Meditation Progress

It’s probably overkill to be posting an update on my progress with meditation, since my last post on the subject was less than a week ago. But I’m trying to stick with it, and obsessing about it a little. Obsessing about something that’s supposed to help me calm down and relax is probably counter-productive, but it’s my way. I managed to meditate four times last week, for about 10 minutes each time. I finished the meditation essentials series in the Meditation Studio app.

I think I have a basic idea of how this stuff works now, but I don’t quite feel like I’m ready to just set a timer and sit quietly yet. And I’m not sure if I want to continue with the Meditation Studio app. So I’m trying a different app now, Insight Timer. I started their seven-day intro course today. I’m guessing it’s going to go over a lot of the same ideas I’ve already gone through in Meditation Studio, but the point is just to have something to reinforce the basics as I try to establish the habit.

There’s a lot of content in Insight Timer, but it’s a pretty messy app, in some ways. But it works. It’s a free app, and has a lot of free content. There’s an interesting post on Medium from the current owner of the app. I hope his approach to generating income from it works. In a nutshell, he’s not trying to switch everybody to a paid subscription. He’s offering a couple of features, like offline listening, as relatively inexpensive subscriptions. And he’s offering some content for sale, via one-time purchase. So I think I can probably use the app for free for now, without any worries. If I want to pay for features and/or content later, I can, but I don’t have to worry about ponying up for a one-year subscription any time soon.

Internet Annoyances

I’ve been getting increasingly annoyed with my cable TV and internet provider, Optimum. I vented a bit about them last year, and I guess it’s time to vent some more. In addition to all of the other things that bug me about them, they’ve just added a new one: ad injection. I was browsing on my iPad last night, and got a giant banner ad from Optimum, patting themselves on the back for giving me a free trial of The Movie Channel. This is on a page that would not normally have ads. Then, this morning, I got another banner ad from Optimum, on my desktop computer, again on a page that shouldn’t have had any ads.

I did some searching, and yep, I’m not the only one seeing this. Here a DSL Reports thread about it. (TL;DR: Apparently, HTTPS Everywhere might solve it.)

I’ve seen ads from them on my phone, while using their WiFi hotspots, and that’s annoying, but not unexpected. But doing this on my home internet service is pretty horrible behavior. I haven’t experimented much, but I guess the ad blocker that I use on iOS doesn’t catch this, nor does uBlock Origin or Privacy Badger on my desktop. I think that being on my VPN might help, since I haven’t seen this on my Mac, and I have that set up so that it’s (almost) always connected to the VPN. And I think I still have my router configured to use Optimum’s DNS servers. I should probably change that, even if that won’t help with this particular problem.

Earlier this week, I read a good post on Troy Hunt’s blog about Pi-Hole. I’ve thought about setting up a Pi-Hole box on my network before, but it always seemed like it would be overkill. Maybe not, though, if my ISP can’t be trusted to leave my web browsing alone. It’s bad enough that they email me and call me, trying to up-sell me on faster internet service and more expensive TV packages. Now, that’s not enough, and they need to shove ads into my browser too. Ugh. (I’m not sure if Pi-Hole would actually help with this issue either, but it seems like it might be a good idea.)

So I guess that’s my venting for today. Optimum is the only option I have for internet access. (Verizon Fios is an option in my area, but my building isn’t wired for it.) And internet access isn’t really something someone in my profession can do without. So I guess I’m stuck with them for now.

giving meditation another try

I blogged back in January that I was going to give meditation a try this year. I got off to a slow start with that, then pretty much gave up on it back in April or thereabouts. Well, I’m going to try again.

I still have two books on meditation waiting to be read: 10% Happier and Search Inside Yourself. (The Great American Read group that I’m in on Goodreads has really sidetracked all my other reading.)

I was using the Meditation Studio app (mentioned in my January post) to try to learn meditation, and I guess I’m going to pick back up on that. I had finished their starter series, and am now partway through the meditation essentials series. My short-term goal is to do one meditation from that series every weeknight this week. We’ll see how that goes.

I’ve noticed that Meditation Studio was recently acquired by the company that makes the Muse headband, which worries me a little. Muse seems like a bit of a gimmick, while Meditation Studio seems like more of a serious no-nonsense app. So we’ll see if they keep the app as-is, or mess it up.

I still haven’t signed up for a paid subscription to the app. As a legacy customer, I can subscribe for $24/year. (The regular rate right now is $50/year.) Some of the more popular meditation apps, like Headspace, cost around $100/year. (You’d think an app that just helps you sit quietly for a few minutes wouldn’t need to be so expensive…) I should probably hold off on paying for anything until I see if I can stick with it for more than a few days.

Somerset Patriots season over

I purchased two seats for a 13-game “mini-plan” for Somerset Patriots games this year, as a sort of experiment. I first went to a Patriots game in 2014, and I’ve been going to more games over the last few years. Only a few games a year, but I’ve enjoyed them. For this year, they offered a 13-game mini-plan that got you some of the benefits of being a season ticket holder, but for just 13 games (for the cost of about 10 single tickets). The games were spread throughout the season. Some were pretty random weekday games, and some were weekend games with fireworks or giveaways. My (overly optimistic) plan was that I’d use one seat myself and give the other to a friend who I know is a big Patriots fan, but who can’t afford tickets that often. What actually happened was that my friend couldn’t make it to most of the games on the plan, so I traded in most of his tickets for other games, and never actually saw him this year. (And I think at least half of his tickets didn’t get used.) As to my own tickets, I only made it to seven or eight games. So I didn’t really come out ahead, financially, versus buying just individual tickets to the games.

One of the benefits of the plan was that it included free playoff tickets, if the Patriots made it to the playoffs. They did, and the “Liberty Division Championship Series” was this weekend. The first two games were in Long Island, and the LI Ducks won both of those. Games three through five were here in NJ and the Patriots, of course, would have to win all three. They did win games 3 and 4 (which I missed). I went to game 5 yesterday, but they lost. So their season is over. Thinking back on it, I’m glad I got out to more games this year than usual.

I don’t know if I’ll try for that 13-game plan again next year, but I might. It’s weird going to a baseball game alone, but not as weird as I thought it would be. And it’s nice to get out of the apartment and sit outside for a while on a summer day. The games are honestly not that exciting, generally, but it’s a chance to get some fresh air and relax, without thinking too much about work or politics or anything.

SSD upgrade, part two

I finished my SSD upgrade last week. (Here’s part one and part zero of the SSD saga.) The bracket showed up in the mail, so I opened the case up, took out the drive cage, screwed everything together, buttoned it all back up and… it all worked. It took me a while to figure out how to orient the bracket in the cage, but once I figured that out, it was easy enough.

The old spinning hard drive is now a secondary drive, and not giving me any problems. I’ll probably reformat it soon so I can use it as a backup drive. The new SSD is working great. The machine boots faster and loads programs a lot faster.

I’m not sure why I held off on doing the SSD upgrade for so long. I know my excuse is that I was waiting for prices to come down on 1 TB SSDs, but I could have done this a year ago, and they wouldn’t have been that much more expensive, really.

Oh well. I’m hoping this upgrade will help me keep this PC usable for a few more years. I don’t want to have to replace it any time soon.

Five years of losing it

I just realized today that I’ve recently hit the five-year mark since I decided to start losing weight. Here’s a blog post from five years ago today where I discuss my initial progress. (I didn’t mention my starting weight in that post, but it was 230 pounds.)

I’m still tracking all of my meals with Lose It, and I still subscribe to their premium version. I’m including a graph of my weight over the last five years here. So far this year, I’ve basically maintained my weight at 135 (+/- 2 pounds). I’m pretty comfortable at this weight, so that’s fine. (Though I’d kind of like to get down to 130, just so that I can say I lost an even 100 pounds. But that’s probably not a good idea.)

The green line on the graph is from the last time I set an actual goal weight in Lose It: 160 pounds. Once I hit that weight, I stopped actively trying to lose weight, and just kind of let things go until I bottomed out at a stable weight, which, for me, is apparently 135. I’m sticking with a goal of about 2100 calories per day, and I’m usually right around there (+/- 200).

I’ve also done well on the exercise front, at least in terms of step count. I almost always hit at least 7500 steps a day and often go over 10,000. I never really did adopt any other exercise habits though. I never joined a gym or anything like that.

I don’t really have any profound weight loss insights to share here. If you’re looking to lose weight, different things are going to work for different people. For me, I think this is the stuff that was key:

  • Tracking all of my calories. Anything less than that makes it too easy to trick yourself into thinking you’re doing well, when it fact you’re still eating way too much.
  • Packing my own lunch every day and not going out for lunch anymore. (I still go out occasionally, but maybe just once or twice a month.) It’s not hard to do, if you can figure out a few things you like to eat that stay within your calorie budget and aren’t hard to prepare and toss in a bag every day.
  • Drinking mostly water. I’ve just about stopped drinking juice, beer, soda, and sweetened iced tea. (I still drink a lot of coffee, but there aren’t many calories in that, if you don’t load it up with milk and sugar.)
  • In addition to the Lose It book I mentioned in the original post, this book on Volumetrics was pretty useful too.

NYCC 2018 – one month away

New York Comic Con is just about a month away. I bought my tickets back in June, and got tickets for all four days this year. (Last year, I only went on two days.)

I also bought a ticket for the Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibit at the New York Historical Society, for Friday of the con. This isn’t related to the con, but just happens to open on the same weekend. There may be a few other related (or not exactly related) events that I’ll try to get to during the con.

I dithered a lot on whether or not I should book a hotel room. I’d pretty much decided against it, and was going to just take the train in each day, but then changed my mind this weekend. So now I’ve booked a room for Thursday through Sunday. That’s a bit of a compromise, since I was initially looking to get a room from Wednesday night through Monday, so I’d have the room for all four days of the con. But hotel rooms in Manhattan are expensive, and three nights is easier to justify than five nights. So the plan now is to take the train in on Thursday morning, drop my stuff off at the hotel, go to the con, then come back and check in later in the day. Then, I’ll check out Sunday morning and leave my bags at the hotel, go to the con, then pick them up later and take the train home Sunday night. Here’s hoping that all works out and doesn’t backfire in some way.

The excuse I used to talk myself into paying for the hotel is basically that I haven’t taken any other significant vacation this year, and the year is almost over now. I did stay in NYC for two nights in March, when I went to see Cursed Child, but that’s about it. So three nights in October won’t kill my checking account, and it’ll be a nice break.

I’ve started looking at the panel schedule for the con. There’s a lot going on! I kind of wish they had a downloadable PDF of the schedule. The interface they have for browsing it isn’t great, and their site is pretty slow. (The auto-playing video in the page header isn’t helping.) I do like that you can add panels to a personal schedule, and then print it out later. (I may have spoken too soon on that… I remember being able to print out the schedule last year, but I just checked and I don’t see any easy way to do it now. So I may be adding a bunch of stuff to a schedule that I can only view online. Ugh.) Well, either way, there’s plenty of interesting stuff going on, so I should be able to have a pretty good time.

SSD upgrade, part one

Amazon’s same-day delivery got me my new Crucial MX500 SSD at around 6pm yesterday. It came in minimal packaging: no screws or cables or anything useful, just a 7mm to 9.5mm spacer (which I don’t think I’ll need). I found a spare SATA cable in my random cable box. And I managed to figure out a somewhat questionable way to mount it in my PC case with a single screw, temporarily. If it was actually an old-fashioned spinning hard drive, this would be a risky way to do it, but for an SSD, it should be fine.

The PC recognized the drive with no issues. I then installed the Acronis software from Crucial and cloned my old drive to the SSD. That took about two hours. (I’d assumed it would take much longer. And it probably would have, if I’d hooked up the drive via USB instead of mounting it internally.)

After that, I opened the PC case back up, unplugged the old drive, and plugged the new drive into the SATA 0 port on the motherboard. After that, I buttoned it back up and booted it. Surprisingly, everything worked. I’m really suspicious about that, since these things rarely go without a hitch. But hey, maybe I got lucky, just this once…

The next task is going to be mounting the drive correctly, with the bracket I ordered yesterday. So I’ll probably do that Monday night, or at some point during the week. And after that, I’ll hook the old drive back up, reformat it, and start using it as an internal backup disk. I’m hoping to do that next weekend.

So far, the drive seems to have done what I’d hoped for: The machine boots faster and everything loads much faster. If I don’t hit any snags, I may actually allow myself a moment of satisfaction and perhaps even happiness! (Well, maybe not happiness.) I’m hoping that this upgrade allows me to hold onto this PC for a couple of more years. I’d like to see it last until 2020 or 2021 maybe.

Finally upgrading to an SSD

I’ve been thinking about replacing the old hard drive in my desktop PC with an SSD for quite some time. I bought the PC in 2016, from Costco. It’s a Dell XPS 8900, with a 1TB 7200RPM SATA drive in it. Other than the old-fashioned spinning hard drive, it’s a reasonably powerful machine. But I think the hard drive is really slowing it down.

Until recently, 1 TB SSDs seemed a bit too expensive, so I thought about sticking a 500 GB SSD in it, using that as a boot drive, and keeping the old 1 TB drive for “miscellaneous data” (photos, music, video files, etc). But thinking about all the grief involved in doing a clean install of Windows 10 on the 500 GB drive, then reinstalling apps and moving stuff around, sounded like too much work.

It looks like 1 TB SSDs have finally come down to a price that seems reasonable to me, so I went ahead and ordered one today. I got a Crucial MX500 from Amazon for $189. I’d looked at it earlier this year, and it was $250 then. I thought about it at that price, but didn’t talk myself into it. I guess $189 is finally low enough to push me over the edge and get past my indecision. I also ordered this mounting bracket, though I’m not sure I need it. And the drive was eligible for free same-day shipping, so I should have it today. (The bracket won’t show up until Monday though.)

So my plan is to hook it up tomorrow and image the old drive to the new one. I figure that should take all day. I’ll use the version of Acronis True Image that Crucial includes with the drive. I have an external dock I can use to hook it up via USB, or I can try to mount it internally, if that’s possible without the bracket. Then, maybe Monday night, I’ll try to boot from it, with the old drive unplugged. If that works, then I’ll give it a couple of weeks and see how it goes. If everything is OK, I’ll plug the old drive back it, format it, and use it as a backup drive.

I’m wondering if Windows 10 is going to give me any grief about having moved to a new drive. I’ve occasionally heard tales of people having issues when they try to transfer an OEM copy of Windows 10 to a new drive, even if they’re using it in the same PC. If I do, I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.