Personal Retrospective

As part of Agile development, one of the many important processes is the Retrospective. This is a meeting held by the team at the end of a sprint or a release or some such other important milestone. The intent is to allow the persons involved the ability to comment on what went well, what went poorly, and offer suggestions on what could be done to improve things in the future.

One year ago, I elected to make two significant life changes on the same day. It was completely terrifying time in some respects, yet it was also exhilarating in others. On that day, I decided to both tender my resignation to my employer and advise that it was time to end my marriage. After it was done, more than a few people thought I was a little crazy to be making such big changes at the same time. I plan to discuss some of the things related to my employment changes on this site in the future, but will refrain from discussing anything related to the divorce as that’s private and only two people will ever understand those dynamics.

So, on to the retrospective. I’ve become much more active, have been making better choices when it comes to the food I prepare and eat, and have made significant improvements to my financial situation. I’m sitting down less, I’m reading more books, and I’m getting a consistent amount of sleep. I’m pushing myself to stay organized, and I’ve finally begun posting things on this site again.

In the negative column, I’ve somehow managed to lose contact with a few people who are really important to me, and I’m not sure how to get that back. I would never have expected that a year ago, and it’s still painful today. I also realize that I’ve been more moody and introverted as I deal with the fallout from some things. But I’ve always been like that, so I’m not really surprised.

In some ways, I hardly recognize myself from a year ago. I’d definitely do a few things differently given the chance, but in most respects I’ve made a lot of progress over the past year. There are a few more things that I’ve realized as well, but I have no plans to put EVERYTHING up on this damned site.

Standing Desk

As I stated in an earlier post, I’ve been struggling with back pain for quite a long time. Last year, I purchased a new mattress from Verlo, and that definitely helped. But I knew I could do more. I decided that I needed to figure out a way to try the option of working at a standing desk to see if that helped.

From what I can gather, standing desks are by no means a new idea. They’ve been utilized off and on for at least a few hundred years, but I couldn’t find any citations to confirm that. Supposedly, it is a healthy way to work compared to sitting at a desk all day, but that seems to be more supposition than confirmed fact. Personally, I’ve seen a few of these in use, and even had a few coworkers who had one. But, since I had never had a chance to use one myself, I wasn’t even sure if I was going to like it or not. So I knew going in that I needed to have a way to convert back and forth, and I also wanted to keep an eye on the budget.

There are a ton of articles on the Internet proclaiming various “do it yourself” methods of building a standing desk. Some of the ones I found were quite ingenious, but hardly any of them allowed for the option of converting back and forth.

Searching the web, it was no surprise that I found a ton of different vendors hawking their wares. The price ranged from as little as $249 to over $3,000 depending on the selected options and gadgets and widgets. I finally happened upon Varidesk, and decided to purchase their Pro Plus 48 unit. It was priced at $400, but because it weighs 85 pounds shipped, there was another $110 of shipping tacked on. This was a bit more expensive from what I had originally wanted to spend, but the mechanical operation coupled with the fact that I could use it with my existing desk was quite tempting.

On Wednesday, I received the behemoth. I was able to manhandle it up the stairs (they suggested team lift, of course, but I didn’t have anybody to give me a hand). The unit is fully assembled; all you need to do is remove it from the packaging and place it on the desk. I took a few pictures as I got everything set up; it only took me about 45 minutes to get everything situated and ready to go.

Empty desk, before adding the Varidesk Desk with the Varidesk standing desk on top Full desk, in the sitting position Full desk, in the standing positionVaridesk

The only concern I have with the desk is that when it’s in the standing position, it feels a little wobbly. I suspect this really isn’t an issue with the Varidesk itself, but rather the cheap desk I have it sitting on. For purposes of style, the desk has only two legs coming up from the floor, mounted on a horizontal crossbar which makes it almost like a wide I-beam from the side (you can see this pretty clearly in the first picture). So, when the desk is raised, I have to be careful not to lean on it, but that’s probably better anyway.

All said and done, I really enjoy using the desk. I’ve written this entire article in standing mode, and I can feel it in my legs (which is a good thing). Standing has also made it easier for me to take short breaks and walk around a bit, or at least has given me the illusion that it’s easier. If I decide to continue using a standing desk, I already am starting to suspect that at some point I will need to make a decision and either replace the cheap desk that I have the Varidesk sitting on, or possibly purchase a more expensive electric standing desk like an Uplift desk.

But I need at least a month before I make a decision either way.

Back Pain

I have struggled with various levels of back pain for years. Sometimes there’s none at all. Other times, it’s been so bad that I can’t even get out of bed. Granted, usually that seems to happen after I’ve done something pretty stupid, but that’s besides the point.

A few years ago, I discovered heat. Putting heat on my back seems to help reduce the number of occurances. Since that discovery, I have been know to do such crazy things as use the seat heater in my car on its highest setting during the summertime. Some would scoff, and I would definitely have the air conditioning on or windows down, but I’d push as much heat as possible to my back in an attempt to forestall whatever pain might have been coming.

I have been making a number of life changes recently, including getting much more active. But through all of that, I’ve continued to struggle with occasional back pain that I can’t quite pin down. Previously, I had generally attributed much of that pain to less than adequate sleeping arrangements. For every night I would spend in a bed that was not my own, I would spend the following day trying to prevent my back from hurting me.

Lately, heat hasn’t always been enough. I purchased a new bed last August that definitely helped, but every once in a while I’d still feel that familiar twinge of a back that was crying out in pain. Now, I’m not really a fan of general pain. To help frame things up, understand that when it comes to back pain, I would do just about anything to try and prevent any painful sensations that could be generated from my back. Much of that stems from the simple fact of not really knowing what level of pain I would receive. It could range anywhere from a simple annoyance to completely dehabilitating.

I made the decision last week to acquire a desk that I could stand at as well as sit. In the corporate world, there are options aplenty to facilitate every possible option. Usually you need to undergo an “ergonomic assessment”, where some person comes in and identifies all of the things you’ve been doing wrong, then proceeds to issue a series of “corrective actions” that you should undertake to prevent that pain. These actions include simple behavior adjustments such as sitting up straight, to environmental changes like getting a taller desk.

I underwent one of those ergonomic assessments a few years ago. Turns out my height exceeds the normal or standard range that most desks are set up for. So, I generally need to hunch down when I use a standard sized desk. No problem, but it was recommended I do a few simple things like elevate my monitors and sit up straight (flashbacks from Assumption Grotto suddenly appear in my mind).

I spend a lot of time working from my home office (which doubles as Toliver’s bedroom when he’s here). I’ve recently made some personal decisions regarding things I want to accomplish, which will require even more of a commitment to working from there. As such, I’ve committed to evaluating various options for improving my working environment, and intend to document those exploits here.

Nutrition Guidelines

According to a just published Washington Post article, it appears that the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which is the primary panel tasked with providing nutrition advisories on behalf of the United States government, is on the cusp of reversing a long standing policy regarding cholesterol. (This policy was introduced in response to a paper published in 1961 in conjunction with the American Heart Association).

In layman’s (egg joke?) terms, the policies break down as follows:

??? - 1960: No published position that I could locate (20 seconds of Google-Fu).

1961 - 2015: EGGS ARE BAD! BAD BAD BAD!

2015 - ????: Well maybe you can have some eggs. I guess.

So, what does this mean? In the world in which we currently live, I suspect that too many of my fellow Americans will interpret this as a license to eat as many eggs as they possibly can. If questioned, they might point to that article (or similar) and proclaim the new position that eggs don’t contribute to the overall cholesterol measurement a test might indicate.

But that’s the whole problem right there. There is something to be said for moderation, my friends. According to an extremely helpful Google search for “egg calories”, there are 78 calories in an egg. Alone, that’s just fine, especially in a single day. Eat three or four, and now it’s going to add up. Add some yummy bacon or toast? It easily becomes a big deal.

Now, in a perfect world, this announcement probably shouldn’t mean a damn thing. Any person who makes an attempt to reasonably monitor what they eat is already ahead of the game. They might adjust their breakfast menu a little bit to include an extra few eggs over the course of a week, but that’s about it.

Note: In the interest of full disclosure, one of my favorite breakfast meals has come to consist of a single whole egg plus two eggs whites, scrambled to egg happiness. Then, I roll it up in a tortilla wrap, add a healthy measure of spinach, onions, peppers, plus a generous amount of hot sauce, and you have a tasty and nutritious breakfast that ends up being approximately 250 calories. But I digress.

See, the bigger issue in my mind is that this is just one more bit of confirmation that proves that the “powers-that-be” aren’t necessarily acting in anybody’s best interest. That’s not to suggest that there is an evil plot afoot or anything along those lines. But, sometimes external pressures can inadvertently or unexpectedly corrupt something that was originally begun with good intent.

Allow me to produce a single example. The decidedly Catholic practice of eating only fish on Fridays is commonly attributed to the Vatican’s political engine striking a bargain with various captains of the fishing industry to prop up demand for fish some 500 years ago. Some have even gone so far as to suggest that it is directly related to secret ownership of a fishing empire controlled by the Pontifex Maximus himself. What a great scandal. Something even something that the folks who lived during medieval times could really sink their teeth into.

Is it true? Nope. It’s even better, according to this article I found that was published a few years ago. Honestly, after reviewing that and adding it to everything else I’ve come across about Henry VIII, I’m inclined to think that a number of the things we take for granted were either directly or indirectly a result of his infatuations with females and his propensity to marry and then discard them. Oh and believe you me, I truly savor the ability to cross-reference this particular bit of knowledge with Lent right around the corner (*). I’m not suggesting anybody’s beliefs are incorrect, nor do I suggest you stop ordering the Filet-o-Fish over the next couple of Fridays. You should have every right to believe and act however you feel appropriate.

For over forty years, folks joked that eating too many eggs would result with that person having a heart attack. That, of course, was based mostly upon the conclusions delivered to us by the esteemed committee mentioned above, or its predecessors. If, as we’ve been led to believe, cholesterol is the cause of most heart attacks, this quote from the Washington Post article is also eye opening:

Only 20% of a person’s blood cholesterol—the levels measured with standard cholesterol tests—comes from diet. The rest comes from genes.

That statement alone calls into question even more the cholesterol tests that are being utilized today.

Oh, and if that wasn’t enough? February is Heart Month! To be fair, there isn’t a single item on that page about cholesterol; rather, it’s all about controlling sodium intake, which at least makes sense considering everything processed contains a ton of sodium.

(*) With all possible due respect to Monsignor Sawyer of Assumption Grotto, rest his soul.

Solo Haiku

I, myself, am here

Out on my own, all alone

Feeling quite lonesome.