A Short Update

Life throws us curveballs. But, you now know that I strive to be ‘mentally tight’ and ‘revert to myself.’ That’s why I wanted to take a minute to reflect — more for myself than for you, my mysterious reader — on my plans for getting back to being me.

Two websites? Why not four?

I’d been blogging here, and working on my django-powered EFL worksheet generator. That seemed like plenty of activity, right? However, as the worksheet generator gets closer to counting as ‘finished,’ I wanted people to use it. And, ideally, to pay for it.

I could pay for ads. (And I might, yet.) But, my first plan is to try something cheaper: make more websites that are free, and sort of ‘sponsor’ them with the worksheet generator.

A blog for EFL/EAL teachers

I’ve started a blog about teaching — both a how-to out of my ten years of experience and reflections on my attempts to improve — which seems like a good place to find people who are still forming their own teaching habits. (My basic target group: why try to sell yourself to people who already have routines? Let their colleagues convince them my product is great.)

As it takes shape, I’ll mention more here. (I seem to benefit from writing about the things I’m doing.)

My free EFL resource website

For a time, I had a page on this blog that hosted PDF files of reading/business activities I’d made. However, as long as it was all ‘one site’ I felt like I had to have my ‘teacher face’ on, and not just my rambly-self face. And I wanted this to be a place where I sort of reflected and rambled about all the projects, not just the classroom ones.

So, I moved the New Spork City worksheets to another site. The idea is that I can promote it a bit (the plan now is just to upload worksheets to resource trading sites — maybe post answers on Quora) and it can showcase both my great stories (I’m proud of them independently from any kind of self-promotion) and the worksheets that I make.

More work… Only maybe

The thing is, I’m not sure I’m working harder now. I mean, I’m spending more time typing at a computer. That’s for sure. And I’m a bit tighter stretched for time (family drama contributes to that — but the O’Malley family can benefit from my own family drama — you’ll eventually read it there.)

But, reflecting in writing is good for me. Maybe I’d be just as well off with a Google Doc or a journal. But, this is what I’m doing and I hope it all takes a direction.

Finishing

I’m pushing hard on the Obstacle is the Way. And, I want to ‘finish up’ Dynamic EFL. (I have a list of things to do to consider it ‘finished,’ as well as a list of things that I want to learn — and then include — for version 2.0)

I even have a cigar already bought, which I’m going to smoke when both things are done. (You’ll know, because I’m looking forward to celebrating becoming a ‘finisher‘ here.) I hope that there will be an extra burst of energy that comes with completing a task and turning to face the next task. (In coding, that probably means the fantasy pilgrimage. In teaching, that probably means everything but vocab review.)

Balance

The things I write about here are all secondary to my goal of being a great dad and at least an average husband. (The wife doesn’t read this, it’s okay.) And, while these things give me a focus and a direction — and help me in my professional life — they aren’t everything.

I’ve been trying to be more active about adding balance to my life, including working out every day, reading more, putting my phone down, and even drawing when I had time in the summer. (I’d like to do more — I’m convinced that it’s as close to meditation as I’ve come, yet.)

Ideally, I’ll write a little about those things, too.

Writing is, after all, good for me.

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The slow run you take is better than the speedwork you skip

It’s been hot here. Really, really hot.

I’m not complaining — I’ll take heat over cold any day — but it’s been the kind of weather that makes all movement a sweat-soaked enterprise.

But, I ran. I’m a runner, and runners run. (In addition to me prioritizing exercise as a superpower.) But I didn’t run fast.

The Wednesday speedwork was just a slow run with burpees in the shade. Friday’s mid-distance run was just a simple 5k with more burpees.

But, I ran.

I’m a big believer that the perfect is the enemy of the good. And, as an extrapolation of that, the slow run you take is better than the speedwork you skip.

There is sugar everywhere!

kidneybeans

The sugar fast update

Of course, I planned to be able to write that I didn’t cheat at all in my sugar fast. After beginning a day earlier than I planned — I didn’t eat the chocolate I had planned to eat — I thought it would be a pretty simple experiment for me.

After all, I don’t eat that much sugar.

That’s a joke.

“I’m not feeling so great”

On Wednesday and Thursday, three and four days after beginning the fast, I felt crappy. I couldn’t place what my exact complaint was, but it was there. I found it hard to get myself started on anything and did a lot of sitting and staring at walls until deadlines made me move.

I had a headache, and a pain I used to have in my neck, shoulder, and arm came back. (I still have it. I thought doing planks had helped.) I complained a lot to my wife, who observed that she didn’t think I had eaten so much sugar that I should have withdrawal symptoms, did I quit anything else?

Yes, I quit alcohol along with sugar (because it’s basically good-feeling sugar water, right?). But, even less than I liked having withdrawal symptoms from sugar, I didn’t like the idea that I had withdrawal symptoms from alcohol.

By Friday, though, I was happily buying a Granny Smith apple to eat in a meeting where I knew that my boss would be bringing cake. I wanted to have something to put in my mouth to avoid the temptation.

“What can you eat?”

When I talk to people about this, they have ask the obvious question. And it’s both more and less than you might think. First, I’m not trying to be strictly plant-based doing this… though that’s where I’d want to end up again.

Secondly, I’m not avoiding all carbs — or even all sugars — just the refined ones that have been added to something. Snacking on blueberries? Acceptable. Eating apples? You betcha. Pasta? Yes, please.

But, I took the photo at the top of the post to send to friends in protest. After I’d made my ‘healthy’ lunch (and I’m enjoying the minimalist element of my life right now), I saw on the back of the can that kidney beans have added sugar.

What?!

That was today’s lunch, and it wasn’t my first time ‘cheating.’ Last Tuesday, my wife cooked some pre-marinated chicken that we’d bought for a barbecue and didn’t grill. There’s a good chance there was sugar in the marinade. (And I still felt like crap on Wednesday!)

On Sunday, we had a really great pan-fried pasta-and-sausage thing. Delicious. But there was dextrose in the sausage. And, yesterday, my wife thought she was doing me a favor by buying me one of those sushi-to-go things. It was great to come home to after teaching until nine thirty.

After I ate the sushi, though, I turned the package over out of curiosity and… there was sugar in the rice.

Results

I can report that my energy is getting back to usual. I don’t know if that’s a result of the sun coming out, or the end of some mythical “withdrawal.” And, I feel good and mentally sharp. What’s more, I feel mentally sharp later in the day.

The mental sharpness could be an artifact of the placebo effect, but I’m looking forward to seeing how it continues.

My weight is slowly but steadily dropping. I’m down about a half kilo since I started this, but that could just as easily be the result of quitting alcohol as of anything else.

Lastly, I’m finding it easier to stick with fitness goals, like the ones I set in January. (I should get back to writing up those plans/reflections). That could be because I’m generally more motivated to see a return on my ‘investment,’ or it could be because my overall energy/motivation level isn’t changing as much.

I’ll keep you posted.

Do your job, do it right

Continuing my tradition of writing on each chapter in The Obstacle is the Way, and following my last post on this, continuing in my tradition of disagreeing slightly with Ryan Holiday.

This chapter begins with a story of Andrew Johnson being proud of his working-class origins, not as a link to the mythical ‘common man,’ but because he was a good tailor and continued to be proud of excelling even in humble work.

Then, it goes on to talk about James Garfield:

… paid his way through college in 1851 by persuading his school, the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute, to let him be the janitor in exchange for tuition. He did the job every day smiling and without a hint of shame. Each morning, he’d ring the university’s bell tower to start the classes–his day already having long begun–and stomp to class with cheer and eagerness.

Within just one year of starting at the school he was a professor–teaching a full course load in addition to his studies. By his twenty-sixth birthday he was the dean.

This is what happens when you do your job–whatever it is–and do it well.

I take objection to the last line. I could take objection because “hard work is its own reward” precludes doing hard work only because you expect returns of the sort that James Garfield got. But that’s not why. I think it’s ridiculous to hold up such a rags-to-riches story as an example of “what happens when you do your job” in 2018.

It’s not that I agree with the value of doing hard work. I believe that you are what you do, and if you consistently do sloppy work, you’ll be a sloppy person. The idea of “I can do it right when I have to” has proven itself wrong in my experience. (Naturally, I’m thinking of others when I say this, but I can think of at least one instance recently when I wasn’t able to perform like I should have on a job because I’d consistently slacked off with that company.)

In talking about this, Ryan Holiday eventually moves away from the idea of “you’ll get your just rewards in due time,” which sounds to me like something you’d say to someone who is being exploited, and gives better reasons for working hard:

The great psychologist Viktor Frankl, survivor of three concentration camps, found presumptuousness in the age-old question: “What is the meaning of life?” As though it is somene else’s responsibility to tell you. Instead, he said, the world is asking you that question. And it’s your job to answer with your actions.

In every situation, life is asking us a question, and our actions are the answer. Our job is simply to answer well.

I think that’s a better argument for doing the right thing, often, even when nobody is looking. However, I think that, if life is asking you “what is the meaning of life?” you’re welcome to answer: “not this.”

Sugar Fast: Day -1

It seems silly to say that I’m going to start a fast tomorrow, but that’s the plan. Yesterday I came across this report of what happened after a month without sugar and something inside me clicked. I’ve known for a while about how addictive sugar is. To read that quitting it helped someone else feel better… well, that seemed like an indication that I could feel better, too.

Originally, I was going to start the fast a week from today. My rationale was that I didn’t want to have cupboards full of sweets to snack on and to have to rely on my willpower to not eat them. I’d rather just not have them around.

However, our cupboards are not full of sweets. I had, inadvertently, gone from snacking on sweets to snacking on nuts. (There is an open bag of almonds hidden away in the workshop as I speak.)

Still, I still have half a bar of dark chocolate that I’d feel bad throwing away, so the fast begins tomorrow. Besides, I’d rather not write about what I’m not eating without eating them.

The situation now

As I’ve already mentioned, I’ve been able to mostly move away from eating sweets, with dark chocolate as an exception. That’s not entirely true, as there are certain kinds of waffles that I really like and I snacked quite a bit on Easter candy leading up to Easter.

However, I think most of my sugar consumption is in the form of marmalade, cake, processed foods and alcohol. In fact, I like the idea of this fast as a chance to get away from processed foods, as much as anything else.

What I’m hoping for

Reading the article, I of course like the idea of increased energy levels. There’s enough going on in my life that I seldom finish a day feeling like I still have energy reserves left to spare. Even if I never have extra energy, I’d like to get through more of the day on the energy I have, rather than on willpower.

And, sure, I’d like for this to be another step towards my goal of getting my weight down to under 220lbs or so. But, if I just feel better, that’s progress on it’s own.

What I expect

I don’t expect it to be easy. My experience with not eating anything is that the focus has to be less on what I “cannot” eat, but instead on what I “eat now.” Walking through a grocery store and looking longingly at the chocolate chip cookies is no help. I tend to do better if I can look forward to my chickpea salad, instead.

And, in general, these experiments work for me… until I get tired. Once I get low on sleep, however, it seems as though my body thinks that food substitutes for sleep and begins to get cravings, even when I’m hungry.

Unfortunately, I seldom get eight hours of sleep, so… Let’s hope that I can start of focusing on sleep as an important tool towards making this work.

On Twitter Wars

So, there’s something that occurred to me while driving recently. I should point out that I’m not living in fear of an impending war, but it does seem more likely that a (new, American) war will happen in the next three years, compared to in the Obama administration. (I’m basing this on things like the adjustment to the doomsday clock.)

And the thing is, if the Trump administration does, in fact, get involved in a destructive war, it will be the first time (to my knowledge) that Twitter may have been one of the root causes of a war. (Assuming you accept the premise that Twitter was a tool used by the Russians to interfere in the election. If you don’t think that, I’d love to hear why.)

Here’s the thing: Twitter’s users aren’t served by it being populated by up to 15% with ‘fake users’ (from the article below). And Twitter, itself, probably isn’t earning money on them. (I can’t imagine the bots clicking on ads, or, if they are, the advertisers certainly aren’t getting value for money.)

The reason the bots are still on Twitter? Money. Twitter is locked into a broken business model, and unable to kick the bots off.

This is from a Bloomberg article:

And cracking down on bots puts Twitter in a vulnerable position with Wall Street. Investors have penalized the company for failing to get more users. The more that Twitter cracks down on fake accounts and bots, the lower the monthly active user base, the metric most closely watched by Wall Street.

“I think there’s a business reason why Twitter doesn’t want to be good at it. If you have fake accounts and you’re valued around active users, the valuation will be adjusted,” said Scott Tranter, partner at Optimus, a data and technology consultancy.

Which just means that there’s one more reason why, as I wrote before, more of the Internet needs to cost money.

 

Forming a running habit

After writing about how surprisingly motivational the Google Fit weekly running goals are for me, I thought it’d be nice to post an update:

Screenshot_20180121-132845

It took quite a bit of work and more than once I caught myself saying “if I don’t get a run in, I’ll have to wait a long time to push an incomplete week out the other side.” (If that phrasing makes any sense.)

The result was me having more back-to-back runs in the week: generally one 5k and a 7k, and a long run on the weekend. Maybe it’s not the structured approach to running I’d been hoping for, but it’s running.

Glory Days

I think a lot about the song “Glory Days” and of the danger of becoming a person who lives in the past. (‘A lot’ in this context means at least half a dozen times in my life.) The thing is, I used to run pretty regularly and it’s weird for me to struggle to get something done that used to be so fundamental to me.

I can rationalize that my kids are getting bigger, that I’m doing more with them, that I didn’t use to try and code a website in the same off-time that used to be just for reading and running. Nonetheless, it’s important to me that I continue to be the kind of person that I want to be, rather than assuming that having once run a marathon means I get to claim “runner” status forever.