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.

Do as I Do

One of the attributes of intelligence we ascribe to ourselves is the ability to work out what other people might do.  The next stage in that process, one might say, is to anticipate their needs and desires.  If you know that someone gets very angry when you poke them with a sharp stick, then you tend to avoid that.

In modern life we anticipate other people’s thoughts and emotional reactions in many situations, but this is a guessing game.  It also hurts when our well-meant actions are seen as having some malicious meaning we never intended them to have, and this can happen when the’re’s an ‘impedance’ failure between what we mean and how we’re interpreted.

The other part of the problem is that people rarely explain what they most want.  Most of the reasons boil down to the fact we feel uncomfortable telling someone else how they should act.  We most commonly communicate how we want to be treated by treating someone else that way.  A simple example: some people make light of mistakes because they wish to pass off the mistake as not worth worrying about, but to others this laughter can be interpreted as laughing at the person who made the mistake.  Unfortunately, hilarity and anger ensue.

The key here is that mismatch between what we expect and what the other person gives, and it can be very subtle.  We might completely overlook someone holding back on a comment (because they feel a comment is too critical at that time) and comment ourselves, thus annoying the other person.  There’s no sure-fire way to fix this problem instantly, but the most important thing we can do is to recognise those situations.  Taking a step back and apologising for treating the other person the wrong way is a good way to start things back on track.

In this sense, the Golden Rule can be reworded as “do unto others as they want to be done by, as expressed in how they do unto you”.  Doesn’t sound as attractive but it’s probably closer to the mark.

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 Linux.conf.au Tasmania

bluehackers-sticker-roll-lca2009Last week was linux.conf.au 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)

Don’t hate the helper

We’re intelligent people.  We like to be logical, precise, controlled and just.  But when the black dog is behind us, or someone’s just said something that really makes us feel bad, it can be very peculiar to see all that fly out the window and find these strange emotions churning in their place.  When I’m badly hurt by something, I’m often very silent, as my mind races to find the correct answer, the precise justification for my feelings or the truly encompassing start to my exposition.

In those situations, you might have someone wanting to help you.  They might even be the person that said whatever it was that put you down.  They might even not sound like they’re helping at all with their questions or explanations.  But often it is this very person who does care the most for you.  And here you can apply that intelligent, logical brain for a minute to help you.

The first thing I try to do is to at least apologise for being upset.  Sure, it may be a small thing, but sometimes the other person doesn’t even know that anything might be wrong.  Apologise if you’ve snapped at them, or done something ill-mannered.  We can agree that even if you feel like they’re the one who has hurt you and you dearly want an apology, that you shouldn’t be lashing out or being nasty.

Which leads me to the second thing I try to do: precisely differentiate between how they’re trying to help (even if it’s not actually helping you) and whatever has hurt you.  You may realise that, even though they’re being a klutz – and I know I’ve been really stupid when it’s come to trying to comfort someone else when they’re feeling down – they at least care for you.  It’s not much, but we can all work on that.

Most importantly, we have to try to not be sarcastic, rude, difficult, or antagonistic while we’re dealing with our problems.  It might feel that the effort will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, but believe me it’s nothing compared to what gets broken if you deliberately set out to hurt the person who’s trying to help you. 🙂

Doing a little more

Getting a bit of physical activity is often hard for hackers.  We don’t want to sit around sweating in gyms, we often work late and hack later, and we may even be afraid of that old Rugby Jock image that has tyrannised some of us.  But as mentioned in the HowTo, doing some physical work often makes it much easier to sleep and run our bodies normally.  Here are a bunch of ideas that you can use to get a bit more exercise without making it a chore.

  • Climb the stairs to work.  If you work up fairly high in a building, see if you can get the lift from the third floor or get off two levels before your own.
  • Walk around the block or the building at lunchtime.
  • If you catch the train or bus, try getting off one stop before your work or home and walking the rest of the way.
  • If you have one, take your music player and listen to some good podcasts while walking to make good use of the time.
  • Some of us live close enough to work to cycle in – try to make one day a week when you cycle in.  That way you can plan ahead for it.
  • If you live too far out to ride all the way, see if you can take your bike part of the way, in a car or on a train.
  • I used to take my rollerblades in to work in my bag and then change and blade home.  This way I didn’t have to shower and change at work and still got some good exercise.
  • See if there’s anyone else that you work with that wants to go for walks; it also gives you a good chance to talk about hacking and other fun stuff.
  • Try standing up in the bus or train to work rather than sitting all the way.
  • Try geocaching – it’s a great way to explore your area and places you visit, it gets you out and walking around, you get to traded neat small stuff with other people, and there’s the thrill of discovery and secret knowledge.
  • Offer to do some gardening for a friend – you don’t have to have a green thumb if they do.
  • If you do some kind of regular exercise, start tracking it.  Set yourself regular goals – something you can achieve every week or so – and reward yourself when you get there.
  • Grab a Chore Wars account for you and anyone you share with and see how many levels you can achieve.

I’d be really interested to hear other ideas on how to get a bit more activity in your day.  The key lessons I’ve found are that it doesn’t have to be a lot of work or something that looks like ‘regular exercise’ to still stay active, that making small increments and keeping to them is more fun than trying for big goals, and that fitting things into your existing routine almost always works and changing your routine is much harder.

A single word

Sometimes, even a single sentence or thought can make us feel depressed.  Suddenly we’re reminded of some black incident in our past, and it can seem like we’re going through the same awful process another time around.  Even a totally inoccuous thing can set us off at times; sometimes even the realisation that we feel that way about something can get us back into the rut again.

I find one way to deal with that is to try and separate the trigger from the memories.  There’s always some difference between this time and last time, even if it’s just that we’re older and wiser and remember the pain from before.  I try to think about the difference between the two events and focus on why it might be different this time.  That recently helped me realise that even though my partner said something that made me depressed, that she wasn’t doing it to depress me.  I still felt depressed, but now it was my own feelings that I was dealing with rather than feeling like someone else was weighing me down.  Then I could reflect that in fact she meant to try and encourage and support me, even though she might have approached it the wrong way just then.

By seeing the differences between what had gone before and what was happening now, I could reorient my thinking slightly so I didn’t have to go down the same path.

because we're not just geeks – we're humans.