likely that a lot of people who enjoy listening to music probably have a favorite song that they use as their first test track when presented with a new set of speakers, headphones, or other piece of equipment.  Mine is Good Luck by Basement Jaxx.  It's a fast, crazy song with a lot of bass and a lot of high notes, and strong vocals—it covers a lot of bases and makes a good test track.  I remember purchasing the album at Best Buy, opening the CD on the way home, and being consumed with joy just a few seconds after pressing play.  I've enjoyed using it as my quintessential test ever since.

Anyone else have a favorite test song?


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Fudging the numbers

I've decided that the most reasonable way to track progress against one's weight during a weight loss program like this is to focus on the low numbers, and to measure yourself frequently.  I try to weigh myself at least four or five times a week, in the morning right after I wake up, before I've had anything to eat or much to drink or get dressed, and then I only really pay much attention to the number if it's equal to or less than the previous number.  As soon as I start my morning workout, the numbers become meaningless.  I'm wearing clothes of an unknown weight soaked with an unknown amount of sweat, and I've probably consumed a ton of water at that point (or maybe not, depending on how thirsty I was).  No scientist is going to put much stock in those numbers, at least compared to the somewhat more controlled numbers that you can get by weighing yourself each morning.  Those numbers still vary quite a bit, but they certainly seem more meaningful.

The reason I only focus on the low numbers is that I've come to admit that the high numbers aren't because I'm magically beginning to gain weight following this low-calorie, low-fat, low-carb, low-sugar diet and exercising like a crazy person—they're because I'm a complicated machine and digest and, um, excrete food at rates that are somewhat random.  Now, once I start to return to a more normal lifestyle, or even around the time that I'm in Nebraska for Christmas and I'll probably regain a few pounds, I'll have to start paying attention to the numbers when they go up, but I still think that the most consistent and useful weights to pay attention to are the low ones, because those are the ones when you aren't full of water and... other stuff.

A couple weeks in, when I started to see the numbers occasionally go up instead of the free-fall I was in when I started, I had to argue with myself a bit to come to the conclusion that only reporting the lows on my "bathroom scale" on this blog was reasonable, and not just fudging the numbers to make myself look better.

This advice that I've settled upon for myself is actually in direct contrast to the advice I've gotten from multiple alumni of the same weight loss program, oddly enough.  Universally, I was told not to weigh myself at home, and to only weigh myself once a week, with my dietitian.  The reasoning for the conclusion was the same as the reasoning for mine—because weights vary wildly from day to day.  I can see the wisdom in that—you don't focus on the small day-to-day variations because there are none, and you're likely to be at a similar body composition every Monday at 11:30 am—but I like my way a lot better.

I've noticed patterns, too: my weight is highest in the middle of the work week, and the lowest on Saturday and Sunday.  I'm not sure that I really have an explanation for that yet.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Conflux

It occurred to me yesterday that all of the following things will happen within a span of a few hours, a few weeks from now:
  • The end of my last workday for 2008 (hooray accrued vacation time)
  • A formal Christmas dinner date thingy at the Space Needle
  • The conclusion of the core "phase one" of my exercise program (the next phase is 12 weeks of "maintenance")
It's gonna be a big day, I guess.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hot water

The water available to me at work comes in three temperatures: sort of cold, lukewarm, and molten lava hot.  I've been drinking tea a couple times a day recently, so I've been using the molten lava hot water to brew.  The unfotunate side effect is that the water comes out so hot that I nearly burn my hands through the cup and the cardboard safety sleeve, so the tea sits on my desk for a period of time.  This is annoying for two reasons: first, that I went to go get something to drink because I was thirsty, and now I have to wait to drink it if I want to be able to taste things for the next week, and second, that by the time the water has cooled down to a drinkable point, I've stopped checking it frequently enough, and now it's lukewarm.  Tea is delicious mildly hot, and ice cold.  In-between is rather sad.  I like that there are about a dozen different types of tea I can choose from at work, but I don't really like that it always ends up poorly for those reasons.  I think I'll go back to water and Diet Coke.  (I've recently been trying to phase in a little more Diet Coke than one a day, and it seems to not be affecting me.  It's nice, because plain water is driving me mad.)

I lied

CORRECTION

In my recent post that touched on "emotional eating," I noticed that I said that I don't eat in front of the computer.  That is absolutely false, and I wasn't thinking when I said it.  A lot of my meals are in front of the computer.  What I meant is that I don't idly snack and consume in front of the computer.  Generally, I will take my dinner to the computer, eat it while browsing Facebook or getting ready to start playing a game, or something like that.  But those are full, intentional meals: it was food I would have eaten anyway.  That's the key difference.

My other option would be to watch it in front of the TV, which sounds approximately as "bad" and less appealing, or eating it at the empty kitchen table, which always seems like it would make me feel lonely.  I don't actually like sitting at the kitchen table by myself unless there's a lot of stuff on the table (like, for example, pieces of a new board game I've just purchased and am trying to learn).  A kitchen table should be covered in things and surrounded by people.  When it's just me and a small bowl or plate, I think that would make me kind of sad.

Ads

I just realized something: when you start up Steam, you're shown a couple pages of ads.  Occasionally there are news updates in there.  But it just recently occurred to me that these are ads.  I just somehow never saw them as ads, even though they're promotional materials to get me to try to buy new games.  Somehow, Valve has managed to present them in such a way that they feel like a sort of status update that I want to see upon logging in, rather than ads.  Not only is the rest of the service and software ad-free (unless you count the highlighted games in the online store ads, which I don't really), but what ads there are don't annoy me, which is exceedingly uncommon.  I'm generally even willing to pay a site a small sum of money on an annual basis to not have to see ads.

This makes me wonder how this happened.  What is it about these ads that is so special?  You only see each ad once, and if there are multiple ones, you only see the first one at all unless you voluntarily click Next to get to the next ad.  Once you're done, you'll never see those ads again.  Also, interspersed with the ads are what are essentially short blog posts explaining what's new with Steam, what games are coming out soon, what's on sale, and so forth.  Can this apparently very non-intrusive (at least to me) sort of ad work in other areas?  I hate ads, but I do also enjoy getting free stuff.  If I could see more ads like these and get more free stuff, bonus.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Propaganda

So for my last fifteen minutes of cardio on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, they have me watch these educational videos that cover a variety of topics including nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle.  They started with the first two, and now they're on to the latter, and they suck a lot more than the ones grounded in, you know, medical science.  Nowadays, the videos are all about coping and dealing with emotional problems, and I don't feel that I'm getting any value from them at all.  I'm sure that a majority of the people in their program do experience the sorts of emotional problems that the videos describe and assume that I'm also experiencing, but I'm pretty stable, and it's just obnoxious to listen to someone describe strategies for dealing with problems you don't have.

A huge topic of the videos has been dealing with what they call "emotional eating," where being overwhelmed with stress or depression triggers people to eat.  I don't really feel that I do this... ever, really.  I eat for two reasons: because I'm hungry, or because something appears extremely delicious (e.g. dessert, candy, snacks).  I don't eat because I'm bored, or because my boss made me do extra work, or because I'm feeling down, or because I need validation that I'm special or good enough or smart.  In fact, in contrast with that seems to be the stereotype, I tend to avoid eating when I'm in front of the computer because it's inconvenient—whether I'm typing at work or playing a game at home, it's more difficult to be eating, because I need both of my hands.

I've spent quite a bit of effort over the past many, many years to be in control of myself and my emotions.  (This has nothing to do with being a Star Trek fan or thinking that Zachary Quinto is going to make an awesome Spock, I assure you.)  I'm certain that this has helped me.  It doesn't give me the discipline to avoid eating things that I know in my heart to be delicious but unhealthy—I still have to work very, very hard to succeed at that—but it has given me a very calm, stable demeanor.  It's possible that I may have suffered from emotional eating in the past, but if I did, I think that those days are long gone.

I'm required to periodically see a therapist while on the program, and I get the picture that she's used to clients just unloading all of these various emotional issues that cause them to lose self-control.  When I'm talking with her, we really don't have much to talk about.  I can tell that she's on plan B or plan C and her "backup topics" to fill out the session.  The first time we met, we mostly just went over my responses to the initial survey that all program participants fill out. The second time, we talked about my brother and Facebook. The third time was all about Jason (we had just started dating), and this most recent session was about Thanksgiving, and life with a boyfriend. I think that I must annoy her a little bit because none of her usual questions yield much of a response from me. She has to switch to these mostly-irrelevant topics to get me to say anything at all.

But, I don't mind the sessions. I think that they're pointless, but I don't have the option of not paying for them, and I'm required by my insurance plan to attend (unless I want to shell out another $6,000), so whatever. I'm supposed to be going to a group therapy session each week in addition to the individual sessions, but they'd been trying for months now to find a time that fits my schedule and still haven't, so they gave up and now I'm just going to see the therapist a few extra times and skip out on twenty-four hour-long group therapy sessions. That seemed like a very, very good deal from my perspective.

The big three-oh

Today was another milestone: I've now dropped thirty pounds since starting my little adventure.  The pounds are coming off more slowly now, and while the diet is a bit more lax, the workouts are getting tougher.  I'm able to sustain much more strenuous workout sessions than when I started, and the parts of my body that hurt after a workout have changed quite a bit.  When I started, doing 25-30 minutes of cardio would leave my entire body sore, and me a little short of breath (though not really that bad).  This past Saturday, I did 50 minutes on the treadmill, which is way harder than the elliptical machine that I usually focus on, and I was still quite tired at the end, but mostly only sore in my knees and the rest of my legs.  I'm still nowhere near that B.S. nonsense that people give where workouts "energize" them or make them "feel better," though, and I don't expect to ever get there.  My physician says that about one in ten or twenty of his clients say that they never get to a point where working out releases endorphins and makes them feel good, and if I haven't felt that by now, I must be one of those very unlucky few.  I guess that's why I took a desk job.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Flu shot

I got my first flu shot today.  I always mean to, and then miss the deadline.  (Why are they being given out in the middle of November anyway?  They take a week or two to take effect.  Shouldn't you give them out in October?)  I figured that it was extra important to get one this year since I'm spending a lot of time at the gym, which seems like an absolute paradise for infectious germs.  A couple times over the past four and a half years I've missed work due to the flu, and while I'm all for missing work, I'd rather miss work for a good reason and not being too sick to move.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Big shot important guy

Next year I'm going to have a reserved parking spot, all for me.  It will be right next to the door, and it will have a special sign, and I will have a special parking tag.  People who aren't me who try and park there will be towed.  It's gonna be neat.  I don't even think that the VP who works in my building has one.

Of course, I can't give away my secret and tell you how I got such a thing.  Maybe if you ask me nicely.  (Or, it will probably be fairly obvious to someone who reads the special parking tag once I have it next year.)

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Perfect Symmetry

The short version:
New Radicals—Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too: 5/10
Morgan Page—Elevate: 7/10
Enigma—Seven Lives Many Faces: 6/10
Keane—Perfect Symmetry: 7/10

I haven't been burning through as much music recently as I was for some time there, but I've finished passing judgement on four more albums since last time. The first was the only New Radicals CD, Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too. If you don't recall the name, it's because the CD is from a decade ago, and they only had one hit single: the awesomely catchy You Get What You Give (video). The rest of the CD is interesting... it's very upbeat pop-rock with an emphasis on piano. My main complaint is that the lead singer gets pretty whiny in several of the songs, and it makes me sometimes not want to make my way through the whole CD at once. The music itself doesn't sound very much alike at all, but the voice reminds me a lot of The Mars Volta—the vocals for both bands are similarly turn-offish. Besides the aforementioned hit, Mother, We Just Can't Get Enough and Flowers are probably my other two favorites. I'd give the album a cautious recommendation—it's good but not stellar, but if you don't find the singer's voice as obnoxious as I often do, you may just like it. Check out the linked tracks.

I also picked up Elevate by Morgan Page, after seeing he was touring with Delerium after missing that concert. It's a great workout CD—it's peppy, and there are enough changes in tempo that if you are the sort of person who speeds up or slows down to match the song you're listening to, it's practically interval training. I was listening to it almost every morning for a couple weeks. About half of the CD is original music, and a little more than half is remixes of other songs; some of the remixes are great and interesting, and others like the remix of Nelly Furtado's Maneater are pretty uninspired. I absolutely love the re-imagining of Fuck Was I by Jenny Owen Youngs and the original track The Longest Road featuring Lissie. I also really enjoy the remix of Sleepwalking Through the Mekong by Dengue Fever. I'd recommend checking the album out if you like pop-oriented electronica.

The new Enigma CD is in, Seven Lives Many Faces. It's pretty similar in style to his previous couple albums. The title track Seven Lives (video) is stunning, and one of my favorite Enigma songs to date. Most of the disc, though, is fairly forgettable though certainly decent. I really like Superficial (only present on 2-disc versions) as well, and The Same Parents isn't bad either, though the lyrics are sort of naive and annoying. Anyway, you'll like this exactly as much as you liked all of the previous Enigma new-age-electronica albums.


Finally, I was really excited about the new third Keane CD, Perfect Symmetry. The style is very odd: it's much more similar to their first album than the second (I strongly preferred the second), and has a sort of 80s vibe to it. I really like the first single, Spiralling (awful video), though it took several listens before I really warmed up to the dramatic change in style. The second single will probably be Perfect Symmetry, which also took several times before I really learned to love. Playing Along is really good too. Initially, I think I'd have given this album a 5/10; now after giving it plenty of time, I think it's more of a 7/10. There's something to say about a CD that gives you an immediately positive impression, but this one seems to reward repeated listens and analysis, and that's okay too. Still, their previous CD was extremely solid and polished, and more my style, so even though they're trying something interesting and new (all three of their albums sound quite different), it's a bit disappointing.

I'm currently listening to, among other things, the new Snow Patrol CD, A Hundred Million Suns. Like Keane's latest, my impressions of it have risen over time, but in the case of this one, I think I'm going to like it a whole lot more. There are some really awesome songs on here. But more on that later once I've given it a proper chance.


Currently listening: Snow Patrol—The Lightning Strike (specifically, the first movement, What If This Storm Ends?)

Biometrics

I thought I'd share the changes in my measurements so far. These are actually two weeks old, at the five-week point in my program, so I'm probably even doing a little better at this point.

  • Weight: -18 pounds*
  • Blood pressure: -16/-7
  • Chest: -4.5 inches
  • Waist: -5.5 inches
  • Hips: -2.75 inches
  • Arms: -1.5 inches (they actually have a shape now)
  • Thighs: -6.75 inches
  • Body Mass Index: -2.2 BMI
* As of writing, I've lost 28 pounds, so these numbers are probably pretty conservative now.

The main negative effect is that I seem to often have a sore stomach. I don't actually know what's causing it. I often felt kind of bad when I tried multivitamins in the past, and I'm taking one now. In the past, multivitamins just made me feel nauseous; this isn't nausea. Either it's just another part of me that's sore from the various core and ab exercises that I've been doing (I have a six-pack; it's just hidden), or perhaps simply burning all of this fat and constantly changing my size is making me feel physically uncomfortable. Or maybe my stomach is just readjusting. Either way, it's not so bad... just another irritation.

Sadness equation

Unrelated to my previous post, I have decided that being on vacation plus regularly scheduled morning workouts equals great sadness.  I'm on vacation, so it's hard to justify going to bed by midnight or one, but if I don't, the next morning's workout is going to suck even more.

The Battle for Mount Hyjal

Yesterday I got to do the Caverns of Time: The Battle for Mount Hyjal event in World of Warcraft.  This was a particular treat because it requires 25 well-trained and well-equipped players, and my schedule makes participating in such high-end play normally impossible.  Luckily, I am on vacation this week, and I hitched a ride.  The event is particularly interesting because you recreate the final mission in Warcraft III: the assault of Archimonde and the Scourge on the World Tree, except instead of commanding your forces to hold him back, you are the forces holding him back.  There is definite sentimental value for anyone who played Warcraft III.

See the rest of the pictures
See all of the pictures I took.

You start off in the Alliance base, with overwhelming Scourge forces waiting at the door.  There is Jaina Proudmoore, leader of the humans, and her band of survivors.  The forces come in increasingly powerful waves, just as in the Warcraft III mission.  After several waves, a boss (enemy hero) appears, who the group defeats.  Then, another series of waves, and a second boss.  After that, the Scourge onslaught becomes overwhelming, and Jaina commands you to fall back to the Horde base up the hill while she and the remaining humans buy you time.

Once in the Horde base, you see Thrall and his forces, ready for battle.  After giving you a moment to rest, the Scourge forces eventually break through and slaughter the humans, reaching the Horde base.  There, you fight alongside the orcs and trolls to hold back the Scourge long enough for two more bosses to show up, and after they are defeated, Archimonde's forces are once again too strong, and Thrall makes his last stand while you retreat to Nordrassil and the Night Elf base surrounding the World Tree.

There you meet up with Tyrande Whisperwind, who gives you a magic item you need for the fight against Archimonde, who has already arrived and has begun to drain the power of the Tree.  There your band of 25 adventurers stands off against him, and as you defeat him, the sky turns red, and Archimonde is overwhelmed by wisp spirits that ultimately destroy him.  And then, instead of seeing an endgame cinematic, you are instead treated to a pile of valuable treasure (and an achievement worth 10 points), and once you leave the Caverns of Time, all is back to normal in the world.

I was unfortunately too busy during the fights to think of taking pictures of those, but I did take some other pictures of the event that look pretty cool.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Uh, what

After my trainer sessions on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, they have me watch these fairly awful videos for my last fifteen minutes of cardio.  Today's was about avoiding stress.  Their advice was mostly sound—don't worry so much about things that aren't really the end of the world if they don't get done on time or perfectly or whatever.  But the way they said it was a little... off.
"Cars, money, jobs, relationships... these can all be replaced.  You can get new ones.  But not your health and well-being."
Er, what?  Yes, I suppose that one can theoretically abandon all of their friends and loved ones and start over from scratch.  I'm not thinkin' that's great advice.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Date

In a time with ubiquitous communications and online chat and games, the word "date" has little meaning and significance to me. The first time that Jason and I went out on a date, it was clearly a date. We met in a restaurant to talk and evaluate the possibility of a romantic connection. Pretty quintessential. By the time we went on our third date, we'd been talking quite a lot for two weeks, and had gotten to know each other pretty well. By the end of it, we decided that we should be calling each other our boyfriend, updated Facebook, and so on. Even by then, the word "date" was beginning to get fuzzy for me. Was the third date a date because we saw each other in person? What about the dozen IM conversations before that, or the text messages, or the questing in World of Warcraft? What were those? How are those things so different from a "date" beyond the ability to see and touch the other person? (In World of Warcraft I can even have my character hug or kiss or cuddle with his. Sure, it's contrived, but I suppose it helps to fill one of the voids in instant messaging.)

Maybe they're not so different, and maybe that doesn't matter at all. What matters, of course, is developing an emotional and romantic connection with the other person. What form that facilitating communication takes is relevant, but not extremely so. Of course, the face-to-face and hand-to-hand physical contact from being in close proximity of your loved one is preferable—body language allows for alternate ways of silently expressing affection, and after experiencing what it's like to live across a lake from my significant other, I have great empathy for those who live in separate states or even countries.

Perhaps there's nothing wrong with the word "date," but rather just that "dates" are no longer as much of the way that people get to know each other. This isn't a new phenomenon with instant messaging; IM simply replaces the telephone for us. How long has it been since dates were actually the primary interactions between two people? Online gaming is a little more of a step in a new direction, but I suppose it's not much different than just role-playing over the phone (like "I'm holding your hand now"... "I'm looking in your eyes", which I think would actually be mildly creepy). As much as it shames me to say it, I think that the realization that I've come to is that my expectations and frame of mind were mostly just created by relationships in TV and movies. Dating there exists in this bizarre, disconnected world that intersects strangely with real life. In that world, two people go on a date, sleep together that night, and then their next interaction is their next date, either at a restaurant or a movie. Rarely is there anything in-between, other than perhaps the girl desperately waiting for the guy to call her.

But I always knew (or at least hoped) that my relationships wouldn't work like that—I'd have so much trouble accepting that. So why did I apparently subconsciously expect it? Curse you, mainstream media. In reality, things with my boyfriend are about as close to ideal as I could have hoped for. Though we may only go on a "date" once or twice a week, I think only one day has gone by in which we haven't had a conversation. These interactions, which rightfully could have been some of the most difficult and stressful of my life for an introvert, have been refreshingly easy. I am always nervous and confused in unfamiliar social territory, yet I'm completely calm and content when Jason and I are talking. It's pleasant and unusual.

I'd always assumed that my boyfriend and I would communicate on our own terms, and always hoped that we'd play games together. (This is good; I'd be terrible at following "the rules" anyway. I've only even called him a few times, and those were mostly just to tell him that traffic was terrible and I was going to be late.) How many "dates" we've been on is not relevant, and thus the definition of the word "date" isn't even relevant except as a convenient label in conversation. We can communicate any time of any day, and I think that as long as we stay in contact, see each other in person when we can manage it and talk through technology when we can't, and continue to develop a meaningful relationship, none of the things I've been musing about for the past couple of weeks matters at all. And that feels nice.


Currently listening: Snow Patrol—Take Back the City

Vacation

I'm taking a week off of work, and so far it's been pleasant and relaxing. I haven't done much of anything productive. I finished up my "weekend stuff" like laundry and vacuuming and grocery-buying yesterday, and today I'm free to knock things off my to-do list, or just do nothing productive at all. I realized that out of my 17 vacation days for the year (three weeks vacation plus two floating holidays), I'd used one before yesterday. I was going to take a vacation this summer, but then I realized that I hate the summer weather, and that's exactly the time of year that I'd rather be at work, indoors, under glorious artificial light and air conditioning. But now it's cold, a perfect time to take a week off and stay at home. I just need to remember that my thermostat is set to not warm the house while I'm generally at work, or otherwise it's suddenly noon and I remember this fact when my nipples are about to puncture my shirt. And, after this week is done, I'll work for one more month and then take three weeks off in December.

I may not be working, but I still have to work out five times this week, which is kind of a downer, but at least I get to do it whenever I want today, so I got to sleep in a little. I've dropped about 25 pounds now, and I'm a quarter finished with my 24-week program. This week, bread was returned to my diet, albeit in a limited form. I can have only whole wheat bread, and up to one piece a day. I did, however, find some fantastic whole wheat naan at a local niche grocery store (that doesn't deliver to my door—lame). I can't exactly slather it in butter like how naan should be, but it's still quite good dry. I'm having it with some fairly unspectacular homemade chicken curry. Bread is among my favoritest foods ever, and it feels really good to have it back.

I've still been really good about not cheating on the diet, having made no more significant transgressions than a single Reese's peanut butter cup, which was a delicious and deliberate error on Halloween. I've been experimenting with bending the rules a little bit and having a little more artificial sweetener than recommended. My hatred for drinking plain water continues to crystallize, so I've been trying to incorporate tea. The sweetener doesn't add any calories, and it's hesitantly accepted by the diet portion of the program, but there is evidence that artificial sweetener will cause many of the same reactions as sugar, including additional insulin production, which can be an inhibitor to weight loss, so they recommend avoiding it when possible (though it's certainly preferable to using sugar). Having a few artificially sweetened drinks a day instead of one or none hasn't seemed to be problematic yet, but I'm trying to be watchful.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

TV networks

If I ever launch my own cable TV network someday, I think it will be this (click to enlarge):



(Unaltered image from here)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Chip integrity

My latest order with Amazon Fresh included a bag of Doritos.  (Not for me!)  This morning, on my doorstep, was a large plastic footlocker-sized bin.  Inside the bin was a normal-sized brown paper grocery bag.  Inside that bag was a bag of Doritos and a whole lot of air.

There had better not be a broken chip in that bag.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Mileage

Since my last fill-up, I have gotten about 26.5 miles per gallon in my new Honda Civic, about 14¢ per mile.  (It's rated for 36 highway, 25 city, or 29 combined.)  That's mostly city driving, with some parking-lot freeway driving and some late-night-open-road freeway driving mixed in.  I guess that's not so bad—2.5 below the combined estimate, which doesn't take into account that often when I'm heading to Seattle I'm doing so at well under 5 miles per hour for extended periods of time.  I've been paying down the principal much faster than required thanks to my saved-up car money and my review bonus, so I should have it paid off sometime early next year or so, and perhaps by then I'll be used to paying to fill up the tank, like a normal person.

Shady dealings

Today I started my adventures with the free weights, so my body hurts in new and exciting places that never hurt before.  My trainer has cheerfully informed me that "whenever I'm working out I'm just sitting there thinking of crazy shit I'm gonna make you do"—I haven't seen the worst of that, but I did some moderately crazy hamstring curls today that certainly qualified as weird.  The diet portion of things isn't too exciting yet—last week I should have gotten yogurt, and this week I was planned to have gotten yogurt added to my meal plan, but since my dietitian missed last week and I'm allergic to milk, this week I "get" both, so I won't fall behind the diet plan after all.  She feels pity on how very, very much I miss eating bread, so she's going to move things around a bit and if this week goes well, bread will be reintroduced next week (in a very limited form, of course).  My weight loss has been on the low end for the past couple of weeks, but I've been working out very hard and sticking to the diet plan, so there's not much more for me to do about it right now.  It's possible that part of the reason my weight loss has slowed a bit is that I'm starting to build more muscle.  The optimistic part of me wants to believe that, at least.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Discipline

I'm pretty proud of myself.  So far as I can recall, I've only consumed two junk food items over the past five weeks: three bites of tiramisu, and half a small chocolate chip cookie.  Overall, a negligible impact on my diet.  I haven't even touched the big pile of delicious Halloween candy in my kitchen.  I mean, I really, really, really want to—the peanut butter cups call to me—but I've been a good boy.  I didn't think I could actually manage this.  But I've survived so far.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Week five, coming to a close

Week 5 (of 24) of my fitness program is drawing to a close.  I'm still right around at 20 pounds down from my pre-program starting weight—for the past few weeks I've only noticed actual weight loss on the weekends.  My official numbers taken today put me at 18 pounds under my starting weight, which doesn't take into account the four or five I lost before the actual beginning of week 1.

Today was my five-week assessment to see how I've improved, and I've made some really good progress, if I do say so myself.  In addition to the weight loss, my waist is apparently down five and a half inches!  Like any normal guy, I don't actually wear my pants at my waist, so I never really noticed, but that's certainly a significant amount.  My other measurements are shaping up nicely, though I don't have numbers.  The amount of weight that I can handle has increased pretty dramatically as well.  On average, I've doubled the weight I can do on each machine; some more, some less.  On the leg press I did a ridiculous 820 pounds (!) today, though the trainer cautioned me that when we start on free weights next week, I won't get anywhere near that.  Sometime during my senior year in college was probably the time in my life where I felt like I was in the "best shape" (whatever that nebulous idea is supposed to be), and I could do 495 with about as much effort as I spent pushing 820 today.  I don't know for sure if the machines were similar enough for those numbers to be comparable, but it's a nice little feeling regardless.

Nineteen weeks to go.  Some length of time less than that until I get to eat bread occasionally again.  That's sort of my interim goal now.  The cravings for "bad" foods are so incredibly strong now.  They've been saying all along that they'll go down, and within a week or two the cravings would go away, but they're totally wrong on that.  I want bread and sugar more than I have ever wanted them in my life right now.  I actually think about sugar and bread while I'm eating now and how much I want them.  I don't know if I've ever done that before.  I hope this doesn't get more severe.

Somewhat coincidentally, Jason and I have been dating for a month now. Yay! That's less of an accomplishment, though. Exercise and dieting sucks and I hate it. Jason is really easy to like.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Returning gifts

One of the neighborhood animals was kind enough to leave me a gift of a dead squirrel at the foot of my front porch on Tuesday.  I noticed this as Jason and I were entering—classy.  (Jason is my boyfriend, and it is less clunky to say that than the phrase "my boyfriend.")  The gift was appreciated, but I'm afraid that I already have as many dead squirrels as I could possibly want, and have no real use for yet another one.  I have rubber gloves on hand (pun intended) for exactly this sort of situation, but I postponed dealing with it until the next morning.  The next morning I was running late for my appointment with my personal trainer, so I resolved to deal with it as soon as possible after exercise.  But then voilà; my problem resolved itself—the landscaping crew comes on Wednesdays, and they returned my gift for me.  I was not looking forward to picking that thing up and bagging it, or chucking it into the wetlands.

Imaginary exercise

My personal trainer is getting creative or bored or something.  The workouts are getting more complicated and bizarre each day.  Today he had me do sit-ups with a rubber ball pressed into my lower back, a stretchy rubber jumprope in my arms, and the middle of the rope stuck to the floor with his foot.  What?  That's not even a real exercise.  You're makin' that up, man.

Seedy underbelly of the world of Fable

I played Fable 2 for a little bit tonight.  I found it particularly odd that one of the first items available to be purchased is a condom.  (I would have expected, say, a healing potion or a sword.)  More amusing and less odd is that if you use the "pick-up line" emote on someone in town while not wearing any armor, they will call the guards on you, who will fine you 10 gold for your sexual harassment.  Probably a good thing: the "pick-up line" command is missing when you highlight a child in the game.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Achievement unlocked

Today was an important milestone: I'm down 20 pounds from my starting weight, about 14 of which is since starting the 20/20 Lifestyles program proper a mere month ago.  That seems like quite a lot to me.  I can feel the difference a little bit more each day, though I certainly don't feel 20 pounds lighter.  I can see a change in my face.

It's certainly been a lot of work (and money), but it seems to have been worth it so far.  It's still twenty weeks until I'm done with everything, so I've got a lot of time to get used to this and think about how I'm going to adjust my life to stay in shape once everything is over.  I'll freely admit that that thought scares me a little.  I don't know how different I'll be in five more months.  But I'm interested in finding out.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Lotion, stat

My hands look absolutely terrible right now.  My skin is extremely dry, likely due to a combination of the onset of fall weather and my incessant need to constantly wash my hands.  Frankly, they're kinda gross.  I need to break out the lotion, stat.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Week four

Week four of my mystical weight loss journey has begun, and the big change this week is the reintroduction of fruits into my diet (other than the berries I was already allowed to have).  This is a very welcome addition; I've been longing for sugar, and even though I still can't have a lot of it, being able to have fruit with meals or snacks will help satisfy those carbohydrate cravings.  Last week I went down another couple pounds by the end, which isn't a fast decline, but worse things could happen.  I'm down 16 pounds since starting all of this, which is nice, though I wonder where exactly all that is coming from.  I feel unquantifiably lighter.  I think that my face looks a little different, but in general I can't really tell.  I've definitely increased my strength and overall fitness across these past weeks—I'm able to lift a bit more than when I started, and I'm learning to be better about "powering through" the pain and stressing my body.

At first I was really skeptical of having three life changes all at once—a boyfriend, strenuous exercise, and a bizarre diet—but I seem to be handling things okay.  My guy's perfectly cool with it all, and it's all been pretty positive this far.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Shrooms

There are some gigantic mushrooms growing by my place.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Morning non-sequitur

This morning at the gym, I saw at the bike racks a stationary exercise bike that was parked there on a hand truck.  I found this very amusing.

Godcast

I thought of a clever word on the way to work this moment: Godcast, a sermon or other spiritual or inspirational spoken word recording in MP3 format.  Unfortunately, 43,300 people thought of it before me.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Fabulous in the Seattle Metro Area

I made an exciting new blog template mockup upon the request of a friend, so I thought I might as well share.  Click to enlarge.



(No, I'm not changing my actual blog template to that.)

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Locker room advice, sir

I call people "sir" a lot.  Today I began wondering if I did this subconsciously because of my frequent failure to remember the names of people I'm talking to.  Calling them "sir" effortlessly sidesteps this problem.  I started wondering this while sitting in the hot tub, talking with the locker room attendant.

Ian:  How was your workout today, Travis?
Me:  Just great.  (exaggerated sigh of relief)
Ian:  Excellent, that is good to hear.  I'll see you around, Travis.  Have a wonderful day.
Me:  Have a good one, sir.
Ian:  Do you remember my name?  I don't mind if you call me "sir," but do you remember my name?
Me:  Ian!  I'm always impressed that you know everyone's names.
Ian:  Don't be impressed.  Just do it.  It's the most important thing you can do at a job.  Show people that you respect them, that you care for them, and that you like being around them.  That's more important than anything else, right?

Seems like pretty good advice to me.

Gender pronouns

Over the past few days, I've gotten a few people calling me on the fact that my blog posts don't tend to use gender pronouns.  I really didn't even notice—it's just the way I find myself writing.  It can be challenging for me, a shy person, to publicize any of the important details of my life on the internet, especially under my real name.  So, I guess I tend to use language that obscures details without even having to try.  I think that in the back of my mind, it makes me feel a little safer.  But, it's admittedly awkward, and seems vaguely deceptive, and I really am trying to open up from time to time (what else would the point of all this be?), so I'll try to be on watch for future incidents.  Just so all of my cards are on the table, I'll clarify my previous relationship-related posts from saying that I'm dating a really great someone to saying that I'm dating a really great guy. I've got a boyfriend, for those of you who I don't interact with daily and aren't Facebook friends with me and were thus probably unaware.  (I mostly gave up on obscuring that particular detail quite a while ago, but I don't tend to just volunteer random personal facts about myself, so don't feel too out of the loop if you didn't know.)

I will try to be more specific in the future. Until I forget.


Currently listening (really): Katy Perry—I Kissed a Girl

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Nutrients

The multivitamins I'm taking look like those feed pellets you buy at the zoo to feed to goats, and smell like petting zoo pellets too. I'm not sure which of those two things is worse.

But, they're the only multivitamins I've ever taken that haven't made me really sick to my stomach, so that's nice. Based on what I've heard from my doctor and dietitian, it's possible that the prior kinds have all contained iron (a stomach irritant), and these don't. (Men don't need to take iron daily because our vaginas do not bleed monthly.)

Weekend two

As far as the weight loss is going, this has been a slow week.  Getting to eat vegetables has been fantastic for preventing the hunger I was experiencing last week, and I've been exploring other options to replace the horrid protein shakes—soy nuts, premixed shakes (unfortunately with whey), protein bars, and the like.  This has made things a bit easier.  Unfortunately, this week I'm only down a pound so far, despite my calorie intake being relatively constant and the workouts being more intense.  It's unrealistic to expect me to lose another 8 after switching from liquid meals to solid food, but the downside of having such a big drop last week is that it doesn't give me much wiggle room this week for making visible progress.  I'm guessing that by Monday's dietitian appointment I'll be down a total of 2.  3 would be lucky.

On the upside, I've begun to feel a little bit of change in my health level and weight.  I do feel a little generically "healthier," even though I'm still tired and sore and occasionally hungry.  I have to wear a belt pretty much all the time now; I could get by without one on certain pairs of pants before, but now everything's noticeably looser.  That's encouraging, even if the numbers don't agree.

Windy city

Today was a very windy day.  The house was creaking, trees were bent out of shape, and this afternoon as I crossed the 520 bridge across Lake Washington, the bridge sections were rocking back and forth and there were waves crashing into the cars in the oncoming eastbound lane.  It was all I could do to keep the car headed in a roughly straight line with all of the wind and water.  Waves!  I'm not prepared for this stuff.  We didn't have "water" back in Nebraska.  Sure, sometimes the streets would be fully iced over and people would slide uncontrollably through red lights and bounce off of curbs, but at least the road wasn't moving under you.

Suze Spomer's finance tip # 228

Tip: To save money, don't show up at a pay parking lot that doesn't give change with only twenties and a couple ones.  Especially not when you're already 15 minutes late and it's the only parking spot you could find.

That was an expensive parking spot.  Stupid Seattle.  :(

Currently listening: Enigma—Seven Lives (seizure warning; Good Lord...)