The post-flu world

Yes, given how awful and lingering this flu has been, I am now dividing my life into pre-flu and post-flu.

Every night for about the past week I have intended to post something to the blog–maybe a haiku, or a comment about the weather (done), but every night, after dinner and by mid-evening I find I have no energy left. The idea of laying down becomes immensely appealing. The idea of engaging my brain while sitting upright seems like far too much work.

That said, I’m forcing myself tonight, as you can now see. So here’s a haiku on the flu. A fluku, if you will.

The flu strikes swiftly
Energy sinks like a stone
Weeks later, still blah

Okay, not exactly my finest work, but it’s a start. Of something.

January 2020 weight loss report: Down 0.7 pounds

It’s a new year and time for new fat! Well, hopefully not.

First, a review of last year. I started the year at 167.5 pounds, 17.5 pounds from my target of 150. I ended the year at 171.8, up 4.3 pounds. As weight loss plans go, this was not exactly the ideal. The only positive is that I got through the month of December without gaining (or losing weight), a somewhat impressive feat given how much candy and treats one gets plied with over the holidays.

I start this year at 171.1 pounds, which is down for the month of January. I had dipped even lower thanks to the flu, but some last minute indulgences pushed me back over 170 pounds. I used food as comfort again, which was bad and I feel bad. But it was yummy. But still, bad.

So here I am 21.1 pounds away from my goal. I am almost recovered from the flu and will start running again. I have managed to keep the snacking under control lately, so who knows, maybe this will bee the year I actually dip below 160 again.

January 1: 171.8 pounds
January 31: 171.1 pounds (down 0.7 pounds)

Year to date: From 171.8 to 171.1 pounds (down 0.7 pounds)

And the body fat:

January 1: 21% (36.1 pounds of fat)
January 31:
21.6% (36.9 pounds of fat) (up 0.8 pounds)

Book review: The Happiness Equation

The Happiness Equation: Want Nothing + Do Anything = Have Everything

The Happiness Equation: Want Nothing + Do Anything = Have Everything by Neil Pasricha

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I saw Neil Pasricha at The Art of Leadership in Vancouver in December 2019, and he is a passionate, funny speaker, one of those compelling personalities that will compel you to buy-in what they’re saying just through their sheer enthusiasm and exuberant delivery.

In book form the effect is muted, so it’s easier to sit back and ask yourself, “Is this really god advice?”
Of course, one of the things Pasricha writes about in the quest for happiness is to ignore advice. Except sometimes you can listen to it.

A lot of the book trades on this line of thinking—take what you need for you, discard the rest. Be true to yourself, above everything else, and a lot of the happiness that eludes you will fall into place on its own, or at least more readily than it would otherwise.

One of the things Paricha mentioned in his talk that he doesn’t really address in The Happiness Equation, is his view of smartphones. He describes them as “poison”, strongly urging everyone to drastically scale back how much—and for what reasons—they use them. This does tie in with one of the broad philosophies of the book—to be authentic, to not do things to curry favor or approval of others (“This post is sure to get lots of likes!”) but to just be yourself, flaws and all, because this is the foundation of being happy.

It makes sense, really. If you can’t accept who you are, how likely are you to be happy? Pasricha’s advice (which you can accept or reject as appropriate, of course) ranges from the simple (put your gym clothes within easy reach to make it more likely you’ll actually change and go to the gym) to things people would want to consider very carefully—like, how happy is your significant other? Are they dragging you down? Are you better off leaving them?

A lot of the rest of the tips are basically about shutting off access and focusing. He rightly points out that people are easily distracted and tend to multitask poorly. He encourages people to apportion the time to check things like email to a minimum, to “unplug” as much as possible, what some might see as a kind of digital detox. It’s actually pretty appealing, but I say this as someone who works in IT and has started to have had my fill of the same.

At times funny and sometimes a little awkward, there’s a lot to recommend in Pasricha’s approach to achieving happiness, even if some of his declarations are bound to surprise or even shock. He believes retirement is a bad thing and points out that it’s mostly a modern invention, and the argument is compelling. He isn’t suggesting 85 year olds should be working 40 hour weeks, but more that to stay happy, people need to keep doing things and feeling productive, no matter what this things may be.
I’ll revisit this book over time to see how some of its advice plays out. It’s not perfect and Pasricha openly encourages the reader to discard the things that won’t work for them, but there is enough here to at least shake things up a bit and see what happens.

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The final flu weight loss tally is…5.4 pounds

Of which I gained back 1.8 pounds overnight, after eating the world’s most calorie-rich homemade French onion soup (it was very tasty, however).

Here’s the final chart showing the max just before the flu hits and the bottom where I still had very little appetite. As of this morning, post-soup, I am 169.7, so already I am perilously close to edging above 170 pounds again, which is BAD.

The secret to the weight loss was not actually getting sick, of course, it was not eating. Having no appetite due to the ravages of the flu (P.S. get your flu shot) just expedites the process.

The tricky part starts now, as my appetite returns to normal. For the last week I have not done much of any snacking because the idea of snacks has been grossbuckets. Now, though, food can once again return to something I find comforting, reassuring–a welcome distraction from whatever is happening. And therein lies the return to the fat.

But I’m going to try. I really want to stay under 170 for the rest of the month and build on that. I have five days to go and snacks in the pantry.

We’ll see what happens.

A dream in which an alien machine wrecks our historic buildings

Last night I had an odd dream that I actually remember fairly well.

I was in downtown Vancouver, within view of Burrard Inlet. The sky was a bright, clear blue and the way people were dressed suggested it was summer.

To my left was one of the historical buildings that one finds along the harbour–think the Waterfront Station building–though in this case the building more closely resembled the Hudson’s Bay building which is not, in fact, located on the harbour. It was a dream building, then, but close enough to reality to serve its purpose.

Directly ahead of me, in the inlet, was what appeared to be a giant oil derrick, except it had been modified or created with a different purpose. Atop it was a fully articulated arm, the end of which was tipped with a very large spike. For scale, I’d say the spike itself was probably 20 feet long. Not the kind of spike you’d want to be caught under. This spike was almost casually reaching over and chipping away at the historic building reminiscent of the Hudson’s Bay store. From where I stood I couldn’t see the actual damage the spike might be doing, but somehow I knew that it shouldn’t have been doing this, but also couldn’t be stopped, because the platform was an alien construction and we puny humans had no control over it.

After some time passed there was a tremendous heaving sound from the building and I looked over in time to see an impressively large chunk of it–multiple stories–come loose, and topple into the inlet. Moments after, the spike managed to needle its way into a more modern structure and what appeared to be an entire skyscraper suddenly appeared in the sky, somehow pulled loose from its foundation, and which was now making its way directly down toward the people gathered.

I began to run to the east to avoid being squashed, but my mom–who was apparently there the entire time–had a better read on the building’s trajectory and told me to stop. I stopped and the building crashed into the harbour. We then conferred briefly and I suggested we walk to my place to see what the fallout of all this might be. Most people were similarly clearing out of the area, not in a panic, but in a “better safe than sorry” kind of way. The direction we headed suggested I was still living on East 19th Avenue, which would put the timeframe of the dream somewhere between 2001 and 2011, but it felt earlier than that, like I was still in my late 20s or maybe early 30s.

The dream ended there, so I’m not sure what our building-mashing alien overlords had in mind next, but the thing that lingered with me later was how strangely banal the whole thing was. An alien construct appeared or arrived in Burrard Inlet, it started poking away at nearby buildings, and all we could do was shrug and wait to see what happened. So we did.

Which is quite possibly the way something like this might actually unfold, if we were clearly powerless to stop it.

Getting really sick remains an effective weight loss program

I hadn’t got around to getting my flu shot yet, thinking, “What are the odds?” Then my partner got the flu and I thought, “What are the odds?”

It turns out the odds were quite excellent, as two days after his symptoms appeared, mine did the same. What has followed has been five days in which I have slept copious amounts, along with bouts of sneezing, coughing and all the other fun stuff one associates with colds and the flu.

And as always, the flu remains an excellent way to lose weight, as lack of appetite played prominently the first few days. The Fitbit chart above shows how I managed to drop 4.1 pounds in four days. For months the goal of breaking under 170 pounds has eluded me and all this time all I had to do was get incredibly ill.

Anyway, get your flu shot.

Treadmill: When running would require cross-country travel

Cross-country to somewhere it isn’t snowing, that is. This is the current scene outside the spare bedroom where the treadmill lives. The greenery is looking rather white:

My exercise was delayed when I discovered the right bud of my new AirPods hadn’t charged and was dead. I did not want to work out in mono. I did a bit of fiddling, let the AirPods charge for about 10 minutes or so, which is normally enough for an hour’s use, but no go. The right one was still dead. I grumbled, failed to find my wired EarPods, grumbled some more and then connected my Moves via old-fashioned wired connection (with Apple-provided dongle) and used them. Surprisingly, they worked fairly well. I thought they would get too sweaty, but the Arctic chill seems to have helped there.

(The AirPods seem to be properly charged now, but my faith in them has been broken like a cracker in the jaws of a hungry parrot.)

I kept up the pace for 50 minutes, which is partway through “Mr. Blue Sky”, an utterly ironic song to end on today. For some reason I was feeling absurdly energetic to start and my first two kms were 8:39 and 8:51. This moderated over the last three km, but still, not sure why I was so peppy. But peppy is good.

Here are the stats, with my previous 50 minute walk in brackets. Note that the previous one was at a 6 km/h pace.

Speed: 6.5 km/h (6 km/h)
Incline: 10

Pace: 9:04/km  (9:51/km)
Time: 50:04 (50:05)
Distance: 5.52 km (5.08 km)
Calories burned: 520 (533)
BPM: 141 (144)

On the Edge

Today Microsoft released the new, Chromium-based version of its Edge browser. Chromium is the open standard that Google uses as the basis for Chrome, so while some think that Microsoft has essentially caved in and started using a reskinned version of Chrome, that’s not true. In fact, Microsoft will now have direct influence over the future of Chromium, helping to reduce Google’s oversized leverage.

Chromium Edge also doesn’t include all of Google’s data-collecting services, too–an important distinction.

While I have used Firefox for a hundred years and will use it for a hundred more, long after I’ve become a floating head in a jar, I am interested in seeing what an actual competitive Microsoft browser looks like. I’ve installed it on my PC and will also install it on my MacBook Pro and mini. I’m going to try sticking with it for a solid week to see how it feels vs. what I’m used to in Firefox.

Realistically, I don’t expect to keep using it, but you never know. I’ve previously used Chrome and yes, Internet Explorer, as my main browsers in the past, so I’m open to change.

Here’s a few things I already like (some of these are common features to most browsers, others are more unique):

  • Pinned tabs
  • Pinned sites on the taskbar. I find this more useful than I thought.
  • Reading mode
  • Being able to use Chrome extensions from the Chrome web store (MS’s store is a bit sparse)
  • The pretty backgrounds you can opt to get on the new tab page
  • The new tab page customization options
  • Nice-looking dark mode
  • Generally speedy, though these are early days. Er, hours.

UPDATE: The new tab page only lets you have a maximum of seven “top sites.” This is fantastically dumb and basically a deal breaker for me. I then spent most of the evening looking at other new tab extensions, but they all had features missing or other issues, such as:

  • Ugly as all get-out
  • Kind of skeevy (usually requiring an account)
  • Locking basic functionality behind a monthly subscription (lol)
  • Lacked customization (icon sizes, etc.)
  • Focusing on widgets and other things over presenting a list of sites

I did a search hoping there might be a way to have more than seven top sites on the official new tab page, but my results yielded nothing. I was using Bing, though.

A haiku to the first snowfall of 2019

We have our first real snow (not fake snow) of 2020 and it’ll be around for at least a few days, thanks to sub-freezing temperatures (it’s -6°C as I type this at midday). Rather than curse the snow, I will haiku it instead.

It's snow time again
That white stuff is everywhere
Stay inside till spring

Treadmill: Not in the snow

It’s snowing so the treadmill is my BFF right now.

Another 30 minute workout. I anticipate that the treadmill will be all but mandatory for the next week or two, given the weather forecast.

A little peppier tonight, maybe because I was filled with pizza, the most perfect food in the universe.

Stats:

Speed: 6.5 km/h
Incline: 10

Pace: 9:11/km (9:18 km/h)
Time: 30:08 (30.04)
Distance: 3.28 km (3.23 km)
Calories burned: 296 (290)
BPM: 138 (135)

Book review: Terrifying Tales to Tell at Night

Terrifying Tales to Tell at Night: 10 Scary Stories to Give You Nightmares!

Terrifying Tales to Tell at Night: 10 Scary Stories to Give You Nightmares! by Stephen Jones

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Another uneven horror collection, but this is pretty much the standard, so overall I found it perfectly fine and would recommend it as a quick read if you can grab it at a lower price.

Ostensibly aimed at kids (the acknowledgements section notes that some stories have been edited for content), some of these tales are pretty dark, so Stephen Jones’ warning about these causing nightmares may be apt for younger readers.

A brief take on each of the ten stories:

Click-Clack the Rattlebag (Neil Gaiman) is a typical Gaiman story, with a droll sort of delivery, the promise of spooky shenanigans, then it abruptly ends, so it certainly fits the “short” part of “short story.” It was fine.

Homemade Monster (R. Chetwynd-Hayes) is a light, modern take on the Frankenstein monster, featuring an easily distracted mad scientist, a yearning-to-be-sophisticated helper and exploding parts. It’s fun, if slight.

The Sideways Lady (Lynda E. Rucker) features a sister and brother out ghost-hunting in an abandoned house across town said to be haunted by an entity called The Sideways Lady. On Halloween they wrap up their trick or treating then go explore the house, joining up with a few older, skeptical kids along the way. The allegedly empty house has a strange occupant–and maybe others, as well. The kids felt authentic, but the actual haunting part seemed a bit confused, as if the author went in several directions, couldn’t decide, and tried to make both work.

Here There Be Tygers (Stephen King). Taken from King’s first collection, Night Shift, this is a curiously delightful tale about a boy at school who needs to use the washroom very badly, the possible presence of tigers in said washroom and what might happen to the frumpy, rude old teacher he has to endure when all elements are combined. The light, almost absurdist tone here stands out from the bulk of King’s work.

The Chimney (Ramsey Campbell) starts out as a simple story about a boy who is frightened of Santa and of the huge fireplace in the bedroom of the very old house he lives in. It gets progressively darker, turning from a child’s tale to something downright grim. I liked it, but this is one of those that could very well give younger kids bad dreams.

School for the Unspeakable (Manly Wade Wellman). First, Manly Wade Wellman is a great author name. This story, about a boy sent to a private school, is terrifically weird and unsettling. When Bart Setwick arrives at the school–at night, of course,–it’s strangely dark and the boys he meets are just strange. Things escalate quickly from there before the (mild) twist is revealed. This reads like a classic spooky story told ’round the campfire.

Granny’s Grinning (Robert Shearman). Told in a deliberately twee style, with giant paragraphs stuffed with dialogue from multiple characters, this is the one story I didn’t finish. I just didn’t care enough about the story or characters to push past the writing style. Grandma was probably a zombie or something.

The Chemistry of Ghosts (Lisa Morton). This feels like a YA story, in which a brother and sister attempt to find the brother’s missing friend, who the brother fears has disappeared in the closed wing of a college said to be haunted by a former chemistry professor. It is not a spoiler to say this is correct and the ghostly instructor challenges the kids to a series of puzzles to get their friend back–and avoid being trapped in the wing forever with him. Light, almost breezy, with plenty of opportunity for kids to try to figure things out and brag about how smart they are.

The Man Who Drew Cats (Michael Marshall Smith). A quiet stranger moves into a small town and begins to paint and draw in the town square, sharing (some) small talk with the locals at a nearby pub in the evenings. This is one of those stories that telegraphs what will happen in huge neon letters, but knows it, and makes the journey to its inevitable destination as entertaining as possible. In this case, an abusive husband gets his comeuppance when the stranger turns his drawing skills to certain beasts. In a way, this is a great companion to “Here There Be Tygers.”

Are You Afraid of the Dark? (Charles L. Grant). Basically, a story about a very bad babysitter. It’s weird, a bit gruesome and maybe should have been the second-to-last story in the collection.

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