Annual Day of Reflection

For eight years now I've had a habit on my birthday. I've taken the day off of work, or the Friday before if my birthday happens to fall on the weekend, and blocked the time on my work calendar as "Jeff's Annual Day of Reflection." It's only partly a joke; I actually did spend a good portion of the time reviewing what I'd done in the past year and thinking about what I wanted to do in the next year. My ADoR usually also involved a movie, golf, or a drive out to see some obscure Texas landmark.

This year was different, because I had no job to take off from. Although my work logistics for the past decade have been extremely flexible, there's nothing like the flexibility of not having a job at all.* Given that every day can easily be a day off, taking "time away" for the Annual Day of Reflection just didn't seem all that special.**

My birthday fell on a Saturday this year, and I realized a week before that the Honor Connor 5k run was scheduled for that day. One impulse sign-up later…

I've never run in an organized event. About six years ago I was training with friends from work to run a half marathon, but I broke my foot and never ran the event. Last fall I started running again seriously; from September through the end of January I ran at least five times per week. After January I let the layoff news from work derail my exercise; I didn't run again until, well…the week before the 5k.

In case preparation could make up for practice, I read the "How to Run Your First 5k" page. I picked up some really solid pointers. Don't wear the souvenirrace t-shirt in the race itself. Your number goes on the front of your shirt, not the back, and not on your leg. If you're not one of the competitive runners, line up toward the middle or back, so those who are really racing don't have to work their way around you.

Race day. There are more than 3000 participants and I'm adrift in a sea of race day, souvenir t-shirts. Okay, it's a fun run, and a memorial event, so that makes sense. Maybe I should have worn mine, instead of the sweat-wicking, super-breathable, space-age high-tech amazifying makes-you-look-better-run-faster-and-dance-smoother running shirt that I normally use for, well, running. Mindful of the true competitors in the crowd, I line up about halfway into the pack.

When the horn sounded I started shuffling toward the mats which activate your race sensor. That part is another cool buildup; you slowly pick up the pace as you get closer to the line and people in front of you disperse. Cross the line -- and I'm stymied. Stuck immediately behind two women, walking side by side, chatting away as they push their strollers.

And one's a double stroller.

For the first two or three hundred meters I dodged my way through a horde of people walking. People with strollers, people with their kids on razor boards…at one point I'm pretty sure I struggled my way around a set of conjoined sextuplets.  I probably burned more energy on crazy Ivans in the first half mile than the rest of the race, looking like Marion Barber running twenty lateral yards for every yard of progress downfield.

I eventually broke free of the pack, though, and spend about 4.5k trying to catch up with a few of those serious runners. I did make it; I ran the entire way, actually made a time that I was happy with, and didn't have a heart attack. I think I can call that a good day.


*Of course, not having work AND not having money would put a real damper on the whole flexibility thing, but I'm not going to get into that. This isn't an economics class, you know.

**No, I haven't been watching Netflix and playing Heroes of Might and Magic III*** for four solid months. I've been working, but since all my efforts are entrepreneurial, I don't have to coordinate with a team or manager to be away. If you've been there, you get it.

***I admit, I have played a lot more Heroes of Might and Magic than I should have in the past few months…and I may have binge watched "West World."

Technology - Screwing Me Up Faster and Easier

First, a kinda apology for the blog hiatus. I've had two vacations* in the past month, plus general busy-ness with various "Is this what I'm going to do for my next job?" projects, and I just haven't taken the time to blog. I've been writing during that time, though, so I should have a veritable slew of blogs coming out soon. Fear not, my three loyal readers, there's more to come.

 Maybe I should get a smaller music device...

Maybe I should get a smaller music device...

I ran three miles this morning to sweat out some of last night's Johnnie Walker, and as I've mentioned before, I don't run without music. Running without music would be exercising, and since exercise is strenuous and tiring, I try to avoid it. My current Spotify playlist for running is "Dr. Usual's 5k Run." I know, very original. The song selection is important. Each song has a good tempo for my 5k running pace, and most have a running theme.**

Just over one mile in, Spotify jumped to Men At Work's, "Who Can It Be Now?" Now, I like Men At Work, but I know Colin Hay and friends are not on my running playlist. Somehow, Spotify had switched to radio mode, whereby deep data analysis, alchemy, and wild guessing, it attempts to serve up music I might like.

You know what music I'd like during my 5k run? That's right -- my 5k running playlist.

I fumbled around at the Spotify controls while trying to keep pace. Pace and heart rate are important. I definitely can't stop or walk. It takes about two walking strides for my legs to say, "Hell yeah, looks like we're done here! Let's go sit in front of the computer for a few hours!" So, while running at a consistent 165 BPM, watching for cars, and avoiding the massive Texas drains where Pennywise the Clown hangs out, I had to get Spotify out of radio mode and back to my playlist.

Mission accomplished -- or so I thought. Though the playlist was back up and running, my ear buds* were silent. While bumbling my way through the Spotify menus I apparently switched the playback device from "This iPhone" to "Dr's Tap." That's right, the Amazon Tap, sitting on my desk back at home. I'm sure my wife and daughter were delighted with Saga's "On The Loose" suddenly blasting from my vacant office.

I diverted into the park, where I at least didn't have to worry about traffic, and got my devices sorted out, then enj-- finished the run without any more technological assistance.

The next step in my fitness regimen is pretty obvious.  Design a new skin for Spotify with three and only two buttons: "Volume Up," and "Call 911." Make a note, Spotify. This stuff doesn't have to be complicated.


*How does one have a vacation when one is unemployed? Let me explain. I scheduled these trips before Microsoft decided to replace me and my team with outsourcers on the other side of the world. Therefore, on my calendar they're both still referred to as "vacation." Travel scheduled AFTER my former manager replaced us with contractors from his former company is referred to simply as "travel." See? Easy definitions.

**Here's a link to the Spotify playlist. Get running.

***That's right, ear buds. Screw you, Apple, I'm not paying for your Air Buds. Headphones shouldn't cost as much as a damned phone. Especially when there's a chance they'll fall out of my ears and roll down there with Pennywise.

Running Time: In Search Of...

This week I got back on the horse.  Or at least, back on the treadmill.  About ten days ago I overdid it a bit; I was running on a Saturday and feelin' fine, getting my In Search Of on.  In fact, I was enjoying the run so much that I watched nearly four episodes: "Atlantis" first, then "Psychic Detectives" and "A Call From Space," followed by half of "Learning ESP."  Total time was 71 minutes, or just over seven miles.

 Can you think of a better hero for a 13 year old girl?  Besides her dad, of course!

Can you think of a better hero for a 13 year old girl?  Besides her dad, of course!

The next day I got through the second half of "Learning ESP," just about one mile.  Almost immediately my knee started to hurt.  I thought I'd "run it out."  That mile was enough to convince me that I was "running it worse," so I called it a day and researched iliotibial band syndrome instead.  Short story: overuse.  Rest until it doesn't ache, then do more cross-training.

Fortunately for both of you who eagerly awaited my next 70's TV review I was able to run again this week.  I caught "Nazi Plunder" on Tuesday and "Amelia Earhart" Thursday.  Since things are holding up pretty well my next run will include both "Dracula" and "The Easter Island Massacre."

One thing struck me about both "Nazi Plunder" and "Amelia Earhart."  As of today both these episodes stand the test of time.  Numerous tantalizing hints exist pointing to yet-unfound treasure ditched by Nazi officials fleeing the fall of the Reich.  And of course, despite tremendous research and searching, Amelia Earhart's disappearance has yet to be definitively explained.  Considering that these episodes are 40 years old and covering subjects from 30 to 35 year prior to that, it's pretty impressive that they can still be intriguing today. 

Running Time: In Search Of...

Hello, 1970's!  For Christmas someone sent me a box set of EVERY EPISODE of In Search Of, a documentary-ish series that ran from 1976 to 1982 and was hosted by Mr. Spock, er, Leonard Nimoy. I've run through six episodes so far.  The episode lengths are perfect for running; at 22 minutes each I can do an easy weekday morning run of 2.2 miles or the two-episode runs of 45 minutes for a nice 4.5 miles.  (When watching episodes 1 and 2 on weekdays I just ran an extra three minutes each time to get to a nice, even 2.5 miles.)

It's a fun series to watch, if you can avoid getting into the "40 years later we know better" mindset.  So far I've viewed topics such as plant empathy, the Nazca Lines, the Bermuda Triangle, Bigfoot, and killer bees.  First thing that struck me was the disclaimer at the beginning of each show -- the producer points out that this show is only meant to introduce a few possibilities, not back any particular theory or claim to know fact.  I thought it funny that that seemed important to do, given that today people make whatever moronic claims they want on TV without the slightest concern of veracity.  Go figure.

Second thing I noticed is that a lot of the clothing reminds me of my childhood.

Although you have enjoy the series while keeping in mind that forty years have passed (much like watching Ray Harryhausen special effects and still loving Perseus taking on the Kraken) one more serious lesson did occur to me while watching the episode on Bigfoot.  One segment includes an anatomist who has viewed the Robert Patterson Bigfoot film in "minute detail, frame by frame."  He swears that the film must be authentic and goes into great scientific detail about why Patterson couldn't have faked the film.  You've got to believe him, right?  After all, this is the specialty he's studied for decades.  Of course, in 1998 a fellow named Bob Heironimus admitted to being the man in the Bigfoot costume and other evidence surfaced to show that the film was entirely faked.  Sorry, Science.

Running Time: You Only Live Twice

Since I have nearly all of the James Bond movies on DVD now (I used to have them on VHS.  I haven't been using the VHS player for a while) I realized I could run about ten marathons while watching my way through the entire collection.  And that's even skipping the truly crappy films.  This last week I hit You Only Live Twice, mainly because it's one of those that I haven't seen for years.  Keep in mind that Bond movies are LONG.  This one clocks in at three minutes less than two hours, so I ended up watching it in four runs: 3 miles, 2 miles, 4 miles, 3 miles. 

It's also one of the worst-written Bond movies.  It's overly fantastic, even for a Bond film.  Yeah, normally James gets a metric crap ton of the old willing suspension of disbelief, but this one defies all boundaries.  Worse, though (and what relegates this to the ranks of lesser Bond films) is that the believable parts of the script just don't make sense.

Ignore the fact that SPECTRE has perfected a VTOL spaceship that can capture other spaceships and bring them back to Earth, without either the Americans or Soviets able to track it.  We'll just let that go via "it's a bond film."  More annoying is that to "infiltrate" this small Japanese fishing island, Bond must a) be made up to pass as a Japanese fisherman, b) marry a local villager to establish bona fides and c) train to be a ninja.  All in three days, no less.

You know who the least Japanese-looking man on the planet is?  Sean Connery-san.

Of course, none of this subterfuge is really necessary because SPECTRE apparently knows where Bond is all along.  He's attacked twice at Tiger Tanaka's secret home and ninja training ground, so why he needs to marry a local woman to gain access to the volcanic island base is beyond me.  Not to mention that Tiger manages to infiltrate a hundred commando ninjas onto the island without marrying them off to the locals.  Apparently SPECTRE will be alerted by a Single White Male setting foot on the island, but 100 strangers in a village of 50 people doesn't raise an alarm.

Here's the one thing I really like about You Only Live Twice: it was written by Roald Dahl.  That's right, the same Roald Dahl who wrote Matilda and The BFG.  I looked up Roald after watching and found his story far more entertaining than the movie.  He was also a World War II fighting ace in the Royal Air Force, but this came after he'd already crashed one plane in the African desert and severely injured himself.  Guess there's always a chance to rekindle your career.

Running Time: The Man in the High Castle

Specifically, season 1, episodes 1 and 2.  The introductory episode runs 61 minutes, while the second brings you back to even with 59.  I watched "The New World," episode 1, in two runs on the same day; 30 minutes in the morning, wanted to see the rest enough to watch during another three mile run late that afternoon.  Episode 2, "Sunrise," was also a two-run view, but it was forty minutes in the first run and just a two mile finisher the next day.

(I also watched Episode 3 while sitting on the couch one night this week.  The whole series doesn't have to be viewed from a treadmill.)

I'm loving this.  I've been a big fan of Philip K. Dick for years, and The Man in the High Castle was one of my favorite of his novels.  Despite that, I'm pretty certain this is going to be one of those rare occasions where I find the film better than the written story.  Sacrilege, I know, but it happens.  Face it, Bladerunner was a much better film (and comprehensible story) than Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was a book. 

The quick synopsis: it's 1962 and the Allies did not win World War Two.  The Pacific States of America are occupied by Japan, the eastern seaboard is under control of the Reich, and a thin band of mountain and desert states in between are an uneasily free Neutral Zone.  Although people have settled somewhat into a new way of life, tension is already mounting between Germany and Japan, with heavy foreboding that Hitler's death will result in new conflict as Germany completes its quest for global dominance. 

Add in an American resistance network and you've got a great background for very compelling stories, not the least of which is the Man himself.  The Man in the High Castle is a semi-mythic figure who's distributing film -- newsreel footage which shows an alternate history of the Allies winning the war. 

It's not the same story as the Philip K. Dick novel.  IMDB's message board is full of purists and trolls bitching about how different the story is, or nitpicking the least essential details in an effort to show off to the one or two other people who care.  (It's called "film adaptation," kiddos.)  So far it's a great show, though, and pleasantly surprising from a production point of view; I didn't know Amazon Studios had this good of filmmaking in them.  Go figure.

Running Time: Across the Pacific

First full movie I've watched while running.  Obviously I'm running on the treadmill, because who wants to carry a 55" screen with them on a job outside?  In the past I've always listened to music while running and if I'm on the treadmill I'll try to find something on TV that can distract me visually, but I realized I was putting too much time into looking for the right kind of movie for visual only, and since I'm most often running in the morning there are no hockey or football games on.

I'm a very devoted Bogart fan and I hadn't yet watched cross The Pacific o I took in the full hour and forty minutes in three running sessions, two 30 minute runs and a forty.  Since I do longer runs at 6 mph, you can do the math and figure out that it's a 10 mile movie.

Let's start with the irony, because I love irony: though the vast majority of the film takes place on a boat, they never actually go across the Pacific.  The boat sets sail from Halifax, travels down the Atlantic coast, and the story ends just shy of the Panama Canal.  Yeah.  No Pacific at all.

But wait!  Perhaps "across the Pacific" refers to the imminent threat of Japanese invasion?  The story takes place shortly before the attack on Pearl Harbor (Bogart film, remember?  It has to be set somewhere around WWII) and the boat upon which Bogie, Sydney Greenstreet and Mary Astor are sailing is a Japanese cargo boat with limited passenger space.  In fact, it's pretty much limited to just enough passengers for this story.

Across the Pacific doesn't have the emotional depth of Casablanca, but it definitely has a bit deeper/more complex story than the typical Bogart movie.  Not that the plot is complex as, say, The Usual Suspects or L.A. Confidential.  Again, it's a Bogart/John Huston movie; there's no such thing as a subplot.  It's more that the backstories for the characters have a bit of depth that's more common in more recent movies.  Also, this is one of the better mysteries among my Bogart collection -- rather than the "will he or won't he?" question of Casablanca (the greatest film ever made) you spend a great deal of the movie trying to figure out exactly what happened in Rick's (Bogart) background and whether Alberta (Astor) is just along for the ride or if there's more going on with her.

The dialogue's as witty as ever.  Huston and Bogart always seem to have great dialogue written no matter who they enlist to scribe.  Likewise, Bogie and Mary Astor are fantastic together.  Their fun interchanges are Bogie at his best, and she's right on par with him. 

Sydney Greenstreet's character, Dr. Lorenz, is also interesting from an historical point of view.  On the one hand, Dr. Lorenz is one of the earliest film characters I'm aware of who professes an adopted identity with a significantly different culture (the Japanese).  On the other hand, while describing the beauty of some of the Japanese traditions and way of life he simultaneously manages to expose unabashed racism through condescending general comments, such as, "they make excellent servants." 

1942.  Take the historical context and move along.

It's an excellent movie.  I'd place it in the top tier of Bogart films, not one of the many Bogie filler material you find in the rest of the catalog.  Next time you're on a ten mile run you should give it a try.

Cheesey Chicken and Shrimp Soup

No, I don't plan on sharing recipes on a regular basis.  However, I'm very proud of myself.  This is the first time that I've significantly altered a recipe to the point where I feel like I made my own.  Other than making sushi.  I've been making my own weird sushi combinations for years.

Ingredients

5 oz chicken
2.5 oz shrimp
2 T butter
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped bell pepper
A lot of garlic powder
1 tsp ground cumin
4 cups chicken broth stock
8 oz light cream cheese
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
5 oz chicken
2.5 oz shrimp

Directions

  1. Pre-cook the chicken and the shrimp. The original recipe has you cooking these in the broth, but I was splitting these between multiple people in different food formats, so pre-cooking was easier. That's also why I ended up with 5 ounces of chicken.
  2. Cut the chicken and shrimp both to 1/4" to 1/2" chunks and set aside.
  3. Melt the butter in a large sauce pan, medium heat. By large I mean, "Everything's going to be in here by the time we're done, so make it big."
  4. Toss the onions in and let them cook a bit.
  5. Add the garlic powder, the bell peppers, and the cumin. Then add more garlic powder. Stir all of this stuff for about five minutes, adding more garlic powder until your entire downstairs smells like sautéed garlic. Yum.
  6. Stir in the chicken broth. Add some salt and pepper if you like, or possibly more garlic. Oh, yeah. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat and let the whole thing simmer.
  7. Add the chicken and shrimp. Since I already cooked these I didn't have to wait for them to cook now. If you didn't cook them already, you need to let them cook. Guessing about 10 minutes for the chicken to cook thoroughly. I can't stand the thought of raw chicken, so I regularly take pieces out and cut them in half to check for thorough cooking. Then, when you're eating later, it seems like you have more chicken.
  8. Add the cream cheese chunks. It'll start to melt, but breaks up even better if you stir it with a whisk. I know, the whisk is really a pain in the ass to clean correctly, but it's the right tool for the job. Deal with it.
  9. Add the cheddar cheese. Keep stirring. You want the cream cheese to break up and everything to mix together nicely.
  10. Serve. I divided it into fourths, since according to my counting that gives me serving sizes of 500 calories and 3g of carbs. Also, that was just the right amount to fit in one of my dinner bowls. Go figure.

Nutrition Info

I think I got this right, but there's certainly some variance online about the calories and carbs in each item, so there's room for some error…

Best Laid Plans...

I thought I'd take a day off from running today.  Since I finally decided back in September that I was tired of being overweight (really, truly, completely tired of it this time.  Really.) I've been doing two things: keto diet and getting cardio exercise at least five of every seven days.  (That's right.  A perfect five out of seven.) 

Normally I alternate running: HIIT one day versus a steady pace the next, trying to keep my heart rate in a particular zone.  I also alternate between the treadmill, the track at the gym, and the great outdoors.  Every once in a while I take a day off just to give my knees and feet a break, make sure everything's still functioning the way it should.  Today was going to be one of those days, but by round two (i.e., 15:15 CST, when the second round of football games starts) I was feeling seriously sluggish, and eventually I did this:

That's the second quarter of the Giants-Packers game, minus the first minute I missed while finding my Zune.  (Probably seemed like a lot longer for Eli Manning, especially while he watched Timmons run 58 yards after picking him off at the goal line.)

So, yeah.  Planned zero miles, ran four.  When I say I have a plan, I mean I have a hand drawn roadmap.  And when I say I have a roadmap, I mean I have a route in mind.  And when I say I have a route in mind, I actually just have a destination, and that destination was probably a whim that seemed like a good idea at the time.  But at least I'm going somewhere, and the Giants lost.  Double score!