The Check-in. January 2018.

It has been just over a month since I wrote my 2017 wrap-up and my look ahead to 2018.

In the spirit of not abandoning this and tying to actually see these goals come to pass, I want to do some occasional check-ins to evaluate progress and direction. It is like taking home everyone’s favorite part of work, evaluations.

Organizing and Time Management
I always have this idealized system in my head of organizing tasks. It’s intricate and across many different systems. Those are also the problems with this. I use it for a little bit, but the time investment into upkeep tend to detract from it as well. I’ve decided to err on the side of pragmatism and abandon this idea and go for simplicity. Right now I’m working out of my original todo list of choice, Remember the Milk. It is simple, but allows for granularity if need be. I can easily plop tasks in it and I check it regularly. It’s been incredibly effective so far. This paired with a robust Google Calendar, which at this point look like a rainbow mated with a spreadsheet, have kept me out of trouble and on track.

Running and Fitness
I didn’t run as much as I would have liked last year so I am trying to do more of that. The weather is being kind of a fart right now, more snow than I would like, but I am plowing ahead. Plowing. Snow. GOD. I’M SO FUCKING FUNNY.

In January of 2018 I’ve run 53.3 miles including one half-marathon despite cold. In comparison, in January of 2017 I ran 18.7 miles. An improvement of 34.6 miles. That is solid! To make this a reality I have bought myself a balaclava and it has changed my life. I’d like to keep this trend going. I’ve applied again to run in the NYC marathon, and that would just be the cat’s pajamas if I were able to run that.

In addition to running, I’ve been lifting and finally worked yoga into my schedule. Sunday’s are for yoga. It’s a good, chill day to do that. I’ve been switching between P90X Yoga X and P90X3 Yoga X. They both have their strengths. P90X Yoga X is 1.5 hours so it’s a pretty big time commitment and is much harder to boot. I like the variation, though. I’ve managed to do this every week in January, and I’ve noticed it has made a big impact on my overall shoulder strength and my flexibility.

I need to start up Triathlon Tuesday’s though. That was on hiatus while my tattoo healed up because I could not swim when I did that, and never started it back up. February, get back in the pool.

Video Projects
I have made zero progress on my Twenties video project, but I do have a decent excuse, which is I’ve been editing all the talks from the Resistance Fair I helped put on with my Indivisible group. Editing talks, especially those with PowerPoints is a bear, at least on a shoestring budget. All the PowerPoint slides have to be exported as images and placed by hand where the slides change. Tedious. I will say one of the most satisfying feelings though is combining disparate sources into something cohesive. This was the case for the talks. The place we held the fair at had mics set up so I was able to leverage their mixing board. I piped the final mix out of the board to a USB soundcard I bought for like $10 to my laptop. I had my GoPro knockoff up near the stage recording with the fisheye to be able to cover the expanse of the stage. People were also asking us to livestream the event, which I didn’t think at first would be possible, but I cobbled it together at the last minute. I used the webcam that I normally use for Skype calls on my desktop to record video and the output from the mixing board along with some custom backgrounds to put the stream together. I used OBS as the stream software, which I recently learned thanks to something I will talk about a little down the page. I am glad I did do the livestream, too because Audacity, which I was using to record the audio output from the mixing board managed to corrupt the first part of the talks. I was able to snag the audio from the stream to substitute that. Overall, all the talks turned out really well. I had someone come up to me at a meeting and tell me they really appreciated whoever put those talk videos together. So, that felt nice.

Btw, I did do a talk on Net Centrality at the Fair. Check it out!

I am working on making the process better next time we do an event though. I know my GoPro knockoff can output a video stream over Wi-Fi, so if I can snag that, an audio stream, and a get a capture card for whatever laptop is outputting slides, I can livestream these with similar results without me having to do post editing. This is a good segue into…

Automation
This is a big one for me. I am a programmer, this should be second nature by now, but I do have to put the work to make this happen.

One thing that was first on the chopping block was automating Tim and Matt Play, the hit YouTube let’s play I do with my friend, Tim. It ate up way too much of my time. From the setup to the tear down, to the editing, it was taking time I don’t have away for something that is purely a fun side project. I knew I could combine the audio and the video together initially if I just sat down and set it up. In addition to just having a final product done and ready for upload sans editing, I figured I could livestream this on Twitch as well. I changed my whole living room setup, too. It’s much more functional, clean, and organized. I also took some old PCs gathering dust in my parent’s basement to Frankenstein a PC dedicated to streaming so I wouldn’t have to involve my laptop in the setup process. It’s super old, and can’t stream at HD resolutions or do animated backgrounds, heck the processor is buckling even streaming what it does, but it works.

The final product now means I can stream from any of the consoles I have hooked up with the touch of a few buttons (this includes retro consoles hooked up through my Famemeister upscaler). I’ve created two templates for our show, 4:3 for retro stuff and 16:9 for modern stuff. I’ve also embedded chat into our videos for friends who stop by when we are streaming. I has been neat to see that happen.

The bonus byproduct of this has been Tim and Matt play has had a regular schedule for almost all of January (Thursdays at 8:30 PM). This has never happened. Another benefit is that I’ve learned OBS. This helped immensely as, for instance, if you needed to put together a livestream for an event at the last minute. So, this whole thing has been totally positive.

Grad School
Surprisingly, I have actually made inroads here as well. Part of what makes this so hard is getting back into the mental state of sitting down and studying. I totally lost my groove with that after graduation. This month, I’ve been focusing on getting my study mode back. My approach has been two fold. One, I learned that Duolingo had Japanese lessons, which I did not realize. So, I’ve been doing daily lessons in that for almost two solid weeks. It’s nice to be studying that language again, and not just Kanji flashcards, but actual grammar and vocabulary. Japanese is cool.

In addition to that, I’ve been reviewing some math. Not only is this necessary for the degree I want to pursue, but it is fun to see this stuff again. This was started by a video I watched on YouTube about the Fourier Transform. It might seem arbitrary, but the Fourier Transform was used so heavily in my later engineering classes that it put me back in that mindset.

From there I started watching his Essence of Linear Algebra series and breaking out my old textbooks to do some practice problems. He does a great job of representing geometrically the concepts covered in Linear Algebra. I’d like to tackle differential equations next. Isn’t math awesome?!?

Bonus
My final thing has been starting a real software project I’m doing for Indivisible. I’m approaching it as professionally as possible, and taking all the things I’ve learned from working in enterprise(ish) software development and applying it to my personal project. That means clear, well-commented, robust code. Not hacky, thrown together stuff. It also means source control and task management. Right now, I have remote git repos set up and a task management system established. I am actually making progress, too, which is awesome!

January has been exhausting. This has been a good exercise though as in hindsight it looks like I was able to get a lot done. Gotta keep it up!

2018: Make It Happen

2017. Weird year.

I’m trying to look back on what 2017 even was. It’s feels like one of those old flashbulbs going off. It was bright, intense, painful, and then it was over.

Let’s recap.

This year came in off 2016 – a year so bad that its awfulness was running joke. So, 2017 to the rescue.
Probably.
Not.

I’m fairly uncool and try to theme my years. The narrative I gave to 2017 was “Go Hard.” What does that mean? Well, I’ve been trying to recapture this lightning in a bottle I had during college. Not the bad first and middle parts, but the explosive end. I probably romanticized (read: definitely) this part of my life, but I felt so much forward momentum. I felt like I was growing, learning, changing. There is truth to this. The issue is when life started to settle down, I realized how tired I was. I had worked too hard and I needed a break. By 2017, I had been “taking a break” for two years going on three and it was showing. I filled my life with other goals, but not the same intensity I had before. The “Go Hard” motif was about trying to recapture that magic, and get back to accomplishing goals.
But, any major plans I had for 2017 were put on hold, not necessarily by choice, but by circumstance. I won’t rehash what I’ve already said before, but the 2016 election changed quite a few things for me.

The emotion that dominated the start of 2017 was anxiety. I was more on edge during that first part of the year than in any point in recent memory. For instance, shortly after the inauguration some friends and I got together to hang out and play Secret Hitler (which is just a fantastic game, by the by) and due to the subject matter, I remember being nervous and shaken by the outcome of each round. In my head, this game was a proxy for the current political situation. I assure you my behavior was not contained solely to the recesses of my mind. I played the game again recently with many of the same people and they recalled my previous demeanor. There were parts of this time where I felt utterly at the mercy of my obsessive emotions and incapable of doing anything about it. I felt immobilized. I did, slowly, find ways to mitigate this though. Primarily through finding actionable ways to try to change the situation, again, see post above.

This newfound political group did add quite a bit of work to my list though. Some of it is self-imposed, some of it is because it needed to get done. Surprisingly though this is probably what actually got me back into a frame of mind with work similar to that I had in college. I felt busier this year than I have in any other time since 2014. I consider this a good thing. I’m healthy and (relatively) full of energy now, so why not use it?
To put the Indivisible stuff to bed here is a small list of things we managed to do in 2017:

* Recruited new members
* Registered new voters
* Made a website
* Got in touch with other Indivisible groups in and out of the state
* Held and attended protests
* Attended street fairs
* Branded
* Got merch (T-Shirts, stickers, business cards)
* Met all Dem candidates running for our district
* Connected with the local parties
* Phone banked for the Virginia elections
* Called our MOC too many times to count
* Got invited to be in a pilot program for fundraising for Indivisible national
* Incorporated as a 501c4 non-profit
* Got our first donation!
* And, personally, learned WAY too much about parliamentary procedure.

Not bad for year one.

As you can probably glean from that list, that is where a majority of my time ended up. I never intended it to, but it was just a lightning rod for all my panic. That means that many of my other goals took a backseat. I never let any of them go, they would just get intermittent bumps of my time. That means, I made progress on almost all of them, but finished hardly any of them. I would explode from one thing to another and drive that goal forward and then let that languish when I found something more interesting to do.

In that sense, my “Go Hard” in 2017, was a success. I went hard for most of the year. Almost always working and doing something, but none of that energy was focused. This doesn’t work with long-term, hard goals and projects. It’s easy to work on things when you are excited it is much harder to do things in the middle, when it’s boring, and a slog, but that is, arguably, the most important part.

That’s why my theme for 2018 is “Make it Happen.” Certainly not going to win any awards for originality, but I think it’s the next step. This year is all about getting back to organization, time management, and grit. I feel I have my work ethic back to where it needs to be. Now it’s all about focus, and drive. 2018 feels demonstrably different than 2017 did. I have all these new responsibilities, but I have a better handle on how and when to deal with them. Not to mention a better handle on my emotional state. I don’t want to feel like anything is solely dominating my time which had been the case. This year is all about attaining those goals, despite the slog, despite the middle. I’m an engineer by training and a programmer by trade so I’m comfortable with systems and frameworks. I want to harness this in 2018 by automating tasks that are huge time sucks, but I still want or need to get done. For instance, Tim and Matt Play is going to be a live show from now on, so I never have to setup, capture, edit, and then upload again. Our million+ fans will be very excited.

There were other things that happened in 2017 though:

I love data, and, like last year, I compiled my exercise history down into this nice little image.

I lifted more than last year, which is apparent when I do certain things these days. I did Yoga X the other day and was able to do some of the balance postures I was never able to do before. I love everything that lifting has done for a more well-rounded fitness, and plan to continue that this year.

One thing that breaks my heart looking at the numbers is that running took a big dip. I felt it, too. I just didn’t devote enough time to it. I want to get back to my 2016 numbers. I had my share of failure and triumph this year with running. Overall, running is something I just love doing, and not setting aside time for it is detrimental to my well-being. Running is as much physical as it is mental. It’s where I think through things and blow off steam. It’s my meditation. So, 2018, more running.

One goal I am attempting is doing a triathlon this year. I’m still going to do marathons, but this seems like a fun, new challenge. I’m garbage at swimming and it seems like a good physical activity for overall fitness.

I’m still doing improv, and if running is how I mentally center myself, improv is where my mind gets to play. My job is fairly analytical, so having this outlet is so nice. As a group, we did so many shows in 2017, and it was super fun. We did end up losing our venue at the end of the year, which sucks, but we are looking. We started and stopped doing long form. And we did a structured show, which was so amazingly fun and different than what we did in the past. Luckily, I recorded the whole thang ding.

We are starting up long form again in about a week and I couldn’t be more excited.

I turned 30(!) and started a video series about my 20s which has been a blast to make. It is the first bit of video content like this I’ve made, and I’m excited to finish the different chapters. I’m learning how to be more candid on camera, and work better with voice over and different camera shots. These videos are all about storytelling which I’ve done only in the most cursory of ways with my previous vlogs. This is forcing me to get better and look at the medium differently. This is by far the most ambitious video project I’ve undertaken, and the most fun. I’m excited to work on and finish this in 2018.

Grad school. These words haunt me. I’ve been talking about this since I graduated and I’m still not in it. 2017 was supposed to be the year. It wasn’t. I took the GRE and did ok, but not to my (or most likely the school’s) satisfaction. I’ve been putting this off for far too long, and it is happening this year. No more excuses, no more procrastinating.

There is something else that happened in 2017. I’m not going get into it here, but needless to say it sucked. Hard.

As I’ve said, 2017 was weird. Lots of highs and lows, and genuine confusion and fear with what to do next. I made it out alive, and if you are reading this, you did, too. I have all these things I want to accomplish in my life, and 2018 is the time to start realizing them. Unlike this post, I need to focus.

Make it happen.

2018 is going to be buck wild.

Results and Conclusions

Where we last left our hero (no, not at all), he had a gloomy, black cloud of shame and regret following him around. And now…the dramatic conclusion.

I did it.

Not to be anticlimactic, but the fact that I did end up doing it is the least interesting part of the story, so now that I got that out of the way, let’s get to the nutmeat of this.

As I said in the previous post, I was incredibly nervous going into this race. To compound my nervousness, I meant to run an 8 miler in the middle of the week to make sure I didn’t get too rusty. On top of motivational problems, there were logistical concerns as well. Daylight saving time hadn’t flipped yet and it was getting dark right after work. I don’t really like running in complete darkness at night. It’s pretty dangerous, and it’s easy to spook people. Dark morning runs don’t bother me as much because there are really only other runners out. Anyway, this is my way of saying I did not get any runs in that week. I was going in cold.

I was glad I was endeavoring to complete this adventure with some friends of mine. It helped take my mind from dwelling on the potential negative outcomes. We headed down on the Friday before the race to pick up our packets, get some food, and get a good night’s rest for the day ahead. We ended up going to a bar chain downtown called The Yard House because it was close and it was near the convention center where our packets were. The only reason I even mention this is because this was a concern of mine. My stomach was the issue in Chicago so I was nervous about eating anything at all. I knew I needed the energy, but I wanted to make sure I digested it in time. I had a vegan burger and a great IPA. Tried to get some good carbs in, but not overdo it.

We got to the hotel, and went to bed pretty much immediately. I definitely did squeeze in some Mario Odyssey before bed though. How GOOD is that game? Like, for real. What a triumph of design, art, and gameplay. (Oh hey, past writing Matt, future editor Matt here, we are playing you off. This isn’t about how much you love Mario, no matter how good Odyssey is)

I always sleep pretty badly before races, and this was not an exception. I was pretty tightly wound. So, when the alarm went off, I didn’t need to hit snooze. I was up. My friends, Jeff and Stacey, who are far too nice, brought me a cogurt (coconut yogurt) for a pre-race breakfast. I scarfed that down, and proceeded to get ready. I was double and triple checking that I had everything and was properly lubed up.
Ok, sidebar. If you’ve been around me you have already heard me bring this up, and I’ve chosen to become an evangelist with regards to this. Fellas, tape your nips. Anyone who runs long distances wrestles with chaffing; it just comes with the territory. Inevitably, every long-distance race you will see someone with bloody nips. We’ve all been there. Every stride just makes it worse. I’ve vasalined, and while that helps, after a while it soaks into the shirt and you are right back where you started. I decided to just try to avoid it all and slap an X of athletic tape over those bad boys. WORLD. OF. DIFFERENCE. I will not be turning back. I came away from the marathon with zero nipple related injuries. Pride goeth before the fall. Don’t let that be you. TAPE ‘EM UP! P.S.A. over.

I was ready, and vibrating internally. I wanted to start. We got to the race right on time, which was nice. There was not the usual waiting for hours that usually happens. My internal goal was just to keep a steady pace. Don’t worry about time (one caveat was that I need to be under 5 hours). Don’t try to beat last years’ time. With that in mind, I just ran. I pretty much blocked out everyone around me and focused. I was feeling good, but I always feel really good for at least the first 10 miles. I was feeling really good though. The weather was cooperating, for the most part. I had downloaded a new audiobook about game dev (watch out fellow youths, very too cool guy alert) called “Blood, Sweat, and Pixels” that had received positive reviews. Things were falling into place. I had packed my own GU gels, too. I had never done that in a race before. I usually relied on the race stations to provide them. I tried to space them out. I thought every 7 miles I’d eat one. I stuck too that, too, as much as they tasted terrible (tri-berry, more like try and bury the taste. THIS GUY IS A JOKE MACHINE.). In addition to spacing out my water intake, I also didn’t drink any Gatorade they offered. In the past, I had alternated between water and Gatorade. I think this helped, because I always got thirstier after the Gatorade. There is probably no scientific merit to this claim. My guess is superstition.

As I hit the half-way mark, my legs definitely were sore, but they were holding steady. There was a moment, where I realized, that aside from one bathroom break (which took way too long thanks to an absurd line) I had only slowed down to drink water, but never stopped to walk or catch my breath. That had never happened in any of the past marathons. I’d run almost all of them, but I would stop to walk a few times. Each race I tend to come up with some mantra, and this one became “Don’t stop running.”
In addition to mantras, I tend to also partition my races. I do it as the race progresses, but it helps to have mini-goals. Like with any big problem, it’s nice to break it down into more manageable pieces. A marathon is just as much of a mental as a physical hurdle.

These are the mind games I play:

• 1 Mile (Already? That was so fast and easy, you got this.)
• 6 Miles (10k down, peasy. 20 miles to go.)
• 10 Miles (Once you get to the double digits, it will seem easier.)
• 13.1 Miles (Half-way! All you have to do, is this one more time.)
• 16 Miles (Just 4 miles until 20!)
• 20 Miles (Just a 10k away.)
• 21 Miles (Just 5 miles left, a normal mid-week run.)
• 23 Miles (Just a 5k, you do a 5k in your sleep.)
• 25 (One more mile! Leave nothing on the field, times to crank it.)
• 26 (0.2 and it’s banana and medal time.)
• 26.2 FINISHED!

So, I was around mile 18 and it really clicked. Mile 18 is usually when the reality of the situation makes itself known. You just ran 18 miles and you still have to run 8 more. It’s been an overwhelming feeling in the past. The place where the feelings of, “Why on Earth did I do this?” set in. The surprise this time was that at mile 18, I was Gucci. I wasn’t seeing red, all signs pointed smooth sailing ahead.

If we follow my mental map, next up was 20. It came and went; the usual signs of wear were nowhere to be found. Mile 21, 22, 23 passed without much fanfare. I felt the vibrations on my watch, but held firm. Before I had even realized I was at mile 25 and ready to leave it on the field. I booked it (as much book as my legs had left) and just like that I had crossed the finish.

I was no doubt tired and sore, but I just ran an entire marathon without stopping. The one word that came to my head after I finished was how smooth the race felt. It was like going on a long run around town.
To say I was satisfied with the results is an understatement. I was and am ecstatic. I did not beat my time from the previous year, but I felt far more confident coming off this race than any previous. Maybe I got lucky. We all have good days and bad. Maybe the cross-training was paying off. All I know is that I came off this race immediately wanting to do more, and to perform better. One of my goals next year is to work on speed training. I’ve never done it before, I’ve focused solely on distance, but that seems like the next logical step.

I want to take this moment to thank and congratulate my super buds, Jeff and Stacey. Not only have they been super supportive throughout the year, but they were the best companions to have around for the race. It was Jeff’s first marathon, and Stacey’s first half-marathon. They both finished strong, and I couldn’t be prouder of them both. They also just made for a crazy fun, and memorable weekend, even if we were limping around for the rest of Saturday and Sunday.

So, after my last post, how is my overall feeling of shame and disappointment? It’s pretty much vanished. I am still disappointed with how Chicago turned out, but it’s a muted disappointment. My process of using failure as a motivator seems to have helped again. I know there will be a time where this won’t work anymore and I’m not looking forward to it.

I was hoping to increase my marathon number to 5 by years’ end, but I can live with 4, especially if it’s a solid 4. I already applied to Chicago for next year, and signed up for one last half for the year in December.

God, I love running.