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The Glove Incident

About nine years ago, my mom thoughtfully bought me a pair of black workout gloves, for lifting weights. Those gloves have literally been all around the world with me - they're always in my backpack, just in case there happen to be heavy metal objects to lift at the hotel I'm staying in. A week or two ago, I moved the gloves from my backpack to my workout bag (clever, I know), worked out, went home, etc. The next day, as I'm pulling into my favorite parking spot at work, I spot a black workout glove on the ground. Same brand as mine, just sitting there. At the time, it somehow made logical sense to me that the glove was someone else's, and the best thing I could do is leave it right there for them. Later that day, glove is still there. I worked out, but it was a running day or something. Next day, I think that glove was still lying there. The following day, it was gone. Time to lift weights, check the backpack, only one glove. FUUUUUUUUUUUUCK. And the worst thing is, I…

Back to Barefoot (Running)!

So I finally got over to a nice rubberized track today to do some sprints with my new stopwatch. It was a sad, sad state of affairs. My legs felt tired and "mushy" before I even started, but I figured (or hoped) that it would go away once I warmed up. No such luck. I suppose running MWF this week really did me in. It was so bad that I almost tripped three times in the middle of my 100m time trial, and the time was embarrassing enough that middle school girls would probably beat me. I think the tripping may have been caused by my shoes, though. I switched back to my running shoes for the sprints, and it's the first time I've worn them running in about 6 weeks. Usually I wear thin-soled Adidas shoes that are most certainly not meant for running, with the hope that the thin heel will help promote mid-foot striking rather than heel-striking. But when I go back to my running shoes now, it feels like I'm wearing huge pillows on my feet.

Short aside: I had to give up on …

Action Hero Training

The more I work out, the more energy I seem to have on a day-to-day basis, and I find myself jumping, running, and doing pseudo-parkour movements at random times. This usually elicits a "What is Darren smoking?" look from my coworkers or friends, but I enjoy it anyway. It got me thinking - how would someone need to train to be a real-life action hero? That is, what would be the best training regimen to attempt to mimic the stunts that movie action heroes pull off with startling regularity? Having just watched the amazing initial chase scene from "Casino Royale" again, this may be biased towards becoming a bad-ass Daniel Craig James Bond, but here goes anyway:

1) Massive grip strength. All action heroes sooner or later find themselves hanging precariously from a ledge, cliff, window pane, crane, etc. Time to get cranking on those finger tip pullups! Throw in some dead lifts without the whole "lift" thing, too (i.e., load up an Olympic barbell at mid-thigh w…

Update on sprint experiment

Exactly four weeks ago I mentioned I had hit an aerobic plateau, with the plan to change up the workout routine and try again afterwards. So today I tried the same intervals workout on the treadmill that I wasn't able to complete two other times, and the result was ... still couldn't finish it =(. On a positive note, I got farther this time than I have in the past. I think there are a few interesting things here. First, I didn't lose any aerobic fitness during my two-week vacation, and perhaps even gained some, which is great. Next, the bike sprints didn't translate over to running aerobic capacity quite as dramatically as I would have liked. I did three treadmill workouts over those four weeks, and the rest on the bike. Anyway, in retrospect, it seems that I simply bit off more than I could chew. When I went from my previous completable interval workout to this one, I took about 9.16% off the mile pace for the sprints. Apparently that was way too aggressive. I should …

Vacation Exercise

Got back Tuesday from a two-week vacation, and for the first time in the history of my vacations, I managed to exercise a lot while on vacation. 11 days out of 14. Part of the dedication was due to my setup. I was staying on a friend's couch, and his apartment had a shower, but it was only accessible through his bedroom. Since someone was usually sleeping in there way later than I woke up, I devised the ingenious plan of working out first thing every morning, followed by a shower at the gym. Two birds with one stone. Some observations:

- I used to think I didn't have enough energy to workout in the morning before eating. It's not true. As long as it's a reasonable workout (45 minutes or less), I had plenty of energy, probably glycogen still in the muscles from the previous day. Also a good way to wake myself up.

- On the flip side of the previous note, working out after heavy drinking the previous night is not so easy. Alcohol saps my energy in the gym like Kryptonite gi…

I've never liked running....

I've never been a fan of long distance running*, but it's about as evolutionary an activity as you can choose for exercise. It's interesting to think that a million years ago, some human was running across the steppe, endurance hunting an animal. I, on the other hand, spend my running days in a constant battle with myself. As soon as I start running hard, my inner voice starts asking me what the hell I'm doing. Why don't you just stop? It'll feel so much better. Are you a masochist? Maybe you're tired today. You can do it next time. Well, putting it off till next time is a cop-out, and running is actually a decent metric for aerobic improvement.

So, after finishing my strength circuit today, I decided to run a time-trial mile on the treadmill (always at 1% incline, to best simulate running outside). I cut 45 seconds off my previous fastest mile, run last summer in a gym in Tokyo. I felt like I was going to die at the end. But I guess the training is starting…

Aerobic Plateau

Well, had to happen sooner or later. Seems I've run full-speed into a plateau with my intervals. The last two times I've attempted my new interval workout, I've gotten stitches and had to modify the workout (either by decreasing intensity, or increasing recovery time, or both) to finish. I hate stitches!
Inspired by "Six Sessions of Sprint Interval Training Increases Muscle Oxidative Potential and Cycle Endurance Capacity in Humans", I've decided that instead of trying to stubbornly push through the same workout until I complete it (which will be both frustrating and potentially demoralizing), I'm going to switch it up. I've realized that my "sprints" in my intervals are not sprints at all. The reason I reach "failure" in my interval workouts is because I have extremely short recovery times (about 45 sec), and my recoveries are still at a reasonable pace (5 - 5.5 mph). So, for the next two weeks, I'm doing faster sprints with lo…

Heart rate improvements so far

It's been extremely rewarding to see improvements in my heart rate from my exercise routine that I posted about last week. Aerobic fitness was one of the main things I wanted to improve, so seeing large gains in both max capacity and general cardio fitness has been great. Some examples:

- Today I did a strength training circuit day, and because there was no clock with a second hand (and I don't wear a watch), I used the treadmill between supersets to time my minute recoveries. I noticed that even after intense exertions during the supersets, my heart rate was dropping to 110-120 beats per minute within 30 seconds. I honestly thought the heart rate monitor was faulty until I verified the measurement by taking my own pulse. Recovery time is a major metric for cardio fitness, and this was both surprising and very welcome.

- Ability to maintain a low heart rate during moderate exercise. The best example of this has been with biking, where I can go for an hour on the exercise bike at…

Healthcare: How much does that test cost?

I recently had some blood tests ordered by a doctor. She sent me across the street to the "lab" to have blood drawn and sent off. But before they took the blood, I was curious how much the tests were going to cost me. Here is a slightly paraphrased version of the inane conversation I had:
Me: "Will my insurance cover this?" Phlebotomist/Receptionist: "I don't know." Me: "Umm.... Could you check please?" Phlebotomist/Receptionist: "Well, I won't know if it's covered until I send it off to the insurance company." Me: "Okay. Could you call them and ask?" Phlebotomist/Receptionist: "No." Me: (trying to get an upper bound) "Uhh.... Okay. How much would they cost out of pocket?" Phlebotomist/Receptionist: "I don't know. We'll see when the insurance company gets back to me." Me: "So you're saying that I might have to pay an infinite amount of money out of pocket for these blood tests…

My exercise routine

Some people have asked me about my exercise routine, so I decided to post it. First, this is not a routine from a book or infomercial - I developed it myself after deciding my goals and reading up on fitness and exercise science. I'm constantly adjusting it, and still trying to figure out what works best. This probably is not for you, and besides: Don't take health advice from engineers.
Now that that's all said and done, let's start with the goals. I wanted to create an exercise program that would improve total body fitness. Specifically, I wanted to get stronger (but not focusing on hypertrophy), more powerful, and most importantly, more aerobically fit, as I felt that was my weakest point.
The problem is that strength and cardio fitness seem to be at nearly complete odds with one another. Every see how gaunt marathon runners are? Have you ever seen a bodybuilder ride the Tour de France? I noticed this quickly myself in terms of mixing workouts: if I did a hard leg str…

Eat slowly and live longer

Ever since I was a kid, I was taught to eat fast. In high school, I got home from high school gymnastics practice at 5, and had to leave for club gymnastics practice at 5:30, leaving half an hour to scarf down some food, do some homework, watch 15 minutes of news, etc. It was a terrible habit, but I never thought much of it until recently, when I started reading a lot about nutrition. I've now decided that eating slowly is vital to an overall approach to good health. Which is why today I present the top five reasons why eating slowly will help you live longer and healthier.
1) You'll eat less. According to something I once read somewhere, it takes about 20 minutes after you start eating for your "fullness" sensors to work properly. That means that if you finish eating in less than 20 minutes, you have no way of knowing if you ate too much. Ever get super full after the fact? Yeah, that's it. Eat slowly, and listen to your body, not outside cues like the TV or your …

小龙汤包

我今天吃小龙汤包了。Mmm,好吃啊!让我想到上海的生活(还是我该说《上海的包子》吗?)。反正,我们吃点心的时候讨论小龙汤包是不是对身体好。我说比美国正常的早饭健康很多,但是我有点怕我只在rationalize我吃包子的习惯。=P


Hmm,我的中文现在真好差。好可怜。=( 只能写几岁小孩子的句子。

How to Install Erlang on Mac

I just went through the steps of installing Erlang and Emacs (which is the official development environment for Erlang) on my Macbook Pro, and since it was a little convoluted, I thought I'd share it.
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This document explains the steps needed to install Erlang with Emacs support on Mac OSX 10.5. I've chosen to install Erlang from source, because the Mac binaries tend to be out of date. For emacs, I've chosen Aquamacs, which is a nice native Mac emacs distribution.

First, I needed to download and install iPhone SDK, in order to get a C compiler (gcc). Could have gotten it from Developer Tools on the Mac OSX install disks, but I wanted the iPhone SDK anyway.Next, download erlang from source: http://erlang.org/download.htmltar -xvzf otp_src_R13B.tar.gz, cd otp_src_R13B, ./configure, make, sudo make installRun erl in a terminal to make sure the erlang interpreter starts properly.
Next, download Aquamacs, which is a native Mac emacs distribution. http://aquamacs.org/Next, se…

Sugar and Obesity in America

I still remember my flight back to America after four months in Tokyo. It was a United flight, and it followed four months of eating a predominantly Asian diet. United, of course, served "American" food on the way back to the States (as a matter of pride, I suppose), and the dinner was accompanied by a rather large block of chocolate cake. After having a few bites of whatever entree they had that evening (I remember some meat-like product covered with a rather thick gravy that obscured the blandness of the overcooked vegetables, but was undercut by a saltiness that can only be equated with taking a sip of Dead Sea water), I gave up and took a bite of the cake. It was so overwhelmingly saccharine that I could only muster a bite or two, at which point I resigned to hunger for the duration of the flight. Yet I was intrigued - the cake was no longer even a food item, but instead a vehicle for ingesting massive amounts of high-fructose corn syrup and other sugars. How had I not n…

Counting out of rhythm is like fingernails on a blackboard to me

Some things just bother the heck out of me. Right up there with global thermonuclear war and bumper-to-bumper traffic has gotta be counting out of rhythm. I don't know why it bothers me so much, but I have an almost visceral reaction to it.

The worst offenders for me are large sporting events. At some point, there is always an audience clap-along with a song. For some unbeknownst reason, large crowds will inevitably speed up to faster than the actual rhythm, falling into a vicious feedback cycle that pushes them more and more off-beat. It's a curious phenomenon, because wisdom of the crowds says that they should average out to the actual beat.

In any case, eventually they fall so far off that they either lose an entire beat, or the arrow of time has mercy on their poor out-of-rhythm collective consciousness and shifts forward, allowing them to perfectly align with just one beat before again jumping ahead of the rhythm. I'm usually the lone holdout, clapping along to the actu…

My Deteriorating English

Spending a lot of time over the last year in Asia has had fairly detrimental effects on my ability to speak proper English. In Japan, I found myself speaking Japangrish, to make myself more easily understood, and in China, well, I just didn't speak much English at all. It's gotten so bad that my mom has started making fun of me for it. Case in point: In an email thread with my family, I referred to the "laundry machines" at the office. My mom's reply: "Here in the 'new world' we call them washing machines :)" I love my mom for being cool enough to make fun of me.