(Originally published August 30, 2010)
This past weekend I got to learn more about some fellow Paleolites as a part of the most recent event hosted by the Austin Primal Living Meetup Group. The event was billed as a potluck, and though 8 or so people RSVP’ed yes, only three of us were there for most of it. Consequently, in addition to some good Paleo food, I shared some good conversation with Skyler (of skylertanner.com) and his fiancee Sarah for the afternoon.
One of the topics that came up was the One-Arm Pull-up, which despite being self-explanatory, blew my mind when I first heard about it. It was as if I had never even entertained the possibility of such a feat. Yet here was Skyler telling me that this was his goal for the near feature, and that he had recently worked up to the one-arm lockout (hanging with your chin over the bar with one arm in the fully contracted—or “locked out”—position).
Well, I have a little bit of an obsessive personality, and the sound of this challenge was just too much. I decided on the spot that I would attempt this too. And so I asked Skyler for advice on how to work up to it, and got to learn about archer pull-ups and one-handed towel pull-ups in addition to the one-arm lockout. Checking on YouTube for some inspiration, I came across the understandable, the unreasonable, and the completely, insanely ridiculous. Yeah, it’s going to be a long road.
And just to put things in perspective, I decided to try out some of these things I had heard about at the gym today. I’m currently in the middle of a three-week rotation of German Volume Training, so I couldn’t waste too much energy goofing around with these hard exercises, but I do understand now just how difficult the one-arm pull-up is. Before when I was visualizing it in my head, it seemed pretty reasonable, but after attempting the one-arm lockout today, let me just say that I didn’t think I could load my arms so much and still have them stay together.
Archer pull-ups were easy for the most part, although I didn’t lever-disadvantage myself as much as is shown in the video. On the other hand, my lockout attempts all turned into very quick negatives. I felt the load on my biceps, but more surprisingly on my triceps as well, and it was just too much. So that means I have a pretty reasonable short-term goal to chase after my GVT rotation is done: get the one-arm lockout. I’ll let you guys know how it goes.
Addendum: I realized I should probably explain why such a thing appeals to me, in case you didn’t already think I was crazy for several other reasons. Well, number one, I’m crazy. Number two, it’s awesome. And number three, imagine that you got swept up in rapids with a bag containing your most important possessions. Suddenly you see a tree branch downstream and you grab onto it with one hand. Now, if you couldn’t do the one-arm pull-up, you’d be forced to let go of your bag in order to save yourself; however, with the one-arm pull-up you could hold on to your bag and pull yourself out of the water. That’s why.
Wait what was that? You can just throw the bag onto land and pull yourself out with two arms anyway? Oh… Well, may I refer you to number one?
(Originally published September 15, 2010)
“WHOOO!! I’M THE KING OF THE W—” … Those were the last words that my MauiSails 6.5 Pursuit heard before I got launched face-first into its tender monofilm, leaving a 2.5-foot gash in one of the panels. If I hadn’t ended its life rather brutally in that moment, I’m sure it would have died anyway from laughing at all the ridiculous stuff I was blurting out in the moments before its untimely death (this IQ-lowering drivel shall not be repeated here for my dignity, and your safety). Fortunately, I had the lake all to myself this evening, so no one was there to hear my idiotic outbursts; technically, that also means that no one witnessed the crime I committed, so in theory, I could get away with this and say that Mr. Pursuit tripped and fell down the stairs or something, but I cleverly took photos of myself at the crime scene, you see, so I really have no way out but to confess. But before I unveil the obituary and the police report, let’s back up a bit and take a look at how this evening started.
I arrived at Lake Travis only to find that the water level had risen a couple of feet. I suppose that’s what hurricanes do when they dump the Atlantic on your sorry face (thanks Hermine!). But water levels weren’t my concern today—no, my ire was in fact directed at iWindsurf for having lied to me yet again. 14 mph ESE was on the menu, but this was clearly closer to 5-8 mph. But I hadn’t sailed in a few weeks, so I figured it’d be a good chance to practice some freestyle fundamentals.
After a good deal of goofing around with the usual assortment of helitacks, push tacks, pivot jibes, and backwinded maneuvers, I started wondering whether it was time to just call it and get on with the day. After all, it didn’t look like much was going on. But then it happened.
A large patch of clouds had moved in over the lake, and suddenly it felt very dark. Ominously, the glimmer disappeared from the water surface. In its wake, a patch of deep ultramarine was marching towards me at a frantic pace. Instinctively, I opened my sail and braced myself. Sheeting in right as the vanguard engulfed me, I hooked into the harness and took off across its rolling tide.
For the next half-hour or so, Lake Travis went ape feces. Like B-A-N-A-N-A-S ape feces (this is what they eat, after all). There must have been a 20+ sustained gust in that time, because reach after reach (and failed jibe attempt after failed jibe attempt), I just waterstarted and kept on planing. Somehow the wind gods had decided to reward my patience and welcome me back to the water. My joy was uncontainable—I could do no wrong. And that’s when I started saying ridiculously cheesy stuff.
But they must have tired of hearing my stupid taglines and macho-like utterances, for as my ego waxed and my guard waned, they introduced a prolonged respite in the onslaught, causing me to stand up straight and reduce my leverage on the sail. Drowning in my dopamine overload during this period of light cruising, I said something that must have really pissed off the wind gods. Like an ungrateful pagan, I was about to proclaim my superiority over nature once again. I was about to raise my arms in victory and shout “I’M THE KING OF THE WOOOOORLD,” but the wind gods knew what was coming, and decided that they had heard enough.
And so it was, a few moments before my unsuspecting sail would meet its maker, with my arms in the air, hanging off only the harness, my lips started moving. Cue the slow motion. As the deep drone of my voice pronounced the word “KIIINNNGG,” the alpha wind god raised his pimp hand into the air and wound up the biggest slap he could muster—he would use the back of his hand for the colossal blow he was about to unleash on this unworthy heathen. OOOFFFF. His hand began its descent. TTTHHE. Gaining momentum now. WWWW—. Full. Smack. Contact. A gust of wind so strong that in my upright position hooked into the harness, I had only one way to go: straight into Mr. Pursuit. As the slow motion reel continues, you can observe my contorted face about to make contact with the sail as the mast hits the nose of the board. The world turns black as my body bounces off the rig and falls into the water, unaware of what it has just done.
My head pops out of the water with a watery cough. A goofy smile adorns my face as I think about the words I didn’t quite get a chance to finish enunciating. I immediately pop back up on the board to reclaim my due title. But my smile is instantly extinguished by the bloody—er, transparent—mess in front of me. My eyes widen as the realization sinks in. Looking up and noticing the insipid clouds, I bellow deeply. “NOOOOOOOOOOO MR. PURSUIT!” As soon as I realize that I’ve yelled this out loud, I look around with shifty eyes; I am extremely grateful that no one was around to see or hear that. Phew.
Fortunately, I was able to uphaul the sail and quickly tack my way back to the launch point. On shore, I decided to document the damage I had done. As you can see, this is quite a serious rip:
Well, I guess now I have to attempt to fix my sail (interestingly, I initially wrote “fail” before catching the typo). I’m thinking tape. Lots and lots of tape. It’ll work… trust me.
(Originally published September 24, 2010)
Well guys, it sucks to say this, but there’s been another death in my family of beloved possessions. And the worst part is that it happened on the same day I patched up Mr. Pursuit, who you’ll remember from a couple of posts ago (you do read all my posts, right?). I’m still not sure if Mr. Pursuit will live again, but I do know that my tape job was pretty poorly executed. It looks like there may be some wind this Sunday, so I’ll see if he comes to life then; I’ll be sure to provide some photos and an update. I know you guys care about him as much as I do, but let’s put Mr. Pursuit’s well-being aside for a moment in honor of the victim of my most recent tragedy, Mr. Keyboard.
Again, I am responsible. Mr. Keyboard lived a good life, despite being brought into this world by evil forces in 2008. You see, he was a Microsoft keyboard, and they named him “Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000.” He was but a number to this faceless corporation. To me, he was so much more.
I found him on the corner of the street (well, ok, it was Amazon.com); he looked like he hadn’t been cared for since the day he was born. Can you imagine that? Not a single soul had touched him… no affection or love at all: it’s a cold, cold world out there, my friends. And that was too much for my tender heart—I couldn’t take it, so I picked him up and took him in. Sure the adoption fees were hefty at $40, but you can’t put a price on a keyboard’s future, now can you? Shame on you.
Over the next year, he became like a son to me. Together we conquered problem sets, dispatched essays, architected programs, fulfilled promises, and broke traditions. And when my RSI was at its worst and I tore my wrist in early 2009, who was there to soothe me with his natural—and dare I say, ergonomic—curves? It was Mr. Keyboard. Not this piece of crap Logitech I have to suffer for the next few days. And when I left The Hill to seek a new life in Austin, who followed me faithfully without complaint, despite being shoved into a moving van? It was Mr. Keyboard.
But yesterday, just as quick as I had found him for the first time, Mr. Keyboard shut his eyes for the last. I wonder what he saw at that last moment… I know that when I close mine, I see his smile… :) — w–why yes… how did you know? And I remember how he used to prank me with his playful jokes. Oh how I regret my frustration! Of course num-lock was off! It was my own fault! Forgive me, Mr. Keyboard. And those times I would slam on him in frustration when it was in fact the computer—or worse, myself—who was being retarded. Oh how I regret my heavy hand! May God have mercy on my soul.
And most of all, may He forgive me for my darkest mistake, for I introduced Mr. Keyboard to the Devil. On that particular day, he came in the form of Mr. Belkin 2-port KVM Switch with Built-In Cabling. I should have known from his name alone that Mr. Belkin was up to no good. But he tempted me so with his promise of unified command. “Imagine,” he told me, “Mr. Keyboard and Mr. Trackball will wield the power of two computers.” In my mind, he knew I was furiously relishing the potential of Mr. Keyboard’s future in such a world. Imagine, indeed, the fulfillment that one’s child may rise to the occasion and accomplish so much more than the sum of one’s own meager existence. This was the promise Mr. Belkin sold me on; I was tired of stretching forwards across my desk to type on Mr. Powerbook’s keyboard. It was my own desire for convenience that cost Mr. Keyboard his life. This kind of sticky, oily regret cannot be washed away with Dove soap.
It happened so fast. I inserted Mr. Keyboard and Mr. Trackball’s USB connectors into Mr. Belkin’s welcoming ports. In turn, I connected Mr. Belkin’s connectors into my two computers. His orange eyes lit up immediately. I should have seen the evil flicker in the reflection of his pupils when he was so close to the kill, but I was like Slughorn, too fat and blind—no, not fat, just blind—too blind to see past Mr. Belkin’s best Tom Riddle impression. Little did I know that he would one day become Lord KVoldeMort with Built-In Cabling. An evil that somehow was too much, even for Mr. Keyboard’s Microsoft pedigree.
And so, when I hit the switch on Mr. Belkin’s face, I sprung his eager trap. A flash of green light shot up to Mr. Keyboard, frying his circuitry. “Avadra KVMadavra,” I thought I heard. Mr. Keyboard’s green eyes flashed one last time and num-lock was off for good.
Ok, ok—so that was a bit over the top. But really, my Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 actually did get fried by this worthless KVM switch. I couldn’t believe it. I actually wrote this post in the hopes that someone else comes in from a search engine asking the same thing: “kvm switch broke keyboard.” If you are this person, I want you to know that you are not alone. The 2-port Belkin KVM with Built-In Cabling took a dear friend of mine, and in his memory, I am trying to promote awareness of this silent killer. You can be sure my replacement keyboard (same model, obviously) will never go into a KVM switch, especially not one by Belkin. Remember boys and girls, if it looks like Tom Riddle, it’s probably Voldemort. But if it looks like Emma Watson, please tell her to call me.
(Originally published October 7, 2010)
(I meant to publish this weeks ago, but got stuck writing it. I cleaned it up a little and posted it now, but it’s not the greatest work I’ve done, so read at your own risk.)
When we last left our heroes, Mr. Pursuit had suffered a mortal wound at the hands of my face. Or at the face of my face. Or actually just my face. Not only that, Mr. Keyboard had fallen victim to Lord KVoldeMort with Built-In Cabling’s deathtrap and had his circuitry fried by the unforgivable “Avadra KVMadavra” curse. It was a rough and tear-filled couple of weeks for me and my possessions, and although things started looking up this past Thursday (September 23rd) when I patched up Mr. Pursuit, a few more things would have to break before I could write this post.
But let’s look at the financial fallout first. In order to repair Mr. Pursuit, I had to get some monofilm tape. More than just plain old packing tape, monofilm tape is apparently meant for taping monofilm. Right. So I got a roll shipped to me from Worldwinds, which cost $14 plus $6 shipping (although when I got the package, the postage only read $1.60—I mean, seriously guys? You would do that to me?). Assuming my tape job was good, then I would in theory have saved myself around $60 dollars on the professional repair; alternatively, a new sail would have run me on the order of $300. Nonetheless, Mr. Pursuit has temporarily been revived for $20 for monofilm tape, scissors, some alcohol, and 20 minutes on the porch. And that’s rubbing alcohol, mind you—besides, tape, scissors, and consumable alcohol definitely do not mix.
As for Mr. Keyboard, I had no choice but to order a new one immediately, since I couldn’t “borrow” the one from work indefinitely. Besides, you guys already know how partial I am to Mr. Keyboard. This set me back another $40, but I suppose that $40 is a complete no-brainer given the actual use I get out of a single keyboard. (Actually, this line of thinking has dented my wallet quite a bit recently, even if this particular $40 purchase wasn’t a big deal, but I’ll get into that in a future post.)
So was that all? Just $60? After all my moaning and despair? Well… yes, actually. I guess things turned out okay after all. I mean, you didn’t think I was serious when I said I was crying for days, did you? Because I wasn’t. No, really, I swear. Why are you looking at me like th—YOU DON’T KNOW ME, OK?!
Uh… Anyway, I’ve only gone sailing once since my repair because the wind has been dismal the past few weeks. Not only that, these days, the wind has shifted north with the beginning of Fall, so I wasn’t even sailing in the right place when I did go. When I looked over from the boat ramp to “The Point,” I finally saw where all the intelligent people were. However, it did take me a moment to realize why the intelligent people were there, which probably means I wasn’t meant to join them that day.
But that’s okay, because Mr. Pursuit held up through the gusts and lulls in my crappy sailing conditions, and now looks like this:
(Phew I am so glad I can close out this post. It’s been rotting here since September 27th).
(Originally published October 7, 2010)
Today I want to introduce you to the delight known as Veggie Meatza. Actually, I’m not sure whether others also know it as this. They may just call it “some meat with veggies on top” or something equally tasteless. But you, my loyal reader, will take after me and start calling this recipe “Veggie Meatza,” for that is what it is and has always been since I started calling it that last week.
Your vegetarian friends will look at you suspiciously as if you were trying to pull a fast one on them. Your Standard American Diet friends will ask you why you don’t just eat a normal pizza like a normal person. Your low-carb friends will ask you why your veggie meatza has no dairy. Your paleo friends will applaud your command of subtle irony even though subtle irony has nothing to do with the paleo diet in any specific way. Finally, your inexplicably thin vegan friends will turn sideways and disappear along the y-axis, where they’ll meet up with your imaginary friends. (These would be your most “complex friendships,” if you will.)
However, you, my loyal reader, will ignore all your friends and simply enjoy the following dish:
First, credit where credit is due: the inspiration for this fully paleo version of meatza came from Justin Owings’ post about a more conventional meatza. The recipe for the crust is essentially the same, but if you are dairy-free like myself, then you obviously can’t load up on cheese. Additionally, if you’re gluten-free like myself, you also can’t trust the excessively orange pepperoni from the grocery store. So what are you going to do? Well, what I did was go to Sprouts (an alternative farmers’ market-type grocery store) and just get whatever vegetables were on sale that week (and then pretend like I intended to use those and only those vegetables all along).
So to sum up, here are the ingredients. For the crust:
For the toppings (again, I used these because they were on sale… I’m sure you could use any vegetables and it would work fine. Although the zucchini and yellow squash “slices” do add a nice visual to the finished product.):
Well, that’s it for Veggie Meatza—I hope you try it out. Join me next time for spaghetti squash and meatballs (using much of the same ingredients, which is great if you—like me—bought a lot of these ingredients for the first time just to make some meatza). Oh, and I apologize to my vegan friends if you were offended by my joke. You are not really 2-dimensional nor are you in cahoots with imaginary numbers on the complex plane. You are still very thin, however.
(Originally published November 10, 2010)
Hopefully you haven’t been eating veggie meatza everyday for the past month just because it’s been that long since I’ve written anything. October was a crazy month—unnecessarily crazy, almost. And like most things that plague me, it was of my own doing. But I’m not here to dwell on this “lost” month; I caught myself burning out and promptly remedied it with an unreasonable amount of movie watching and just a general tendency to vegetate. It took a few weeks (and a few days into November) to pull myself out of this rut, but appropriately enough, all’s well that ends well. With the new month, the weather in Texas is finally changing, and so reasons, like seasons, they constantly change…
So what inspired me to make a new post after all this time? Well, I made an impulse decision to go sailing today after I checked iWindsurf in the morning, which reported a 17 mph S wind from noon to 3pm. Moreover, the air temperature was forecast at mid-70s, but it felt like high 70s, if not 80s in the sunshine. But the kicker was probably that I had been meaning to take all my gear out of my car (I’ve housed it in my trusty 9-3 since the season started for minimum latency to the lake), but it felt so anti-climactic to just shuffle it up the stairs after weeks of disuse. The remedy, of course, was to shuffle all that gear up the stairs after a day of un-disuse. Basically, I needed to end the season with some badass action—and so I strapped my board onto my car, and took off down the oft-traveled path to Lake Travis.
Not surprisingly, when I got to the good ol’ boat ramp, there were already quite a few windsurfing degenerates already there. I suppose I count as one of them, since I was also taking advantage of the “extended lunch” to catch the wind. Besides, with all the weekends that I worked away in September and October, a couple of hours at the lake to close out windsurfing season was a small favor to ask.
After a brief exchange with some of the usual suspects, I rigged up Mr. Pursuit (with tape and all) and took off planing. And I mean planing. According to the Austin Yacht Club’s wind meter, gusts were up to 22 kts today. I wish I had a speedometer to see how fast I was going during some of those gusts, because I had a hard time keeping my eyes open from all the apparent wind. I imagine this is why cars have windshields.
I also wanted to perform a gallery of moves I had set out for myself as goals at the beginning of the season, kind of as a “final exam,” if you will, but I think I got caught up in pushing the speed limits of my gear so much that I forgot to actually take my own final (note to self: don’t do this for real final exams). Here’s that list, with some end-of-season thoughts to go along with each goal:
At the end of my season finale showcase (namely, showing my face to the water), I was asked a favor by one of the other windsurfers. Apparently, this guy was out for two years with a shoulder injury, and today was his first day back. He certainly had some guts coming out in today’s conditions for an initial re-engagement with the water after two whole years of injury. In any case, he asked if I could take some photos of him to commemorate the occasion. Even though I was already pushing the boundaries of the “extended lunch,” I agreed to help out a fellow windsurfer. However, to my dismay, he handed me a clunky plastic thing that he called “a camera with waterproof casing.” At least that’s what he answered when I stupidly asked him what it was. Here’s my rendition from memory of what this thing looked like:
After I confirmed that I needed to wind the camera first before pressing the red button, I conceded that the camera was probably before my time. My first instinct was to do a rapid-fire photoshoot, but of course I remembered that film is actually physical and limited to 24 shots. Great… now I had to actually be a decent photographer. So I waited and waited for the perfect moment; my eye lined up the shot in the viewfinder and at the moment I decided the composition was just right, I pressed that red button and… nothing? Where was the fake shutter sound—er, real shutter sound? I tried a couple more times, winding up and pressing the shutter button, but each time it was really hard to hear whether I had done anything right. Finally, I just gave up and grabbed my own trusty Powershot D10 (ok, Mr. Powershot D10) and unleashed a flurry of digital goodness.
At the end, I explained my incompetence and confessed that I was actually not sure if I had taken any photos on his camera at all. However, as a counteroffer, I showed this windsurfer the digital photos I had taken on my D10, to which he exclaimed, “Wow, you took a lot of photos… Are all those of me?” “Yup!” “That’s amazing!” Phewwwww, digital wins again—thanks Mr. Powershot! But I wasn’t out of the woods yet, because when I offered to email him the photos, he said that he didn’t own a computer. D’oh!
The best I could do at that point was to give him my card in case he one day discovered email. I suppose he really just hoped that I hadn’t failed at taking photos using his own camera, although I’m sure I didn’t inspire much confidence in him. It’s an ironic feeling when you get stumped by technology from what is supposed to be an older and simpler time. But like seasons and reasons, the times they just keep on changing…
(Originally published November 23, 2010)
Being at the airport with some time to kill, I figured I’d try to get through some blog post topics that I’ve had queued up for a while. More accurately, I might call it a stack, because I’m going to start with the most recent topic first, which was a fun little detour I took this weekend trying to integrate Twitter with MonogramX.
For background, the Twitter integration feature was something I had said I would do for a long time, and by the time this weekend rolled around, I was positively ready to just lay the smackdown on it and get it out the door. So I pumped myself up, and took off on the interwebs to read up on how to do it.
Somewhere along the way, however, I forgot to think critically, and so when I came across blog posts talking about OAuth, I naturally assumed this was something that I needed. I had heard it in passing before, and it had a cool name. That totally means that I needed it, right?
So what is OAuth? Since I don’t have the internet right now, I can’t look it up and turn around and tell you as if I knew it all along. Instead, I actually have to try to explain it in my own words. Based on what I’ve tried with it (and I’m assuming I’ve only tried a subset of its features), it’s a way to authenticate a user with a third party, with whom that user already has authentication credentials. I almost see it as a kind of three-way handshake (although I am not sure if that’s technically accurate, but it certainly has that feel to it). In any case, the real-world application I was going for here was to let a user authenticate with their Twitter account so that MonogramX could read their feed. (Astute readers will notice that something is not quite right with this last sentence—isn’t this story suspenseful?)
After a few frenzied hours of hacking, I had gotten OAuth to work. For those already familiar with OAuth, you may remember a time when you initially had to learn it. I suppose in retrospect all of it makes a lot of sense, but to learn it on the fly can certainly be confusing. It also doesn’t help that everyone calls the main concepts different things. As a public service, I’ll try to distill some of the vocabulary, in case someone on Google comes across this and finds it helpful.
So the first thing you need with OAuth is a provider and a consumer. The provider is usually the place where the user has an account (in this case, Twitter). As a developer, you are the OAuth consumer. But to be an OAuth consumer, you are actually going to be a few different things over your lifetime.
First, you will identify yourself to the OAuth provider as the signing consumer. This usually involves registering with the OAuth provider ahead of time (say, through their web UI). Through this process, you acquire a consumer key and a consumer secret. I’ve also seen these be referred to collectively as “the consumer token”; yet I’ve also seen “consumer token” to just mean “consumer key.” Regardless of the verbiage, being the signing consumer is probably the easiest part of being an OAuth consumer, since it’s pretty straightforward.
Once you have the consumer key and secret, you will send these to the provider, who will respond with a one-time request key and request secret (again, I’ve seen these be referred to collectively as the “request token”). The request token is essentially a way for the OAuth consumer to convince the OAuth provider that the OAuth consumer really is the same OAuth consumer that will be around later on. This is because as soon as you (as the OAuth consumer) receive the request key and secret, you have to send the user off to the OAuth provider’s website to authenticate themselves as they normally would with that provider. You also provide a callback url that the OAuth provider will redirect the user to upon successful authentication.
The callback redirect is basically why the request token and secret matter, since at that point the OAuth provider isn’t really sure that you are the same entity that originally asked for the request token. By showing that you still know the request key and secret, you are effectively confirming your identity.
As the OAuth consumer, when you receive the callback, the OAuth provider will give you a verifier secret to let you know that the user successfully authenticated. Now that you can (a) show that you are you and (b) show that the user logged in, you can combine it all together to get the access key and access secret. Once you have this access key/secret pair, you have the (near) equivalent of the user’s username and password. The reason having the access token isn’t exactly the same as having the user’s true credentials is because the user could always login to her account separately and revoke your application’s access afterwards. That would effectively render the access token that you (as the OAuth consumer) have invalid.
So there you go—that’s the idea behind OAuth; in summary, it’s a pretty clever way to proxy the user’s credentials through a process that has the properties that (a) the OAuth consumer is the OAuth consumer; (b) the user is the user; and (c) the OAuth provider can revoke access from any OAuth consumer.
In my case, I wanted to integrate MonogramX with Twitter for the purposes of displaying the n most recent tweets from that user. And remember what I said about thinking critically at the beginning of the post? Well, if I had done that, then maybe I would have realized that tweets are public. You know, like the kind where you can just open up a browser anywhere and see. Where in any of this did I have to authenticate again? Yup, five hours down the drain. To summarize, that’s:
git branch -d feature/twitter_feed
Although I suppose the hours I spent trying to figure this out weren’t a complete waste. After all, OAuth is pretty up-and-coming these days, so having learned the basics can only help in the future. If I had to identify the moral of the story, I would have to say that it’s the clichéd adage “think twice, code once.” Somehow, I seem to forget this nugget of wisdom every once in a while… It’s nice to get reminders.
(Originally published December 2, 2010)
This is another blog post brought to you by airport idling. This time, it’s because of some heavy wind and rain in the NY metro area that’s causing delays at all major airports in the vicinity. I was originally supposed to be on a 5:30pm US Airways flight to Charlotte and a connection shortly thereafter into Austin, but with the delay from Newark, I was going to miss that connection. Because of some Star Alliance magic, a US Airways rep at the check-in counter put me on a direct flight to Austin with Continental instead. At first I was pretty ecstatic that I didn’t have to spend a night at the airport, but it was not to be an entirely free lunch: the Continental flight to Austin got delayed by over 4 hours!
So what am I going to do in this time? I actually went around looking for a gluten-free/paleo food option at the airport, but of course, that was fraught with peril (and stomach gurgles). I’ll write more on this specific topic later, but today, I’m going to tell you about the pros and cons of my Vibram FiveFingers Sprints.
I got my VFFs back in August, so it’s been almost four months of walking, running, jumping, windsurfing, and exercising in them—enough to know what’s good and what’s bad. But before I go into the comparison, let’s make sure we know what VFFs are.
I first saw these funky-looking shoes on the feet of the fitness staff at the Riata gym (the community fitness center where I live—don’t worry, it’s a very legitimate fitness center). I still remember my initial reaction, because I get it from the uninitiated these days in turn. Although I’m not proud of it, I have to admit that I did some involuntary twitching when I first saw these peculiar items of footwear. Perhaps it came from imagining them on my own feet; the idea of having things between my toes seemed weird and vile. That was well over a year ago.
I managed to ignore these amphibian, sock-like shoes for about a year, until I ran into them again when I got involved with the Paleo community in Austin. At this point, I had already started to believe that Paleo was the way to go since I had seen some initial, but substantial improvements in my health, so I started getting some cognitive dissonance when other Paleo folks started extolling the virtues of the FiveFingers, when in fact I had thought all along that they were for weirdos. This circumstance happened to coincide with the barefoot-favorable momentum I had already gathered when I banished neoprene booties from my feet earlier in the spring for windsurfing. The additional tactile response and control from having my bare feet on the board convinced me that there was something to this whole “no shoe” thing.
After reading others’ reviews about how nice it was to feel the ground, or how amazing barefoot running was, I started wanting them for myself. I imagined how I would blaze down trails with natural finesse, how I would climb trees with monkey-like grip, or how I would sit into a squat at the gym with full sensory connection to the ground. At this point, I was almost over-sold: I was convinced they would unlock a new chapter of my life, or something like that. I could hardly wait, so I trotted over to Vibram’s home page and started considering my options.
I had read that KSOs (Keep Stuff Out) were by far the best-selling model, but that seemed strange to me since I thought that the point of VFFs was “less shoe.” I didn’t want to go with the Classics since they seemed a bit too flimsy. The Sprint model, featuring the minimalism of the Classic with the active-lifestyle inspired straps of the KSO, would be perfect.
The easy thing to do then would have been to order them online, but after watching the sizing video, I thought it would be safest to try them on in person first. Unfortunately, because Austin is the kind of place where these things tend to become popular, every store within a reasonable radius was sold out of the normal sizes.
I dilly-dallied for a while on the purchase until I finally decided that there was no way waiting for them at the store just to try on sizes would make sense, so I took a gamble and got a pair from an online store based in Alabama (Mountain High Outfitters—knock yourself out). When they arrived, I was pretty content with the fit, so it turns out that the Vibram sizing chart is pretty accurate, after all. The only thing I still don’t understand (because I haven’t had the resources or opportunity to compare different sizes and models) is why the sizing chart sizes differently for the Sprint and KSO models (e.g. a 10″ foot should wear a 40 Sprint, but a 39 KSO).
Once I had decided that my Sprints fit well enough and that I wouldn’t bother trying to return them, it was time to go crazy. That night, I immediately went on a run, and boy was it different. That first time, even though I had a rough idea of what correct form barefoot form was, the mechanics were so alien to me that I could strike with my forefoot only, as if I were running with my calves. I did no more than 10 minutes that night, but felt pretty sore the next day. Eventually, as my feet adjusted, I started contacting lightly with my heel at the end of the stride, and that’s when it felt “right.” They say that running shoes make you strike with your heel first, while barefoot runners always strike with the outer metatarsals (the outer front of the foot). This [strangely attractive] YouTube video does a good job of showing what it should be like for barefoot runners.
So after I got comfortable with running, I started wearing VFFs for all sorts of things:
So after all of these experiences, it’s time to sum up the good and the bad. What’s good:
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that VFFs are a premium product, and are accordingly priced. For the little physical material that you get, you have to shell out anywhere from $80-$125 depending on the model you want. Although for all the joy and improvement that my VFFs have brought me, $80 was a modest price to pay. I highly recommend VFFs and do hope that you’ll give them a try at some point, especially if you enjoy the outdoors and have an active lifestyle. But be warned, you may never want to go back to conventional shoes ever again.
(Originally published December 17, 2010)
Hi everyone, it’s airport-blog-time again. This time I’m making a two-connection trip from Austin to Newark, and I’d thought I’d take the time to rave about German Volume Training, or GVT for short. German Volume Training is a technique used by bodybuilders to smash plateaus and put on a lot of weight in a short period of time. I can’t remember exactly how I stumbled upon this secret weapon, but I might have seen it on Hacker News at some point. Ironically, I tend to find out about a lot of fitness and nutrition nuggets on HN (such as Celiac Disease and the Paleo Diet, as it turns out).
But back to GVT, the underlying idea is simple: 10 sets of 10 reps of one composite exercise at about 50% of your 1-rep max, with 1 minute of rest between sets. You’re supposed to keep this up for four to eight weeks, and then take a week or two off. When you come back, you’ll be a complete beast. Does this sound too good to be true? Well, I put the theory to the test a few months back and kept detailed logs (as I usually do when I lift). What follows is my story, along with some tangential thoughts on the experience:
My usual workout routine for a given week is Back, Chest, Abs, Legs, Shoulders, Arms, and one day of rest. Sometimes I opt out of the leg workout if I’ve been running or jumping a lot, giving me two days of rest. I’ve found that this pattern is pretty ideal in terms of focus and recovery, so I didn’t want to switch this up, even for my GVT experiment. In true GVT, it is recommended that you only work out three days a week, and I would soon find out why.
The first day of GVT was August 18th, 2010, which was a Back day; the exercise I started with was a bent-over barbell row. I estimated my one-rep max at around 200 (although I think this was an under-estimate at the time), so I started with 10×10 of 95. I eventually realized that 50% of your one-rep max is actually a pretty insane number to start with in GVT. 10×10 sounds pretty reasonable at first, until you get to set 8 or 9. I’m glad I started out conservative on this first day, because I completed 10×10 of 95 without too much strain. Don’t get me wrong—I wouldn’t say that it was “easy” either, just that it wasn’t insanely hard, as some of my later days would be.
The next day, I picked dumbbell military bench press for my composite chest exercise (which is not that composite of an exercise, actually). I went with 40 in each hand, which is slightly below 50% of my one-rep max on this exercise. I’ve never actually one-rep maxed this particular exercise, but I would guess that it would be either 95 or 100 per hand. Still, I would discover by set 9 on this day that 40 lbs would prove to be a little too much. I could only muster 9.5 reps on set 9, and then 8 reps on set 10. Keep in mind that sets are only 60 seconds apart, so when you find yourself failing on a set, your performance will degrade very quickly on subsequent ones. I would guess that this is why the technique works so well—as you get progressively more tired, you start recruiting every last muscle fiber you have to eek out the reps (muscle fibers you never knew you had!)
Two days in my log passed at this point, but I didn’t write down why. Since this was August, I think it’s safe to guess that I went windsurfing, and that I counted it as a Leg day with a day of rest afterwards to reset.
The next day back, I set out to do 10×10 of cable crunches. The standard disclaimer for all cable columns is that they’re tuned differently, so the actual weight that it says on the stack is pretty meaningless. What’s 40 lbs of resistance on your column could actually be like 80 lbs on another brand. In any case, I usually do 14 reps of 180 on this particular brand of column, so I chose 100 for the GVT variation. Unfortunately, it was way too easy, as I noted in my logs.
For Shoulders the next day, I attempted 10×10 of 35 in each hand of the dumbbell military shoulder press, figuring that I would tone it down one notch from the Chest day a few days earlier to get the same effect. Interestingly, in contrast to my failure at the end of the Chest day, my logs show that I did indeed complete this batch (albeit with a lot of struggle at the end).
Two more days passed at this point, and I’m not sure why either. My guess would be that I was just way too tired. This may be a good time to go on a tangent to talk about the time commitment you need to set aside for GVT. For the workout itself, you’ll probably only need 20-30 minutes, but the big time commitment you’ll really need is actually for your sleep. I noticed that after the first few days of GVT, I started to involuntarily sleep about 10 hours a night. I would wake up after 9 hours of sleep and feel totally exhausted. It was only on the weekends when I started sleeping like 11 hours that I felt recharged. So if you can’t afford, or aren’t willing to set aside, the time required to recover, then GVT may not be for you at this time.
It is now August 26th according to my logs, and the page shows that I did 10×10 of squats at 105. Around this time is also when I fully embraced the ATG squat (Ass To the Ground), which I now believe is the only correct way to squat. No more of that weaksauce knee-bend that you usually do. You will find that your previously “impressive” one-rep max number is actually a piece of fiction when you do squats correctly. I went with 105 on this exercise and ended up completing it, but with some difficulty and lots of sweat.
To wrap up the first rotation, I concluded with a day of Arms. Of course, the problem with arms is that you need to work your biceps as well as your triceps, which are opposite forces. The natural thing to do, it seemed, was to do 5×10 for biceps and then 5×10 for triceps. I also went with 90 seconds of rest between each set since the arm muscle groups are much smaller and generally need more time to recharge. Another thing worth noting is that I did the five sets of biceps first, and then the five sets of triceps. Another way to structure the workout might have been to interlace the biceps sets and triceps sets. I’m not sure how true to GVT that would be, however, since the idea behind GVT is the constant, periodic strain on the muscles.
The two exercises I chose were ez-bar curls (outer grip) and skullcrushers (also known as overhead tricep ez-bar extensions). I chose 75 lbs and 85 lbs, respectively, because I figured that triceps were generally stronger than biceps, but I underestimated how badly the first five sets would drain all of my muscles. My rep count for the 5 sets of biceps curls were 10, 10, 10, 9, 7 (meaning that 75 was probably too much); my rep count for the 5 sets of skullcrushers were 10, 8, 10, 8, 8 (meaning that 85 was probably also too much). I didn’t note this in my logs explicitly, but I suspect the reason why the third set went back to 10 is that I rested for 2 full minutes after the second set, and for each subsequent set after that.
On this last day of the first rotation of GVT, it was already August 27th, so a full 10 days after my first day. One recurring theme I see in my logs over the next four weeks is that I routinely have random days off with blank pages. I never bothered to write down the excuse (probably because I would feel too bad writing “Too tired today”), but it’s worth noting because four calendar weeks of GVT actually meant only three full rotations (of Back, Chest, Abs, Legs, Shoulders, Arms, and rest), whereas in my usual workout, rotations are mapped one-to-one with weeks. This constant drain really started adding up, so I basically gave up after four weeks because I couldn’t sustain the effort beyond that, and having to sleep 10 hours a day was pretty annoying in terms of productivity. To be honest, I was amazed at how hard it got towards the end. The rule for upping the weight is if you successfully complete a 10×10, you can increase it by 5% next time, and I really only managed this a couple of times over a month.
So for all of this toil, what did I gain? Well, coming off of a 10-day rest after my month of GVT, I started back up slowly. I did a week of bodyweight and another week of bodyweight plus kettlebells after that. Yet things felt easy during this time, and I started wondering if I was going easy on myself. But this is why I keep logs: the numbers don’t lie. Longtime readers will know that I am trying to climb back up to the elusive 225 bench press, which I had reached only once in my life in the early months of 2009. But that’s also when I tore something in my right wrist. Ever since then, I’ve been trying to get back up to that level again, but all of 2009 was basically lost to trying to recover my wrist. Since then, I’ve kind of gotten stuck at 4×165, which is a very pathetic number to be stuck at. Until GVT, that is.
After these combined seven weeks or so (4 weeks of GVT, 1 week of rest, 1 week of bodyweight, 1 week of bodyweight + kettlebells), I rocked out 8×185 in perfect form like it was nothing. I didn’t even bother getting a spotter because the weight acclimation sets (one-rep sets of weight leading up to the target) felt ridiculously easy. I was psyching myself up to finally try 1×225, but of course, Thanksgiving rolled around, and I decided to take a rest for logistical reasons. Well 10 days later, I seemed to have lost some mojo. Right before the break, I took a few body fat measurements, and I clocked in at 7-9% pretty consistently. But after the break, things went south. When I got back to the gym, my arms were shaking trying to hold up just 175 on the bench, and my body fat measurements were now consistently 12-15%. There were too many variables over the break to pin it down to anything specific, but certainly the lack of exercise, the increased eating, and the lowered protein intake would all combine for this embarrassing devolution. But let’s not talk about this now, because I’m working to get back in shape for my return to 225, and this time I’ll do it in spite of the holidays.
Oh, and lest you think that all I do is bench, I should probably also mention that post-GVT, I saw a lot of improvements in my efforts towards the one-arm pull-up, military shoulder press, ez-bar biceps curl, and basically anything else I tried. I had also gotten a good deal bigger, to my chagrin. You see, right before GVT, I went out to get a shirt tailored. It came back to me post-GVT, and, by that point, didn’t fit anymore (my chest, neck, and shoulders had grown, according to the tailor). Luckily, the guy was nice about it and offered a second shirt at 50% off with the adjusted measurements, so I’m still waiting on that one to come back. I’ll write an entire separate post about my sartorial experiences later on, but for now allow me to close with some final thoughts on GVT.
German Volume Training. Pros:
As usual, do some research and critical thinking of your own before you embark on any journey inspired by advice on the Internet. Though with that said, I leave GVT a 5-star rating: “A++++ Would use again!”
(Originally published December 28, 2010)
Although I’ve been Primal for almost 8 months now, I’ve pretty much approached it in an intuitive manner this entire time. I read some of the introductory stuff by Loren Cordain at http://www.thepaleodiet.com, and it just “clicked” for me. In fact, it made so much intuitive sense, that I never bothered to double-check with any other sources. This will sound lame, but I actually felt like I had unlocked a part of me that had been dying to get out, and this one little cognitive spark was all it took for the rest of the pieces to fall into place.
I was an easy sell in part because I discovered the Paleo Diet on my own (I always like things I find on my own initiative), and in part because I had legitimate health problems that I wanted to solve, for which I had not yet found satisfactory answers (“use corticosteroids for the rest of your life” did not sit well with me). Moreover, beyond making intuitive sense, the Paleo Diet is practiced by a community well versed in the art of critical thinking and BS-detection, which means that every discussion about diet, nutrition, lifestyle, and fitness has been at a very high level—the kind of level I like.
For these past few months, I had thought that everyone had a similarly latent primal spirit in them, blocked from release only by their prolonged existence as “zoo humans” (a phrase coined by Erwan LeCorre at http://movnat.com). The mere mention of ancestral health and wellbeing should have connected some dots and caused an eruption of renewed life. Only it didn’t. What was going on?
Over the last month, as I’ve gotten the chance to interact with friends and family back home in New Jersey, I’ve had plenty of people ask me about my health. It never occurred to be that this would become a big issue, but it makes sense given that the last time I was home was six months ago, when I was only knee-deep in Paleo—that is, enough time to have stopped the bleeding, but not enough time to have healed my wounds. On a superficial level, these off-the-cuff interviews caught me off guard simply because I was not expecting to have to talk about the Paleo Diet so often, but on a more profound level, I was deeply satisfied because it meant that my newfound health and vitality was literally visible on the outside—to the point of garnering a compliment and a question!
Nonetheless, the thought that others were just trying to be nice and/or flattering crossed my mind, but I wasn’t about to miss out on a chance to talk about the most reasonable, logical, and provable nutrition and health advice I have ever heard of and now experienced. The need to educate myself about good ways to introduce Paleo to others became clear, and “uh… just be a natural human?” wasn’t advice that was conscionable for most folks.
I mention this story because I wanted to set the tone for the next few posts, which will all be Primal/Paleo-themed. I wanted to do something good for those of you who are at a point in your lives—much in the same way I was—where one cognitive spark will totally change everything. I realize that there are those for whom the time has not yet come, and even those whose time may never come. But for all of you out there who have never felt like you really belonged in today’s world of waste, exploitation, depression, sickness, materialism, financial slavery, and whatever else makes you really sad, I invite you to join me on my on-going quest to find a natural place in our not-so-natural world.
Here’s to all your New Year’s Resolutions about health, fitness, and wellbeing. May 2011 be the last year you actually need to worry about making those things a resolution.