Mental Health Month

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

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

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

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

The Keto Diet

This has been more effective than anything else.

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

The Keto Diet Explained

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

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

A Sunny Future

Solar power has come to represent hope in science fiction, and climate change.

My wife and I got solar panels in 2018. It was not a decision we made lightly, but we’re quite glad we did. For one thing, solar power almost completely off-sets our electricity bill. For another thing, we feel that having solar power helps the long-term health of our planet. It’s just a good idea and the technology is finally catching up to the promise solar power first held in the ’70s. We don’t have batteries yet, since where we live there’s a requirement for solar systems to be tied to the power grid. And, too, four years ago, battery technology just wasn’t quite where we wanted it to be to invest in a battery backup solution. It pretty much is there now, or close enough, at least, that it’s worth doing.
When we got the solar panels, I told my wife that it felt like I was living in a science-fictional universe. When I was growing up, solar power was almost exclusively the province of the future or science-fiction. Today, we’re closer than ever to realizing the promise of that future. Sadly, it’s still more fiction than science, but at least there’s hope.
So, to encourage you in that hope for the future, I thought I’d share two free collections about the promise of a solar future from Arizona State University. First, there’s The Weight of Light, which came out in February of 2019. Then there’s Cities of Light, which came out this year in February. Both are described as “…[a] collection of science fiction stories, art, and essays…” that explore how our future may look fueled by solar energy “… with an upbeat, solarpunk twist…” And, of course, for the ebook versions, both are free as well.

Why not download them now for your first “summer read”?

Stress Relief Course

Training for how to deal with stress.

Although it’s meant primarily for COVID-19 pandemic stress, which I think all of us have been feeling to some degree, this course from TalkSpace on managing stress can be pretty universally useful. I know personally, I’ve been loaded almost to the breaking point with stress this past year between everything related to the pandemic, stepping in a larger role at work, politics, and the loss of my father. Of course, a lot of that could be causing stress regardless of the pandemic, as could things like job loss and the break up of long-term relationships. It’s been a rough couple of years for most of us, I think. So, this really seems like a good thing to share.
I have to admit that I haven’t done the course myself so I can’t speak to its particular utility, and the creators make clear that they don’t want anyone to substitute it for one-on-one therapy, but for those of us who can’t afford the time and expense of anything else, at least it’s something. And, more so for those of us who maybe just need a little extra help, but not a full round of therapy, it can help.
While the course is free, they do ask for an email address. I’m assuming that they’ll use it for marketing opportunities, which seems a fair trade-off. I can always unsubscribe later.

Let me say, though, that if you’re feeling suicidal, please, do reach out to someone.

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

Life is a Simulation

At least, if you’re obsessed with scale modeling as a hobby.

A couple of years ago, I read an article about a man so obsessed with trains that he created a full-size commuter rail car in his basement. No joke. He’s a Canadian who absolutely loves trains, but especially the Canadian VIA Rail, and even works with a society dedicated to the restoration and preservation of these trains. So, he had the references to correctly recreate the experience in his basement after managing to buy an out-of-service passenger coach which he restored. But, with the pandemic lockdown, he finally found the time to create his favorite stretch of track between Toronto, Ontario, and Montreal, Quebec with his model railroad. Because, of course, he’s obsessed with trains of ALL sizes and apparently has the most patient wife in the entire world. (Well, it is also his “day job”, as he has a business building and selling model trains.)
Now, however, things have gone on long enough that he’s found a way to add even more to the experience. He’s used a GoPro to record video of the model train trip and edit it to look like the real thing. And, I have to say, it really is a good recreation. According to the article at Gizmodo, which includes the video, he plans to eventually add giant screens to the passenger coach in his basement that links to the camera on the model train to show a live feed, making the line between reality and simulation even blurrier than it already is.

I’m a little afraid of what he might get up to if the lockdown in Canada goes on much longer! Hopefully, everyone in North America is getting their vaccination so we can get up to herd immunity and do things in public again. Soon.

Password Rules

Do you know those horrible password rules about adding random characters and numbers and stuff?

IT professionals hate them, too. Honest. I can say that because I am, in fact, an IT professional and have been for just shy of thirty years. (You can read more about my qualifications to call myself an IT pro at my other website, which includes Jim Hoffman’s CNE Resume, because, yes, I’ve been doing this so long I’m certified in things that no one really uses anymore.) I remember when the standard for passwords changed, requiring normal people to do things like including special characters or numbers and a mix of upper case and lower case letters. We were told that it would make the resulting passwords exponentially harder to guess. At the time, that may have been true, though I doubt it. It turns out, those rules were written by a government bureaucrat who used an out-of-date white paper to make his recommendations. And, now, even that bureaucrat regrets making those rules that only make your password harder to remember. Also, all that advice about translating a famous quote into a password by changing out words for symbols or letters? Essentially useless. With the computing power of moderns machines, the randomness of a short password really doesn’t matter at all. Length is the real key. So, having a password like “P@SSw0rd” isn’t significantly more secure than “password”, except, of course, that hackers are likely to guess the simple words first and “password” is actually one of the ten most popular passwords. So don’t use that. What’s better is to use a longer password, like an entire sentence without punctuation. And, if you have to include numbers and special characters, just tack them at the end or beginning. In other words, something more like “MyPasswordIsVerySecure@9”, because the length of that password IS exponentially harder to guess than “password”. Don’t believe me? Then just look at this infographic that shows how the length of your password is really the determining factor in how hard it is for hackers to crack.

How Long Would Your Password Last Against An Expert?

Of course, some systems limit the length of a password, unfortunately, but, until everyone else catches up to us, you have to work with what you’re given.
Come back next week to see what uncomfortable truths I have to share with you!

The Next World War

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

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

Cell Phone Etiquette

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

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

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

A Little Wargaming

posted in: Art, Fun, Fun and Games | 0

I’ve always loved the idea of wargaming.

The problem is, the models are expensive, take a lot of time to paint, and then take up a lot of room after painting and between simulated skirmishes. In fact, I’ve tried several times to get into the hobby, painting one or more sets of miniatures, but rarely getting too far. Now, my eyes aren’t great anymore, but I do have a lot of magnifying devices to compensate. Still, there’s the expense and the room they all take. Well, that part, at least, has a solution, as demonstrated in this Make Warhammer TINY!, as I first saw it on Boing Boing. The idea is pretty basic; using an inexpensive 3d printer, print wargaming miniatures at half the size of normal. That theoretically cuts paint and storage requirements in half, at least.
Sadly, for me, I don’t have my own 3d printer, so I’m probably not going to do this, but I absolutely like the idea of the tiny wargames and really, quite literal miniatures. It’s brilliant. Though, I do question my ability to paint anything that small, even with the aid of my geriatric-level magnification devices. Truly. On the other hand, if you’re stuck at home and you DO have your own resin 3D printer, you can download a lot of the files for free from links at the first video I linked and give a new hobby a try while you wait for your COVID-19 vaccination to be scheduled. (Or, like me, you can just marvel at the idea of the whole thing while watching a sixteen-minute video.)

Come back next week and see what else I’ve got to share with you!

Go Green, A Month At A Time

Going green doesn’t have to be an all or nothing thing.

Even doing a little something that’s healthier for the planet can be a big benefit. And, the infographic in this post, brought to you thanks to Daily Infographic, shows you something you can do each month to make your living situation, even in an apartment, a little greener.
Go Green, a step at a time

So, there’s a good start! It will absolutely help our planet and future generations to be more aware and try to be more careful with our limited resources.
Come back soon for more infographics and posts!

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