Tuesday, January 25, 2011

guinea pig, the beginning

I went over to Hopkins Bayview today to participate in a screening for a research study. I parked in the wrong lot, got horribly twisted around trying to find the building, and finally had to call for directions. I was about 10 minutes late.

The coordinator/assistant for the study was very nice, very friendly and outgoing. We chatted as I filled out the requisite permissions, acknowledgments of rights, and medical forms. I took psych inventories, where you check yes or no for each statement listed. Most were pretty run of the mill, but it included "my tv or radio has secret messages for me" and "before the age of 15, I tortured small animals"... I had 5 tubes of blood taken, had an EKG, and a short physical. I got measured (I'm 5ft 4 and a HALF inches), weighed (her scale is more forgiving than mine, only 142 in her office), blood pressure (120/80 on the nose), had my reflexes checked, etc.

I met with a psychologist, who asked tons of questions about my family, my moods, was I ever traumatized, etc.

Then I did a couple of computer games. In one, I clicked Cooperate or Defect, and the computer also picks cooperate or defect. Depending how my answers matched up with the computer, I "earned" $5 to $25 of fake game money for each answer. There were patterns, and then the patterns would change, etc.

The second game was much longer, and more frustrating. I had to click the mouse if a long line was displayed on screen, not click if it was short. The line would appear and then quickly get masked with a distracting pattern. I had a very hard time not clicking on the short lines. No score, or any way to really know how you did, or whether there was even a point to the game.

If my bloodwork comes back ok, and I passed the tests, I will meet once a week either individually or in a group (two randomized study cohorts), and learn meditation and guided imagery techniques. I will be asked to keep a daily journal, meditate 10-30 minutes every day and do some mindfulness exercises daily as well. I will have two supervised trips with psylocybin. During these, I will have a guide/facilitator on hand as well as medical supervision.

The whole study is 6-8 months long. It is an uncompensated study -- they pay for my parking, but that's it. In a previous version of the study, 25 of 28 participants said it had been life-altering in a positive way. They reported less stress, more compassion and a pervasive sense of well-being.

I think it is worth it, solely for the structure it will give to my meditation practice. Hopefully, it will provide me with the skills to continue the practice on my own.

Monday, January 24, 2011

what is enough?

Some of what I have seen and read recently has me puzzled. I am wondering what is enough? The other day I read an article about people turning spare bedrooms into walk in closets. Walk-in closets. Because they have so many clothes, shoes, purses, etc that they cannot fit in a normal walk-in closet. This is not the problem of someone in an old house like mine, where the closets are about 18 inches wide. These are people who cannot fit their wardrobe in a large-ish walkin closet. What is enough?

An entire industry has grown around the storage of stuff. People pay rent, not for their home, but for a place to store the stuff they can't fit in their homes. And the American home is huge. I have been watching HGTV, a show about first time buyers. They want granite counters, walk in closets, huge bathrooms with soaking tubs. 2400 square feet is "kinda small". Big house, big furniture, big mortgage, big utility foot-print.

We eat enough food for two people. Maybe three. Starbucks just introduced a new drink, the trenta. That's a 30 ounce drink. Checkers makes a burger that is 4 beef patties, 4 slices of cheese, 4 slices of bacon.

Executive pay has reached new heights. No longer content with 50 times the average worker's salary, CEOs are asking for, and getting 500 times the average employee's wages. And then corporations lay off employees to be more profitable. Crazy.

It's all so excessive. So much more than what's needed. It's as if everything is a game, and quantity is the ultimate way of keeping score.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

cod fish stew

Cod Fish Stew perfect for an icy day

32 oz swanson's ff vegetable broth
14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes, drained
1.5 pounds of cod pieces, cut into chunks (trader joes sells in the freezer section)
1 cup of frozen corn
4 yukon gold potatoes, smallish dice
1 onion
3 slices of bacon, diced
1 cup sliced fresh fennel (bulb part))
1/2 cup of diced red peppers
1/3 cup chopped flat parsley
1 tsp of thyme
1/2 tsp of cracked black pepper

In a large dutch oven, or sauce pan, cook bacon one minute. add potatoes, onions, red peppers, fennel. Cook 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently. Add broth, tomatoes, corn, parsley, thyme and pepper. Bring to boil. Reduce to simmer and cook for 1-2 hours, until potatoes are done. Add cod. Cook 4 minutes or just until cod is cooked through. Serve with good crusty bread.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

what I do

From time to time, I am asked what I do. This is always a reference to my profession. And I give various answers: computer geek, programmer, IT Manager, work with computers. I think I assume people don't want detail, and/or wouldn't understand what I do.

My usual day runs like this. I get in, login to my computer. I make sure I can access the databases I am responsible for. I open our techsupport mailbox, so I can respond and route requests throughout the day. I check on our facebook page, and our twitter account. I check my office email, so I can respond to requests that come there as well. I run a few informational queries that let me know where we are with registrations, that certain back end processes are running. Then I divide my time between working on database projects or programming projects, and responding to what comes in. This might be a request for information from a vendor or partner or some other department in the institution (how many left handed physicians from idaho took courses lasts year?). It might be a registrant who can't retrieve their transcript online. It might be a staff member who needs help with their software, or needs to market a course with an email blast. I forward tasks to our web programmer or tech support analyst - anything I can get off my plate, I do. I am learning to delegate. It's hard, but is better in the long run.

If there is a problem, everything else drops off while I deal with it. If the website is down, that becomes my priority. If we can't authorize credit card charges, that's the priority. I do a kind of technical triage all day long -- what has to be done, what can wait.

I have a lot of meetings. I am on the Executive Staff team at work; so we have regular meetings for that. I meet once a month with my team, so we update each other on projects, issues, schedules. I meet with our web support folks once a month. Once in a while I go to our advisory board meetings, or to the coordinators team meetings. I meet with prospective vendors, to look at software and hardware we might be purchasing. When we hire for certain positions, I am part of the interview process. There are meetings with other folks at the institution outside our department. I try to tell myself that meeting time is not a waste -- it is all part of the job, so even if it doesn't feel productive to me, it is still work.

I do administrative crap. Purchasing. Approving bills. Time Sheets. Reviews. Approving leave. I only have two people to manage so it isn't horrible, but I like it least of all I do.

I love the problem-solving aspect -- the struggling to get something to work and then figuring it out. It keeps me challenged, and thinking. And I love the people interaction -- the helping aspect. It really energizes me to be able to help someone do something in a way that makes it easier, or better, or just plain possible. If I can take a problem off of someone's shoulders, it makes my day.

so that's what I do. The labels -- programmer,database administrator, web administrator, manager, business analyst -- are just words.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

for the love of the game

Another football season winds its way down. My beloved Ravens once again made the playoffs, but failed to make the Superbowl. I wonder why I always feel so let down when this happens? I'm not playing. I don't know any of the players. I don't have season tickets. I invest nothing but my time, to watch the games. Yet, when they lose, I feel bad. Conversely, when they win, I feel terrific. Is it competition by proxy?

I do know that I love the game. I really do. I know this puzzles some folks. It doesn't seem in keeping with my other interests. I don't love ALL sports. Just football. Baseball is somehow seen as more intellectual. No one would have a problem with me loving baseball. But football is a brutish thing, or so it is regarded in some circles.

I think that's why I love it. I love the basic, primal nature of it. It isn't about intellect. Although smarts can help win games. It is really a physical contest, played out by people who border on superhuman. Most folks could play baseball. Not well, but they could play. Few people could play football. I can't watch the game and think that with practice, I could do that. It is like watching the Olympics. The human body outperforms what human bodies can do -- it is physical strength, stamina, dexterity all on display.

I love it, and when the season is over, I miss it. Maybe that's why I hate when we don't make the superbowl. It cuts my season short. I don't get the last drop.

Monday, January 10, 2011

the energy of the new year

While I am physically tired, having not slept well in many many days, I am mentally energized. I had my weigh-in this morning for my work's Biggest Loser competition. It is a team competition, so I am partnered with a group from my office. There are ten of us, and our group percentage of weight loss is what counts. We are encouraging each other, taking walks at lunch, or exercise classes, and generally keeping each other on track. We weigh in once a month for 3 months for the competition, and we are weighing in once a week in our office, to track our progress. A co-worker has developed a system so none of us knows who weighs what. we submit slips of paper with our weight on them, but not our names. The total is added together, and then the percent lost or gained in aggregate is tracked, so no one has to be embarassed if they don't lose, or don't want to disclose their weight to the group.

I got through the initial screening for the spirituality study. I go on the 25th for a 5-6 hour more rigorous testing, including psych tests, after which I will know if I am accepted into the study.

I've been reading all the books I bought at xmas, and all the books I stacked up to read after school was over. So it's all fun stuff. Just finished the first book in The Hunger Games series. Very nicely done.

I've also been treating myself to a lot of video watching. I go all 5 seasons of The Wire for xmas, and I am watching the whole series in order. I am halfway through season 2 and it is just brilliant. And has an added dimension as I recognize the locations in the series. Our son's drama teacher is also in several episodes, and that is also fun, getting to watch her work.

I cleaned out a lot of clutter and junk drawers over break, and that has been really mentally freeing. I don't know how that works, but it does. Maybe some space in my brain was occupied on some level with planning to do something about all the junk.

A lot of huge projects at work are coming to an end in the next month or so. This feels terrific. I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment, as well as a HUGE weight off my shoulders. It feels great to be productive, to be contributing something, to be succeeding at tasks I once thought impossible.

It's fun, like I'm firing on all cylinders, however briefly.

Monday, January 03, 2011

lab rat

I am contemplating being a guinea pig. Again. I used to make a few dollars now and again, by participating in university research as a test subject/paid volunteer. I have tested fabrics, by wearing uncomfortable shirts while pedalling on an exercise bike (they were testing wicking, so I had to sweat!). I volunteered at Goddard, testing robotic arms and remote sensing. It was like playing the world's coolest video game. I moved a robot arm across a simulated lunar landscape, and tried to pick things up while looking in a reverse image in a mirror. Odd, but fun.

the current prospect is a spiritual/meditative research project. It's a six to eight month study, with meditation, and three psilocybin sessions. Yup, shrooms. The hypothesis is that the meditation and the shrooms combine to produce a transcendent, spiritual experience. As a faithless person, a serious atheist, this is just too intriguing to pass up. If the time commitment is reasonable, and the risk is non-existent, and I turn out to be an acceptable test subject, I am definitely going to do it. I'll know more tomorrow, after my phone interview and info session.

In an earlier study by the same researcher, 22 out of 28 subjects said the experience changed their lives... for the better. Hmmmm...