It’s so hard for me to build new habits

I struggle to exercise control over my weight, it feels so fruitless because inevitably something shows up to break my concentration whether it’s stress or depression or a vacation or social events.

“It’s so hard for me to build new habits,” is what I think. I like to stay inside my comfort zone and I’m easily overwhelmed. If I want to change, it has to engage me and it also needs to also be automatic and the path of least resistance. It has to be exciting but obvious. Challenging but easy.

“It’s so hard for me to build new habits,” is what I thought as I bundled up my blue chalk stick succulent. I’ve been decorating my home with succulents lately, filling up my window sill with hardy, drought-resistant plants.

This is my second blue chalk stick. The first one was one of the first plants I brought home, it shriveled up and died very quickly due to very little light and probable over-watering. This second one has been a challenge too, it’s not in the best of shape but at least I’ve got the watering schedule down. I’ve been reading up and checking on it regularly to help it develop a nice tan. The west-facing window at the office should help.

Years ago, I had decided I didn’t want any plants at home because I’d just kill them. An office morale thing changed my mind, we were encouraged to decorate the space and I was tasked with raising a single aloe. It didn’t die so then I inherited everyone else’s plants. I killed those plants, but at a slower rater of neglect than I’d expected. More recently, I was poking and prodding at the newly-dead batch at home; deciding to give up because these plants were seemingly dying for no reason at all.

This past year, I’ve grown my collection to 20-ish plants, I’ve been paying attention to the amount of sun and the mineral content in my water, I’ve been trying to develop good gardening instincts. And I’ve been nurturing this blue chalk stick back into good health.

Packing for a trip

I’ve been traveling a lot lately and I thought I’d write down some of the things I’ve done to help ease my travel stress.

TSA Pre and Global Entry Kiosks

If you’re a US Citizen or Permanent Resident, sign up for Nexus if you can. If you can’t sign up for Global Entry. Both Nexus and Global Entry will give you access to the Global Entry kiosks, which you can use instead of regular passport control and customs. It saves you having to stand in line and make small talk after a long international flight.

Both Nexus and Global Entry will also give you TSA Pre, which is what airport security checks used to be. Shoes stay on, liquids don’t need their own bin and the lines are shorter.

Roll everything, shoes at the bottom

By bottom, I mean if your suitcase is upright, your shoes should be close to the ground.

For every item of clothing except formal wear, you can tuck in the sleeves and roll it up like a giant cigar. This transforms each item of clothing into dense little bricks that you can easily organize.

Duffel bags are underrated

They might not have all the pockets and zippers that a suitcase provides but they store a ton of things and can be molded to fit into any overhead compartment. I can fit more in my duffel than in my carry-on suitcase.

Anti-microbial, fast drying underwear

I have the kind of anxiety that makes me want to pack too many things. Like 10 pairs of underwear for a 7-day trip. It’s a great relief to pack a few pairs of underwear that can be washed in a sink and dry overnight. If I need to, I scrub them with plain old soap, hand-wring thoroughly, then roll them up in a towel and walk all over it to get the last drops of water out. Then just air dry for a few hours.

Multiport USB charger, USB battery

Even if you only have one device that needs charging, get a charger that has a couple of ports on it. And it must have 2 Amp charging for today’s hungry smartphones. The extra ports will make it easier to ask for an outlet at the airport or share a room with others.

A USB battery is also nice for the days that will see heavy phone usage (e.g. navigating with GPS) or just for the reassurance that you’ll have enough juice at the end of the day to get home safe.

Earplugs and headphones

I’m prone to feeling sensory overload on flights. The jet engines and the talking and the babies crying all leave me super stressed out. Earplugs help reduce the volume significantly and cut out a lot of the droning. Headphones sitting on top of that allows you to keep watching movies when you’re in the mood.

I’ve tried the high-end Bose noise cancelling headphones and I don’t like them. They cancel noise by generating a sound that cancels out the droning of the jet engines. But I found the headphones to be too expensive, the technology to be imperfect and the overall feeling to be less pleasant than just plain ol’ earplugs.

Apple Pay

You need three things to use Apple Pay in a foreign country: A relatively recent iPhone, your credit card provider’s support, and any payment terminal that has that wifi icon (that means you can pay without swiping or inserting your card).

It doesn’t matter if Apple Pay isn’t widely offered by the destination country’s banks (e.g. Australia and Iceland). Apple Pay just requires your bank’s support and the contactless payment standard.

This form of payment is far more secure than swiping a credit card, as long as you’re comfortable with people seeing you own an expensive smartphone. Plus, it’s a nice backup in case you do lose your credit card (as what happened to my friend recently).

Time to sit and think

I freak out a lot less about the contents of my luggage if I give myself a little time to just sit and run through the various mental checklists. Furiously packing right up until the last second and heading out the door is a lot less reassuring.

I used to delay and procrastinate because I thought I couldn’t set anything aside because I’d need it before the trip. But it turns out I can set aside a week’s worth of clothing and still go about my daily life. I feel a lot better knowing I set some time aside to consider what I might be forgetting.

Make hard cuts

Knowing that I always pack more than I need, I’ve been challenging myself to trim down. That might mean bringing fewer electronics, wearing clothing on multiple days, coming up with smarter ways to layer or just learning to live without certain luxuries. It’s a vacation, it’s supposed to be a break from the routine.

You can always buy more stuff

Unless you’re headed to a place far away from civilization, you can just buy what you’re missing. You don’t need to pack for every possible contingency. If you’re pushed for space, you can skip the things that you can easily find as needed (i.e. toiletries).

Facebook Events not syncing to Calendar app in iOS

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I think this bug has been around forever in iOS but, to be clear, my solution is for iOS 10.2.1 on an iPhone 7 Plus.

First, verify that the Calendar app has access to your Facebook information:

  1. Open Settings > Facebook
  2. Make sure you’re logged in
  3. Make sure the switch next to “Calendars” is switched on.

Here’s the buggy part, you need to make sure you sync All Events:

  1. Open Settings > Calendar
  2. Tap on the “Sync” entry and change it to “All Events
  3. Open the Calendar app and verify that the Facebook events are now showing.

An annoying bug on Apple’s part.

MacBook Pro October 2016

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October 2016 MacBook Pro

The new MacBook Pro announced yesterday is a bad upgrade. I’m sure it’s a fine computer on its own. But if a creative professional asked you, “Should I upgrade right now?” The answer is an easy no.

Apple had a diverse offering when both the Air and the Pro were being regularly updated. The Air wasn’t cheap but it was affordable and a remarkable experiment in how thin and light something could get. The Pro was a premium take on the more traditional laptop, with tons of connectivity, paired with Apple’s build quality and taste.

Somewhere along the way, they decided to only build variations of the MacBook Air. The Pro had to slim down and every existing feature had to adapt to being thinner and lighter (or be removed outright).

Apple have invested a lot into making things thinner and lighter. Designing their own chips and custom circuit boards, pioneering standards like Thunderbolt and USB-C, and all the insane materials science and hardware engineering. But I worry that they’ve invested too much in this image of themselves as the thin and light company. At a certain point, I don’t need my bicycle to be any thinner or lighter, I want safety or versatility or accessibility.

For a creative professional considering this new MacBook Pro, they would need to go to their desk and count up the peripherals they had and estimate how many dongles they’d need (both at their desk and when they travel). They’d need to check their budget to account for the higher price points. And after that headache, they’d need to take a look at the Windows ecosystem and think hard about whether there’s a better compromise there.

If this were a new MacBook Air, this new laptop could wear that name proudly; it’s a sports car version of a MacBook Air. But the only thing a Pro customer can see is a set of uncomfortable compromises.

Leliel

So, this is some embarrassingly geeky nonsense but I was falling into a pit of despair a week ago and visualizing a scene from Neon Genesis Evangelion helped me climb out.

When I’m struck with sadness or depression, it comes on most strong in the mornings. My brain greets the day with some of the most terrifying and cruel thoughts and I replay these emotions over and over. The thought of getting out of bed seems impossible. I can lay there for hours just stewing in a deep regret.

I was feeling a particularly acute sadness this morning, not the usual fog of depression but a sharp pain in my chest. A thick black void deep inside my rib cage that robbed me of my perspective.

A trick I’ve learned is to give myself permission to rewrite my nightmares and to rewrite them poorly. I dreamt I fell down a hole? Well now there’s ice cream at the bottom and it’s delicious. A dream where everyone abandons me? Turns out they were there all along and we lived happily ever after.

With this in mind, I rewrote my despair. The black void became an unearthly floating sphere that suddenly grows solid. Cracks appear and then an arm bursts forth. A powerful being emerges and starts screaming in terror; it is my refusal to to suffer in silence. Its limbs twist and stretch and tear the sphere apart. They radiate with a cautious orange light and they grow… its arms become my arms, its legs become my legs.

It feels like something new but, at the same time, something I’ve always possessed. It feels scary, in a good way.

The visuals felt so familiar to me. It was only a few days later that I realized I was stealing from NGE.