Taking Notes.

I’ve always taken a keen interest in note-taking in general and recently I’ve been obsessed with how other people do it.

There tends to be a push toward avoiding information silos while at the same time making your content available or at least putting it online where it can be found, (even if you specifically aren’t writing for mass consumption).

As for me, I keep see-sawing between the convenience and ubiquity of online silos and the “privacy” of self-hosting.

I’ve gone from keeping all my notes in a single text file (not quite as ambitious as this, but close) to a private dokuwiki, back to individual text files to moving them all online to my Google Drive.

Currently, I am migrating most of my notes out of Google a into a single folder of markdown files managed by Joplin, an open-source note solution that allows you to sync your notes to a back-end you control (Dropbox or better yet, NextCloud).

I like self hosting because

1. There’s a matter of some pride in saying “I built/maintain this” (even if if is an open-source project from github) and

2. There’s no chance of a big company closing up shop or switching from free to a paid or subscription model on you.

I’ve discovered that while I’d love to say I’ve been managing my notes in a single location for years, the truth is what keeps my note-taking process interesting useful is migrating it periodically. Migrating allows me to updates notes, combine notes and prune old notes. With each iteration of my notes system I have left a little pile of notes behind. A collection of notes that no longer serve me and can be discarded.

But make no mistake, so far, self-hosting is still a lot of work. Maintaining your own backups and updating your platforms. Patching bugs and working around limitations takes up a lot of time. But in the end – is it all worth it?

I’m still trying to answer that question.

Until the next system comes along.

Taking Control

A year ago next month I was diagnosed with fatty liver disease. If left untreated I was looking at the possibility of a liver transplant in the next few years. I was morbidly obese and racked with inflammation. My back, legs, and feet hurt all the time. The skin on my legs was discolored and my neck and shoulders had broken out in dozens of skin tags and dark moles. What I didn’t know at the time was that I was a metabolic disaster. And my liver was screaming at me since I wasn’t listening to the rest of my body.

My primary care practitioner offered me a pamphlet for a bariatric surgeon. It seemed that she thought surgery was my only hope.

I had found my rock bottom. I was determined to do it without surgery. I decided to turn it around.

I had my annual summer checkup this morning.

Every one of my metabolic markers (liver, kidneys, cholesterol, glucose) is within the normal range for the first time in probably more than 15 years.

No more blood pressure meds, I’m no longer pre-diabetic, and no more sleeping with a CPAP machine.

In just over 10 months I’ve lost 115 pounds (from 334 lbs pounds to 219 lbs) without exercise. I’ve reduced my arthritis, my skin has cleared up and even the bald spot on my head is filling in!

It’s not easy, but it is simple: stop eating sugar and processed junk. No sugar, no bread, no pasta, no rice. Eat like a caveman – meat and vegetables. Lots of salad. Full fat butter. Heavy cream. Bacon! Just avoid added sugar.

There are plenty of low-carb sweets out there if you just can’t take it anymore. But don’t overdo it.

I will turn 50 this year and I will do it weighing less than I did when I turned 40.

In less than a year I have turned my life around and taken control.

It’s about time.

Gonna need some new shorts
I’ve been donating a lot of old clothes
Weight Loss Journey
This before pic was from a couple years ago. I had gotten bigger before I decided to do something about it.
At one point I bought a new wedding ring since I almost had to have this one cut off. Since then I may have to buy another new ring because the original has become too big.

The Century Mark

That's 100 pounds!

Yesterday morning I achieved the century mark in weight loss. After stalling at 90-something pounds down since the beginning of the year, yesterday I officially lost 100 pounds! I said that when I saw 234 on the scale I would take a picture and post it on Facebook and make a big deal out of it.

Well here’s the picture. There has yet to be a Facebook post. Or a big deal.

Not to belittle this achievement in the slightest – but, it felt very natural. Even after stalling and feeling like I was never going to lose pounds again.

This weekend was the first time in recent memory I sent a non-empty plate back to the kitchen at a restaurant. I had only one serving at dinner because I honestly did not want more.

It’s taken seven months to start to train my brain to see smaller portions and my stomach to accept them. Even recently, I still had anxiety when seeing a plate of food in front of me that wasn’t heaping. “That’s not enough” my brain would automatically cry. Even though it was enough. By the time the plate was empty, I was satisfied.

At home, Carrie would ask “How many hamburgers do you want?” While last year I would easily answer “three!” in the last several months I’ve learned to say “two, please!”. Well, yesterday I said, “One.” I realized that very much like my knee-jerk reaction to seeing a not-full plate, my brain could not accept that only one piece of anything would be enough. But again, it was.

I am enjoying feeling not-bloated, not-full and a little bit hungry at almost all times.

The needle of the scale is moving again and that’s a good thing. But the bigger achievement this weekend was my awareness of how much I want to eat.

And it’s a lot smaller than it used to be. Like me.

Get off my (digital) lawn!

The year was 1994.

I was working apartment maintenance and had a healthy interest in computers. I also had a IBM XT knockoff in my apartment connected to a 56K modem.

One of the benefits of apartment maintenance is the lost and found that occurs when people move out quickly. Things of value usually get stored in case the owner comes back for them. But certain items become the property of the maintenance staff.

And that was me in 1994.

I told you that story so I could tell you how I came to possess the June 1994 issue of Playboy (the one with Jenny McCarthy on the cover).

Inside that issue was an article (yes, I read the articles!) “Confessions of an Internet Junkie” by J. C. Herz

I was thrilled to read someone else’s experience of early 90’s internet. Pre web browsers, pre GUIs, pre everything, the internet was a fledgling monster just getting it’s footing.

Like the author, I spent hours pouring over USENET and scrolling text. I discovered MUDs and IRC and the world outside of Cleveland, OH. I chatted late into the night with fellow gamers and MUD IMPs.

A quote from the article that still sticks with me perfectly sums up the wild west of the internet back then:

“Log off. Go to fridge and open it in hopes that something new and zany has materialized. It hasn’t. Go back to computer and log on in hopes that something new and zany has materialized. It has.”

J C Herz – Confessions of an Internet Junkie

Never before in my life had I had access to such untapped information. Like a fire-hose pointed at a teacup, I couldn’t hold all the information the internet offered me.

Over the years the information has tripled and quadrupled ten-fold times a thousand. Google has made it easier to find the information. Point and click interfaces make it child’s play to get what you want from the internet. No doubt the internet has improved. And will continue to do so.

But every now and then I get nostalgic for the “good old days” of white text on a black screen. IRC chats and pillaging the inhabitants of Midgaard.

You know what was better back then? If you met someone on-line – the odds were good that they knew something about technology. IRC chats were filled with users who knew how to download and configure clients, set their modems and log in. MUDs were populated by script writers that built rooms to add to the MUD and code that improved the MUD. Web pages loaded fast (since they were all text) and contained no ads or viruses. FTP servers brimmed with shareware and text files and the occasional nude .gif file.

Lest I sound like a grumpy old denizen of the internet evoking noobs to “get off my lawn” I’ll admit I have low interest in some of the new technology.

Nowadays I’ve embraced Facebook and am reluctantly participating in Instagram. I have a smartphone and accounts on multiple social media sites.

I’m the tech support option for my family and most of my friends.

I’ve got a server at home. I store my stuff “in the cloud”. (Well, it’s my cloud)

But I also have my Weechat IRC client open most of the day in a terminal window and I keep my config files on my FTP server. Once in a while I log into a MUD and rampage the online world via text. Sometimes there’s someone else online there, too.

I’m glad the internet is moving us forward. But I miss the good old days.

P.S. Wanna read the article? I’ve found it! Slightly NSFW because of the preserved ads on the pages.

Fret Master Beta

In 1998 I wrote the only piece of software I had intended other people to see. I wrote it in Visual Basic 4. It’s a guitar fret board mapping program. Pick a note and a scale and click a button – it’ll show you where those notes are on the fret board. It was fun and useful but really basic and lacked a lot of features. But I made it and I was proud to give it away. At some point a website called Harmony Central got a hold of it. I might have uploaded it or maybe someone else did, I don’t remember. In any event, Harmony Central was a very popular music site that contained a lot of resources for musicians including sheet music, tablature and software. Fret Master made it into the listing.

For years I’d find links to Fret Master all over the world (all linking back to Harmony Central) and I even got some email praise for it.

Eventually, freeware (and shareware) sort of fell out of popularity. I also switched internet providers so the email address distributed with the program no longer worked.

A couple years ago, on a whim, I searched for Fret Master and was shocked to find a bunch of really old links still pointing to the Harmony Central site that hosted it. All the links were dead. But then I thought to try the Internet Archive (archive.org) and was surprised to be able to download a copy of Fret Master Beta 3 (circa 1998).

I double-clicked on the .exe file only to be greeted by a crash screen in Windows 10. Something about not being able to access the registry. Damn. Then I thought “What about WINE?” Hey! It works in WINE!

My dumb little program that made it’s way around the world has found it’s way home.

Fret Master Beta 3.0 (circa 1998)

SELinux is the devil

I always use CentOS in the cloud because it’s stable and awesome for server-grade applications (web server, webdav, samba…etc)  I use Ubuntu or a Debian derivative on the desktop because the packages are more up to date and I don’t mind living on the edge at home.  (Plus – interacting with  CentOS and Ubuntu both on a daily basis keeps me sharp!)

So I tweeted this recently:

Spent two hours troubleshooting strange Apache behavior on a new VM before discovering SELinux was enforcing. Fuuuuuucccccckkkkkk! I gotta stop disabling SELinux and learn to set it up properly

TL;DR: …because I forgot to disable SELinux on the new VPS. 

There’s nothing more frustrating that performing rote operations that have worked 100 times before only to be stopped cold for no obvious reason.

I have another VPS set up almost the same (same OS – CentOS 7) and I kept comparing directory structures and installed packages wondering why everything was working on the old machine but not the new one.

After an entirely unacceptable amount of time (unacceptable to me – I expected this to be easy!) I turned to Google and started throwing random phrases at the search engine:

  • “apache no write permissions”
  • “apachectl doesn’t display”
  • “apachectl -S not working”

Not until I stumbled across this link, did I even THINK about SELinux (that’s how long it’s been since I set up a new CentOS machine)

Now I know the proper thing to do is to spend some time wrapping my head around SELinux and understanding how it works.  Then I could set it up so it enhances my security instead of making me feel stupid and frustrated.  But instead I usually opt to just turn it off.

So – long story short – if you see this line in your apache logs:

PHP Warning:  blah blah blah: failed to open stream: Permission denied in blah blah blah /var/www/html/blah.php

and you KNOW your permissions are correct…

Turn off SELinux.  That evil beast.

Non-alcoholic stress relief

I had an especially bad day yesterday. Not really bad in the grand scheme of things, but bad in my own head. Too many unplanned things happened in too quick succession which left me feeling under attack and over-whelmed. A few hours later things looked much better and I was able to process everything.

But during my knee-jerk reaction to the stress, I thought about having a drink to help calm down. It was already the end of the day and I had planned to go out to dinner with some friends anyway. I thought a drink might be nice and may go a long way to soothing my jangled nerves.

Now I have had exactly one drink (a vodka/soda with lime) in the last three months since starting my liver-healthy diet. I have lost nearly 70 pounds so far and my blood work is showing massive improvement to my liver.

To ensure I’d be ordering a drink that wouldn’t undo too much hard work, I quickly google’d some low-carb drink alternatives. I ran across the NPR article  from August 2018 warning that “No amount of alcohol is good for your health, global study finds”.

I had also previously read that alcohol is especially problematic for people with liver issues. Alcohol metabolizes in the liver before anything else and can stall weight-loss or even cause weight gain.

Seeing as my intention was to drink enough to get a mild buzz (and alleviate my self-stoking stress monster) I decided that one drink would probably not be enough. But more than one drink might be actually harmful to my liver (and even worse – I might regain some weight!  – kidding… I know my liver is more important… )

In the end I ordered an ice water and a big steak. A nice meal, conversation with good friends and some time away was all really needed to get myself back in order.

So does this mean I’ll never drink again? Probably not. But it’s a sure step that I’m learning not to drink for the wrong reasons. And to put my health first.

Reflections on a 24-hour fast

Yesterday we went to Cindy’s for the Browns game. Carrie brought a cauliflower ziti recipe that was a huge hit and Cindy made hot dogs. Now hot dogs are OK on the diet without buns. So I had three over the course of the day. Not until late in the 4th quarter did Carrie read the hot dog label and tell me that the Ball Park Franks we were eating were 4 carbs each!

Fuck! I just ate 21 carbs in basically one sitting by adding those three bunless hot dogs.

While my calories were still in range I realized that I really can’t eat anything more for the rest of the day. Maybe pickles or something, but I maxed out my carbs really early.

When I got home I realized I wasn’t hungry. At least for pickles, olives or sugar-free jello. So I didn’t eat anything.

We started watching some movies and eventually I just went back in and edited my fasting app on my phone to say I stopped eating at 2:00pm.

Was I really going to go all night with nothing else to eat? 16 hours from 2:00pm would allow me to eat again at 6:00am! (I’m not even awake by then – and I don’t eat breakfast anymore)

So morning comes and I feel OK. I decide to just push it until lunch because starting my eating window early will make me have to end it early. Eating from Noon to 8:00pm is what I try to stick to.

So another weird thing happened at work. As I’m getting closer to lunch I realize I’ve got a lot to do and I’m starting to stress about getting it done before lunch.

When I check my fasting app I see that it’s been 22 hours since I’ve eaten.

What would happen if I just waited and ate lunch at 2:00pm? What would happen if I fasted for 24 hours?

Surely nothing big and flashy – but I could say that I did it… OK – that settled it. I finished my work stuff and went for a walk.

I’m sitting here now at 1:40pm. I have a meeting at 2:00pm and I am planning to eat lunch right afterwards. I don’t want to just skip lunch altogether because I don’t want to waste the food (leftovers from yesterday! Yum!) but sitting here waiting, I’m thinking I could. I’m just not that hungry. It’s a weird feeling. Plus I feel like I have energy and focus that I don’t often have.

Researching fasting the last few weeks has led me to believe that people go without food for entire days all the time. And in 20 minutes I’ll be one of them.

I may repeat this in the future. I like it.

Whooshing past a goal

One of the stranger phenomenon that occurs when you are losing weight is the so-called “whoosh effect” […] It’s the name we give to a very common occurrence where you are eating right and doing everything you are supposed to do but no weight loss happens for several days and then all of a sudden, you lose 3-5 lbs in a single night.

I don’t know if this qualifies as a “whoosh” or not – but Sunday’s weigh-in was 282 pounds.

That’s 7 pounds less that last week. After two weeks of 3 pound losses, suddenly I am 52 pounds lighter than I was when I started this in July.

Yes – 50 pounds! That was the first milestone I set for myself. I was hoping I could make it 50 pounds down by Christmas this year. Then I thought I might make it to 50 by Thanksgiving. Now I don’t know what to think.

My ultimate goal of a “normal” BMI doesn’t seem so far-fetched anymore. Although 165 pounds is a looong way off. I remember thinking I’d be thrilled if I could lose 100 pounds. And I’m halfway there in less than 70 days. It’s strange to think there may come a time when I have to start planning to stop losing weight and try to maintain my weight. I’ve never felt such a thing. As long as I can remember I’ve always thought that it would be nice to lose some weight.

Well, I can’t get a head of myself. There’s still plenty of challenges ahead. Vacation and the holidays are coming up and while I feel a lot better about them now – there will still be some roadblocks and tough decisions to make.

I am thinking that before vacation I should get back into the doctor’s office and make sure all this progress is having the intended effect on my health.

I feel amazing most of the time nowadays, so I can’t believe that anything I am doing is detrimental to my health, but the blood test numbers will tell the truth. And that’s the progress I really want to see.

Slow progress is still progress

Weekly weigh-in: 289 pounds.

Another 3 pound loss. After 3 weeks of losing 6 pounds a week the last two weeks I’ve only lost 3 pounds each week.

I’ve known from the beginning that the weight loss would eventually slow down and I was surprised to drop 6 pounds a week for the first few weeks.

One significant non-scale victory, however, was that I switched back to my old wedding ring this weekend. My new one flung off my hand while sitting on the couch. I showed Carrie and Ashley how I could slide it off just by shaking my hand (it’s been falling off in the shower for a week or so whenever my hands get soapy).

In August I was determined to track everything that went in to my mouth. I did so and I lost a ton of weight.

In September I want to start seeing much I learned about knowing what to eat and how much by not tracking as diligently and seeing how things shake out. I’m still tracking but I’m approximating a lot more and eating more foods that I don’t have exact nutrition info on.

Could the lack of exact tracking be what’s slowed me down? Or am I naturally slowing down because my body is acclimating to the new diet?

I’ve said that I don’t want to spend my life tracking my food – and I stick by that. I want to know what I can eat and how much of to eat. Eventually, I want to be able to go into a restaurant and just order food without figuring out what I can have and what I can’t.

On one hand – I am still succeeding. I am still losing weight.

On the other hand, by leaving my decisions to my instincts I may have slowed down my progress.

Maybe I don’t know everything I think I do yet.