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Posts tagged as “We Call It Living”

Some Days You Just Wanna Curl Up In A Ball

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gabby just curled up into a ball This isn't a Woe Is Me post about all the crap that's been happening to me recently. That's so last week, literally. This is about depression. I have sporadic bouts of depression, probably just like most other people, nothing serious enough to call clinical. What really strikes me about it is how disconnected mood is from reality. In a large number of ways, things are Much Better Now than they were Just A While Ago. I've delivered my work to my old team (closure), I've moved to a new team doing something fun (robotics), I'm healing up from my illness (wellness), my wife's returned from her trip (companionship), and I have a book coming out (success). But nothing is perfect, and there are little setbacks that happen all the time. Sporadic depression, I find, isn't brought on by nothing, the way clinical depression extends over long periods for no good reason; it gets triggered by one of those little setbacks. When I was down with tonsillitis right before several major deadlines, things like a smashed toe made me upset and angry, and things like work challenges made me frustrated and worn out. Now that things are evened out, you'd think I'd have more resilience. Instead, I found myself having a Surprisingly Shitty Day. Even though I felt better, I was making progress on all my work tasks, at least partially resolved my setbacks, and even made progress on writing and drawing, the depression never let up. Now, I had a setback, as I said, and there are things that would make this situation better. But what interests me is that some of these feelings I felt today - "I wish I was doing something else" and "I'm so tired" and "I can't take it anymore" - I thought were attributable to my previous less-than-ideal situation: working on what I didn't want to work on, under deadline pressure, while sick. I know that's not the case now. I'm working on what I do want to work on. The next deadlines are weeks away and I have no competing pressures. And I'm feeling physically better. Even the setback passed out of my mind. So why am I feeling the same way? I suspect because those feelings are a habit of mind. A response to a challenging situation I've picked up that has become free floating. There are challenges inherent in everything you do, no matter how fun it is - and any bad habits of mind don't care how closely aligned your current work is with your goals, your desires, your attitudes. Your bad attitudes and thoughts are just sitting there, waiting to spring, starting the tapeloop spiral into depression. So what am I gonna do about it? Recognize it, blog it, and move on. I've had many, many cycles of mild maniac / depression in my life, and I didn't start to get better until I recognized it, stopped wallowing it, and moved on. My formerly quick temper had the same solution: notice it's happening, turn the alarm off, and deal with the situation, sometimes cathartically, usually not. That worked so well my wife hasn't ever seen me really lose my temper in eight years of our relationship. If the solution to dealing with anger is not to get angry, is the solution to dealing with depression just not to let yourself get down? To pull out of the situation, relax, do something fun, and tackle it again with your energies renewed? Let's see. Time to kick back, throw on some Who, and chill. -the Centaur lenora sitting as if she's gonna watch some of the teevee

Jeremiah Willstone Is On The Air

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The Mic at KFJC Somehow, after only 4 hours of sleep (AGAIN after trying hard to crash early and failing to take care of myself) and heavy rains on the way to Foothills College, I managed to stumble in to Ann Arbor's studio at KFJC at seven after ten and still made my reading time ten minutes later. I come on the air at about 25 minutes in to the audio archive, reading from JEREMIAH WILLSTONE AND THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE: Lightning gouged a chunk of the wainscoting an inch from Jeremiah Willstone’s head and she hurled herself back, bumping down the stairs on her tailcoat, firing both Kathodenstrahls again and again until the doorpanels were blasted into sparks and splinters. Her shoulders hit the landing hard enough to rattle her teeth, but Jeremiah didn’t lose her grip: she just kept both guns trained on the cracked door, watching foxfire shimmer off its hinges and knobs. The crackling green tracers crept around the frame, and with horror she realized the door was reinforced with iron bands. She’d intended to blast the thing apart and deny her enemy cover, but had just created more arrowholes for him-or-her to shoot from. As the foxfire dissipated, the crackling continued, and her eyes flicked aside to see sparks escaping the broken glass of her left Kathodenstrahl’s vacuum tubes. Its thermionics were shot, and she tossed it aside with a curse and checked the charge canister on her remaining gun. The little brass bead was hovering between three and four notches. Briefly she thought of swapping canisters, but a slight creak upstairs refocused her attention. No. You only need three shots. Keep them pinned, wait for reinforcements.
Get it now, before it disappears from the archive a couple of weeks from now. -the Centaur

Take Care Of Yourself Before It’s Too Late

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Gabby naps, with the sabretooth skull in the background.

I can't even begin to tell you all that I've gone through recently: sleep deprivation, tonsillitis, tinnitus, internal injuries, a trip to the emergency room (unrelated), and near disasters at work. I've started another blog entry to explain what's been going on, but even that had to be put on hold by other disasters.

The quick point I want to pass on is that I work hard sometimes. I used to describe as working two jobs: by day, my work at the Search Engine That Starts With A G, and by night, the author of the Dakota Frost series. Both could take 40 hours a week or more, meaning normally almsot every nonworking minute ends up on writing.

Recently, that's become like four jobs: my old project at the Search Engine, a brand new project at the Search Engine, both with hard and conflicting deadlines, a scientific paper for my new project, also with a hard deadline, and my fiction writing, also with deadlines. Each one could be a full time job. Aaa.

Recently, this came to a head: I'd finished my scientific paper, had a breather on the writing, yet still knew I was going to have to work hard, nights and weekends, just on my two work projects. So I decided one night I needed to take a break, to chill out, to go to bed early and catch up on sleep. To recharge my batteries.

Too late.

That night, when I got home, planning to crash out early, one of my cats urinated all over our curtains, then tracked it through our house, necessitating a 3:45AM cleaning job (cats will urinate after each other unless it is completely cleaned up), just before a Monday at work. The next night I was kept up by a sore throat, was worn out Tuesday, and was diagnosed with tonsillitis on Wednesday. The throat pain caused sleep deprivation, the coughing fits caused hemorrhoids (yuk!), the nasal congestion caused tinnitus and hearing loss in one ear, and all of this indirectly caused my trip to the emergency room (more on that later). This went on for days, then for over a week. And all of this just before a huge presentation at work, which we figured out we needed to cancel much too late to cancel - so I had to keep working, even though I could barely keep working. I couldn't really code in my exhaustion, and when I did readings for my other project - and I did work on my other project, because its deadlines wouldn't stop either - the textbooks actually blurred when I sat down to read them.

It was almost two weeks later, a day after the presentation, when I finally crashed, for essentially 36 hours straight.

So my point, and I do have one, is that you should take care of yourself. Now. While you're still feeling good about yourself. Because if you wait to take care of yourself until you're all worn out ... it may be too late.

-the Centaur

My Favorite Borders, Closing …

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Two of my favorite bookstores are closing ... along with many other Borders in the Bay Area:
(ABC News) A list of store closings planned by Borders as it tries to reorganize in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, state by state. Closings are due over the next few weeks. Some clearance sales are expected to start this weekend: For the full list look here.
Or put another way, the closest 3 stores to my address are closing; check out these search results:
  • San Jose - Oakridge Mall: Closing
  • Los Gatos: Closing
  • San Jose - Santana Row: Closing
Which goes back to ... fffffffffuuuuuuuuuuu! Some of you may be thinking "ah, the e-reader and Amazon have killed the bookstore at last." Uh, no, though that may still happen. The fate of Borders can be laid at the feet of giant discount stores like Walmart, Costco and Target, who can sell books up to five bucks cheaper than a typical bookstore. Contributing to this is the recession, of course, and American corporate culture, which tends to think of businesses as interchangeable moneymaking commodities and not living organisms that need to be helmed by people who understand the business. Don't get me wrong - the management of Borders puts together superb bookstores. They've been my favorite chain for years. But a fair number of analysts of Borders have suggested that a lot of its recent management hasn't had the handson bookstore experience to make the right choices. It was owned by K-Mart for a while, for instance. Ugh. And I'm not critiquing K-Mart, but perhaps there wasn't quite enough skill transfer there. (Full disclosure: I'm a former Borders shareholder). I've seen many other bookstores go: the Science Fiction Mystery Bookshop and the legendary Oxford both of Atlanta. Many other bookstores have survived, and will no doubt continue to survive. But they're going to have to change, and consolidate - the industry is changing. I love my e-readers, particularly my Nook Color, and I love the selection and choice of Amazon and to a lesser extent Barnes and Noble online. (Full disclosure: I'm an Amazon shareholder). Some online publishers are particularly attractive, especially O'Reilly, which will typically sell you a DRM-free PDF of your book for an extra ten bucks. And I, personally, as an author sell ten times as many e-books as physical books. But there's something wonderful about going into a bookstore, browsing the shelves, and flipping through books. I could blame it on the idea that for the time being, at least, the technology does NOT exist to make flipping through books as fast on the web as it is in real life - to see why, check out the High Performance Web Sites site and look carefully at the latency that goes into rendering a single web page. You're looking at second-level latency at best. Then go pick up a five hundred page book and flip through it rapidly. You're looking at second-level latency at best. See the problem? But if that wasn't a problem, the physical layout of a bookstore, the related books sections, the browasbility has a real value - as do the omnipresent coffeehouses found in many bookstores. I could see bookstores evolving into showrooms, with much more varied content, single copies of most books, and people wandering through them with their Kindles and Nooks and Kobos and what have you, reading a book and then waving their e-reader at it to add it to their collection. The physical books will often be printed in the stores themselves with cheap on-demand presses. But even in this blissful world, there will be a need for fewer bookstores-as-showrooms than the bookstores we have now. Places like Recycle Books (a kind of micro-Oxford Used Books in the making out here in the San Jose area) Bookbuyers (a solid competitor to Oxford Used Books), Kepler's, Books Inc. will survive both as community centers and as online presences - they're quickly making the move to selling e-books through Google Books. And cultural institutions like City Lights will also survive - it's also a publisher. But how many of the big box bookstores that I love will survive? Not certain. And their closing will have side effects: on authors and publishers, on communities, on books and reading in general. It isn't the end of the world ... but it's the beginning of a tectonic shift. -the Centaur Pictured: the Borders at Oakridge Mall ... its cafe unusually deserted for a Wednesday night.

Taking a Sabbath from Microsoft Word

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The Notes on Blood Rock I'm not a very literal Christian, but I do believe that a lot of Christianity is good. But I don't think it's good because God says so - I think it's God said so because it's good for you. One example is the Sabbath. But what is a Sabbath? Going to church on Sunday, then sitting around reading psalms? No, a Sabbath is first and foremost a day of rest, and second a day of worship. And God doesn't ask us to observe it because he's needy for worship: he asks us to do it because we need time off. I'm not going to go into the Episcopal theology which suggests that Jesus doesn't care what day you take your Sabbath as long as you do take one - I'll let my fundamentalist and atheist friends thumbwrestle over that one. I'm just going to take it as a given that we need a day off. So ... what does the Sabbath have to do with Microsoft Word? In my personal life, I'm like a submarine: I disappear into whatever project I'm working on (see the bursty timing of my blogposts as evidence for this). And even though I usually have something on the order of four to six major projects going at once, I'm really only good at focusing on one of them at a time. My current project: revising my second novel BLOOD ROCK, which I've been doing since something like September, responding to hundreds of comments from my editor. I'm down to the wire now. The book is over 100 pages shorter and tighter after months of edits. I've gone from a HUGE list of TODO items that sprawled over two pages down to a short list of items I'd written on the back of a receipt. One of my last items is re-reviewing all the remaining Microsoft Word comments, which I've been doing over the last several days. But as I did so, I found that somehow I'd either lost my memory or Word had neglected to show a whole bunch of comments to me. Months ago, I went through the entire document in detail resolving differences and addressing comments before starting my big tightening edit, and yet there are real, material important comments I would remember if I'd seen them that only showed up in the last few days. Having observed Word's behavior looking for possible bugs, I'm guessing either it was collapsing comments when there were lots of edits on a page, or, more likely, this is a scrolling bug that caused some comments to appear "over the top of the page" and thus effectively become invisible. Another alternative is that it might have to do with the "ribbon" ... I recently switched from Word 2004 for Mac to Word 2011 and the interface for comments seems to have changed. A simple interface change; they happen. But that's not the point. My frustration is that even minor offhand comments from the editor can lead to big changes. If she asks me to delete something on page 204, I might just do it --- but if I don't agree, I generally think hard about whether I need it, whether it's important to me, and if so how to integrate it so deeply into the novel that it's inevitable --- ideally to the point where she'd tell me to put it back in if I took it out, though I don't know if I ever achieve that. :-) So now I have a whole load of comments that I'm essentially getting fresh. Worse, they're commenting on things in sections that I had previously reworked in response to the editor's written comments, sections where I didn't think there were major in-line comments. So I've spent a great deal of effort fixing things in response to the revision email, the suggested changes, and a long hallway conversation with the editor at Dragon*Con, but I'm now finding dozens of things, both little and great, that would have potentially changed what I would have done. So ... what does Microsoft Word have to do with the Sabbath? Well ... I am taking today off. :-) I have a great job at the Search Engine That Starts With a G, but it takes a lot of time - partly work, partly travel time, partly mental recuperation time. And I have a wife, and friends, and cats. By lugging my laptop to breakfast, lunch, dinner and coffee, I can eke out 3-4 hours a night 3-4 days a week, but that's not enough, and generally need to work on my writings on the weekends. This gets especially intense when editing, because I can't futz around doing research reading or shift gears to another story if I'm stumped; I've got to keep my brain focused on the EDITING process. But my frustration reached its limit last night. I blew my stack and fired off a few frustrated emails to the editor, and decided to take today off. To use the Sabbath that God gave us. I don't have a link to the great sermon that Father Ken of Saint Stephens in the Field gave on the topic, but I do have a link to my atheist friend Jim Davies, who takes Saturdays completely off so he is free the rest of the week to pursue the top priority items on his nobility list. The theology is different - but the idea is the same. The point? The moment I decided to take the day off, I felt completely liberated. I'm going to do something fun like ride a bike or design a robot brain - or maybe visit a bookstore for something other than their wifi or coffee. Before writing this blog post, I spent the previous hour implementing "Hello World" in every language installed on my new Macbook Air as part of a project to crack my programming knuckles again (and oddly, the hardest language was Awk, which I actually use so much at the command line it's like a reflex. Weird). I've been wanting to do this for weeks, but I've spent it revising. Now instead, I've had a little fun. My batteries are already recharged. Maybe you're one of those people who find it easy to take time off. Good for you. If you're not, especially if you live in the Bay Area ... take a break. Maybe not even take a break from work; take a break from whatever you won't let yourself take a break from.

Good morning, pilgrims…

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lenora on the cat condo ... this is still not If it was, we wouldn't be leading off from the Episcopal Lectionary for the Second Sunday After Christmas:
Now after the wise men had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod.
There are lots of ways to interpret this passage, but I'm most interested in the one by Reverend Ken Wratten of Saint Stephens in-the-Field church. Joseph is performing an action in faith - he's moving to a different country based on a voice he heard in a dream - but based on a realistic response to circumstances. Historians dispute whether the massacre of the innocents really happened, but not that Herod was a tyrant and madman who murdered his own family. So even though we don't normally follow the advice we get in our dreams - and, for the literalists among us, note that in some circumstances the Bible specifically warns us not to - it was nonetheless a reasonable response to the circumstance for Joseph to heed that voice and get the heck out of Dodge. Father Ken's interpretation of this is that we should respond to the circumstances of our life in faith. Not assume that faith will magically shield us from all woes, but realistically look at the circumstances we have and, based on faith, take the response available to us that best fits God's will. If you are not a Christian or other believer, substitute the idea that you should not rely on your ideology to save you, but you should nonetheless take the best action available to you consistent with your values AND the circumstances. (There's more to Christianity than just Always Do The Right Thing, but I digress.) So what does this have to do with cat spray? gabby 5 seconds before whapping caesar just as he relaxes One element of responding in faith is that God can use changes in our circumstances to prod us to action - if we are willing to look at our circumstances in faith and try to see how we could, indeed should turn it to our advantage. No matter how trying the circumstances... Recently, we noticed a whiff of an odd smell and realized the cats had been spraying under a desk in our library, which I've been reorganizing. I wiped up the spray, picked up the stack of three plastic tubs of computer parts, and turned to take them into the kitchen - and a stream of cat urine slid out from between the boxes and dripped all over a pile of papers I'd set out to file. For those not familiar with cat urine, it's the substance they used to "eat through the floor" in the movie Alien. (No it isn't; that's a joke. See the link below). The cats had sprayed most of the under-desk shelf but the ridges of atop the plastic tubs had sealed it in and trapped the smell - until I moved it, when the funky urine landed on my pile of junk. Everything was trashed: the box for my MacBook Air, an old drawing book, some papers, a record ... but, miraculously, not my comic book artwork, which, in one of those circumstances which gives succor to those of faith and drives our skeptical friends nuts, was completely spared. God uses circumstances to prod us to make changes we wouldn't do on our own. I had already decided, in a sort of general way, that I needed to purge my library: this brought the point home, and even helped me decide what to purge. My wife and I already knew we needed to get all three of the cats integrated or get rid of one or more of them: this brought that point home, and led immediately to a new plan of action. And we already knew we were a team, but had yet to really accept that we had complementary work habits, but when she cheerfully worked to 5am cleaning while I slept, and then I cheerfully took over while she slept, that brought that point home. Religious believers, Christians, look on this as a reminder to look at the circumstances that befall you in faith, and try to find the action God has given you that doesn't just cope with the situation, it actually improves it and brings you closer to him. And for skeptics, remember: fundamentally, we live in a spot of this universe where it is possible for life to thrive for billions of years. It may sound cheesy, but life will find a way: and no matter what the circumstances, you can too. Like pilgrims, you may find it takes a long journey, but at least it's possible to reach the promised land. -the Centaur Pictured: Lenora irritated by a cat toy, our warring tomcats Caesar and Gabby, and a Youtube experiment attempting to replicate the "acid burning through the floor effect" from Alien.

New Year’s Resolution: Finish The Hanging Tasks

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The "take one" slip for one of Office Depot's 5-shelf bookcases I use. In the past I've tried various complicated New Year's Resolutions. I'm going to try something simpler this year: I'm not taking on any "resolutions," except for one I'm going to come back to later. Instead, I'm going to review my past Resolutions and my Life Plan, update them, and come up with a set of goals that I'll try to achieve. No ridiculous list of resolutions filling up my life in January, then forgotten by February. No public declarations of things I can fail at. In short, no pressure. Just a private set of goals, which are subject to tradeoffs based on my best judgment. The one "resolution" I'm going to take on: in January, come up with a list of eleven Hanging Tasks, and tackle them, one per month, in 2011. I define a "Hanging Task" as: something I've wanted to do for a long time, that I need to do or would be good for me, that I've made significant progress on, yet not completed for a long period of time---but, when completed, would be over and done with and off my radar. So things like exercise, karate or learning new programming languages don't count because they have no fixed end point, but reorganizing my library definitely does. One concrete example of a Hanging Task is an essay on futurism which I was going to call "Ten for '10", but missed that deadline through a combination of procrastination and a genuine last-minute disaster that ate up the allotted time I'd set aside to finish the essay. As another example, there's a nasty financial issue I need to deal with ... in theory I could literally put it off until I retire, but it will make my life much easier in the meantime if I resolve it now. The problem? It involves a whole bunch of grungy paperwork which I've been "putting off." Putting off? Not really. There are a lot of things I'm good at getting done; there are others that I'm not. If I'm at work, I'll almost always choose working on work over taking out an hour to do errands, even though some errands, like the grungy paperwork above, need to be worked on during business hours while talking with someone on the phone. If I'm not at work, I'll almost always choose writing over blogging. It's not that I don't want or need to do those things; it's just that I'm not good making space for them in my life. So, for 2011: I will pick 11 of these (I've already got four off the top of my ghead). Set aside time for them, a few days each month, until each one is dealt with. The result: I'll have 11 less things to worry about ... and that much more mental space for something more productive. Cheers to the New Year! I hope you enjoy yours. -the Centaur Pictured: the tag to purchase an Office Depot 5-shelf cherry bookcase, purchased late last year as part of my library reorganization project. I have approximately 12 of these 5-shelves from Office Depot, 13 2-shelf ones, 1 three-shelf one, 6 more 5 shelfs from Ikea, at least 4 more miscellaneous 5-shelf bookcases, and two wall-sized units, one from Ikea and one built by myself.

Back to Qumana

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The Balcony of Borders at Santana Row

Now that we're on WordPress, let's give this a try again and see whether Qumana plays better with WordPress than it did with Blogger.

ANSWER: Worked just fine. Borders was closing up shop so I had to go back into WordPress later to add the post tags, but I assume that's somewhere in the Qumana interface I didn't have time to find. Image posting was relatively easy - actually slightly easier than the WordPress interface itself, though that's more a web app issue than a UX design issue.

-the Centaur

Pictured: my mobile office on the balcony of Borders at Santana Row. Software: Android, Camera Sync, Mac OS X, Chrome, Picasaweb, Qumana, WordPress. Hardware: Macbook Air 13 inch, Nexus One. Foodware: the staggeringly unhealthy and delicious Cookies and Cream JavaKula.

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Tricking Yourself Into Doing The Right Thing

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Ribeye Steak, Tabbouleh, and Cognitive Neuroscience

Sometimes it's hard to do the right thing. For example, I enjoy eating dinner out. There's nothing wrong with that; but it's always easier to eat out than it is to fix dinner, as I can have high-quality healthy food made for me while I read or write or draw, whereas cooking at home involves shopping, cooking, and cleaning that I'm fortunate enough to be able to pay other people to do (and that through the absurd good luck that the rather esoteric work I was most interested in doing in grad school turned out to be relatively lucrative in real life).

But that's not fair to my wife, or cats, nor does it help me catch up on my pile of DVDs or my library cleaning or any of a thousand other projects that can't be done out at dinner. Sometimes I deliberately go out to dinner because I need to read or write or draw rather than do laundry, but I shouldn't do that all the time - even though I can. But, if I keep making local decisions each time I go out to eat, I'll keep doing the same thing - going out to eat - until the laundry or bills or book piles reach epic proportions.

This may not be a problem for people who are "deciders", but I'm definitely a "get-stuck-in-a-rutter". So how can I overcome this, if I'm living with the inertia of my own decision making system? One way is to find some other reason to come home - for example, cooking dinner with my wife (normally not convenient as she eats early, while I'd normally be at work, and even if I did try to get home her dinner time traffic puts me an hour and a half from home; but we've set a time to do that from time to time) but she's out of town for business in New York, so I don't have her to help me.

So the way I've been experimenting with recently is treating myself. Over the weekend I made a large bowl of tabbouleh, one of my favorite foods, and pound cake, one of my favorite desserts. The next evening I grabbed a small plate of sushi from Whole Foods and made another dent into the tabbouleh. I had a commitment the next night, but the following night I stopped to get gas and found that a Whole Foods had opened near my house, and on the spur of the moment I decided to go in, get a ribeye steak, and cook myself another dinner, eating even more of the tabbouleh.

The tabbouleh itself is healthy, and maybe the sushi is too; the steak, not so much. Normally I wouldn't get another steak as I'd had a few recently, both homecooked and out at restaurants; but I wanted to overcome my decision making inertia. It would have been so easy to note the presence of the Whole Foods for later and go eat out; instead, I said explicitly to myself: you can have a steak if you eat in. And so I walked in to Whole Foods, walked out a couple minutes later with a very nice steak, and went home, quickly cooked a very nice dinner, and got some work done.

Normally I prefer to eat about one steak a month (or less), sticking to mostly fish as my protein source, but I'll let my red meat quota creep up a bit if it helps me establish the habit of cooking more meals at home. Once that habit's more established, I can work on making it healthier again. Already I know ways to do it: switch to buffalo, for example, which I prefer over beef steak anyway (and I'm not just saying that as a health food nut; after you've eaten buffalo long enough to appreciate the flavor you don't want to go back).

So far, tricking myself into doing the right thing has been a success. Now let's see if we can go a step further and just do the right thing on our own.

-the Centaur

Pictured: a ribeye steak, fresh fruit and mint garnish, tabbouleh in a bed of red leaf lettuce, and Gazzaniga et al.'s textbook on Cognitive Neuroscience.

Back it up (WAS Waiting waiting waiting)

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[caption id="attachment_780" align="alignnone" width="600" caption="Backing Up As We Speak"]The Iomega Drive from Fry's[/caption]

[ Waiting waiting waiting ... ] at Fry's Electronics, because the deal on the USB hard drive I decided to get to improve my offsite backup was, indeed, too good to be true - WHOA!  They just gave me another 5$ discount for waiting! Go Fry's!

So now we're backing backing backing... -the Centaur