Diary of a Network Geek

The trials and tribulations of a Certified Novell Engineer who's been stranded in Houston, Texas.

9/18/2020

Lens Simulator

Filed under: Art,Fun,Photography — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

Explore the relationship between focal length, aperture, and depth of field.

Along with some other settings and factors.
As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been getting back into photography a little bit. That means, for me, relearning a whole bunch of stuff, like how aperture and depth of field are related and how to control that. Well, thanks to a free “lens simulator” by Korean lens maker, Samyang, you can play with those settings, and more, to see how they’ll affect your photo. It’s pretty simple and straight forward for even a returning rookie photographer like me to make adjustments and see the changes. The one drawback, if you can call it that, is that the simulator uses Samyang lenses as the default settings. You can adjust it and simulate virtually any settings, but the pre-set ones are all based on their lenses. Which, really, shouldn’t be a surprise. Anyway, it’s fun and easy and, best of all, free.

I’d hoped to have a review of a hot-shoe-splitting flash cable I got this week, but, well, I haven’t had the time to actually use it yet, so it’s hard to give an actual review. Maybe for next week.

And, that’s all I’ve got this week, really. I’m feeling a little worn down and depressed, which I think is just the COVID-19 lockdown finally catching up to me. Well, and the mostly submerged grief over losing my father. For various reasons I don’t want to go into right now, I found myself really missing him last week. I had news that I’d have normally shared with him and asked his advice, but, well, he wasn’t there to ask. Of course, as my mother and another friend said, at this point, I can pretty well tell you what he’d have told me. Though, right up until the end, Dad could sometimes surprise me with something new.
Anyway, y’all have a good week and stay safe.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

9/11/2020

The Poison of the Side Hustle

Filed under: About The Author,Deep Thoughts,Photography — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

There’s something broken in our culture when we try to make a virtue out of a lack of financial resources. We glamorize it by calling it “hustle”. We talk about everyone needing a “side hustle” that they might one day grow into a full business. In reality, though, that almost never happens. That so-called side hustle is just a second job. Maybe, if we’re lucky, it’s a second job that we can do at night or on the weekends on our own schedule. But, more often than not, it involves buying into someone else’s program, or training or pyramid scheme, to shill cheaply made drop-shipped junk we don’t want to people who don’t need it either. There are classes on selling, on drop-shipping, on building a website to attract the marks, and every other related activity. But, what’s worse is the guilt on social media. The “influencers” who try to tell you that if you don’t have a side hustle, you’re a loser. The Instagram gurus who make a lack of sleep sound like a virtue and workaholism sound like something to be admired. “Rise and grind”, they call it. Get up early, while your competition is still sleeping, and develop that product and make that sale. They tell you to take your hobby and make money from it. “Knit your way to second income!” “How to pay your second mortgage selling stock photography!” But, it’s all a hustle, all a scam. It’s a scam we do to ourselves. I’m guilty of it. I’ve got FindMyPhotographer.com, but I’ve never been able to build it to what I’d like. There’s too much competition already. And, who’s hiring photographers in the middle of a pandemic right now anyway?

I’m guilty, too, of buying into the idea that I need to make money from my hobbies. I used to like to write and take pictures. Now, all I think about is how can I self-publish a novel I haven’t written. Or, what kind of processing do I need to do to my digital photography to get it accepted to one of the microstock agencies. Maybe, that’s why I haven’t written fiction in years. I’m always feeling the pressure of market forces. I did pick up my camera recently, but when I pulled photos off it, the last time I’d taken any pictures was when the dogs had gotten their Christmas-themed rawhide bones. In other words, it’s been almost ten months since I used my camera. Ten months since I engaged with a hobby I loved.

But, what if we didn’t feel like we needed that other income? I’m not advocating any radical wage changes or universal basic income or anything like that. The answer, for most of us targeted by the marketing machine of the side-hustle social media gurus, is simpler than that. What if we just wanted less? What if I didn’t need the designer labels? Or the big screen TV and cable with all the channels and a new car every five years? What if I didn’t need to buy things that I think will make me happy? Because, in my own experience, any joy I get from buying things is usually very short-lived. And, man, I’d pay anything to talk to my Dad again. No side hustle can buy me that time back. So, why do we do it?
Maybe it would be better to just have a hobby. I don’t need much to write. I do it on-line or on my computer, but, really, all I need is a cheap pen or pencil and a notebook, or even some loose paper. When I first started out writing, and we used typewriters to do all this, stories of writers using cheap paper to do their first draft are legendary. And, as for needing a better camera or more lenses or more flashes, well, I know that’s not true. As I said in a photography class once, much to the excitement of the teacher, “The artist paints the painting, not the brush.” If I’m really a photographer, I can make good images, interesting images, with a cheap, disposable camera. Sometimes, with art, the challenge of producing art with limited resources is what produces the best art. The restrictions somehow enhance creativity, instead of squelch it.

So, hey, I’m not going to try to make money off my photographs. I’ve got some ideas, but, instead of trying to make something I can sell, I’m just going to make some photographs that I enjoy. I’m going to play and experiment, not because it will generate income, but because it’s fun. It’s okay to just have fun. That’s the point of hobbies, I think; to have fun and relax, so that I can be more than a job, or a paycheck or the sum of my investments.

How about you? How about your plans for the weekend? Do you have a hobby that you’ve been neglecting? Or maybe something you’d like to start? Now is the time. Do it now, before you don’t have any time left. And, then, spend some time with friends and family talking about that, instead of how stressful work is or how bad our finances are. We know. But do something you enjoy and then share it with people you love. Let that be your side hustle.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

9/4/2020

Mont Saint-Michel Flyby

Filed under: Art,Fun — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

After three weeks of pretty heavy contemplation, I thought I’d share something a bit lighter.

In France, there’s a famous 16th-century castle that is also an island named Mont Saint-Michel. I find it fascinating because the tides only allow access to this historic location twice a day. As a defensive strategy, it’s pretty brilliant and I can only imagine the difficulty involved in actually building this structure more than four centuries ago. Honestly, I find it incredible that it’s even still standing. Of course, it’s become a bit of a tourist trap now, as often happens to enduring pieces of physical history. Still, it’s pretty amazing. One day, I hope that I might visit for myself, but, until that day, I’ll have to content myself with virtual visits.
Here are two flybys of the Mont Saint-Michel for your Friday enjoyment.
First, there’s FPV drone pilot Benoit Finck’s flyby filmed with a GoPro HERO8, which won him a GoPro Awards prize for the two-minute, high-speed tour of the castle.
Secondly, there’s another video filmed with a RED EPIC camera, via a DJI Inspire 2 by Wanaii films, which also shows some of the surrounding countryside.
Both films are quite epically beautiful and certainly a bit more interesting than reading me go on about grief and missing my father. Though, I do have to admit, my blog readership was at its highest point when I went into gruesome detail about my divorce and my attempts to date afterward. I suspect, if I’d had the brainpower to manage it, details about my cancer treatment might have inspired similar morbid curiosity.

Anyway, that’s all I’ve got this week. Maybe I’ll have something more or more interesting next week. I do have a few creative projects that are percolating in the background, so there’s no telling when I’ll create something more compelling to share.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

8/28/2020

A Few Thoughts on Grief and Stress

Filed under: About The Author,Personal Care — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

This year has been pretty rough for everyone.

I don’t know who I’m writing this for, but I’m sure there’s someone out there that’s got the same pain going on as I do.
We started the year with whatever personal and financial challenges we have every year. There are always more bills than there is money to pay them. We all would like to get paid more and have more leisure time to enjoy our families. That’s a constant struggle under the best of circumstances. Then, we had a pandemic. COVID-19 swept the world, bringing with it fear, stress and, ultimately, grief. Here in the USA, we didn’t get a lot of leadership on how to handle the raging infection rates, so things got worse. Then, we had conflicting information thrown at us until no one knew what to do or not do to best stay safe. That’s still the case. On top of that, many of us lost jobs or had businesses that were in financial difficulty. In some cases, entire industries had economic problems, like the oil and gas industry. That alone would be enough to cause pretty severe emotional distress.

Then, a month ago, my father died. Now, I know not everyone has a great relationship with their parents, but my Dad and I had a great relationship. I talked to him every week on the phone for twenty-two years. Basically, every week since I moved to Texas in June of 1998, I talked to my parents on the phone. I would regularly call Dad for advice, simply because I could. I mean, I mostly knew what he was going to tell me, but, sometimes it was nice to hear him say it. Since he died, I haven’t slept well. Not that I was sleeping great to begin with, but it was definitely worse after he passed. I have strange body aches. Yes, those might be the result of being almost fifty-two and never considering the punishment my body was taking when I did stupid things, like drop out of second-story windows and other assorted bad ideas. But, my wife tells me that those are almost certainly symptoms of grief. She’s lost several people close to her, so she’s in a position to know. I feel strange. It’s almost a kind of mild body dysmorphia or depersonalization, which I tend to read as having eaten something bad or not hydrated well enough during the day. I just don’t feel like my physical body is quite right sometimes. Again, she assures me that it’s the physical symptoms of grief.
And, there’s the anger. I have such a limited capacity for other people being slow in any way right now. If I find myself at a loss for a particular word, I want to just push past it and move on with the conversation, but if anyone else delays or gets “stuck” on something, I get very quickly frustrated. I’m aware of it, so I think I’m keeping it mostly in check, but I am so very aware that it’s there, just beneath the surface.

I’ve read books on grief, but, as I told my Dad in our last conversation, we’re at the point of seeing just how applicable all that theoretical knowledge really is. Because let me tell you, there’s a huge difference between having read about death and grief and actually experiencing it. It does help, though, to know that I am, in fact, going through the grief process and that it is a lot more unclear and a lot less simple than any book explains it. It’s not a straight line through the five stages, that’s for sure. But, I’m learning to have some compassion for myself, which is its own challenge, and I’m learning to apply some of the practices I say I believe in. The struggle to apply the theory is there, but at least I’m aware and able to see what’s happening in my own interior life. One step at a time, one day at a time. That’s what I tell myself and how I try to take it. The next time I know someone who loses a loved one, I think I’ll be better equipped to help them based on what I’m learning here, about both the world and myself.

This post originally appeared at Use Your Words. I don’t normally post this kind of thing on my professional site, but it just seemed to be relevant right now.  No matter how hard I try, I can’t separate the personal from the professional these days.

8/21/2020

Eulogy Delivered on August 2nd

Filed under: About The Author,Deep Thoughts — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

This is the eulogy I wrote for my father and delivered at his memorial service on August 2, 2020.

Let me start by saying that every one of us will have a different view of Dad, as unique as our relationships all were with him. I experienced my father differently than my siblings did and differently than his grandchildren did. And, of course, no one knew Dad the same way that Mom did. We all had a relationship with him that was as different as we all are. And, I know he’d hate to be remembered as some kind of saint with no flaws or foibles, so we shouldn’t remember just the best things, but the whole humanness of who he was. We may all see that a little differently, but, there are some things that shine through all of those different relationships.

For one thing, as we wrote in his obituary, Dad loved a good story about himself or some other family member. And, he had a lot of them. Most of his stories were meant to surprise you a little and, hopefully, make you laugh. One of his favorites, which I think must have been one of his earliest memories, involved his own Grandpa Hoffman. Grandpa Hoffman was a tinsmith who worked his way West with the railroad and then hoboed home to Chicago. Along the way, as Dad tells it, he met a couple of fellas that would become notorious in Chicago politics in the early 1900s; Michael “Hinky Dink” Kenna and “Bathhouse” John Coughlin. They were two of the most corrupt Chicago aldermen who ever held office according to Dad. One day, when Dad was about five or six, he was out with his Grandpa who took him to meet his old friend Uncle John at his business “Uncle John’s Bathhouse, Pool Hall and House of Leisure”. Yes, that’s right, Grandpa Hoffman took his grandson to a house of gambling and prostitution. Dad loved to tell people how he sat at the bar while his grandfather played cards with his old friend and how the “nice ladies” doted on him and brought him a glass of milk while he waited. You can imagine how upset his mother was at her father-in-law for bringing her little angel to such a place. Dad would tell that story, making sure to include his very proper and upright mother’s reaction when she found out, with a twinkle in his eye and punctuated with his deep, booming laugh that could fill a whole house.

Dad liked to stir things up and make a little mischief, but that’s not to say that Dad was all laughs and funny stories. He had strong opinions about, well, practically everything, and he wasn’t shy about sharing them. In fact, one of the most frustrating things about Dad was the by the time he’d made up his mind about something, his logic was so tight that it was pretty much unassailable. When he’d made up his mind, he was all but impossible to convince otherwise. He could be the living embodiment of stubborn, a trait I’m afraid he may have passed on to at least one of his children. The worst thing he could possibly say about someone was that they weren’t very quick. As someone who worked hard to be as smart as he could, he had little patience for anyone who was mentally lazy or wasn’t working their hardest. I know he was proud of how smart all his children and grandchildren are no matter what they do or their particular area of specialty. Right up to the very end, Dad’s mind was razor-sharp and he was absolutely up to date on the latest news. In fact, if not for the COVID-19 lock down, Dad would have been renewing his driver’s license a couple of weeks ago and, until relatively recently, split the driving duties with Mom. Two years ago, going to Bill and Kara’s wedding, it took no small amount of convincing to get him to let me drive and navigate using my iPhone. More than once he said, “Well, I wouldn’t have gone THIS way, but, oh, I guess it is getting us there a little faster than my way.” He was so convinced that he knew Chicago better than any technology could, but, it turned out, except for a couple of turns, Google Maps took us the same way he would have.

Dad loved the outdoors, too. He loved going with the Boy Scout troop to Camp Makajawan for the week in Wisconsin. But, he enjoyed having a few more of the creature comforts than most of the other leaders, camping with a full footlocker of gear and gadgets. Another leader once jokingly told him that he camped like a Prussian officer on campaign, which I think appealed to Dad’s sense of history and style. He used to say that he wanted his ashes scattered in Sioux Village at Camp Makajawan so that he might become a ghost story told at one of the big campfires that happened at the start and end of camp. But, we’re pretty sure he was just joking and was amused at the idea of finally becoming a tall tale, besides none of us want to try and sneak into Makajawan with Dad’s ashes and scatter him in the bushes. Though, I’m sure Dad is looking down on us and laughing at the dilemma his little joke made for us.

Dad also had a life-long love of music. He was a classically trained singer and had a gorgeous voice that was in demand even well after he felt it was past its prime. His favorite time of year was Christmas, not just because he could put out his extensive collection of strange Santa Claus figures, but for the Christmas music. He absolutely loved performing Christmas music and singing the old, classic hymns. One of my favorite childhood memories is of Dad singing O Come, O Come, Emmanuel unaccompanied, from the back of the sanctuary in Glenview United Methodist Church. He was often asked to sing solos at church and, ironically, at funerals. Dad loved performing, especially with a good group of fellow musicians with a piece of music that challenged him. In fact, Dad almost was a professional singer when he got out of the Army. He said that the only reason he didn’t take that opportunity was because he didn’t like the opera the touring company had chosen.

Instead, Dad channeled his showmanship into sales. One of Dad’s favorite sayings was “Everything is sales. If nothing else, you’re always selling yourself and your ideas.” And, I think I learned more from Dad about being a good salesman and a good manager than any class I took in business school. To this day, I find myself asking what would Dad do when faced with a situation at work that I’m not sure how to handle. And usually, some bit of advice that Dad gave over the years comes to mind and turns out to be just the right thing to say or do.

Dad may not have always said it out loud, but he worried about his family. Just a few years ago, Dad admitted out loud that he was a natural-born worrier. I think he tried to hide that from his kids so that we didn’t pick up that trait from him. Dad was also fond of giving us all advice, though the kind of advice changed over the years. One of the first things he told me when I was looking to him for advice about some choice I had to make was, “Well, whatever choice you make, be sure it’s a choice you can live with because you’re the only one who can know what that is.” Looking back, it’s great advice that I remember forty years or more later, but, as a twelve-year-old, I was looking for something a little easier to deal with. Some of his other advice that sticks with me didn’t quite make sense at the time. One time, when I was wrestling with the idea that something I’d done or said had made someone not like me, he said, “If you make it through life without SOMEONE not liking you or being irritated by you, you’ve done it wrong.” What he meant was, that if no one finds that they have some conflict with you, then you never had anything you believed in very strongly or took a stand and held firm, because that will always bring a person into conflict with someone, sooner or later. It was his way of saying, hold true to your convictions, no matter how many people disagree with you.

And, that was something Dad said he and Mom had always hoped to do; raise four, strong, unique individuals, who made their own way in the world. I know that he was more than satisfied that he’d done that. He may have been a little shy about telling his children directly, sometimes, but he was immensely proud of all of us. I don’t think he wanted anyone to get a swelled head so he was careful not to brag in front of us, but more than once I caught him telling someone how great one or all of his kids were, each in their own very different ways. I think the fact that we were all so different from each other, while still having so much in common, was one of the things that made him so proud.

Most of the time, talking about feelings too long made Dad a little uncomfortable. But, the last time I talked to him when I expressed some regret that I wasn’t an easier child to raise or that I hadn’t visited as regularly as I’d like, he said, “None of you kids have anything to worry about.” From the context, I’m sure he meant all of us; children and grandchildren alike. It was his way of telling me that we were all doing our best and he knew that and was proud of us all. And, as uncomfortable as it may have made him, the last words we exchanged were a heartfelt, “I love you”, which is how I’ll always remember Dad. A strong, ferociously smart man, who loved big and with everything he had.

I’m sure everyone remembers him in their own way and we all have stories about Dad or that he told us, or maybe even a joke that’s a little too off-color for church, even if it’s Dad’s memorial service. I know that he’d love it if we can share those with each other as we remember them, especially the jokes.

But, I also know Dad would have wanted us to keep things moving along. Most of his life was spent living to a calendar and a schedule. This is the man who was well known for looking at his watch and saying things like, “Oh! Look at the time! I must be hungry for lunch!” So, let’s not disappoint him and keep moving things along. He wouldn’t have wanted us to dawdle or say a long goodbye.

So, we’ll see you on the other side, Dad. Keep everyone busy until we get there.

 

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.

8/14/2020

William F. Hoffman, Jr, 1929 – 2020

Filed under: About The Author,Deep Thoughts,Life, the Universe, and Everything — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

William F, Hoffman, Jr., “Bill”, beloved husband, father and grandfather, 91, died Tuesday, July 28, 2020 in Huntley, Illinois. He is survived by his wife of 67 years, Dorothy, his children; Bill and Karen Hoffman, Cheryl Price, Karin and Jerry Edwards and Jim and Sharon Hoffman, his grandchildren; Bill and Kara Hoffman, Rachel and Jacob Vaughn, Michael Hoffman, and John and LeeAnn Price, and a great-grandchild, John Price.

Bill was born at home in 1929 in Morgan Park, Illinois, on the South Side of Chicago. Growing up on the South Side, he was educated at the Harvard School for Boys, a college preparatory school, and helped run the family hardware store.

He attended the Chicago Conservatory of Music and went on to serve in the Army during the Korean War. He met his wife, Dorothy, when both were on staff at the Chicago Baptist Association Summer Camp. Devoted to his faith, he served on the admissions board of Garret-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois. He worked for the American Medical Association in the Chaplaincy program, where he helped facilitate Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ work on the psychological process of grief. He also served as a representative to a Vatican conference on spirituality and medicine.

Bill was active in the Boy Scouts of America for many years at troop and council levels and served on staff at the Woodbadge Adult Leadership Program. He was as an Eagle Award adviser, helping boys (including his two sons and his three grandsons) achieve their highest rank in scouting, His love of scouting and the outdoors was also expressed in his interest in Native American history and culture. He was proud to be one of the initial donors to the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. He was a member of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. A Freemason for over 50 years, he became Worshipful Master of Glenview United Lodge #1058 in 1994.

Bill never met a stranger, a trait that served him well in a long career in sales and marketing. He loved to hear and tell stories, especially family stories, and loved to talk about his children and grandchildren.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.

7/24/2020

Programming Widgets

Filed under: Better Living Through Technology,Fun,Fun and Games,GUI Center,On Creativity,The Day Job — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

I’m anything but a professional programmer, but occasionally, I make stuff.

Sometimes, in my day job, I have to solve a particular problem and the only way I can manage that is via some small bit of programming. Usually, it’s just a little script of some kind; PowerShell or Perl, mostly. I taught myself Perl seventeen or eighteen years ago, in an attempt to stay busy at a job that severely underutilized my talents. Demonstrated, I think, by teaching myself Perl in my downtime. A lot of techs I knew would have just scrolled a news site or played solitaire or some other useless thing. I tried to expand my portfolio of skills. I learned a long time ago, though, that I need a project to guide my learning. It almost doesn’t matter what the project is, as long as it gives me problems to solve and obstacles to overcome. Solving those problems, with the new thing I want to learn, is what teaches me. Granted, I don’t always learn the best way to accomplish my task, or at least not the most commonly accepted way, but I still learn the skills involved in a way that embeds them pretty deeply.

Since I’m mostly self-taught in IT, which is my chosen professional field, I’ve had to find ways to keep learning on my own interesting. Having personal projects is one of them. So, projects are how I teach myself new things. As I work toward a larger goal, whatever that may be, I find problems and solutions to those problems and my knowledge extends into new areas. I did that with Perl a number of years ago. First I tried to teach myself Perl for extending MoveableType, the blogging software that I used to use before their licensing debacle. But, that was a bit too arcane and involved a place for me to start. So, several years later, I found some simpler scripts that did some language processing and were useful for another low-key hobby of mine; conlanging. (That’s constructed language making, for the less geeky.) And, so, I had a project to work with that was within my skill level. In the end, I made those scripts something that could run on a webpage and it drove massive traffic to my site. It was sweet! But, it crashed the server because it was so popular and it drove TOO much traffic to that site. Ultimately, I had to take them down. By then, though, not only had I learned Perl pretty well, but I had moved my blog to WordPress and started looking at this fancy new language for the web called “PHP”. That mostly ran in a way that didn’t put a strain on the servers, so it was better for high-traffic sites. The only problem was, I couldn’t move the functions from the Perl scripts to PHP easily. So, I started looking around for projects to teach myself PHP.

The project I found to let me dig into PHP was a random generator. No, not some random piece of electronic equipment, but a little web toy that randomly generated things. It’s pretty simple, really. You have something, like a title or a sentence that has variables, like nouns and adjectives, like Mad Libs. Those variables become, well, variables in the program. So, I just need to list a bunch of whatever that variable is into the program which randomly chooses those and fills them into the sentence or title and then gives me the result. Sounds simple, right? Okay, it kind of is, which is why I started with that. But, then I went about making it complicated. I added more variables and started reading them in from external sources and getting fancy with the output formatting. But, what it did was let me learn, bit by bit, PHP. You can see a bunch of those at my World Building page at Fantasist.net. When I got good enough at it, I dug back into WordPress and started looking at ways to use my new PHP skills to modify WordPress. What I came up with was the Dale Reckoning Calendar Plugin. For its time, it was pretty good. Now, I look at it and, well, I’m not quite embarrassed by it, but I’m not as proud of it as I was. It does work, but it requires the user to modify their theme and, essentially, become a bit of a coder themselves. That never sat well with me. And, I wanted to have something that would randomly, or semi-randomly, conjure up weather conditions for a particular day. Why? Because, if you’re gaming in a big campaign, things like weather start to matter a little. And, it was fun. It let me use old skills and old code and extend them to something new and stretch my learning even more. So, that’s why I kept coming back and eventually came up with the Forgotten Realms Weather Widget. It works better as a widget in the sidebar than as a daily update on posts. Though, I may still revisit the idea and see if I can’t improve my old plugin to not require the end-user to modify their theme to make it work. Again, for no real reason other than it’s fun to me and it would make my brain work more on something technical, which I’m already good at, but not for my day job. Mostly, though, because it would be fun to me. Oddly, it wouldn’t be fun if I had to do it for a paycheck. By the way, in moving some of the code from the old plugin to the new widget, I did find some ways to tighten the code a bit. I’d still be a little embarrassed to have a professional coder look too closely at it, but at least I’m improving.

And, I’ll keep working on it, though I’ll need to set some better boundaries so that I don’t get so obsessed that I miss much more sleep working on it. In any case, you can see the results for yourself at Forgotten Realms Weather Widget.
It’s free and only for WordPress and there may be bugs that I haven’t seen yet, so let me know if you use and find any. I can’t promise when I’ll fix them, but I promise that I’ll work on them.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!  And, that’s where you should leave any comments or bugs you might find.

7/17/2020

Still Time for a Course Correction

Filed under: GUI Center,Marginalia and Notes from the Editor,Personal Care — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

There’s still time to fix some mistakes.
Since the COVID-19 lockdown started, I put on at least fifteen pounds. Working from home, literally steps from my kitchen, combined with a little stress eating really did a number on me. Especially because I’ve crossed that magic metabolic barrier that means if I look at chocolate cake I instantly gain a pound, but taking that pound back off takes weeks. Middle age is hell, kids, and don’t let anyone tell you different. I often joke that I don’t know what I’m doing because I didn’t plan on living past forty. Not that I expect to die, necessarily, but I just didn’t make plans for being older than forty. I guess I thought I’d have my shit together by now. Turns out, not as much as I was hoping. Hence the weight gain. But, it’s still not too late. My wife and I started the “keto diet” about two weeks ago, and I’ve already lost four pounds. That means just eleven more until I’m back to my pre-COVID weight and thirty-six until I hit my goal weight. And, I’ve been rowing three times a week for twenty minutes at a time for a little over two months now. I can definitely feel the change. I might be anxious before my workout, but afterward, I’ve burned off that nervous energy and feel fine. It’s definitely helped my mental health, too. One thing we did was get a whipped cream maker, so that we can have real whipped cream. Turns out that you can have pretty much as much whipped cream as you want on the keto diet and I’ve been loving that.
I haven’t felt too inspired to write, though I have been keeping up with my morning writing exercises. Some days, though, it’s been dreadfully hard to focus enough to do those. I suppose that’s mostly the craziness in the world today. Between COVID-19 and the political upheaval, I just don’t have a lot of extra bandwidth to write. I did start working on teaching myself some PHP programming again, but I don’t count that as writing, per se. I’ve had bits and bobs of PHP code floating around for things and I’ve been meaning to make it into a WordPress plugin or a widget for some time. It’s going to be slow going, as the first two pages of “example code” for making a basic widget were just dead wrong or broken. Either way, having a goal to reach gives me a direction in my self-directed learning.
And, I suppose some of this wanting to be healthier and teach myself something new has to do with my father’s ninety-first birthday being this week. He celebrated by coming home from the hospital where he was treated for some heart issues. He’s doing fine now and getting some strength and energy back, but it was a closer call than I think anyone in the family, including my father or I, want to admit. So, I need to definitely get on track with my health, both physical and mental. There’s still time for me to course correct a little and learn from the mistakes that Dad made in not eating better sooner. I’ve said it before, but this is probably my last chance at staving off diabetes and I’ve seen first hand how challenging dealing with diabetes can be. But, hey, the great thing about the COVID-19 lockdown getting extended everywhere is that all that stuff we didn’t think we’d have time to do has just had their deadlines extended.

In any case, that’s all I’ve got for you this week. It’s not much, but, hey, it’s a post.
Hopefully, I’ll have more energy next week.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!  My other blog at JKHoffman.com

7/10/2020

COVID-19 and Mental Health

Filed under: About The Author,Deep Thoughts,Personal Care — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Make no mistake, mental health has always been an important issue for me.

But, with the pandemic lockdown, as loose and unrestrictive as it has really been, I feel all kinds of anxiety and depression that I normally only have to deal with when I’m starting a new job or when I’ve been single during the holidays. I can get the blues like everyone else. Usually, it’s just short-lived and very transient, but that’s only because the circumstances that cause the issue are short-lived and transient, too. With COVID-19, no one knows how long things are going to be like this. It could literally be several years that we’re dealing with some of these issues, if not all of them. While I have faith that we’ll either come up with a vaccine or a treatment that greatly reduces symptoms and consequences, that may be months if not years away. We don’t know what kind of long-term effects contracting COVID-19 will have on people. And, to top it all off, there’s been another swine flu found in China that has the potential to sweep the world the same way this one has. I, for one, hope they can contain it until we at least have the chance to elect some different government officials. Maybe this time we’ll get some people in office who understand science and public health. (If you haven’t registered to vote yet, now is a great time. Just hit this link to Vote.gov and they’ll give you instructions. The country you save may be your own!) But, until then, we’re stuck. We don’t know how long this will go on. And, I have to admit, it’s been wearing on my mental health. I can only imagine what it’s been like for someone who’s already got clinical depression.

To be fair, I definitely feel better this morning than I have in a couple of days. And, you may have noticed that this will be the third week running that I’ve shared links about mental health and getting help. I’m doing that because I think it’s that important.
For me, I’ve been praying and doing formal, sitting meditation for years and that’s helping. My wife and I took beginning meditation classes at the Houston Zen Center a number of years ago, and I’ve sat for at least 20 minutes at least 5 days a week since then. It’s been helpful in ways that I have a hard time explaining to people. But, if you’ve ever been curious about what meditation practice is the Houston Zen center is a great resource. And, you can join in even if you’re not in Houston, since everything is pretty much remote only right now, via the Houston Zen Center Cloud Zendo.
I also find that trying to keep engaged in things that interest me has helped some. I’ve been writing Morning Pages for about two months now. That’s been helpful. It hasn’t kickstarted my fiction writing yet, but I hope it will help get me over that hump soon. And, I’ve decided to work on search engine optimization as well. I used to do that, for fun, with my older sites. In fact, for a while, Diary of a Network Geek was the number one hit on Google for the search term “network geek”. It’s not now, mainly because I stopped creating a steady stream of original content, but, also my success with those search terms made me a bit of a target. And, that’s okay. Honestly, it was a great indicator of how successful I was! I’m hoping I can recreate that success here. I’ll let you guess the search terms I’ll want to optimize for, though. And, I’ve added a tool to help me make pretty book reviews, too. I’ve always enjoyed reading, though I don’t seem to have the time and focus to read the way I used to when I was younger. Actually, ever since I had cancer back in 2007, I’ve felt like I wasn’t as sharp with reading as I used to be. In any case, I still enjoy it and enjoyed reviewing books, so I’ll start that again. I’ll mostly be reviewing fantasy and science fiction books, but there will be others, especially non-fiction on topics that interest me. I make no promises at how often those reviews will arrive, though.

So, in short, y’all watch out for your brains! Make your mental health a priority, especially now with all the crazy stressors of the dumpster fire that 2020 has become. If you have a spiritual practice, follow that and don’t give up on it. I truly believe that pursuing a more spiritual path is the only thing that’s kept me alive and kicking some times in the past 18 years or so. And, I think it will be what gets me through this COVID-19 craziness, too.

But, if you know someone who needs a little extra help with their mental health right now, don’t forget these resources:
MentalHealth.gov – Get Immediate Help

The National Alliance on Mental Health Helpline – 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline – 1-800-622-HELP (4357)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255

And, as I continually write here and elsewhere, please, remember, there’s no shame in getting help. In fact, getting help is what strong people do.
If you or a loved one needs help with depression or any other mental health issue, please, don’t wait until it’s too late.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words, my newest blog and labor of love.

7/3/2020

A Little Less Bang

Filed under: Deep Thoughts,News and Current Events — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

Maybe this is a good year to skip fireworks.

The past couple of years, I’ve posted tips for photographing fireworks around this time of year. They’re popular and taking photos of them is just as popular. But, maybe this year, with tensions running so high and people under so much extra stress, maybe with all that, we could tone down the fireworks. I haven’t heard anything about public fireworks displays this year, but, considering the crowds, I would hope that most of them would be canceled this year. Unfortunately, that probably means that more private “displays” of fireworks will happen instead. Smaller gatherings of neighbors who buy fireworks from the roadside stands and light up the cul-de-sac with barely controlled, hand-lit explosives. In theory, they’re illegal in most good size cities and neighborhoods, but they’re such a tradition that they’re hard to stop entirely. I’ve already read stories that would seem to indicate these neighborhood fireworks have been on the rise since the COVID-19 lockdowns started. And, I’ve read complaints about them on local message boards, especially by dog owners whose dogs get so very worked up by the sudden and random noise. If you don’t care about how it gets the neighborhood dogs worked up, at least consider your neighbors that may have survived a mass shooting or served in the military and seen combat. I know several people who have been down range and had significant experience with high explosives that were definitely not fireworks. They all have post-traumatic stress disorder to some degree.
For many most, it’s not even diagnosed. It’s just something that happened and they have to live with it every day, but the government doesn’t give them much in the way of support. I know one person who qualifies as at least partially disabled due to his PTSD and he was actually given a diagnosis to qualify for aid. But, whether any of our honored veterans were diagnosed with any psychological issues as a result of their service and exposure to combat, I don’t know a single one that looks forward to holidays that include fireworks.
So, maybe, this year, we should consider those neighbors. We’re happy to politicize military service and our patriotism around how much we allegedly support the troops, but this is an actual thing we can do to help them in a real way. I know I’ve shot off my share of those supposedly harmless fireworks, too, but, as I got to know more guys who had served, I came to realize how hard it was on them. The random explosions and shooting lights are very much like small arms fire and the kinds of smaller devices that are used by insurgents in our more recent combat theaters and conflicts. It brings someone with PTSD right back to those battlefields and the incredible danger that they escaped physically, but can never escape mentally.

And, if you know someone who suffers from PTSD, or any other mental health issues, trauma related or not, don’t forget these resources:
MentalHealth.gov – Get Immediate Help

The National Alliance on Mental Health Helpline – 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline – 1-800-622-HELP (4357)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255

And, specifically for those struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, National Center for PTSD “Get Help in a Crisis” page.

And, as I wrote last week, please, remember, there’s no shame in getting help. In fact, getting help is what strong people actually do.
If you or a loved one needs help with depression or any other mental health issue, please, don’t wait until it’s too late.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

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