Day 3 of 90: Pain

Forget what I said about the pushups yesterday – how it felt yesterday is nothing to how it compared today. So to go for a gentle walk for some exercise seemed rather mild in comparison. We’ll see how things go for the second round of pushups tomorrow…

Day 2 of 90: Hundred Pushups

When you start the hundred pushups program, you’re asked to do a test lot of push-ups and then, based on that, you’re put in one of three streams.

I got through all of 12 the other day and so was dropped into the first stream, which had about 5 sets of pushups. First 10, wait for 60 seconds, then 12, wait for 60 seconds … there were another three to go after that, but I sort of collapsed on the floor in a heap after that.

I’ll just pretend I got through 8 the other day. Don’t get me wrong – I’m keen to try again – it’s just that for today, my arms are saying, “Nooooo…..”

Also, despite my best intentions about food – I found myself eating (on autopilot almost) chocolate chips out of the fridge. (Once the packet gets opened in our house, it’s on for young and old…). I pulled myself up, but it does go to show how much these things are in the subconscious.

Day 1 of 90: Why I Hate Doctors

I mentioned on Twitter a few days ago that I was thinking of setting myself a small, achievable health challenge starting today. Well, I have started, and I decided that I would blog about it as I went. I’m normally not one for sharing health concerns left, right and centre, but nonetheless I have discovered after I tackled the Couch to 5K last year that there’s something about putting my intentions out into cyberspace that makes me stick to things longer than normal.

I’m not that great at sticking to things, you see. I think my personality type likes starting things, but finishing things is not my strong point…which is, oddly enough, the exact opposite of my wife, who loves finishing things.

Anyway, before I start to waffle any further, here’s where things are at:

I want to feel more fit. I don’t have a target weight I want to be, or anything like that – but for the last couple of years, every time I go to the doctor, my blood pressure creeps up a bit worse; every time I get a cholesterol test, it looks worse than it did before. In other words, on the scale of things, my health is in decline. To be honest, it’s gotten to the stage where I’m rather terrified of going to the doctor for fear that they’ll diagnose that it’s so bad that I’ve got six months to live. Yeah, there’s issues of mortality there which I probably need to tackle, because I’ve got a limited run on the planet one way or the other.  I know this. But part of me thinks that shortening that run because of something as stupid as, say, liking corn chips is really stupid.

So I’m trying for 90 days to see if I can bring about some changes. I don’t want to set up a huge, daunting routine, and also I’m currently in need of a new pair of running shoes (ruined by aforementioned Couch to 5K), so I don’t want to get into running again right at the moment. So I’m going to try three things:

1) Doing some exercise six days a week. I’m thinking a half-hour walk on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, I thought I might have a crack at one hundred pushups, because I’ve usually focused on walking/running and haven’t really done much muscle work and it sounds like a good challenge. More on that tomorrow.

2) Avoiding junk food on weekdays. This is not an easy one. I hate to admit it (I much prefer looking perfect – don’t you?), but junk food tends to call me, on average, every two days. Sometimes every day. We have a bit of a love/hate relationship, but that’s another story. Either way, I want to see if I can avoid it on weekdays. (We’ll see how we go on weekends.) The exception to this is the traditional office birthday cakes, which are always awesome. But only one piece.

3) Having a green smoothie every day. If you’ve never had one, they are the most phenomenal invention. You take some greens (lettuce, spinach, etc.) add slightly more fruit than greens, a bit of water, and blend it into a drink in a blender. Because there’s more fruit than greens, it takes like fruit and not like spinach. But because there’s so many greens in there, you get a much bigger hit of vegetables than you would if you were eating a salad. It’s quite ingenious.

Anyway, so far the walk is ticked off, so is the junk food (but it was cake day – so that probably didn’t help) and I’m about to go and drink the green smoothie that I just blended up. And because this blog post is long and banal enough, I shall go post a review I wrote a while back that I haven’t had a chance to get up, just to break the monotony.

New Year’s Resolutions

I’m always one to like making New Year’s Resolutions – and it was one such resolution which got me from the private sector into the classical music world, so they can work.

I have three for 2011, in no particular order:

  1. I want to start some experiments with converting newcomers to classical music into classical music fans. The classical music industry does a pretty good job (on the whole) of working to find all the existing fans that are out there. But I’m interested in the bigger question: can we make new ones?
  2. I’m interested in developing a strategy for local mission (ie helping those in need in our community) for the local church that I attend.
  3. I’m not going to buy any books, DVDs or music until I’m ready to read / watch / listen to said item. My original intention a few days ago was not to buy any new books, DVDs or music at all this year – but there are actually a few series and authors that I’m working through that I’d like to continue. But nonetheless, I want to avoid chasing after hundreds of new projects to pursue when I can enjoy finishing the ones I’m already working on. So we’ll see how that goes.

There’s other things I’m interested in, like nutrition and exercise, but I’m still trying to get my head around the best way to do that. In the meantime, those three will do as a start.

No New Books / DVDs / Music

It’s something that’s been running around my head for a few weeks, but I’m on the verge of making my 2011 New Year’s Resolution to give up buying new books, DVDs and music for a whole year.

Why?

It’s a bit complex, and in no particular order, but this is my thinking:

1) It consumes an awful lot of my thinking. I’m not particularly worried about the money side of it – I don’t blow that much of my budget on said books, DVDs and music – but it is the thing that I most think about buying.

2) I find myself immensely more interested in getting a new something-or-other, than the actual things I own. So Book X on the shelf in a bookstore seems 10 times more exciting than Book Y that I own and still have to read – even if Book Y is one of the greatest books ever written and has rave reviews. I can’t help but thinking that this interest in new things is a polite way of saying that I’m constantly discontent. Something that I’m a bit concerned about.

3) Recently, in my thinking, I’ve been getting concerned with those in society and around the world who are living in poverty. While I don’t think we should all give up our possessions and become dirt poor (I think God has blessed us in Australia with many great material things, which we can be thankful for), nonetheless, there does seem something fundamentally wrong about constantly wanting to get new things, when other people struggle to have any things to start with.

4) There’s a couple of big projects I want to work on in 2011 that require some time and energy – time and energy which I normally fill with the pursuit of new stuff. I’m curious to know whether I would be able to find more energy if I put my energies into that, rather than surfing the internet for new stuff to consume.

 

Anyway, I’m just thinking about the idea of it at the moment. I’ve got another 10 or 11 days to decide whether I do want to do it or not. Still pondering. Mainly pondering whether I can possibly do this without giving it up. But I like the idea.

Newness Block – Email Newsletters

I sat down to look through my emails last weekend (about the only time I find I have a solid block to read and reply to them). And I went through and unsubscribed to most of the email newsletters I had received over the last week, again making a note of which ones I’d unsubscribed to. They generally fell into three categories, which was quite interesting:

The Irritating – You know the ones. Hotel chains, clothing stores. Some place where you gave your email address, completely forgot you’d done it, and then they send you an email out of the blue. I can’t even remember the last time I stayed at a Rydges hotel, and yet there they are sending me emails. These ones are really easy to get rid of, because I never read them anyway. It’s just that it’s always been easier to hit delete than look for the unsubscribe link. But now, after this purge, both I and the company sending the emails are being completely honest with each other – the relationship wasn’t really working.

The Guilt-Inducing – These ones are more interesting. There are a number of email newsletters that I was signed up to because they’re related to something I felt guilty that I should be doing (and most likely wasn’t doing). An email newsletter for a writing course. An email newsletter from a missionary that I signed up to once ages ago at a one-off meeting, even though it’s not a missionary I’m ever likely to meet again and is not supported by our church. Frequent Flyer emails (I know I should check what miles I have and be vigilant to look for an offer, but I never do…). By unsubscribing from them, I was kind of admitting that actually I may not get around to these things for a long while (if at all), which was hard to admit to. But, once I had done that and unsubscribed, by cutting them back, I immediately felt like I’d free up some energy.

The Right-Buttons Emails – These are the hard ones to unusubscribe from. They come in, and they push all the right buttons to make you want to spend money. Emails from cinemas advertising special movies. Emails from book stores. Not that I’m saying I’m completely avoiding book stores and movies. But the point is, to be in control of these things, you have to be the one saying – “I think I’ll go to the movies; what’s on?” Or, “I think I’ll buy a book.” But if you weren’t planning to go to the movies or to buy a book (especially if you’re on a budget), do you really need this kind of stimulus to impulse buy? I think I’d just rather wait until I definitely want to buy something and then visit the website or the store.

So, yes, all in all, it’s been rather a good purge.

An Addiction to Newness

I blog about this every so often (or at least I think I do), so forgive me if you’ve heard this one before, but I have an addiction to newness. And the reason I’m blogging about it is because, at least at the present moment, it’s become particularly irritating.

So what do I mean, and why does it bother me?

Because I haven’t seen a lot written about it, I’m not sure what the technical term is for it, so I can really only describe the symptoms for me. But it works like this:

I’m at my happiest when I’m starting a new project or buying or otherwise acquiring something new. The things that I get most excited about are new projects that I haven’t even begun or new objects that I don’t own.

That may not make perfect sense, so I’ll tell you how it breaks down across a number of areas:

Books – I love collecting books more than I like reading them. So subsequently I have approximately 150 unread books sitting at home that I haven’t read. Some of them dating back to when I was a teenager. And this 150, mind you, is after I culled all the books that I was kidding myself that I would ever get to read in the next 10 years. However, even despite having all this reading mapped out, I still often feel the urge to buy more.

Films – I have a reasonable DVD collection at home and several TV series on DVD on the go. And yet  I’m always excited by the idea of starting another TV series or watching another movie – much more so than finishing the ones I’m watching.

People – I love meeting new people. I always find it quite exciting to be in a room with a bunch of people that I haven’t met. The possibilities are endless. However, I find it really hard to maintain contact with most of my friends. (I feel a bit better this week because I organised a picnic to catch up with some of my friends from Brisbane, but still that was more of an exception.)

Where newness gets particularly draining is online:

Email – I’m always checking my email (which can be done even more frequently if you’re carrying an iPhone with you). Why? Because there might be a new email in there to make life exciting. However, I don’t show anywhere near as much interest in replying to emails that I already have.

RSS – I love coming across a blog that sounds good to read. So I add it to the RSS reader. But then I have hundreds of posts coming in, which I feel obligated to catch up with, and that takes time too. But I like them, because they’re new.

Window Shopping – I also find that if I go into any sort of store, like a CD or a DVD store, that I find myself eyeing off new things that I could get stuck into. And I like big new things as well. (100 CDs of Beethoven’s music? Sounds great! 32 DVDs of Seinfeld? Yeah, it’d be great fun to watch all them!)

However, I have lots of these sort of projects sitting at home, with virtually nothing happening to them. I’m still not completely finished all the extras on The Lord of the Rings extended editions, but I’ve bought lots of DVDs in the meantime. I’m still midway through The Complete Sandman. I do actually own the aforementioned 100-CD Beethoven set, and I’m still listening to that as well.

And let me tell you, good as these things all are, they were most exciting when they were in the bag on the way home from the shops (or when I first ripped open the parcel when it got mailed to me). After that, they become ordinary, less exciting. Still good, mind you, but not as exciting as the thing I don’t own or the thing I haven’t started. And I could point to hundreds of things, and possibly thousands of dollars I’ve spent on things which I want to do/read/watch one day, that I’m still not finished yet.

The closest I’ve come to a diagnosis of why I like new stuff so much is really, I think, the Bible’s teaching on contentment and wealth. While some people like to read the Bible and find a justification for a left-wing agenda, there’s not a lot of that in there really. There’s plenty of wealthy people in the Bible who followed God, and they only got wealthier. There’s not really anything wrong with that.

But the people who do get a mention and a talking to, are those people who make their life revolve around their stuff and particularly their pursuit of stuff. This I completely understand. If you’re not careful, you hit a point where the stuff means a lot less than the actual acquiring of stuff. But at least in my observation, I don’t think that’s just limited to things you buy. It could be that all of this is symptomatic of a discontentment with the things you’ve got, and a drive to get more / consume more. Which is really a way of saying that newness is becoming the focus of your life, the thing that determines what you do and don’t do. In the Bible, anything that determines what you do and don’t do is usually called your idol or your god. You may not think of it in those terms, but it is helpful for me to be reminded about how strong this thing actually is.

I’ll talk more about this hopefully over the course of the month, because to counteract this drive for newness, I’m going to implement something I tried a couple of years ago (which I found really effective) called a Newness Block. The idea was to see if I could stem the flow of newness into my life and free up more mental energy for other things. So I’m going to give it a try again. I’ll come back soon and explain a bit more about what it involves. You never know, if you’re as addicted to newness as I am, you might like to join in…

Tessitura in Texas

Those of you following me on Twitter or Facebook over the last week would have noticed that I was saying an awful lot about Texas and an awful lot of stuff about other things that may or may not have made sense, depending on whether you worked in the arts or not.

So I thought I’d give you all a quick update on a week spent in San Antonio at a conference run by a very specialised and unique software company. You have been warned.

For those who are completely new to Tessitura, in the bad old days – say, about 10 years ago – performing arts companies used to use ticketing software to, believe it or not, sell tickets to shows. Their primary concern was making sure that Customer X got the tickets they asked for to a show. That was it.

However, in the world of performing arts, there has also been a long and honourable tradition of trying to collect donations from patrons. They get sent letters asking for money, rich patrons get invited to special events, meetings are made – and all sorts of information is stored for this purpose. Birthdates of prospects, the names of their spouses and children, what type of food they like to eat, their tastes in music – all of this is vitally important for the fundraiser.

So in these bad old days, the fundraising team (the correct term now is “development” team) would keep all this information in files, on cards, in notebooks, and if they were computer-savvy – they might even use a spreadsheet.

Meanwhile, in the corporate world, the tools to deal with this kind of stuff were becoming more and more powerful. Software known as CRM (Customer Relationship Management) was developed that could easily keep track of this sort of thing, and the corporate world used it extensively to monitor its sales efforts.

Some arts companies even started using CRM software, but an obvious problem existed – even though the CRM software was a good place to keep track of information and tasks related to chasing money – it was still missing the vital concept of knowing about ticket buying information – which was stored on the ticketing software.

The New York Metropolitan Opera, back in 2001, decided to deal with the problem. They spent several million dollars to come up with a piece of software that combined a state of the art ticketing package with the tools commonly used in CRM software. They called it Tessitura, an opera term for the range of the voice. They rolled it out across about half a dozen organisations.

However, the demand was so great for this, they realised they were onto a winner – so they established a third party company that could just focus on software and the organisation now known as the Tessitura Network was born.

My company just signed up Tessitura earlier this year, and so we’re relatively new to the whole software. But I was privileged to be able to attend the Tessitura Learning and Community Conference which is held yearly – this year in San Antonio, Texas.

Things really started to come together for me at this conference. While I had a fairly good idea of how Tessitura worked from being involved in the project to roll it out, it was incredible to be able to go to this conference and meet up with all the Tessitura staff and hundreds of people from the other companies using this software.

There’s two things that made this conference stand out for me:

1) The Tessitura bbusiness model is absolutely amazing. It’s a non-profit software company. So it exists purely for the purpose of making the best ticketing software in the world for the arts/cultural world. And it really listens to its users. While there was certainly a teaching aspect to the conference, where Tessitura staff offered teaching on various modules of the software – there was a huge emphasis on hearing what people wanted in the software. In a very democratic process, Tessitura canvasses its member organisations every year  for changes that they would like to see and then gives every company 40 votes to cast towards the changes they would most like to see.

2) As well as the attitude of the company, the community side of the conference was fantastic. Many of the presentations during the conference were made by users, showcasing innovative ways they had used Tessitura to aid their business. This ranged from some quite technical stuff through to some simple tweaks and reports that people had produced. Not only that, you only had to have a few quick conversations with people to realise that everyone there was ready to share their expertise.

In some ways, the conference did my head in, because it was so much information and we’re so new into the process. But in other ways, I now have at least a full year’s worth of stuff to explore. So I think that makes it a worthwhile conference for me.

The other half of it was that it was just plain fun being able to visit San Antonio, Texas. This is home of the Alamo – an old Spanish mission where a small group of Texans were holed up and ultimately slaughtered by an invading Mexican army in 1836. It was this massacre that fired up the Americans enough to defeat the Mexican army later (and ultimately invade Mexico in 1840), and a really well-preserved and moving part of history.

Then there were the people. I must admit that having an Australian accent (used strategically), can be a great boon in disguise – so I was shouted at least one dinner and several drinks over the course of the week, by the fine folks of the Nashville Performing Arts Center and the Arsht Center (in Miami). All in all, it was great fun, and I’m looking forward to being able to implement some of the things I’ve learned and also keeping in touch with the people I’ve met.

Finally, it was quite an eye-opener of the sheer joy of Twitter. (Okay, shut up, Dave – just because you’re right on this one, doesn’t make you right on everything . . .). There was a conference hashtag set up, and over the course of the week, most of the tweeters at the conference caught up with one another, and we probably all came out with at least a dozen new followers each. All very fun.

Anyway, that might explain a bit more of the background. Now on to a movie review . . .

The Matt Hodge Question Game – The Official Rules

I have been trying an interesting Facebook project recently, which is to convert over a social party game into an online game. This is the not-so-famous Question Game. (Apparently, there’s another Question Game which you can google about, but this is nothing like my game.)

So we don’t cause any further confusion – this will now be known as the Matt Hodge Question Game. Here’s the official rules:

MATT HODGE QUESTION GAME – RULES

Object of the Game: To get to know people better, and to make extroverts realise that introverts have good things to say too – but you have to ask them first.

1.You can play with as few as two people, but four or five is ideal.

2. If you’re playing in real life, sit in a circle. If you’re playing online in a (private) chat room then you can just run through the players in order that they’re listed.

3. Someone starts by asking a question. It can be on any topic – as serious or as silly as you like.

4. The person to the left (if you’re playing in a circle) or the person below the asker in a chat room listing answers the question.

5. Then the person to their left (or the next person down the list) answers the question. And so forth, until finally you come back to the person who answered the question and they answer their own question.

6. The person to the left of them (or next down the list) now asks a question and the game continues.

7. You can drop out or drop in as you please.

8. Nobody has to answer the question if they don’t want to but everybody has to be given the chance to answer.

9. If you’re not answering,then listen to other people’s answers. Feel free, however, to ask further questions to get people to explain their answers better or to comment on what they’ve said.

Okay, that’s it. The more willing you are to answer questions and ask interesting ones yourself, the more you’ll get out of it. Why not try it at your next social gathering? Friends of mine on Facebook, now you know what I’m talking about whenever I announce a round of the Question Game being played.

One-Year War and Peace 10.31 – With the Artillery Men

Reading for Wednesday, 4 February

This is one of those chapters where I feel like I could either rave for paragraphs about it or just let you read it for yourself.

It’s the quirky little details that bring this chapter alive, as the artillery men scuttle about their business, and the battle gets closer and closer.  It’s a subtle thing, but as soon as the artillery men decide that they can cope with Pierre hanging around (even if it’s just because he’s amusing), we instantly warm to them.  Which makes what happens to this particular artillery group all the more devastating . . .