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July 2012
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September 2012

RIP Paul and Mari Schindler

I have posted a dual obituary for my parents. My mother died two years ago, my father last week. Mom asked for no obituary, a request I respected until Dad passed away. I placed this obituary in the Oregonian, Oregon's statewide newspaper of record, on Sunday. Of course, newspapers will soon cease to exist, but at least this obituary will be on microfilm and in the Oregonian archives (for a fee), and, perhaps in the Internet Wayback Machine, so there's a chance it will survive. Obituaries are for the living. It is awful when a parent dies, and worse when the second one dies, because suddenly you ARE the older generation. I mean, I'm 60 on Sept. 17, so what did I expect, but still. Since mom and dad were 16 and 18 when I was born, I actually experienced this much later in life than most people. Which, unsurprisingly, doesn't make it any easier. You end up facing the certain prospect of your own mortality, and the fact that you are now "alone," without the support of the only people you've known all your life. I am blessed by having the next best thing: a wife I've known for 35 years and been married to for 32, and two daughters I have known their whole lives. All three of them have been rocks for me to lean on this week.

Also, since Mom took a year to die and dad passed away in his sleep (he died Tuesday; we had scheduled breakfast together on Wednesday), I have seen death in its two forms. Lingering death allows everyone to say their goodbyes, but can produce a pretty rotten last month. Sudden death means no goodbyes, but peace and no pain. So, it turns out lingering death is easier for the survivors, and sudden deah is easier for the participant. I know I will not be given any choice in the matter, but I will, as I have my whole life, continue to hope for the latter. I have had a policy my entire adult life: if I love or care for someone, I tell them and show them, frequently, daily if possible. That way, if life (which is, at best, an uncertain enterprise) should end, no one will be in doubt as to how I feel. Because, of course, no one is getting out of this alive.

Make A Video This Week

As part of a family remembrance of my parents on Sunday, we watched a videotape we'd made in 2004, in which we interviewed them, documentary style, and asked them about God, about their parents, about what made them happy, about what made for a good marriage, their opinion of children, their sense of humor. I had noticed years before that most home video shows people in the distance, in sidelong glances, doing something else. Candid video is fine (and there was no sound back in the 8mm film era), but I often watched old films and videos and wished I could clearly hear the person, or know what they were thinking. In my family, we did interviews with my parents and our children when they were younger, and there is a tape our children made of us eight years ago. It is both painful and poginant to have a video like this; make it this week! (A tip: if you really want to be able to hear someone, make sure they are VERY close to the camera. An alternative is to "mic" them, which is what I do, as a former soundman, but almost no home video recorders have audio inputs. I have to buy mine on the Internet).

Political Briefs

The Expendables 2

3 stars out of 5.
My daughter liked this film, and I did too. It was extremely noisy, and will, no doubt be nomiated for the Academy Awards for "Best Artistic Use of Blood Splatter" and "Most Blood Splatter." As she put it, "What's not to like? This film is exactly what it was promised to be." Like Campaign last week. The violence is so over-the-top as to be funny and cartoonish. The cast list is enough to make hearts of a certain age go pitter-pat (which can be dangerous for hearts of that age): Sylvester Stallon, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Note: Norris and Willis are cameos. I'd also have to agree with my daughter that Schwarzenegger looked substantially more appropriate pulling the door off a car than he ever did as governor, but that's just us. Blood, bullets and explosions. Mercifully brief exposition. Take it or leave it.

Duking It Out

The first day of my third and final week at Duke. Me weight was steady over the weekend, but I need to lose almost a pound a day to make my revised goal by departure on Friday. It is going to take discipline and an increase in exercise. Although the menus are on a four-week rotation, the classes are on a two-week rotation, so the classes I went to the first week are being repeated. I missed some of them, so I'll go this time, but if you've been reading my reports so far, you'll see I have a pretty comprehensive behavioral and nutritional look at what I need to do.

This morning, as I crossed the dining room for breakfast, a woman stopped me to thank me for suggesting a hot air popcorn popper. She bought one at Target over the weekend and made her own popcorn for the movie (just like my wife and I do!). She offered to make me some. I politely declined, noting that I have an ambitious goal and am going to have to work hard to achieve it. In fact, I am kicking up the exercise from 90 minutes a day to two hours or more a day for this week only.

I did 45 minutes on the elliptical, then went to the weekend in review. We shared our experiences and tips. I suggested you take half the mashed potatoes off your plate as soon as you arrive. I also shared the therapist's insight that "standing in the bar is not the place you want to be when you're deciding  whether to drink or not." Lunch, an hour of chair aerobics (aerobics done while sitting down), dinner, and then 45 on the stationary bike. And that's my Monday in a nutshell.

First day since I got here with no classes. Everuything today is a repeat of a class I had two weeks ago, and I didn't miss any of them. A leisurely walk through the News and Observer and the NY Times, Eggs Benedict (technically Egg Benedict), followed by a solid 45 on the elliptical. Back to my room for some writing. Lunch, followed by an hour of yoga/pilates fusion. A nap, dinner, and 45 on the bike. Another day down. Forgot to weigh myself today. Can't wait for the news Wednesday morning.

They test you when you come in, they test you when you leave. It seems hard to believe it has been nearly three weeks since I arrived, but Friday is my last day, my 15th program day and my 19th day here. They like you to stay four weeks, but three is the best I can do. I had to fast before having my blood drawn. Breakfast, aqua aerobics, and mindfulness over at Duke Integrative Medicine. This week it was taught by one of the founders. Everyone who leads meditation, of course, has their own style. He reminded us to be present, observant and without judgment. He said when we observe thoughts, we must neither fight them nor feed them. He quoted Buddha: "During meditation you should be like the string of a musical instrument. If the string is too loose then it will make no sound, but if the string is too tight it breaks." In other words, don't be too relaxed, don't be too tense.

There is a phrase, "monkey mind" to describe the incessant chattering of your mind that meditation seeks to calm. At one point, I envisioned shooting the monkey. That, I decided, was too tense. Now, I just pet the monkey until it quiets down. We'll see how that works.

Chair aerobics, dinner, 45 on the elliptical, and another day has been well spent at Duke.

I am definitely winding down, in terms of classes, while ramping up in terms of exercise. There is no way I am going to fit more than two hours a day of exercise into my schedule at home (I manage 90 on a good day, 60 on a bad day), but it fits quite nicely here, so I exercised at 9 (45 on the elliptical), 1 (45 on the stationery bike) and 4 (elliptical again). I burned about 1500 calories, good enough for a half pound right there.

There has been much talk of spirituality here, so I decided to get in touch with my faith tradition. There is a noon Eucharist at St. Stephens' Episcopal Church in Hope Valley. It was a very modern church and a quite lively service (the feast of St. Mary the Virgin).

There was one class today, a cooking demonstration. What I learned:
squeeze a lemon onto your food. Your taste buds will register it as salt. Find a pan spray whose first ingredient is NOT water (ie: Pam).  use 1.5 T of fresh parsley in a recipe that calls for 1T of  dried (dried herbs are more potent).  Trader Joe carries spices in grinder packaging, including my favorite, white pepper.

My final day at Duke Diet and Fitness. I lost 15 pounds in 15 program days (and didn't gain any back in 4 weekend days). My already excellent blood work was even better at the end then when I came in. I am proud to say the doctor told me they rarely get return clients who weigh less and have better blood chemistry when they return!

I did my first step aerobics class. Now that's an hour of exercise! There were a couple of moves I couldn't do, just because I don't  have the coordination, not for any other physical reason. It was exhausting.

Lunch, 30 on the elliptical machine, and an hour of gentle yoga. I ran into a fellow MIT graduate from the class of '52 (he recognized me by my brass rat--class ring). The Friday night meal, the final meal for clients, is always steak.  Seared dead animal. Yum, yum. There was a chocolate/tofu parfait that was great. Then time to pack and finish up a couple of projects. I fly back to SF on Saturday. I can't say I enjoyed it (I miss my home and family), but it wasn't awful.What it was was important.

The Differential Experience of Time

On the one hand, three weeks in North Carolina seems interminable. It is longer than I have been away from home in five years, and only the second time in 32 years of marriage I have been gone that long.. On the other hand, it seems to have sped by at a reckless rate. I can almost feel the whiplash. Why does 45 minutes on the stationary bike seem like forever, but 45 minutes down the Google hole passes in a flash? Why, back when I programmed computers, was I perennially surprised to find I had spent 4, 8 or 12 hours in heads down debugging?  It makes me wonder if a two-week vacation (we took our first in almost a decade last Christmas) is worth it, if it speeds by before it can be savored.

This is a different differential experience of time than the one that I have noted before (and of course, it isn't an original observation) that time passes more swiftly as we get older. I am fond of the explanation that, when you are ten, a month seems like six months, but when you are 60 six months seem like a month. That is, as we grow older, a fixed amount of time is a smaller percentage of our life.  This differential I understand. The other one, I have no good explanation for. Oh, I've read stuff about "fugue states," and maybe that's part of it for the programming or Google distractions.  But I don't think it explains everything. Clearly, time is fungible, slippery, ephemeral., a human construct, a trick our minds play on us, "God's way of making sure everything doesn't happen at once."

Makes me want to spend more time in the moment; isn't this the only moment we will ever have?

Meditation on the Nature of Identity

One of my projects while in North Carolina was to type up the journal from my freshman year at college, written in the summer of 1971. As I ran across passages that feature people who are still my friends, I shared those passages. That generated this exchange with Kevin:
I wrote:

Like actors who see themselves in films, as I read my journal, I realize this guy has my name, and "looks" familiar, but I haven't been him in 40 years.  We are clearly different people at different times in our lives.
I just finished typing the last page of my freshman journal, and discovered that I was musing on the nature of identity over time in the summer of 1971:

I got on the plane at Newark, Flight 107 to Portland, at 4:45 pm on Tuesday, June 1, 1971. And the only similarity between me and the guy who got on the plane in Seattle at 11:15 am, September 4, 1970 was that we both had the same name. He was gone, with his innocence, and I would never meet him again.

Kevin responded:

Confucius say,  "The palest ink is better than the best memory"  :-)

There's a little book titled, "Transitions" (William Bridges). It claims, a necessary part of the transition process is grieving for the past phase. But, without the transition, no growth. The image I come up with -- Does the butterfly miss how solidly the caterpillar clung to the branch and withstood the buffeting of the wind?

Making an MP3 File into a "Podcast" on your Iphone

I place a lot of spoken-word MP3 files on my iPhone manually. It has been extremely frustrating to me that such files have no "30-second backup," and lose track of where you were if you switch to another file. These deficits have been a source of nearly endless frustration. So, this week I got off my dead keister and Googled the question. Turns out the solution is quite simple: simply tell the iPhone that the MP3 file IS a podcast.

CAUTION: For reasons I will explain later, don't do this until you have come up with a naming convention for your MP3 files. Trust me on this.

These instructions are for the Windows version of Itunes. If you have a Mac, YMMV.

  1. Select the file you want, in either the music folder on your iphone, or in the playlist. You may select multiple files; this still works.
  2. Hit ctrl-i (on a mac, I think the key combination is apple-i).
  3. Click on the "options" tab
  4. Under "Media Kind," select "podcast"
  5. Click the "remember playback position" check box

That is almost there is to it. The special sauce, my intellectual contribution to this subject, comes from the fact that, once I had reset all these files, they no longer appeared in the Music folder on the iPhone. They also didn't suddenly appear in the Podcast folder.  I stitched together information from several sites to come up with a way of managing the songs.

Experienced users realize that if you delete an MP3 file  from a playlist, it is still on the phone, just not in the playlist. For songs and podcasts loaded the normal way, you can got to the folder "Music" or "Podcasts" on your iPhone. When you delete a file in one of those folders, it is really gone.

"Fake" podcasts appear in neither folder. How do you find them? How do you delete them? Well, you can delete them by selecting a file in a playlist, then hitting shift-delete (the key combo is different on a mac; I don't know what it is). Remember, if you just hit "delete," you delete the file from the playlist but NOT your iPhone.

What if you thoughtlessly delete, rather than shift delete? Like Charlie on the MTA, is your file destined to ride forever neath the streets of Boston? Well, no. You can still see every file on your iPhone if you create a Smart Playlist:

  1. on the edit menu, select New Smart Playlist
  2. Set a rule that none of your files will meet, like "artist is x"
  3. The new smart playlist will now show every file on your iPhone, podcasts, music and "podcasts."

Here's a tip learned from painful experience: hand-loaded MP3 files are much easier to manage if you adopt a naming convention. All of mine start with an _ (underscore) character followed by the date (20120805--be sure to use the zeroes if you want alpha order to be equal to date order). Thus, a file I recorded last week would be "_20120815 programname."

It is not often I can make a contribution to the world's store of knowledge, but in this case, I feel I have synthesized and clarified a half-dozen articles. On the other hand, I may be the only person in the world whose iPhone is half loaded with hand-managed MP3 files.