Diary of a Network Geek

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

11/27/2020

Give Back On Black Friday

Filed under: About The Author,Deep Thoughts,Marginalia and Notes from the Editor — 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

Instead of engaging in conspicuous spending on the biggest sale day of the year, why not give back?

I’m not a huge fan of consumerism, but at the same time, I’m trapped in a culture that’s filled with it. And, while I try to avoid indulging in the Black Friday sales in the middle of an extended holiday allegedly about giving thanks for what we already have, I will admit that I have done it. To atone for my past sins, this year, instead of pointing out all the best sales, I’d like to share a different idea. Instead of spending money on stuff we mostly don’t need, why not give some money to a good cause? Charitable donations are down and have been for some time. I know I haven’t been able to afford to give as much as I’d like the past several years. On the other hand, if you do have the ability and inclination, I’d like to suggest a couple of charities that I believe in and have given to in the past.

Fight for the Future is an advocacy group that believes in keeping the internet accessible for everyone, not just the rich. They fought the FCC hard, especially the past four years, to try and keep Net Neutrality alive.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has been fighting to keep the internet “free, fair and open” even longer. I donated money to these folks in person when I was at DEFCON 20 a few years back. They do good work and are also at the forefront of internet freedom.
Another internet charity that touches many of our lives is the Wikimedia Foundation. They’re the people behind Wikipedia, which we all reference at the encyclopedia of choice on the internet. It’s not perfect, but I definitely find them to be a valuable resource and worthy of support.
So, too, is the Internet Archive, which has helped me track down more information than the live internet more than once. Also, they have a fantastic public archive of many forms of media, including video and audio, that are well worth supporting in my opinion.

On a less digital front, Feeding America funds food banks all across America, helping to feed people in need. Supporting food banks, local and national, is something near and dear to my heart, as I’ve known several people, including some in my own family, that have relied on them to put meals on the table.
Also, the Meals On Wheels/Animeals programs are similar and equally worthy causes. While many of us have heard of Meals On Wheels, not as many are familiar with their Animeals program that helps those in need feed their animals as well as themselves. The donation page has both an opportunity for direct donations and Amazon wishlists for people who want to donate needed items directly and safely.
Of course, as a strong believer in pet adoption, not sale, I always think that supporting the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is a worthy cause to support financially as well. Those animals can’t speak for themselves and the ASPCA speaks for them. All my dogs have been adopted. Those goofy mutts don’t know that they were thrown away by someone else. All they know is that we give them the best life we can and return that love tenfold. Every system administrator should have a rescue dog to come home to because, no matter how unappreciative our users may be of our efforts, those dogs are always happy to see us come home!

And, for something a little more controversial, even though I spent most of my life as a conservative voter, the American Civil Liberties Union has been fighting for our collective civil rights for more than 100 years. Yes, sometimes they fight for things I don’t believe in specifically, but they fight for the principle that the Bill of Rights is for all citizens of the United States of America and the freedom it promises us matters. The ACLU is definitely farther to the Left of the political spectrum than I am, but they still fight for my right to be free.
Finally, and perhaps the most controversially, Planned Parenthood is worth giving to as well. I’m against abortion, but I’m in favor of everyone making that choice for themselves. What someone else does with their body is not my business and I don’t think we should regulate morality at that level. I’m sure it goes against the teachings of every church I’ve been a member of, but I believe that true freedom is the right for other people to make choices that I would not. And, Planned Parenthood is an organization that believes in supplying women with the information and care they need to make informed, healthy choices about their lives and reproductive choices.

I’m sure not all my readers will agree with these charitable suggestions. That’s okay. These are causes that I believe in and support, one way or another, though they are not ALL the charities I support. Even if you don’t choose any of these causes, I encourage you to support a cause you do believe in rather than spend money on consumer trash none of us need. Because what we DO need, more than ever, is compassion and a little help for our fellow travelers in this life.

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!

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.

7/10/2020

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!

6/26/2020

Facing The Black Dog

Filed under: Deep Thoughts,News and Current Events,Personal Care,Red Herrings — 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

Yeah, I’m talking about depression.

That metaphor, calling depression the “Black Dog”, is usually attributed to Winston Churchill, but I’ve definitely heard it from a lot of sources. We tend to want to show our best faces on social media and on our blogs, but the truth is, most of us aren’t the happy, shiny Instragram people we want the world to see. I know I’ve had my own bouts of depression, on and off, for years. It feels like sitting in the bottom of a pit without light or hope, at best forgotten, but at worst with people shoveling dirt on top of me. There have been various reasons for it and I’m grateful that all my depression has been transitory. It’s always been what I call situational depression. One time, it was because I was getting divorced. Another time it was because my cardiologist had given me betablockers, which killed my motivation and made me want to just lay on the couch all the time. There have been other times, usually around a job loss or some other relationship failure on my part.
Right now, though, all of 2020 so far has been enough to depress anyone. I mean, I’m pretty blessed to have a job that pays well and lets me work from home at least some of the time, but I’m very aware that a lot of people don’t have that. And, even though I count my blessings on a regular basis, I still worry about COVID-19 for my wife and me and the rest of my family. I still worry about the economy and my friends who don’t have stable work. I’m absolutely blessed, but only someone out of touch with reality wouldn’t find some things to be depressed about right now.
And, even in that, I know I’m lucky. My depression has always gone away, so I know the latest bout of it will absolutely fade, too. But, my wife has clinical depression. She spends a good portion of her day dealing with that, whether it’s making sure all the meds she takes are right and that she’s stocked up correctly, or planning healthy meals, or trying to get enough rest, or enough exercise. She works very hard at it all the time. And, I’ve seen her when all that’s NOT working and she does get swallowed up by depression. I know how hard it is to watch, and I can only imagine how hard it is to live through.
So, I’ve got nothing fun or happy or silly for you this week. What I’ve got is a little understanding if the Black Dog has gotten off the leash and you need a little help. If you feel like everything is too much and depression might overwhelm you, try one of the resources here:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255

MentalHealth.gov – Get Immediate Help

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

And, 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!

6/5/2020

Political Agenda

Filed under: Deep Thoughts,News and Current Events,Truth and Consequences — 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 a Full Moon

Buckle up, this might be a bit of a bumpy ride.

I usually work pretty hard to stay non-political on my blog, but it’s too late for that. As my childhood hero, Abraham Lincoln famously said “In times like the present, men should utter nothing for which they would not willingly be responsible through time and eternity.” So, what I’m willing to say and be responsible for through time and eternity is that, yes, we need to change. We need to be a truly free and equal society. Being more aware is a start. I can’t change everything myself, but we can damn well vote for people that we think can change things to be more like the way we were taught they should be. We can vote for officials that want to make our country what we were taught it was already. Every state can be a swing state if enough people vote their conscience. If you’re not registered to vote yet, go do that right now.

And, we can continue to educate ourselves, because it is OUR responsibility to educate ourselves as to the condition of our fellow citizens, not theirs. I’ve already bought the Autobiography of Malcolm X and there are several lists of racial justice books that have been recommended, including this list from Early Bird Books and this list from the Chicago Public Library. We can read books from those lists and continue to educate ourselves because this is an issue that we can’t ignore any more.

We can support more minority businesses. There’s a great list of resources for Black freelancers at Freelancers Union that include lists of Black businesses we can support.

We can donate to causes that support a United States of America that is truly free and equal for all of her citizens, like the ACLU, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or the Southern Poverty Law Center. Not everyone may be willing to risk their life or incarceration to protest injustice, but we can absolutely support those people who are fighting that fight. We may not even be able to donate time to them, but we can absolutely give them money to keep the fight going.

Why do all that? Because, while we may not be who’s afraid today, we can be who’s afraid tomorrow. And, because the things that the activists are fighting for will benefit all of us as a nation.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

5/8/2020

Today, More Than Ever…

Filed under: Deep Thoughts,Fun,Personal Care,The Day Job,The Network Geek at Home,Truth and Consequences — 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

In these troubled times, we’re all talking about the same thing in the same way.

I know the isolation is getting rough for all of us and it’s definitely giving me more days where I feel like my brain has more in common with moldy cottage cheese than the evolutionary advantage I’m told it is. In fact, I’ve been trying to write this post for days. Normally, I queue up these weekly posts with plenty of time to spare, but, lately, I’ve been writing them closer and closer to my self-imposed morning deadline. Honestly, I know in part it’s because I’ve been just as busy as I normally am, if not busier, but also because my creative thinking is just weak and stagnate. That’s been made no better by the posts on LinkedIn telling me that “…[if] you don’t come out this quarantine with: -A new skill -Your side hustle started -More knowledge you never lacked time, you lacked discipline.” For one thing, that’s bullshit. If you have time to do any of those things, you’re unemployed and worried about finding work and healthcare, which is not conducive to actually accomplishing any of those things, or you’re stealing time and resources from your employer. Either that, or you’re about to be laid off because you’re normally so unproductive that you have all this spare time and just needed to be able to more sufficiently hide that from your supervisor by not being seen. And, even if you aren’t doing that, but for various reasons are legitimately employed and legitimately not stealing time from your employer, you may still be massively depressed because of all the chaos and fear and stress at all levels of society. Saying that we should all just get our collective shit together and magic up some of that toxic hustle that the magical thinking, next-wave, would-be Napoleon Hill’s have been trying to sell us for the past decade, is about like telling a person with clinical depression they should just try to be happier. That’s not how it works. If that’s all it took, we wouldn’t have a multi-billion dollar antidepressant medication industry. Granted, those faux inspirational messages all seem to come from marketing companies who, traditionally, make more money when they can sell people things to fix problems we don’t have until the marketing companies convince us that we need to fix them, but it seems like it’s been really bad the last couple of years. Really, it’s just the latest “get rich quick” scheme meant to fleece the unwary and desperate. Of course, the truth there is that the only way to get rich quickly, is to sell someone else the “sure-fire method” of getting rich with little to no work. (Spoiler alert; those are all scams!)
And, for me, the added stress and strangeness of working from home has made everything seem flat and repetitive. Surely, you’ve noticed that all the commercials lately sound the same, right? According to the Boing Boing article titled “Every COVID-19 Commercial Is Exactly The Same”, part of my challenge may be something called “semantic satiation”, which is “…a psychological phenomenon in which repetition causes a word or phrase to temporarily lose meaning for the listener, who then perceives the speech as repeated meaningless sounds.” And, that’s officially the excuse I’m using for why it feels like nothing anyone is saying any more matters. And, that’s true for news stories about the ailing economy, too. So, basically, what I’m saying here is that I feel massively overwhelmed by this entire situation, as do, I imagine, the two other people who probably still read this blog, as well as everyone else in the country. We can’t keep track of what day it is, or what we should be doing, which are both signs of stress and depression, by the way. And, I seriously think that just maintaining my “day job” is impressive enough.
The thing is, the world is changing. Of course, the world is always changing, but, right now, we are all very, very aware of the fact that it’s changing and that the changes are pretty much all out of our control. Honestly, that’s how it is pretty much all the time, but, right now, we just can’t avoid that particular truth. And, you know what? That’s a really scary thing to wake up to and it’s okay to be scared or whatever you may be feeling by all this. It’s okay. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed and like it’s super hard to do anything that really matters. It’s okay to just want to have a hobby that’s fun and not going to result in some monetary gain. It is okay.
For me, that’s been photography in the past. They way I like to do photography takes a lot of time, though, so I haven’t done as much as I’d like. If you feel like you’d like to get creative and learn a little photography, for fun, but haven’t known where to start, I have good news. Now you can get some free, thanks to the Photography Life YouTube channel, which has all kinds of video tutorials meant for beginners. (I do have to admit, I found them thanks to PetaPixel.)
If that’s too much, then go ahead and try a game. In the past I’ve talked about Universal Paperclips, which is still a good choice, as it mostly runs in the background after a certain point. But, there’s also a new game that looks fun, based on this article on Engadget, Who knew I’d get obsessed with a spreadsheet game?.
And, if you just need to have some soothing music in the background while you try to work, try Robert Fripp’s Music for Quiet Moments series. Each is about 50 minutes of gentle, peaceful music. For something a little more unnverving, try the AI-generated music based on famous artist’s original work. It’s a little odd, but certainly interesting.

Finally, I’d like to share something with you that I personally find helpful and uplifting; Pema Chödrön on SuperSoul Sunday via the Oprah Winfrey Network YouTube channel. She’s a fantastic Buddhist teacher and her talks and books are incredibly valuable teaching for me in “these uncertain times”.

So, like I promised, things are getting weird. Next week, I’ll be in the office a bit. My co-worker and I are coming in every other day, to try and help keep the potential for exposure to COVID-19 to a minimum for us. I pray that it goes well.
Check in next week to see!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

5/1/2020

Time Distortion Under Stress

Filed under: Deep Thoughts,Fun,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 Waxing Gibbous

Or, does anybody really know what time it is?

I know everyone is talking about this, but I have to constantly remind myself of the day and time. And, yes, I know this is a side effect of being do far out of my normal routine, like everyone else is, that my brain’s sense of time has gone into a kind of psychological freefall. Also, it it may be a side of effect of both the isolation and the stress. I know, for instance, that some of my issues with concentration and memory are almost certainly related to the stress of working from home and the rush I went through to try and get as many people as possible able to work remotely. So, I feel confident that when my work schedule more closely resembles something that’s at least regular, if not “normal” whatever that even means any more, some of those issues will be less. Of course, that sense of time dislocation and general fuzzy-headedness is the reason that I’m writing this at 10:30pm on Thursday night, when I usually write these much earlier in the day and week, queueing them up in time for Friday morning. At least I know that I’m doing the things that will generally help with long-term stress, according to this article on LifeHacker, which is keeping up with my normal, regular sessions of sitting meditation, regular phone calls to distant family, and getting back on my rowing machine, which I’ve neglected for far too long. I should be getting better sleep and trying to be more creatively engaged, but, well, the concentration and memory things make that difficult for me. And, I’ve always had some issues sleeping, more so since having had cancer back in 2007. But, I work at all that, as well as trying to cultivate and maintain a positive mental attitude, which is frustratingly difficult. Though, thanks to this article on Boing Boing about positive thinking, at least I know why I still struggle with it, and, again, I find it comforting that I’m mostly doing the things suggested in the article and video to reinforce positive thinking rather than the negative. It sure is a process though, as the arty types are fond of saying.
And, just a quick note before I share some of the more fun links. COVID-19 is still super serious and the experts all seem to agree that there are more illnesses and, unfortunately, deaths coming from this. I know initially, it looked like it was going to be no more serious than the regular flu, but at the time I write this, the deaths from COVID-19 in roughly two months already have surpassed the number of deaths from the flu in all of the 2017-2018 flu season. And, not only do many people think those deaths are under-reported, even outside of China, but we’re just getting started here. If you’re having a hard time with visualizing how serious this really is, this article from Stat+ has some good visualizations for the potential death toll. That’s not counting, of course, the people who may suffer from long-term health issues after actually recovering from the disease. So, these numbers are why we’re being asked to wear a mask in public. That and the fact that symptoms take up to two weeks to appear and during that time an asymptomatic COVID-19 patient breathing out on someone could be infecting them. In other words, when I wear a mask, it’s as much about protecting those around me as it is protecting myself. Keep that in mind before you rant too much about your civil rights being infringed by a mask. Of course, some of my strong feelings about this may come from the fact that I just recently finished reading The Great Influenza, about the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic. It’s a little terrifying how similar the entire situation is to what we’re facing today. (And, if you’re a glutton for punishment, you can follow the daily stats in the US via Google. Again, the numbers are a little terrifying.)

Okay, now that I’ve got you good and worked up over something or other, here is the gentle, distracting content you actually came here for!
Just to start you off with something mellow, via Boing Boing, Muzak for Airplanes. Believe it or not, this offering from the same people who brought you soothing elevator music dates back to the 60’s and is so chill I can absolutely see it keeping uneasy airline passengers calm. We aren’t flying much these days, but the calm music is pretty nice background sound.
And, while you’re at it, check out Isle of Calm; 6 hours of calm, soothing music from NPR.
One of the ways I generally escape the world is through books. And, regular readers, if I haven’t frightened you away by now, know that I love free or cheap ebooks. It’s how I roll. So, in an effort to encourage more of the world to read, here’s a Lifehacker article/video on where to get free ebooks. And, if you can’t find what you’re looking for there, try one of the sources in this list of free ebook sites from MakeUseOf. Hopefully, between the two of them, you’ll find something to take your mind of all this.

And, for the kids of all ages, there’s NASA at Home, daily offerings from NASA to bring space into your home with books, videos, activities and more. There’s surely something here to enlighten or entertain, all brought to you thanks to your tax dollars, so enjoy it!
For the geeks that need to do something with their hands, there’s Rocky Bergen’s computer papercraft models. All free to download and share. You just need to print them, score and fold them, then glue them to recreate classic computers from paper in your home. Seriously, they’re pretty cool and I may have to try one, just for something different to do.

Finally, something for homeowners that are thinking about all that toilet paper we’re flushing at home, via Boing Boing; the Drain Addict. A YouTube channel of a professional drain cleaner. Trust me when I tell you that if the idea of 450 videos about cleaning out blocked drains doesn’t interest you, you’ve never had a major plumbing problem in your home. It’s weirdly fascinating. (And, if you want to go right to the YouTube channel, it’s here.)

So, there you go. Enjoy! See you next week with… Really, I have no idea. But there’ll be something here.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

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