The Constants

Routines, we all have them, find comfort in them. Post college, I found myself with lots of free time, and I didn’t know what to do with it.

I recall hearing about adults with strange hobbies, and thinking who has time for that: “He roasts his own coffee beans in his garage.” Paradoxically, I find myself filling my free time with more and more hobbies as my free time becomes more and more limited. I used to spend an inordinate amount of time doing nothing – which is not to say I don’t still spend a great deal of time watching Netflix. As my free time became more and more sparse, and thus more and more valuable, I’ve picked up more and more things that I enjoy.

Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that’s the stuff that life is made of...Time is money. -Benjamin Franklin

In reading Benjamin Franklin’s biography, I was affected by his prescriptive daily schedules while he was in school. He had blocks of time that were allotted to all kinds of tasks and various subjects, including exercise. No time was wasted. If he wasn’t spending him time enriching himself, he viewed it as morally wrong.

At the risk of sounding cliché, the importance of time is less apparent in youth – when time seems semi-infinite. When one starts to contemplate mortality and what will be left behind, how you will leave your mark, how you will change the world, then suddenly wasted time becomes a luxury that can no longer be afforded. When we’re young we have little money and a great deal of time, when we’re old we have more money and less time.

My hobbies are now numerous and I run the risk of wasting time in a wholly different way, i.e., spreading my resources and time out too thinly, over too many things, and never being particularly great at anything.

Read (and Listen)

Among my new favorite things is reading. Reading to me is like asparagus: I hated it as a kid, but love it now. I recall a standoff with the parents over my not wanting to touch the asparagus on my plate, me obstinately refusing to shovel the sprigs into my mouth, and my parents refusing to let me leave the table until I had cleaned the plate. These days though, the green stuff is now among my favorites, so too is reading.

The Internet is filled with loads of poor writing, with more emphasis being put on timeliness over substance or wit. Enter The Economist, which has become one of my greatest wehttp://www.economist.com/ writing is fantastic, their global perspective refreshing, and their pro-American yet outsider viewpoint is useful in formulating my own opinions on American politics/policy. I can’t stress enough how valuable The Economist is to me.

One of the downsides of my job, that of many in the nuclear field, is my considerable commute. I drive roughly an hour both to and from work daily. While many carpool, saving a great deal of money on gas, I find the time I spend waiting on others and the inconvenience of not being able to arrive at work when I please, too big a trade off. What I do enjoy, and one of the reasons I do drive myself, is the time I have in the car to listen to audiobooks and podcasts.

I used to spend all of my time in the car listing to NPR, but that was back in Michigan and Indiana, where I had the incredible Elkhart station, WVPE (which I stream via the NPR app these days). Down here… well, I’ll spare you from my ‘I loath the south’ critique of the local NPR stations. Let me just say, I’d prefer Diane Rehm over that Clemson guy who talks about bugs and flowers any day of the week.

These days though, if the latest album from Vampire Weekend, M83, or GaGa’s single isn’t blasting on my 12-speaker sound system (over the top I know), it’s podcasts and audiobooks that you’ll hear. I don’t know what I would do without my Audible subscription. I listen to anything from biographies, to tech non-fiction, to thrillers, to sci-fi. It affords me the ability to enjoy books I’d otherwise not have the patience or time to read in print, while making use of what would otherwise be a wasted 2 hours out of my day. I’m also a loyal subscriber to a great many of the TWiT.tv podcasts, most notably TWiG, which I’ve listed to every week for years.

Workout

Getting back into the gym was a long time coming. Until a little over a year ago, I hadn’t gone to a gym regularly since high school. I had gotten back into running - much more of a constant in my life - and quickly discovered that the heat and sun of the Georgia summers made running outside all the time impossible, not to mention a health risk. What began as a merely a way for me to run in the air conditioning, quickly developed into an obsession with weight lifting.

A few too many glutinous business trips, decadent meals out, and my most physical task of the day often being walks to the coffee pot, had left my body in very poor condition – certainly not that of a single, twenty-something gay man.

Over the course of the last year, things have really changed. I went from barely being able to run a 5k a couple years ago, to casually running a 10k, or more, just for fun, cycling 30+ miles, and lifting 2-3 times a week. I also went from eating a largely vegetarian diet to a diet rich in protein and low in carbs (save the incredible amounts of candy I still consume), loosing 30+ lbs, and gaining a great deal of muscle mass. The 4-Hour Body was instrumental in shaping my new diet and way of life. Case and point: my obsession with consuming a high protein breakfast within 30 minutes of waking. Later I switched to a more moderate approach to the whole carb/protein question as I began to struggle with energy during my endurance activities – yawning during your run is a dead giveaway that something is missing.

It took some time for me to figure out new ways of cooking and ordering while dining out, but it’s really not that difficult. Being that there are so few healthy options for food on the go, especially here in the south, if I’m too lazy to cook or having a busy week I find that protein bars and shakes make up a significant portion of my diet.

Working out is an incredible way to boost your confidence, build a sense of accomplishment, stay healthier, focus your energy, and deal with stress. Go to the gym today, make time – the feeling afterwards is well worth it! Buy a scale and stay accountable to yourself!

Cook

Working in tandem with the above endeavor, I’ve always had a passion for cooking and good food. However, I had to throw many of my childhood ‘comfort food’ recipes out the window, though tasty and full of fond memories, many were a little too carb loaded and not as fresh as I’d like. I find myself cooking a lot more Asian inspired dishes these days: curries, stir-fries, and the like – sans rice. Basically typical meal plan is as follows: pick up some great looking produce, quality meats, throw it together as simply as possible, rinse, and repeat.

Without a doubt some of my favorite dishes are of the rich French sort, which are anything but simple, and certainly not the fare of athletes or someone trying to stay fit. I occasionally pull out one of my numerous cookbooks, but so often it’s hard to find something simple and protein rich; most dishes tend to be rich in other ways (e.g. cream, pasta, and cheese). Food takes on a whole new face when you ask, “What is my body getting out of this?” There’s a juice bar at the local organic market and I find myself scrutinizing the nutrient density of the things they put into the juicer, “No celery please it’s just water, no apple that’s just sugar – more kale.”

Tinker

Coding has been something that has always captivated me. I remember asking my mother for a book on C++ for Christmas one year, sure that if I was to be anyone, I needed to get started now – everyone knows all the greats in the computer science world didn’t pick up their craft in college… I also recall stay up all night in IRC chat rooms, SSH’ing into random people’s servers and learning the command line before I finally got up the courage to install Red Hat on my laptop back in middle school.

The only class I ever received a received an A+ in at Michigan was Engr 101 – the programing course that all students in the College of Engineering at Michigan have to take. I loved that course; I lived it, breathed it, and literally dreamt about it. I never went into computer science because I was worried that if I did something I loved for a living I would grow to hate it. My prime example being the frustration I felt when dealing with my parents on tech support calls, or their lack of understanding for why a hard reboot was not how the computer should be shut down on a regular basis.

Later, my favorite parts my major were the opportunities for coding. Lots of Nuclear Engineering problems – at least academically speaking – can benefit, or necessitate, the use of coding to solve them. This was undoubtedly my favorite part of my coursework. Any assignment that included coding I did far better in, just for the fact that I was excited about the method, I could get into it.

I recently attempted to port this phenomenon to my current job. After a difficult quiz, which I performed poorly on, I was struggling to find new ways to focus and get excited about studying something that was anything fun. I endeavored to make a nuclear wiki – a repository for all of my notes. Sure it was time consuming, but it got me doing something I love and forced me to review a lot of material all over again.

There’s also the possibility, though slim, that it could actually solve a problem. If you’ve ever worked at a Nuclear Power Plant, you’ll be all too aware of the incredible frustration in finding information. In an age in which ‘Google’ is a verb, it seems unfathomable that I can’t just get what I want when I type into a search box. In my experience though, the nuclear industry places an incredible lack of importance on efficiency and innovation. Both of the companies I’ve worked for use incredibly cumbersome, poor performing, and unintelligible, systems for data management. Poor infrastructure and server speed aside, basic human factors are thrown to the wind… of course I want to see the document’s title in a document search program, are you kidding?

We use nonsensical nomenclatures and systems that do not interoperate. You can know exactly what you’re looking for, and know that it’s written down somewhere, but good luck trying to find it if you don’t know it’s in a document titled: 1X4DB1208-1. We use programs that have been co-opted from other industries and are ill-suited for the task we insist on using them for, never mind the fact that they don’t work with modern browsers. Have you gone to a website on the internet that is so baked into the old IE framework that it breaks if you open it on anything other than IE5 from Win XP…? Yea, we got that. The irony is that this is all done in the interest of rock solid stability – a farce.

Anyways, I imagine a world in which you can search for “CVCS” and get all the information, procedures, and documentation there is on the system without knowing the secret language. It seems like such a huge problem, with relatively simple solutions, we’re just not willing to put in the time and effort to see it through, because we don’t see the incredible efficacy gains that will be made – especially with the new engineers who don’t know all the secrets. The movers and shakers of today’s world have entire teams that are devoted to developing in-house tools that make their employees’ jobs easier, and thus more productive. But then, the nuclear industry is no Silicon Valley startup, in more than one way.

In today’s hustle and bustle, we need constants; things that never change, things that comfort us. What are yours?