Depression Is A Motherfucker

18 June 2015

I’ve been listening to the Mental Illness Happy Hour a lot lately, and a lot of times, it’s uplifting: it’s comforting to hear from other people who have dealt with depression and such, and between the guests and the surveys that Paul reads, I see that I don’t have it so bad. Admittedly, at other times, it’s super depressing. Because my god, some of these poor people have had it so bad.

I’ve posted a lot lately about depression and anxiety and mental health in general, and I know there are people who think it’s some drama-queen attention seeking or some such bullshit; and that’s fine, because those people can fuck right off. I post things like this because I know that it can be helpful for other people to see it sometimes, in the same way that it can be helpful to hear other people’s stories on a podcast. Most of the time, social media (Facebook in particular) is all puppies and rainbows, because everyone puts their best foot forward and only shares the good stuff. But that’s not real life; people are secretive about their demons, and it can be easy to forget that others are dealing with the same kind of problems.

In part because I have tweeted about this stuff a bit, I’ve wound up talking to other people about it. Along the way, I’ve learned that I know several people who have attempted suicide, and it just fucking guts me to think about how much these people must have been hurting to get to that point. It kills me to know there are almost certainly other people I know, who haven’t talked to anyone about it, but have been in the same place, suffering alone.

Please don’t suffer alone. Please call the suicide prevention hotline (1-800-273-8255), call me (202-374-5348), call a friend, call someone. Please, please call someone.

Please talk to a therapist. If you don’t like the first person you see (it happens), please try someone else, and find a therapist who’s a good fit for you. Here’s a list of organizations that can provide referrals. If you’re in Chicago, I can give you the number for the guy I’ve been seeing for over a year. Your insurance probably covers it, and you know what, I’m willing to help pay your copay if you can’t, because that’s worth more than any of the shit I spend money on.

Depression lies. Depression will tell you that things won’t get better. Depression will tell you that you’re not worth it. Depression will make you forget how good life can be, because depression is a motherfucker.

If you haven’t dealt with depression, or you have in the past: go ahead and put that number in your phone, in case someone you love needs it later on (1-800-273-8255), or consider donating to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Finding A New Apartment

05 April 2015

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve moved quite a bit, and a while back I wrote up some guidelines to moving efficiently—guidelines that I’ve since consulted myself, twice. And before you can move, of course, you need to find a place to move to.

Picking an apartment can be tough, and frankly, it gets harder when you’ve got more time to think about it: the easiest moves I’ve done where the ones where I had to find a new place within a very short window, because it forced me to just act. And you know what: it always worked out pretty OK. The reality is that every apartment is going to disappoint or irritate you, one way or another: the people above you will spend their days marching in high heels, or the communal washers will be completely broken on weekends, or the landlord will be utterly unreachable. In apartment hunting, I’ve always found myself fighting the last battle, to find an apartment that didn’t suffer the deficiencies that defined the one I was already living in.

Inevitably, though, each new apartment just comes with its own new problems. So, set your expectations a little lower, and consider the following:

  • Timing sucks. Several places I’ve lived have required 60-day notice before moving out, even if it was just the end of the current lease. But, very few available apartments are listed that far out (probably because the landlords are waiting for the 60-day notice from their own tenants. It’s a Catch-22). There’s really no good way around this: you just need to give notice that you’ll be moving out of your current place, and trust that you’ll find a new one. Start looking for a place as soon as you know you want to move, but don’t be discouraged if there doesn’t seem to be much available.
  • Searches will vary by city. In DC, I found everything through Craigslist. In Chicago, everything is run by these apartment finding services, so you’ll see listings in Craigslist, but the actual listed apartment isn’t always available; as often as not, you’ll get a response from an apartment finder asking what you’re looking for, so they can direct you to other apartments they’re trying to fill. It might take some time and aggravation to figure out how your local market works, especially if you’re moving to a new city.
  • Location, location, location. It’s a cliche for a reason, and matters more for people like me who want to live without a car. Where’s the closest public transit? How about a grocery store and pharmacy? Can you get to work easily? Speaking of which:
  • Commute times matter. A lot. This is not news: it’s easy to find articles about studies showing that longer commute times make us miserable. One such article stuck with me when the writer pointed out how people think that a larger home will make them happier—so much space for activities!—but the increased commute necessary to get out to the suburbs (where such a home is affordable) fully negates any benefit of extra space. Your mileage will vary, of course, but I’ve embraced the short commute over extra space.
  • Rent a condo if you can. Most of my apartments have just been one of many rental units in a large building, but a few times, I’ve rented a condo from the owner. If you find this option, take it! People who own their place care a whole lot more about the building and the other people in it, which means your neighbors will be far more considerate.
  • The inside of the apartment doesn’t matter much. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen an empty apartment and been underwhelmed, but moved in anyway because it was the best option available. Know what? A few weeks later, it really didn’t matter. Once your stuff is there, and the place scrubbed down (if necessary), and you’re settled in and used to the noises it makes, it doesn’t really matter that much: the layout, the fixtures, the counter top, the closets—they’ll become the new normal in no time.
  • Check the water pressure. OK, most of the inside of an apartment doesn’t matter, but taking a weak-ass shower every morning is no way to be your best self.
  • Square footage is a ballpark. I’ve seen “500 square foot” apartments that were considerably smaller than “700 square foot” apartments. Apartment listings here in Chicago don’t often include the measurement anyway, but always take them with a grain of salt. As much as the inside of the apartment doesn’t matter (see above), you want to make sure it’s going to be big enough for your stuff, and potentially your pet and/or partner.
  • Visit the neighborhood at night. Typically, apartment-seekers see the place during the day, but that doesn’t necessarily tell you what it’s like to live there. If you saw Adams Morgan (DC) or Wrigleyville (Chicago) at 4 on a Wednesday, you might think it’s a quiet little neighborhood with lots of restaurants. Unless you’re just moving to one of those cities, you would know those two examples, but make sure you know if your potential new neighborhood is swarmed with drunken college kids every weekend.
  • Consider foot traffic flow. Is there a bar next door? Or maybe right around the corner? Does one have pass your place to get from the barto the train station? Then you might have a bunch of drunks wandering past your place late at night, with the singing and/or fighting that sometimes comes with it. I lucked out at a place in DC: we were right around the corner from a strip of bars, but on a side street that only went one block, uphill, before T-boning the next street over. There was no reason for anyone to leave a bar and walk down our block, because it didn’t go anywhere: we were close to all the fun without the side effects.
  • Make sure you know what’s outside the windows. I keep my blinds shut almost all the time, because I don’t like the idea of people outside looking at me. If this is a concern for you, it might be good to know that the living room is right next to the front entry to the building, or facing directly into someone else’s living room across a narrow courtyard. Or, if you’re concerned about security, it would be good to know if the back window is at ground-level in a dark alley. You might also want to notice if a second-floor apartment has a street light right by the bedroom window.
  • Other things I look for. These are some highlights I keep an eye out for. They’re not deal-breakers if not available, but certainly improve the appeal of a potential apartment.
    • Laundry in the unit: the holy grail of renting.
    • Poured concrete construction: you can’t hear the people above you walking around when there’s a few solid inches of concrete to protect you.
    • Gas range: I don’t cook much, but I know what I like, and what I like ain’t electric burners.
    • No Comcast: it’s not a deciding factor, but the ISP that serves a building is definitely a consideration.
    • Dishwasher: obviously.
  • Other things you might look for. These are things that don’t really matter to me, but might matter to you.
    • Flooring: if you gotta have that hardwood.
    • Closet space: or you could just get rid of stuff.
    • Parking space: if you’ve got a car, make sure you’ll have somewhere to put it.
    • Bike storage: some places have bike racks in the basement or parking garage, or even a separate room for them.
    • Garbage disposal: you forget how convenient they are until you don’t have one any more.
    • Built-in lighting: could go either way, depending.


21 February 2015

From the Bunker Buddies EDC episode (fun show btw):

Travis: The other day, I think I was at improv class, and I had to open something. I had like a box or something that was taped shut, so I pulled out my pocket knife. And this girl sitting next to me acted like I had just pulled out a gun. She was like “Whoooah! Whooah.” And I’m like—ok, it’s like a folded, maybe, three inches. She’s like “Do you—do you always have that on you?” And I was like, “Yeah, it’s not going to go off in my pocket. It’s totally cool”

Andie: It’s not going to spray you in the eyes.

Travis: Like, it’s not a switchblade. She looked at it like I’d pulled out a stilleto knife that was like a foot long…The number of times in my life that I find it is convenient to have some kind of small blade—I’m not talking about carrying around a machete or anything. But someone is like “Oh, I gotta open this,” or “hey, can you get this packaging open,” or—

Andie: Hey, I’m gonna eat an apple!

Travis: Yeah, where I’m just like, fwhoop fwhoop, there ya go.

Same thing happens to me on a pretty regular basis: evidently, pocketknives are scary

OCD Tiger

28 January 2015

Dan Benjamin on Back to Work episode 204, with some cleanup of uhs, ums, and false starts:

The whole crux of the OCD thing is that you know the fears that you have are irrational, and that the things that you’re afraid of are essentially impossible, but that doesn’t change the reality of the fear. This is the way that I would explain OCD to people, is that there is a loved one on the other side of the room who needs your help desperately, but there is a large tiger loose in the room in between you and them. And, that’s very real. That sensation of like, I need to get over there, but I can’t get over there to do this thing that’s really important, because there’s this tiger in the way that’s blocking me. But, I can get rid of the tiger if I do these things.

None of this makes sense to somebody without OCD. It’s almost a memory thing, in a way. Frequently for people, it’s locking the doors, leaving an iron on, something like that. So like, let’s say you iron a shirt in the morning. And you might say to yourself, OK, I’m going to put the iron away, but before I put it away, I’m going to unplug it, I’m going to let it cool down. So I don’t start a fire, I’m going to put it up on the marble countertop. But I’m going to face it toward the wall so that, you know, a kid doesn’t come around and touch it. OK, so it’s there. And then later, you see it and you wrap it up, right? You touch it, it’s cool, you wrap it up, you put it up on the shelf. You’re like, OK, I’ve done that, it’s fine now. And maybe now—well, I just want to check that before I leave, to make sure that I did that, because even though I remember putting it on the counter top, turning it a certain way, wrapping up the cable, putting it into the thing, I’ve just got to double-check it. And then you’re in your car and you’re like, well wait a minute: did I do that or was that the last time that I ironed?

It’s like a memory thing. It’s like the thing that a normal person would be able to say, like, yeah, I did that, I checked it. For you, you’ve got to check it again. And now you’re halfway to work, and you’re like ummm…did I unplug the iron or did I leave it on? I should go back—I need to go back home and do it.

There’s this tiger in the way.

My strategy for a while was to come up with a word that I would be unlikely to use day-to-day, and assign that to some action. For example, I lock the car doors, and I think to myself: “Octothorp.” Then, three hours later, when I wake up in bed wondering if I left the car open, I can think to myself: “Nope. Octothorp.”

In short order, though, this led to the same problem: “Wait, was octothorp today or was that the last time I got out of the car?” After getting out of bed to make sure the car was locked in the middle of a couple different nights, I mostly managed to convince myself that it doesn’t really matter, and if someone is going to steal stuff out of the car, then that’s just life.

How To Join A Community

20 January 2015

Local game nerd Benedict Fritz nailed it with this one. I was going to include a quote here, but realized I wanted to copy-paste the entire thing, so just go read it there.

Benedict dscribes exactly what my experience has been. In the Drupal community in DC and the iOS community in Chicago, I just kept coming back and eventually got to know the core group really well. In the iOS community in Denver, I went to a couple events, but felt out of place and didn’t bother going back. It’s entirely possible that I might have gotten to know the group there just as well as I have in Chicago, but I submit that the iOS folks in Chicago and the Drupal folks in DC are both friendlier and more welcoming than the iOS folks in Denver were, at least the few times I went.

I’ve also been on the other end. Now that I know a bunch of people at the Chicago iOS events, I tend to spend most of the social time catching up with people that I only see once a month, and less time getting to know new people. It’s something one has to be intentional about, and be conscious of the fact that it’s important to welcome new people who might not come back if they have an unpleasant experience or two.

Homebrewing without becoming one of Those Guys

19 January 2015

I really like brewing beer, and I really don’t want to become one of those homebrewers.

I joined a local homebrew club back in May, thanks my friend Lucas (the only person I knew in Chicago when I moved here). I’d always wanted to try brewing, and finally got into it because he’s on the board and talked me into coming to one of the quarterly parties (aside: it shouldn’t take much convincing to get me to a party with a bunch of beer and friendly people, but I was saying no to a lot of things and being generally anti-social for a long time there).

Anyway, I joined the club, and I’m really glad I did. For one thing, I’d only met a few people in the city when I joined. Through the club, I’ve met a whole bunch of people, and have become closer friends with some. For another, I learned a whole lot about brewing really quickly. I can only imagine how I’d be doing if I tried figuring this all out on my own at home; having a bunch of experienced brewers around has been invaluable.

And I’ve found that I really, really enjoy brewing. As I’ve become more comfortable with the process, I enjoy doing it a lot more—at least partly because I don’t spend the entire time worried that I’m forgetting something. Plus, it’s a great excuse to hang out with people and sample beer that other people have brewed and put on tap at our brewhouse. As far as we know, we’re the only homebrew club in the country with a dedicated, shared brewhouse, and having all that shared equipment (and a concrete floor that can be hosed down) makes the entire process so much easier. Price-wise, it probably doesn’t work out in the long term: if I saved the money I’m spending on membership and spent it on my own equipment, I’d probably break even in a year or two. But, it’s well worth the cost to have club members to hang out with, the space to brew in, a reason to get out of the house on a regular basis, and a hobby that isn’t basically the same thing I do for a living every day.

But, the point here is that I don’t want to become one of those people that’s obnoxious about homebrewing. Homebrewers tend to be categorized among marathoners and vegans and people who have rescued a shelter dog or do Crossfit. I have honestly tried to keep my trap shut about it, beyond the “yeah I’ve been getting into brewing,” because holy crap no one cares. Once in a while, someone will ask me more about it, but I’m really trying to avoid being one of those overbearing twits, and I hope you’ll help keep me honest.

Everything Is Awesome When Your Car Drives You

06 January 2015

(I just watched The Lego Movie and that song is going to be in my head for a month)

Let’s be very clear about something: self-driving cars are going to be awesome. I do not mean awesome like a hot dog, I mean awesome like a hundred billion hot dogs, because it’s going to change the way we do everything.

The Oatmeal recently did a comic about Google’s self-driving cars, and I’m happy to know I’m not the only one who’s completely enthralled by this idea, because this is something I’ve been excited about for a long time.

I love the idea of not paying any attention to the road when I’m going somewhere. It’ll be like riding in a cab, all of the time, but with fewer terrifying lane changes and cursing at pedestrians. You get in, you say “Take me to work” (whether you actually say that or hit some buttons is irrelevant), and then you sit back and read your book until you arrive at your space-lawyer’s office, where you do space-law because it’s the future. Then you tell the car to head home and re-charge until it needs to swing by the school to pick up your kids and deposit them at their space-oboe lesson or whatever. Or, for those of us who don’t have kids, you tell it to go home and wait until you summon it to the hyper-bar because you’ve had too many of those cocktails made with ice cubes from the water we brought back from Mars (we’re still in the future here, remember?).

More importantly, you probably won’t even have a car, because why would we all need our own cars? Most cars spend like 95% of every day just sitting idle in a garage or parking spot or whatever—why do we all need our own? Before long, there will be a handful of companies (or, god help us, just Uber) operating robotic taxi fleets: hit a button and a car pulls up, ready to take you wherever. Chances are good you won’t have to wait long, because almost every car out there will be serving these requests.

Then go one step further: how could these cars affect public transit? Busses no longer make much sense: why send one big vehicle to make lots of stops along one route, when you could have a dozen zipping around wherever they need to be? I imagine it would be like requesting a taxi, except you tell it where you want to go and how many of you are going. The network groups together people going in the same general direction from the same general area (or at least on the way from A to B) and makes four or five stops to grab each of them, and then again to drop them all at their destinations. If you’re willing to pay more, you get a private cab, the same way that taxis are different from the bus right now. Light rail will probably still make sense, just from a capacity standpoint, especially in big cities where those systems are already well established. For smaller cities, though, a fleet of cars could provide access to areas that are ill-served by current infrastructure.

Coupled with the kind of robots that already build our cars and pick the items in our Amazon-branded cardboard boxes, these cars will have similar effects on the shipping industry. Larger trucks can be automated to drive cross-country, with stops only to swap batteries. Local deliveries can happen same-day, with a fleet of smaller cars making more deliveries than a UPS truck possibly could.

The downside, of course, is that it will be a net loss for the job market, and not an equivalent replacement of jobs either: lots of driving jobs will be replaced by a small number of engineering jobs. Then again, once enough of this is automated, none of us should have to work more than a few hours a week—in theory. They’ve been predicting that with every major technological breakthrough for generations, so there’s no reason to believe that the progress made between here and a faceless postal carrier will solve the problem.

Still: I look forward to hopping in a car and taking a nap while it drives me to Milwaukee to visit friends for the weekend, and not wondering every Saturday night if I’m going to be hit by a drunk while I’m crossing the street, and not hearing about yearly traffic fatalities in the thirty-thousand range. That seems like a good thing to me.

Yosemite Is Garbage

06 January 2015

Marco, in Apple has lost the functional high ground, widely quoted just about everywhere already:

“It just works” was never completely true, but I don’t think the list of qualifiers and asterisks has ever been longer. We now need to treat Apple’s OS and application releases with the same extreme skepticism and trepidation that conservative Windows IT departments employ.


I switched to Macs over a decade ago because a few friends told me how great they were for coding. I stuck with them because they were reliable. That is no longer the case, by a long shot. Quality has been going downhill for a few years, but Yosemite is driving me bonkers: it logs me out every 6 to 48 hours, like a soft crash that doesn’t result in a full restart. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s so goddamned irritating, and damn sure not how it’s supposed to work. If I didn’t spend my days in Xcode, I’d be considering a switch.

Re-usable Rockets

05 January 2015

This is pretty cool:

But this time, the company will attempt to land the first stage of the rocket intact on a barge floating in the Atlantic Ocean. After the booster falls away and the second stage continues pushing the payload to orbit, its engines will reignite to turn it around and guide it to a spot about 200 miles east of Jacksonville, Fla.

“We’ve been able to soft-land the rocket booster in the ocean twice so far,” Mr. Musk said. “Unfortunately, it sort of sat there for several seconds, then tipped over and exploded. It’s quite difficult to reuse at that point.”

Mr. Musk put the chances of success at 50 percent or less. But, he added, over the dozen or so flights scheduled for this year, “I think it’s quite likely, 80 to 90 percent likely, that one of those flights will be able to land and refly.”

Social Media Vacation

04 January 2015

A few months ago, I decided to take a break from social media, and it was one of the better decisions I made last year.

Twitter and Facebook are, for the most part, aggravating and infuriating and only a little bit entertaining—at least, they were the way I was using them. I followed and friended anyone and everyone, which meant I saw some funny stuff, some relevant industry stuff, some news about far-away friends, and a whole bunch of bad news and generally awful reactions to it. This was not doing me any good.

Furthermore, I knew that taking a break from Twitter was the right thing to do because for weeks after cutting myself off, I caught myself articulating every thought as succinctly and cleverly as I could, mentally editing my observations so they could fit into 140 characters. Other times, I would compulsively pull out my phone and then just stare at it, like “…what was I doing with this again?” As I said in my post back in October, Twitter had become something of an addiction, and I was discovering how true that was.

From Deleting the iPad DJ:

I am part of a peer group referred to as Generation Z, but it may be more fitting to name us Generation Me Me Me. We obsess over sharing and oversharing ourselves. We feel obligated to constantly connect. The dopamine fires in our brains, and we’re hooked. Every time we update our status and text our friends, we feed a very real chemical addiction to social media.

From Reboot or Die Trying:

Those early days of screenlessness were bewildering. My mind, wound up like a top for years, continued spinning. I experienced sporadic surges of angst and adrenaline, sure I was supposed to be doing… something. I’d pull my phone out every few minutes, even though no one was e-mailing me and I’d uninstalled all social-media apps. The habits and mental agitations of digital work life persisted like phantom limbs.

My symptoms were testament to the power of what psychologists call variable intermittent reinforcement. Famed behaviorist B. F. Skinner discovered long ago that if you really want to ingrain a habit, you encourage it with rewards that arrive at variable times, in variable sizes. The lab rat knows that it will periodically be given food for pressing the lever, but not exactly when or how much. The result: a compulsive rat.

It’s the same with humans. Variable intermittent reinforcement explains why slot machines are so enthralling, why video games contain hidden caches of coins or weapons, and why we’re all helpless before our e-mail accounts. One time you check your inbox and there’s a single new message, from LinkedIn, which reminds you that you can’t figure out how to delete your LinkedIn account. Sad face. The next time you check, you have five new messages, including one from an old friend and another from a potential employer. Happy face! So you check, check, check.

We online denizens come to need these regular low-level jolts and get antsy without them. That’s why I was tweeting in the bathroom. That’s why your friends around the table at the bar are all staring at their phones. Ordinary life has come to seem torpid and drab relative to the cascade of affirmations we find in contingent online communication.

Because social groups coalesce and plan online, even brief screenless periods breed FOMO, the fear of missing out.

Yep. At first, I didn’t feel like I was missing much: as it turns out, it wasn’t the updates from friends that were addicting, it was the gratification of posting something funny and racking up the faves and likes (which is, frankly, an incredibly depressing metric for self-worth).

The FOMO only came later: I started peeking into Facebook a little more regularly, mostly to check for event invitations and the like, but even then, I’d catch myself skimming my timeline and getting aggravated about things all over again.

At some point, I realized that I just needed to be more judicious about what I saw. Staying away from Twitter and Facebook altogether just wasn’t working: I was a lot more relaxed than I had been when I felt like I needed to keep up on everything, but I’d moved to the other end of the spectrum and was keeping up on nothing. I felt like I was missing out on everything.

So, at the end of October, I unfollowed just about everyone. I’m not sure when they did it, but Facebook added an option to unfollow someone so that you don’t see their posts, but remain friends. This seemed like a nice middle ground for me, since I still like to check in on people now and then, and don’t want to block them from seeing what I post. I also un-friended a bunch of people (mostly those I had met once at a party in college or something like that), and marked some more as an “acquaintance,” so they don’t see most of my stuff.

On both Facebook and Twitter, the list of people I now follow is almost exclusively people I know here in Chicago. This is a stark contrast to what I once used Facebook for, and how I think many people still do: for keeping in touch with friends who no longer live close by. Now, I mostly follow the people that I see regularly anyway, so I don’t need social media to hear what’s going on in their lives…but I still like to hear what they’re up to, to catch the jokes in the office, to hear about events going on around here. It helps, too, that the folks I still follow are not the people who I would have been arguing with before, nor the ones who post much about the news.

The downside, of course, is that I’m barely keeping up with distant friends now, but I think that’s OK. Really, there’s only a handful of old friends that I actively keep up with, who I chat with over IM or email every once in a while or see semi-regularly because they happen to travel a lot or whatever. For almost everyone else, I’m just out of the loop until they happen to find themselves in Chicago, or I in their town, and we get together for a drink and catch up on the past several years. I’m OK with this. I don’t think any of us needs to be fully up-to-date on the daily lives of everyone we’ve ever been friends with, and it’s kind of nice to see someone for the first time in a while and really mean it when you say, “Fill me in, what have you been up to?”

I’ve been posting now and then to both Twitter and Facebook, and will continue to do so, but I’m going to be mindful of how much I’m posting and why. For a long time, Twitter was just a running output of my thoughts, all the time, and no one needs that (nor did they at the time). I also know I need to just avoid politics, because it never ends well (he wrote, moments after sharing a snarky image on his timeline [sigh]).

I’m working on it.