Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Morning: My Enemy, My Friend

A number of my resolutions for this year are going well, and some others are suffering a bit: While I now seem to be reading all the time, I have loss some of my interest in maintaining my exercise routine. The cooking plan needs to be revisited, and since we've returned from our ski trip, I'm much less likely to clean dishes in the sink, for whatever reason. I'm pretty aggressive making phone calls, but there is still a backlog of items I need to call someone about. My writing is clearly not meeting the frequency of thrice a week, but I am more likely to engage in parties/events that I would not normally be excited about.

Some of the problem, I think, has to do with the time of day at which I am trying to tackle these activities. Since I work during the day, and have tended to not be an early riser, the obvious time to tackle these activities is the evening. However, by the end of the day, after a full day of work, I am no longer interested in pursuing my goals; I just want to take a break. When I do convince myself to work on getting things done, it is rarely enjoyable and feels like I am stealing from my relaxation time.

Now, obviously, some things still need to happen in the evening, but I should be able to leverage my mornings better than I have been. My normal routine has been to set the alarm for whenever, hit snooze a million times and get up in a rush. Most of the time, Kendra has, thankfully, already gotten Katy ready and dressed and she is eating breakfast. So, the first step was to condition myself to pay attention to my alarm and stop going back to sleep instead of getting up.

What inspired my adventures into early morning rising started here at a great website I found through Google Reader called LifeHacker. Reading through the suggestions, the most prevalent idea seemed to be setting multiple alarms, with at least one placed across the room. The idea being that once you are up to turn off the alarm, you might as well stay up since there is no point of getting back into bed. However, I have tried this and it requires too much reasoning for my early-morning, befuddled mind to comprehend and I would arise from the bed, zombie-march to the alarm, disable it and then return to bed as if nothing had happened.

Something I have had success with in the past has been psyching myself up for getting up at a particular time the next day: expressing the urgency of getting up as soon as the alarm goes off, else I will miss the important event that was scheduled for early morning the next day. If I do this immediately prior to going to sleep, I have never had trouble getting up at the desired time, as long as there really was an urgent event occurring. Trying to psych myself to get up early for something like exercise has always been met with laughable results.

However, mulling over these two ideas helped me think of a new plan: I set my bedside alarm to 7am. I also set another alarm, the one on my wristwatch, to 7:11am and leave that in the master bathroom. After I set the alarms, and am getting into bed, I remind myself that when the bedside alarm goes off, I should turn it off, not press snooze, since a snooze would bring me to 7:09am and then I'd have only two minutes before the other alarm. Additionally, I tell myself that, while I don't necessarily need to get up right when the alarm goes off, I shouldn't go back to sleep so I can get up before the other alarm, the wristwatch, goes off. Thus, I have the multiple alarms, with one out of reach of the bed, combined with a generated sense of urgency: not wanting the other alarm to go off.

While it doesn't seem like much, the previously stated befuddled nature of my mind in the morning accepts the explanations instead of trying to delve into the complexity of the situation without coffee. Starting last week Monday, I have been up by 7:11am at the latest, with needing to rely on the watch alarm to re-wake me only once. So far this week, my body is already conditioned so that I am waking up a few minutes before my alarm and am up and out of bed as soon as it goes off.

As a further precaution, I have added a third alarm, my cellphone, set to 7:30am and left on the counter in the kitchen, downstairs from my bedroom; this third alarm has, thus far, only been used to note the time and mark the beginning of our exit from home in the morning, but it could serve as an emergency "last call" wake up, if need be.

Now, instead of being the last one up, it is a tossup between Katy and me as to who will be the first out of bed. Katy had gotten used to climbing into Mom and Dad's bed in the morning and watching cartoons, but now she is often getting into bed after I am already dressed. I miss the snuggling a bit, but we have a more relaxed, pleasant, wakeful morning together this way.

With this added time, I am now always the first downstairs and can prepare her lunch before she gets dressed. She gets to school on time to eat breakfast with her friends and I get to work earlier and get more accomplished during the day: the early hours always seem the most productive to me.

A couple of days ago, I read another item through Google Reader that was about early morning exercises. The suggestion was that you could be more awake with a little exercise in the morning; specifically, it suggested three sets of as many push ups as you can do. If that gets you going, you can do some scissor kicks for a quick core workout. Starting little, I did the push ups this morning and still got to work earlier than I had these past two weeks. While it isn't a ton of exercise, I should be able to incorporate this into my morning routine and workout five times a week instead of my goal of just two.

Now that I am conditioned to wake up early, my family is also getting accustomed to it. My plan is to get the whole family awake and ready to go early enough so that I can bike to work twice a week, on Thursdays and Fridays, and let Kendra take Katy to school. Kendra normally does things outside of the house on Thursdays and Fridays and it would even give her a head start on them. In addition to the extra exercise I'll get from the bike ride, I'll also be using 2/5ths less gas per week than I normally would have, thus saving money as well.

I don't count the time in the morning before work as anything other than "getting ready for work" time, so incorporating other activities is a easy thing to do that I will not psychologically be opposed to. Next week, the twice weekly bike riding to work is planned to start. After that, I may consider trying to get up a half hour earlier to get some of the things done that I really don't want to spend time on in the evening.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Raw Shark Texts Review

Some of the members at one of the websites I frequent, the gaming community, have started a book club at Having the books selected by a group who has similar interests makes the selection process easier. Additionally, I have already read two books that I would not normally have even known about and am reading a third. The first was the Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, which was a book that I would never have picked up on my own, just due to the feminine nature of the cover, but was pleased with the story. I started reading another that was suggested but wasn't a book chosen to be the book for the month, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, which is, again, a very good read. However, the book for the month was selected and I decided to interrupt my previous choice to join in on the reading of the Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall, and I was not disappointed.

Like the Time Traveler's Wife, I was able to get through this book quickly, in only one evening of reading. The story is about a man who doesn't remember anything: where he is, how he got there, what his name is, his past, his friends -- all this information is missing. He soon discovers that he has a disorder known as a "dissociative condition". It is an interesting mystery where the hero, Eric, tries to figure out what has happened to him.

It seems like there are several ways to look at this book. The first is the logical, what-could-happen-in-the-real-world possibility. From this point of view, it is clear that he has a severe disorder that eventually leads to his demise. The other way to look at this is the anything-is-possible, we-can't-assume-a-logical-world-in-books view. In this case, we can assume that everything that Eric reports is actual fact: the problems he describes are real and to blame for his memory loss. Or, there is the take a bit of both approach, where his memory loss comes from his suspected source, but some parts of his journey/disorder are not what they seem to be to Eric.

Without revealing spoilers, it is difficult to talk about this book. It is thought provoking and interesting enough where I would consider going back and reading through it again before returning it to the library to analyze it further. Some of the elements of the book are overlooked, intentionally or otherwise, and that can be a little frustrating, but that it keeps me thinking about it, and enjoying my thoughts, is enough to overlook any frustrations. I give it a four out of five stars.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Temporal Book of the Month for March

I started and stopped reading a couple of books in March, mostly because I really wasn't interested in my choices and also that I wanted to spend all that time playing Team Fortress 2 instead of reading. So, March passed and no book was read, seemingly meaning that I am not accomplishing my book-per-month reading resolution. Since I was in April and needed to read a book for March still, what better choice than "the Time Traveler's Wife" by Audrey Niffenegger.

The characters and story are interesting and it was quick to read: I finished the five-hundred some pages over the course of two evenings. The way the story is told is in what could be considered mini-stories, jumping across time, though in most cases, the stories occur linearly. The concept was interesting and the storytelling was well done. The sometimes complicated subject of time travel was addressed simply and handled easily. That said, there were a couple of things that bugged me about the book.

One of my gripes with the book is that some events seem extraneous and unnecessary to the story, either detracting from the plot or introducing elements that the reader expects to be more relevant but are never developed. Another issue I have is that the characters are too accepting of their inability to alter things; with a little thought, there are routes that could be explored that never are addressed.

Additionally, several paradoxes throughout the novel indicate that there must be ways to alter the time line. An example of this includes certain facts that are passed from the future to the past and back again without there ever being an origination. This is glossed over for simplicity's sake, but it implies that the information came from somewhere originally and was then the origination point became unnecessary and never occurred.

The ending was unsatisfying. Without revealing spoilers, it seems that the ending resolves nothing, leaving some plot points introduced but never explored.

Regardless of the flaws, it was still an enjoyable, page-turner of a book. While it is, at best, lite sci-fi and outside of what I would normally consider for reading, I would still recommend it. I give it 3 or 5 stars.