All posts by Arjen Lentz

The Equation

Sometimes you get pretty busy, and what’s the first thing to lose out? The daily exercise, being outside (sunlight) for a bit, perhaps the fruit (see the How-To). Sound familiar?

Depending on how you’re going at the time, you may actually get away with it. But it’s a dangerous track to go on… if you happen to get sick or add a bit of stress, there’s trouble. For me personally, I think it works somewhat like an equation, roughly this:

doing ok = ((exercise + daylight + fruit + sleep) >= (stress + illness))

Perhaps someone would care to refine this further?

(I’ve never coded in Lisp but I always use parentheses to keep math clear without implied rules. I know about operator precedence – heck I’ve written little compilers – but being explicit eases code maintenance and reduces bugs)

By the way, we got some press attention this week, see When hackers get the blues. It’s also November again, and that means Movember: the yearly fundraising drive raising awareness for men’s health, this year focusing on depression and prostate cancer. I’ve added it to the links, if you know of other relevant links please let us know!

Organising the House

It has been said that a person’s house tends to be a reflection of their mind… and I think it’s definitely the case that how a house looks/feels affects its occupants. If you have your house pretty much sorted, that is a feel-good factor and something less to potentially worry about.

Basic cleanliness is good of course, but I’m talking more about clutter and really just things that lie about somewhere because they don’t have their own proper spot. The latter may sound a tad anal, but essentially if you store stuff everything has a particular spot to go so by definition that’s how you organise things. Nothing new there. I’m not saying you’ll be labeling each drawer and box, but some people find that handy also. In any case, I think the key factor is storage, since if you don’t have a spot to put something, of course it’s going to end up just “somewhere”. Having storage for stuff makes it easy to not have clutter, so you’re more inclined to maintain it as well.

By the way, I’ve found this works well for kids also. Little smurfs at around age 2 generally love to be very organised, everything needs to have a spot and so on. If you have sufficient (and suitable) storage space for their toys, having them clean up their stuff becomes really easy and natural. In my house my daughter actually now has the master bedroom, simply because it has the most daylight and floor space of all the bedrooms. I don’t need daylight in my bedroom, so everybody is happy and better organised (I don’t mean to start a revolution in other households, you don’t have to tell yours kids about this ;-).

In Australia there’s a nice chain of stores called “Storage Space” which I sometimes visit for ideas. I tend to not buy much there since it’s quite costly. My personal favourite place for ideas about storage tricks is IKEA. For instance, I’ve always found shelves sucky for clothes, but it’s pretty easy to build something with storage trays that can be pulled out, as well as smart hanging options (for instance for pants).

In closing, a short story that was told to me at back in January: a group of friends got together (some travelling interstate) to help a friend clean up their house, sort things. Now that’s a very tricky thing, not everybody would appreciate such “interference”; but I understand they got it right and it really helped that person well beyond just having their house organised. I hope they’ll pop on here some time and tell the full story directly, as I think it’s a great example of how you can, very practically, help someone get back on track. I also think it’s a brilliant example of true friendship.

Tea; Earl Grey; Hot

I drank Earl Grey tea long before Picard ordered it from his replicator on Star Trek. That’s not quite what this story is about, but it is about tea, and how it caused me some major trouble.

Only a few years ago I worked out that I don’t deal well with caffeine. It’s fine at the time, but it causes a serious dip in how I feel the next morning. It’s nasty and not resolved by just ingesting more caffeine. You get the idea. I didn’t drink regular coffee anyway but I cut out mocha (milk based coffee/chocolate blend) and the occasional coca cola (travel, parties, conferences). Tea didn’t appear to cause any hassles, although I am aware that technically a cup of tea can have more caffeine than coffee. Problem solved, until a few weeks ago.

With the cold weather (ok so it’s winter in Australia right now) I’ve been having lots of nice warm tea while I work. For a while it was home-mixed chai which used naturally caffeine-low Daintree tee. It ran out, and because creating a new mix means quite a bit of work (including finely chopping and drying ginger) I temporarily shifted to Earl Grey tea, figuring it’d be ok anyway. Well, I was wrong. I was in a bad way for a number of weeks, until I thought of this angle only a few days ago and of course took immediate action. Much better already!

As we grow (older 😉 we all work out “manuals” for ourselves, but every once in a while a new pattern comes up that doesn’t quite fit what you’ve learnt to recognise and deal with automatically. We live and learn…

MASH & Hawkeye

Yea, as in the classic TV show with Alan Alda. Of course there’s reruns (again) and I’ve let my MythTV box record some. My favourite characters have always been Hawkeye and Col.Potter. Smart, funny, cynical, way with words.

Col.Potter was in WWI and WWII before Korea where MASH is situated, he’s seen it all before… but Hawkeye, he’s really just like that as a coping mechanism, isn’t he. I used to think he was cool, but with a bit more maturity I see that his attitude has to be seen in the context of the situation and definitely not as a general example of how to be.

Obvious, perhaps, but at the time a lesson for me anyhow. I too have used cynicism (and sarcasm) as a copying mechanism, particularly when I’m tired, stressed, sick, or (even worse!) any combination thereof. I try to catch myself now and consciously work to not behave like an ass in those situations. Hawkeye gets away with it, but I live in the real world…

Book: The Optimistic Child

I’m currently working through a book (it’s more than just reading!) called The Optimistic Child by Martin Seligman. The subtitle is “Proven Program to Safeguard Children from Depression & Build Lifelong Resilience”.

It’s not hype stuff, this is serious and so far I think it’s a very good, insightful and practical book. When I’m finished I’ll write up a review of it, and perhaps add some pages to the site about it. Or just have a peek on Amazon and get it for yourself now!

From the same author there’s another title Learned Optimism, aimed at adults. Again, this is not quick self help blah, but serious stuff and definitely work a look.

Exercising with a Purpose

I usually just do my early morning walks with ipod/podcast, eating an apple (listen to an apple, eat an apple 😉

It’s state election time around here, and I’m helping a local candidate… that brings up the usual letterbox drops for local events and such (yes, I’m avoiding any letterbox with a “no junk mail” or similar sticker). Anyway, this makes for a nice variation on the exercising, as I’ve now walked up and down extra hilly side-streets that I normally wouldn’t visit.

If you want BlueHackers stickers…

We’re seeing a lot requests for the stickers, which is great – we’re happy to post some, but we do need to optimise things a bit otherwise the logistics (and cost) won’t be practical. So here’s the deal for the currently remaining roll of approx 500 stickers.

If you are active for a local user group, conference or company, and want a sticker for yourself as well as some to hand out at your next meeting or just among your colleagues, send us an email at l i f e (at) b l u e h a c k e r s (dot) o r g with a brief note on what group/company/conference it is, your address of course, and how many stickers you need.

I think numbers of up to a couple of dozen are practical at this stage. Remember, we’ll be printing more stickers anyway so this is just to get things going and spread the word further. We’ll gather the emails and do a mailout about once a week, and of course we’ll reply to let you know when they’ve been posted, and how many you get. Okidoki?

By the way, if you’re on Facebook you can also join the BlueHackers cause, again to help make the issue more visible.

Stickers at Tasmania

bluehackers-sticker-roll-lca2009Last week was in Hobart, Tasmania. This seemed like an ideal opportunity to try the stickers idea. However, this being so soon after the summer holidays (yes xmas is in the summer when you live in the Southern hemisphere!) we weren’t particularly organised. Eek!

Luckily I got hold of a bright and helpful printers in Hobart who couldn’t do exactly what we needed but just arranged everything for us locally. We were pondering a few designs and sizes, but we decided on doing small stickers (of the “powered-by” shape and size) to mainly see put on laptops. Since they’re small, the chances of someone putting them on are increased. Yet the logo is so distinct that it will be spotted. Win! It’s just our logo with the url below, one colour print with gradient, and just paper (no vinyl nasties).

So what’s the objective? For as many people as possible to have these little stickers on their laptop; laptops travel around to conferences, user group meetings and work places. And thus other people get to see this quiet sign of understanding! So it’s not just a sticker to be used by people who have dealt with depression or related issues themselves, it’s for everybody wanting to show this form of support.

As we all know, the feeling of being alone with your problems is a very important aspect. The bluehackers stickers addresses this in a friendly non-intrusive way. Over 500 stickers were handed out during the last days of the conference, so they’re already travelling around the planet to be spotted elsewhere; various people also have strips of stickers with them to hand out to local user groups, colleagues, and others.

I did a lightning talk on the last day which got a fab response and triggered numerous interesting discussions afterwards. It’s clearly struck a chord, and so I guess another objective of BlueHackers is to make the topic more open or at least not taboo. Joe “Zonker” Brockmeier wrote up a  very nice blog entry about us also (“Even Hackers get the Blues“). I have another roll of 500 stickers here, which I’ll send out in chunks to various people around the planet. And more things to come.

So who’s funding all this? Well, some of the best gestures cost little or nothing. Getting the stickers made cost me a few hundred dollars, and while the stickers were handed out for free donations came in and recouped the cost plus the same again (and we still have half the stickers left as well). It’s a matter of running low-cost, and sheer numbers. We’re pondering whether to do a paypal account, but that brings up the question of whether to become a registered non-profit as we don’t want any individual to get stuck with financial or other liabilities. We’ll work it out. Naturally all donations given so far go directly towards BlueHackers activities anyway.

Through the various discussions we’ve gained additional insight in what activities might be useful, and how to go about them. More to come! And remember, the best gestures are free or cheap. Small things can make a huge difference to a person, or perhaps even many.

Happy New Year & Media Mentions

Happy New Year everybody! We hope you got some well-deserved time off over the xmas/holiday period, with (gasp) perhaps even some time away from your computer?

We now have a mutual link with Working Well, after a kind message from someone there. Very useful.
And we hadn’t spotted it before, but ITwire wrote a nice article on us: Geeks seek to hack depression (16 Dec 08)