Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Reflecting

Ever take a look at some of your more personal writing from high school? I was cleaning out an old server hard drive the other day before I repurposed it, and I came across an array of things I wrote in high school (some of the earliest stuff was 10 years ago -- I feel so old!). Reading through it, I was struck by how different I was back then, but also some of the things that make me the same.

Surely the world was not more black and white back then, but I sure seemed to feel like it was. That is one way in which I have very clearly mellowed dramatically. I have a lot more tolerance for different opinions now, but more importantly I try and weigh the merits of possible different opinions before I even encounter them, and use that to reevaluate my own positions.

I suppose this goes hand in hand with the shades of gray, but I'm clearly far less angry now than I was back then. In fact, there is not a lot that makes me truly angry any more, at least nothing that happens to me. I still get angry with social injustice, and I get really angry with animal abuse, but I can't remember the last time I was anything more than annoyed with someone. Even annoyances I find far more amusing these days than I ever would have back then.

Also, I think/hope that I'm less of a pompous douchebag these days, because dear god I sounded insufferable a lot of the time.

Not everything has changed though. I've always been a stickler for full sentences, proper grammar, and punctuation. I was never comfortable with most shorthand (what we called 1337 speak, back in the day), with a few minor exceptions, like lol. I'd like to say that I care less about trivial and inane issues, but really I suspect I simply care about different trivial and inane issues. I also still love coffee (I listed it as number four on my ten favourite things).

I really wonder if, 10 years from now, I'll look back and wonder at what a close-minded, insufferable, relative simpleton I was back when I was 24. I hope not, but I probably will.

Running Down a Dream

My treadmill is broken, and the Sears repair people can't even come look at it for over a week. Of course it had to break in fucking February too, when half the time it's too wet or icy outside to walk places, let alone run. I have no other suitable cardio equipment,.and I can't stay inside all day and not get any exercise, I'm getting incredibly antsy. For the past six months I've been running basically every day, and I've reached the point where I need those runs to dump some energy and clear my head. On Sunday we had moderately decent weather, so I bought a pair of track pants, and I tried running outside.

The first thing you need to understand: I don't run outside. Ever. I've had a treadmill since high school, and I've always used it exclusively. I actually ran my first treadmill literally into pieces. I've never been the most coordinated person, and though I've never actually watched myself run, I imagine I'm not the most elegant. On my treadmill at home, I don't need to worry about how I look, because nobody can see me. Outside, I become acutely self-aware whenever I encounter anyone of how I must look. I shouldn't care, but I do.

I also like that the treadmill keeps pace for me, and it stops me from slowing down when I get tired, and forces me to actively admit defeat by pushing a button. I like that it tracks "distance" and displays it on the screen in front of me. I like that it's climate controlled, and that it has a nice holder for my water bottle, and that if I get desperate the bathroom is right around the corner. I like that it's flat, smooth ground, and I never have to wait to cross a road. It's easy and comfortable.

Unfortunately, I don't have a choice right now. I could get a short-term gym pass, but then I'm running in front of people anyway, probably lots of people, and I'm paying for the privilege. That ain't happening. My only alternative is to run outside.

I actually found a nice quiet stretch of road, followed by a lengthy stretch along the lakefront which was relatively quiet (it's cold and windy in February), and ended through the Rouge Valley (also sparsely populated in February). In the hour I was running, I passed maybe two dozen people which, spaced across 11 km, wasn't nearly as bad as I'd feared. I liked the route itself, except that the valley was totally snowed over and icy, and I had to slow down a lot to keep from falling and killing myself, which would have been less than ideal.

I made use of the RunKeeper Android app's live tracking. I already use RunKeeper almost as a log of my runs, copying the data from the treadmill display when I'm done, but I'd never used it live before. It tracked my distance (and mapped it for me afterward) as well as my speed and elevation. What I really liked was that every five minutes it would, through my headphones, tell me how long I'd been running, how far I'd gotten, and what my pace was. It's not as easily accessible as the treadmill, but it's a heck of a lot better than nothing.

I found myself feeling this run a lot more than I expected the next day. I imagine there are a few reasons for that. I normally run 8 km per day and within a half hour or so I'm fully recovered, but as I wasn't sure when I'd be able to get back out, I dumped everything I had into this one. I also hadn't run in a few days. I'm not sure if you can lose tolerance that fast, but if you can then that probably didn't help.

I also know that running outside wears your body differently than a treadmill. Running up and down hills and on rough terrain will do that. Also, running through the valley I was keeping my body very tense as I tried my best not to slip and fall on the ice. I don't know how much that contributed to the impact, but I'm sure it was substantial.

In general, I hated the experience much less than I expected. In fact, I might even say that I didn't hate it at all. I'll still go back to running on the treadmill when it's working again -- it's just too easy and convenient not to use -- but I won't avoid running outside. I'd like to head back out again tomorrow (I feel the antsy-ness building again), but looking out my window right now I'm not sure if that'll happen. Slush seems to be falling directly from the sky at the moment, on top of the foot or so of slush already sitting on the ground. Not ideal running conditions.

Back to dreaming of summer, or maybe just working treadmills, I suppose.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Doubt

Do people really change? It's a question that I've found myself thinking about a lot lately. I've seen people appear to get "better" or "worse", at least in my eyes, but when I really think about it, I wonder if what I'm seeing is the symptoms, and not the actual disease. Alcoholics may stop drinking, and they may even manage to never drink again, but are they not still alcoholics? And whatever triggered that alcoholism, do they ever really leave that behind?

Thankfully, I've never had any problems with alcohol (at least not in my mind), but I have plenty of demons of my own. I'm trying to conquer a few of them now, some internal and some external, but even if I win, they will all leave their scars, which I expect to carry for the rest of my life. And I will always carry the fear that those demons might one day return.

I think we're all a little broken in our own ways, even those who seem like they have everything in order. There is no perfect balance, no lasting harmony in life. That may sound pessimistic, but I think it's realistic. Finding balance is a noble goal, one which I share even accounting for my disbelief, because while I may not think it is actually possible, getting close would be better than missing completely. Giving up is tantamount to giving up on finding happiness.

This has turned very abstract and incoherent. I don't know if I'll slay my demons. I'm not even sure whether that is all entirely within my control. Asking for help is not a strength of mine, but even if it was I don't know if I know anyone at the moment who can give me what I need. I'll manage, as I always have -- this is far from the end of the world -- and I'll keep striving to be better. But late at night, the doubt always seems to creep in. Time to go to sleep, I suppose.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Privacy in a Connected World

I posted a promo video the other day for Glass, a product Google is hoping to bring to market later this year. If you don't know what Glass is, I'd strongly encourage you to go look into it (I truly believe that Glass represents the future of computing), but the basic summary is that it is glasses that display information for you in the corner of your eye as you need it. The always excellent Joshua Topolsky of the Verge got the chance to visit Google and test out Glass, and he wrote about his experiences here. The article is fantastic, but what I found most interesting was the concerns Topolsky raised about privacy.

One of the most compelling elements of Glass is that each pair has a built in camera which can be triggered by voice commands or a touchpad on the side of the frames. The camera allows users to take pictures or video of literally exactly what they are seeing in real time, without needing to pull out and position a camera. However, Topolsky noted that it also allows anyone to take pictures surreptitiously at any time, which raises obvious concerns. Google themselves don't seem entirely sure what to do with this issue, as they noted that a part of the product's beta run will be spent trying to determine social norms for the devices.

I'm sure a lot of people will find the concept downright creepy, and I'll admit that it does have some ominous implications. However, I think a lot of that will be overblown. There are cameras everywhere these days, and people are always on film. Concealed cameras have been around since I was a kid, so that's nothing new. Glass, at the very least, can only take pictures of what you're looking at. If people can see it, they can save the image, but is that really any different than life today? It may be less obvious than a cell phone, but it's not hard to take pictures of people at random right now.

Of course the big argument against Glass and cameras like it is that if you do something you regret you may never live it down. I'd argue that this is already the case; just look at all the idiots who were hauled in by the Vancouver Police after posting pictures of themselves destroying property to Facebook after the Stanley Cup riot. There were already cameras and internet connections everywhere, and that was a couple of years ago.

But the best way to avoid being the centre of an incident like that is to simply not do something you'll regret the rest of your life. Especially not in the presence of people you can't trust, but just in general, don't be an idiot. If you never set fire to a police car, there will never be any pictures of you setting fire to a police car. You can argue that they're just drunk young men who still need to grow up, but I'm a young man, I've been drunk, and I've never dreamed of setting fire to a police car. Hell, I was there, in downtown Vancouver during that riot. I was on Georgia street, watching game 7 on the big screens they had set up. I was 23 years old. And after the second period, when the crowd started to get ugly, I left, because I did not want to be caught up in a riot.

I was reminded of this last week when reading about Philadelphia Flyers prospect Nick Cousins, who was involved in a little legal trouble last summer. According to Flyers director of development Ian Laperriere, Cousins has "got a good heart ... Let's be honest, stuff like that has been happening forever. You can't get away with anything now." That "anything" to which Laperriere is referring was reported to be "having sexual intercourse with an unnamed woman ... against her will" along with two of Cousins' team mates. What's absolutely horrifying that is Laperriere suggests that you can't get away with gang rape these days as if that's a bad thing.

Laperriere has since backed way off that statement, claiming that he wasn't referring to sexual assault but just young men being stupid in general, and in fairness to Laperriere, English is his second language and there is a good chance that his intended meaning was lost in translation.. There's still reason to believe that there are significant problems in minor hockey in this country when it comes to treating women, and that there are significant problems in the entire country when it comes to dealing with sexual assault, but that's a topic for a whole other post, probably better left to someone with more knowledge and credibility in the subject than myself. The reason I bring this up isn't to torch Cousins, Laperriere, or minor league hockey. Rather, to point out that Laperriere is right, you can't get away with anything these days, and that's a good thing.

With cameras everywhere and so many people posting pictures, videos, and quotes to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google Plus, and more, it's much harder to get away with sexual assault than it once was, and that is a great thing. It's much harder to get away with torching a police car than it once was, and that's a great thing. It's much harder to get away with abducting a child than it once was, and that's a great thing. I get why people want their privacy, honestly. There have been times where I would have preferred that certain people not know where I was or what I was doing, not because of any ethical issues, but just because there are some things you want to keep to yourself.

However, if I have to give up all my privacy so that one less person is sexually assaulted, or one less child is abducted, then I don't see how I could possibly disagree. Obviously this isn't such a black and white issue; we don't all have to take sides between privacy and rape, there's probably a nice balance somewhere. But I think that as we move more and more into a deeply connected world -- and it's happening whether we like it or not -- we need to keep in mind that, as we might fight to retain some privacy, there are good things that can come from giving up some privacy too.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Fitbit

Continuing with the living in the future theme, I've been using a Fitbit One tracker for about a week now. I've been using RunKeeper for a while now to log my runs, but this is a whole new level of tracking. For anyone not familiar with Fitbit, it's sort of like a tricked out pedometer. It tracks my steps taken, distance travelled (presumably via steps taken) stairs climbed (via an altimeter) and approximate calories burned. During the night I wear it in a wristband and it tracks how much I wake in the night. The data is then uploaded to my fitbit account automatically via bluetooth whenever I walk past my computer.

Through the website and mobile app I can check how active I've been in all kinds of charts and graphs. I can also use the site and app to track calorie intake. I'm trying that for now, but I'm not sure I'll keep it up. I find myself very frustrated with having to guess so often how many calories are in my food, particularly if I didn't make it myself. I've always been in favour of living active instead of counting calories, but I do like that I have to think about what I'm putting into my body all the time. I think just thinking about it and being aware is a good thing.

The Fitbit itself I don't see myself abandoning. It's very small and discreet, and lasts about a week on a single charge. The syncing happens without me even thinking about it, since I use my computer daily. In general, it's so easy that I don't see any reason not to use it; sheer laziness won't kill this one for me. And I love seeing all the data laid out for me at the end of the day. In fact, I'm seriously considering getting one of their wireless scales to track weight and body fat too, just to build a more complete picture. It's feeding my data addiction and making me healthier at the same time.

We Live in the Future


And don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Home Alone

My parents come back tonight after spending 10 days in Cuba. With my brother spending most of that time staying with his girlfriend at Glendon, I was living alone for most of that time.

While I like my family, and get along with them pretty well, I still enjoyed the break. Being able to do everything on my own schedule without ever needing to explain myself or worry about how I might be impacting others is nice for a while. Still, having done it for an (admittedly brief) period, I don't think I want to live alone.

It didn't really bother me over such a short time, but I could definitely see myself missing having people around to talk to. While my cats are great listeners, they don't offer much in terms of feedback. Living alone, I realized that I might have to go a few days at a time with little more than cordial, largely superficial conversations, until I have a chance to sit down with one of my closer friends. Frankly, that doesn't appeal to me much. While I could do it, I think maybe I'd rather deal with the potential inconveniences of having a room mate in exchange for always having someone around.