Category Archives: Life Hacking

Stir Fry My Way

This is a giant, pointless, first world problems rant about food. If you’re looking for insight into tech, this isn’t a post for that.

My dad has a lot of weird control issues, especially about food.

My dad does all the grocery shopping and cooks all the food in the house. He keeps insisting my mom can’t cook and has taken it upon himself to do all the cooking in the house. He has told me that he sees it as a source of pride that he provides for his family and makes sure we have food.

I can only imagine this is why he controls things the way he does.

One thing that he does that drives me completely insane is that he won’t let anyone serve themselves.

When it’s dinner time, everyone lines up at the counter and he serves you. He cuts giant chunks of overcooked salmon and steamed brussels sprouts and deposits them on the plate and unceremoniously hands it to you.

Prepping stir fry ingredients.

Prepping stir fry ingredients.

Being handed a large plate full of food you know you’re not going to finish is really upsetting, especially when you get yelled at for not cleaning your plate. My dad will make enough food for ten people and tell my mother to eat heartily but that he doesn’t want to eat too much because he’s watching his weight. Then he yells at her for wasting the food he made too much of that he didn’t want to eat himself.

I don’t eat a lot. I never have. I also hated both salmon and brussels sprouts until I got out on my own and found out that if they were prepared properly they could be delicious.

One of the things that drove me absolutely crazy (besides being handed the wrong fork and having to fish the right fork out from the silverware drawer) was how he would dish out stir fry.

I like to put the rice on the plate first and then ladle the stir fry over the rice. That way the rice can absorb all the sauce. Dry white rice is miserable and soulless and the only way it’s tolerable is as a sponge for sauce.

My dad would never let me plate my own stir fry. He would dump the stir fry on first then place it next to the rice. The sauce would flow all over the plate and be lost forever, leaving three quarters of the rice naked and unsauced.

I know this sounds really fucking stupid to complain about how food is presented to me. I didn’t have to pay for it. I didn’t have to cook it. I should just be grateful and shut up and eat my food without complaint.

It just bothers me to see people not paying attention to details and aesthetics. Salmon does not have to be disgusting. If you cook it properly and put some garlic and salt and pepper and some butter or sesame oil it can be awesome. Cooking it for an hour with no seasoning takes almost as much work but it completely destroys the fish.

This stir fry tastes of freedom. And ginger.

This stir fry tastes of freedom. And ginger.

It doesn’t take that much thought to think that maybe if you put the stir fry on the rice it will absorb the sauce. I have known my dad for 34 years and every single time he has plated my stir fry I have had to fix and and go grab the right fork out of the drawer.

I feel like it’s almost a battle of wills. I feel like he purposely doesn’t remember that I don’t use a large fork and that I don’t like salmon and I like my rice under my stir fry. I wouldn’t need him to remember if he would just treat me like a god damned adult and let me serve my own food.

So tonight I made stir fry. I was trying to figure out how to get the rice and stir fry ratio proper when I realized that it’s my food and I can control it and do it however I want.

So I mixed the rice and the stir fry together so that none of the sauce would go to waste and I wouldn’t have to deal with the last parts of the rice being unsauced. And I ate it with the right fork and served myself as much as I knew I could eat.

I know this is a really stupid thing to complain about, but being able to mix my rice and stir fry together is one of those things I get to do that makes me feel like an adult and makes me feel awesome because I have control over something in my life and I can do whatever I want. Whenever being an adult seems too overwhelming and I worry about paying my bills or losing my job, I try to remember stuff like this to remind myself that it’s all worth it.

Signal Flow and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Last year I worked at a hardware company where our primary product was robotics and not software. This is an experience I don’t think most software developers get to have. Most of us are stuck writing esoteric applications communicating with a server or a cloud where you’re not programming something you can touch and feel.

When I was in school I never got to take any shop classes because they scheduled them opposite the college prep classes. My grandfather was a builder and I remember growing up wandering around building sites watching people pouring concrete. Even with that experience, I still had a mental block that working with hardware or power tools was something for other people.

I don’t think that working with your hands has to be divorced from working with your head. I think if you physically touch and see the things you are working with, it helps you think about what you are actually doing.

When I was going to school for audio engineering they made us write signal flow documents for how the sound travels from the microphone to the recording device. I found it incredibly frustrating because I just wanted to go and play with the sound board and I didn’t think it mattered about how things worked under the hood.

That experience really helped me a lot with programming. When I write a program I think through the signal flow of my code. I think about the sequence of events that happens when things are triggered. I don’t know if other people do this too. I know that I have trouble dealing with code where people ask me about something that happens in the middle of the signal flow. To me, it’s almost a narrative thing where a story happens between when the user interacts with the app, or it launches, or whatever the triggering event is and the events that happen afterwards.

I really want to do more with hardware. I find just working with software to be very existential. I feel like I am not doing anything. But I also know that I don’t have the requisite skills to do the things I want to do.

I have enough skills to have a good career as an iOS developer, but it isn’t just about money for me. I want to work on things I find emotionally fulfilling. People keep telling me that jobs are supposed to be soulless and boring, otherwise people would do things for free. I don’t think that’s the case. I think there are a lot of unexplored avenues with iOS that require specialized skills. I think that working with Bluetooth and micro controller devices has a lot of potential, but that requires knowing stuff besides Swift.

How I Learned Programming

I have been incredibly disorganized about trying to learn electronics. I bought a bunch of electronics kits partially to learn soldering. I have a good handle on soldering, but I didn’t do the stuff I intended by figuring out the signal flow of the projects I was working on.

I bought the Make: Electronics book, but I didn’t work through the projects while I read it. I was reading it in the bath tub and before bed, like I was reading my programming books.

I burned myself out reading technical books where you’re supposed to work through a project or look at code while you are working through it.

I know, but keep consciously forgetting, that code, like anything, is a skill. When I learned programming, I sat down between 60 and 80 hours a week working through the Big Nerd Ranch iOS book over and over again.

My teacher Eric Knapp told us that programming is like playing the piano. You need to practice a lot. The first time I typed a project in the book, it would make no sense. It would just be something that worked like magic. The second time I typed it, things wouldn’t be much different. By the third time, I would start to make mental connections about how the project worked. I was starting to form a signal flow document mentally about how an object I created in one place would pull information from another object and result in an output. By the fourth time I understood how the whole program would work.

One thing I had to get over was the idea that somehow doing a tutorial wasn’t really programming. I thought if I didn’t create the code in my head then I wasn’t really learning.

That isn’t the case at all.

It’s like practicing scales on the piano. If you do something over and over again and you do it a lot, your brain starts to make mental connections that it wouldn’t if you didn’t work with something a lot.

It’s like how if you play through Mario Brothers for the first time, you probably die in the first world. If you watch someone who’s been playing since 1987, you think they’re a genius because they know where the short cuts are and where they keep dying. They didn’t start out that way. Either they found them by playing it a lot or someone clued them into where the short cuts were.

How I Want to Learn Electronics

One thing I keep hearing from people is that you need a project to really learn something. I would agree to that to some extent. When I was trying to learn GLSL I didn’t make any progress until I found a project I wanted to do. I found a filter I wanted to write and it gave me enough focus to go in and write the code and add it to the framework.

However, I was only able to do that because I had enough of a base of knowledge about basic programming in order to do that. If I tried to jump in and write that shader before I wrote “Hello, World!” then I would have been hosed.

I think there are two levels of learning a new skill. There is the grunt work of learning the basics, like terminology and “signal flow”. You have to have a good grasp of these things before you can move on to doing your passion project.

I was trying to jump into my passion project without putting in the grunt work I put into learning programming. I have to work through a bunch of basic electronics projects like making an LED light up before I can design an analog synthesizer or a beacon to find my dog when she runs away.

I want to start the Make: Electronics book over again, but I want to do it properly. I have an electronics workshop in my basement, but like everything else in my life, it’s super disorganized.

I bought the component packs for that book. I want to organize my space and learn electronics the same way I learned programming. I want to set aside a decent amount of time and actually touch components and build things. I am not going to skip over the grunt work and “scales” of electronics because if you don’t build a good foundation of knowledge, you won’t get anywhere.

What I am Not Going to Do

I am going to stop trying to read programming and electronics books for fun. I felt guilty for the last few years doing anything that was not related to programming. I burned myself out and created a lot of frustration trying to force myself to learn in a way that was unnatural.

At RWDevCon, James Dempsey talked about the importance going away from keyboard. If I am not in front of my computer actively working on a programming project, I am not going to read a programming book or tutorial. I want to be fully away from the computer.

There is a Buddhist concept of ”Be Here Now”. Don’t worry about the past because you can’t change it and don’t worry about the future because it hasn’t happened yet. The only thing that is important is the moment that is happening right now. If you’re off the clock, be fully off the clock. Disengage. Don’t check Twitter and email. Don’t read programming books. Don’t feel guilty about not working.

I am hoping to document my progress on the blog. I am not going to be inventing the wheel here. I am doing my scales and working through my programming tutorials over and over again. It’s going to be some basic stuff and figuring out how everything works together. I want to get back to how I worked in my audio engineering classes by understanding my signal flow. You can’t build a castle on a swamp, and you can’t generate great innovations without a strong technical foundation.

Twitter Detox

I have been taking some time off recently. I don’t really want to talk about the circumstances surrounding it because that isn’t the point of this post.

Since I have had time to work on slides and projects, I figured I would be super productive. I have been kind of productive, but not as much as I would like.

I have noticed I have no attention span. It’s gotten worse over the last two years or so.

I was on my flight to CocoaConf San Jose and I nearly had a panic attack that I couldn’t tweet the four hours or so I was on the plane. When I go to take a bath I bring a bunch of books and even video games to consume in the tub but I wind up spending all of my time on my phone chatting with people on Twitter. I get bored playing video games because they don’t move fast enough and that revelation really disturbs me quite a lot. I used to cross stitch and doing anything for more than a few minutes at a time is incredibly difficult.

There has been some question about the rise in cases of ADHD. I think that some people, like my teacher Eric Knapp, were born with it. But I also think that we can train our brains to mimic symptoms of it and that the massively connected world we live in has not been good for this.

I will wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to get back to sleep until I check Twitter and my email. This is really unhealthy.

I have no idea when this started getting really bad, but this is the first time I have noticed it.

Twitter has been really good at helping me establish and maintain connections with people I might only meet once at a conference. I know that a lot of people have gotten to know me and my pugs through my tweets.

I am just at a point where I am concerned about my long-term ability to function and be productive and I would like to break this cycle of thinking.

So I am going to delete the Twitter app from my phone. I am going to close the tab I have open for Twitter on my laptop.

I will answer email. There should be enough places online for people to find my email without me having to put it in this post. I will be on Slack channels. I will try to write on my blog more. I am not trying to make myself unreachable, I just need to disconnect from The Matrix for a while and relearn how to pay attention and focus so I can do things I think are important.

At this point I am planning to do this until the beginning of May. I want to give myself a good detox period.

I think that by doing this I will spend less time on my computer when I am not working. I will be more productive when I am on my computer. I think that I waste hours each day just chatting with people on Twitter and if that outlet isn’t there anymore I will be less likely to zone out in front of my computer for hours each night.

I hope that my decision is respected and I plan to write about my observations of the changing state of my focus on this blog. I am interested in seeing how my focus changes over the next month or so.

Thank you.

Why I am Trying to Give Up Drinking

Anyone who follows me on Twitter or knows me in real life knows that I am quite fond of my evening glass of wine. It’s at a point where it’s almost a personality trait, along with my pugs.

I am vaguely aware of the fact that it’s not really a good thing to be known as the person who drinks a lot. I had the problem of thinking that people like Dorothy Parker and Lucille Bluth are super cool and have lead me to attribute this as a positive personality trait.

I wasn’t always like this.

How I Started Drinking

The first time I ever got drunk was at my bachelorette party. It was a very interesting experience for me. It felt like having a migraine only it didn’t hurt. It put me into this weird, almost meditative state that I found very stimulating.

I never partied when I was in high school or college. I used to spend my Saturday nights watching public TV with my parents. When I was in college I would spend all night alone in my apartment doing cross stitching while watching Law & Order marathons.

I felt kind of like I missed out on my youth and I wanted to make up for lost time. I figured I would get tired of it and I didn’t worry about it too much.

I went back to school to learn programming. I had a lot of anxiety about how I was going to find a job because I knew that the tech industry was very youth-centric. I knew as a woman in my 30’s with no experience it would tricky to break into the industry. I knew my best chance was to work my ass off and try to increase my skills as fast as possible. I stopped cross stitching and doing all the things I used to do to relax. The easiest way to get myself to relax was to drink. I half heartedly tried quitting a few times, but I was so stressed out that I figured I would deal with it later.

Then my marriage started falling apart.

The last year I was married I gave myself alcohol poisoning five times. Two weeks into my first job I was out for New Year’s and I drank so much so quickly that I could not keep water down for a few days. I didn’t want to tell any of the young guys at my job that I got so drunk I couldn’t keep water down, so I just kind of got through it.

After I left that job I worked from home and worked on a book. I used to keep boxes of wine outside where they would freeze overnight. I would bring them in and by the time noon rolled around the wine was thawed enough for me to drink it.

After the divorce I went through a massive depression that I did not expect to go through. I had to commute sixty miles a day to and from my job. By the time I got home I was so spent that all I could do was open a bottle of wine and drink in the bath tub. I deluded myself into thinking I didn’t have a problem because I stopped giving myself alcohol poisoning.

I am painfully aware that these behaviors that I am describing are really unhealthy. But I was stressed out and depressed and this wasn’t at the top of my list of things to worry about.

Why I Am Going to Stop

I am honestly trying to remember what triggered this most recent decision.

The last few months I haven’t been able to go for walks because of the weather. I used to walk 45 minutes a day. It was therapeutic. I wasn’t doing it to lose weight, it was just to get away from the computer and try to clear my head.

I hit 34 and started noticing things like lines around my eyes. I feel like I have put on a bunch of weight over the last few months. I bought larger jeans that used to be loose that are now not anymore.

I recently was able to start doing my walks again recently. I realized that even though I was jogging two miles a day I probably wasn’t going to lose any weight because of my drinking habit.

For some reason, this really bothered me. I don’t want to be a person who is obsessed with losing that last ten pounds, but I am at the point where a bunch of this crap is really bothering me.

I have cleared out enough other emotional baggage from my queue that I now want to deal with this.

I don’t want to feel this way anymore. I have had enough periods of my life where I was out of shape and not feeling particularly well. I know that inevitably at some point I am going to be old. It will be harder to lose weight than it is now. My joints will bother me. I can’t keep this from happening, but I can push it off a while longer by making changes now. It’s better late than never.

What I am Trying To Do

My initial thought was that I would do things in moderation. I would limit myself to one glass of wine a night. I then realized that was not going to work. I always think I will have one, but then after the first one I feel really good and the evening is still early, so I have more.

I also decided not to try and replace alcohol with another sweet beverage like fruit juice. I want to be healthier and lose weight, so replacing alcoholic sugar with non-alcoholic sugar was not a great idea.

I am trying to go cold turkey on most sugar.

I did this a few years ago. I drank nothing but water for like two weeks to retrain my palette not to expect everything it encounters to be sweet.

I am restraining my beverage intake to just water, sparkling water, and tea. I am putting some honey in my tea in the mornings because I am also putting lemon in it and I need something to ameliorate it. I know honey is sugar and sugar is bad for you, but I am confining it to that one thing and I have no allusions that it’s healthy, so don’t lecture me.

I am taking this one day at a time. I know from watching people fail at diets that I am going to have bad days. I will have days where I simply can’t deal with it and I will drink. I will not throw in the towel and give up on the experiment. I will just try to do better next time.

Things I have Notice So Far

I am only on my third day of this, so in a few weeks this might be a laughable blog post. But I have noticed a few things so far.

Nights are Boring

My routine used to be that I would finish work, take a bath with a glass of wine, get warm and comfortable, then go to bed.

I can’t do that anymore.

I used to think that after I got done with work, that I was spent for the day. I would basically drug my brain to get it to relax and calm down so I could sleep and work the next day.

The last few days I have realized I can take a bath and be refreshed enough to work on something else that I actually want to do.

It’s really disconcerting. I know I am tired and I need to sleep, but my brain gets a second wind.

This might be a temporary thing and I will probably crash in a few days. At that point I need to figure out a better way to relax. I never thought I would forget how to relax. It was so hard to do any work when I was younger that I never thought I would be stuck in the mind set that I had to work all the time.

Sugar Withdrawal Really Sucks

I think part of the reason I was drinking as much as I did was because I trained my brain to associate sugar with work being over.

I knew that alcohol had a lot of sugar in it, but I didn’t think about the fact that I was slowly increasing my intake over the last few years.

Yesterday I wanted to stab someone for a drink, not because I craved the alcohol, but because I craved the sugar. I ate a few pieces of dark chocolate and I felt better and the craving went away.

The long term goal isn’t to replace one source of sugar with another. I know that cutting back on all sugar is the goal, but it takes some time to get there. At least the chocolate provides some satiation. Alcohol is an appetite stimulant. I will not be hungry, but then I will have a glass of wine and suddenly be famished. Cutting back on the alcohol not only cuts those calories, but also all the ones I would eat after getting the munchies.

I am hoping the cravings get better the longer I stick with this.

Not Exercising Bothers Me

My Apple Watch got pretty passive aggressive with me over the winter because I wasn’t going on my walks. It was annoying, but I didn’t feel super compelled to do anything about it.

The last few days I have been crawling the walls if I can’t do some kind of exercise.

I wanted to go for a walk yesterday and I almost jumped out of my skin trying to find a time I could get out of here. It was too cold to walk, so I did a strength training exercise for half an hour and even that didn’t feel long enough.

Sitting at my computer today drove me crazy. I am going to try to find a way to do a standing desk of some kind. It’s harder to do with the retina iMac than it was with the laptop and the robotics boxes.

Moving Forward

For me, the biggest test of how this will go is when I got to my first conference this year in two weeks, RWDevCon. I need to decide if I am going to forgo drinking altogether at that event or try to limit myself to one drink. If it were right now I would forgo it completely, but I will see how I feel then.

I wish I could see this in an optimistic light. Yay, I can work on side projects after work. I can work out and lose weight and be healthier. This is going to be super awesome.

But I can’t think of it that way. This is going to be a huge and difficult adjustment. I know I used to live quite happily not doing this every night and I can probably do that again. But it’s going to take some time and effort to relearn how to relax so I don’t burn myself out. I feel like I have taken the fail safes off of myself that kept me from doing too much. I knew I could force myself to relax by basically drugging myself. Now that I am choosing not to do that anymore, I am not sure how I am going to function. I guess I will find out.

Weight is a Number

I am entering my second year of living alone as an independent adult human. I am trying to sort out taxes and get my house cleaned to the point where I can have a party.

One thing I have been passively struggling with is my weight.

The last few years have been very difficult. I have commented on this blog before about the unstable food situation I have had. I have also dealt with a lot of stress and not knowing how to cook my own food. I thought that when all of those issues went away the situation would take care of itself. I didn’t want to try doing a diet and exercise plan because, honestly, I was having trouble just keeping my head above water so it wasn’t a priority.

I don’t think I have lost any weight since I started living alone. I think I had an unhealthy bloated look that has gone away and I feel like I look healthier, but I recently started buying all of my clothes a size larger to be comfortable while I am working.

I was very skinny as a child. The other kids would not go on the seesaw with me because I was so light that I would just hang up in the air. I was consistently ten pounds lighter than everyone else in my class up until puberty hit. Then I developed an eating disorder and I was mad that I didn’t lose any weight. I was freezing all the time and used to pass out, but I didn’t lose weight, so I was demoralized.

I feel a little like a failure because I feel like I had a natural body type that was not very heavy and I am now technically overweight. I don’t feel like doing all the stuff I would need to do to lose the 20 pounds I feel like I should lose to go back to being normal.

I remember being skinny.

You know what? Being skinny really sucked.

I do not remember a time in my childhood where I could tolerate any amount of physical activity.

The worst day of the school year for me was when we would have to run the mile. I would start out thinking I would try to run just this one time. Within a hundred feet I would be gasping for air clutching my side because I felt like I was being stabbed. I got used to my time just being over fifteen minutes because trying to do any better than that was just too hard. I had one year where I didn’t feel well and it was over twenty minutes and they had me do it again.

I hated athletics and sports because I totally sucked at anything physical.

I have noticed since moving out of my parent’s house that my eating habits have changed. My dad makes inedible food. The food he makes is somewhat nutritionally vacuous. He does a lot of bread and rice. One reason he and my ex would get into fights was because my dad wanted his meals to be mainly bread and cereals and my ex wanted his meals to be mainly of meat. Supposedly there should have been common ground between them to eat a lot of vegetables, but shockingly for some reason neither of them actually did that.

He has struggled with his weight most of his adult life. He likes to gorge himself and feel full, which means he tries to make a lot of watery soups that take up a lot of volume, but don’t provide calories or nutrients.

I think back to being a kid and eating turkey sandwiches on whole wheat bread with nothing else on them, not because I was picky, but because we didn’t have anything else to put on them. We had a lot of rice and steamed brussels sprouts and skim milk and iceberg lettuce salads with non-fat dressing washed down with cold glasses of Crystal Light Strawberry Kiwi Lemonade.

My dad had an aversion to fat and he replaced it with carbohydrates. We didn’t do a lot of vegetables and we didn’t have a lot of protein. Most of our food was nutritionally vacant. I am pretty sure my brother, who still lives with my parents, is suffering from scurvy.

I will cop to the fact that when I was starving myself I was making my body weak. I was working against myself by not taking care of myself properly. But as I have been angry with myself for abusing myself, I keep thinking back to the times when I wasn’t abusing myself. I think about how when I was seven I had to ask my friend’s mom for a ride less than a block because I would be winded trying to walk that far.

I might have been skinny, but I sure as hell wasn’t healthy.

I know I should do more than I am doing now. When it’s warmer outside I go for hour long walks and I find them enjoyable. I started running on and off the last few years and I find more joy in it that I ever thought I would because I associated it with feeling like I was going to die and being made fun of for being weak.

Recently I helped my 64-year-old mother move a mattress to the basement. She has arthritis and couldn’t grip the mattress, so I helped my dad do it. She didn’t want me to because she thought if she couldn’t handle the mattress there was no way that I could. Do you know how pathetic it feels to have your retired mother be shocked that you can do normal tasks because it’s something she doesn’t think she can do??

My dad keeps making passive aggressive comments about my “unhealthy” food that has “flesh” in it. He keeps trying to pawn watery lentil and squash soup on me. When I turn him down he keeps telling me that I picked up some bad habits from my ex and comments how skinny I was when I ate his food.

Yeah, starving people tend to be skinny. But being skinny isn’t the best tool that we have to gauge health. If I have to be overweight to be able to actually go hiking and running and not constantly feeling like I am going to die, then cool. I would rather deal with the ten or twenty vanity pounds I would like to lose than go back to how I felt when I was skinny but thought I was fat.

What Happens After Burnout?

Over the last year or two Jaimee Newberry has been doing a series of talks about burnout. She talked about how she went through a period where work went from being her motivator and her escape to this thing that she just couldn’t tolerate doing without feeling sick. She had to take a step back and take some time off to recover from this.

What happens if you don’t do that? What happens if you work through burnout? Good question. I have the answer!!

Humans Are Not Unlimited Resources

I have been going at 150% since the middle of 2012. I figured out that if I just put a lot of time into learning something, I could get over a hump and actually figure out stuff that was confusing at first. This was a magical revelation to me. I knew that if I put enough effort into something, I could do anything. Nothing was impossible.

I had school through the end of 2014. I started coding 80 hours a week to try and speed up the process of learning things as fast as I could. I had time to make up for. Everyone else had been programming since they were 12. I was in my 30’s and I was a woman. I needed to make up for lost time so I could be on the same level as everyone else. I could back it off when I got a job.

I got my first job and we were encouraged/expected to work at least 60 hours a week. I was the oldest person at this company by a decade. I was surrounded by guys in their twenties who were all on Ritalin who could work 24 hours without sleep. I was the only girl. I had to prove that I could do what everyone else could.

About a week before I got fired, I was so stressed out from this job that I had a panic attack and had a car accident that nearly totaled my car. I knew that this was not good and started trying to figure out what I would do after this.

I wound up working on a contract with Brad Larson for Digital World Biology. I was working on an OpenGL project with two other programmers who had at least ten years of experience. I was the only person on this project who hadn’t gone to graduate school. I had to work really hard to try and keep up and not just be a burden on everyone.

After that I worked on a book. Then I worked for Brad for a year. Then I worked on another book. Then I took a part time job. Then in the same month I switched my full time job. I did conference talks. I traveled a lot. I kept thinking I could manage my time and do more and more things.

I also kept telling myself that I would eventually get a break.

“When I finish this book, I can take a break.”

“I just need to finish this one set of conference talks, then I can take a break.”

“This side project isn’t that hard. It will help me network and it’s almost like having a break because it’s not coding!”

I started falling apart around June.

I didn’t want to admit I was falling apart. I made commitments to people and I didn’t want to let them down. I didn’t want to get a bad reputation as someone who couldn’t be counted on. I have mental health issues and I didn’t want to say I can’t do something because I assumed that everyone else was able to do more than I can and I wanted to work twice as hard to prove that I could do what everyone else can.

Used to just have a day every month or two that I couldn’t function. It usually happened on weekends, so I would just get annoyed that I lost a day or two to work on my side projects.

This started happening more and more often.

A while ago I got really sick and it took me a month to get over it.

I could feel myself falling apart, but I was in denial over it. I did things like getting my subscription food service to deal with things that triggered my break downs. I worked around them. Until I couldn’t anymore.

Last week on the last day of the year, I had a total breakdown. I could not sit at my computer without falling over. I felt like my head was full of white noise. I was sent home early and told to relax the entire long weekend.

I expected the enforced vacation would fix me up like it usually does. It didn’t. I could feel myself not getting better. It was like the forced rest was a tourniquet on a limb that was cut off. I knew if I took the tourniquet off that the bleeding would start back up again.

I had to go through intensive guided meditation therapy yesterday for two hours to get stable enough to continue working today. I have to go back in two weeks. I have been told that this isn’t a magic bullet. If I keep doing what I have been doing for the last three years this will keep happening to me and it will get worse and worse and the therapy will be less effective.

I was told that I need to cut back on everything I am doing immediately. I can continue working, but anything beyond that is pretty questionable. I was told if I work at this I can be close to normal in three to six months.

I wrote recently about tech being a casino and how bad start up culture is. I want to emphasize right here that I do not work for a company like that. I work for Black Pixel. Everyone there has been incredibly supportive of me. My boss Janene saw that I was burning myself out and really tried to get me to take care of myself before things totally collapsed. I think it’s rather sad that so few companies in our industry treat their employees like people and actually care about what happens to them. I wanted to make sure I gave them a shout out for helping me through this difficult time.

I keep being asked how I have time to do all the things I do. I used to say that I could do this because I don’t have a family and I live in the middle of nowhere. I made this my life. But that’s not the whole answer. I have been overclocking myself for a long time and I haven’t done what I need to do to ensure I have a long and fruitful career.

I think that overclocking myself for the first bit of time was necessary. I needed to apply some lighter fuel to my barely smoldering career fire to get it to catch. After it caught, I needed to stop applying lighter fuel, but I didn’t know how. I was paranoid about the fire going out that I thought I had to keep poking it and feeding it and tending it at the expense of taking care of myself. There comes a point when you need to walk away. Not permanently, but long enough to sleep or take a shower or eat something. If you built your fire well, it will still be alive when you wake up the next morning.

Going through this total collapse has really frightened me. I felt like I was omnipotent a few years ago when I realized that I could do anything if I put enough work into it. I am realizing that I took things too far.

I think we need to be better about talking about burning ourselves out. With the pace that our world is changing, we are the weak element here. No one can keep up with all the changes. It’s impossible. As long as we keep thinking there is some mystical full stack developer out there that can keep up with every new framework, device, language, etc… that comes out, we will be causing a lot of unneeded suffering and mental anguish.

We are not infinite resources. There is no shame in stepping back for a while to recover from a sprint. A sprint is not a sustainable pace. It’s necessary to implement periodically, but know that at a certain point you need to slow down and take a break.

I had a lot of success in a short period of time. That came with a cost. I think the cost was worth it, but I need to stop for a while.

My Resolutions for 2016

I woke up on the last day of this year completely non-functional. I am used to having a day or two of non functionality, but I can usually target it for weekends so that I don’t have to tell anyone I don’t feel well or miss work. Wasn’t able to do that a few days ago.

I really tried to make it to the long weekend, but my body gave out on me before then. The wonderful people at my work told me to take off early and get some rest and not to do any work this weekend. It’s a good place and I am happy that I work for people who want me to take care of myself.

Since I am not supposed to code or do any work right now, I have been thinking about what my goals are this year. I know most people are resolving to work out more often or lose weight or whatever. My goals are going to be a little different.

  • I am not working on another book
  • I am going to release an app or an open source project
  • I am going to clean and organize my house
  • I am going to make more of an effort to entertain at my house
  • I am going to cook a complicated special meal once a month
  • I am going to make complicated special dessert once a month
  • I will go on a real vacation this year

I am not working on another book

I can’t do this any more right now. When I worked on my first programming book, I was between jobs and I was able to dedicate all of my time to working on it. There was a period of overlap, which was incredibly difficult. I wasn’t planning to work on one this year, but a series of events lead me to work on the Swift Apprentice.

Working on that broke me.

I would sit down to work on it and feel my head filling with white noise. Even thinking about going to work on my computer made me want to curl up in a ball and cry. I missed a lot of my deadlines and I felt horrible for not doing what I promised to do. I was supposed to do two chapters but I could only pull myself together enough to do one.

I don’t know why this project was the one that broke me. I had worked on other books and wrote articles for Objc-io, but this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I have been trying to recover from it ever since.

Everyone on the Swift Apprentice was incredibly supportive and understanding. I do not want this to come off in any way like I am blaming anyone there. I had no idea what my limits were until I went over them. I actually wrote a long pitch to Ray about a Metal book on the way home from 360iDev. I had only gotten about three hours of sleep a night for a week and a few hours after I wrote him that pitch my body gave out and I nearly passed out several times on my trip home. I slept for two days after that.

I think when I am about to crash I go into denial and try to add even more work to myself because I don’t want to admit that I am spent. It’s taking me longer and longer to recover from a crash and they are happening more and more often.

So I am not going to work on anything extra this year. I just can’t. I will keep blogging and doing other writing for myself, but I am not taking on anything with a deadline for someone else this year. I just can’t do it right now.

I am going to release an app or an open source project

Going along with the previous resolution, I need to do some work for myself this year.

Most job postings require you to have published an app to be hired. I have gotten around that by working on books and talks and working for very intelligent people.

So far in my career I have never done anything for myself or on my own.

I found it hard to justify working on my own things when I had so many opportunities presented to me. It astonishes me that I have written a book with Chris Adamson and worked for Brad Larson and have had the incredible privilege of joining the Ray Wenderlich team. I keep waiting for someone to tap me on the shoulder and tell me that I am living someone else’s life and it’s time to go back to my actual one.

It bothers me that I have not finished something of my own. I pushed it off to the side while I tried to establish my career. I know that doing something of my own would establish it further, but stuff kept coming up. I kept thinking I would work on it when this current thing was over, but then another thing would come along and another.

I know this is totally a first world problem that I have too many good opportunities. I took a lot of them because I found it hard to say no. I need to do that this year because I need to focus on what I want to do and be known for.

I did the writing and the speaking because I wasn’t super comfortable with my programming skills. I was a beginner and I needed to find a job to support myself. Doing things I already had experience with helped me jumpstart my career. It was the right move to make at the time.

Now I want to focus on showing that I can code. I want to find something that hasn’t been done before and I want to figure it out. I want to do this for me. I don’t care if an app I write makes a penny, I want to make it because I want to know I am capable of doing so.

I am not putting this off any longer. I am doing something for me this year.

I am going to clean and organize my house

I have written in the past about my house. I started organizing and cleaning it a month or two ago. I noticed over the last week or two that it’s been sliding back into chaos. That should have been a warning to me that I was heading for a crash.

One problem I have is that I don’t have an organizational structure. I can’t put anything away because there is nowhere to put anything away to. I have been boxing things up and storing them in the basement.

2015 was the first year where I had to actually pay bills and budget stuff. I was terrified of running out of money, so I didn’t really invest in things for my house for a while. I was also gone most of the time and it was easier to just not think about it. I had two rooms in my house I never went into because I was never home.

Now that I work from home, it bothers me to see how messy everything is. I have never gotten to decorate my home before. I didn’t think of this as my home until recently and I have started to become mentally unfrozen about it.

I am hoping to budge out an amount for shelves for my books and my geeky toys. I want to pain the rooms of the house in colors I like. I want to organize the kitchen and finally figure out what stuff my ex left for me.

I don’t want to sleep walk through my life anymore. I want to be actively engaged in world around me, including the place I call my home.

I am going to make more of an effort to entertain at my house

I live in the middle of nowhere. I also like to plan things and cook. I always wanted to have parties, but neither my father nor my husband would let me do that. It also wasn’t like I had anyone to invite over anyway.

I don’t want to get too isolate out here on my own. I would like to be able to have people come over here and enjoy themselves. The idea of being able to actually plan out a menu and feed people and have people come over here makes me really happy.

I don’t want to be ashamed of the place that I live. I would like to have people come here and enjoy themselves. I would like to have an excuse to dress nicely and have a good time with people. This also gives me an incentive to make sure I clean my house properly periodically and not let it slide into chaos.

I am going to cook a complicated special meal once a month

I wrote recently about having a subscription food service. I like to cook, but I find grocery shopping to be overwhelming.

My weekly subscription is really awesome for feeding myself every day, but the meals are by its nature simplified for busy people who don’t have a day to prepare a meal.

There are a bunch of things I want to figure out how to make that are complicated.

I want to actually organize myself by choosing one complicated thing a month that I will make. I will have a targeted list of ingredients so I don’t just randomly start buying things with the idea that I could make a lot of different things.

I think by planning a day, like the second Saturday of every month, to do something special and to have a targeted list of things I want to do, that I can organize myself enough to do something special.

I could try to coordinate this with the entertaining resolution. I would love to have a dinner party. I know no one does that anymore, but I want to do it and I think it would be fun.

I am going to make complicated special dessert once a month

One thing that has disappointed me as an adult is not being able to bake things. My ex took up the Paleo diet, which doesn’t allow for any kind of baking at all.

This sounds totally stupid, but I grew up thinking that I would be able to bring cookies and stuff to work for my co-workers. I haven’t had a job like that since I worked in the call center. Right now I work from home so I don’t have an office to bring things to. At my last office I was discouraged from bringing food in. I brought in doughnuts once and no one would eat them.

I am bothered by how touchy everyone is about food. Everyone is on a perpetual diet. Everyone thinks that if you eat a brownie you are a bad person with no willpower. It really fucking sucks.

So I am going to make something every month. Hopefully I can find people to pawn it off to. If not, I just want to make it for myself. Hopefully I can freeze it. Hopefully I can serve it at something.

It sucks investing time in making something to have people turn their noses up at it and feel virtuous because somehow they are better than you are because they don’t indulge in things that are bad for them. I made stuffed mushrooms for my parents for Christmas Eve and my dad would not keep the leftovers because I put bacon in them. He talked down to me about how I was going to die before I turned forty because I eat bacon a few times a year.

Life is short. Eat cake. Not every day, but sometimes.

I will go on a real vacation this year

The last vacation I went on was in 2013. I went on a cruise during my winter break between semesters at school. My ex and I spent most of the cruise drinking. He discovered that he loved scuba diving. I discovered that the idea of putting my head underwater threw me into a panic attack.

I wanted to spend the whole time laying around the adults-only pool area relaxing and reading programming books. I was forced off the boat at each port. I didn’t get to do anything that I wanted. I got screamed at at least three times. It would have been a wonderful vacation if I had been alone.

I want a real vacation.

I have gone on trips to conferences. I sing for my supper and they’re all working trips. I have gotten to see a lot of amazing places and met a lot of amazing people. It’s been great, but it’s also been exhausting. The last trip I went on I was awake for 24 hours straight.

I wanted to speak at conferences so I could afford to attend a lot of them, but most of the conferences I went to in 2015 were so overwhelming that the only session I attended was my own. I would spend long periods of time hiding out in my room because I was too spent to leave and see others speak.

I have thought about doing vacations before, but the effort for planning one and the cost have been overwhelming to me. I don’t know how people do cheap vacations. If anyone has advice I would be happy to hear it. The cheapest flights I have been able to book are $350. Then it’s hard to find a hotel for less than a hundred bucks a night. If you are gone a week, it’s at least a grand to just get there and be there. I am sure there are cheaper alternatives, but I have been too mentally exhausted to deal with it, so I haven’t looked into alternatives. I have just written off the idea that this is something I can do.

I would like to either do a cruise or an all-inclusive resort. I want to step off the plane someplace warm and not have to think about anything for a week. I want to not worry about feeding myself. I don’t want to worry about finding alcohol. I just want to be able to set somewhere I can relax and do whatever I want when I feel like it. I want no friction. I don’t want to feel bad that I am not going out and visiting historical places or going to museums. I don’t want to have to figure out where I am getting food. I just want to relax and do whatever I feel like.

If anyone has any suggestions for resorts or cruises they liked, I would appreciate it, especially if it’s targeted at singles. A cruise would be twice as expensive for me to travel as a single person. It might still be the best option, but I am open to suggestions that are different.

Rest and Renewal

I am figuring out the hard way that I can’t work all the time. I have been running myself into the ground for the last three years. I needed to do that for the first couple, but I can’t keep doing it anymore.

I have been afraid of backing off at all. I saw people who have been doing the same thing for fifteen years and have gotten complacent that things will never change. They think their jobs will always be there. They don’t try to push to move up or evolve their jobs.

I picked the handle Red Queen Coder because the Red Queen had to run as fast as she could just to stay in one place. If she wanted to get anywhere, she would have to run twice as fast as she was. I have been running twice as fast for the last three years. It’s time to step back to just running and staying in one place. I need to rebuild my energy for the next sprint.

Halt and Catch Fire

I have a bunch of TV I keep meaning to watch that I tend to “save” because I know it’s going to be a good show and I don’t want to waste it on times when I just want junk food.

One of those shows is Halt and Catch Fire. It’s like Mad Men, only it’s set in the 80’s and it’s about the computer revolution.

I am generally attracted to anything computer related, but there tends to be a few stereotypes you encounter when dealing with technology. You wind up with things like Silicon Valley where the only female programmer you see is a girl dressed in pink whose business is “Cupcakes as a Service” who is wandering the crowd asking if anyone knows Java. You also get the main character, Cameron Howe, in HaCF who is the female super genius hacker chick who drinks and swears like a man.

Cameron is a cool girl. She lives off of pizza and orange soda while managing to weigh ninety pounds. She doesn’t wear a bra. When she gets stuck on a bug she sleeps around with people to get unstuck. She wants to name the operating system after Ada Lovelace and has people telling her she is the next Grace Hopper. She’s a manic pixie dream girl.

The second stereotype is a lot more flattering than the first stereotype. However, it is a stereotype. It is somewhat damaging. There is this idea that if you’re a girl in technology you have to follow a certain mold. You have to be cool. You have to be a nerd and play video games. You have to be attractive in a certain way. Above all else, you have to be better than everyone else. There is more scrutiny paid to you if you are a girl who is a programmer and you can’t just be a good generalist and blend in to the background. You have to be a super star. You have to be flashy.

I benefit from these stereotypes. I happen to enjoy geek culture. I am interested in hard things like OpenGL that most people don’t try or don’t make time for. I am a red headed extrovert who likes to generate attention for myself. I fit a certain mold and I benefit from the positive stereotype.

If Cameron was the only female character in HaCF, then I would not be writing about it. There is another female character in HaCF who I think is far more revolutionary than Cameron: Donna Clark.

tumblr_n7pz8huk9J1qfdofwo1_250The main hardware engineer in the show is her husband Gordon. They met while both of them were going to Berkley studying engineering. She wrote her thesis on data recovery. Donna works for Texas Instruments and is a kick ass engineer in her own right.

She is also a mom. She and Gordon have two daughters.

Donna is a character you never see on TV. She is a working mom in an intense field.

Even though Gordon is a main character on the show, it spends a lot of time from Donna’s perspective. While Gordon is complaining about how hard his job is, he is coming home to a hot meal that his wife made after an equally hard day at work. Except when she gets done with her job, work is not over. She keeps working after coming home. She has to care for the kids and keep her family afloat. Her parents lend her husband money and set him up with business connections to allow him to pursue his dream even though it is tearing their family apart.

Excuse me, I need to call someone to make sure my house is still standing.

Excuse me, I need to call someone to make sure my house is still standing.

At one point in the first season, Donna has a business trip. She will be gone for one night. She leaves lasagna for the family and does everything she can to make things as easy as possible for everyone while she is gone. She comes back to find blood all over the floor, the sink completely disassembled, her children unattended, and her husband digging a giant hole in the back yard.

Compare Donna Clark to Skyler White from Breaking Bad. Even though Walter White is a murdering drug dealer, the show is designed for you to root for him. Skyler is vilified by fans of the show for being a killjoy bitch for cramping Walter’s style.

Someone has been hitting the lead based solder a little hard recently.

Someone has been hitting the lead based solder a little hard recently.

Compared to Skyler, we see a lot of what Donna has to put up with. We see her spinning plates trying to keep the family together while her husband throws the family into chaos. Gordon isn’t seen as this wunderkind genius whose every whim should be indulged and pampered. He is seen as an unstable, sometimes pathetic man who is being used by the people around him for gifts he has that he can’t control on his own.

We need more Donna Clarks on TV.

Back before everyone started playing the start-up lottery and tech became a casino, you had women who were engineers and mothers. It was a solid nine to five job. You had to be stable and reliable and it was possible for women to be mothers and engineers. That is far less tenable now.

There was a company board member I talked to at one of my previous jobs who I feel exemplifies the problems we are currently seeing in tech.

This guy was married with daughters. He also worked in the Bay area while his family lived elsewhere. He was telling me about how he only sees his family one day every week or two because he’s traveling all the time. I was upset for his wife and asked if it was hard. He told me he was used to it. I was annoyed and clarified I meant was it hard on his wife and kids. He smirked at me and said, “Well, they got used to it.”

I got the impression from this person that he figured I was doing programming as a hobby. I mentioned how one morning I made frozen pizza for breakfast and he said, “Hey, enjoy that while you can before you get married and have some kids.”

It was just assumed that I was going to get married and have a family. This was just something I was doing to keep a roof over my head until that happened.

I felt that this person saw no point in cultivating me. I think he saw doing anything to cultivate me would be a waste because I was just going to marry someone and fulfill my purpose of being a caretaker.

This attitude really fucking sucks, and not just for me.
worldPossible
I sacrificed a lot to be a programmer. I decided I wanted to be a programmer because it was something I didn’t understand and it bothered me. If I found a job that paid me to do it, cool. That was icing on the cake. I wanted to learn it and master it because I wanted to know it. I sacrificed my marriage and my mental health and my social life to push myself to get where I am right now. This isn’t some hobby that I am doing while I am waiting around to find some guy to give me children.

I would like to get married again and have a family, but I don’t want to do those things if it means I am lobotomized. I don’t want to be an effective single mom because the father of my children is never home. I don’t want to be with someone who assumes I will just give up on all of my hopes and dreams to make theirs possible.

Let’s say I found someone who would respect me for my hopes and dreams. Let’s say I find someone who wants to split the parent teacher conferences fifty fifty and will watch the kids while I go and speak at conferences. They won’t be able to do that.

Programming isn’t a job anymore. It’s a lifestyle. It’s a cult.

After people figured out that four people in a basement could create companies that are worth ten billion dollars, suddenly tech became a cult. You don’t just have a job, you are working on something that will change the world. You are expected to dedicate body and soul to this grand and noble scheme that will result in millions of dollars for other people.

It’s not okay for you to tell your boss that you are leaving in the middle of the afternoon to take your child to the doctor. You can’t say that you don’t want to fly to China for two weeks because you want to be home to tuck your kids into bed.

hacf-s1-kerry-bishe-QA-120One reason everyone wants young guys as programmers is because they don’t care about this stuff yet. People say it’s because they are more up to date with the technology or that they are prodigies or whatever else, but it’s all bullshit. It’s about finding the most exploitable people you can to get as much out of them as you can until they break.

It’s just assumed that you either will never get married or if you do that your wife will make this life possible. Your wife will watch your children while you are gone 300 days out of the year. If you are a woman and you have kids, people will assume that you are going to be the one to care for them and you’re not cultivated because you’re not going to be okay with being gone 300 days out of the year.

This system sucks. It sucks for everyone. It sucks for the women who don’t have opportunity because everyone assumes you are on the mommy track. It sucks for guys that they spend most of their lives working to support a family they never get to see. This system only benefits sociopaths.

As long as mothers are invisible, then no one has to bother thinking about how fucking broken this system is. Everyone goes along with it and won’t question it because they’re afraid of being cut off from it or seen as a trouble maker.

Bill Watterson, the creator of “Calvin and Hobbes”, was notorious for refusing to sell out. He never licensed Calvin and Hobbes. No one had little stuffed Hobbes dolls next to their Dogbert dolls in their cubicle. No one has mugs with Calvin on them. He didn’t care about making a bunch of money. He didn’t care about being famous or being a public figure. He wanted to do the work that fulfilled his soul. He had an amazing quote about how he chooses to live his life:

Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential — as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.

You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them.

To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.

Take the trouble.
halt-and-catch-fire-episode-103-pre-980x551

Learning To Cook: Is A Food Subscription Worth the Cost?

About two months ago I got sick of going grocery shopping, so I decided to try out a subscription food service. I noticed that when I went grocery shopping I would be spent for the rest of the day. I kept meaning to go after work, but by the time I finished work I was so drained I could not deal with getting dressed and organizing myself enough for a shopping excursion, so I would wind up going on a Saturday and then spend the rest of the day staring at a wall because I could not deal with anything.

Nice braised chicken with carrots, dates, and sweet potato.

Nice braised chicken with carrots, dates, and sweet potato.

I also noticed I would get overstimulated when I would go shopping. I would see a bunch of pork chops and butternut squash and fresh mozzarella and other stuff and I would wind up impulsively buying a bunch of stuff that would languish in my fridge. One bad impulse purchase was a bag of pears. Those sat in my fridge for two months because the stuff I would buy to cook with them would go bad and be thrown away.

I also really like having projects to work on. I figured out when I did cross stitch that it was worth the additional cost to buy preassembled kits. If I had to buy all the components and organize them on my own I was less likely to finish a project. Getting a project with all the component and all the thread colors cut to the same size and in the qualities I needed was the small push I needed to actually finish a project. It is stupid how easy it is to give up on something where there are too many small hurdles to get over.

I noticed with my food that I was doing the same thing over and over again because it was hard for me to get organized. I would go to the grocery store planning to buy stew meat to make beef stew, but then I would see the meat was as expensive as six meals worth of chicken thighs and I would not buy it even though I was tired of what I was working with. It was hard to push myself to try new things, even though I really wanted to do them and was excited about them.

Why I chose Plated

I looked at several subscription food services, and I chose to go with Plated. I read reviews of their boxes for a few months and it looked the most promising. Their meals were generally a little more complicated than some of the other boxes I saw. They seemed to have a lot of things I am excited about, namely Asian dishes and some more homey dishes like meatloaf.

Sophisticated recipe with good flavors and well composed.

Sophisticated recipe with good flavors and well composed.

Each week they have seven options for meals. Each meal is targeted for two people, so I would have a set leftover that I can eat the next day for lunch but not so many leftovers that I would have them for a week and get tired of them. You choose between one and seven meals each week, but it generally assumes you are going to order three. One thing I don’t like about this service is that if you want to change what you get for a week, you change your whole plan rather than picking and choosing how many you do each week.

They also have a few premium options where you can get more expensive ingredients like scallops and duck or add a dessert.

I get three sets of ingredients for three meals delivered each week. This costs $72 a week. This breaks down to $12 a meal with each recipe composing two meals.

Cons of Plated

So far there are a couple of things I really don’t like about my service.

Expensive

I will be up front that this is moderately expensive. I pay $24 for each recipe I make. When I go to Costco and buy chicken, I can get six meals worth of chicken for less than twenty bucks.

$24 for mushrooms and chicken? Not quite...

$24 for mushrooms and chicken? Not quite…

Some of their options for meals really don’t seem to be worth the cost. One option was grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. Those ingredients are like five bucks.

I know that you are not just talking about the food cost when you are dealing with something like this. My cost includes shipping and packaging the ingredients. It also includes the cost of research and development by the people running Plated.

Generally speaking, getting this service is more expensive than eating out. It is also more work than eating out or buying some kind of prepared food. I am mentioning this because one thing people talk about with cooking for yourself is that it is supposed to be cheaper than eating out. It really isn’t. You can cook at home much cheaper than eating out if you do thinks like macaroni and cheese, but if you want to make adult food it is more expensive. There is also the cost of peripherals like pots and pans and other equipment.

I could feed myself more cheaply.

Repetitive

Plated’s menu is somewhat repetitive. Last week one meal was chicken meatballs with broccoli and peanut sauce. Next week one meal is the same thing with beef instead of chicken.

Being repetitive isn’t necessarily a con, per se. I have certain things I always like to make, like meatloaf. I missed the last meatloaf they sent out because it was the week before I began. I got a meatloaf this week and was happy to get to try it.

I am just at a point where I realize that I am going to get tired of things after a while because they are going to be somewhat repetitive.

Oversimplification and Missing Components

I don’t mean missing components like they forgot to send a vital ingredient in the box. They have been very good about that. I mean missing components in that they have oversimplified the dish.

The first week I had a ginger salmon in miso broth. Miso broth is supposed to have a base of dashi, which is a fish and seaweed based Japanese broth. It adds a depth of flavor and a richness that is necessary for a miso broth. The ingredients that were sent to make this dish were just miso paste and soy sauce.

These look beautiful, but the meat was rubbery. Buying a thermopen was the best thing I have ever done.

These look beautiful, but the meat was rubbery. Buying a thermopen was the best thing I have ever done.

I had dashi bullion crystals in my pantry that I used to doctor the dish. I find myself doctoring all of these dishes. They don’t include enough spices for most of the dishes and I wind up having to add things I have in my pantry to season the dishes properly.

They consistently tell you to make the oven too hot. I think they are targeting this at busy people who want a recipe that can be done in half an hour. They sent me a set of turkey thighs that should have been roasted for an hour on a lower temperature, but they were trying to get things done faster and they wound up being rubbery.

I have started to almost throw the recipes out and modify them to be more complicated. One thing they send a lot of are meals that are meant to be cooked on a sheet pan. I am searing my meat, then braising everything in the oven longer and slower than they say to. After I started doing that and I invested in a meat thermometer, I stopped having so many misses.

I have read some people complain that the meals are too complicated. It concerns me that this trend will continue with fewer components and more simplified directions that lead to not optimal results.

Food and Other Waste

One reason I wanted to do this service was because of food waste. I would make a large portion of food that I could not finish before it went bad. I wanted to make sure I had a limited amount of food that would be cooked so I would not throw half of it out.

This was a beautiful dish that I wound up throwing all the leftovers away on because I waited too long and the steak turned grey.

This was a beautiful dish that I wound up throwing all the leftovers away on because I waited too long and the steak turned grey.

I don’t throw half out, but I still throw a decent portion out.

Some of these meals give you way more food than I thought they would. Some of these provide enough food for four or more meals. I had a stuffed acorn squash meal that provided five large meals for me.

In addition to the food waste, there is the packaging waste. It’s nice having a lot of packaged ingredients, but it does contribute a bit of waste, specifically the ice packs. I can compost the insulation and I am reusing the boxes to pack up my books, but I will acknowledge I am not being environmentally minded here.

I have noticed that the food is starting to pile up. I had to throw one meal out because I left it in the fridge for too long before I even got a chance to cook it.

I am going to give this some more time. I had Thanksgiving, Christmas, and now New Year’s interfering with my ability to move food out of my fridge. I am giving it some time before cutting back or cancelling the service. I want to try and see how this works when winter finally hits and I don’t want to drive in the snow to feed myself.

Pros of Plated

I wanted to get the cons out of the way to try and put the pros in a better perspective.

Quality is Good

Even though I complained about the cost, the quality of food is good. The meats are antibiotic free. The produce is nice.

The meals are sophisticated. Even though I complained that they didn’t include dashi with the miso broth, they are one of the few services that would actually have a miso based dish.

I have not gotten a piece of meat or produce that I thought was just garbage. I have a few that I let get a little too old, but generally speaking the food quality is top notch.

The recipes have a lot of vegetables, which I appreciate. The nutritional content is well balanced. I could get take out cheaper, but it would be less healthy. It’s nice to have a well balanced meal with lean protein, veggies, and some starch that I don’t have to plan out that is good quality.

Stuff I Would Not Normally Try

I was excited to do the stuffed squash. It was one of those things that I always wanted to try but I was afraid to do on my own. I was afraid of cutting my finger off, so I was kind of happy to get some in my box so that I had a reason to figure out how to do that.

My first stir fry!

My first stir fry!

I have a wok in the basement that I have never used. Both my ex and my dad did stir fry but I was not trusted to use one because they thought I would hurt myself. Having a chance to pull it out and try it out was a good experience. I knew I might ruin my food, but this is a learning experience.

These dishes include weird mushrooms and other spice blends I might not try on my own. It’s cool to get a chance to work with things I would not be able to find on my own or I would not know what to do with if I did.

I Don’t Have to Leave My House

Mentioned earlier that I find going grocery shopping to be very draining. I have two jobs along with working on books and tech talks. Losing a day of productivity so that I can go out and buy milk and eggs vexes me to no end.

All the squash...

All the squash…

I feel helpless. I will be laying on my chair with my pugs staring at the wall cursing myself for being worthless because I can’t function after doing something that everyone in the world seems able to do. It fucking sucks.

I am trying to figure out the actual cost of this service. I look at the base cost of $72 a week, which I totally know I can do cheaper and causes me some feelings of discomfort. I feel like it’s wasteful to spend this much money on food for myself when I am one person.

One thing that causes a lot of ill will in my marriage was that I was angry at my ex-husband for doing stuff like this. He had a meat CSA where he would spend hundreds of dollars on organic special meat. He would go to the farmer’s market every week and buy a dozen eggs for five bucks. I felt like we were spending money we didn’t have on specialize food just to be snobby and feel like we were better than everyone else.

When he moved out I was planning to live off of beans and potatoes and live a lot cheaper. I feel like by doing this service I am a hypocrite because I am doing a thing that I judged him for when we were married.

I finally got to a point where I realized I have to do a lot of things for my own mental health. Losing a day of productivity to leave my house and buy food is not worth it.

I am looking at the cost as not just paying for the food, but paying to avoid having to do something I don’t enjoy doing. If I am too depressed to leave the house I don’t have to worry about not being able to feed myself. Having all of the ingredients and having a nice set of directions calms me down and lets me do something that makes me feel better.

I tend to get overwhelmed by choices. If I have a “babysitter” to tell me that I have one choice for what I have to cook and it’s something I picked out that I know I like, it’s easier for me to function.

It’s been a little bit of a running joke this year at my conferences that I need people to remind me to feed myself. I get hangry and overwhelmed by choices and then I can’t make any because I am too hungry to process what I want, so I wind up curling up in a ball losing my ability to function. Having meals automatically sent to me each week removes a lot of the anxiety I have about things and gives me an activity I can throughout the week that doesn’t require me to do things that cause me mental health issues.

So Is It Worth The Cost?

Overall, I am finding this experiment to be a success. I don’t know how long I will continue to do this. I am hoping to get comfortable enough with my cooking skills to be able to try things without a safety net.

I have had to do a lot of things for my own mental health recently. I went to my parent’s place for Christmas and even just going back home for a few days really threw me into a depression. I came home last night and was so happy to be able to have access to the things I need to take care of myself.

As god as my witness, I'll never be hangry again!

As god as my witness, I’ll never be hangry again!

I didn’t have my tea. I didn’t have a space that was mine where I could just focus and chill and be on my own. I didn’t control when I ate and what food I had.

I don’t like how necessary it is for me to control my environment right now. I know I used to be able to function without these things in the past. I hate how tenuous my grasp is on my ability to be functional. I am hoping this is just a rough patch in my life where I have to control everything.

If I can get some mental health from paying $72 a week for someone to box up a bunch of ingredients and send them to my house so that I don’t have to deal with a world that currently overwhelms me, then that’s worth it to me right now.

I don’t like admitting I need help. I don’t like admitting that doing every day thinks like grocery shopping or visiting my parents overnight throws me into chaos. It really sucks. I am deciding instead of being annoyed that I am paying too much money for ingredients to keep myself alive and functioning, I am going to be grateful that these services exist and I earn enough money to be able to afford to do this so I can keep my job and be productive. Saving twenty bucks a week by going and buying them myself but losing a whole day to the endeavor is penny wise and pound foolish.

Life Hacking: Phase Two

I finished my second week on my schedule. My first week was a little rocky, but the second week worked better. I only missed one day of yoga and meditation.

I am really surprised, but my house is coming along a lot faster than I thought it would. After I started breaking it down into manageable tasks, I made a lot of progress. Knowing that I was going to give away or throw away a lot of my junk really helped.

After the initial excitement of getting house clean subsided, I was still left with an empty feeling. I thought maybe I was just lonely, but I tried interacting with other people and it didn’t go so well.

I’ve felt rather empty since I went to CocoaConf San Jose. I couldn’t really put my finger on why. I still really can’t. It might just be a new phase of the depression, but I am trying to figure out what to do to fill the hole in my soul.

The meditation and getting my house clean is helping, but I still feel a lot of melancholy about the direction my life is going.

Doing What You Love

I saw Brent Simmons talking about his reflections on getting older at CocoaConf San Jose. One thing that he said specifically really connected with me. He said to do what you love.

He said that he loves working with text and HTTP. I have things that I love that I don’t get to work with because I don’t know them well enough to really make a go of them.

I met my mentor Brad because I wanted to learn OpenGL and work with GPUImage. He hired me to come work for him, but we didn’t work with those things. We did this really amazing project where we rewrote our robotics software in Swift. It was an incredible experience and opportunity, but I felt like my iOS and Cocoa skills were atrophying. I also had to drive sixty miles a day and I had no time or energy to work on the things I loved.

I started working for Black Pixel recently. I work remotely. It’s been really nice to not have to drive two hours a day and never see my pugs, but I am still not working on the things that I love. This is to be expected. I am a new programmer and we all have to work on things we don’t necessarily love. I am not trying to be bratty or anything, I am just trying to figure out how to balance out what people need me to do with what I want to do with what I need to do to keep from falling into a depression.

I like to dream about just quitting my job and spending three months doing whatever the hell I want, but I know that wouldn’t happen. I would be okay for a day or two, then my lack of structure and deadlines and accountability would throw me into a depression and I would get nothing done. I dream about taking a coding cruise where I spend a week working on whatever I want with no distractions, but I know I would go crazy not being able to check on Twitter every five minutes.

I might be able to get to this point at some point in the next few years, but I am not there now.

I need to figure out how to put myself on a path that I want to be.

One thing a lot of people ask me is how I wound up working for Brad. I got to work for him because I was very targeted and focused on what I wanted. I had a list of five companies (including Black Pixel) that I eventually wanted to work for. I decided I would not take any job that did not further that goal.

I talked to so many of my classmates who would not just specialize and get good at one thing because they felt like they had to know a little of everything in case someone wanted to hire them to do any of them. So there are lots of people who I talk to who complain about being stuck working on Java because it pays the bills and it’s too hard to make the move to something they didn’t invest capital in, like iOS.

This scares the crap out of me. I am terrified of becoming an expert in something I hate and then being too apathetic to make the move to something I love because it’s too lucrative for me to stay with what I am doing. This is trap. This is the path to the Dark Side.

So what do I do?

Getting Back on Track

I need mental discipline. I need structure. I am starting to work with this by setting up a schedule for myself. Now that I am through the first few weeks of my schedule, it’s time to evolve it a little.

I want to be a graphics programmer. I need to spend time learning how to do it and doing projects. This is what I am adding to my schedule.

My plan is to do something every week and write it up on Sunday. I have a tentative list of things that qualify for that something:

Learning Project List

  • Make a decent OpenGL Template
  • Write custom shaders for GPUImage
  • Analyze and write-up an explanation of the math and code in a shader in GPUImage
  • Read a chapter in a book like “Metal By Example” or “iOS Drawing” and then do a sample project based on what I learned in there
  • Work through a tutorial on Core Animation, Sprite Kit, Scene Kit, etc…

I noticed that people tend to want to talk to you about things you talk/write about. Right now I am talking a lot about cooking and depression and getting my house clean. I am afraid if I don’t talk about tech that people will stop thinking of me as a tech person. I want to talk about tech that I want to be an expert in, so I need to make time for it because it is important.

I have a few larger projects I would like to work on, but I don’t want to write them here. I think last year I said I was going to spend this year building an analog synthesizer and it bothers me that I haven’t done that yet.

My goal here is to have several talks ready on graphics programming for the Spring conference tour. I would also like to be able, six months from now, to plan a vacation where I go on a cruise for a week and I actually have the mental discipline to get a sizable chunk of work done. I want a plan of attack on one of my projects and I would like to be mentally at a point where I can take advantage of that situation and be productive.

Shout Outs

I want to give a shout-out to my boss Janene at Black Pixel. I tried to talk her out of hiring me because I am a mess and she told me that she knows and wanted to hire me anyway. I am going through some issues right now that I have been avoiding for a while. I feel like running away from my life sometimes. It’s helpful for me to get toxic thoughts out of my head and she’s been very kind in letting me just get them out even though I know they sound really bad.

I was worried when I left SonoPlot that I would lose my mentor, but I gained another one. I gained one that I need right now and I appreciate her helping me figure out what I am doing with my life.