So this is Christmas

... or near enough to it, anyway.  Finished shopping last night (yes, I always wait until the last few days).  Still haven't wrapped anything, but that will be tonight.  Tomorrow, I'm going to my parents' house early to open presents, then staying all day for dinner.  Then back again on the 26th for my step-dad's birthday.  It's the same routine, every year.  I think my mom's likely to be a little more weepy this year, since my step-dad almost didn't make it to this one.  She mostly won't let it show, of course, but it'll be there just under the surface.

"... and what have you done?"

Not much, really.  There was my step-dad's accident, and trying to keep my mother sane throughout it.  I planted a garden on my patio (much of which is still growing).  I went to the Big Island for the first (and possibly last) time.  I did some minor stuff at work.  All in all, a year without much to say for it.

I still haven't gone to the South Pacific, or to the Caribbean like I wanted.  I still haven't really figured out how to balance everything out financially yet (I swing a fair bit).  I tried dating a bit, but haven't had a second date with pretty much anyone (and pretty few first dates).  Still not in the shape I want to be in (though improving).

"Another year over..."

Typically, this time of year, I head off to Guerneville to get away for a few days.  I'm not this year; I'm not going anywhere, actually.  I'm also not telling a certain friend this, because he'll insist on going out for NYE to some restaurant or something and I really don't want to.  No, I'm saving money and vacation time and just staying in.  I'll probably wander over to the Rose Parade, since it's a couple blocks from my apartment and I've never seen it live. 

"... And a new one just begun."

I don't really do resolutions.  I don't really try to plan things out for the new year.  It just seems like so much can happen that anything more than a vague direction is setting yourself up for failure.

All that being said, I'll have slightly more vacation time (I've got basically three weeks of time-off right now), so I may try taking a longer trip or a couple of trips (I'd like to hit the caribbean, but that needs to be in spring before hurricane season starts).  I'd like to keep improving my physical condition.  I'd also like to pick up more consulting work, but that's hard to come by for a DBA and sysadmin.

Not sure if I'll go to Hawaii for my birthday this year.  I told my coworker (who actually has the same birthday, though he's a few years older) that he could take it off this year if he wants (we're actually on a Saturday).  So, we'll see what he plans, if anything.  Some of it may depend on how much I can afford.

I might need to buy a new car this year, too.  Mine's finally starting to show some signs of age, though I don't think it's going to collapse any time soon.  But it's something I need to start planning for in general.

Anyway, happy holidays to everyone out there who cares about them.

Unless we go to the stars

A bunch of friends of mine started re-watching Babylon 5 recently, so I picked up the seasons to run through it a fifth (or 10th, or whatever; I stopped counting) time.  It's probably been 5 or 6 years since the last time I watched it.

And I got to the end of fourth episode of Season 1 - "Infection" - and had to stop for a moment.

Sinclair's being interviewed by a reporter.  Here's the exchange:

Mary Ann Cramer: Is it worth it? Should we just pull back? Forget the whole thing as a bad idea, and take care of our own problems, at home.
Sinclair: No. We have to stay here. And there's a simple reason why. Ask ten different scientists about the environment, population control, genetics, and you'll get ten different answers, but there's one thing every scientist on the planet agrees on. Whether it happens in a hundred years or a thousand years or a million years, eventually our Sun will grow cold and go out. When that happens, it won't just take us. It'll take Marilyn Monroe, and Lao-Tzu, and Einstein, and Morobuto, and Buddy Holly, and Aristophanes… and all of this… all of this… was for nothing. Unless we go to the stars.
That was first broadcast on television in 1994.  I was 16 at the time (I turned 17 a couple months later).  I had, by then, figured out that I was capable of really terrible things - and, in a way, was searching for reasons why I should or shouldn't do them.  I had a basic formulation of an idea, the initial shape of it in my mind - a kind of virtual lump of marble within which was still hidden the statue that I could only reveal by chipping away at the stone.  It took me probably 10 years to realize it - the first time I went back and re-watched the series - but this speech was, and is, a big part of what shaped that eventual reason.

It probably seems pretty grandiose to say so, but if you ever want to know my motivation for anything - literally, anything - start with this notion: that, in a few million years, our sun will die and with it everything in the solar system.  And that's only if we last that long - there's the "cosmic bullet" notion as well, some comet or x-ray beam coming our way that will wipe out all life on the planet.  If we're still here - and only here - then we'll be wiped out, and everything we've done will have been for naught.

I often use the phrase "to teach the world to save itself"; while I'm sure most people think I'm being poetic, I'm really not.  Every little step - every dollar for the homeless, every shoulder offered to cry on, every pleasant smile for a stranger, every encouragement given, every dream fulfilled - is a little step on the path towards the goal of getting us off this planet and out there into space.  On, literally, the path towards saving all known life in the universe.

Progress isn't constant; for every step forward, there's a half step back.  We only progress by averages, but we still progress.  Most of us only ever get a chance to do small things, but the small things add up: to either hold us, as a species, back or help nudge us forward if only a little.  But if "small things" are all I ever get a chance to do, I'll make them as positive as I can.

Stuff and Junk

Major revelation time: I like guys.

Okay, so, maybe not.  But it's a problem I face a lot: I like just regular, average guys.  Not really hyper-masculine, not really feminine, not body builders or models, not even necessarily "good looking" by Hollywood standards.  Just, guys.

Like, the kind of guy everyone knows who doesn't really stand out for any reason.  Our friends in high school, our coworkers, the people we pass driving down the freeway.

It's a problem because it feels discriminatory, even if it isn't.  It's a problem because the vast majority of guys are straight (or mostly straight) and give little if any indication when they're not.  It's a problem because (apparently) not many guys are attracted to me.  It's a problem because it's really hard to find people who don't stand out, especially when your life has been pretty atypical and you're not really that type yourself.

(This revelation brought to you by the realization that most of the people I've encountered on dating sites aren't guys, which is probably why I date very rarely.  I need a new dating site.  Or to try actually going out and meeting people - horror of horrors.)

Separately, I watched a new gay movie called "Geography Club" last night; very "Get Real" in a lot of ways.  [encoded in ROT13 for spoilers]V jbhyq unir zhpu cersreerq n unccl raqvat/obl-trgf-obl guvat; V zrna, vg'f tbrf sbe gur fgnaqvat-hc-sbe-lbhefrys raqvat, juvpu vf bxnl, ohg V'q engure whfg unir n cynva byq ebznagvp raqvat.  [/encoded] Stylistically, it was okay.

Trying to decide what, if anything, to do for NYE.  As always.  Could go back to Guerneville, but I've also thought about taking Amtrak to the snow somewhere.  I suppose I could drive, too.  Maybe Kings Canyon.

Oh well.  Happy turkey day to you all.  Remember, it's the carbs that allow the tryptophan to cross the blood/brain barrier and make you sleepy, so eat all the turkey you want but keep the stuffing and mashed potatoes light.

Bartender, make it a double

There are days when I wish I could drink.

Today is one of those days.

A friend's numerous question life decisions seem like they're finally catching up with him.  Friend is rapidly running out of options, mostly financially, and this is starting to have emergency-room-level consequences on his health.  Friend is looking at losing quite literally everything he owns in 30-60 days (happy new year).

Friend sees me as the only person who can stop this.  I've done this before, in other instances of the same situation - at least, from his perspective.  From mine, it's been totally different.  Still, I can tell he believes I can do it and that it's my duty to do it.

I can't do it.  I've damn near destroyed myself doing it before, and I had far less going on then.  I can't go through this again.  But he's also right, because if I don't, there isn't any other person who will.  If I don't do it, and he doesn't get really lucky really fast (which isn't likely), he's SOL.

This is complicated by a lot of factors.  I've had a lot go right in my life - and some decently horrendous wrong, to be fair, but by and large most people would be envious.  A lot of that "going right" can be tied back to various levels of privilege and some simple luck.  Friend has had a lot go wrong in his life, especially since I've known him, and that places a social burden on me to try and even the score, as it were.

At the same time, though, friend has had a whole lot of opportunities and has generally botched most of them - at least a few times because he was trying to game the system and get even more.  Friend has a sense of entitlement that rivals any political aristocracy: he feels, quite literally, that the world owes him success and comfort simply because he's "brilliant".  He's never had a "real" job, so he has no unemployment or social security coming - he flat-out refuses to acknowledge that "self-employment taxes" (the SDI and SSI you pay when self-employed) exist and so has never paid anything towards them.  I'm not even sure if he could qualify for state supplemental, because he's been getting paid under the table for years and they might discover that (anyone who can do a little math would discover it).

So I'm caught between several feelings: angry that he's in this situation, frustrated with him for trying to put it all on me, duty-bound to help him, really annoyed for feeling like I'm duty-bound to risk everything to help him...

And now, the stress from all this has resulted in him ending up in the emergency room.

Like I said, I need a drink.  Because tomorrow he's going to ask, and I'm going to say no, and it's going to be ugly, but that's the only answer I can give.

He reminds me of Guildenstern: "We cross our bridges when we come to them and burn them behind us, with nothing to show for our progress except a memory of the smell of smoke, and a presumption that once our eyes watered."  But I will not play Rosencrantz.  I know better this time.

Through a glass darkly

I had my eyes dilated as part of an eye exam a few days ago.  After using the "bar light" to examine my retina, the doctor pulled back and immediately said, "Alright, you're ready to go."

As I tried to blink away the massive green blobs that now obscured my vision, I muttered, "Says you..."

She laughed.

It's been probably 6 or 7 years since I've had my eyes checked; as I've got vision coverage at my current job, I've been thinking about getting new glasses for a while.  I finally scheduled the appointment and went in last week.

I don't really need glasses - a fact that was reinforced by this exam.  I'm technically nearsighted, but my correction in both eyes is -0.25 diopters - quite literally the smallest prescription that can be done.  I've also got a very slight astigmatism in my left eye - again, -0.25 at 13 degrees.  In fact, my new prescription is weaker than my last one.

My reading vision is awesome: 20/16 unaided (that's 16 point font at 20 feet, whereas 20/20 is 20 point font at 20 feet).

However, I'm really sensitive to light.  As soon as I sat down in the chair, she looked at me, said, "You're really sensitive to light, aren't you?" and flipped off the overhead lights.

"Yes, actually," I replied.  "What's wrong with my eyes that you can tell that so easily?"

"Oh, nothing's wrong.  You just have really light irises.  Well, they're dark on the outside, but they get very pale as they move inward."

As such, sunglasses are really important to me.  In fact, even the "night-time glasses" I got for driving will be photochromatic and react to headlights and such.  I'll also use them for computer use: most of the time, I sit far enough away from my monitor that reading the screen no longer counts as "reading distance" (at home, I'm about 2.5 feet from the screen) and the anti-glare and tinting can help reduce strain.

I should have them in a week or two.  I might take pictures of both and post 'em.

Step right up

I get really tired of "selling".

Okay, I'm not really in sales, but I sort of am.  I work on a project that requires others to be actively engaged in order to increase adoption.  Right now, we've got about 10% coverage of the institution; for a variety of regulatory reasons, we need to have 100% adoption by the end of 2015 or so.

There are a lot of problems.  One is that we really don't have the staff (on my department's side) to handle a 10-fold increase in the traffic my project generates.  Of course, if we can't show the immediate need for more staff, we won't get it, so we have to push ourselves beyond what we can realistically handle and hope someone decides we're worthy of additional support.

Another problem is the aforementioned engagement: rolling out this project to any new area involves some minor-but-not-zero annoyance and extra work for some already-heavily-worked staff.  It also requires higher-up decision-makers who aren't used to being told what to do to follow our procedures for certain things.  Now, they're the ones who will be hit with the regulatory fines and such, so we have some leverage there, but the carrot is always preferable to the stick.

The net result is that, at least for as long as I've been here, every time I get asked to do a presentation my management "forces" me to turn it into something of a "sales" presentation - who we are (in repetitive detail), why we're awesome, etc.

I understand the reasoning.  I don't even necessarily disagree with it.  I just hate doing it.

The fundamental aspect of sales is convincing people to do something they aren't necessarily inclined to do (otherwise there's no salesmanship needed).  It is, in its distilled form, a kind of manipulation.  That's what bothers me: I have spent a lot of time telling myself, over and over, that manipulation is bad and not something I should be doing.  As someone who is borderline sociopathic, it's really important that I do what I can do internalize this message; the consequences otherwise can be ugly.

And yet, here I am in a situation where I have to relax that inhibition.  The problem isn't that I'm bad at sales (read: manipulation); the problem is that it comes all too naturally to me.  So I end up being really good at doing something that makes me feel really sleazy and very nervous.  And getting cheered and congratulated for activities that feel immoral.

Written for friends

"One for the road?" she asks me,
A sad-sweet smile on her face.
And as I turn to her to reply,
It all seems so out of place.
Here there were dreams that were spoken;
Here there were tales that were spun:
An ocean of tears that were shed here,
A mountain of deeds that were done.
Friendships were made out of strangers,
And causes were wrought out of strife,
The good and the bad and the indifferent:
All of the flavors of life.
But nothing is ever forever,
And eventually time wounds all heals,
The judgment of aeons is final,
And the magistrate hears no appeals.
For those who now gather belongings
And prepare to journey away
Are not who they were when they entered
Through the very same doors yesterday:
Changed for the worse or the better,
But changed they are none-the-less,
And while we differ differently,
We're linked by that differentness.
... The lights are turned up to their brightest
And the trash and debris can be seen
Gathering up in the corners
And strewn all about the scene.
The staff have begun their duties
Putting the place to rest,
They've changed as much as the patrons,
And I know they're doing their best
But closing is different from closure
And the bartender's sad-sweet smile
Begs one last moment of sucrease
To put off the end for a while.
So I sit back down on my stool
And say as she turns to the shelf.
"One for the memories instead, please.
The road can manage for itself."

Slowly Ripening

Wow, it's been a while.

Uhm, let's see.  Still haven't worked on the pictures from the trip this year.  Just haven't had the energy.  Well, that, and FFXIV has been around, so I've been doing the beta and now, for the last week, playing it live.  I'll burn out on it here shortly and get around to doing other things.  The upcoming three-day-weekend may do it, actually.

Some of the gardening stuff is starting to come in. My garlic was basically a failure, but I predicted that: it just didn't get enough time in the ground to really form cloves before it got hot.  The "rounds" are a decent second, though, and I'm drying them now.  I'm getting (very small) Scotch Bonnets every few days, so I'm storing them up to make stuff with later; the one plant I transplanted is bushing out well, so I know what to do for next year.  Picked my first cayenne pepper yesterday.  The mini bells are multiplying and should start ripening in a week or so.  no Thai chili peppers yet; one plant is still around, but I haven't seen it fruit at all.

Tomatoes.  Well, one is starting to ripen; it'll be the first I pick. It's not one of the larger ones, though it's off the tallest plant.  It's probably about 4-5 inchest across; the largest on any of the four vies right now is about 6-7 inches across and still growing, literally filling my hand when I "cup" it.  But oh my god these things are taking a lot of water: each planter has two tomato vines, and I'm pouring two gallons of water into each planter's reservoir every two days.  Since the water is stored *under* the soil and there's a thick layer of mulch, there's very little evaporation taking place.  So, that's half a gallon of water per plant per day.  Even the peppers are taking a lot, albeit not nearly that much.  It's been in the 90s the past week, though, so that has probably increased the amount of water they need.

Work's been interesting.  I've been included in two grants that were submitted for funding (no word yet), and I'm probably going to have my name on publications around a third.  One "side" project I've been working here is finally taking shape, so we'll see how it develops.

I've been emailing back and forth with a couple guys online, but I haven't even really wanted to try to go on a date in months.  Might just be the heat, or post-vacation letdown, or who-knows-what, but I've been pretty apathetic lately about most things.  I still hang out with the one friend every Saturday night, but even with that, I'd really rather blow him off and just stay home.

Part of it is probably that I'm still helping out around my parents' house periodically.  Stepdad's doing a lot better: pretty much the only lasting effects are *improved* kidney function (Mom's still not really believing it, though he's had two tests now with +10% functionality over what he had before) and his left wrist being bad (from where they didn't realize he'd broken it for two weeks).  Still, the wrist thing keeps him from being able to do some tasks, like start a lawn mower.  So, I'm still on a regular go-over-and-mow-the-lawn-and-do-other-stuff schedule.  Don't get me wrong; I don't mind helping out.  I think, though, it's the regular need to help out that is the problem, psychologically.  I've always had this thing of wanting to be wanted but hating to be needed and it's probably coming into play here.

Oh well.  Still waiting for the lottery investment to pay off. 

Hexagram 23

I participate in a few different groups and forums, a few related to game-specific topics (at least generally), a few on general topics.  Two are "safe space" forums, with the intention that people have somewhere to go for emotional, psychological, and/or financial support as well as all the lolcats and such.

One of these is in the process of imploding.

It started with someone trying to preemptively diffuse rumors, and ended up with a bunch of people who generally get along saying really hurtful things (deliberately or otherwise) to or about each other.  This began yesterday (I think; I've been tied up in work since I've been back, so less attentive to such things), and already today we've got longstanding members (who actively needed the safe space as a support group) who have dropped out, others thinking of leaving, and a few people who have been so upset by events that serious, legitimate concerns about self-harm have arisen (they've been contacted and are getting help).

Now, I missed the start due to work stuff and general "back from vacation"-ness.  By the time I realized what was going on, it has escalated to a point where I couldn't participate without making things worse (I have specific experience in my past with the kind of situation that was the flashpoint, but the facts of the situation would have just pissed off everyone rather than helping in any way).  And now, I'm not even sure I want to stick around.  I like these people, but the (very legitimate) drama and fighting and such isn't something I'm comfortable participating in or even watching.  I'm thinking, at this point, I'll probably just stop posting and, once whatever resolution comes around, just quietly slip away: member lists are watched, so if I drop out now, it'll be noticed and probably just escalate the collapse.  I don't want it to collapse - again, some people need this space for mental and emotional support - but I also don't know that it's someplace I want to be in anymore.

Yay for internet stuff.

Anyway, I'm back from vacation, at least physically.  Work's been pretty intense as I catch up - nothing really "went wrong" while I was gone, but there were a few things that had to wait for me.  Also, super-secret (not really) beta I'm in is finishing up the last phase before open beta, so I'm actually able to play it for 5 days in a row this week (which means I'm getting nothing else done).

Plants mostly survived; two of my tomatoes are already almost a foot and a half tall and producing flowers (after about a month), so apparently I'm doing something right.  I had caterpillars in one of the planters (for a type of moth, not horn worms) that pretty much shredded one of my
basil plants and chewed holes in a lot of the tomato leaves, but they've been ejected; I haven't seen any new holes since then.

Next planned trip is Blizzcon in November.

On the night shift

I'm in a small cottage in the middle of a coffee plantation / rainforest on the Big Island of Hawai'i.  It's 9 pm at night.  It's raining (it's a rainforest; it's what they do).

And the chorus is going.

If you've ever listed to one of those "rainforest at night" sleep/white noise tapes, believe me when I say they don't do it justice unless you have the volume turned up loud enough to wake the neighbors.  I've been sleeping extremely well.

My days, not so well.  I mean, my birthday wasn't bad - woke up, spend the morning playing a beta I'm in, then drove across the island to take a lava tour.  That was fun - it's not often you get to have the world's biggest birthday candle.  I didn't try to blow it out though.

But on the way back, I started feeling... off.  Woke up Saturday with a stuffy nose and sore throat.  Sore throat's gone, but still congested, and a 1-mile-each-way walk to a nearby restaurant kicked my ass (whereas I normally walk 4-5 miles for fun).  So, I cancelled my limited plans anyway and just lounged around; tomorrow, I may try driving a bit to see what I can see.  One stop may be the Mauna Kea visitor's center (not going to get to the summit - trouble breathing at sea level doesn't bode well for 15000 feet - but I can at least see the touristy stuff).  I may make it a volcano day and stop at Volcano National Park on the way back (passed it on Friday to/from the lava tour, but didn't have time/energy to stop).  The result would basically be circumnavigating Mauna Loa, but nothing wrong with that.

The place I'm staying at is really a cottage on a coffee plantation.  It's pretty isolated and private; there's a hot tub and lanai where I've been getting some sun (when I'm feeling up to it).  I didn't realize how much of a "rainforest" it was until the first morning I was here, when I realized that the 15 minutes I'd spent outside the night before resulted in quite literally 29 mosquito bites on my legs.  They're mostly healed away now, but I still have the red splotches.

Self-imposed isolation here is actually probably just what I needed.  I mean, Saturday was planned to stay in anyway (the beta I'm in is only open for a couple days a week, and I'm really enjoying it) (hey, it's my vacation, I can spend my time in Hawaii playing video games if I want), but I knew I'd likely have limited socialization while I'm here, and that's fine.  Gives me a recharge after a few months of being emotional support for people.

I'm on this island until Wednesday, anyway, then flying to Maui - where there'll likely be a lot of socializing, or at least the opportunity for it, for four nights.

I think I may have one more trip to the big island, but over to the Hilo side next time.  But that's for later.

Running low

So, I'm borderline APD.  That's Antisocial Personality Disorder - the clinical diagnosis for people who we casually call "sociopaths".

The ICD-10 description:
Personality disorder, usually coming to attention because of a gross disparity between behaviour and the prevailing social norms, and characterized by at least 3 of the following:
(a) callous unconcern for the feelings of others;
(b) gross and persistent attitude of irresponsibility and disregard for social norms, rules and obligations;
(c) incapacity to maintain enduring relationships, though having no difficulty in establishing them;
(d) very low tolerance to frustration and a low threshold for discharge of aggression, including violence;
(e) incapacity to experience guilt and to profit from experience, particularly punishment;
(f) marked proneness to blame others, or to offer plausible rationalizations, for the behaviour that has brought the patient into conflict with society.
(a) - Not so much "callous", though I have to actually think about the fact that other people have feelings to account for them.
(b) - Disregard, yes; irresponsibility, depends on who you ask.
(c) - Arguable.  I have some long-term relationships, but they're largely superficial by others' standards.
(d) - Totally non-violent, but I get frustrated pretty easily.
(e) - My lack of guilt is notorious.  My mother learned early on that "punishment" was useless on me.  I had to be educated why something was wrong or bad, not just punished.
(f) - One that I definitely don't have, for obvious reasons.

So, I have most of the basic underlying characteristics.  As a teenager, I probably qualified for (a) and (b) almost totally.

Anyway, the point is that without my conscious efforts against this sort of thing - and it's very definitely energy expended and conscious effort - I slip more into the sociopathic personality.  It's a big part of why "people", in general, tire me out.

Since my step-dad's accident - wait.  I haven't talked about that in a while.  So, update time.

So, when last we met, step-dad was in the hospital.  They kept him almost totally sedated for like 2 weeks while his lungs healed.  Once it was time to ween him off of the respirator, they had to let him wake up - which wasn't at all fun for him.  But, he got off of it.  They discovered that - in addition to breaking his pelvis, cracking a vertebra, and breaking all his ribs - that he'd also broken his left wrist.  Of course, they didn't discover this until after 17 days or so, so it will likely never be the same though he'll still have some use of it.

He was transferred from the ER to an in-plan facility, where he didn't actually stay long; they basically said, "He's healing, there's not much else that can be done, let's get him to rehab."  "Rehab" is a nice name for a nursing home.  He was there less than a week until he had to get checked back into the hospital because of blood pressure issues (the new meds they insisted on him using were causing major blood pressure drops).  When he left the hospital the second time - after only one night's stay - they sent him home.

Mom got a hospital bed for the downstairs, and the first two nights I stayed over; I basically didn't sleep for 72 hours or so.  The problems were many.  To start with, his sleep cycle was all screwed up from the hospitals.  Second, with the neck collar on, he was having severe sleep apnea and couldn't sleep for more than an hour or so at a time.

Third and possibly the most complicating, he wanted to get better and started to "push" himself to do things.  He couldn't really do this during the day, as mom was being protective to the point of inhibitory.  So, he did them at night, when I was around.  My policy - as I told him the first time he got up to walk himself down the hallway to the bathroom - was that I wouldn't stop him or interfere but that I was there if he needed help.  Mom found out about this at one point and threw a fit, but I successfully defused her and sent her back to bed.

So, I was basically up all night both nights, "just in case": I had to rescue him a couple of times, but nothing too bad.  Mostly, though, he learned not only that he had limits but that they were much further than even he thought they might be, so his progress the next week was even better.

The problem was that I was also needed during the day, to do some basic work around the house and help my mom out with things.  So, from getting up to go to work on Thursday until getting home Saturday at 11ish, I slept about 3 or 4 hours, mostly in short breaks.  Saturday morning (and by arrangements prior to knowing he'd be home then, so it worked out well), I picked up his sister from the airport; she stayed with them for a week, freeing me up to go to work.

Still I've been there every weekend and been "an ear" for my mom to vent to when she needs.  Which means that, as I was saying a half-dozen paragraphs up, since my step-dad's accident, I've been "forced" into social roles almost constantly (between work and taking care of them).  The effect of this has been mental exhaustion, something I only put two and two together to come up with this last week.

One side-effect: my plants.  See, the OCD is usually kept under control by force of will: I tend to catch myself obsessing and mitigate it.  The plant stuff started about 10 days after the accident and has been a constant thing since.  There are times (looking back, those times when I was most exhausted) where I would literally check on seedlings or the outdoor plants every 20-30 minutes.  I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about breeding garlic or buying more plants to do something else with.  I actually killed one rosemary bush by over-watering.  Lest people think, "at least it's something innocuous," I've also spent probably $1200 on various pots and equipment and such - all just to grow some peppers and spices and tomatoes.

Now, most of that effort - and money - can be leveraged for years to come.  But it's the kind of thing that wouldn't happen except I don't have the mental energy to fight it (or even recognize it). I've also been slipping more into sociopath-mode for the same period; mostly, this shows up as being more short-tempered and less "personable" at the office and with friends.  I'm not working as diligently on some of my projects as I should be, and I keep coming up with "new" projects to do (mostly gardening related).

In 15 days, I fly off to Hawaii for 10 days.  I'm still going to my parents' house this weekend (father's day) and next weekend (mowing the lawn), but hopefully things will be largely back to normal by the time I get back (he really is progressing well).  I really need this vacation.

Lay of the land

So, I've moved things around a little bit and added a couple of pots since this was taken about 2 weeks ago, but this is roughly my balcony.

The two "strawberry pots" at either end (the 3-tier ones) are the herb pots.  So far I've got sprouts or plants for rosemary, oregano, basil, dill, cilantro, savory, and mustard (in a different pot since it gets big and messy, but it's not pictured).  I've yet to see sprouts for marjoram, thyme, chives, garlic chives, parsley, or sage, but since most of the rest already sprouted, they should be coming soon.  For most of the herbs, I soaked the seeds first (up to 24 hours; some less), which is supposed to help them sprout faster.  The only herb I didn't grow from seeds is the rosemary, and that's because I couldn't find any (it's apparently a controlled plant in some states).  The first one, I nearly killed by overwatering, but (after re-planting) it seems like it might come back.  I bought a second though, just in case.

The four smaller pots (10", but you can't tell) in the corners are Scotch Bonnet peppers; I got those as plants, simply because I couldn't find seeds for them anywhere.  They're still doing well.

The two tiny pots in the middle are just a couple of cacti that my ex-roommate left.

The four planters are, from far to near, mini bell peppers, cayenne peppers, thai chili peppers, and garlic.  The peppers haven't sprouted yet, but I didn't know to soak them beforehand (they got planted a few days before the herbs).  The garlic has started to sprout: of the 14 or so cloves I planted, 2 are already shooting up stalks; it's a variety called Silver Rose, which is apparently really well-suited for southern California.

I'm also trying to grow some tomatoes from seeds; my first attempt ended horribly (too hot/too wet), so I'm trying again with a more controlled environment and not overwatering.

All the pots except the strawberry pots are "self-watering": they have reserves in the bottom that soak up through the soil.  I have actual watering systems for the herbs, so that they get enough-but-not-too-much water going forward.  The key to ADHDgardening is to make sure it can survive in spite of me :)

Anyway, there's my "garden".  The big blue thing is obviously my hammock.

Not quite the walled garden

On the lighter side...

I'm trying to grow stuff.  This is probably a bad idea, but whatever.

See, my apartment has a balcony that faces south and I'm on the top floor of a 3-story building.  Since I'm in the northern hemisphere, this means it gets a lot of sunlight - so much so that it actually heats up my living room a fair bit, even with the overhang.  Which is also there, so that while in the winter I get a lot of sun, in the summer, I get sun in the morning and the evening but not at high noon (because the overhang shields most of the patio).

This, combined with the moderate weather of southern California, makes the balcony pretty much the ideal place to grow stuff.  At least in theory.

The first step was to get a covering for the balcony floor, since it's just concrete and that's both ugly and hot.  This was done with fake green grass - cheap stuff, but it works pretty well.  Once I did that, I thought, "hrm, it'd be nice to have some planters or such..."; the rest, as they say, is history.

At this point, I have four 24" planters, 5 10" pots, 1 12" pot, and a couple of 12"x3 level "strawberry pots".  Yeah, never give an OCD person a new toy to play with.

In actual plants, I have 4 scotch bonnet peppers and a rosemary bush.  The SBs are doing awesome, as far as I can tell: there's new growth and such.  The rosemary is looking a little unhappy, but that may be me over-watering it, so I'm going to change some stuff when I get home.  The rest of the pots and planters and such were planted with seeds: cayenne and thai chili peppers, some mini bell peppers, some garlic that does really well in the area, and a broad assortment of herbs.  I'm also trying to get some tomato seedlings to start in the second bedroom-cum-greenhouse (it's the hottest room anyway, so it works).

So far, none of the seeds have sprouted, but that's pretty typical for most of them.  The exception is the basil - that should have started showing by now (it's been about 4-5 days).  I'll give it until the weekend, probably, and then maybe try starting some seedlings indoors first (depending on how the tomatoes do, though I may have screwed those up by letting them dry out).  I've got extra seeds for everything but the SBs (which are fine) and the rosemary, so I can start over entirely if needed.

However, since I know me, I also got self-watering pots and planters and, for the ones that aren't, an automated watering system (which is what I have to adjust for the rosemary; I need to move the spout and probably reduce the frequency).  ADHD gardening at its finest.

We'll see how this all works out.  Assuming I get some signs of greenery here in the next week, I'll take snaps and post 'em.

Just a gimmick

"Suppose I were an extraterrestrial," the man said quietly.  "Suppose I were several million years ahead of this planet.  What one question would you ask me?"

"Why is there so much violence and hatred among us?" Benny asked at once.

"It's always that way on primitive planets," the man said.  "The early stages of evolution are never pretty."

"Do planets grow up?" Benny asked.

"Some of them," the man said simply.


"Through suffering enough, they learn wisdom."

Benny turned and looked at his odd companion.  He *is* an actor, he thought.  "Through suffering," he repeated.  "There's no other way?"

"Not in the primitive stages," the man said.  "Primitives are too self-centered to ask the important questions, until suffering forces them to ask."

Benny felt the grief pass through him again, and leave.  He grinned.  "You play this game very well."

"Anybody can do it," the man said.  "It's a gimmick, to get outside your usual mind-set.  You can do it too.  Just try for a minute - you be the advanced intelligence, and I'll be the primitive Terran.  Okay?"

"Sure," Benny said, enjoying this.

"Why me?" The stranger's tone was intense.  "Why have I been singled out for so much injustice and pain?"

"There is no known answer to that," Benny said at once.  "Some say it's just chance - hazard - statistics.  Some say there is a Plan, and that you were chosen to learn an important lesson.  Nobody knows, really.  The important thing is to ask the next question."

"And what is the next question?"

Benny felt as if this was easy.  "The next question is, What do I do about it?  How ever many minutes or hours or years or decades I have left, what do I do to make sense out of it all?"

"Hey, that's good," the stranger said.  "You play Higher Intelligence very well."

"It's just a gimmick," Benny said...
That passage is from The Universe Next Door by Robert Anton Wilson.  It's one of my favorite books, and while the novel as a whole is pretty chaotic, this passage is one of the most coherent, simple, straight-forward expressions of an idea I like that I've ever read.

I have no empathy - or, at least, so little that it might as well be none.  I don't qualify for Antisocial Personality Disorder solely on the basis that I'm not violent (I dislike violence and destruction in general).  I think a big part of it is that I don't feel like a member of the same species as everyone else, so that no one ever feels like "one of us" to me.  Everyone's a stranger.  I can stand in a room full of close friends and family and still feel completely isolated and alone.

Now, don't get me wrong - I fake empathy well enough that most people just think I'm a little distant/weird.  Jokes about Vulcans and robots and "typical IT personality" surround me, but they're "just jokes" to most people.  The truth is, I'm actually a fairly good student of human psychology and extremely adept at both manipulation and faking.

And, yet, I don't do it (most of the time; I admit to slipping once in a while).  I don't take advantage of people or abuse others' emotional states.  In fact, I'm often the person who is more concerned that others aren't being mistreated or feeling left out or abused: I'm better at seeing it, because I know how I would do it if I wanted to.

Sometimes, having no empathy is an advantage.  My step-father hurt himself pretty badly last week, and I spent the first 24 hours after trying to keep my mother from going into emotional meltdown.  Her statement, once he started improving and she started being less frantic, was, "You're my rock."  Yep, that's me - the rock, the stone, the one who isn't moved.  She meant it as a compliment, as most people do, implying some kind of virtue on my part for sacrificing my own emotional needs to be supportive of others.  Except, I had none, so there was nothing to sacrifice.

What it is, really, is what the passage at the start of this post asks: even if there's suffering in this world, even if there's tragedy or personal struggle, the question we should ask is, "What am I going to do about it?"  I decided I dislike such things, aesthetically, so I do what I can to stop them: to help those who need help, to be the rock for those who need a rock, or even to just give a single moment of hope to someone who otherwise might not have it.  It's what I mean when I say, "I can't save the world, but if I can save one person, I can help teach the world to save itself."

Think about that this week while you lament the cowardice of the bombing of Boston or shake your head in disbelief at the explosion in Texas.  Instead of asking why - why they would do such a thing, why regulators let such a dangerous place be surrounded by families - ask what you, yourself, are going to do about it: a $5 gift to a charity, donating blood at the local hospital, a different vote on the next ballot, whatever it may be.  It doesn't have to be much - there may not be much you can do - but a few hundred million people doing a little is a whole lot better than seven billion doing nothing.

And think about what the advanced intelligence would say to the primitive Terran.  What harm can it do?  It's just a gimmick.


I'm just going to dump this here, because that's what this is for, right?

So, the last couple of days, I've been thinking over an idea.  It's a small, stupid thing, but 1) I think it's patentable and 2) it's the kind of small, stupid thing that could either be a waste of the filing fee or make millions.  I've been spinning it my head (literally, in some cases; yay for mental 3d rendering engines) and will probably, in the next few days or week or so, actually make a model of it that could be sent to a prototyping house or something (I'm pretty good with CAD programs).

The problem?  While I think it'd be a good idea to bounce the idea off of a few other people, the mere thought of bringing up even the fact that I have an idea that could be monetized, much less the specifics of it, around most of my friends makes me cringe.

I hang around a lot of people who stylize themselves as "creative types" - writers, actors, movie folk, even graphic designers or system architects.  People who are used to being the ones who create ideas and leverage them.  It's great - there are all these people I know who always have fascinating perspectives or new insights.

I'm not thought of that way.  I'm the support person - the adapter, the improver, the guy who fixes things or makes them work better.  People come up with an idea, then come to me to ask my advice on how to make it more practical or more realistic or more fiscally sound.  Throughout all of this, it's their idea - I'm just helping out.

The few times I've come up with things on my own and mentioned them, they've been... well, co-opted is a good phrase.  Suddenly my idea becomes "our idea" or even their idea (especially if they decide, unilaterally, that some facet of what I've described isn't perfect and, therefore, by changing it they own most or all of the idea).  This isn't me being paranoid - I've had one friend take over at least two ideas for stories, and another latched on to a marketing concept I mused on randomly one day and actively try to make it work (without acknowledging it being my idea at all).  Others seem to just assume that whatever I'm saying must be some extension of something they've come up with and, thus, is theirs to do what they like with (I've been told that at least once point-blank by someone I no longer speak to).

I have to say, writing that makes me more than a little uncomfortable: I've gotten so used to being the support person that even saying, "No! Mine!" about something I legitimately came up with on my own feels selfish or egocentric.  But, that's the way it always seems to be: no matter what happens, control of the idea is taken away from me.  Maybe it's meant as a compliment (that they think it's good enough that they want to work on it with me), or maybe they don't realize they're doing it.  The discomfort/selfish feeling is compounded by the fact that, legitimately, I'm in a better financial position than most of my friends (for a variety of reasons) so that, by wanting to maintain ownership, I'm selfishly denying them a share of profits or whatever (assuming there are any).

It's extremely frustrating.  It's one of those moments that makes you wonder - makes me wonder - if, in fact, I have the "right" friends.  I think I do, for the most part; they're great people in a lot of ways, and they certainly put up with many of my eccentricities.  It's just that, on this issue, I feel both trapped and almost guilty for feeling trapped (and then annoyance beats out guilt, because I always think of guilt as a useless emotion).

Anyway, that's a distraction for the moment: I've got an idea, and no one I feel comfortable talking to about it.  And that's pretty sad.  There are far worse things going on in the world, so this is definitely a #firstworldproblems moment, but still.

Sprung forward

Y'all (at least, those in the US) remembered to change your clocks this morning, right?

... The part I hate most about consulting is waiting for people to pay me.  For the consistent jobs, it's just a matter of getting through the first billing-to-payment gap; after that, things start going fairly regularly.  When you're only invoicing every months, though, that ends up being a pretty big gap.  I'm very glad I have the day job and that this is mostly "fun money".

Didn't do yoga today.  I got in to lotus, which is how the dvd starts, and immediately started feeling my back muscles vibrating.  They've been a little sore/stiff the last few days, but this was "more than a little", so I took it as a hint and instead walked a few miles (I still did my rowing; that's before yoga).  It's all working, though.  I'm up to 38% muscle, down to 18% body fat.  Not all that amazing numbers, I know, but better than I was: targets to adult men are 42-50% and 14-17%, theoretically, and I started off at 36% and 21%.  So, basically, in 2 months I've converted 6 lbs of fat into 4 lbs of muscle.  If I can keep this up (and I certainly plan to), I ought to be in the ideal range within another couple of months.  Also, the scale is only approximate - I *think* I'm actually a little better than it's reporting, but it's at least a useful guideline to measure progress if not exact details.

I'm also noticing *some* changes to clothes: shirts are a little tighter, pants a little looser.  I can also see some changes physically, which is one of the big payoffs of course :)  Another big payoff, though, is that I can also feel the phsyiological changes when I try to do various things.  For example, even after only a week, some of the yoga exercises that I collapsed out of early on the first few days I can hold (albeit barely) for the whole duration now.

I also got a nifty (and free, so even better) media server set up on my computer so I can share my dvds and mp3s on whatever device I'm using, at home or out and about.  The dvds, I use so that I can run my yoga stuff from my Android tablet (which doesn't have an optical drive); today, on a whim, I used my cell phone (Windows 8) to stream music (The Beach soundtrack, if you must know - trust me, it's paradise) on my walk rather than grabbing my old ipod from the car.  There's a little bit of "ooh! new toy!" here, but I can really see this being useful.  I may actually get around to building that full-fledged home server that I wanted to make now.

15 weeks until Hawai'i.  Haven't decided if I want to do something for Memorial Day yet - might be something quick, unlike last year's 1400 mile drive (which was fun, don't get me wrong).  Also thought about hitting the white party, though I don't think I'll quite be in shape yet for that (it's at the end of March).

... Well, I've got breathing down pretty well...

... Holy fuck, yoga's kicking my ass.

It's probably not helping that I'm doing it after rowing.  It's also only my second day, though at least I made it all the way through the video today (even if I collapsed out of some of the poses early).  I definitely feel like my ass hurts, and not in a good way.

It's kind of strange: I'm really flexible in certain ways, and really stiff in others.  Like, for years, I've been able to cross my legs and then lay my forehead on the floor, but my achilles tendons are wound super-tight.  I fully assumed it would take a while to get into and up to even basic speed, but I didn't realize how much I needed to loosen up.

Didn't make it to the pool today, but I do have my goggles.

Anyway, off to try and relax some of the muscles for a while, then it's Jack the Giant Slayer tonight.

Checking in

So, just sent off my passport for renewal.  It doesn't expire until May, but I have this irrational fear that I'll suddenly have somewhere awesome to go last-minute for Memorial Day and won't be able to because it'll have just been mailed off for renewal.  As it is, I'm now in a low-grade stress on the (totally unlikely) possibilities of work needing me to travel somewhere in the next few weeks.

Yes, folks, this is what OCD is really like.

In other news, taxes are filed.  I'm getting almost $3000 back in total, which is nice and more than pays for my birthday vacation.  I'm also doing more consulting; not a huge amount, but $1500 a month or so at this point.  The woman I did the huge job for a couple years ago has stated she might want to use me for a slightly-smaller-but-still-decent thing this summer, and the guy I'm doing the stats analysis for wants us to keep going at least until the end of April.  Plus, I'm still doing some work for my old employer; that's mostly tapered off for the moment, but they're going to want me to help them with an upgrade in a month or two, and that's likely to be 30-40 hours of work over a couple months.

If I start getting steady enough income through consulting, say after-taxes $1000 a month or so, I may bump up my 403b contribution at work.  Max for us folk under 50 is $17,500 a year; I'm at about a third of that now.  I doubt I'll max out unless I start making $2k or more after taxes each month on the side; that being said, money that goes to the 403b (it's like a 401k, but for non-profits) is pre-tax, so every $100 only "costs" me about $75 out of my paycheck.  Something to think about, certainly.

I also have to think about setting money aside for a new car at some point.  That's a long ways off (unless someone dumps $40k or so in my lap), but it's still something to plan for.

Photos aren't selling, but hey, not too worried about that.  Doesn't really cost me anything to leave them up on the site, and I keep nudging them every now and then.

I'm still working out on the rowing machine every day.  I'm definitely getting results, though it's obviously slow.  I've also decided that, starting in March, I'm going to try one of those beginner at-home Yoga things when I get bored/have free time/feel like it.  Definitely, being able to exercise in my own time in my living room is a huge huge thing for me.

I'm also going to try to get into swimming once the weather really warms up; it's supposed to be in the 80s on Saturday, so I may see about getting in the pool a little then.  I can swim - my dad never would have let me on the boat if I couldn't - but I've never really liked doing it.  I think it's time to try to get over that dislike if possible.  I've got swim goggles to help out.

Let's see, money, fitness... oh, yes! Cooking...

I've pretty much switched to eating at home all but one night a week.  Really, that's being "forced" by my working out: I do so as soon as I get home, so I can't really stop and get food on the way home.  Once I'm here, it's just easier to eat in than go out.  I've gotten a little more into cooking as a result, and I've also gotten back into munching salads a couple nights a week.  Eating better, combined with the workout, means that while I'm not actually losing much weight, I'm actually losing body fat slowly.  So, yay for that.  Plus, it ends up being cheaper, so some money saved.

This whole "being an adult" thing is a little dull, but I guess it has its advantages.  Still, after writing all that crap above, I feel the irrational need to finger-paint the walls.

Plowing the carpet

I have callouses on my fingers. Even with gloves, they still develop.  I think of them in a joking way as a badge of honor.

So, it's been about three weeks since I started rowing every day - just 10 minutes to start with, though I've been ramping up the resistance.  I'm definitely getting broader in the chest, but that's not necessarily saying much: this is the first time in my life when my chest hasn't been defined primarily by my ribcage.  At this point, I'm going to start increasing the duration bit by bit, working my way up to a 20-minute session hopefully; most of what I've read puts this as the practical "cap" for even extremely-fit people.

And, yes, by "every day" I mean every day.  I've long tried to abide by the "work a single muscle group once or twice a week" method, and while I've had some results with that over the years, it's never really worked well.  This is showing a significant amount of improvement in a relatively short period of time.  I doubt it will progress as quickly in the future, but I'm off to a decent start already.

(Just for the record, this is what I have.)

So far, I haven't changed my diet at all, but I'm losing a little bit of weight (with the extra mass and calories burnt, that's not unreasonable).  I figure I'll keep this up until the end of February, give or take, and then start working a little more on eating better.  I doubt I'll be in any condition to go to the white party (which is 3/31), but I'll hopefully be pretty well off by my birthday at the end of June.

... Oh, right, birthday.  Just booked my annual pilgrimage to Hawaii. This time, I'll be spending 7 days just south of Kona before heading to my usual spot on Maui for the 4th of July (and a few days after).  This'll be the first time in years that I haven't been on Maui for my birthday, but I'm a little conflicted about the changes they made to the resort: they look decent, but I don't know how they'll play out in experiencing them.  We'll see.  They also jacked the prices up a fair bit (like, 20-30%), so that's a consideration as well: I'm spending more on 4 nights in Maui that I'm spending for 7 in Kona.

I also had to do the flights in 3 separate reservations to minimize the number of miles I'm spending, but I'm basically getting first-class fights from LAX to Kona, Kona to Maui, and Maui back to LAX for a less than $400 total.  Looks like all those years of booking my own business travel at the last company were actually useful.

Uhm, dating-wise, nothing in a while.  No worries on that - I don't think I'm the kind of guy most guys are looking for.  Doesn't hurt to leave the page up, though.

Finally, best-friend's wife is preggers (yay!) but not necessarily doing well (boo!) - she already miscarried once, a year ago or so, so they're really worried about this one.  But, as a result, he's really thinking about getting a job closer to home (he's about an hour away now).  There'll likely be fallout from that, but oh well.  We'll manage.

... Stands on golden sands...

Okay, so, time for a fun topic...


It's a new year, and it's time for me to start looking at what I want to do for my birthday.  My usual is Maui, of course, but the Sunseeker's had some changes and I'm not sure how it'll end up being.  For one, while the sundeck looks a lot better now, they got rid of the hot tub up there, which was one of the highlights to me.  The result means everyone's likely going to be a bit more spread out, so the feel's going to change a bit.

My rough plan was to hit up Kauai or the Big Island before/after Maui.  I've got enough vacation time for up to a couple weeks out there, now that I'm earning 3 weeks a year, and I could easily spend a week on, say, the big island and then hop over to Maui for a few days.  The problem with that is that I'm kind of picky where I stay: one, I prefer gay-owned properties, just as a support-the-community thing (though I'm not adamant about it); and two, I really really prefer clothing-optional places.  That leaves me with like 2 options on Kauai and a handful on Hawai'i, none of which look all that appealing to me.  This is one I'm considering, though the reviews are a bit hit-and-miss on the facilities themselves (the staff is apparently great).

Perhaps a little oddly, part of why they're not appealing is that they're too private: one thing that's nice about the Sunseeker, as well as the Highlands Resort in Guerneville and a few other places I've gone to, is that while you can be private and alone, there's also the option to socialize a bit in the resort: they're big enough that there's a variety of people there.  The fact that I like traveling alone and making my own plans doesn't mean that I also don't occasionally meet cool and fun people when I travel.  Hawaii as a whole doesn't have much "centralized" gay culture outside of Honolulu, and I'm not much of a bar person anyway.  If the place I stay at doesn't have a socialization factor, I'm probably not going to get much of it at all.  While that's likely okay (and even sought-out sometimes) for a little while, after 4 or 5 days I'm liable to want to socialize.

That doesn't mean I've ruled those out as options, but it's just something to consider.

As a result, I'm also looking at a few other possibilities.  I've always loved sailing, and I've probably mentioned a desire to go to the south pacific and other places on sailing cruises.  So, I came across this - and, specifically, these.  The timing's wrong for a birthday trip, but I may keep my birthday down to a week (and just hit Sunseeker or something) and save the time/money to go on another vacation later.  I might save that for next spring's St. Martin trip, though Greece sounds interesting.

There's also still one of the more mainstream cruises, though I think the one cruise that I was looking at for Tahiti doesn't sail there any more.

In addition, I've been told I ought to hit up Cairns in Australia at some point, though that's definitely September-March thing.

I could also do something more tame, like heading to Key West or Ft. Lauderdale, or more adventurous, like Paris.

I don't know.  Too many options, none of them "perfect" yet.

So, any of you have any ideas?  I doubt any of you are also likes-to-get-naked-on-vacation people, but in general?

(Title from Somewhere Beyond the Sea)