Diary of a Network Geek

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

5/7/2021

Mental Health Month

Filed under: About The Author,Advice from your Uncle Jim,Life Goals,News and Current Events,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

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

I’ve talked about mental health on my blogs before, especially in relation to stress and the pandemic. COVID-19 and the attempts to deal with it have added extra stress to all of our lives and stretched our mental health to the limits. And, this past year has been particularly hard for me with the death of my father. I never realized just how close we were until I couldn’t turn to him for advice or just to talk things through. Grief is its own kind of mental health issue, for sure, but layered on top of everything else, it’s just made things harder.
I was surprised to find out after my father’s passing that we have a bit of a family history of depression. Dad’s generation didn’t talk about that sort of thing much. They still, in general, see things like depression as a kind of moral failing or weakness. For years, I’ve known that I have a bit of depression. I’ve fought it since at least high school. It wasn’t crippling by any means, but it absolutely made life more difficult. After getting divorced, I saw a therapist and that helped for a bit, but, if I’m being honest, I’ve had bouts of depression since long before meeting my ex-wife and continued to have them well after I felt the freedom of being released from that tragedy of a marriage. My wife has been on medication for depression for longer than I’ve known her. It keeps her sane and functional and for years she’s tried to convince me to try antidepressants. I’ve always resisted. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely understand the mechanism of neurotransmitters and how they can affect mental states. And, I completely believe that medication can help. But, for years, I also believed that it could help everyone ELSE and that I didn’t really need it.
About six weeks ago, I relented and talked with my doctor about taking a light antidepressant to see if it helped me with my current struggles. I’ve been taking them for about six weeks and I absolutely can tell the difference. So far, it looks like the doctor has picked a winner and I’m not having any side effects, but I can positively see the difference in my mood and my productivity. I had no idea how much what I thought of as mild or reasonable depression was affecting my productivity, but it very clearly was. Things that I would put off indefinitely because they just seemed overwhelming get done in a much more timely fashion because they’ve become “right-sized” in my no longer depressed brain. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not like antidepressants have solved all my problems. They haven’t, I’m sorry to say. However, they do let me be more fully present and capable of dealing with my problems. Most importantly, they haven’t negatively impacted my thinking at all as I have been afraid of them doing. Nor have they reduced my creativity in the slightest. If anything, they’ve freed me a bit more to think MORE clearly and act MORE creatively. I wish I’d tried them sooner.

So, if you’re struggling with depression or any other mental health issue, don’t wait. Go get help. You can find some good resources at MentalHealth.gov – How To Get Mental Health Help And, most importantly, if you feel like you’re going to hurt yourself or others, please, do reach out to someone.

Suicide & Mental Health Hotlines in The United States
Crisis Text Line Text HOME to 741741
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
SAMHSA Treatment Referral Helpline 1-877-726-4727
Trans Lifeline 1-877-565-8860 (for the transgender community)
TrevorLifeline 1-866-488-7386 (for LGBTQ youth)
Veterans Crisis Line 1-800-273-8255, Press 1

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"If someone keeps having things go wrong, try out the assumption that it's because that someone wants them to go wrong."
   --George Scithers

4/30/2021

The Keto Diet

Filed under: About The Author,Fun,Life Goals,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

This has been more effective than anything else.

Like a lot of middle-aged men, I’ve put on a few pounds, and the pandemic lock-down, which had me working literally steps from my kitchen, hasn’t helped either. When I was younger, I actually worked out quite a bit and was able to mostly keep my weight in check. I did try to eat healthily and not overindulge in anything, but I really put my weight down to being very active. Unfortunately, as time has gone on, I find that I can’t keep the weight off as well with just exercise.

The Keto Diet Explained

I’ve been fairly successful simply counting calories, but, sooner or later, I get tired of doing that and the weight creeps back up. My wife and I tried the Sugar Busters Diet, but it seemed like there was sugar or corn syrup in EVERYTHING. I mean, why does sausage need corn syrup in it? It’s crazy. My wife has done the Atkins Diet and had good success. But, this time around, after reading a bit more, she wanted to try the Keto Diet. She said it sounded easier and less restrictive than Atkins. Mostly, it’s gone well. Of course, part of that is due to my wife making our meals for the most part and telling me what I can and cannot eat. But, I found an easy guide to help me keep track over at The Keto Diet Explained at Daily Info Graphic. It breaks it all down for you pretty well.

Now, my wife has hit her weight goal and looks fantastic, but I’ve hit a plateau. I still have another 20 pounds to lose, but I’ve lost about 20 pounds already. I’d gotten really, really heavy just sitting around the house worrying about getting COVID. Still, I’m halfway there and I plan to keep going!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

3/26/2021

The Next World War

Filed under: Art,News and Current Events,The Infinite Library — 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

Thankfully, this is just a fictional scenario. But, it’s damn plausible.

Good science fiction is an extrapolation of current technologies and social and economic conditions into a future scenario that allows the reader to see one potential future. As our technology has raced forward at a frightening speed, it’s become increasingly difficult to project scenarios that aren’t hopelessly outdated almost as soon as they’re printed. Some of the best work, though, manages to make us think anyway. I have to admit, I watch news about China closer than most people I know. It’s what let me get a huge stack of computers in stock for my company right before all the supply chains coming out of China got choked closed. That turned out quite well for us, by the way, though I wasn’t quite as good at predicting the need for laptops. In my naiveté, I thought that COVID-19 would get stopped at the Chinese borders before it became what it did. What can I say? You win some, you lose some.
This week I’m sharing a link to some speculation about a possible future conflict between the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China in the not distant enough future. It’s a novel titled 2034:A Novel of the Next World War written by Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis, two subject matter experts on both military action and diplomacy, adapted into a six-part serial for the web by the editors of Wired Magazine. Hopefully, this will become very dated, very quickly and something that we look back at and laugh at because things turned out so much better than these two experts speculate in this bit of near-future science fiction. But, a war that starts out with violations of our cybersecurity and escalates into something much worse seems all too plausible. Frankly, I hope that this work serves as a warning to the powers that rule the world and that they learn to get along better and deescalate the tensions that currently plague our world. I doubt they will, but I do hope.
Until then, go read all six parts and consider how this could all be far too real, far too soon.
Next week, I’ll try to find something lighter for you.

This post originally appeared at Use Your Words!

3/19/2021

Cell Phone Etiquette

Filed under: Art,Better Living Through Technology,Deep Thoughts,The Tools — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:21 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

I feel like the pandemic has made our use of cell phones even ruder than we used to be.

Honestly? I feel like being locked down for the better part of a year, to whatever degree we individually have been, has made us all a little less socially aware. And, yes, I include myself in that sad group. I know I’ve been both more sensitive to small social slights from others and I know I’ve been less socially sensitive to others than I was before. It’s absolutely something I need to pay attention to and work on. So, when I saw this infographic on Cell Phone Etiquette, I knew I had to share it.
Cell Phone Etiquette

To be clear, I feel like these things have ALWAYS been a problem for some people, but I also feel like these kinds of interactions have gotten even worse lately. I hope as we come back together and are more social as we get vaccinated and really start to beat this COVID-19 pandemic that we can be more socially aware. I know I plan to work harder to be more polite and civil to my fellow humans, much to my wife’s relief, I’m sure!

This post first appeared on Use Your Words!  But, the infographic appeared way before that.

12/25/2020

Christmas Day 2020

Filed under: Deep Thoughts,Marginalia and Notes from the Editor,News and Current Events,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

Normally, I’d share a silly link, but not today.

Today, it’s Christmas. The day that Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, also known as Yeshua ben Yeshua, Lamb of God, and Light of the World. We live in strange times, filled with consumerism and fear of the future. Locked in our homes because of a global pandemic, we haven’t been able to celebrate this season the way we might like. Family has been distant for most of us, one way or another, and our usual gatherings, either at religious services or for holiday meals, have been severely curtailed.
My wife and I often celebrate the season quietly anyway, so it hasn’t been as big a burden on us, really. For that, I am thankful. But, this year, more than ever, I think we all need to consider what people from time immemorial have celebrated at this time of year. The actual birth of Jesus most likely happened in the Spring, closer to when we celebrate Easter. But, the early church leaders were very clever and some of the best marketers that history has ever known. They chose to connect the birth of Christ with the far older and more pagan festival connected with the Winter Solstice. That day, which was actually Monday, December 21st this year, is the longest night, and shortest day, of the year. But, it marked the day that a little more light was about to be let into the world, because, the next day was a little longer and each day after that is a little longer too, until the Summer Solstice when the cycle repeats. What’s important though, I think, is that we all are celebrating that this holiday commemorates the continual rebirth of light, joy, and possibilities into the world.
That hope is something that I think we can all use more of this year. So, go, enjoy your families, and spread that hope and light as far as you can carry it in the coming year. It may not be easy, but I think the results will be worth it!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

11/6/2020

D&D Renaissance and Questing Beast

Filed under: Art,Fun,Fun and Games — 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 2020 so far, I feel like we all want to retreat to a fantasy world.

I’m writing this before Election Day, and, I’m sure, well before we know the outcome of the election itself. I hope that it’s a very definitive result, but, I think a lot of us are braced for it all to be a long, drawn-out process. Combine that political insanity with the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions and, well, it’s no surprise that fantasy role-playing games are enjoying a resurgence. And, of course, the great-grand-daddy of role-playing games is Dungeons and Dragons. I haven’t played myself in at least thirty years, but I do own a LOT of the game books. I keep them around for the inspiration they give me and the ways they spark my imagination, though I understand that, somehow, playing D&D has become cool again, with famous actors and Hollywood people playing. In any case, those strange circumstances have brought about a surprising amount of new interest in the game and resources to play. All of that brings me to a post on Boing Boing by Gareth Branwyn about a podcast reviewing FRPG zines. The podcast is on YouTube and is called “Questing Beast” and their channel has all kinds of video podcasts about fantasy role-playing games, but in particular D&D in various forms. Look, like anything, some of these are better than others, but they’re mostly fun if you’re into the game, or if you’re interested in getting back into the game. And, obviously, they’re super into role-playing games, so they’re ultra sincere about the reviews and so on. Oh, and there are a bunch of different “channels” that are part of Questing Beast, each with their own quirks and themes.

Anyway, if you have any interest in this subject at all, I hope this podcast gives you a little bit of distraction from the flaming dumpster fire that has been 2020!

This post originally appeared on my non-technical, much more personal blog, Use Your Words!

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!

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.

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.

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