Sunday, November 1, 2009

The next big thing

Flipping through Shape magazine (it's my wife's, honestly), I came across the page with the latest fitness fads which included some yoga hybrid workouts.  I'm usually pretty leery of fads.  By the time an idea is mainstream popular, they're usually more marketing than substance.  The resurgence of yoga is a good example.  Sure, yoga is great for you, but its sheer popularity means that a lot of people are trying to milk the popularity cow.  You get a lot of unqualified people with serious misunderstandings teaching classes just to meet the demand.  You also get crossover ideas which are questionable and quite possibly silly.

For example, the latest crossover trends I've read about include:
  • Doga - Yoga with your dog.  Bond with your dog while holding yoga poses.
  • Slackasana - Yoga on a slackline.  Ok, I admit, that does sound fun to me.  But it's mostly because I want to try slacklining, not because I feel an inherent urge to combine yoga with slacklining.
  • Koga - Combining the best of kickboxing and yoga.  Two great tastes that taste great together?  Not so sure about this combination myself.
  • Goga - Yoga for golf.  I'm not sure it's actually all that popular or trendy, but I thought I'd include it for the sheer absurdity of its name.
Given all the yoga crossovers I'm seeing, I'm predicting that we will see more yoga crossover classes.  Personally, I'd like to see two crossovers in particular.  We could combine the gentle arts of tai chi and yoga into the great new hybrid Toga.  Of course, wearing a white sheet to class would be optional.  The other combination I want to see happen would combine the surging popularity of MMA with yoga.  Keep healthy and fit, both body and mind, with the ultimate art Moga.  Moga would be the ideal class for martial arts posers everywhere (pun intended).

What do you think?  What crossover class do you want to see?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Cornucopia

My apartment complex actually forbids growing vegetables on the premises. It's actually explicitly specified in the rent contract. It makes me a little sad to not be able to garden here, but I did bend the rules a bit by growing basil (ha, take that evil apartment management! it's an herb, not a vegetable.). But who needs a vegetable garden anyhow? Especially when you've got friends willing to share their bounty.

One of my students brought this cornucopia of garden fresh, heirloom produce to me. My jaw nearly dropped when I saw the quantity of tomatoes, eggplant, squash, peppers, etc. And all of the samples are unique heirloom varieties, making it doubly awesome. Everything tastes just as scrumptious as it looks.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Whale Watching

We went whale watching in Boston today. Apparently, off the coast of MA is prime whale feeding grounds. There are lots of whales off the coast feeding off the rich schools of fish. We were really blessed today with two humpback whales the revisited our boat several times during the whale watching tour. Unfortunately I was too slow with the camera to get the really cool footage of the juvenile whale flipping its tail right next to the boat. I did still manage to get some cool footage:

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Colt 45, shaken not stirred

Reading through the recent news in one of my surfing sessions, I discovered that numerous states have laws allowing people to carry guns into bars.  Tennessee just passed a law allowing handgun permit holders to carry their handguns into playgrounds, school parking lots, civic centers, and establishments selling alcohol.  Arizona is considering passing similar legislation.  Shockingly, laws allowing handguns in establishments serving alcohol already exist in 37 states (though to be fair, not all of those states allow guns in bars).

I'm no expert in social phenomena, but my spidey senses tell me that mixing alcohol and firearms isn't the world's smartest combination.  It ranks up there with smoking at a gas station, and watching t.v. while driving.  Bad things don't happen every time, but mishaps are certain to occur.  Unsurprisingly, bar owners and other voices of sanity note that people do stupid things around alcohol, and bringing guns to the equation is a recipe for disaster.  Sure, the passed laws still make it illegal to consume alcohol at these establishments while packing heat; perhaps I have too little faith in not believing that that particular provision will be vigorously enforced and scrupulously followed by every citizen.  Dumb and unenforceable laws are passed in alarming regularity.  My own home state of Florida (which at least had the sense to expressly prohibit guns in bars and nightclubs) has laws prohibiting cohabitation and lewd acts by unmarried couples, farting in a public place after 6 p.m., and showering naked.  I'd be shocked if any of those laws were actually enforced or followed, just as I'd be surprised to see Tennessee or Arizona spending the resources to make sure that gun-toting citizens weren't imbibing alcohol in their bars.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Latest DIY experiments

Being an engineer, I often tend to opt for the DIY solution for many situations. I perhaps chose a suboptimal major and university combo since I seem to enjoy tinkering a lot; a cellular molecular bio degree from a university known for its theoretical work was in hindsight probably not the best fit for an eventual engineer. I'm also frugal, which also tends to contribute to my DIY nature. Why spend hard earned cash on something that I can build myself for a lot cheaper?

My latest DIY experiment has been finding a cheaper alternative to the Stick and Tiger Tail. Both are massage tools for loosening up those muscles you've got scrunched up from your crazy workouts. I'm not unopposed to spending money on truly useful tools, but $30 for what is essentially a glorified stick (in both name and function) didn't sit well with me. My alternatives to these products was a really cheap wood dowel that I had left over and a rolling pin from the store. The wood dowel works great, with its biggest downside being that it doesn't rotate freely about an axis. The best you can do is let it roll in your hands as you massage your tight hamstrings, quads, and iliotibial bands. It's not exactly the most convenient tool for the task, but it's perfectly functional. For the price (free since it was scrap material I had left over), I'm not complaining. The rolling pin actually rotates on an axis, which makes it easier to use. You can exert more pressure without having it induce friction burns on your calloused hands, as might be the case with going heavy with the dowel. I may still try out the commercial variants of these tools at some point. For the time being, I'm going to stick with my current solutions, since they are perfectly functional and a heck of a lot cheaper (<$5 vs $30+).

My other recent DIY experiment was making an agility ladder. These things can be had for around $30 on ebay. Of course, $7 worth of hardware store parts also gets you an agility ladder. I used some PVC pipe and some pink nylon rope to build mine. And it works just as well as the commercial product. Though, in this case, it would have probably been smarter to just buy the manufactured solution. The webbing and adjustable rungs are more flexible and easier to pack/unpack than my messy contraption. Nonetheless, I don't regret making my own ladder. Sure, I spent more in time and labor than I saved from the cheaper materials. But I had fun making that ladder, and I'm pretty sure no one is going to mistakenly walk off with my holy mess of pink rope and pvc.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Traffic Court: The Shakedown

In my second [recent] experience with the legal system, I had to go to traffic court for a red light ticket.  Overall, it was a pretty easy procedure, but it's still a hassle to have to take time out of my day to drive downtown, find parking, and then talk to the judge and traffic cop.  In my last trip to court, I observed numerous people talking with the cops to arrange a fine payment without points.  With every case, there was a deal made for a point-free offense as long as the person was willing to pay a fine.  It was no different in my case.

My parents seemed to think I could have fought the ticket, but that really isn't worth my time and it just annoys all parties involved.  Why do I want a pissed off judge and cop?  It would probably mean a higher fine if I lose or a cop that's out to get me later with another ticket.  My whole experience does lead me to think that the whole ticketing thing is a fundraising scheme though.  There are a helluva lot fees (EMS fee, fire department fee, administrative padding fee, cost recovery fee, civic salary fund fee, alien invasion fee, etc.) tacked on to the basic fine; when everything is said and done, the original fee for the traffic violation has increased five fold.  The ticket seems to be less about public safety than the Benjamins.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Dinner, the breakfast of champions

Breakfast foods usually don't do much for me.  They're mostly too sweet, too carbolicious, and often too light.  Cereal, pancakes, waffles, fruit, oatmeal, bagels, muffins, and the ilk just don't rank very highly on my "I want to eat that first thing in the morning" list.  I'm not a huge fan of eating lots of sweets, especially first thing in the morning.  I'm much more a savory food eater.  Eggs, cheese grits, and other savory items are acceptable.  But the thing I usually want most first thing in the morning is leftovers from dinner.

Some people think I'm weird for wanting "real" food first thing in the morning.  I say people who need lighter fare to ease them into the day are the abnormal ones.  If I've just gone over 8 hours without eating anything, I'm going to be starving hungry.  In fact, it's not unusual for me to wake up at 4-5 in the morning starving hungry if I had a particularly hard workout and too light a dinner the day before.  When I wake up, I want real calories from a real meal.  The other stuff (the typical sweet breakfast foods) are good in addition to my first real meal of the day; they just don't work for me as the complete breakfast.

As far as weird dietary habits go, I think my breakfast preference is pretty innocuous.  Breakfast (not dinner) is supposed to be your most substantial meal of the day, so I figure I should get just as much food at breakfast as any other meal.  Plus, I think it's terrible to start off the day with the typical carb heavy, processed food breakfast (I'm thinking of crap like pop tarts and sugary cereals here).  Even worse and weirder to me are the people who start off their mornings with a Coca-Cola.  An acidic, completely artificial drink with nothing but empty calories is not what I want first thing in the morning.  I just prefer French bread pizza to French toast for breakfast.  It's weird to some, but it's the way I like to start off my day.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

To Crossfit, or not to Crossfit?

Whether 'tis nobler to push the body to extremes of performance
or to listen to the voice of sanity and care about good form?

Crossfit is still popular for workouts.  I've never personally done a Crossfit workout, though I do like the idea of Crossfit in principle.  It's well-rounded, high intensity training, and the workouts never get stale since they're always changing.  It's a breath of fresh air to see people doing a Crossfit workout after observing the legions of people going to the gym to zone out on the ellipticals or treadmills every day.  How people can do the same ineffective workout day after day is beyond me.

That being said, there are a few aspects of Crossfit with which I have serious philosophical disagreement.  The cultural emphasis on training hard, while admirable, should be tempered a bit.  Training hard without training smart is just a recipe for injury.  For example, compound, multi-joint exercises (deadlifts, push presses, squats, snatches, etc) are neurologically demanding exercises and really should be done with correct form to keep your joints healthy.  Simultaneously training these exercises with heavy weight, high reps, and high speed just isn't a good idea.  Unless you're training with a weight that's way too light, your form will break down over high-rep multi-joint exercises.  That's just going to put unnecessary stress on the joints involved in the movement.  It's even worse if you're dealing with a beginner or someone unfamiliar with the exercises.  There's absolutely no reason for someone unfamiliar with a deadlift to do max effort deadlifts in a workout... well, not unless that person doesn't care about their spinal health anyhow.

I both love and dislike the randomness of the daily workouts.  On one hand, workouts never get stale if they're constantly changing.  On the other hand, if you're training for a specific goal (like increasing strength or speed), the complete randomness of the workouts means you'll always have mediocre progress towards your fitness goal.  Also, there's seems to be no thought behind the exercise selection.  Doing a ton of push presses a day after doing a ton of dips (or some other equally thoughtless combination) is a great way of causing long term shoulder problems.

Finally, there's the "Uncle Rhabdo" mascot.  There's the fine line between funny and tasteless.  IMO, Uncle Rhabdo crossed that line.  Rhabdomyolysis just should never happen in a workout.  I realize that it's rare, but the fact that it has and can happen during a Crossfit workout is disturbing.  I only ever train to mild nausea and then start easing up.  Exactly what do you gain by training any harder?  It gets counterproductive at that point for the vast majority of people.  And the "no pain, no gain" attitude which pervades Crossfit may go just a little too far.  Having tired and sore muscles after a workout is ok.  Being proud of training hard enough to get injured or training through an injury is stupid, not a badge of honor.

I probably will dabble with Crossfit at some point.  I do like parts of its philosophy.  But at the end of the day, I'll probably modify the workout to focus more on the training smarter instead of just training harder.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I cuss, you cuss...

We all cuss for asparagus!

I've always thought that Far Side comic was funny. Gary Larson was pure genius. So, imagine my amusement this morning when I'm reading through the sports news and I see that William and Mary is considering making their mascot an asparagus stalk. I'm amused by silly mascots, being that my own alma mater was represented by a color (the "Maroons"). I had thought that Stanford choosing a tree was already pretty low on the sporting mascot scale, but a college giving serious consideration to a vegetable (which a lot of people don't like) as a mascot... well, that's a recipe for ridicule.

A stalk of asparagus blown up to a life size mascot is going to look like a large green phallus. I can already see the references to limp vegetables making it into rival school sports commentaries. And if I thought of Gary Larson when I heard this news, I know it's probably not a very original brainchild. Someone out there is going to paste the school into a rendition of the comic. Finally, does anyone really want to have their team be known as the "Fighting Asparaguses"? It doesn't exactly roll off the tongue or instill much fear into the hearts of the opposing teams.

Monday, June 15, 2009


Technology is supposed to advance civilization and bring us closer to a utopian, carefree existence.  But advances in science and tech usually bring unforeseen consequences in addition to the improvements.  While I was wasting valuable brain energy pondering this, I came up with a list of "advancements" that have also had negative impacts:

  1. Cell phones - Both a godsend and a curse.  I can keep in touch with everyone all the time, which is great... and absolutely horrific at the same time.  Sometimes I just don't want to keep in touch with everyone.  Then there's having to deal with the people talking in obnoxiously loud voices in every public space, people who can barely drive with no distractions but who insist on talking on the cell, and the worse yet, people texting while driving.  And for goodness sake, how can people talk on the phone so much they give themselves "cell phone elbow"?
  2. Gaming Tech - I'm a fan of gaming technology not because I play a lot of games, but because the gaming industry has driven technology development to the point that I can do serious research on off-the-shelf hardware that used to require really expensive, specialized gear.  On the other hand, people get so into their games, we have issues like Wiitis and World of Warcraft addictions.
  3. Athletic Shoes - I admit, that I do find sneakers pretty comfortable most of the time.  But overall, the ultra cushiony, super supportive shoes of today are making our feet weaker and leaving us more prone to injury.  Athletic shoes that are two stiff around the ankles (supposedly to protect against sprains) just force our bodies to compensate at the knees, hips, and back, increasing injury likelihood somewhere else in the body.  It's ironic that shoes meant to protect us from injury make it easier for us to get injured.
  4. Television - A marvel of instantaneous moving picture entertainment.  Just add surround sound, HD resolution, and a comfortable couch, and you'll have home theater nirvana.  Of course, there's the problem of television keeping people indoors on the couch instead of doing things like interacting with their community outside the home, in this thing called the real world.
  5. Internet - Same problem as with television.  It's just the newest tech trend that's made our lives so much more wonderful while at the same time isolating us and making us dumber.  I can now keep in touch instantly with everyone I know, surf instantly for information and entertainment, etc.  But the flip side is that it's easy to get sucked in and forget to live in the real world interacting with people face to face instead of over a virtual connection.
  6. Modern Agriculture - Food production is the last few decades has been nothing short of astounding.  Synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and industrial scale efficiencies means we have a huge quantity of really cheap food.  The downside is that it's mostly subsidized corn that accounts for the vast quantities of calories that we can so easily and cheaply consume.  The intensive farming techniques reliant on petroleum and natural gas chemistry aren't sustainable in the long run (both in terms of resources and environmental cost).  Plus, there's a growing body of evidence that industrial agriculture results in less nutritious food.  There's more to growing food than nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, and we certainly didn't evolve to subsist on corn and all its artificial derivative ingredients.
I'm sure I could come up with many more examples.  But thinking about modern agriculture and food actually made me hungry.  I'm off to scrounge around my pantry for some [no corn-derived ingredient] food.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

More workout vids

Just posting some video proof that I've managed to accomplish a few things before injuring myself from overtraining.  When my wrist feels better, I'll make Gen film my other strength skills.

Dragon flag. Ignore the wobble towards the end. :)

Leaping push ups. Always fun.

Swiss ball-med ball plank. Getting the initial balance on this exercise is always a challenge.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A you might be list

In light of the closure of a recent bad employment experience, I thought I'd write a humorous account of my misadventures in the form of a "You might be..." Jeff Foxworthy type list.  So, here it is.  You might be working for an idiot if:

  1. Your boss can't spell your name on official documents, despite having multiple printed copies of your name on other documents and your name being only three letters long. (How you get "Qua" from "Kuo" is still beyond me)
  2. Your boss claims that you should work through dinner because we're dealing with Eastern European programmers on a different time schedule than us.  I may not be a math genius, but adding 5-7 hours on to 7ish p.m. Eastern Standard Time seems to put the Europeans in the midnight and beyond range.  Perhaps they really are all vampires over there.
  3. Your boss wants you to write code testing for a number greater than 10 to subsequently execute code testing whether that same number is less than 10.  Logic may have been my weakest standardized test score, but I have trouble seeing how it's mathematically possible for a number to be simultaneously greater than and less than 10.  (I was going to insert a statistician joke here, but thought better of it)
  4. Your boss gives you the above logic-confounding instruction on three separate occasions in a 2 week time frame.
  5. Your boss has been known to call technical support for a company and demand that the outsourced low level support employee log on to his system and tell him why his code isn't working with their software.
  6. Your boss thinks it's a good idea to do Flash animation over the network work by remotely logging into his system, even though you can only see the animations at a 1-2 frame per second refresh rate.
  7. He thinks its a good idea to do the above over a trans-Atlantic internet connection.
  8. Your boss doesn't understand why people can't move around the screen as quickly as he can on his local PC when they're remotely logged into his computer over the internet and he's running a higher resolution than everyone else.
  9. Your boss (the multitasking guru) thinks it's a good idea to tell you to actively train another developer while simultaneously working on another section of code.  Apparently, doing two incongruous tasks which both require active participation must double your effectiveness when done together.  I'll remember that next time I'm texting, watching t.v. and driving.
  10. Your boss tells you that you can't eat lunch because work needs to get done... a mere hour after he eats his lunch in front of you.
  11. Your boss tells you there's something medically wrong with you for needing to eat so often... after he eats his lunch in front of you. (this was the final straw in my quitting decision)
  12. Your boss constantly spouts off how he's been doing software engineering for over 25 years... yet he doesn't know anything about programming.
  13. Your boss, the esteemed software expert, refuses to use version control software on a huge, convoluted code base.  Apparently, using industry standard computer software to manage rote, bookkeeping, time-consuming code tasks "develops bad habits." It's a task better handled old school: by error prone humans who don't always remember every little record-keeping step.
  14. Your boss continually refers to his software as being written in .NET, when none of his code is written in .NET.
  15. Your boss develops software for the education market... and claims that no one in the education market uses a Mac.
  16. Your boss, who is developing on a strictly Microsoft platform, thinks it's a better idea to use his own development tools to write and manage code rather than using the Microsoft Visual Studio IDE.  Apparently, his tools developed in the early 90s work better than highly integrated GUI tools of today.  Code folding, code highlighting, pop up function prototypes, easy code navigation and searching, etc. are all features which pale in comparison to deprecated, crash prone, PC Junior-like development software.
  17. Your boss can't even do problems in the children's math tutorial lessons he himself designed.  It took superhuman effort not to bust a gut when he was doing the problems with some young children and got flummoxed by his own tutorial.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Trials and Triumphs

Yesterday, I had the thoroughly unpleasant experience of going to court.  I had to sue my former employer for backpay.  The period leading up to the hearing was a nerve-wracking experience, but in the end, it felt like a huge relief to air my grievances in a court of law.  I won't know the judge's decision for a few days, and even if my suit is successful, I may not be able to collect anything.  But that really doesn't matter to me.  The court hearing feels like a moment of closure.  After many months, I feel like I can put the whole unpleasant experience with my former employer behind me.

In every bad situation, there's still a positive spin.  You might argue that people that put those positive spins on bad situations are annoying overly perky people, but after talking to friends and family, I feel that there were at least a few good things that came out of the trials of my last employer's douche-baggery.  If I hadn't taken that horrid job:

  1. Gen and I probably wouldn't have gotten married as soon as we did, and we probably would have splurged an inordinate amount of cash on a large, fancy wedding instead of going to much cheaper and less stressful route of eloping.
  2. I wouldn't have seen first hand the various lessons of mismanagement.  I got hands on experience with exactly how a company should not be run.  Call it learning by examples of what not to do.
  3. I wouldn't have built up my patience and breathing meditation practice from having to deal with an incompetent moron every day.
  4. I wouldn't have been so immensely successful at dropping my weight because I wasn't actually given any time to eat regularly (meals, snacks, or otherwise).
  5. I may not have learned interesting Chinese phrases (like "Win or lose, no heavy heart") from my mom and thus not made any progress on expanding my vocabulary beyond "I had stir fry for dinner."  As a bonus, my dad stopped spouting useless, completely imaginary phrases at me like "the early spring chicken gets his groove on."
  6. I wouldn't have gained as much proficiency in assimilating information for spotting inconsistencies and untruths.
  7. I wouldn't have seen the fascinating aspects of the legal system.  Believe it or not, not everything about the legal system is dry, boring, and unpleasant.  As sick and twisted as it is, talking to a lawyer friend was really interesting in seeing just how lawyers have to think.
I still haven't completely gotten over the trials of the past few months, but I've managed to mostly let go of it.  I'm only human, so I imagine it'll be a little more time before the ill will completely dissipates.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Shaken, Not Stirred

As most of my friends know (and which they sometimes give me grief), I don't drink. I haven't partaken of an alcoholic beverage since I was 5, when my dad gave me a sip of his beer. I was horribly traumatized by the incredibly bitter taste, and I've been turned off of alcohol ever since.

That doesn't mean I don't consume products made with alcoholic products, presuming there's no significant alcohol in the end product. For example, a tomato sauce cooked with a wine is perfectly acceptable. In fact, a tomato sauce cooked with wine is probably a good idea, since the alcohol extracts extra flavor and nutrition which aren't as readily available otherwise.

In my perusing of the interwebs today, I came across a story of the amazing properties of an alcoholic beverage. It turns out that shaking a martini instead of stirring it improves its antioxidant abilities, and both types of martinis are more effective than gin or vermouth alone. Amazingly, this was a supposedly carefully controlled studied published in a peer reviewed journal. I'm not exactly sure how they received funding for the study, but I'm going to guess that they had no trouble finding people to perform the studies. I will also give them props for writing fabulous lines in the paper:

"As Mr Bond is not afflicted by cataracts or cardiovascular disease, an investigation was conducted to determine whether the mode of preparing martinis has an influence on their antioxidant capacity."

and the fabulous conclusion:

"007's profound state of health may be due, at least in part, to compliant bartenders."

So, with this fascinating research showing the potential health benefits of martinis, will I start my Dionysian plunge? Probably not. But at least I have a sense of why 007 was so badass.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Trickle Down

Trickle down economics. The theory of making the rich richer as the means to bettering society as a whole was always a bit flimsy idea to me. Why exactly do the wealthiest and most powerful people need any more special treatment than they already get? The pictures in this post sum up my feelings on the subject.

Rich and powerful people are in a position of power, and who doesn't want to be in a better position than everyone else? It's only natural. It does become problematic when the already rich and powerful want to become yet more rich and powerful just for the sake of having more. They might generate wealth that does "trickle down," but at what cost? Overall wealth goes up, but proportionally more goes to the people upstream while the people downstream get the trickles. According to one statistic, 40% of growth in GDP ends up in the hands of the richest 1% of the people. That's just absurd.

The funny thing is that people are amazingly adaptable, especially when it comes to matters of material wealth. We can adjust to our level of financial riches. Once we get past our basic needs, what makes us most happier is not our absolute level of wealth. Rather, it's how well we're doing relative to our peers. Most people would rather be making a moderate salary that's better than their peers than a fortune that's smaller than their peers. It's petty, but the proverbial "keeping up with the Joneses" is firmly ingrained in our psyches.

Which brings me back to trickle down. If the rich get a whole lot richer, while the poor do just a little bit better, then are we really better off?  The people getting a smaller slice of the pie aren't completely clueless.  They can see they're getting shafted.  Even dogs have a sense of fairness.  Humans live longer and, with supposedly more brain power, can devote more neurons to resentment against getting the table scraps with the feast in plain view.  Trickle down economics is merely a way the haves to make themselves feel good about being greedy and taking advantage of the have-nots.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Camel Jumping

Heh, when I first read about camel jumping (via RossTraining), I thought to myself "I didn't know camels could jump."  Of course, it's not the camels doing the jumping in this case.

I'm sure I could come up with some smart ass comment about the sport, but at the moment, I'm too impressed that the guy had enough hang time to clear six camels.  Ok, maybe I can think of just a couple of humorous (dumb) comments:  I just don't have enough in me to make it over the hump.  That sort of physical exertion might make me yak.

All right, I'm going to leave my comments at that.  I'm seriously impressed at this somewhat unconventional display of athleticism.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The quick fix

Recently, I read a post on T-nation on training myths.  This mythbuster post made the claim that steroids are overrated and that they don't do nearly as much as most people thinks.  That's an interesting claim, especially coming from a site with a heavy body building slant.  Turns out that I actually agreed with the assessment after I read through the explanation.

Steroids are useful (for the bodybuilder/athlete/etc) for building muscle mass, but there's a big caveat for maximizing the positive effects.  If you're not already working out hard and eating smart, the 'roids probably won't do that much.  It would be akin to putting racing tires on a car with a 4-cylinder engine; the tires may be great, but they don't make up for the fact that the core (engine) of the car sucks.

That got me to thinking about how people are always looking for the quick fix.  There's no substitute for effort.  Even geniuses need to work hard to attain greatness (though it may come easier for them than the average person).  Similar to steroids would be sports supplements IMHO.  They don't do much except fill the coffers of supplement companies unless you're actually training hard enough to need them.

I was talking to one guy in the gym who was asking about which protein shake was the best to take to gain muscle mass.  Fair question (even though not one I'm well equipped to answer being that I don't actually buy those things).  Turns out upon further questioning that he doesn't eat breakfast, eats irregular meals, doesn't even do strength training on a regular schedule, and only does exercises which hit small muscles.  You're just not going to gain any appreciable muscle with poor eating habits, an irregular training schedule, and poor exercise choices.  He shouldn't have even bothered with protein shakes until he took care of the basics.  He totally fell for the quick fix marketing of the protein shake.

My parents shared a Chinese adage with me (which I've heard again from a third party, so I'm confident they weren't making this one up): an idiot who works hard will surpass the lazy genius.  In their own Asian work ethic way were trying to teach me that there's just no substitute for effort.  You can work smarter and find ways to facilitate a process, but in the end there's no quick fix for achieving anything you truly value.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Maintaining Literacy

I've never been a big book reader, except for maybe a brief stint during my middle school years. Being educated and all, I seem to be the exception rather than norm in this regard amongst my peers. Almost everyone I know seems to be more well read than me. Sure, I read plenty of stuff, but it just doesn't tend to be in book format. I'm more likely to be reading articles (online and dead tree), blogs, forums, etc. Maybe it's because I tend to read more of the "how to do stuff" and "how stuff works" sort of things that my fascination with books never quite took off. I find other sources tend to get me the information faster and are usually a little more up to date.

On the other hand, I did marry an English professor. I'm not entirely sure why she agreed to marry me since I must appear nearly illiterate with the dearth of literature in my collection. But I am working on upping my reading rate. My normal book reading average over the past few years was 1-2 books a year. In the past six months, I've managed to read 3: The Four Hour Work Week (Tim Ferriss), The Subtle Knife (Phillip Pullman), and The Omnivore's Dilemma (Michael Pollan). I'm not counting the strength training anatomy book I read since it was mostly pictures, and I'm currently working on The Amber Spyglass (also by Pullman). If I keep up this pace, I'm probably going double or triple my usual reading average.

I'm ambivalent about my new reading habits. I'm usually too busy tackling more projects than I can feasibly handle. I'm enjoying the ability to read at the moment, so I'm hoping that this reading uptick isn't an outlier.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

I will call him... Mini Me!

Well, I don't exactly have a mini genetic clone of myself. Even if that were technically feasible, I'm not sure it's a wise idea to have a mini-me wandering the world. I think full size me is all the world is ready to handle right now.

What I do have now is a Dell Mini 9 netbook with Mac OS X installed on it. Yep, I've fully caught the Mac fanboy syndrome. I was hooked after my first hackintosh, so I wasn't satisfied with the default Ubuntu install on my netbook. I was intent on making myself a mini-mac. After an initial hurdle of not having a recognized usb boot dvd drive, I got Mac OS X installed in under an hour. Then there was the task of shrinking the install so I could install the 10.5.6 combo update and MS Office (believe it or not, I do actually do work on my computers). Then I had to get two finger scrolling working on the touchpad. All in all, probably about 2-2.5 hours of install time, most of which I was surfing on another computer.

My mini-mac works surprisingly well. Ok, maybe not it wasn't so surprising since I extensively researched the Mac compatibility of the Mini 9 and people's general experience with hackintoshed Minis. I won't say that I can do serious work on my Mac mini. The non-standard keyboard and mini keyboard really slow me down. I did manage to create a short two page technical document on it; I won't say that was an efficient process. But for surfing the web, typing out short blog posts, checking my mail, etc. on the couch or on the road, my mini-mac really shines. And chicks dig the mini notebook. So far, the typical response has been "Oh, it's soooooo CUTE." It's not the typical compliment I like having thrown at my manly ego, but I'll take it.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Fitness inspirations

I know it's not being modest when I say that I'm more fit than the average person. But the thing is, while I like knowing that I'm in the upper percentiles, I don't think I should be in the upper ranks of fit people! The only reason I'm more fit than the average is because, well let's face it, the average ain't that fit. Properly taken care of, the human body is amazing and can easily maintain high levels of physical fitness. Don't believe me, well, these guys are genuine senior citizens can put most people to shame. I find that really inspiring that at their ages, they're still so physically fit:

68 y.o. banging out some pull ups

71 y.o. doing a 450lb deadlift. I'm not even at half that weight with my own deadlifts!

524lb deadlift at age 75!

Here's a 67 y.o. doing a workout that most people probably can't do.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Might as well jump (a.k.a. why I don't run)

I'm not a big fan of running. I know it's great exercise, but I'm short and I have flat feet. That's not a great combination for excelling at running. If I run for distance, my shins kill me. Add that to the fact that I always ran with people taller than me and with longer legs than me (i.e. longer strides), and it's no surprise that I'm usually the last one in the pack. Things have gotten better recently, but it's not because I run regularly. I sometimes do some sprint or stride work on the track just for a change of routine, but most of my cardio conditioning comes from something that I can actually do somewhat well: skip rope.

When done with proper technique, jumping rope is easier on the joints than running. It's also inherently plyometric and pretty much becomes an interval workout by default. Plus, you can do cool steps and tricks with the rope. Of course, you do whack yourself a few times with the rope learning the tricks, but it beats tricks with running for overall safety. While I think free running (parkour) is awesome, the potential for injury there is whole lot higher.

Anyhow, I managed to play around with my camera's video features. You can see what a typical rope workout looks like for me.

Round 1: Warmup

Round 2: Speed things up a little.

Round 3: Double unders

Round 4: One more speed round

Monday, April 6, 2009

Taking a month off from goal setting

Last month wasn't great for my attempts at 30 day challenges. I didn't come anywhere close to getting in bed by 10:30 p.m. every night. I just got too busy. Eating dinner at 9, then cleaning up around 10 pretty much guranteed that I wouldn't even be winding down until 11. Combining daylight savings, traveling, and periods of being busy was not a good combination for that goal. And I still can't do a handstand, though I am getting closer. I also never quite got to 10 straight muscle ups (8 ain't bad though...).

I think I'll be taking a break from setting 30 day challenges for myself this month. Now that my schedule is returning to something more resembling "normal", I'll try re-pursuing the goals from last month. We'll see how that goes.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Basketball Dilemma

I haven't had a television for nearly 3 years now. I can't say that I've missed it much, though I do occasionally miss being able to vegetate with FoodTV, TLC, Discover, and HGTV. More recently, I've missed being able to watch sports. College basketball is nearly over for the season, and how many games have I watched? Zip, zero, zilch. That's how many.

Perhaps that's not such a bad thing this year since my beloved Duke Blue Devils got beat (well, stomped more technically) by Villanova. Despite living close to 'Nova, I can't actually bring myself to root for them. But UNC is still in the running, which is both a good and bad thing. It's good because I'm happy to see a North Carolina and ACC team still in the tourney. On the other hand, it's UNC.

So, I'm just a little torn about where my loyalties lie for the Final Four. UNC winning is great for NC and the ACC. Equally appealing is the idea of UNC suffering a heartbreaking loss. It's a tough call. I'll have to ponder this dilemma of sporting proportions while I consider my game viewing options.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Teaching in a Gym

I've been teaching my tai chi class at the gym for just about two months now, and I think I've finally got the hang of the hang of the hour long class in a gym environment. It's been an adjustment going from a 1.5-2h long class structure with people specifically seeking out an internal martial art class to an environment where people come and go constantly and may just be looking for a short exercise class diversion. The hardest part about teaching an art in any sort of detail is that there's not always continuity week to week. People can't make every week, new people drop in randomly, and then there's the loud top 40 music blaring in the background.

Despite the less than ideal circumstances, I think I've figured out a formula that keeps the door open for newcomers while still keeping the regulars learning new stuff. The first thing I do is warmups (stretching, qigong, etc). I then do a combination of basic exercises, mobility drills, muscle activation exercises, etc. Usually, I start with a few of the 15 basic I-Liq Chuan exercises and note what movement dysfunctions people seem to have. Lately, that has included lack of hip control, tense lower backs, and knees going out of alignment with the toes. The movement dysfunctions give me feedback I use to choose exercises to improve body mechanics; after that, I then revisit the basic ILC exercises with attention to the corrected body movements.

The particular one or two exercises and body mechanics principles emphasized are then used a focal point for practicing the form. I lead the class into the form as far as most people have learned. To deal with the fact that there are sometimes newcomers, I focus on the last couple of learned movements rather than repeating a longer form sequence. Those movements get repeated many times and tied into the basic exercises/body mechanics corrections done earlier.

My approach seems to work relatively well. At some point in the future, it'll get tougher since I'll have to delve into greater detail. I've spent some time discussing hip control, knee alignment, opening the back (expanding the mingmen), center of gravity, and keeping the shoulders over the hips. Those topics were treated separately so as not to overwhelm the class with too much info and overly challenge their neuromuscular control. But I'm going to have to inter-relate all those body movement principles in the future. I'm not quite sure how I'm going to pull that off. Hopefully, my classes will continue surprising me in how fast they pick up and integrate what I'm teaching them. It'll make my task of tying together concepts easier when I get to that nebulous point in the future.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Daylight Savings. Really. Sucks.

I've managed to quickly adjust my sleep cycle in response to daylight savings. I'm not sure how, but I'm actually managing to get up earlier despite having lost the hour. But it's seriously screwing with my schedule. I had made it a goal to be winding down by 10:30 every day for this month, but that seems highly unlikely for the next few days since I managed to get busy with work and lost the hour at the same time. I've been winding down around 11 p.m. a lot of nights, and not until midnight one day. Sigh.

States like Arizona were smart about daylight savings. They just don't do it. Of course, it is wretched hot in AZ, but maybe that's a fair trade off for not dealing with the retardedness of DST.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Half a goal down

Oops. I apparently set the bar too low for my March fitness challenge. I did 27 total muscle ups and still had some extra left in the tank (probably could have made 30). That breaks the 25 goal I had set. I still have to make 10 straight muscle ups though.

Monday, March 2, 2009

March[ing] Forward

February has come and gone, and my 30 day (or more accurately, 28 day) challenges were mostly met. I'll give myself a break because I was traveling for 4 of the days. My I-Liq Chuan practice habits have definitely gotten better because of the month long challenge. I wasn't particularly good about keeping up my handstand practice, though I did discover something about my hand positioning which should improve my future practice. And I didn't do my daily anatomy studies. But I made good progress overall despite the missed days.

So, on to my next set of goals. I'm going to tone down my goals for this month since I set too many last month (even though they were in different spheres of my life). This month my fitness goal is to get 10 straight muscle ups and 25+ total muscle ups. My personal goal is to get back in the habit of going to bed at a sane time. I'm going to shoot for winding down my evening by 10:30-11:00 p.m. It might be tough, but I think it's definitely something I should be shooting for so I can start getting up earlier and not suffer through the spring time change. I'll keep trying to get those handstands and the anatomy studying, but those will be secondary goals this month.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Silly Mascots

Gen and I had a conversation about silly sports mascots, and I'm always amused when I remember some of the weird mascots out there. My own alma mater, University of Chicago, has a phoenix as a mascot, which isn't very related to the sports teams being the "Maroons." Nothing strikes fear into the heart of your opponents like a fierce abstract visual concept.

Then there's the Stanford tree mascot. How you get a tree to represent "cardinals" is beyond me. How someone chooses a tree as a mascot also baffles me. What sort of message is a tree mascot supposed to send to the opposing team? Fear the leafy terror! Witness the awe of our wooden movements! Only you can prevent forest fires?!?

While looking into other silly mascots, I came across some other gems. The University of Hawaii has the "Rainbows." To be fair, only of the teams is actually the "Rainbows." The others chose Rainbow Warriors or just Warriors. Still, willingly choosing to call your team the Rainbows doesn't instill confidence in the competitiveness of the team. Closer to home, Franklin and Marshall is the "Diplomats." I haven't been to any games yet, but I chuckle imagining the cheers: "Ne-go-tiate!" or "Talk it over" (clap, clap - clap, clap, clap). Then I picture signs in the crowd reading "I beg to differ", "we can compromise", or even "let's split the difference."

If you ask me, part of the fun of sports is the competition. Lame mascots don't exactly project an image of sporting competitiveness, while providing a wealth of comedic fodder for opposing teams.


I came across this image while looking for diagrams/illustrations of the back muscles. Now, I like strong, athletic women, but there does come a line that maybe shouldn't be crossed. I can't define that line precisely, but I think this is a case of "I know it when I see it." I can accept that there are women out there with bigger arms than me, but having arms twice as big as mine and more ripped than most serious gym going, weight lifting males... well, that's just (IMO) plain unnatural.

Those arms are more buff than even the bearded lady I saw in the gym while I was at school in Chicago. Again, I thought it was a little weird seeing a woman with that much facial hair and stronger than all but 2 men in the gym. But I chalked that up to it being the University of Chicago since it's not a campus known for its physically strong student population. Anyhow, kudos to the women driven enough to get this strong, even though the physique looks disturbingly wrong to me.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Away for V-day

I spent my second consecutive year in NY training martial arts during Valentine's Day weekend. I suppose that would be a big no-no in a lot of relationships, since it's supposed to be such a romantic day. But Gen was a good sport about the situation.

It may sound like a rationalization on my part, but I posit that Valentine's Day is just one huge capitalistic ploy to part consumers with their money. The sheer number of jewelry, chocolate, and flower advertisements that show up as February nears is disgusting. Buying commodity material goods is being pushed as a substitute for truly thoughtful gifts and actual expressions of affection. If we need to be reminded to show affection for our loved ones on a pre-anointed day by rushing out and buying gifts, then we seriously need to re-evaluate our relationships. It's the little things we do everyday that grow a relationship, not an expensive gift purchased once a year. Save the chocolate and flowers for another occasion that has more personal significance and when there's less pre-holiday price inflation.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Meatheads on vegetarianism?

I nearly fell out of my chair when I saw this article show up on T-nation. A meat-eating body builder going mostly vegan for two months? That's unheard of. Props to John Berardi for trying to gain muscle mass on a plant based diet.

I'll say that I think it's entirely possible to be strong and vegetarian. Heck, I'm even living proof of that. There's no meat in my diet, and I can still strap on 70 lbs and bang out some weighted pull ups and dips. On the flip side, I'll never have a body builder look since I'll never consume enough protein to put on that much muscle mass. But I'm ok with that. I'd rather focus on being able to hold an iron cross than looking like Arnold.

Monday, February 2, 2009

February goals

Last months goals went pretty well. I was pretty religious about doing my I-Liq Chuan training everyday, working in a daily meditation, and spending at least 10 minutes of quality time with Gen. I actually starting getting my daily training up to the 15 minute range and my meditations are getting up to 20-30 minutes daily practice. I still have to work on not letting my mind wander so much during my meditation. Overall, I'm pleased with January.

This month, I'm going to try upping my ILC form practice. I'm going to shoot for at least 10 minutes of daily form practice on top of the minimum 5 minutes of basic exercise practice. My fitness goal for this month is to cleanly kick up into a handstand and hold a solid 10s handstand. I think I'm pretty close to that. I just need some more practice. My personal improvement goal is to read up on anatomy. I'll start with 1 page a day out of the anatomy book (or 1 joint a day). I may not memorize all the details, but I figure I may as well start familiarizing myself with the skeletal and muscular anatomy since I have such a personal interest in body mechanics.

Food kick

I seem to be on a bit of a food theme in my latest blog posts. It was bound to happen at some point since I spend so much time preparing and eating food. I'll try to use this post to get my food and eating thoughts out of my head, so I can move on to other subjects.

Weighing in
So, I unashamedly admit that I'm a bit of a lightweight for a guy. With my genetics and build I'm just not going to put on much more mass without putting on some flab. At my heaviest, I was 183lbs at some point in college. Then I managed to drop my weight to 132lbs by the time I started graduate school. I went back up to 165lbs (knee injury, no cardio, lots of lifting and eating). Now I'm back to slim 140ish pounds. Problem is that I think my peak athletic weight is closer to 145lbs. At the moment I've got the reverse problem from most people: I need to gain weight. And no, I don't plan on eating twinkies and cheesecake to up my weight. I'm still far too vain to let my body fat percentage creep up.

While I'm thinking of it, what the heck is up with the 100 calorie twinkies? Honestly, dropping the serving size to be 100 calories doesn't make the snack any healthier. You could probably save some cash and cut down on packaging by just cutting a regular twinkie in half (or thirds, whatever) and save the other portion for later (hopefully for later in the century and not later in the day). They're so artificial; it's not like that other half will go bad.

I've been baking quite a lot of bread recently. For the first time in my life I've gone through two entire bags of flour in under a month, and it actually makes sense for me to now buy bulk active yeast instead of packets of the instant yeast. I won't say that it saves me time, but it sure is a heck of a lot healthier, cheaper, and far better tasting than store bought.

So, my latest baking creations were cinnamon raisin oatmeal bread (with flax for extra fiber and omega-3 goodness) and cornbread from Alton Brown's "I'm just here for more food" book. The cornbread is a little decadent. I don't remember using that much oil in past recipes, but hey, I figured you might as well trust the Southern boy for a Southern food. That cornbread was super tasty, and was a surprisingly big hit at the Super Bowl party we went to last night. That being said, I'll probably go back to the lighter version of the recipe next time.

Eating Habits
Gen and I have pretty healthy eating habits. That's probably a big part of why I've been able to keep my body fat low. We prepare the vast majority of our own food, which is in line with my thoughts of having a connection to our food. Yet for all of my talk of avoiding processed foods, I just can't shake one item of junk food from my diet: tortilla chips. I really like the crunchy texture and salty taste. Add in some guacamole and salsa, and I may very well pig out on chips.

My diet isn't perfect, but that's ok with me. Borrowing a line from The Happiness Project blog, I "don't let perfect be the enemy of good." My diet is close enough to where I want it to be, so I don't sweat the chips too much. It's a work in progress. Even though I'll never quite reach it, I can still strive for the ideal and reap all the benefits. Though given my love of corn chips, maybe I should consider giving them up for a while; in the abstainer vs moderator spectrum, I'm not always a good moderator of chip consumption.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Dominoes and Papa Johns ain't got nothing on me

We had pizza for dinner a couple of nights ago. I decided to use some of my leftover no-knead dough to just make a pie. That pizza was divine. The crust was crisped on the outside, but soft and chewy on the inside. The herbed, whole wheat dough had a really nice complex flavor, and mushrooms are always a winner on a pizza if you ask me. The only thing that could have possibly been better is if I had sprinkled some garlic powder on the crust (but alas, we ran out last week). There was a downside (or potentially an upside, depending on how you view it) to the pizza dinner though. The apartment smelled like mushroom pizza for hours. Midnight snack temptations were lingering the air that night.

Friday, January 23, 2009


Sometimes it really sucks being a vegetarian and having an active lifestyle. I have to eat constantly, which unfortunately means either I (or Gen) have to cook constantly. So, we ran out of prepared food by mid-week as usual, forcing me to cook again. My 2.5h cook-a-thon yesterday yielded these fabulous dishes, which will hopefully get us at least through the weekend (when we'll be cooking yet more absurd quantities of food).

Fresh home-baked bread:
I'm really getting the hang of the no-knead bread. These are actually my 3rd and 4th loafs for the week from the original batch of no-knead dough. I was going to buy some clay tiles to put in the oven to simulate a baking stone, but I find that a perforated pizza pan works pretty well too. I get the oven heat baking the bottom crust and a neat dot pattern on the bottom of my bread.

Braised tofu:
Tofu and eggs in a delightful mushroom, black bean sauce with a hint of scallion. Yum, yum, do I sound like a restaurant menu or what? I like this dish because it's tasty, easy to make, rich in protein, and highly calorific (which I really need after a rough workout at the gym).

Spiced tofu stir fry
I found spiced tofu "threads" at the Asian market in town. I don't often cook with this ingredient, but I decided to give it a whirl this week. This dish has spiced tofu noodles with peppers and string beans in a positively delectable bean sauce. We've already put quite a dent into this dish. I don't think it'll make it past today.

Chickpea, red lentil dahl
Gen's usually better with the Indian curries, but this is one of the few dishes that I can make which scales up to large quantities. I also used dried chickpeas this time around (pressure cooked so that I didn't have to cook the dish for ages). I did accidentally use too much water, so the dahl is a little on the thin side; it's more of a chickpea, lentil soup with potatoes and other assorted veggies. Still tasty if not quite as hearty as I originally intended.

Lemon string beans
I had some ingredients to use up, so this is more of an afterthought dish. String beans, carrots and peanuts in a pseudo-Chinese lemon sauce. Very inauthentic (lemon sauce is something invented for the American palate). I think my version of lemon sauce tastes better than the restaurant version. Some fresh squeezed lemon juice and hoisin sauce combined with some fresh ginger and fresh ground black pepper makes for a citrusy, tangy, mildly spicy, and subtly sweet sauce which complements the crisp string beans and fresh carrots.

I also made a red bean (azuki bean) soup for dessert, but I forgot to snap a picture of that. My cooking (unsurprisingly) tends to be very Asian food biased. I find it a bit challenging scaling up the dishes to larger quantities, both because I don't have cookware or cooking appliances big enough to stir fry large quantities and because I just simply can't do that much chopping and food prep. Oh well. It looks like I'm going to have to get used to more casserole style dishes and learning to make the oven my new favorite cooking appliance.

Now that I've documented my cooking, I'm actually starting to get pretty hungry. It's time to eat!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

January habit forming challenges

I've actually been pursuing multiple challenges this month, which is generally not a good idea.  Splitting your attention too many ways and trying to institute too many lifestyle changes at once dramatically lowers your chances of successfully implementing lasting change.  I've justified the multi-goal approach by keeping my goals in separates spheres of my life (and also because some of my goals are inter-related so I necessarily have to pursue more than one at a time).  So, my habit forming goals for this month are/were:

1. Spend more quality time with Gen, and making sure to spend at least 10 minutes of mindful together time at the end of the day. (goal for my personal/home life)

2. Getting in at least 5 minutes of daily martial arts practice. (training goal)

3. Improving my handstand form and static hold time. (strength/conditioning goal)

So far, I've only been lagging on the handstand goal.  My handstand has definitely improved, but I'm not up to a 10s static hold yet or stable kick up into position.  My other goals (and other strength training) has cut into my handstand practice time.

Accidently, I added in a daily 5+ minute meditation goal for this month, but that seems to tie directly into my first two goals.  Gen and I have started a habit of a daily 10 minute meditation together at the end of the day as part of our time spent together.  And then mindfulness practice is a core part of my I-Liq Chuan training.  It was natural to just add that goal in, even if it wasn't initially on the list for this month.

Also, I appear to have already started on my goal of getting to bed earlier.  Gen needs to go to bed earlier these days now that she's teaching again.  If I want to keep up my habit of spending quality time with her at the end of the day, that means I also have to wind down my day earlier.  This earlier bedtime is (I believe) helping my training.  I wake up earlier and can thus get in some extra training time, and I'm getting more rest which is helping my body recover from my workouts faster.  I'm making faster progress on my weighted dips, dragon flags, and front levers than I expected.

It's funny how some of my goals are affecting each other.  It's complicating my 30-day challenge goal setting plans, but it's also fun seeing my goals approach completion faster.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Under Pressure

We've had our pressure cooker for a little over a month now, and so far it's been fabulous. Beans cook super fast (relatively speaking), which makes preparing red (azuki) bean soup or Cuban black beans much less time-consuming. Though lentil soup doesn't take that long to prepare normally, I can obliterate those lentils in the pressure cooker and have a red lentil dahl prepared in no time. If only the pressure cooker magically took care of all the vegetable chopping, I'd be able to free myself of a lot of my cooking duties. I have to say, the one downside to being both a vegetarian and living an active lifestyle is that I have to constantly eat (and consequently, constantly prepare food).

Anyhoo, Gen pointed out a funny misprint in our pressure cooker manual. According to the fine folks at Fagor, we can cook blueberries in our pressure cooker in a mere 10 minutes:

Thanks, Fagor. I never knew that blueberries were a vegetable, and that cooking them in my pressure cooker was even an option. You learn something new everyday. :)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Ok, the unthinkable has happened.  I've been a PC person for ages, and I probably will continue to use Windows in some capacity for the foreseeable future.  But I've taken a plunge.  Some might even argue that I've taken a plunge off the deep end.  I've switched to a Mac.

However, I didn't actually buy myself a Mac.  I bought the operating system and some carefully researched hardware and built myself a "hackintosh."  The system isn't quite as slick looking as a real Mac, but it did cost me a lot less money and runs pretty smoothly.

I used to make fun of Macs for being just a little too user friendly.  In some instances, they are still a little too user friendly.  Sometimes I really do want low level control of all the details.  But I'm finding myself enjoying the computer tinkering less and less these days.  Time is not a commodity of which I have large quantities.  While I like to tinker (it's the nerd engineer in me), more often I just want things to work so I can get stuff done.  Macs in their current incarnation (built on top of a Unix core) give me the famous user friendly Mac experience while still exposing tools that still allow me to poke around and experiment.

What's the experience been like so far in cheery, happy Mac land?  Surprisingly pleasant.  My biggest complaints at the moment are having to re-learn keyboard shortcuts.  The home and end keys behave differently (jump to beginning and end of documents, not just lines).  I have to re-map a lot of CTRL+key combinations to OPTION+key.  But the OS itself is gorgeous, hibernating the OS works a heck of a lot better than Windows, and things (so far) seem to just work.  I'm sure I'll find stupid little things that irk me as I get more familiar with Mac OS X, but so far I like having this fresh start on a new computer.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Shift reality to suit your needs

Picture of George Rousse "Bending Space"

No, I'm not endorsing a delusional denial of reality or questionable interpretations of facts to suit an agenda. Re-interpreting reality is often used as a propaganda tool by those espousing very strong viewpoints. It's quite a nifty trick actually, but ultimately, I'm not referring to anything quite so nefarious.

I was just reminded today of a positive thinking trick: "fake it 'til you make it." It's too easy for us to get frozen into inaction because of fear of failure or misguided belief that we aren't good enough to do something. The simple act of imagining and acting like we're confident and know exactly what we're doing often brings about the desired result. Inertia is the single biggest stumbling block to accomplishing something. To borrow a cliche from a Greek demi-god themed company, to effect change, we need to "just do it."

I wrote a post on my strategies to accomplishing New Year's goals (on one of my other web projects,, and the listed tips are all ones I use to help me achieve my goals. I forgot to add the fake it til you make it tip though. It's one I've been implicitly using but never thought of in those terms before.

Monday, January 5, 2009

30 Day Challenges

Yesterday, I posted my 2009 New Year's resolutions. Today, I thought I'd share some more of my goals for the year. These goals are secondary and goals which I'll be approaching more as 30 day challenges. Why 30 day challenges? Well, I got the idea from Zen Habits. Thirty days is long enough to develop a habit, but short enough that you don't get discouraged from even starting. I've managed to develop a few habits using 30 day challenges: drinking a glass or two of water every morning after I wake up, eating more frequent smaller meals, and doing warmup stretching and qigong exercises first thing in the morning.

So, my 30-day challenge goals for this year are:

1. Go to bed earlier so I can get enough sleep and wake up earlier.
2. Get back into regular Chinese learning (like listening to ChinesePod, learning characters, etc)
3. Read up on anatomy and kinesiology
4. Spend at least 10 minutes a day of mindful quality time with Genevieve
5. Solid 10+ second handstand
6. Front lever static hold

Some of these goals I might pursue simultaneously; I tend to do a fitness goal and regular life goal at the same time since I consider them to be in different spheres of my life. At any rate, I'm sure the list will change (probably get longer) as the year progresses.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Resolutions for 2009

The New Year has past, and it's time again for some resolutions. I was actually pretty successful with my resolutions last year. I smoked the goals of jumping rope for 10 continuous minutes and dropping 1% body fat. I can now jump easily jump rope for over 20 straight minutes at a reasonable 120 turns per minute pace, though I'm usually skipping the rope at a much faster pace. I'm also pretty sure I dropped more than just 1% body fat since I dropped 10+ pounds and my abs started showing up. My bodyfat has been slightly creeping up again since I took a job that seriously ate into my free time, thus making regular exercise and a carefully planned diet much more difficult. However, I'm dropping that job since the job was sucking my will to live out of me, and that's never a good sign. I'll be starting this year with a really clean slate.

So what are my goals for 2009? I have quite a few goals for the new year, but the primary ones are:

1. Having more free time and me time
First and foremost, this year I want more time. My latest job required so many hours that I almost never interacted with my dear wife, my family, and essentially had no opportunities to develop a community of friends after moving to Lancaster. I also had almost no time to take care of myself (eating properly, exercising regularly, and just having down time to recuperate). It's no surprise I was miserable. Research shows that your happiness is closely tied to the quality of your interpersonal relationships and your health. My job was not providing me either of those things, gave me no fulfillment, and actively denied me the things I cared about. I quickly determined that the job simply wasn't worth pursuing any longer.

With more free time, I intend to re-incorporate all the little things that bring me fulfillment: checking in with my family and friends, spending quality time with Gen, my martial arts and fitness training, and stimulating my mind with things like learning Chinese. I know it can sometimes be hard to juggle the personal and working life, but I think I'll have a better handle on it this year. First off, the toxic job is gone. Next, I'm planning on instituting some new lifestyle design elements into my daily life. I've been motivated by reading The Four Hour Work Week, which has gotten me thinking about how I can rearrange my life to have both a successful working life and full personal life.

It'll be an ongoing experiment throughout the year redesigning my daily habits to fit my desired lifestyle. I've already tried a few things that I think will become permanent. I've dropped my random surfing. I now try to use the internet with more purpose and save the online leisurely pondering to for a select few blogs/sites/forums. That also means I'm viciously deleting feeds from my RSS feeder, because that is also a non-trivial time suck which gives me limited information given the amount of time I spend reading. I'll need to restrict the feeds I read to ones that give a lot of interesting/relevant information per post or friends' blogs. The other noise has to be filtered out. I've also decided to try restricting how often I check my e-mail. So far, I haven't really gone through any internet deprivation symptoms, and I've found that I can focus better on tasks I'm trying to accomplish.

2. Get back to consistent training
Having both moved and taken a new job at the same time, my martial arts and minfulness training has taken a big hit. I feel that my progress has seriously stagnated as a result. I really want to get back into daily personal training. Eventually, I'd like to up to at least 30 minutes each of martial arts and meditation training a day. I'm starting off with 5 minutes each daily and gradually working my way up.

3. Fitness Goals
I have a new set of fitness goals this year: 1. Iron Cross on the rings; 2. Weighted pull ups and dips at bodyweight; and 3. Double bodyweight deadlift. I still have to complete a few more goals from last year's goals, most notably my goals of holding a solid front lever and dragon flag. I'm not too far off from those goals, and I'm guessing that the time suck and energy suck from my last job prevented me from completing those goals. This year's goals should be more challenging than last year's, but I think they're completely do-able. I think the iron cross will probably be the most challenging of this year's fitness goals since it requires both a lot of upper body strength as well as elbow conditioning. I'm nearly halfway to my weighted pull up and dip goal (I can do 70lbs on each pretty consistently), and I think deadlifts should come quickly if I train smart (low rep 5x5 type strength workouts) and eat right.