Thursday, July 31, 2008

Tales of a gym rat, part 1

I got to thinking today that I spend an inordinate amount of time working out in the gym or training martial arts. I suppose these are probably healthy passions to have. Time that a lot of people would spend going out to bars drinking, watching TV, or whatnot, I spend training physical conditioning, coordination skills, and martial arts. Overall, I believe this has saved me quite a bit of money and generally kept me out of trouble. One downside to this lifestyle that I end up having to eat a lot to fuel my physical endeavors, which is a small price to pay I think. Another consequence is that my circle of friends becomes highly biased towards people I either train with or see in my training environment. Again, this isn't really all that terrible since I end up around people with similar interests to me and training an internal martial arts usually means that I meet a wide spectrum of people anyhow.

Still, it is sort of funny how I ended up being so interested in physically demanding pastimes. I think part of it simply stems from the fact that I was actually discouraged from physical activities as a child so I could study more. That was an unfortunate, misguided action from my father, and it certainly backfired on him in the long run. The most surefire way to make a rebellious kid do something is to try restricting him from doing it. Combining that with the fact that I lived in the middle of a sleepy retired neighborhood in Florida with no car meant that I had a lot of pent up energy and nothing to do with it except play lots and lots of basketball at the playground. When I finally started going to the gym (via parent chauffeur), I burned off that energy playing more ball and lifting weights.

Then there's the fact that I wasn't exactly the model of fitness for most of my childhood. Embarassingly, I was once 183 lbs, and that wasn't all muscle. Halfway through college, I went vegetarian, started eating 5 meals a day, and exercised like a madman. I was in the gym like 3 hours a day in the gym (over the summer anyhow, I don't think I could swing that gym schedule during the regular academic year). Needless to say, I dropped a lot of weight fast. Basically, I dropped about 50 lbs in a year. I was probably a little too thin at 132 lbs, but I was in really good shape and feeling pretty good.

Throughout college and graduate school, I forged a lot of my friendships in the gym. There's nothing quite like shooting the breeze while grunting under a heavy bar. Even better is the trash talk and attempts to make your workout buddies lose their concentration with off color remarks about other gym goers. I still have fond memories of spotters forgetting to spot me because they were checking out a blondie on the other side of the gym and the subsequent grief they got for the lapse in attention. The pain of sore muscles from a hard workout was a commonality amongst us all. We comforted each other with comments like "you pansy, you only did 3 sets with 45lb plates!" and "alright buttercup, you gonna lift like a man today?" The gym scene was definitely a little strange, but beneath the macho facade, there was genuine camaraderie. It may have been built by bonding over a painful activity, but it was friendship nonetheless.

Read part 2 of this blog post here.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Stirring up the diet wars

Tom Palazzolo, Vegetarian and Carnivore Couple
I came across this post on TreeHugger about vegetarians living longer than the general [carnivorous] population. Of course, this isn't particularly shocking news in my opinion. Vegetarian diets just tend to be healthier (not quite as calorific, richer in fresh foods packed with nutrients and antioxidants, and not nearly as much saturated fat). Of course, this doesn't mean that meat eaters can't also have just as healthy diets. In my opinion though, most of the hardcore carnivores I run into need to have meat all the time and usually buy large quantities of industrially farmed (and consequently subpar) meat.

It's funny that there are two extremes across the diet divide: the adamant veg heads (which I will admit, I'm more likely to associate myself with) and the religious carnivores. Just read through the comments on the TreeHugger blog post. There are some strong opinions on both sides of the issue. While I won't say that no one should eat meat, I do still firmly believe that eating more on the vegetarian end of the diet spectrum is good for the body and soul.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Blog pimping and [the lack of] creativity

I came across a fabulous post on Big Contrarian (via 43Folders) recently. Basically, it's an essay ripping into the state of "pro blogging." This is the quote that spoke to me:
Write top ten lists and whore yourself on many other sites as you possibly can. Don’t be thoughtful, long-winded or interesting. Don’t write about you love, unless what you love is popular on Digg. And for god’s sake don’t even think about writing about more than one topic.Whether their strategies work or not is slightly beside the point. It’s cheap. It’s marketing driven, instead of content driven.
Sadly, that expresses my opinion about a lot of popular culture in general even though the original post is about blogging in particular. There's just not a whole lot of original, creative content out there. So many things are just market driven, and large segments of the market for some strange reason likes craptastic drivel.

While there's nothing inherently wrong with making money, I do think that money as the primary driving factor often kills originality and promotes homogenization. Know how there's a ton of stuff on t.v. but almost nothing to watch? Well, that's a good example of profit drive killing originality. Few networks are going to risk airing a new groundbreaking (and potentially money-losing) show when the formulaic banal shows will likely earn more money. In people's personal lives, few people will take a chance on pursuing a dream because of the risk of failure--particularly of the risk of monetary failure.

So, is mediocrity for the sake of money wrong? No, not necessarily. But maybe our priorities aren't quite in the right place if we allow profit drive to become the sole reason for pursuing something.

Mad busy

Wow, I have been slacking on my blog lately. I have to chalk it up to extreme busy-ness. I've taken a new job with a start up company and am already doing some part time work for the new company. At the same time, I'm wrapping up loose ends at my old job. Effectively, I'm working two jobs now, which doesn't leave me with a lot of free time. To top it off, we're also moving soon. That means apartment searching, packing, finding movers, setting up in a new place, etc. It's both a little exciting and totally energy sapping at the same time. I'm quite frankly exhausted a lot of days.

While I'm looking forward to the excitement and novelty of moving, I'm also pretty bummed about moving. You know how they say you need to live somewhere for at least a year to build a circle of friends and and find your community. Well, it's totally true. Just when I feel like I'm getting to know people around Philly and establish friendships, I'm moving away. I've already done this moving thing 2 times in the past 2 years. Quite frankly, it's starting to get a little old.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


I came across this gem on Treehugger, and I thought it was awesome in that silly and utterly ridiculous sort of way. Someone even dubbed it "Vicious Cycle," which I think is a rather apt name. Oddly enough, this bicycle reminds me of how I feel about running on a track. No matter how fast you go, you're still going nowhere.

In other off the wall news, I came across news blurb about chess boxing. What could be a better combination? It involves brawn and brains. They're two interesting competitions that become so much more when they're combined together. So, it's not exactly my cup of tea, but I thought the idea was fascinating. It's an idea born from a comic strip and brought to life by crazy people who thought it would be fun. I'd probably never do it since I'm (a) pretty mediocre at chess and (b) borderline mediocre at boxing. But maybe that's the right combo. The typical chess genius is probably too wimpy and gets knocked out in the boxing rounds, whereas the great boxer might not have the brilliant strategic mind to survive the chess game. I say this is almost as brilliant as the Krispy Kreme challenge I recently learned about. Run a long distance, eat a dozen donuts, and then run back. Combine your athletic prowess with flaunt your gastrointestinal fortitude at the same time (or in many cases, show your lack of an iron stomach on the return run). But as entertaining as these past times sound to me, I'm perhaps just too square to do them. I like to partake of my activities one at a time.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

back in blogging action... sort of

It's been a while since I've blogged, mostly because I've been super busy and traveling. I went to Florida three weeks ago and was in NC last week. I need a vacation at home just to recover from the traveling. Since I'm currently swamped in work (both new and backlogged), I'll have to keep this post and posts in the near future somewhat on the shorter and less thought out side. So, on to the update in Johnny-land.

First off, the somewhat big news (nope, not getting married yet, though that would be big news that all my friends and family keep pestering me about). I started eating eggs again. I finally decided that it's just far too inconvenient not to eat eggs. The Buddhist in me still feels that it's not compassionate to eat meat, so I still won't partake in meat eating. Eggs fall into a gray area. Eggs themselves aren't necessarily cruel foods, but factory farmed eggs is vicious, cruel practice (in my opinion). I still have strong objections to factory farmed eggs, so I'll do my best to buy organic, free range eggs. I know true free range eggs are really difficult to find, but I'll try my best to support local and ethical egg farmers. I still haven't fully gotten used to the taste of eating eggs again, but at least my return to eating eggs hasn't completely grossed me out. I guess it's better this way since I usually cook the eggs for Gen, but haven't been able to taste them until recently. Now I can tweak my cooking methods and recipes for better flavor instead of relying on past experience and guesswork.

My experiment with minimal shoes has been a success so far. For the past 3ish weeks, I've substituted my Speedo water shoes over my sneakers for everyday wear. My feet and ankles feel stronger, and I'm definitely more aware of my steps now since the thin sole gives me a lot of feedback from the ground. At first, it was a little tough; my Achilles tendon felt a little tight from the extra use , and my feet were a little more tired in general. I still switch back to my sneakers from time to time, especially if I'm jumping rope. A somewhat unexpected consequence of switching to the minimal water shoes is that my martial arts practice has improved. All of a sudden, it's much easier for me to sink my weight into my hips, open my back, and wrap my toes into the ground. I feel more rooted without feeling immobile. Another weird effect, which I might be imagining, is that my feet look like they have more of an arch. I was born with flat feet, and for a long time I could actually tell how flat a surface was by just stepping on it (no joke!). In fact, I can still create minor suction on certain surfaces with my feet. I know, it's very weird, and I can't always reproduce it. Anyhow, in recent years, my feet developed a noticeable, if very slight, arch. I think my strengthened feet have made the arch go from like 1 degree curve to a 2 degree curve. I'll never have a regular arch, but my experiences with the minimal shoes to date further convinces me that modern shoes are over-supportive and weakening people's feet.

That's it for now. I'll try to get back to more regular posting when I'm not so swamped with work and not so tired from working so much.