Do or Do Not.

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Hold the Beef

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One week ago, I gave up eating meat.

This dietary change was one I’ve been contemplating for quite a while — I’ve been eating meat mainly out of reflex and habit for some time instead of eating it because I wanted to. Meat has, for the most part, been a vehicle to get other bits of yumminess into me. I’d almost cut meat out a couple of times before, and had managed to cut it down quite a bit, but over the last year I’d been eating more of it because while Terry was pregnant with Andrew (and even now while she’s still nursing him), she wanted meat all the flippin’ time.

But last Sunday night, we watched Food, Inc., a documentary about the industrialization of the food industry in the United States. And it totally and completely horrified me (as was, I’m reasonably sure, the director’s point — he wasn’t going for subtle).

I'm not eating these anymore.

I'm not eating these anymore. (Photo by dirkjankraan.com)

Can I tell you a secret, though? I wanted to be horrified. Not because I want to feel disgusted by the food I eat or the process by which that food gets to me, but because I knew that’s how I’d feel and I wanted that final kick in the pants to encourage me to make this change. For a long time, I avoided thinking or reading too much about the foods I eat because I knew what would happen if I did so and I didn’t want to change the way I ate. Now, however, I wanted that revulsion to push me over the edge. I realize it probably doesn’t say wonderful things about my internal motivation techniques that I had to do so, but hey, whatever works, right?

I’m taking it slowly so far. There’s not a lot I feel I’m denying myself at this point[1]. Right now I’m not eating big hunks of meat (or even little hunks of meat), but if I have, say, broccoli and cheddar soup made with chicken stock (as happened on Tuesday), I’m not going to beat myself up about it too badly. I suspect that as I get further into this change, I’ll be even more stringent about avoiding meat-related bits in what I eat. Brian assures me that the less meat I eat, the less tolerance I’ll have for those other bits I’m still not stressing about now, so we’ll see.

I’ll admit to still having some philosophical issues and contradictions to work out in my head. Given that I’m largely (though not entirely) giving up meat because I don’t like the way farm animals are treated at the massive food factories, how can I still justify eating eggs, for instance? Or drinking milk? The animals who provide most of my eggs and milk likely aren’t treated any better. We do try to buy locally-grown eggs and milk from happy cows and chickens when we can, but realistically, that’s not always possible — especially with the amount of milk we go through in our family.

It’s funny… in my younger days, I made fun of vegetarians for not eating animals by invoking the concept of the food chain — certain animals exist primarily for us to eat. I mean, c’mon — a cow’s only real functions are to create milk, more cows, and methane. But even so, that doesn’t make what the food industry does to them morally correct.

My friend Molly told me that her basic principles when it comes to choosing foods to eat essentially come down to these: 1. Be good to her body. 2. Be kind to the earth. 3. Be gentle toward other creatures. …and I think that’s more or less it. I want to feel like I’m making the best choices I can for my health (after almost forty years of, well, not), and I want to feel like I’m not doing harm with my choices. I can’t pledge perfection, but I think that at least considering what it is I’m doing and trying to make better choices counts for a lot.

I’m not on a crusade here — I’m not saying that no one should ever eat meat. If you want meat, eat it to your heart’s (and stomach’s) content. And honestly, I’m not even saying I’ll never ever put meat in my mouth again[2], though it doesn’t seem likely any time soon and if I do, it’ll have to be from happy, ethically-treated cows or chickens.

For now, though — and quite possibly forever — I’m done with it. I’m opting out. A week in, I’m still feeling good about this decision — I feel like it’s going to make me a healthier person and a better citizen of the planet.

[1] Though I did just now make the mistake of thinking about the big-ass piles of meat I so enjoy at Redbones, and I’ll admit that gave me a little twinge of loss.
[2] That’s what she said.

Written by Allen

May 23rd, 2010 at 6:48 pm

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On Work

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I recently sought out suggestions on subjects I could write about that I don’t normally, and my friend Kate suggested I should write more about tiny slice-of-life sorts of things — which I think is a fine idea, and one I shall try to implement — but also noted that I don’t much talk about my work. She’s right, and I find it funny that I don’t, given how much of my time is spent here and thinking about my job and my career. So Kate, thanks for the suggestion! Here, have a blog post…

What do I love about my work?

Honestly, I love the where I am more than the what I do right now. I’m feeling fairly seriously burnt out on the what — I’ve been doing essentially the same thing (though with increasing degrees of competence and difficulty) for the last decade, and I’d like to expand into something new. I have to fight though boredom (even when really busy) more often than I might like.

But I love working for Harmonix an awful damn lot. Not only does the corporate culture agree with me and not only do I really like the people, but the benefits are the best I’ve ever had. The people who work here are almost without exception phenomenally talented at what they do. And I have a platform for the work I do far, far beyond anything I’ve ever had before — the stuff I work on gets seen by anywhere from hundreds of thousands to millions of people per month (even if none of them know I had anything to do with what they’re looking at).

There’s a lot of pressure to be excellent working here. We have high standards — Harmonix doesn’t release crap, and our team holds itself to those same standards of quality that the game teams do, even if the company as a whole doesn’t always recognize it. Well, didn’t recognize it; I think the Webby win really raised our profile with everyone else here.

So I realize that most of what I just said is what I love about my job. What about my work, then? What do I actually love about what is I do?

I love problem-solving, figuring out how to do some pretty complex stuff with websites. I love building things, knowing that sites exist and people can do things with those sites because of work I have done. I love manipulating code — I’m completely anal when it comes to my code. I love learning new technologies and new techniques and new ways to do the things I already do better. I love reworking other people’s substandard code and making it work better and more efficiently (and making the code itself prettier). I even (sometimes) love fixing bugs, especially when doing so actually makes my site more usable.

I love that I work somewhere with enough name recognition to get nominated for — and ultimately win — a Webby.

What bugs me about my work?

As I sort of alluded to above, the actual day-to-day of what I do isn’t thrilling me right now. I’m burning out on building web applications, even somewhere as phenomenal as Harmonix. I don’t have a good answer for what to do instead; I’m not sure what else I could do which would be as interesting (when I’m not feeling quite so burnt out) and pay me as much. [1]

I don’t like feeling looked-down-on by the “real” (read: non-web) programmers. That’s a problem I’ve been facing for years and I don’t expect that’s going to be solved anytime soon (though I will say I believe it’s gotten better over the last few months, as the other web software developer and I have gotten more visibility).

I don’t like crunch, but that’s just part of the industry and we on the web team don’t usually have it as bad as the game teams do, so I can’t complain too much.

But really, those are some pretty minor negatives compared to the amount of love I have for my job right now. Nowhere’s going to be perfect, but Harmonix is as close as I’ve found yet.


[1] It’s not always about the pay, but at this stage in my life as the primary bread-winner for a family of five, it is about the pay, at least in large part.

Written by Allen

May 14th, 2010 at 5:52 pm

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Adult Content

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After a year-and-a-half at Harmonix, I finally had my first real tiff with a co-worker today — worse, one I actually like quite a bit.[1] Well, even the fairly mild “tiff” may be too strong a word; basically, I unknowingly acted kind of like a schmuck, and my friend/co-worker took the “unknowingly” part of that situation away from me.

I don’t like ever feeling like anyone’s upset with me ever. It’s one of my least favorite things in the world. I know it happens, of course: I’m human, I fuck up, I piss people off or hurt their feelings or what have you. But I try very very hard to make sure that happens as infrequently as I can, both because I genuinely don’t want others to feel upset because of something I’ve done and because it makes me feel all icky inside, like my guts have been coated in a spicy self-recrimination salsa and heavily breaded with angst crumbs.

I have to say, though, that I feel like I handled today’s not-quite-a-tiff like an actual, honest-to-Jebus adult. You might think to yourself: “Well, Allen, you’re 38 years old, so you totally should be handling these sorts of things like an adult.” And you’d be right to think I should, yet incredibly wrong to think that I do.

Today, however, I listened to what my friend had to say, and I apologized (even as he said an apology wasn’t necessary — to me, it was: I’d acted like a douche and should, therefore, apologize). I told him I’d try to be better about this sort of thing in the future and asked him to call me on it if I do it again.

Then I made him hug it out with me, because that’s what secure, adult men do after spats.

Now I have to figure out how to apply that same level of calm, coherent listening-and-discussing-without-letting-it-destroy-my-fragile-self-esteem thing to my more personal interactions. Even after twelve years of spending every day together, I still let the tiniest argument with Terry (or most anyone close to me) send me into a flaming spiral of depression and self-flagellation. When Terry’s upset with me — which doesn’t happen incredibly often, but still more often that I’d like, as I seem to be a fairly infuriating person to live with (sorry, Terry!) — I take it as if my entire being is at fault. When I piss her off, it’s as if I’m the universe’s lowest form of bottom-of-sneaker scum. I have exactly one feeling which even remotely compares to that awfulness, and that’s the feeling that I’ve disappointed my daughters. I’m honestly not sure which is worse.

Maybe now that I have more proof that I can handle the disapproval of others and know that it won’t kill me, that I can look it in the face and not shrink from it (at least to some limited degree with people I like and respect), I can put that same be-a-damn-grownup principle to work the next time I make Terry want to chuck a shoe at my head.

I have a feeling I won’t have to wait long to give it a try.

[1] OK, I like 95%+ of my co-workers, so that’s not a surprise.

Written by Allen

August 19th, 2009 at 11:24 pm

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Just Ain’t True

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More ammo for my laying to rest this whole “I can’t sing” thing:  Just scored a 97% vocal on “Don’t Stop Believing” in Rock Band.

With my eyes closed.

I mean, let’s be honest:  no one’s gonna mistake me for Steve Perry or Chris Cornell anytime soon.   For one thing, I’m way better-looking than either one of those schlubs.  But clearly my long-held belief that  ”I can’t sing, period“…well, it just ain’t true.  Who knew all I needed was Rock Band and some practice?

Written by Allen

May 14th, 2009 at 7:55 pm

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Six Pounds

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So my blood sugar numbers have been high lately.  Not necessarily super-scary high, but closer to super-scary than I’m comfortable with.  This could be a natural progression of my diabetes (I’m Type II, in case you didn’t know), but I’m afraid that I did some damage to myself a couple of months ago by trying to see how I felt having a “regular” amount of sugar in my diet again for a brief bit (somewhat ironically because my numbers had been stable for so long) – seems like my sugar got elevated at that point and has never come all the way back down.

Yes, that makes me feel like an idiot.

But there’s good news to be had here, because it’s made me really tighten down my eating habits and begin ramping up my exercise habits.  Over the last three or four weeks, I’ve had no pasta at all (which is really, really bizarre for me).  I’ve had, I think, two dessert-like things, both of which were at my weekly company meetings.  I’ve had probably three cups of coffee.  I’m trying to introduce veggies into my diet on a more regular basis.  I’m really, really trying hard to eat better, though I still have a ways to go, especially with the veggies.

It’s paid off a bit, though — I’ve dropped six pounds since the last time I was in my doctor’s office a month ago.

That weight loss — which I sincerely hope will continue as I eat better and exercise more — is tremendous, because dropping some of the extra weight I carry around my mid-section will, by all accounts, do wonders for my blood sugar numbers.  I’m by no means obese (even if the nerdy, fat 13-year-old in my head likes to argue that point), but I do carry my extra poundage in the one place it’s medically worst for men to carry it, and the more weight I can drop, the better off I’m going to be, and the better my body is going to work, and the better I’m going to feel.

I don’t want to pay too much attention to the numbers, because that way lies madness. I am, however, going to continue to do what I’m doing, and hopefully do it even better, and trust that the numbers will continue to fall.  That six pounds might not be tremendous in and of itself, but it’s validation that — possibly for the first time in my life — I’m on the right path, healthily speaking.

Written by Allen

May 14th, 2009 at 10:49 am

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