Blogging Whatfor

I have been talking a lot about blogging recently, not just because I teach it in my classes, but also because I have been singing its praises in helping stuffy academics like me get more practice writing. Not everything is good fodder for a journal. But at the end of the day, academics are Writers, with all the concomitant foibles and joys. So more writing, specifically more blogging, is good for us.

Blogging for me started as a way to keep track of my thoughts and reactions to entering a new world (of Warcraft, specifically), which felt a lot more appealing than keeping files of field notes. My blog later became a place where I could put down ideas that might someday become the basis for research – or not – as well as keep myself writing on a regular basis.

If you follow my blog at all, though, you’ll know that sometimes I post quite regularly, and sometimes… well, let’s just say it’s been a year since my last post, and that’s not the first time I’ve lapsed so substantially. So although this blog makes for a good motivator to continue honing my mad writing skillz, it is not always…. consistent.

But there’s another aspect of blogging that has been on my mind of late, prompted by a book chapter that I have to have to have to finish, like, yesterday. That aspect of blogging is its ability to help me find my voice - my writing voice. Book chapters are more flexible in terms of expected writing style, and the chapter I’m finishing up uses a voice closer to my blog writing than my journal writing.

I do a lot of report writing and formal journal article writing, which tends to get me thinking mostly about results, existing literature, arguments, and the like. But dammit, Jim, I’m a writer! And writers need a voice. That’s not from me, that’s from this terrific article. The wise advice that hit me hard from that piece was, “Find a voice; don’t just ‘get published.’”

For me, journal articles and reports don’t bring out that voice. Maybe that’s because I’m writing more quantitative pieces which really do have a sort of formula I’m supposed to follow; maybe it’s because those pieces are so formal that I remove all personality to fit the standard form; maybe it’s because I just don’t have the nerve to write in anything but bland academic-speak. But whatever the reason, I haven’t invested as much in developing a true Voice of My Own.

So back I trot to my WoW Musings, mindful of my voice, and dedicated to findings ways to bring that voice into more than just this cozy little corner of the blogosphere. Maybe I’ll even get some of that voice published one of these days.

Being Naughty from Being Good

The danger of walking a few hours a day is you can get a wee bit complacent with  the other part of getting healthy: eating well. Last night I had popcorn for dinner, which is so not healthy. Today, I had chocolate mint chip ice cream for lunch. Even worse.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you’re doing really well using that hard earned will-power to do work, walk, feed the kid, keep the dishes clean…. and so you deserve – deserve, dammit! – ice cream, or a burger, or truffle cheese fries. Sometimes it feels more like using up will-power reserves, and at the end of the day we just don’t have any left for choosing a salad, or going Paleo, or skipping dessert.

But that’s the trap of modern American body image and diet crap. It’s a killer. No, instead we must re-frame and think of all these things as making the salad or the skipped dessert easier because they all move us that much farther down a healthy path. It’s not that avoiding bread is depriving ourselves. It’s that picking almonds instead is giving ourselves a gift, treating ourselves to something wonderful for our health.

Workin’ on it.

Up and down, back and forth

Having a treadmill desk takes a lot of adjustment moments, as I am thinking of them. Work adjustments – mostly, work thinking adjustments – take some little-by-little movements, from associating thinking with sitting, to letting myself think in complex ways while walking. This is harder than it sounds, really. Hey, even smart Italian guys sat while they thought (although I’ll leave the rest of Dante’s trip to him, thanks).

Then there are other adjustments in walking at moments when I just feel as though I should be sitting: Skype IMing, Google searches, shopping online. I still have some trouble really thinking Difficult Thoughts while walking, but I’m getting there.

This past week was a bear for really tough stuff that kept me away from the treadmill more than I would have liked. I definitely haven’t figured out to walk while doing statistical analyses. I really should, though. I’d have logged 40 hours this week already if I could.

But…. but. Yesterday was The big patch day for the upcoming WoW expansion, Mists of Pandaria. And I did manage to sneak in a wee bit of jumping around cities and reading trade chat as the flood of mechanics and avatar changes came through. Sadly, I was not walking. THAT has got to happen: WoW while walking.

Positive Externalities

We all know the deal: when you work out and build muscles, your body continues to burn more calories than normal a couple of hours after you’re done, plus those muscles contribute to higher metabolism and more calorie burning over time. When you do exercise, the things that often lead to bad eating, like feeling cranky and despondent, are reduced, so you improve your diet. When you move your body, your brain is sharper and your work is more productive. When you feel better about yourself, you’re more able to get yourself working out and sticking to healthy habits. It’s a lovely circle.

Yes, all the reasons that working out totally gets in the way of wallowing in my crankiness are the reasons I should do it. And yeah, the cranky-stressy I had the other morning was completely erased by those 90 minutes of good walking – especially because it was at a faster pace. It’s easy to walk 2.7 mph while watching TV. Today I clocked 2 hours and 20 minutes.

But there’s another positive externality (those indirect consequences of things we do or make) that’s now becoming a pattern: and it has to do with my child.

My daughter – who will be 9 in October – has used the treadmill in my office no fewer than 20 times since I connected it. She even watched her two allotted TV shows the other day while walking! She’s in love with this thing.

Look at me! I’m a good influence!

Then, Saturday, when my partner came home from a business trip, he conducted his usual 30 minute post-trip chatter not from a lounge on the couch, but instead from where? You guessed it! Walking on the treadmill.

Sure, some of this is novelty, but hey. We all take it where we can get it. I call this a win.

So Far So Good

Day 4 of owning a treadmill desk and continuing to adjust. Today I did 140 minutes before noon, most at above 2.0 mph.

My strategy seems to be working: this morning I started out doing simple email replies then a few more mentally challenging tasks like updating reports and the like while walking. I switched to sitting to test and take notes on a game we’re developing, but I went back to walking for two Skype meetings. I racked up well over 2 hours total so far today.

My feet aren’t bothering me anymore, although I still should probably look into those crazy shoes with the toes…

It’s time to track these things in a spreadsheet, I think. They say it takes about 21 days to change a habit. I’m going for it!

Inspired? Here’s a little video of someone using the exact desk I have for your enjoyment. Plus, it’s fitness for nerds. Can’t resist that.

Mental Grooves

One of the difficulties in incorporating the treadmill desk into my life is creating new associations between my body and mind. Up to now, in this stage of my work life, I have created mental associations, grooves in the paths of my neurons, if you will, that bring together sitting at a computer and a certain type of thinking. Along side that are other things: having a cup of coffee in the morning, sitting in a particular chair, seeing a particular view out a particular window. (keyword: sitting)

As I stand here now, writing this blog and walking at 0.7 miles per hour, I am keenly aware of the fact that this standing position, walking movement, and view of the wall don’t fit into those grooves.

As I walk, various tasks I have to do flit through my mind: finalize my course syllabus; set up the course wiki; write a recommendation letter, finish edits on a paper I’m reviewing. Each time they do, I automatically anticipate sitting down at my desk to genuinely focus on them.

I literally am having trouble  envisioning myself coming up with the words, tables, and pages I need while standing. My brain feels as though it’s shying away from focusing on those things until my body is in that familiar seat in front of those familiar screens.

I have this problem when I travel, as well. I have trouble getting my regular  work done in a strange room at a strange desk. I’ve managed before, but only rarely, and only with certain kinds of tasks, like answering emails that need simple replies, but not the ones that require some real thinking.

Sometimes I can use a new space to shift myself into a totally different work mode as a sort of hiatus, like shifting into paper-writing mode that suspends me from all the other stuff that demands my attention. But it always feels temporary, and even then, I’m sitting…

My plan to overcome this is to do this blogging while walking, and to make a promise to myself that I’ll start every morning answering emails and doing my less complicated kind of preparing for the day work while walking for a little while.

So far, I’m really only able to walk when I’m taking a break. But that’s okay! I take enough FB, simple email, and TV breaks right now to be putting in some time, and I’m hoping this will help me continue to adjust before the semester starts. (90 minutes so far today!)

I figure I’ll make myself some new grooves. But it’s going to take time.

These Feet Were Made for Walking

Well day 2 of the Treadmill, and 90 minutes of walking done today so far! About 90 min total yesterday, too! I’m particularly impressed because that was after 3 hours of heavy labor getting everything moved and ready. So yeah, that’s about 4 hours more working out than I’ve done in months!

However, I do realise I will have to ease into this. I’m not quite able to do think-y work while walking – I just am not used to focusing like that while I’m moving. So I’m going to have to switch my main work station to the seated desk for a spell, I think.

My feet are a bit unhappy with me, too. Not of the blister-type unhappiness, but they’re sore. I *really* don’t want to have to use sneakers for walking, but I do need some kind of decent supportive shoe. I confess I used my (really good! with arch support!) flip flops yesterday and today, and some barefooted walking.

Friends have suggested a pair of those shoes with the toes. But I’m wary – plus they’re pricey. Although the smart point was made that if I’m really going to commit to this – and after the money spent to set this all up – I really shouldn’t be stopped by something fixable like the right shoes.

Musings While I Walk

I’ve recently made a giant change in my work life by getting myself a treadmill desk. I’ve been posting some updates on Twitter, but I realise that a) writing about the process is helpful to me, and b) I can’t say much in 140 characters. So instead you lovely folks get to read all about making the change (or, you know, skip the posts tagged with “walking desk”).

First, I ordered a desk that had a treadmill built in. I considered a really fancy one – dreaming, yes – that included both a sitting station and a walking station. This looked COOL. Check out how the monitor is on a slidey thing that goes back and forth!

But… I realised that if I had to raise and lower the thing each time, soon enough I’d get lazy about raising it, and my goal is really, really to spend more time standing/walking than I do sitting. I don’t think it has a nice little button that just does the work for you. No thank you to heavy lifting required to get my butt moving. Plus this thing costs about $5K. Moving on.

So Amazon.com came to my rescue. After reading a bunch of inspiring articles about people who use walking desks, and a lot of reviews  for various styles, including many articles on doing it your self (no thanks), I landed on this one, the LifeSpan TR1200-DT.

It had everything I needed: the control panel is on the desk itself, it is really, really sturdy, the front of the desk is padded for support, and the desk part is actually good and spacious – plenty a room for monitors and papers and whatnot.  Plus, it totally sounds like something on a spaceship, TR-1200! In my future, geeks are the healthy ones.

Then, I selected a good but small-ish computer desk for sitting. I picked up a pad for under the treadmill, a wall-mount for my computer screen, and some belt lubricant while I was at it. Plus, free shipping! Go Amazon!

When the boxes started to arrive I was prepping for a big meeting out of town, so they were stowed in the garage until I got back. No, faithful readers, they did NOT stay there for months! Two days after I got back from my trip, the transformation began.

Cleaning out every single shelf, drawer, and surface in my study was no easy task, let me tell you. This was considerable clearing out of bins of shoes, piles of papers, old empty boxes, random holiday decorations… the list is long. I am now the proud, if temporary, owner of no fewer than 20 full garden-sized trashbags of CRAP and a giant box of shoes and bags and whatnot headed for the local thrift store.

Then a dear friend helped me put the computer desk together.  It wasn’t too tough, and after a bit more furniture moving we had step 1 completed.

Then I had to make more room in my study, so I boxed up an entire bookshelf (fantasy and sci-fi books – afer all, I’ve pretty much gone digital anyway….), and cleared out file cabinet drawers that hadn’t been touched in – I’m not kidding – almost 15 years. There were electric bills from 1997 in that thing! Plus a lot of personal letters (“awwww remember her?”), Christmas cards, birth certificates and (gasp!) even my academic transcript from my first two years of college (“What? I got a C in that class? But I learned so much! I still remember that stuff!”). Ahh, youth.

The next morning I tackled the treadmill desk on my own. Yes, you read right – I put that heavy-ass thing together myself! My friend had helped me get the boxes into the study, so they were ready and waiting for me.

Next came finishing up clearing the old desk and moving the computer over. When that was done, and we took the rug up, vacuumed everything, cleaned off all the components, and generally worked for over 3 hours in making furniture and technology bend to our will. And it was done.

Walking desk!

Plus lovely new social seating area on the other side of the room:

Return of my girl

A few months ago, a Wise Decision was made by my girl Shaux. She changed her look, her name, and her play patterns because she was launching a research project using her main avatar. She changed those things because she wanted to protect her personal play from her work play. Mixing business and pleasure… you know.

Well, as one of the folks she played with, I sure missed that Shaux., even though her replacement was still driven by my friend.

Why would I miss the avatar, you wonder? Well, honestly, I’m not sure.

This has happened to me before. A close friend L. put his main aside for some alts, and even though I still played with my friend, I missed L. terribly.

Now that my friend’s research is done, Shaux is back! And always a thrill to play with.

Panda-monium

Recently, I was fortunate enough to receive an invitation to the Beta for the upcoming World of Warcraft expansion, Mists of Pandaria. After days and days of sitting on it in nervous antici…pation, I finally ventured into this Strange New World in Warcraft.

I’ve never participated in a beta for an MMO. For those unfamiliar with the term, this is a pre-release version of a game (or in this case, expansion) that is ready for broader testing by volunteers, but not for release to the public. Those who have access put the new programming and gameplay through its paces and provide feedback that developers use to make final improvements to the game. It’s a coveted access that lets a select few experience the new content before everyone else, with all the attendant status and advanced knowledge that comes from playing early.

In an MMO beta, you’re sharing this development space with all the other people who have the special access. As a result, you have many, many people doing the same thing at the same time – in this case, starting a character of the new Pandarian race and exploring their start area. When you have hundreds of people at the same stage in the game, you have crazy crowds playing on top of each other.

Crowds trying to do a quest in the Mists of Pandaria beta.

From the comments in General chat, a whole lot of people were a whole lot of pissed off at the chaos that made it literally impossible to do this one particular quest . But I had a rather different reaction.

For me, the madhouse was actually thrilling. All those people navigating the social and technical demands of the game were a stark contrast to the often empty feel of WoW regions, especially in starting areas. I loved seeing the scramble and questions and confusions that draw out the best and the worst of a throng of strangers trying to do a specific Something. Being part of that reinforces how much WoW really is an amazingly vast set of communities that actually don’t often come together in world, aside from the occasional novel event like those of the WHU or the Mogfather.

So instead of being annoyed by the difficulties presented by dozens and dozens of people overflowing in the same space (coupled with a bug that kept the needed item from respawning), I had a great time just watching, reading people’s chat, and wandering amidst the pandemonium. The pragmatics of Getting Things Done really aren’t nearly as interesting as all those fabulous, crazy, silly, fascinating people.