Friday, January 31, 2014

Flow

I'm still working on the same card I started last Thursday. Monday, another of the new Devs paired with me, and together we resolved the first half of the problem. I had the solution, but didn't have ALL the information I needed for that solution to work. Now we're working on the 2nd half. We worked in different directions, and it looks like neither of our solution paths will work. Now we're trying to create a new stored procedure. I obviously do not have the right mind-set for this position yet, because this is the 3rd time in the past month I've encountered the need to create a new stored procedure to resolve my issue, and it's the 3rd time that thought never even occurred to me.  

It's been 6 months since I jumped the wall into PD. I've had 4+ months of training, 2 solid months of actual work, and I still struggle with the learning curve. The amount I need to learn compared to the pace at which I'm learning still affects my self esteem. I know I'm smart enough to do the job, but every day I question if I've bitten off more than I can chew. I know I can learn what I need to know, eventually. My problem is how often I don't have what I need to know NOW in order to accomplish my daily tasks. I find this incredibly frustrating, and I'm feeling decidedly beaten down by the experience.
 Whenever we finish a card, we're supposed to ask if anyone needs a pair. I've found myself stuck enough to accept that help a few times lately. There is no shame in accepting the help but I'd almost prefer to work alone, even on the more challenging cards. I would struggle and take forever, when we don't have an infinite amount of time. I would ask a lot of questions and need help in certain sections, which would take time away from the more experienced Devs. In the end though, I would do the work and learn more in the process. At this point on my current card, I'm again in the position of watching the other Dev do my work. I have little to contribute, and am basically just staying out of the way until it's done. This is not a good place for me to be.
Until this job, I was accustomed to arriving at work and immediately diving into the flow of the day. "Flow" being a sense of focus and involvement, where I'm challenged but capable and can get lost in what I'm doing. It's a state I enjoy, that makes time pass more quickly and allows me to feel accomplished on a regular basis. Flow has a growth element, where tasks are equal to or somewhat greater than skill level. There is no flow in mundane or menial tasks. There is also no flow when the tasks are too far above current skill level.
HERE is NOT where I am right now. Some cards, I am challenged and can eventually find the solution. Some cards, like several I've picked up lately, I am challenged beyond my current knowledge and experience base. Not only is there no flow, I constantly feel like I’m banging my head against a brick wall. I just don't know enough yet, and it's frustrating enough to make me question this path on a regular basis. I have to keep reminding myself to be patient, that I am learning and growing, albiet more slowly than I could wish. This is not an easy thing for ADD/OCD/Instant Gratification Girl.
One way I've found to remind myself I am actually growing is to track the cards I've done. In going through the physical cards, I realized I've completed about twice as many as I originally thought. Almost half of those have passed QA without failing at all (a personal goal I set for myself months ago). It's also possible to see the improvement curve in the cards that have failed, in the reasons they failed and the number of times they failed. 

Another is to track things on the blog. This is part of why I started blogging again: to track my accomplishments. It's easy to focus on the negatives and forget the successes. Writing about them not only impresses them in my memory, it also leaves a record I can refer to later, when I feel I'm making no progress. Being able to refer to successes will also help during glory memo time in the year end review process.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

I may still be learning, but some things I already know

This quote has jumped out at me several times in the past few days. At the same time, I've had at least 2 conversations about a lifetime of learning, and what exactly that means. It's not just learning how to code or why pelicans stand on one leg. It's also making little tweaks in my daily life, and seeing what works.

Dietary tweaks this week include breakfast smoothies:
 4-5 ice cubes,
 ~2 cups water,
 ~4 cups of dark leafy greens,
 1 cup of frozen mixed berries,
 2 tbsp of THIS protein powder.

The protein powder by itself tastes pretty nasty, and a single serving is at least twice what I'm using. Mixed with the berries and greens though, it's good enough. It gets me hydrated first thing, and makes taking my supplements easier than with just water. I thought it would push my entire eating schedule back, but that hasn't been the case. I find I’m still hungry when I get to work, so that's when I have my hard boiled eggs. The biggest difference is in when I get hungry for lunch. That timeframe is now pushed back at least an hour, some days up to an hour and a half. Also, I find I don't get hungry until later in the afternoon and early evening. I'm not ready for dinner until at least 7.

I've gone back and forth about using the protein powder. The powders I can use are limited, because I can't use anything that adds iodine to my diet. It's not exactly Paleo or a whole food, but it is an easy way to get protein without too many calories. Not that I'm counting calories right now. I could add a raw egg to my smoothie, and have in the past. There is the whole salmonella issue with that, as well as the fact I'm already eating several eggs a day. I'm using the protein powder now, but am thinking about using just greens and berries and seeing how my eating schedule fares with that. I've also been digging around online for recipes, and may have to try some other variations as well:
Metabolism Boosting Smoothie: I'm trying to stay as close to Paleo as possible, in an attempt to heal my gut and possibly reduce the effects of my auto-immune disease. For this reason, I won't add yogurt or beans to my smoothies, though I’m sure they would taste wonderful. However, almonds and flaxmeal would give me some protein and keep me full for a time.  
Sweet Spinach Smoothie: You wouldn't know it by my diet this past week, but I’m trying to keep the carbs in check. For this reason, I won’t add both a pear and grapes to my smoothies. Avocado, however, would make them very smooth!  
Green Tea Smoothie: I would do this one with berries instead of grapes, and maybe try it without the honey first. 
 Introduction of the breakfast smoothie does not mean I've eaten entirely clean this week. Monday some 3rd party vendor showed up to thank our company for something or other, and brought 2 Costco shopping carts worth of candy. I didn't find it difficult at all to avoid the gluten and peanut options, but I've lost count of the Almond Joy and Peppermint Patties I've consumed in the past few days. I refuse to be upset at myself over this. I may still be learning, but some things I already know. First off, I know how I get around sugar, and I know how hard it is for me to resist when it's Sitting Right. There. This is who I am, and it doesn't make sense to get angry at myself for behaving the way I always behave. Second, because I don't keep it around, I rarely eat candy. This is not an every day occurrence. Third, I am not the only person eating the candy, and it will be gone from the office by the end of the week.
This is also the first week I've had a full batch of Kombucha brewed. The process (and my schedule) requires I bottle on Saturday, and the secondary fermenting isn't complete until at least Tuesday or Wednesday. This means I drank more sugar than I intended, early in the week. The yeast and bacteria consume the sugar, so more fermented tea has fewer carbs. Fermenting depends on sugar and acid content, time, and room temperature, which is why it can vary by a day or more. This batch came out to just over 4 gallons, which provides me with about 2 quarts/day. There should be some left over by the time I next bottle, so eventually I will have enough fully fermented tea to last until the next batch is fully fermented.

I learn more with every batch of tea. This week I tried using apple juice instead of the cranberry I used last week. I prefer the cranberry, and found it does not take as long to ferment as the apple. I also found, when using quart mason jars, the metal caps are not ideal. The fermentation caused the lids to bow, allowing some of the fizz to escape. Wal-Mart had plastic lids at one point, and I'm hoping I can find those again before next week's batch. I also need to leave more space at the top of the bottle or jar, so they don't overflow when I open them.
Because PRETTY!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Who I am vs. who I am in my head

I keep slamming up against a reality that differs greatly from how I see myself internally. I have frequently professed a love for life-long learning. I have spent time finding places to learn what I need to make my job easier, but have yet to spend any real time doing the actual learning. 
I'm going through a healthy eating program for my company's Vitality program. The program talks about self-image, and how uncomfortable it is to perform against your self image. According to the program, self image is made up of one's thoughts, beliefs, pictures, and emotions. Google defines it as "the idea one has of one's abilities, appearance, and personality." I've based my self image in part on high intelligence, the ability to pick things up quickly, and a strong work ethic. 

I've struggled with this image of myself since moving to the PD department. The last few weeks I've been frustrated and stumped time and again by problems at work. I've had to ask more than once how to do the same something, and at least once I was sure I was right even after having it demonstrated I was wrong. Because work is uncomfortable and intimidating, I find myself spending more and more time on the internet instead of my cards. None of these things sync well with my self-image.
I also see myself as someone who eats healthy, who exercises regularly, yet I can't understand why the combination does not result in a healthy body weight. I'm guessing the "ignore and deny" part of cognitive dissonance is in play here. I ignore the hundreds and hundreds of calories I consume in the evenings, when I'm eating because I'm tired and depressed rather than hungry. I might be eating "healthy" almonds and pistachios, but it doesn't matter how healthy when the number of calories regularly exceeds my daily needs.

Exercise has a similar dissonance. I do work out almost daily. Running is difficult right now for several reasons, so I rarely work up a sweat in the hour or so I'm on the treadmill. I lift or row, but again rarely to a point that makes me sweat. Then I wonder why I'm not seeing any benefits.
It's been said awareness of a problem is the first step toward solving said problem. So now I'm aware. While I don't like to think I have no control over my eating habits, I also know trying to control them simply causes me to implode and make things worse. The best approach I've found is to not have my trigger foods in the house. Couple that with a solid plan for portion control, and the odds are stacked more in my favor.
Regarding exercise, I'm adding intervals into every workout. They may be sprint intervals on the treadmill, if it's a day I can actually run. They may be lifting, or jump rope, or rowing. The deal is at least 10 hard pressed sets of whatever, with limited and timed rest in between. I need to get my heart rate up, then keep it up for a sustained period.

Another thing I'm working toward is joining a Crossfit gym. I originally joined my current gym for motivation purposes. I tend not to work out once I get home, and I tend to work harder when someone is there pushing me. I was excited with the list of available classes. Kickboxing. Zumba. Yoga. Unfortunately, the classes 1) are not at a time I can attend, or 2) are not good for my physical issues, or 3) cost extra. Kickboxing does not incorporate stretching, and consists of too much time on the balls of my feet. It took me almost 2 weeks to recover from one class! Zumba, TRX, and now Crossfit classes all cost extra, from $5 to $25 per class. I'm better off joining a Crossfit gym with access to coaches, trainers, and the type of classes I want to take, all for the same kind of money. Also, Crossfit offers the type of community I miss from my Tae Kwon Do days. My current gym has no community. People (myself included) come in, put their headphones on, and get their swole on without so much as a nod or smile hello.

Working out the financing for Crossfit is going to be a challenge. I have other financial goals I refuse to let slide. If I understand the website correctly, it's month to month with no contract. I believe I can manage this, depending on how often I can donate plasma. I should be able to pay for the month when I have the money, then go my current gym when I don't. My current gym is paid up through November, and I'll still use it the days it's the closer gym. Worst case, I can learn the lifts at the Crossfit gym, then do the Crossfit.com WOD at my current gym until I can get back to the Crossfit gym.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Define "Important"

I've been thinking a lot lately about my lack of creativity and drive to learn, in relation to Maslow's Hierarchy of needs. I know there has been some disagreement with this model, but the idea stuck with me since I first read about it in Psych 101, way back in the early 90's. For those unfamiliar, the concept is that you can't address higher order needs like creativity and learning without first addressing lower order needs like food, shelter, and self esteem. In case I haven't been abundantly clear, I've been suffering from some esteem issues lately. I like to think they are getting better. I'm hoping to push the envelope a bit on addressing more than one need at a time.

I found out yesterday I'm supposed to have read Clean Code and The Clean Coder. Well, not "supposed to have" so much as they made this a requirement for all engineers after me. For me, it was "suggested" on a list of several others. I chose some of the others, because I feared the coding in these. For similar reasons, I also have "How to Think Like a Programmer" and "ReWork" on my list of books I need to read. 

I have yet to figure out where in my schedule I can fit reading. Or rather, where I can fit reading when I intend to retain what I've read. This past week, the closest I've come to learning (outside of the learning I'm doing daily in the course of my job) is to watch a YouTube video on Pompeii, and that I only watched half of while running on the treadmill. I have actual code I want to focus on, but haven't.

The author of Clean Code, "Uncle Bob" Robert C. Martin has apparently done video of the tenants in his books.  A quick YouTube search shows there are several hours of Google Clean Code Talks. If I'm going to watch videos while on the treadmill (when I'm running at home), I should choose these over RedBox Instant (which doesn't have any real selection anyway). I'll still want to read the books. I know I won't retain as much from the videos, especially since they won't have my full attention if I'm also running. 

So let's think about scheduling. Where can I fit in the learning I claim to want as a life-long pursuit?

I've been trying for the past few weeks to get up an hour early and work out before work. That is not happening, so getting up early to learn is also not likely. That leaves after work and weekends.

I'm not making it up early, so my workouts happen daily after work. Monday is a long workout. Tuesday and Thursday I also donate plasma, which takes about an hour to get to from work, then an hour to donate. Essentially, I get home from the gym between 8-9pm most days, except the days I spend at Superman's. Bedtime is 10pm. This does technically leave me an hour or two every day to study. Or write blogs. Or, as has happened lately, read Reddit.

I think it's time for the 15 minute rule. This used to work well for me, when applied to my sculpture. Essentially, I insist on spending at least 15 minutes studying/reading/learning every day. If it's not working for me that day, I can pack it up after 15 minutes. More likely to happen is, once I'm into the book/video/code, I'll look up a half hour or hour later, wondering where the time went. At least that's the hope, and how it worked with the sculpture.

I'll have to set this up for my art too, though it won't be every day. There's at least 15 minutes of set up and clean up involved in that. I'll have to make time on the weekends, which is an entirely different scheduling nightmare. What I can do, every day, is write or sketch out ideas I can then work on over the weekend. 
Not quite there, but getting there. The question is, what exactly is really important? 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Progress

For the past several months, when people asked me how work is going I sighed and launched into my "it's uncomfortable.  It's difficult" speech. I want to clarify that the job itself is fine. The people, the environment, the company: these are not the problem. The problem is how I see myself and how frustrated/impatient I am with my progress. 

My progress meter is about to change. Today I sat for the retake question on the oral exam they give regarding their cornerstone principles. The main reason I failed this question was insecurity in my answer. I talked my way all around the correct answer, but admitted I was not confident I'd nailed it. Bad idea. Very bad idea. Never show weakness. Without that, I probably could have just had a conversation with my manager about the bits I missed. Instead, I had to retake the class and answer a different question. 

I retook the class in early December. Knowing this time I'd be tested on it, I actually took notes. I answered the question I failed several times, for several people. Of course they asked me a different question, on a completely different section of the class. I was able to dredge the month-old information from my brain and answer, barely, with a few leading questions to get all the aspects covered. The trainer indicated he would recommend they pass me, which means I'll receive my engineer's cap and be considered a bona fide, full-fledged engineer. I should receive my cap during the next all hands meeting (which was scheduled for today, but cancelled this morning).

Work is still challenging and difficult, but I'm focusing on less complaint and more solutions to the issues that plague me. One of those issues is working as an introvert in their Agile environment. 

My entire professional life, I've had my own desk with walls or cabinets, a cubicle in which I could tuck my head down and get my work done. Even in Support at my current company, I had my own little space. I have my own space now, but it's in name only. The way my company manifests an Agile environment is by setting all the Devs in my team up at a long table, in a large room full of such long tables. There is a constant hum of conversation, sometimes louder than others but always buzzing in the background. There are frequently foam darts flying through the air. Conversations ebb and flow at my table as well.

This can be a problem for an introvert like myself. Even more so for an ADD introvert like myself. I get distracted easily by the conversations, even if I can't hear them well because I'm going deaf. I get overwhelmed and exhausted by the constant human interaction.

One solution I've found is noise cancelling headphones. These only work when I am actually listening to something through them, and listening to music with words is equally distracting. I've started using SimplyNoise.com to drown out some of the background noise and give my brain some relief. Alternatively, I listen to instrumental music on my Pandora account. I had some difficulty at first finding upbeat music that doesn't have words. A quick Google search provided a Reddit thread on exactly what I wanted. I created a station with every single suggestion in the thread, and now I can listen as long as my head and ears can stand the weight of the headphones.  

Another solution has been to run away and hide. They actually encourage leaving your desk if you're creatively stuck. They've built a pretty sweet game room to help distract people from the problems they're working on, to let their brains find solutions behind the scenes. Personally, I suck at the games and it's not more noise and excitement I crave. I've found the ladies gym locker room is almost always vacant during the day, except during lunch and after 4:00. It is completely quiet, except for distant music from the radio in the cafeteria. I take my phone in there and play a quiet round or two of Jewel Legend to recharge. 

I am making actual work progress. The card I paired with the more experienced Dev on passed PO accept. The card I picked up next, that I'd originally put on hold for the card that failed? That was already working. Before putting it on hold, I'd worked with another Dev and we found what we thought was a partial solution. That Dev picked it up while I worked on the card that PO failed, but said he didn't really do anything. Submitted a few things he didn't think worked. After confirming with the PO how exactly the situation should work, I spent 2 days recreating and testing all the scenarios. Turns out it worked in all cases. That card also passed QA and PO. 

I picked up yet another card, where the situation worked most of the time. It took a few days to find the code that was causing it to behave the way it did. The simplest solution was just to comment that code out. That card is currently under QA test, and I'm confident it will pass. I'm a little concerned PO will find some edge case I didn't think to test for. I'll deal with that if it happens. 

So 3 cards complete in the last week, and I'm now researching another intimidating issue. I don't know anything about this area of code. I still don't have much faith in my coding skills. Yet, somehow, I find I approach each card with a bit more confidence. That right there is called progress, my friend.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Everything contradicts everything else

These are two versions of a low-carb food pyramid. You can see, even when the basic tenants of a food plan are agreed upon, execution varies widely. Personally, my diet is something of a mix between the two. When I'm not "cheating" (a word and concept I hate, since really who am I cheating on? Myself? It's not like I'm hiding anything from myself! What I'm doing is choosing to eat off plan.) I eat a lot of egg and protein, with a huge salad for lunch most days. The salad varies, but is usually comprised of cabbage, brussel sprouts, collards, and/or brocolli slaw. There is always some form of meat involved, and I might throw in zucchini or kohlrabi. I also usually add a small amount of raisins, a serving of almonds, and minimal dressing.

Last week didn't go well, and it took me the better part of the week to figure out why. I'd reduced carbs, and for some reason also reduced my liquid intake. Whenever I change the non-water I drink, it affects the amount of water I drink. I've been drinking Kombucha, and for some reason this had the same affect as drinking soda, in that I didn't drink my water/unsweetened tea as well. This led to thirst, which I interpreted as a salt craving. Instead of drinking my water/tea, I ate chips. Not ideal.

I realized at some point in the last week that I haven't lost any real weight for about 10 years now. Yeah, I dropped 10 lbs once when I was running every single day. My body can't take that kind of stress over the long haul though, and once I had to stop the weight came right back. At this point I'm not dieting to lose weight, though my mental image of myself is at least 40 lbs lighter. What I'm trying to do is eat healthy, eat only when I'm hungry, and not overeat when I am hungry.

I also realized I've spent too much time reading about people who follow the Beach Body plan, who use meal replacement shakes. I've gone back and forth about trying them, since they appear to work for some people and I haven't tried them yet. I keep coming back to 2 problems with this, though. First, meal replacement shakes are not real food. My metabolism is broken already, and I'm trying to heal by eating food as close to it's original state as possible. The more processed, the less I can be certain I know what's added. Companies are not required to disclose EVERYTHING they put into our food. There's also the whole "anything fortified is bound to have iodine, which I need to avoid" thing.

I decided I'm going to try my version of a meal replacement shake. It's basically a berry, egg, and leafy green smoothie, somewhere close to 200 calories. I'm hoping if I have this for breakfast before I leave for work, that will shift my food plan back several hours, reducing the desire to eat later in the evening. Ideally, I would finish my salad in late afternoon and not be hungry until the next day. Alternatively, I could have the same smoothie for dinner. An added bonus is the sweet taste without too many carbs and no artificial sweeteners.

I did have some good news this week. While at the Dr. for a sinus infection, I had her test my thyroid levels. I'd stopped taking the prescribed medication, and am managing the disease with a gluten free diet combined with a bugleweed supplement. Apparently this is working, because my levels are within the normal range.

Even more incentive

Not that I have a ton of control over how much sleep I get, but this kind of information is definitely incentive to get to listen to my "time for bed" alarm, and to hit snooze in the morning if the night was restless...


Sunday, January 19, 2014

You'd think I'd be perfect by now


According to Mr. Churchill, if you consider how often I change all my little routines and plans, you'd think I'd be perfect by now!

My new training plan called for 2 a days, but that whole getting up early thing has just not been happening. I'm getting to bed early enough, but I guess I'm still recovering from the plague or something. I'm pretty much ok with this, because getting enough sleep is an important element in health and wellness, and it's not something I’m normally good at. 

I've already decided I'm done with the P90X3 program, and I've only half done one day's video. I like to watch the videos before I attempt to complete them, so I have an idea what I'm doing and am not fumbling around quite as much trying to see what's going on. I watched Monday's video, and my calves hurt just thinking about it. I took a kickboxing class at my new gym a few weeks ago, and it was literally a week and a half before my calves recovered from all the jumping. Tight calves = painful running. Painful running = more time walking to cover the 10K steps I need daily. These are not good equations. Mostly though, 10K steps > any exercise video because I'm tracking the steps for work's Vitality program, which is tied directly to my Health Savings Account. As with everything else in this world, $$ trumps everything.

Additionally, I've found I really like lifting, and rowing, and would rather putter around the gym playing with the equipment over trying to find the space for a video session. I spent time with a trainer Monday, going over the free weight section of the gym. I wanted to learn Olympic style lifts, but there isn't a lot of room to move with all the January resolutionists. Instead, she showed me how to use the racks and we talked about a plan to get me more comfortable with the Olympic lifts when attendance slows a bit in February/March.

Bailing on the P90X3 program is also not helped by my ADD. I can't follow a recipe to save my life. Why would I think I could follow a prescribed program for 3 months, even though they do mix it up over time? So yeah. Just like with all the other beach body videos, I like the theory more than the actual practice. I'll use the ones I like and leave the rest. The Accelerator is out. Not happening. I like the yoga video. I like the dynamic stretching. These will more tools in my toolbox, but not the meat and potatoes of my workouts.

Speaking of programs I'm not following: I've changed my running schedule up already, in part because I was sick. I had one mile on the calendar 4 days this week. I ran 1 mile twice on the first day. The second day, I worked out after donating plasma. While doing my run in an overcrowded and not well ventilated gym I decided I don’t want to do my "long run" every day. I opted for a half mile and walked the rest of my steps. Day 3 I walked a mile, ran a mile, walked a mile, then did 10th of a mile walk/run intervals starting at 10 minute miles and bumping the pace every run interval. I can sprint pretty darn fast for a 10th of a mile! Day 4 didn't happen, Day 5 I managed only half miles at a time, and Day 6 didn't happen. Day 7 was supposed to be yoga, but with a confirmed sinus infection that didn't happen, and I walked my steps with only sporadic runs for very short periods.

Today's run was walk a mile, run a half mile, walk a half mile, run a mile and a half. I hope to hit 2 miles by the end of the week. At this point I'm "going for it" every day, but listening to my body and trying not to push so hard I'll regret it the next day. That said, I am going to try for the 2 a days again this week, because running after donating is not a good idea. It would be better if I could get the run out of the way in the morning so I don't have to worry about it after donating. That would also allow me to spend more time lifting and rowing in the evening.  

So what it comes down to is, really, nothing much has changed. I'm running, and the running plan is slightly different. I'm lifting and rowing and playing on the equipment. I'm still working out an hour to 2 hours a day. And, not surprisingly, while this all helps me feel healthy, my weight and waistline are no different than they were before. I'm not willing to spend more time than I already am in the gym. If I want the weight and waistline to change I'm going to have to make changes elsewhere in my lifestyle.

But that's a post for another day. 


Thursday, January 16, 2014

It's not just a job, it's an adventure!


As with creativity, and as usual, I'm struggling to set aside time for the constant learning I want for myself. My current focus is to improve my near non-existent coding skills.  At the same time, I'm hoping to learn better troubleshooting skills specific to coding. Toward that end, I'm taking an Introduction to the Introduction to Computer Science course, offered by Harvard University. Here is the link, if anyone is interested. The course is free, and available until the end of the year. Assignments will be graded, and a certificate granted if you pass. There's also a sub-Reddit community for input and help.

The first class introduced pseudo code, which basically explains an algorithm or series of steps you want to code, in plain English. In the pseudo code, the basics of code were introduced. A variable was incremented, in a loop, as the code counted the number of people in a room.

A different video in the same lesson set taught me about binary and base 2 numbers. Like most people, I'd heard of binary and had a general idea what the word meant. This taught me how to add in binary, which was pretty neat.

The binary concept was used to explain bits, which in a computer is represented by turning transistors on and off. I learned how alphabets and other keyboard characters are broken down into binary bits. This led to algorithms. The instructor practically started with the problem solving algorithm of dividing a problem set in half. You know immediately if Mike Smith is in the first or second half of a phone book you've opened. If it's not in the first half, you can discard or ignore that section. Your problem is now half the size. You repeat, opening the remaining section to the middle, and immediately can tell if Mike Smith is in the first or second half. Repeat until you find Mike Smith. This concept was only introduced after several hours of instruction in the MIT course I started watching a few months ago. I never finished that course. Already I find this course more engaging.

Another tool I've found and have started playing with is Learn.code.org. I have not had the most positive experience with a GUI (Graphical User Interface) method of teaching code. I used a GUI program called Alice at U of Pheonix, but didn't feel I walked away with any real coding knowledge. Learn.code.org gives you the graphical interface, but you still have to build the coding sentences. You can also see the actual JavaScript underlying the building blocks you're putting together, which was not an option with Alice.

I completed the first section of Learn.code.org, where you build simple code snippets to move Angry Bird and Plants vs Zombies characters through a maze. Move Forward, linked to Turn Right will move the character forward once then turn it right. Add these into a Repeat loop and the character will Move Forward, Turn Right, Move Forward, Turn Right as often as you tell it to repeat. Ultimately you get to a point where you're telling the game, "if you have an open path, move forward, otherwise turn right. If you cannot then turn right, turn left. Repeat until you reach the goal"

I like puzzles, and have a knack for seeing patterns. If I can think of coding in that light, maybe I won't struggle as much as I have while considering it a new language.

Every Thursday at work we have what they call Lightening Talks. They are an hour's worth of 10 minute talks on just about anything. I've heard they had a talk on how to tie a bow tie, on how to survive the apocalypse. Today's talk was about the Code Mash conference held in Sandusky last week. A lot of the material washed over me in a "hope some of this sticks" manner. I do try to take notes on the things that interest me, and today's notes are on Ruby Warrior. Like the Learn.Code.org, it's something of a puzzle that you use the Ruby language to work your way through. I'll be spending some time on this site, working on improving my Ruby coding skills.

I've also been thinking about the reading I'm not doing. Why are there so few hours in a day?!? I've been avoiding "How to Think Like a Programmer" and "Clean Code" because there's code in those books I'm afraid I won't understand. I want to get the difference between functions and methods straight in my head before going there. At the same time, How to Think Like a Programmer is supposed to teach me the problem solving skills I’m hoping to find in the Harvard course. I have to ask myself the same question I asked about my art: "What would I do if I weren't afraid?" The answer is, read the books and teach myself what I need to know to understand them.
Reads "Adventure Girl" in binary.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

"What would YOU do if you weren't afraid?"

I don't know if it's the winter blah's, work stress, work and workout schedule, or what but I've been doing a lot of coming home after work and just sitting in front of the computer. I read a lot of blogs, comics, Reddit, and sometimes play Jewel Legend on my phone. What I don't do is anything creative. Being creative is another of the ways I like to define myself in my mind's eye, and right now it's another of those things I'm just not doing.

I like to write, which shouldn't surprise anyone considering the missives I post to my blog. I don't consider myself a writer, but I like the idea of writing. I used to write poetry, and I still think some of it was pretty good. I'm not sure how or why that well dried up, but the magic appears to be gone now. I also have a book gathering dust on the shelf. The outline is saved on a 3.5 inch floppy, which will tell you approximately how long it's been since I worked on that particular project. For you young 'uns who haven't even seen a floppy drive on your computer, I'm talking decades. Periodically I think about developing some characters, just to see where it takes me. That's a project I haven't started yet but have not given up hope I will someday.

Drawing is another skill I used to have that has atrophied with disuse. I think periodically that I'll draw little cartoon comics to go with my blog, along the lines of Hyperbole and a Half. A few months ago I decided I would teach myself Blender with this exact project in mind. I haven't gotten very far on that goal. I even started a new blog space with the idea I would create my own online comic. Unfortunately my drawing now sucks, and I haven't spent the time necessary to improve that fact. This is another "maybe one day" sort of project.

At one time I was a pretty damn fine sculptor. I have a bachelor of Arts with a focus in ceramic sculpture. Because ceramics is expensive and messy, I shifted to polymer clays. I made some pretty neat xmas ornaments, which I sold at the holiday craft fair where I worked. Prices were arbitrary, not based on time and materials, because no one would pay that much for the kinds of things I made. I made a few things besides ornaments, but was never able to work out the kinks in creating functional sculpture that wouldn't fall to pieces if actually used. I wanted to consider myself an artist. The crafty nature of my work, combined with my failure to make it more permanent, caused me to walk away. It also didn't help I was making xmas ornaments and I had no real idea how to sell them. I thought about opening an Etsy shop, but having sold on Ebay I'm aware I don't have a flair for description or sales.

Superman sent me a link to my Flickr account last weekend, where I've housed images of my most recent work. He said he wanted to remind me that I am creative. This is one of the things I love about that man. Looking at some of the things I made got me thinking about sculpting again. I have ideas that involve blown eggs. I have ideas on how to fix the "clay pops off the glass" issue. Simultaneously I have doubts the work is really that good. I'm still stopped by the crafty aspect. What does one do with crafty work when you really would like to consider yourself an "artist?" There are only so many items I can gift to my family.



To be creative, I started blogging again. I'm not certain telling the black hole that is the internet about my days, my thoughts and fears, is actually creative. It does appease somewhat the desire to produce something. I haven't figured out yet how I'm going to fit some of the other creative projects I'd like to work on into my world, but I'm starting to think it's a now or never proposition.

I spent a good portion of today watching Youtube videos about Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In Project, and while she's talking mainly about women in the workplace I can't help but apply one of the questions she asked to this aspect of my:

"What would YOU do if you weren't afraid?"

I'm still working out exactly what it is I'm afraid of. What I would do if I had the time and energy is creatively work on all aspects of my art. What I have to do now is figure out how to make that time and energy.


"That little girl isn't bossy. That little girl has executive potential!"

Well worth watching. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Just keep swimming

I've had to remind myself far too often lately that things will get better if I can just keep my head above water long enough. Specifically, work things. Transitioning to this new position, even 6 months later, has not been as smooth as I'd like. While I'm a single oral test question away from my engineer's cap (a question I've been waiting to answer for over a month now), I still don't feel I know what the heck I’m doing more often than not.

I have been doing real work consistently for almost 2 months now, and sporadically before then. I've completed 10 cards, ranging from a quick 5 minute fix to the most recent issue which took almost a month. My final class was in December, and I haven't had steady classes since October. I have completed at least one card without having to ask questions, which was a nice confidence boost. Other cards turned out easier than originally thought, and I was able to resolve them both quickly and almost entirely on my own. Then I hit a few cards which were more challenging. I am unaccustomed to feeling lost for long, and the experience has bruised my self esteem.

My most recent card, I paired up with one of the more experienced Devs. I say paired, but it was really like I was in the kiddie cart while he drove. He did all the real work. All I could do was run through the scenarios and try to find where his solutions weren't working. I tried for 2 weeks to read the stored procedure the issue centered upon, but it's thousands of lines long and there are too many things about it I just don't understand. My pair explained what some of those things are supposed to do, but I still don’t see how they actually work. Meanwhile, I wasted his time trying to find a solution for for an issue that turned out to be something I forgot to enter when creating the scenario in the front end. Very frustrating, to repeatedly be so very, very not right.

My pair decided the card was complete enough to submit this morning. When QA failed it almost immediately, I was at least able to explain the households he was looking for but not seeing were in a different BIN (basically under a different contract), so he shouldn't see them in that situation. He found one other situation he didn't think was right, but he also didn't think it would matter based on how clients use the software. He passed the card. Now we wait to see if it passes the final test. The Product Owner will look at it when she's back in the office tomorrow. If she believes it works well enough to push out to clients Thursday night, the card is complete.

Meanwhile, I picked up the card I'd put on hold when the one above failed. Another Dev had worked on it for a few days, but that particular Dev was on loan from another team, and the loaner Devs all went back to their team Friday. The card was not yet complete, so went back on hold until someone else could pick it up again. Since I already had some background on it, I picked it up again.

The good news is, he sent me the notes he had on the card. The not so good news is, the easy part is fixed and I have to figure out the rest. At this point I feel more confident with this card than I did on the last, so at least I have that going for me. Of course, all I've done so far is recreate the issue. We'll see how it goes when I get into the stored procedures.

I don't know how much longer I can tell myself that I'm still in the early stages of this job, that I'll get it if I give it enough time. I'm impatient, for one. I'm frustrated with my lack of progress and understanding. I'm unaccustomed to feeling so clueless for such long periods of time, when I've invested a good sized portion of my self esteem into feeling intelligent and accomplished.  This is extremely uncomfortable for me, and I'm not 100% confident that discomfort will go away. I'm afraid it may be a facet of the job itself, to struggle until solutions are found. If that's the case, this may not be the career for me.

I'm holding off judgement until I've given myself a fair amount of time, until I can say I really put everything I could into succeeding. Among other things, this means gathering as many tools as I can to make the job easier. Toward that end, I'm taking Harvard's CS50 course, which is free online here. It's basically an intro to Intro to Computer Science. This course is very much like the MIT course I started taking a few months ago, only less dry and more contemporary. So far I like it a lot better. Certain concepts were introduced right away, and the language in use is C rather than Python. I'll also touch some PHP and SQL toward the end of the course. So the course will introduce me to new languages, but it is also supposed to teach me how to troubleshoot code issues. This is something huge I feel I'm missing. Every time I pick up a card I feel I'm starting at square one, that I go through far too many unnecessary steps to actually figure out what's going on.  I don't know this for a fact, because I've never been trained to troubleshoot logically. I'm hopeful this course will help my confidence levels, if nothing else.  

Maybe I should pin this to my wall...

Monday, January 13, 2014

Always changing

As with workouts and everything else in my life, my diet is ever-changing and under constant scrutiny. My current focus is based on a paleo/primal lifestyle. Yes, there is a difference between Paleo and Primal, mostly having to do with acceptance of artificial sweeteners.  I'm really more Paleo, though I aspire towards Primal. I reduced my diet soda intake from a daily habit to the occasional (once or twice a month) 24 oz. I reduced my coffee with International Delight's Sugar Free Vanilla creamer habit from daily to weekends. Even the weekend coffee is now one or two cups, as opposed to the quart I was drinking daily. There are only a few teas I like unsweetened, and several I like with sweetener, so every once in a while I'll have a quart of tea sweetened with stevia. None of these are daily occurrences.  

Nothing is 100%, and a big part of what I'm trying to do starts out with "I refuse to obsess." I'm only a little prone to obsession… The Primal community I lurk in suggests an 80/20 rule. If you're 80% primal, you're doing pretty darn good. For me, this means most days I stay away from grains, legumes, sugar, and processed foods. My diet is primarily meat and vegetables, except I'm not eating many of the higher starch vegetables either. If Superman makes me a dinner that contains black beans or lentils, I'll eat it. That's just one day, one meal out of many without. However, I'm not willing to eat corn chips at the mexican restaurant every Friday. I'm uncomfortable with that frequency of diversion.

There is special reason to stay away from wheat and gluten, since studies have found leaky gut syndrome can be implicated in auto-immune diseases. Wikipedia takes a skeptical stance on leaky gut as a whole, and if you Google gluten and auto-immune disease you'll find a ton of not fully accurate information. I believe enough to make the break myself. According to what I've read, Gluten affects the lining of the intestines, allowing "...toxins, microbes, undigested food particles and antibodies to escape from your intestines and travel throughout your body via your bloodstream." The antibodies your body produced to defend against the gluten protein now roam free throughout the bloodstream, attacking other soft tissues like skin and thyroid.   

Changing lifelong habits is difficult, and the transition to paleo/primal has been less than smooth. It wasn't until I could actually envision how gluten affects me that I finally walked away. Even so, it still gets me sometimes. I had chinese the other day, knowing soy sauce is made with wheat. I didn't know egg roll wrappers are made with wheat, but I also didn’t look it up. Now I have, and they do. I was determined to eat off plan anyway, since my order consisted of fried rice and rice is both high starch and a grain.

The largest factor in staying grain free (other than the gluten issue) does not have to do with hype from the Paleo and Wheat Belly communities. It has to do with carb content. I've had surgeries that affect my hormone levels, take medication for an auto-immune disease that directly affects my metabolism, and struggle with the equivalent of a carb/sugar addiction. Even with regular exercise, in the past 12 years I have only managed to lose 10 lbs, and that for only a little while. Just like so many other dieters, I've gained those 10 back and then some. 

I try to love my body the way it is. I try to ignore the constant barrage of media input over the last several decades, telling me I should be thinner, softer, younger, and prettier. Really, what it comes down to is I'm uncomfortable in my clothes. The image I have of myself in my head does not match the image I see in the mirror.

I've tried every single diet. I've tried not dieting. The fact of the matter is, I have yet to figure out how to feed this body in a way that is both physically and emotionally satisfying. Paleo comes closer than anything else I've tried, even when I'm not doing it "right." Basically and for the most part, I eat real food. Meat and vegetables, with an occasional fruit or other sweet.  Sometimes I eat a starchy food like potato or rice. As long as it's an "every once in a while thing" not an "every week thing," I'm comfortable with that. I don't know if this will help me lose weight. So far it has not, but so far I've deviated from the plan more often than I'm comfortable with. Shame eating is never a good thing.

One of the things I'm hoping will help with carb cravings involves my newest food infatuation: Kombucha tea. It is sweet fermented tea, but the sugar and alcohol content is negligible. The fizz addresses the cravings that lead me to still drink the occasional soda. The sweet satisfies my sweet tooth. There is also a tart component that prevents me from guzzling the entire bottle at once, which means I savor the sweet over a longer period of time. Additionally, with live cultures Kombucha provides probiotics and B vitamins.

In order to drink as much as I'd like (read quarts, possibly even gallons of the stuff), I decided I need to make my own. A quart a day = $7 at Whole Foods, which is way to rich for my pidley little budget. To make the quantity I intend to consume, I purchased 2 ceramic dispensers, each capable of holding 2.5 gallons. I purchased the SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast), the fermenting agent that takes average every day sweet tea and converts it into nectar for the gods. I also had to purchase a heating element, since I don't keep my house at a toasty 70-80 degrees year round.

Everything arrived this past week, and this weekend I made my first batch of tea. I'm reminded of my Dad, brewing his own beer and wine. I set up the heater and wrapped an old thermal jacket around the containers, for insulation. The SCOBY will die if it overheats, so I'm diligently watching the thermometer on the side of the ceramic vessel, praying it didn't get too cold in shipping or when the temperature dropped overnight. I've already had to resist the urge to open it up and look, to taste. Instead I wait impatiently for next weekend, when I can bottle the stuff with small amounts of cranberry juice. Then, Monday or Tuesday, I'll have my own Kombucha to drink, with another batch fermenting in a continuous production flow. If I get tired of cranberry, I can change it up with other juices. I can also change up the type of tea I use for the base, though I have to be careful not to use a tea with oil. There will always be something of a black tea base, to maintain the ph levels the SCOBY needs to survive.


The SCOBY I purchased was large enough to make 2 gallons of tea. It will grow with every batch, so within a few weeks I should be up to the full 5 gallons of tea a week. I won't be able to consume all 5 gallons, as you have to seed the new batch with a portion of the old. After a month or two I'll have a baby SCOBY, at which time I'm more than happy to donate if anyone else wants to join me in this adventure. Providing I feed the mother SCOBY enough sugar and acid to keep it happy, I could continue producing kombucha with just that colony for years to come. 

Carbs are Killing You!

It's a bit sensational, and I've seen at least one study indicating the bit about Atkins vs traditional diets is not quite so clear cut. On the other hand, it jibes with a lot of other things I've read over the last year or more.

Click here if it's too small to read.


Sunday, January 12, 2014

SAME OLD, SAME OLD


I started to say the new year comes with new plans and new ideas, but really my plans and ideas are constantly evolving. They have no sense of time or calendar.  This is just what I'm doing today. Tomorrow might be a different story entirely. And yet, somehow, everything is still the same.

I joined a gym in November. Having somewhere to go, somewhere with adequate equipment, has given me some success in the "work out at least 5 days a week" goal my company's Vitality program suggested for me. I've had the goal for the better part of a year, and still haven't hit the 3 months time-frame they want. It's a good thing I care more about the results of working out than the points I get for this goal, or I'd have dropped it long ago. Working out 5+ days  a week for 3 months straight is difficult. Something always gets in the way. I get sick (as happened this past week) and don't work out at all. I hurt myself, like the shin splints I experienced this past fall, and cut back or stop workouts in order to heal. I get tired from trying to do too much, and take one too many rest days. Sometimes life gets in the way and prevents me from working out "enough" to qualify. I keep trying though. I like working out to be a habit, whether intense or recovery, still a constant rhythm in the ebb and flow of my life.

I'm at the start of a new training plan for a 10 mile race in late April. I thought I was done running after dealing with shin splints for most of last fall. Turns out I just need to stretch more and not let my calves get that tight. I thought I was done racing, since races get expensive. Turns out I really enjoy the motivation of training for an event on the horizon.

Because I haven't run much at all over the last few months, I'm starting back at square one again. I know there is fitness in my legs that will let me ramp up faster than your average Couch-to-5K, but it's still a challenge to dig that fitness out. I've put on another 15 lbs, only some of which is water weight from my auto-immune disease. This week, my goal is to run a mile, non-stop. I have it on the calendar 4 days. It would be 5, but one of the days I have something other than exercise scheduled in that timeslot.

I'll run more than one non-stop mile each day, because another goal I have is to walk/run 10K steps every day. That's been an off and on goal since I started wearing a pedometer several years ago. Thanks to the Vitality program, I now have a FitBit I wear on my wrist, which lets me know when I've hit 10K. It's a constant reminder of the goal, and I don't even have to remember to wear since I never take it off. I just have to remember to charge it twice a week. For the record, 10K steps translates into just over 6 miles for my stride length. I walk anywhere from 3K-5K in the normal course of the day, and to avoid the shin splint issue I now walk a mile before I start running. That's about 3 miles walking, which leaves at least 3 miles to run. I don’t run on Saturdays, and I don't walk much when I'm not at work, so Sundays require more steps to hit the goal. Today's treadmill session looked like this:

1 @ 3.5 mph (warm up)
1 @ 5.5 mph (hey look! I actually can run a mile straight!)
1 @ 3.7 mph (now I'm loose, let's see if I can walk faster)
.5 @ 5.5 mph (OK, I did it once. I can do it again)
.5 @ 5.7 mph (I started getting bored with the pace, so bumped it up a little)
1.5 @ 3.9 mph (I thought I was almost done, so kept walking)
.5 @ 6 mph (turns out I had a good number of steps left to go, so ramped it up to finish strong and fast)
.2 @ 3.9 mph (to finish out the 10 K)

I also started the P90X3 program today, because I have personal goals that include better strength and fitness than I can get from just running.  I go back and forth between Beach Body programs for this very reason. I want to strengthen and tone the rest of my body, and I need incentive to stretch and move more than my legs. Working just my legs has led to hip flexor strain and piriformis syndrome in the past. Both of these are related to tight hip and lower back muscles. My hope is that P90X3 will move me in more than just the repetitive running motion, will strengthen supporting muscles around the hip and back, and also throws in dynamic stretches for some of the larger muscles like hamstrings.

While everything about the above paragraph is true, running is my go-to exercise, and I'm not as much a fan of videos. Today was the first day of P90X3, and I bailed on the dynamic stretching video about halfway through. This is sad since it's only a half hour long. I blame having already spent and hour and a half on the treadmill, ADD, and the fact that I did the video at home. My 15 year old carpets stink, and adjusting every exercise to make sure I had enough room was frustrating. I did get more stretching in than I normally do after a run though, and this particular video focused on the hip area. It's all good and I have no shame. Just… we'll see how well this particular plan goes.  I tend to dream big, then fail to follow through on things like this. Knowing that does not necessarily mean this time will be different, but I'm hopeful. I'm always hopeful.

Superman and I have also returned to our own yoga class every Saturday. Additionally, the gym has a stretching station I've taken to using whenever I'm there. I don't know why I have no patience for stretching these days. I used to stretch every night before going to bed. Now… not so much.

Right now, I'm feeling pretty ok. My back is stiff and sore, mainly from being sick and coughing a lot earlier in the week. If I weren't medicated I wouldn't have been able to run, as I still have a deep bronchial cough. I have to keep an eye on how I'm feeling, since I am prone to going overboard and hurting myself. As usual, I'm taking on a lot. Most days will consist of a half hour to an hour in the morning, either walk/run or P90X3. What I do in the morning depends on where I get to work out in the evening. If I'm working out at the company gym, I have to get my run in early because there aren't enough treadmills. There is, however, plenty of space to do workout videos. I can both run and lift at my new gym, but the only floor space they have may or may not be in use for classes. This means P90X is best for the morning session.

I actually have a free session with a trainer tomorrow, to show me how to lift with barbells. I've used just about every other piece of equipment at the gym, but never learned how to lift barbells. I spent some time watching YouTube videos, but since the training session is free I figured I'd get some pointers on form and hopefully learn some new exercises. 

Obviously I have a lot going on, workout-wise. I do not mind putting in the work, but I'm also trying to be wary of my ability to obsesses. I really don't want to be the gym rat who works out 3 hours every day. There are quite a few other things I'd like to do with my time. At the same time, I want to be the person who works out every day, who is fit and healthy and strong. There has to be a balance between the two, and I have to find that balance for myself. My approach is to start at the high end and whittle away what isn't working for me. I'll let you all know how that goes.