Learning to Scuba Dive

As my head drops down into the water I exhale through the regulator for the very first time. The first breaths are okay but suddenly the noise of my breath and the jostling of my mask causes my heart to start racing. I'm not normally prone to panic but I last about 20 seconds before standing up and ripping the regulator from my mouth.

Breathing deeply to calm my thumping heart I settle back down into the water for a second try. It's not much better. Apparently we're already behind schedule and the instructor is hurrying everybody along so we can get on with the first underwater exercises. All I know is that my mind is inventing about a billion reasons a second why I should tell the instructor to go screw himself and get out of the pool.

Deep breath.

I release the air from my BCD and settle to the bottom of the shallow end of the pool. And breathe. Slowly. It's starting to feel like a meditation exercise. The instructor starts right in with how to remove your regulator from your mouth and then clear the water when you replace it so you can breath again. Sounds scary, actually dead simple.

I'm very comfortable in the water, it's having all the bloody gear wrapped about me that I don't like. The less gear I need to depend on the happier I am. Once I figure this out things settle down and over the course of the day I get familiar and comfortable with the gear. The day is a relentless pursuit of safety, it becomes increasingly obvious just how much thought has gone into the design of scuba gear, “a place for everything and everything in its place”.

Overall it's a good day, by the end I'm very comfortable with my gear. The only piece which is still a little intimidating is my weight belt. We had to practice removing it from our waists and then putting it back on, which I only managed with assistance. A second attempt was better, but not really a success. It's a reminder to me that my upper body really isn't very strong, something to work on. Hopefully there's not much which can go wrong with a weight belt during an actual dive, I'll be careful not to accidentally remove it underwater!

Until I'm learning something new, I always forget what a worrier I can be. My brain is inventing all sorts of things which could go wrong during our ocean dives next weekend. I don't understand why I panicked getting into the pool after lunch, when I was very comfortable right before lunch. I'm not convinced that any of us has a grip on buoyancy control, and suddenly the cold and poor visibility of Wellington's ocean seems much more intimidating.

Still it's been good to challenge myself and I'm looking forward to the four ocean dives next weekend. Right now my knee hurts, I'm very tired and I'm slightly bruised all over. Food and sleep are calling.

You Are Not Enough People

Once again Kurt Vonnegut is wonderful, from “God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian” …

Freud said he didn’t know what women wanted. I know what women want: a whole lot of people to talk to. What do they want to talk about? They want to talk about everything.

What do men want? They want a lot of pals, and they wish people wouldn’t get so mad at them.

Why are so many people getting divorced today? It’s because most of us don’t have extended families anymore. It used to be that when a man and a woman got married, the bride got a lot more people to talk to about everything. The groom got a lot more pals to tell dumb jokes to.

Most of us, if we get married nowadays, are just one more person for the other person. The groom gets one more pal, but it’s a woman. The woman gets one more person to talk to about everything, but it’s a man.

When a couple has an argument nowadays, they may think it’s about money or power or sex or how to raise the kids or whatever. What they’re really saying to each other, though without realizing it, is this: “You are not enough people!”

A husband, a wife and some kids is not a family. It’s a terribly vulnerable survival unit.

I met a man in Nigeria one time, an Ibo who had six hundred relatives he knew quite well. His wife had just had a baby, and they were taking it to meet all its relatives. Everybody was going to hold it, cuddle it, say how pretty or how handsome it was. Wouldn’t you have loved to be that baby?

I sure wish I could wave a wand, and give every one of you an extended family.

Life After Weta?

I keep forgetting that we aren't all connected to the same hive mind and am surprised when friends don't know that I have left Weta (again). Everybody asks why I chose to leave, and the answer is simple. Despite the fact that I adore my job, doing it left me with very little emotional energy to do anything else. I realised that for most of my adult life, work really has been my life. For a long time that was fine because I loved my work and was happy to make it my life. However with each passing year that compromise has seemed less acceptable. With “Avatar” wrapping up, and especially now that I'm single again, it felt foolish to not take a punt and try something different.

Of course this leaves the question of what exactly is the next step, and honestly the answer is that I don't know. What I do know is I've been talking about travelling the world for longer then I can remember. As a kid, shuttling between California and New Zealand with my parents, I remember idolising the scruffy hippy kids that I'd see congregating in the corners of airports. Over the last <gulp> twenty years I've ended relationships and quit jobs to head off on this journey more times then I care to count. Yet I always allowed life to pull me back before the final plunge. The time has arrived to stare the dream square in the face and either plunge in … or get over it.

What I do know is that I'll be spending the next couple months in Wellington enjoying summer and the company of friends. Then around April I'll be heading off towards Southeast Asia. My destination? The cheapest flight that gets me to Southeast Asia, I'm guessing Bangkok but hope to be surprised. From there I intend to slowly make my way westward. Since I'm not in a hurry I intend to stop for as long as I like and enjoy everything which seems worth savouring. I'll be avoiding planes and will instead travel by foot, bicycle, motorbike, boat and bus as much as possible. After exploring Southeast Asia I hope to make my way into China and from there to Tibet, down through Nepal and into India. After that I really have no idea, I suspect my initial travel companions will have headed for home by then so I'll be properly on my own. Then depending on how comfortable I am in my new traveller shoes, Africa or Eastern Europe seem the most likely choices.

I've been saying that this is going to be a one year trip but really I have no idea. More realistically it'll end when I: get sick of it, run out of money, find something I don't want to leave or end up back in New Zealand.

Between now and then I hope to keep the new travel section of this updated with what I learn and experience along the way.

Lessons Learned From Previous Employment

Canfield Concessions – Booth Operator (1988-1989)

  • Loyalty is only ever earned.
  • Treating people like children, makes them act like children.
  • Punishing people for making mistakes, makes them hide their mistakes.
  • When you aren't allowed to sit, your feet hurt at the end of the day.
  • Lycra flatters no one.

Dunedin Montessori – Janitor (1991-1993)

  • It's easy to be lazy.
  • The flexibility to manage your own time is invaluable.
  • Having a job you can do stoned isn't the pinnacle of achievement you once dreamed of.

Earthlight Communications – Owner (1993-1997)

  • Superb customer service can win you a lot of customer loyalty, but few will pay extra for it.
  • Growing a small business into a large business requires taking enormous risks.
  • Small, tight knit teams are vastly more effective than large ones.
  • Good judgement under pressure is a learned skill.
  • It's harder to teach social skills than it is to teach technical skills.

Internet Alaska – Team Lead (1997-2000)

  • Working so hard that you don't sleep, doesn't make anything better.
  • If the owners of the company can't work together … run far away.
  • When a company succeeds, there comes a time when the founders must delegate many of their previous responsibilities. Letting this moment slide by unnoticed, can be fatal.
  • If you can't bill correctly, it doesn't matter how good your reputation or technology is.
  • A great manager can make all the difference.
  • Surviving the loss of a key person, is never as hard as you think it will be.
  • A good manager puts their teams needs before their own and shelters their team from the pressures above.
  • Sometimes managing your friends really sucks.
  • Occasionally threatening to do the ridiculous will actually get things done.

Metstream – Principal Engineer (2000-2001)

  • Experienced businessmen can be worth their weight in gold.
  • There is an art to being pushy.
  • Big dreams take big balls.
  • After you've deployed your infrastructure is the wrong time to do your return on investment calculations.

Pixelworks – Systems Administrator (2001-2003)

  • The one thing that managers hate, more than anything else, is being surprised.
  • Working in a cost centre means that you, and your job, are at best a second priority.
  • In a support role your primary job isn't to do your job well, it's to maximise other peoples ability to do their job well.
  • Engineers don't like being wrong.
  • If people don't understand what you do, and why it's important, you will not be rewarded.
  • Being conscientious and staying focused is far more important than being smart.
  • It's possible to get accustomed to anything. Make bloody sure you are aware of what you've become accustomed to.

Personal Telco – President (2000-2003)

  • More than any other single thing, being successful at something means not giving up.
  • Everything takes longer than you expect. Lots longer.
  • In a volunteer based non-profit people don't have the shared goal of making money. Instead every single person has their own personal agenda which motivates their participation.
  • Unfortunately “dreaming big” is more fun and less work than “doing big”.
  • Process matters. How you get there will effect not only the end result, but how people feel about the end result.
  • Email is guaranteed to evoke the worst possible response from someone, especially during conflict.
  • Nothing is as refreshing to the soul as receiving an unanticipated act of generosity.
  • One of the primary jobs of a leader is to act as a “lightning rod” for discussion. As such it is often more important to have an opinion, than to have the correct opinion.
  • When dealing with difficult situations it's vital to stay focused on the goal and not get pulled into emotional responses. My mantra was: “read, react, respond, reduce”.

Weta Digital – Operations Manager (2003-2009)

  • If you avoid the possibility of confrontation you can never resolve anything.
  • If you don't ask for it, chances are nobody knows you need it.
  • Most people are incredibly generous when asked directly for help.
  • If you protect people too much, they will not learn the consequences of their actions.
  • Every company is held together by the supreme efforts of certain key people.
  • Effective communication is the largest challenge that every business faces.
  • Curiosity is worth looking for, especially in technical interviews.
  • Always assume that anything put in writing will end up on the public record.
  • Glamour is only visible from a distance.
  • You will be remembered as much for how you leave as for what you accomplished.

Network Appliance – Sales Engineer (2006-2007)

  • Expect giggles the first time people see you in a suit.
  • Meeting workmates face to face is an absolute requirement.
  • The primary job of salesmen is to navigate their own companies bureaucracy on behalf of their customers.
  • Travelling for work can in fact get old.
  • Never try to out drink a salesmen.

An Exclusion Diet: The Report

Please note, when I wrote this I knew nothing about managing autoimmune diseases with diet. It was an interesting experiment from which I learned, but I don't recommend anyone else follow this particular example. If you are interested in elimination diets the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) would be a much better place to start.

Following up from my last post, I've spent the last two weeks following a strict exclusion diet (aka elimination diet) in an attempt to determine if the food I ate effected my psoriasis. The only food I was allowed during this experiment was brown rice and water (yes that meant no salt, soy sauce, olive oil or other forms of flavour).

The goal is for the restrictions to improve your symptoms to the point where they are consistently gone or much improved. Once they have stabilised in their new improved state you begin slowly reintroducing foods and wait to see what foods are problematic.

For the first week my psoriasis got slowly but steadily better, with a sudden improvement around day 8 (a Monday). However the following week it started to backtrack and by day 13 I was basically back where I started. The failure to reach an improved and stable plateau, combined with me getting quite light headed and lethargic in the final day, caused me to throw in the towel and start eating normally.

I'm disappointed, both with the results and in my bailing from the experiment. While it appears that diet doesn't play a significant role for me, my sister is sticking it out (good for her!) and is hopeful that she'll find some problem food culprits. I still believe that experimenting with diet in a controlled fashion like this is a powerful tool and could be helpful to many people. In the hope that it will be helpful to others, here is what I learned from this experiment.

  • The Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Allergy Unit is a wonderful resource to learn about food allergies, intolerance and elimination diets in general. I wish I'd found their site before I began my diet. They have lots of information available on their web site and have also published two books on the topic. Their first book, "Friendly Food" is primarily a cookbook which provides lots of yummy recipes for people who need to avoid a wide variety of foods. The introduction also has some great information and charts about the natural chemicals in food and how to introduce them into your diet. Most of the introduction is available online for free. I haven't read their second book, the “ "Elimination Diet Handbook" but I've ordered a copy and it looks great based on the introduction available online.
  • Following a diet this strict is hard. The challenge was the fun to start off with, but once the novelty wears off it gets boring and then a bit grim. In retrospect I think I'd try a less restrictive diet first but at the time it seemed simpler to do the hardest one first.
  • As your body detoxes expect waves of moodiness. Both Amy and I found day 2 and 3 particularly difficult and day 7 was brutal. Neither of us think we'd have made it if it wasn't for each others support. This also matches reports from friends who've tried similar diets.
  • When all you have is rice and water, get creative! There are a few different types of brown rice (short, medium and long grain). I accidentally burnt a batch of rice early on and the additional flavour was a welcome surprise. Hot water makes a surprisingly decent morning drink and sparkling water is a welcome change from tap water. Making rice tea is an easy and fun alternative too.
  • Make sure you eat enough. I got lazy (and really bored of rice) and wasn't eating nearly as much as I should have been. I think in part that's why day 7 was as tough as it was. After forcing myself to eat a big bowl of rice at the end of the day I perked up substantially.
  • Go easy with the exercise. The first week I was still running and did a big skate session on the weekend. The second week I tried running but it was unpleasant enough that I stopped. Eating only rice means you don't have the energy reserves to make exercise fun. On the last day an easy walk up the Wither Hills was enough to make me very light headed and a little dizzy.
  • Be careful changing your surroundings. Getting out of the city to visit my parents seemed like a pleasant change of pace, but it also took me from the environment where I'd learned my new habits. Had I stayed in Wellington I might have stuck it out for my third week, but visiting my parents provided plenty of excuses to quit (to be fair many of them were very reasonable reasons).

I kept a daily journal of my progress during the diet. I'll save the world from the details but if your are going to try this yourself and are interested in the nitty gritty I'm happy to share what I know.

An Exclusion Diet

Please note, when I wrote this I knew nothing about managing autoimmune diseases with diet. It was an interesting experiment from which I learned, but I don't recommend anyone else follow this particular example. If you are interested in elimination diets the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) would be a much better place to start.

I've always known that psoriasis runs in my family but until a few years ago I thought that I'd been fortunate enough to have dodged that gene. I'm lucky in that I have a very mild case, yet it's annoying and it would be lovely if it went away.

Over the years I've done a bit of reading and am hearing more and more stories from friends and in online forums about people who have managed to make dramatic changes in their health simply by changing their diet.

I didn't pay this much attention until I was reading Andrew Weil's "Spontaneous Healing", he talks about how skin conditions are almost always a sign of something being wrong inside your body. He went on to say that any sort of topical treatment is at best treating a symptom and at worst pushing the problem back into your body. Say what you will about hippy doctors, this made too much sense for me to ignore.

As I started reading online I wasn't surprised to discover the mass of conflicting information (and straight up scam sites) about diet and psoriasis. The only thing which everybody (except western medicine) agrees about is that changing your diet can make things better, and in some cases “cure”, psoriasis. In general the four big baddies seem to be:

  • Alcohol (especially for men)
  • Sugar
  • Red meat
  • Caffeine

Which left me a little depressed, it doesn't leave many harmless vices! However after much reading, discussion and support from friends, my sister has agreed to join me in an experiment with an exclusion diet. The idea is that you remove basically “everything” from your diet for up to three weeks. During that time, and often much faster, your symptoms should completely disappear. Once you are symptom free you slowly add things back into your diet and figure out what was causing the problem.

In this case removing “everything” means being left with brown rice and water. Fortunately I quite like brown rice, I only hope I still like it when this is over!

Before I get lectured, I understand that exclusion diets are typically used for allergies, intolerances and skin conditions like eczema. I understand that psoriasis is actually an autoimmune disorder, but I figure I don't have a lot to lose. At the end of three weeks I either discover that diet doesn't make a bit of difference, in which case I can stop wondering and get on with my life. Or it “cures” me and I can get down to the business of figuring out what the actual problem foods are. Either way I win, so long as three weeks of brown rice doesn't break me!


2014 by adam shand. sharing is an act of love, please share.