How a Dog and a Story Made Me Like Running

Dog balloon Miss Jazz
Miss Jazzy the Husky

I hated running.

I’ve never been good at it, I dreaded any time it showed up in a workout. And, to be honest, I tended to skip those workouts.

Really . . . I HATED running. I can’t stress that enough, I barely tolerated it occasionally.

Life Changes, whether You Want It or Not

Jazz and Buddy wrestling
They look vicious, but it was obvious they were playing.

About six months after Jazz was adopted by my mother-in-law, my wife and I got Buddy, a mini Australian shepherd. We were terrified when they first met, because Jazz was so much bigger. But from the start, they played like littermates and had a bond we can’t explain.

Then we inherited #MissJazzyTheHusky. Jazz moved in to our lives and we made room. But if you’ve been around huskies, you know they aren’t afraid to sass you if you aren’t fulfilling their needs. If we didn’t let her be active enough, she let us know. There was one evening where she basically overrode the TV with her adorable, skull-vibrating sounds.

We noticed on days she was active, she was calmer in the evening. So . . . running. Really?!

MissJazzyTheHusky and Buddy - best friends
Friends since puppy-hood. Don’t let their calmness lull you into a false sense of security.

Reasons Pile Up

In addition to the fact Jazz needed to be worn out, I needed to improve my fitness level. But I dreaded running.

In one of the fitness groups I participate in, I heard people talking about Zombies, Run! as something enjoyable to listen to while running.

Gamify Your Fitness

Zombies, Run! initial mission list
You have to start somewhere.

By the time I finished the trial period, I was hooked on the story of a small community(Abel Township) trying to survive the Zombie apocalypse. Not only was the story compelling, there was enough gamification to keep me going to build my own virtual city.

I love the fact that Zombies, Run! allows you to exercise and track your distances in a couple different ways. When you have access to trails, roads, and open spaces to run, the GPS on your phone can track your speed and distance. Or you can set a constant pace if you are using treadmills, exercise bikes, or other stationary machines. You can also set your stride length and let it calculate distances based on step counts.

Real World Community and Introspection

And the community is really cool, too. Some people use the app while they are riding their bikes, walking, or doing many other activities.

Over time, running taught me a lot about myself. When I am really struggling, I came to appreciate the simplicity of the challenge: just keep going. Running doesn’t require a bunch of special gear, just a decent pair of shoes and a leash for Jazz.

I reached a point where the hardest challenge of running is deciding to go do it. And now that challenge is fading.

But running is hard. It forces you keep pushing when your brain is telling you to give up. It allows you to learn the difference between when your body is really done and when it’s just uncomfortable.

My New Attitude

Now I am thankful for running. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic and through the loss of my job, running has become a place that is both peaceful and brings me peace that carries into times I’m not running.

Especially on days when stress and worry rise up like a pair of bullies, the challenge and focus of running seems to drain the power of stress and worry. At the same time, I feel like I am more able to recognize the lies that stress and worry try to use to drive me into panic and apathy.

There are still times it’s hard to lace up my shoes and head out the door, but I know it’s not just for me. Jazz is waiting. I gotta go hit the trails, and save Abel Township.

Raise the gates! (If you want to know, you have to play.)

My total statistics from Zombies, Run!
Not bad . . .

Why ‘Your Cloud’ is Better Than THE Cloud

Western Digital MyCloud EX2

Changing Expectations

2020 has been a year of changes, that’s for sure. Back in February, we had no idea what was in store. In a matter of weeks, our home networks shifted from something we used for interacting with friends on social media, game networks, and for streaming entertainment to our new workplace.

Working from home has added several challenges to our lives. We may not have the same bandwidth we did at the office, our data may not be more vulnerable to loss or corruption since our work computers aren’t getting backed up the same way.

Losing Data Happens . . . but Not as Much as in the Past

If you’ve been working with computers for any length of time, you’ve lost data. Back in the day, floppy disks would just be totally corrupted one day. Sometimes Norton rescue saved your butt; usually you were simply out of all the time and work you spent on that report.

Things got a little better when personal computers had hard drives.

But hard drives still fail. I mean, you can go for years without a hiccup, then one day you’re just out of luck. Everything on that drive is just gone. I’ve been in a few situations where I’ve been able to use my geekery and another system to recover some of the data, but those times are usually the exception, not the rule.

Now high-speed internet service is so ubiquitous that most major operating systems try to save everything to “the cloud” so that you can access it from any device. Whether we’re talking about Apple’s iCloud drive or Microsoft’s OneDrive, many programs default to saving documents onto a folder out on the Internet.

Using the Internet as a limitless storage device has a lot of benefits: your data is always being backed up and is stored away from both your network and your computer. If your computer dies, information saved to the cloud is still available; likewise in case your house is destroyed and nothing can be recovered.

Sounds Too Good to be True . . .

You’re right, it does. There are some problems with different implementations of cloud storage.

  • My wife’s iPad saves everything to the cloud. There is no local copy, which is fine . . . as long as she always has Internet service. But we moved recently and spent a month without Internet, so there were a few projects she had saved that she couldn’t work on unless she went somewhere with public Wi-Fi. Mid-2020, most of the locations we usually went were not allowing people to hang around due to concerns about spreading COVID-19.
  • Photographers, videographers, and anyone working with large files knows working with them on the cloud is painfully slow. It takes time to upload and then re-download the files when you need to work with them.

There is a Middle Ground

Western Digital MyCloud EX2

A few years ago, we purchased a network-attached-storage device (NAS), specifically the Western Digital MyCloud EX2. It was relatively easy to set up, and gives us redundancy to protect our data. There are two hard drives in the device, so we have it configured for them to be mirrored. This means the exact same data is written to both drives so we can access it even if one of the drives fail. The downside of this configuration is that the advertised size of our unit got cut in half: we purchased a 4 TB unit but since we’re mirroring the drives, we only have 2 TB of usable storage.

This kind of protection used to be so prohibitively expensive only larger businesses could afford this kind of setup. Now its price point is a few hundred dollars and is simple enough most people could set the unit up themselves and protect their data.

Now, not only are you getting the redundancy provided by backing up to the cloud, you are getting the much faster performance of your local network. Most users don’t notice, but the Wi-Fi and ethernet connections of your home network are probably orders of magnitude faster than your connection to the Internet. This allows you to work with large files on your local network and still have some data protection in place.

But I’m not Always Home!

So you’ve got a great NAS set up at home and it’s great for working on stuff when you’re home. But you’re not always home, right? What if you’re at the coffee shop, or on vacation, or at your office? What then?!

Don’t worry, they’ve got you covered for those situations, too. The NAS devices I’ve looked at allow you to install an app on your computer or device that will connect you to the drive when you’re at home, and by signing up with their service, the app will create a connection back to the device in your home so you can access files on the fly.

What About a Disaster?!

So you probably remember me talking about how using the cloud is beneficial in case your computer dies or your house is destroyed and you can’t recover anything. The “what if your house is destroyed” concern is valid, since that is where we keep our NAS so it’s useful to us.

Most NAS devices allow you configure off-site backups to happen on a schedule so your data is also backed up to the cloud in case of a disaster. These usually require an account with a service that allows inexpensive storage space, like Amazon Web Services, Elephant Drive, or other services.

These backups are not real-time, meaning that they are synchronized every time a file changes, they are run on a schedule you determine. It’s not going to protect everything, but this gives you the ability to make sure important things are available, redundant and off-site.

So What Do You Buy?!

If I’ve convinced you that you need a NAS for your home or small office, here are a few options for you. These are units I’ve either used personally or know someone who has and they’ve worked well for us.

Single-Drive NAS Devices

I do not recommend these. There is no redundancy to help protect your data. It’s just one hard drive attached to your network, and if it fails, it’s just like the drive on your computer failing.

2-Drive NAS Devices

Western Digital My Cloud EX2 Ultra – The ‘Ultra’ is the progression of the model since we purchased ours. Like I said, it’s easy to use and configure. You can set up multiple users and grant access to some areas only to some users. It comes with two drives of the same capacity, so if you want redundancy, you only have mirroring as your option. So buy the model with twice as much storage as you think you need.

Multi-Bay NAS Devices

These are devices that support more than 2 drives. Once you get to 3 drive bays, you have lots more options for data redundancy. The main benefit being that while you still lose one drive’s capacity to redundancy, it’s no longer 50% of the total capacity. Once you go down this road, however, you will need to involve someone who is comfortable with advanced computer topics.

Multi-bay devices also tend to get noisier when they are being heavily used. Ideally, your NAS, router and other network equipment could be isolated in a closet or little-used room where the noise will not be noticed.

When ordering, you will need to make sure you purchase storage drives. These models tend to be sold as the base, and you add the drives that give you the total storage and redundancy you want.

Western Digital My Cloud Pro – This is the business version of my unit. A simple user interface/dashboard makes this unit behave similarly to the smaller unit I have at home, which could allow someone with less advanced knowledge to set up and configure the device.

Synology DiskStation – Synology was one of the first NAS brands I remember hearing fellow computer geeks talk about. They are known for their quality, stability, and ability to be upgraded more than other brands. Some models allow you to purchase additional RAM to increase performance or have solid-state drives(SSD) for frequently-used files to further increase performance.

I’ve heard good things about Buffalo TeraStation as well, haven’t directly used them or known anyone who has. But they have a good reputation, so I’m sure their unit is solid.

Level Up Your Network

Give yourself a little more peace of mind about your work. My NAS has allowed me to off-load large video files until I’m ready to work with them, and it’s nice to know the drives are redundant in case there is a problem with one of them.

Inexpensive Technology to Improve Your Video Calls

Or ‘Is it worth $10 to get a stable Zoom call?’

Ethernet Cable
I know it’s not sexy, but it’s reliable. . .

What if I told you there was one simple thing you could do to minimize dropped or garbled video calls?

You know what I’m talking about. Now that you’re working from home, video conferencing is happening all the time. Everything seems fine until you’re in the middle of the call and suddenly it sounds like you’re at a Daft Punk concert. Or you’re in the middle of a discussion and  suddenly you just aren’t on the call anymore.

The problem could be your Wi-Fi. Even if you have a strong signal from your router, Wi-Fi is not the most stable connection. You could be getting sudden interference from other electronics in your house or your neighbor’s house. Or someone else on your network is uploading or downloading a huge file over the same Wi-Fi network.

I’ve found simple solutions tend to work best. So my simple, inexpensive solution is this: plug your computer into an ethernet cable. I know. I know it hurts. We bought laptops because we don’t want to be tied to a single location. But you shouldn’t be walking around on a video call, and if you’re leading it, you really don’t want to get dropped.

Set up your spot for video calls near your router so you can just run an ethernet cable to one of the ports on the back of the router  when you do video calls. My work desk has an ethernet cable right next to my laptop’s power cable. So, if I’m working in that spot, I charge my computer’s batter and use the ethernet at the same time.

Why Does this Matter?

Since Wi-Fi is cordless, it uses certain radio frequencies. If your router and your neighbor’s router are both on the same frequency, it’s kind of like two people yelling at the same bartender in a busy nightclub. The server is getting confused. They’re not sure who to be listening to and it takes longer for you and the other customer to place your order because you have to repeat yourselves over and over.

By plugging your computer directly into your router, it’s like you’re placing your order directly with their ordering system, and they just have to hand you your drink. It’s more reliable and less likely to have an error because your voice didn’t carry or the guy next to you is shouting over your order.

What if You’re Already Plugged-in?

If you are already using an ethernet cable, and you’re still getting garbled or dropped calls, your router is underpowered or is several years old and will need to be replaced.

 A few years ago, I hadn’t thought about how old our router was getting when we moved into a new house. At the same time, we added about 5 devices to our network because our kids got their own phones and laptops and suddenly everything online got slow.

Simply replacing the router with a mid-grade home router took our bandwidth speeds from less than 1 MB/s to over 10 MB/s and we had no issues from then on.

If you’re making important calls from your computer and having reliability problems, make sure you’re using the most stable connection for your computer. Get an ethernet cable.

The Price of Exuberance

Or: How My Ego Broke My Body

Yes, I’m trying to stand up straight. No, that’s not normal.

I Know Better

A few days ago, I made a distinct error in judgment. I got excited during a workout and did more than I should have. I’m human, I was having fun, and I should have skipped that last set.

To set the stage, I’ve been running regularly for over a year, in which time I’ve lost over 20 pounds and dropped to approximately 20% body fat. My body feels better than it has in a long time, and I was ready to re-introduce barbell work.

Wednesday of last week, I chose to skip my 4+ mile run and do a functional strength workout incorporating deadlifts, kettlebell swings, and jump rope. And it was glorious. Not that I set any personal bests or  did anything remarkable other than I did string together more double-unders than I expected to accomplish.

I ran on Thursday. It was a good run, and provided the things I’ve come to need from runs: the requirement to focus on the mental  challenge of running on uneven ground and the mental exhaustion that allows the negative voices in my brain to fall asleep for a while.

At Least . . . I Should Know Better

And then Friday happened. Olympic lifts are highly technical movements, and I understand the dangers of doing too much too soon. My planned workout was to do 5 sets of 5 reps of clean & jerks at 65 pounds. I felt this weight was light enough I would be able to just focus on my form and would be able to easily finish the workout without problems.

My body started sending me hints my plan was unreasonable sometime near the beginning of the third round. The muscles were more tired than I expected, but nowhere near failure.

By the end of the fourth round, my body told me it was tired, and I remember thinking, “I should be happy with this. Just put the weights away and call it a day.” But my ego and brain swindled me into thinking, “It’ll be fine. Don’t just give up because you’re a little tired. The first four sets were fine…you’ll be fine.”

So I put on one of my “pump up” songs, rested a little longer, let the music get my adrenaline start flowing, stepped up to the barbell . . . I’m not sure if I pulled too hard from the ground or caught the bar too far forward, but I dumped the bar and knew something wasn’t right.

Face Challenges with Optimism

post-lift selfie July 3, 2020
The pain hasn’t really set in yet . . . but it was there.

I instantly recognized the feeling and knew my back was in trouble. My optimism made me think it wouldn’t be too bad. But it took 4 days before I recovered enough to stand in front of the mirror to take the picture at the top of this post. It’s not as obvious in this photo, but I spent most of the weekend with my left shoulder about 3 inches lower than my right.

This is the formula for many workout injuries I’ve heard: excitement to resume being active, overconfidence in your own ability, and pushing through the signals your body sends.

Did I Screw Up?

If I had been working with a personal trainer, they would have accepted too much responsibility for this injury. Since I was on my own, reacquainting myself with movements I’ve done before, no one can take any of the responsibility from me.

It’s my fault I injured myself. I let my ego be too strong. And the price I paid was high: I’m closing in on 5 days and I can barely walk a half mile without discomfort.

When you get excited to face a challenge, remember: your brain and your ego can write checks your body can’t cash. In a state of exuberance, our judgment gets clouded and we need to be more careful about the decisions we make.

Sometimes the hardest thing is stopping. Whether it’s one more jump, one more singletrack, or one more mile running. Don’t take yourself out of the game. That price is hard to pay.