A Vegan/Aerobicizer Hits the Wall

From Art de Vany’s web site, ca. 2007:

I ran into a guy at the gym whom I had not seen for a couple of months, maybe more.

He was in the gym hours on end (when I used to see him) doing aerobics. He did so much treadmill work that he constantly limped and had a brace on his foot, sometimes on his knee. He had poor posture from walking slumped over looking at the track or the monitor. Nothing in his work outs addressed his posture and his aerobic work only reinforced it. He worked out every day as far as I could tell because he was always there when I came in.

He was a pure vegetarian. He ate a lot of beans and spinach and always told me how fresh he felt from his food. He had no muscle and was a “fat-skinny” jogger or treadmill addict. Sklnny arms, little legs and a bony back.

I was a bit shocked though to see how his appearance had degraded in the few months since I had last seen him. He had gotten quite thick around the waist, but not anywhere else. Still no muscle and a tired, haggard look and slumped posture. At least he was not limping and had no braces on. Rather than ask him if he had been ill, I just asked how he was doing. He really didn’t answer but he did say he had been gone 2 months working on a cabin.

I don’t want to speculate, but it does seem to me that his diet and training make his fitness vulnerable or brittle. He is poised on a razor’s edge in a sense that any small change in diet or exercise sends him down a steep slope. He quickly loses fitness and his body composition quickly fades if he changes either his diet or his exercise. I doubt that his diet changed. So, it is likely his energy expenditures and particularly his peak expenditures that changed. It was easy to see that his insulin sensitivity had declined because all the new weight was gathered in the abdominal area. Maybe he had an illness or went through a major stress. On the other hand, there is seldom a “cause” for human physiology is so complex it is not possible to trace a major change of this magnitude to a single factor.

What I am driving at is that his approach to diet and fitness left him vulnerable. He has to stay on that treadmill or he falls hard. Even on the treadmill, though he managed his weight, he was on the boundary of good health. Not enough nutrition or rest and doing the wrong sorts of exercise. He looked depleted then and even more so now.

I am sorry to see this happen, but I don’t think I can do anything about it. If there is any lesson here it is to adopt a fitness approach that does not leave you vulnerable to damage, poor nutrition, or unusual stress. If you are on the edge in terms of nutrition (either trying to “bulk up” or lose weight or eating a narrow range of foods) or exercise (over training and doing repetitive work outs), you become vulnerable. You are living on the edge. An easy approach mixing intensity, variety, and great food is more healthful and leaves you poised to adapt to stresses that are bound to occur.

A Vegan/Aerobicizer Hits the Wall

Book of the week: Soon I Will Be Invincible

If, like me, you are a fan of the implausibly best show on network television, Heroes, or if you just like fun writing, run don’t walk to Amazon to buy Soon I Will Be Invincible, a novel by Austin Grossman.

An unlikely cross between a spoof and a real novel, the book alternatives between the points of view of Doctor Impossible, supervillain extraordinaire, and Fatale, the newest hero on her first day with the Champions, the world’s most famous superteam. Fatale introduces herself:

Four years ago, I decided to start calling myself Fatale. It’s my superhero name. I chose it from a list they supplied me in the clinic, and at the time it seemed like the perfect symbol for my dangerous, sexy new self, a cybernetic woman of mystery. Admittedly, I was on a lot of painkillers.

Meanwhile, Doctor Impossible is languishing in prison:

I’m not a criminal. I didn’t steal a car. I didn’t sell heroin, or steal an old lady’s purse. I built a quantum fusion reactor in 1978, and an orbital plasma gun in 1979, and a giant laser-eyed robot in 1984. I tried to conquer the world and almost succeeded, twelve times and counting…

I’m the smartest man in the world. Once I wore a cape in public, and fought battles against men who could fly, who had metal skin, who could kill you with their eyes… Now I have to shuffle through a cafeteria line with men who tried to pass bad checks. Now I have to wonder if there will be chocolate milk in the dispenser. And whether the smartest man in the world has done the smartest thing he could with his life.

And they’re off to the races from there.

Book of the week: Soon I Will Be Invincible

Yet another blog-reading refactoring

I started RSS-reading with Bloglines and, though it still has some features I like, I moved to Google Reader last year and have been pretty satisfied with it.

What’s been harder has been managing my blog diet, the number of feeds I read, and the general problems of absorbing so much ephemera. Blog reading takes up an inordinate amount of my time, it seems, even just to glance through the list of postings. I put off writing, practicing, reading books, etc., so I can process a bottomless inbox of blog postings.

I’ve just gone through another fit of downsizing. I have about 50 blogs in Google Reader BUT many of these blogs don’t post daily; some are Ask Metafilter keyword feeds that only appear when a new post appears and others are weekly (like PostSecret) or occasional (and Catarina is on a well-deserved hiatus from the PC).

The two blogs that really distracted me were Marginal Revolution and Lifehacker, so I’ve taken them off the Reader list and will just visit them and browse when I want to. One of the Lifehacker editors mentioned some years back that this was his strategy: no RSS reader, visit bookmarked blogs occasionally or regularly, and he stayed in control of the process.

And for the record, how I process these beasties is like this (borrowed, I think, from Mike Shea, cited in one of the links above):

  1. In Reader, set Start page preferences for “All items.”
  2. Star the items I want to return to later, then select “Mark all as read.”
  3. Display all the starred items.
  4. Use the shortcut keys to move through them quickly, unstar them, Share them (I have my Tumblr log display the shared items), or, if the post is long and I don’t have time to read, email it to my Gmail account.

At the end, there should be no unread items and all posts should be processed, either read or emailed for later reading.

Processing these posts in my Gmail inbox is a different kettle of meat. I have labels set up for each day of the week, and send these new postings to tomorrow’s label. The next day’s job is to process these (read, or set a bookmark, or make a new project, or archive them for reference, or something).

But this week, I’ve been moving unread items from day to day, until now there’s about 55 blog posts that I somehow decided last week I’d have time to process this weekend. And no, I won’t have time to read them all carefully, or even scan them all.

So I’ll set a timer for 30 minutes or so, blow through as many as I can, and then with a heavy heart delete the rest. I have a bad case of “just-in-case” syndrome and, by and large, I never need many of the blog posts I read and rarely do I refer to them when I decide to archive them in Gmail. I’ve decided I want to start the week with a clean slate and not carry over a blog-reading debt from week to week.


James Montgomery Flagg (1877-1960) drew the same way that he lived: brash and arrogant.

Flagg’s confidence was understandable. He started his career at the moment when improvements in the printing process and the rise of popular magazines created a huge market for his drawing skills. Illustrators such as Flagg became national celebrities, and he basked in the attention. His famous poster, Uncle Sam Wants You, made him a household name. The press sought him out for his strong opinions. He consorted with hollywood stars, judged beauty contests, seduced young and impressionable models, frolicked at bohemian parties, and traveled back and forth to Europe with the beautiful people.

I like his work a lot. My biggest complaint is that Flagg rarely let a single well-considered line suffice where five additional lines might fit:

In this way, his style reflected his personality: never waste a minute reconsidering your initial line– just keep underscoring it again and again.

Flagg led a privileged life and had little understanding or sympathy for those who did not. He was a member of exclusive men’s clubs from whose barricades he merrily indulged his sexist and racist attitudes. His invitation to the annual minstrel show at the elite Lotos club in New York is a beautiful painting of an odious subject:

No fan of government welfare programs, here is Flagg’s sketch for the prestigious Dutch Treat Club of the government sodomizing the people.

Life was mighty fine for Flagg. But like many people who happened to be born at the right time, it never occurred to him that luck might have played a role in his success, or that the conditions that catapaulted him to fame might someday change. His pictures that once commanded the public’s attention were eclipsed by Hollywood pictures that moved and talked. Flagg found himself on the wrong side of history. He did not respond well to public neglect, and died a sour and bilious old man. But he left us some terrific drawings from his peak period.


Colin Roberts comments on Back from Holiday


I read your leader on the above with interest. It reminded me of the following experience:

I once worked for a large Insurance company. My boss was a manager who came back off holiday to an inbox of several hundred e-mails.

He deleted them all and then sent a mail to everyone in the company along the lines of

“you won’t believe how stupid I’ve been. I’ve come back off holiday and accidentally deleted all the mail in my in-box. If you sent me anything important in the last two weeks, please resend it immediately”

Result: he got 7 (seven) resent e-mails.

I do admit that this is a tactic which can look suspicious if used too often and probably not a good idea if you get lots of important external e-mails. But it was impressive.



Colin Roberts comments on Back from Holiday


Cappadocia in central Turkey is highly recommended.  Imagine the Moab if it had been inhabited for 4000 years by a succession of Hittites, Christians fleeing Romans and Persians, Greeks and Turks and you have some idea.

These faerie chimneys exist in the thousands and some are still inhabited.  One fellow showed me around his chimney house.  More in the extension.


Progress Report

I’ve been using the technique I described in Procrastination Buster for most of this week now, and I’m finding it a very efficient way of processing stuff. Although it may appear to be very different from the techniques described in Do It Tomorrow, it is actually based on very much the same principles. It is essentially a method of converting an open list into a series of closed lists (in this case numbering two items each). The advantage compared with Do It Tomorrow is that it is more flexible and can be fitted a bit more easily into irregular time slots. The disadvantage is that some work items will take longer before they get dealt with than others. I’ve still got one difficult item which I put on the list at the beginning of the week and remains unactioned. That’s almost certainly a lot less items than would be left over with a conventional To Do list, but with Do It Tomorrow, I would have actioned all the items either the day they came up or the day after.

Here are a few pointers which have surfaced for me this week while using this method:

  • To Do lists always tend to suffer from list expansion - in other words they tend to grow faster than one can process the items. In order to avoid this happening it is important to keep the list well weeded by throwing out unnecessary items.
  • As a guide you should be able to complete at least one circuit of the list during the course of an average day (bearing in mind that you will be actioning about half the items on the list on each circuit). If you can’t do that, you should take some time to weed the list.
  • If you find yourself further from the end of the list at the end of the day than you were at the beginning, you are seriously trying to do too much! You need not only to weed the list, but look at your commitments too.
  • Just as with Do It Tomorrow, you don’t necessarily have to do the whole of every item. You can always do part of it and then cross it out and re-enter it at the end of the list. This achieves the little and often ideal which I recommend in my books for dealing with major projects.

I’d be interested to hear from you in the Comments or in the Discussion Forum if you try out this method - and how you get on with it.

Progress Report

Can you judge a book by its cover?

I read Darfur: The Ambiguous Genocide, by Gerard Prunier, and was quite impressed.  I thought “what a smart and unbiased introduction to such a difficult topic."  But why was I impressed?  I don’t know nearly enough about the topic to judge the material.

I was impressed because the author sounded so reasonable and so intelligent.  But I can’t cite any really good reason to believe this was more than a trick.  Prunier sure didn’t seem as if he were trying to talk me into a hidden agenda.

Bryan Caplan offers his heuristics for trusting a source or not; here’s Arnold Kling on the same.  Here’s David Henderson’s podcast on disagreement.

I tend to trust sources who use their intelligence to point out flaws in their own positions.  But is this more than an aesthetic preference on my part?  What’s so trustworthy about that?  Maybe I’m just looking for people who remind me of myself, and what’s so good about me anyway?

If my trust standard works, it is only because not so many people use it.  If more readers trusted on the basis of "using intelligence to publicly question one’s foundations,” that standard might be too easily to manipulate.

In other words, it is the stupidity of much of the audience (they can be fooled by simple tricks, complex tricks are not needed) which makes it possible for the more sophisticated readers to read signs of intellectual dishonesty and get closer to the truth.

Let’s say you have a medium – call it a blog – which is read only by very smart people.  Simple, relatively discernible tricks won’t be used.  Should those readers then have a special distrust of the authors? 

Can you judge a book by its cover?


From a book review of a recent biography of Beethoven by Doctor Mai: Diagnosing Genius: The Life and Death of Beethoven.

“The cause of Beethoven’s death was liver failure due to alcohol abuse. The autopsy was performed by Dr. Johann Wagner, who was assisted by Dr. Karl von Rokitansky. Rokitansky was a resident in pathology, and Beethoven’s autopsy was the first one he performed. He subsequently performed 59,786 autopsies in his outstanding career as a pathologist and became famous for his observations on the gross features of pathologic abnormalities of organs.

At Beethoven’s autopsy, Wagner and Rokitansky found — besides cirrhosis of the liver due to alcohol abuse — ascites, splenomegaly, pancreatitis, and thickened bones of the skull. The eighth cranial nerves were wrinkled and shriveled because they had been compressed by the thick skull bones, a finding consistent with Paget’s disease of bone, which can cause deafness. Other conditions that have been put forth as the cause of Beethoven’s deafness — including head trauma inflicted by his alcoholic father, syphilis, and otosclerosis — lack credibility. There is also some question of whether lead poisoning caused Beethoven’s illnesses. In 1996, a lock of his hair was found to contain high levels of lead. Lead poisoning was common in Europe during Beethoven’s time because wine contained lead that had leached from its containers.”