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Posts Tagged ‘technology’

There is a lot that I could write about right now in regards to my life, weight loss and how my Buddhist practice is getting me through some very stressful times but I can’t bring myself to write about that in much detail right now. Instead, I can assure you that I’m exercising, eating healthy and maintaining a vibrant practice that is making some very tough times bearable. Instead, I thought I’d share a few quick thoughts about some of the things I’ve been using lately to help me keep my life on track and my health improving.

As I’ve been actively trying to eat healthy and exercise more in order to lose weight, I’m constantly on the lookout for great vegetarian recipes. For some time, I’ve been aware of a site called Yummly however, I’ve not used it as much as I should. That’s changed recently. Yummly is like a google for recipes and they bill themselves as having the ability to search every recipe in the world. They have a great section of vegetarian recipes available here. I’ve been able to find a lot of different recipes here that have inspired me to create some really tasty meals. The ability to search by ingredient or taste profiles or by category make finding things quick and easy. Regardless of what you like to eat, you’ll be able to find something here to inspire you to make something delicious.

Another new favorite is a blog called The First Mess. Laura, the author of the blog, not only creates amazing recipes but the photographs that accompany the recipes are works of art in their own right. Her commitment to creating fresh and healthy food comes through in each of her posts and the recipes there are all wonderful to read through and look at.

As I’ve said many times here, I’m a person who relies on their smart phone for almost everything. If there’s an app for it, I’ve probably seen it or tried it. One of my new favorite apps is called OurGroceries. It is designed for quick and easy sharing of list data between multiple users and works on the computer, Android, iPhone and Blackberry phones. It makes keeping track of groceries easy and as soon as an item is added to a list, that item shows up across any device that is authorized to see it. Another great feature is the Recipe section. It allows you to specify the ingredients needed for a recipe and quickly add them to a list if you need to get something at the store for something you plan on making soon. When coupled with the recipes I’m finding from Yummly and The First Mess, this app keeps me from missing important items that I’ll need and saves me from making multiple trips to the store.

Speaking of apps, I also recently downloaded an app called allthecooks. It’s for Android and iPhone and also available as a web site. It’s got a lot of nice social features and, while it’s not as nice of an interface as Yummly, it’s a great way to find recipes on the go when all I have is my phone. I’ve found a few really great vegetarian recipes there and a few meals I’ve found on this app have made it to my meal plan for the upcoming week.

I have also been getting a lot of use out of an app called Insight Timer. It’s a meditation timer and on-line community for people who practice meditation of any type. The features and functionality of the app blend seamlessly with the act of meditation and the timers are easy to set and start/stop/pause. You can save multiple timers, quickly switch between them, integrate with Twitter and Facebook and connect with others all over the world. Creating a meditation timer that works for whatever practice you have is quick and easy with this tool and I have found it to be a great way to track my meditation practice and see how I have been progressing.

The last app that I’ve been getting a lot of use out of is called PocketCasts. It’s an Android app for podcasts. Since Google killed the products I used to follow podcasts (google reader and google listen), I had to find something new and I’m glad I did. Finding and listening to podcasts with this app is extremely easy and navigating the user interface is dead simple. It’s intuitive and powerful. I am always up to date getting episodes of Buddhist Geeks, Zencast, as well as my other favorite audio programs like This American Life, The Moth Radio Hour, Science Friday, Snap Judgement and various tech news shows. If you have an Android device, I highly recommend this app for all of your podcasting needs.

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When I started this post, I was sitting in my favorite coffee-house in the world. If you ever have the chance to visit Portland, Maine, you must stop by Bard Coffee. It is the best coffee on the planet served in a great atmosphere by people who are crazy passionate about coffee. I don’t get to go there very often because it’s a bit out of the way from my office. That day, I happened to be walking by at lunch time so there I was, drinking a delicious latte and writing a blog post on my new Mac Air.

I’d just come from a meeting where I was told I don’t know enough, don’t have a good enough plan and don’t have the right focus in order to succeed. I was also exceedingly happy to have had this meeting as it was exactly what thought I would hear.

I’m not crazy (OK, not too crazy). I had a meeting with someone who is an expert in their field and I went to them for some advice on how to do a better job with a project I’m working on. I went in to the meeting with an open mind and made it a point to listen to the words of someone who has been quite successful doing what I hope to do.

I can’t go into a lot of details about the project I’m working on as it’s still too soon to be able to tell where it will go. This project will take a lot of my time and energy and will be quite rewarding for me personally regardless of the outcome. That’s why I found myself at a meeting with an expert who had graciously given me some time to grill him for advice and feedback.

In order to get anything out of this meeting, I could not go in with a lot of pride or an easily bruised ego. If I went in to the meeting already convinced of what I was doing and just wanting validation from another, it would be easy to get offended or to dismiss the advice of this expert. That’s not what I was after.

When an expert offers his time, free of charge, to review your project and provide candid feedback you’d be a fool not to listen to that feedback. I was determined not to be a fool. I went in to the meeting, presented my idea and showed what I had done so far. My idea and work was then dissected in front of me and laid bare so that all of its shortcomings and its strengths were plain to see. Needless to say, it wasn’t a fun experience but it was useful. Since that meeting, I’ve been able to take a lot of the free advice into account and I feel like I have a better understanding of how to proceed with my project and I’m excited about it being successful. I also know that I’ve avoided wasting my time following some paths that would not have worked out for me in the end.

It occurred to me that this is how things happen frequently in our lives. We see or learn something that could be helpful to us but our attachment to ideas/desires/possessions/passions keep us from paying attention to whatever it is. Our pride keeps us rooted. Buddhism teaches us a lot about attachment and how it leads to suffering in our lives. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. As I’ve been thinking about it, I have begun to see how true this really is. Being attached to our ideas means that we are unwilling to change them when the opportunity arises. I have seen this happen in every technical job I have ever had: someone is attached to their idea or method or solution and because of that attachment improvements are not made or are outright ignored. I’ve heard it said that the technology field is one of those rare few where hubris is a virtue and I see that virtue play out every time I interact with technical people.

If we allow our pride to keep us from making changes that move us forward, we suffer while trying to figure out why our wheels just keep spinning and progress isn’t being made. Pride is just a word that we use to define attachment to self. One of the reasons I write so frankly about my successes and failures in a public forum is because I don’t want to let my pride get in the way of my progress toward being healthy. Are you trying to make a change in your life or to get something done? If you’re not seeing the results you want, ask yourself some hard, penetrating questions about your pride and your ego. Without an intense awareness of your attachments, you will not see the success you hope to find any time soon. Once you are willing to admit ignorance or helplessness you are in a better position to move ahead. You may already be on the best course of action or have the right solution for your problem but until you are willing to give up your solution or your beliefs or your methods, you’ll never be able to evaluate them to find a better way. Laying aside pride is the first step to success.

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OK. I’m a geek. We all know that. Confession time over and we’re all happy. Let’s breathe out for a moment and let that shocking piece of new sink in. Ready? Good. Now, hold on to your seat and prepare yourself. This may get a little bumpy.

On Friday night, I made a long drive. It was more of a pilgrimage really, to the only true Imax screen in southern Maine in order to see Tron Legacy. This is a movie that I had been waiting to see for quite a while. I didn’t go in with high hopes for an engaging and eternal classic that will capture hearts and minds for generations. Let’s keep this real people, it’s a movie about getting sucked into a digital world where computer programs are people; there’s just not much you can do with that beyond what the original movie did decades ago. Instead, I went in expecting an effects heavy quasi-action movie with enough CGI whiz-bangery to make it worth spending the money I did to see and hear the movie on the best screen in the state.

I wasn’t let down. In fact, to say that the movie exceeded my expectations would be an understatement. I thoroughly loved this movie. It took me back to my youth and it was a really well done sequel. Especially considering that the original source material was from the early 80’s. There is a lot of father/son dynamic between Kevin Flynn and Sam Flynn as they try to come to terms with one another after having been apart for such a long time and there is a great theme on the dangers and disappointments of pursuing perfection. Then, there’s Jeff Bridges. I’ve never been able to see him in the same light ever since he became The Dude in 1998. I can’t help it because the role of Lebowski was unforgettable. As much as I tried to keep The Dude in his proper cinematic confines, I found him once again in The Grid that makes up the amazing world of Tron.

Why did I keep seeing The Dude? One thing they didn’t tell you in the previews and I didn’t know because I try to avoid a lot of hype concerning movies I’m really excited about is that Flynn has been trapped in the Grid for 20 years and has become a Buddhist while there. In fact, he’s become a Zen Buddhist. When I first saw him sitting in meditation with his back to the camera on a zafu and zabuton I knew this wasn’t going to be like anything I expected. Sure enough, I found myself in a completely sold out room full of people laughing in places where no one else was getting the jokes (yeah, it happened to me too Geo). There were a couple of times that I just sat back in amazement as Zen was presented in such a clear and vibrant way through this movie. Apparently, Jeff Bridges spent a lot of time learning about Zen and studying in order to portray a Flynn as accurately as possible. To see him wearing a mala on his wrist and looking every bit the wizened old Zen master was just icing on the digital cake (incidentally, I just realized you can’t have “wizened” without “zen” coincidence?).

I found myself laughing in recognition at the point when Sam challenges his father for just sitting by as CLU rampages and Flynn responds by saying “you have no idea how productive doing nothing can be.” Finally, after being forced to take part in the action, Flynn even chastises his son telling him “you’re totally ruining my Zen thing here” and once again, I find myself laughing out loud all by myself in a room full of people.

As I drove home on Friday night, I was giddy. Giddy with excitement from having seen a visually captivating film. Giddy from having seen a story that really did a lot more than I expected it to. Giddy from having seen such a wonderful presentation of a Buddhist perspective in a mainstream movie that wasn’t all wishy-washy and pseudo-spiritual. If you haven’t seen Tron yet, do yourself a favor and check it out. It’s worth the price of admission and you’ll have a great time watching the film. You may even learn something about Buddhism without meaning to.

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I’ve had nearly 130 posts on this blog and have not yet used the phrase “Zen and the art of….” I was proud of that but today I think I really did learn about that. When you work for the IT department of a hospital, there really are issues where technology breaking is a matter of life and death. I’m lucky that in the web department where I work we don’t have that kind of pressure. We do have that attitude though because it is a part of the IT/IS culture. We take our work very seriously and everyone works very hard to keep a lot of complicated systems working smoothly and cleanly. For this first time since I started this job, I have been given the On-Call pager. This means that if there is a problem with a web site, web server or anything that has a name that starts with “http”, I’m they guy responsible for making sure the problem gets fixed. I got this honor because my boss decided that for the first time in three years he’d like to take a few days off without having to worry about having his pager go off while he’s in Florida trying to relax.

I also inherited a few high priority projects that my boss just didn’t have time to complete because most of his time is now spent in meetings instead of writing code. That’s why it’s 10:00 P.M. and I’m just getting around to writing today. Today has been a little crazy. There were family obligations that required I get in to work a little later than I would have liked this morning and they also required me to get home early. Unfortunately, I didn’t get home early enough and wasn’t here when the school bus came by to drop off my kids. Maine has been getting slammed with rain today and this caused the traffic on the highway to be so heavy that a normally 20 minute drive took me 35 minutes. I ended up having to frantically call the school and arrange a place to pick up my kids. Fortunately, they weren’t upset with me for making them have to ride the bus for the entire route and they got some ice cream for their troubles.

As I said, I have a few high priority projects I’m trying to wrap up and while I’m busy writing code as fast as I can, the on-call pager keeps going off with issues that may or may not actually need my attention. However, I can’t ignore it and each time it goes off, I spend at least ten minutes trying to verify that there really is or is not an issue that needs my attention. When you have that many things going on at once, your mind is pulled in any number of directions at the same time. That’s how I found myself stressed, missing breakfast and working through lunch. That’s a recipe for disaster if I’ve ever heard of one.

If you’re still with me, this is where the whole “Zen and the art of” thing kicks in.

One of the important factors of Zen is being in the present moment. Living each moment as if it is your last moment on earth is the focus of Zen training. Living in the future is anxiety. Living in the past is depression. Living in the present is peace. It may not be bliss, but it’s peace. So, while I’m being pulled in five different directions at once, while my stomach screamed out in hunger, while my kids rode around town on the bus, while my pager went off with one problem after another and I felt the demands of life bearing down on me I remained in each moment. I focused on my breathing. I took one thing at a time. I didn’t worry about the next time the pager was going to go off. I didn’t beat myself up for getting in to work later than I wanted to and starting off the day behind schedule. I focused on whatever task I had to do at the time I was doing it and did the best I could at it. Once I got home and got off of a 30 minute call that was totally lacking in any productive or useful result, I began to think about addressing my hunger. Because I was mindful, I didn’t raid the pantry or the fridge and eat whatever I could find. I stopped, evaluated what I had, planned out a recipe and then went to the store to get a couple of things to allow me to make something filling and healthy. I ended up having a wonderful dinner that was filling for my stomach and good for my mind. It was my take on a black bean quesadilla recipe that I originally saw featured on the savvyvegetarian.com website. Then, I spent a few minutes with the kids and wife and relaxed. After that, I went to the Zen Center and was able to spend a good hour and a half in meditation.

So, here I am at the end of a long and stressful day and I don’t feel stressed. Yes, the day was long. Yes, the day was demanding. Yes, the day was stressful. Yes, the day was hard. However, because I lived each moment in the moment I still feel the peace that comes with living in the moment. Even after a long and hard day I can sit down and knock out nearly a thousand words about mindfulness and Zen. Once upon a time, I would have been cranky and angry and stressed out. I would have eaten a ton of crap and harmed myself in reaction to feeling out of control. I’m much happier with myself now and I have no regrets about how my day went. I’m prepared to do it all over again tomorrow.

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I recently downloaded two different apps that I have found very useful in my practice. Neither app is perfect but they are both useful.

The first is Zazen Suite – Deluxe Meditation & Mindfulness Timer. It’s got a meditation session timer with a countdown to the start of the session, a timer for the duration of the session and an interval alert to assist in tracking time in the session. The app also has a mindfulness bell that can play at specific intervals, specific times or a random number of times per hour. Unfortunately, this app does not yet support the new iOS 4 multitasking features so the mindfulness bell will only work if you keep your iPhone/iPod on that screen so I do not find it very useful.

The second app is one that I downloaded to overcome the mindfulness bell problems with the Zazen Suite app. It is called Zen Reminder – Mindfulness Timer. The mindfulness timer will work in the background and you can set up timers to ring a mindfulness bell at specific intervals, specify a time of day to ring, set up start and end times for the bell to ring and other helpful functions. This app only has one sound but it is easy to hear even when it goes off while my iPod is in my pocket.

Both of these apps are great tools and I am happy with both of them.

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