smackshack: a crude digital self-portrait (Default)
It's the fourth of July and not much is going on at home, so I guess I'll blog a bit. 

A little while ago my weight dropped below 190 lbs, which means I've managed to shed at least 40 since I started on my diet and exercise kick in January. I've been hovering in the upper-mid 180s, bouncing up and down for several weeks now, though, mainly because the summer heat inspires an unhealthy desire to drink my calories in the form of margaritas, Mexican martinis, Cuba Libres, and gin and tonics. And that's not even counting the indulgences associated with Independence Day (waves a flag).

On the plus side, I've managed to find a pretty nice groove with my running, and thanks to a co-worker I've discovered the "run-walk method" of Jeff Galloway. I don't follow it very strictly, but it's important to me because it means I don't beat myself up for doing the sensible thing and taking walk breaks when it seems like a good idea to protect a knee or an ankle.

I try to follow the same philosophy regarding my CrossFit classes. A lot of crossfitters joke that CrossFit is a cult...but a good cult, because it helps you stay healthy. I can't disagree, but I know myself, and I know that I'm prone to injuring myself if I let my desire to please coaches and live up to an ideal get ahead of my abilities. It's a balancing act to push yourself enough to improve without overreaching and injuring a joint or a back.

Finally, I've learned from talking to my doctor and from tracking calories obsessively that no amount of exercise---at least, no amount that can reasonably be undertaken by a person whose whole life isn't devoted to fitness---can make up for a bad diet. And this is the hardest thing to learn: the hour spent sweating and straining might work off a cookie or too, or a handful of chips, or a soda, but that's it (and not all three at once). So the indulgence that I want, which is to allow myself to munch mindlessly on whatever tastes good, is simply incompatible with my goal. I cannot pay for it, or make up for it, just by working out a little harder the next day. Maybe if I was a longshoreman or a power lifter or an Army Ranger in training, but not as a middle-aged middle-class schlub.

Relative to the goal of losing weight, then, evenings and weekends of indulgence must be measured against weeks of progress. "Eat too much one night" doesn't translate into "work out more the next day" unless the indulgence is trivial. It translates into "adjust your timetable by some large fraction of a month." Which makes me sigh and go back to the calorie tracker.
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The illustrator has passed away.

I didn't even know who Jeffrey Jones was until a couple of years ago, when it occurred to me to figure out who painted the cover art I really liked on some old Fritz Leiber books. It turns out she/he was transgender in addition to being a wonderful artist, and the autobiographical note on her web site is charming.

I'll wait while you go read all that.

Fritz Leiber's fantasy stories about Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser played a big role in my adolescent imagination. By comparison Conan the Barbarian was fun but a bit, well, Mary Sue. (I'm sure you understand.) And Tolkien, though wonderful in his way, is...well, let's say he doesn't really speak to modernity. (He has a lot to say about modernity, but I'm not sure he really knows what it is.) But Fafhrd and the Mouser negotiate a polyglottal, polytheistic, multi-universal, cosmopolitan world or urban romance where postmodern anxiety is as great an enemy as any elder god or Thing From The Deep. I love that about Leiber's stories, and Jones's art is the first thing I saw every time I picked up an Ace paperback of Swords And Deviltry. (Again? Yes, again. Shut up!)

Anyway, when I sat down at the computer I'd intended to make some dumb jokes about the immanent Rapture, but this is more important.
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Had a lovely couple of birthdays: I turned 42, and Sturdy Helpmeet™ and I drove to Dallas for a surprise party for my mother-in-law, who's turning 70. Then we drove back the same evening because Sturdy Helpmeet™ doesn't get to rest while the dastardly Texas legislature is in session.

On the nerdery front, I received a lovely Android phone from my darling Sturdy Helpmeet™. This is my first smartphone, so now I feel like I've joined the 21st century. That's nice, but on the other hand, I can't stop fiddling with it and gawping over how cool it is--Google SkyMap for the win!--which makes me feel like an old man who thinks he's hip because he's finally decided that maybe rock and roll isn't so bad after all.

So what am I actually doing with my fantastical new technogizmo? Reading The Picture of Dorian Gray. I'm pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to read, too. My wood-pulp prejudice has kept me from buying an e-reader for a long time, but I'm reaching a point where I suspect that saving shelf-space would be worth the investment. So I downloaded the Google books app and a copy of the novel while sitting on the commode, and I didn't get up again until my legs had gone to sleep and Sturdy Helpmeet™ was banging on the door. At 3 AM.

Which also makes me feel a bit like an old man, but I don't care, because the fact that that can happen means the world is just fucking amazing.

Finally, and just to show how shallow I am, I think the best thing about Android is that now whenever I see an iPhone ad on TV, I feel neither envy nor the intensely douchenozzly self-loathing that I assume all sentient beings who own iPhones feel whenever they hear, "If you don't have an iPhone, then you don't have an iPhone."
smackshack: a crude digital self-portrait (oneself in purple)
On the 14th I'll be 42. When I turned forty I thought "Meh, no biggie. After all, 42 is the number that counts." But now 42 is coming, and I feel like I should have some major bit of geekitude to show for it. But instead I keep thinking about how Douglas Adams died while in the middle of a workout, trying to get fit and lose weight, which is more or less what I'm doing every day right now.

Minus the heart attack.

So far.

(I mean...I'm a huge fan and all, but there are limits.)

Anyway, my life is infused with totems of nerdery. I thought about being counter-intuitive, putting down the Charles Stross and the Rudy Rucker, and picking up Jane Austen or Emily Bronte instead. But even then I can't escape the nerdery because of the zombies. Even if I read the books pre-zombie, the zombies are now forever there in the meta-text, or something.

So...what's a nerd to do?
smackshack: a crude digital self-portrait (Default)
Last night I finished reading Vincent's Self-Made Man: One Woman's Journey Into Manhood and Back Again. I'm very impressed.

Vincent went in drag as a guy named "Ned" for a year and a half and did her best to occupy the stereotypical niches of American masculinity, to see what they felt like. (Not good, it turns out.)

One thing that intrigued me is the fact that a lot of the experiences she seeks out are precisely the experiences I've spent a lot of my life trying to avoid precisely because they're so...what's the word...stereotypical. Mandated (hrm) by unthinking tradition and habit. But of course, being a guy I haven't completely managed to escape them either, so it's interesting to see what she makes of them. She finds grace notes in aspects of masculinity that I've never enjoyed or trusted, which makes me think I've probably been too hard on a lot of other guys over the years.

Now I have to go dig out my copy of Iron John...
smackshack: a crude digital self-portrait (Default)
Today is the 100th International Women's Day.

To celebrate, here's the obligatory YouTube video. It's good.



smackshack: a crude digital self-portrait (Default)
Now is the time on sprockets when we brag....

This week I reached my first intermediate target of weight loss...my first 20 lbs., gone. I had to buy a new belt so my pants would stay up.

Naturally I celebrated with the unbridled consumption of hot, silky fat and cold, tasty carbs: queso and chips, and margaritas.

So once I've recovered from that, it will be time to start on the next 20 lbs. Wish me luck.

Men of Rock

Feb. 9th, 2011 10:07 pm
smackshack: a crude digital self-portrait (Default)
This is cool: a BBC Scotland show about the history of geology.

("The secret is to bang the rocks together, guys.")
smackshack: a crude digital self-portrait (Default)

Christianity or Islam from atheistcartoons.com


This is the thing that always gets me about religious apologetics. The speaker -- especially Christians in my experience, but I've seen it from Muslims and Buddhists as well, and I have no reason to think anybody else is any different -- takes the plausibility of their own mystical, mythical, supernatural tradition for granted. As though the question of whether a divinity exists rests just on the plausibility of the stories in the Bible or Koran, or on the historicity of a particular prophet or guru.
 
So if atheism really turns you off, I'd ask you to do a thought experiment. Ponder the people who believed in Thor and Odin and Frejya, or in Apollo, Demeter, and Athena...don't worry so much about the gods, think about the people who prayed and sacrificed to these gods for the sake of a safe childbirth, for the hope that their sons would return from the war, for the hope that rain would feed the crops, for the strength and courage and wisdom needed to carry out their domestic and public duties. Imagine that you're one of them and that you take your devotion to those gods just as seriously as you might now entertain the reality of Yahweh, Christ, or Allah. (Imagine further that your choice of god doesn't depend on which religion happens to field the biggest army.)
 
How can you be fair to those people? What does it mean to treat their inner lives with as much respect as you expect for your own? Are you capable of distinguishing the preferences that stem from habit, culture, and upbringing from actual evidence for your beliefs and theirs?
 
It's worth thinking about.

smackshack: Dog, from Half-Life 2, says "Y Hello Thar!" (hello thar)
Really!

http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/jan/15/i-lived-with-wolves

I wonder if this is what the paleo-diet cult really has in mind. 

(Maybe "cult" is a bit strong. Read their books and talk to their followers, though, and it can certainly seem that way at times.)
smackshack: a crude digital self-portrait (Default)
A couple of hours, a shower, and a meal later, I feel human. The demons in my head are now accompanied by imps of perverse pride:

Imp #1: Hey, you're looking good now!

Imp #2: You must have been a really impressive dude for a new guy!

Imp #3: Just a few more workouts like that and you'll be a stud!

Assholes.
smackshack: a crude digital self-portrait (Default)
The [fitness] disclaimer in the subject is your clue to ignore me if you don't want hear stuff about diet, exercise, body image, and the like.

Today I took "Elements I" in CrossFit, which is another way of saying Help! A very nice young woman with a positive, helpful attitude is trying to kill me!

I feel the way I did when I first started taking karate as a teenager, coming home from workouts so keyed up that I felt on the verge of vomiting. (And I did vomit on more than one occasion because, being a teenager with poor impulse control, I ate too soon after the workout.) And this wasn't even the real workout. This was the introduction to how to work out workout. So I won't eat anything for a little while; I'll stick to having a glass of water.

At moments like these I see the immense practicality of medieval demonology. I have several demons in my head at the moment.

Demon #1:  You suck at this you big, fat piece of shit. Why did you ever think you could do this?

Demon #2:  You know she's lying, right? When the instructor says something nice like "Good form" or "You can do it" she's just mouthing empty platitudes so you'll finish and get the fuck out.

Demon #3:  See the way you feel now? It's never going to get better. You're going to suffer and suffer unless you give up. And if you give up you're a worthless big fat piece of shit, so I'll take a holiday and let Demon #1 take over kicking your ass. Wouldn't that be nice?

So while these voices are attacking me inside my head, I'm grateful for a poster in the lobby of the CrossFit studio. It says, "Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional." It's a very Buddhist sort of saying. Pain is a natural result of what happens to your body; suffering is a natural result of what's going on in your mind. You can't tell a muscle to stop hurting when you've tried and not quite managed to do the last few pull-ups, but (in theory) you can quiet the demons in your mind by being mindful of them, knowing where they come from, and knowing that what they say isn't true.

I sure hope it works.
smackshack: a crude digital self-portrait (Default)
I had another thought about the movie this morning. Thankfully brief, this thought follows the spoiler cut below.

Mild spoilers follow... )
smackshack: a crude digital self-portrait (Default)
I saw the new Tron in IMAX 3D yesterday. I liked it a lot more than I liked Avatar, the most obvious humongous special-effects blockbustery thing with which I can think to compare it.  Here's an interesting review that looks beyond the typical "good effects/crap plot" dichotomy.

My own thoughts with spoilers are behind the cut.

Read more... )
smackshack: a crude digital self-portrait (Default)
(Is that the most over-used dramatic phrase ever? Or is it, "I have a bad feeling about this?" Regardless: annoying and boring health- and mood-related navel-gazing follows. You've been warned.)

I've reached that point in life when going to the doctor no longer involves being told what a fine, strapping specimen of American manhood I am. (If I'm honest I reached that point some time ago, but I visited the doctor less frequently then.) After the latest round of probing and poking, The Physician told me to lose 20 lbs. My blood pressure, blood sugar, and bad cholesterol are on the high side, he says, and my good cholesterol is on the low side.  Moreover, grappling with my goolies involves navigating a hairy belly that fills Shelob with envy. (The Physician's motives may not be entirely altruistic.)

The Physician said to lose 20 lbs., but that's clearly a minimal target. To achieve a truly non-spherical silhouette I need to lose something in the range of 50–70 lbs., I estimate. So my short-term goal is to see if regular exercise and the elimination of some bad eating habits will take care of the 20, and my long-term goal is to see if by making further lifestyle adjustments I can actually get in shape—a different shape, anyway—and maintain it.

Frankly, this business terrifies me. I'm excited by the opportunity to improve myself, but I hate hate hate hate hate the idea of monitoring all my food intake and weighing myself regularly and doing all the other things associated with being on a diet. And I like exercise, but when I was younger I was very active, running and swimming and lifting weights and doing karate, so I have a tendency to overdo it. If I'm being trained by someone, I want to tell them what they're doing wrong, and if I'm on my own I just keep working out until I break myself and give up in disgust.

My worst enemy is not my sweet tooth or my love of sloth, but my ego.

So to tame that ego I'm going to use a couple of tools.
  • Mindbloom: an nifty (and free) online tool that turns goal tracking into a social video game
  • CrossFit: an exercise regiment that won't leave me on my own (like at a gym) but which also doesn't incur the expense or the one-to-one relationship dynamics of a personal trainer. Plus, it looks really cool, and I hope it won't get boring.
  • Livestrong.com: I've heard good things about the nutritional tools on this web site. If I get into serious calorie counting, I'll come here for help.
  • Buddhism: Sort of. I'm going to try to treat the diet & exercise program like an extended session of meditation. I expect to be distracted and to screw up, but that's OK. In meditation, whenever you notice your mind wandering, you just take note of the fact and go back to the breathing and counting. It's not a big deal, and you don't beat yourself up over it because that's just how the brain is.
So this whole process is going to be a massive exercise in figuring out how to tolerate myself and change myself at the same time; to keep careful track while letting the details go (to a certain extent).

Suddenly I'm terrified again.
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I'm posting some links here because they look interesting and because I think I'll want to return to them later.

Charles Stross: "Julian Assange, defending our democracies (despite their owners' wishes)"

zunguzungu: "Julian Assange and the Computer Conspiracy; "to destroy this invisible government"

Julian Assange: "The non linear effects of leaks on unjust systems of governance" (PDF)

The use of the word "conspiracy" is a bit weird here, but it doesn't appear to be used in the stereotypical way. The writers are not talking about grand plots hatched in secret lairs beneath volcanoes, but about a natural tendency that emerges in a group of people with a common interest as they gradually acquire more and more power within a larger society in which many people may not share that same interest. It might even be a natural outgrowth of game theory (the convoluted dance of cooperation, deception, trust, defection, and so on), but then that means I really need to read some more.

(My gut feeling about WikiLeaks is that it's a good thing.)
smackshack: a crude digital self-portrait (Default)

I've been thinking (and drinking), and my conclusion follows, thus:

The difference between Republicans and Democrats is: If all the Republicans died tomorrow, no one would miss them. But if all the Democrats died tomorrow, no one would notice.
smackshack: a crude digital self-portrait (Default)
I just finished Bruce Sterling's Zeitgeist, which---considering it came out ten years ago---means my relationship with trendiness has not changed.

And I was struck by a couple of paragraphs near the end of the book:
"Check this out, man, I've got a theory. A good person can subsume the narrative of a bad person. Because it's easy for a good person to imagine being bad. But a bad person can't subsume the narrative of a good person. Because they have no understanding of what that's like. It's just beyond them, it's beyond their language."

"I like that theory," said Khoklov. "It's mathematical. It's about surface areas, basically. It's a kind of moral topology."

So naturally this reminded me of Sam Harris's new book, The Moral Landscape, which is all about how a naturalistic understanding of morality would look something like a fitness landscape, where moving upward would represent moral success and moving downward would represent moral failure. You don't need to be able to make claims of certainty for moral principles in order to have moral knowledge, but moral knowledge could---like scientific knowledge---be acquired and refined gradually as we map the metaphorical landscape of possibility with respect to the experiences of conscious creatures like human beings (and perhaps other "higher" organisms).

Of course, now I'm wondering if Sterling got his idea for a moral topology from somewhere else. (I suspect there's a long tradition of moral topology theory of which I'm pathetically ignorant.) Still, by Googling "moral topolgy," I quickly found a map of Dante's Inferno. Which (ironically, considering Sam Harris's passionate atheism) is not a bad first approximation of a moral landscape, for a medieval moralist. In Dante, Sterling, and Harris, moral ignorance (and not just incorrigible wickedness) and moral knowledge are both possible, and although people high on the landscape can look down and see what being bad might be like, people mired in their own dysfunction tend not to see the higher possibilities without assistance.

And, like Vergil in Dante's poem, a person with moral knowledge would be a person capable of navigating from point A to point B (or capable of helping another navigate from point A to point B) in the moral landscape. Unlike Dante's poem, in the natural world moral possibilities are not guarded by demons and angels, though the forces of society, economics, and psychology might play similar roles at times.

Finally, there just something appealing about the idea of a moral landscape. A landscape is something that can drawn, painted, mapped, and even shaped to some degree. A scientific understanding of morality should no more unweave the rainbow of human values than a scientific understanding of botany drains color and scent from flowers.

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