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.