Thursday, December 18, 2008

I Can Feel the Heat Closing In*

BACK IN APRIL, I REPORTED that several of my coworkers were told that their jobs were moving to the Central City office. Their choice: Follow them or accept a departure package. None chose the former.

With the continued decay of the economy, I anticipated more of this, especially with flat-out layoffs last year at this time. Sadly, I was right: This Monday, during our weekly conference call among the sales, editorial, and production folks under our particular publishing capo, we learned that staff had been cut from that last group, including two managers.

Worse, my immediate boss out in Central City confidentially passed the word along to me yesterday that another whole office got the same follow-your-job-or-leave offer as mine did in April. This would involve our publisher, who runs two other publications in addition to mine; his wife, P, who has starred in these pages in the past as my pub's past managing editor; and at least three or four other folks who work for them. They all have multiple ties to their locales, and if this story is accurate, I'd bet green money they won't choose to move.

This is terribly unfortunate, because the publisher is a gracious and diplomatic man who also works the sales end of things, and who respects the balance that advertising and editorial have to achieve so one isn't influenced by the other. And P is a fanatically hard worker who, despite my bitching during late '07 and early '08 as the old staff left, was always ready to set aside her towering workload to help when folks got swamped.

I'll find out more today or tomorrow. Rumors about cuts closer to home are circulating, too. My cube neighbor believes the HR head is making rounds about the company's offices this week, to climax with cuts in our office this Friday. I'm more curious than worried; maybe concerned is a more accurate term. I survived the first layoff, and although I know I won't get as much of a settlement this time around due to my shorter tenure (if I even get anything), I know it won't be the end of the world . . . just the end of that particular source of free office supplies.

*Thank you, Mister Burroughs.

P.S. My cube neighbor was one day off. Out on Thursday. Full details to follow here.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Obama Blinded ME! With SCIENCE!!

COULD THIS OBAMA CABINET NEWS signify a return of respect for science to the Executive Branch? I speak of the President-elect's selection of Nobel Prize–winning physicist Steven Chu as prospective Secretary of Department of Energy. Not a political goon like Spencer Abraham or Bill Richardson, or a power-industry hack like Hazel O'Leary, but a SCIENTIST! The man has worked with LASERS and ATOMS, people. ATOMMMMMSSS!!!

Seriously, it's refreshing to see a representative of the sciences ascend to such a post. It was a tooth-eroding grind to listen to the contortions of logic that the Bush Administration put forth to avoid admitting that global warming could pose a threat, or that destroying the landscape for a few years' worth of resources would be a good tradeoff. Hard decisions on energy need to be made in the next four years, and Dr. Chu's authority as a Nobel Prize winner ought to count for something when he cajoles a reluctant Congress to fund alternative energy projects . . . especially with crude oil back down to far more reasonable levels. He'll have to keep Congress focused on the long game, not just the temporary comfort of a cheaper gallon of gasoline. With that task and all others, I wish him all the luck in the world.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

High Expectations for Chelsea's High Line

I USED TO WORK VERY CLOSE to the High Line, the venerable elevated railway that used to serve industries along the West Side of Manhattan. I had been dimly aware, as the involuntary end of my employment there approached, of efforts to transform the route into a park. There was a ceremony at the High Line in '07, before I left that job, presumably to celebrate the start of restorative work or the unveiling of plans, I don't recall exactly which. But the city was definitely moving forward in getting it ready to share with the people at large.

I was reminded of these efforts by a story in today's New York Times on the continuing work on the Line, as well as real estate projects around it, in what writer Amy Cortese calls "some of the most ambitious development in the city in years." In the middle of a fierce economic downturn, New York City is forging ahead with a public-works project to rededicate a utility route to civic good. Well done.

I used to walk around the High Line neighborhood during idle times at that job, soaking in the old architecture, marveling at the cobblestones still paving the streets in some spots of the Meatpacking District, admiring the boutiques and galleries that inhabit former commercial spaces. As time and developers claim the decades-old brick-and-iron edifices that face Jersey, the chance to glimpse them from the height of the High Line is one I greatly anticipate.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mid-Thanksgiving Weekend Update (not with Dennis Miller)

SO FAR, I'M HALFWAY THROUGH the four days of 0ur American binge-weekend of commerce and calories — and occasional thankfulness — and I've only indulged in half of that equation. The vast bulk of Thursday was spent over at my parents' house: helping Mom with food prep, burrowing with my Dad through dips and a cheese ball while watching two subpar football games, and tapping out an abortive blog post that ended up in the scraps pile with the other pieces of half-baked TextEdit compost. Also, I did laundry. The most effective multitasking I've done all week. The weather was cool, but not painfully so, and the skies clear and favorable to both travelers and Macy's parade-goers alike. Weather's not usually a hitch for a Thanksgiving journey to my parents'; they live one town away, a distance I could walk if pressed. And ought to have, considering the amount of full-fat dairy products alone that my Dad and I packed away.

I drifted home happy to have shared another Turkey Day with my parents, and crashed early under the sedative influence of a lovingly prepared meal. I didn't even get the chance to read. Just out like a light. I'd like to say that not having to go into work the next day accelerated my drop into the lotus-perfumed arms of Morpheus, but that's a whole other post or series of same.

I made a weak try at rising early to hit the gym on Friday morning. Wasn't gonna happen. I was still paying a sleep debt from a very late Wednesday night at the poker game, and I knew if I didn't pay it off then, I'd drag my sleep–wake cycle far off kilter over the rest of the weekend, and firmly screw myself Monday morning. Why fight nature? I set the clock a couple of hours forward, wound up awakening about 15 minutes before it anyway, and got my ass in gear.

After a couple of hours' cleaning in preparation for the Christmas party I'll host a week from today, I mixed up a protein-berry smoothie and rolled over to the gym shortly before noon. I'd come to the conclusion that hitting the gym first thing in the morning, without any sort of meal beforehand, was the reason why I'd been losing steam short of a session's end. I'd also noticed that the smoothie, when consumed after a workout, tended to make me sleepy. I blame this on the blizzard of simple carbs in the smoothie: nearly a cup of frozen berries, a banana, and a quarter-cup of 100% cranberry juice, to say nothing of what might be in the two scoops of protein powder (actually, I have this number: 6 g carbs).

This was particularly the case after a gym visit in which I'd just been on a treadmill or elliptical trainer for a half-hour, with no major muscle-tissue teardown. I'd be getting dressed for work after downing this and feel like getting back into bed. And I'd read a study recently that declared immediate post-workout nutrition to be counterproductive for all except competitive athletes, powerlifters, and other such folks who routinely burn 2,000 calories per gym trip. Not me by a longshot.

So I decided to compromise and bring the smoothie with me to drink during a workout. This has been working much better, and I don't get to work thinking I need a Costanza drawer in my desk for a nap. This is what I did yesterday, and I teetered into the gym, bag and keys (with membership tag) in one hand, big plastic cup brimming with purple sludge in the other, hoping the path to the squat rack was clear.

Usually I lift weights first thing in the morning, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, as close to the opening of the facility as I can get.

Now, this is more or less the type of squat rack we have at the gym:
Rather than use this for movements like squats, overhead shoulder presses, deadlifts, and other compound exercises during which you might want a nice, sturdy piece of steel onto which to drop the weight on a final, exhausting set, some speciments will use the heavy-duty bar (the Olympic bar that you find on these things alone weighs 45 lb.) to do curls. Without any other weight. While folks itching to squat grit their teeth and wait for this jerkass to be done. Simplest solution, as with many sources of stress in life, is avoidance. Getting into the gym at the open accomplishes this.

Not so yesterday. I feared that, at noontime on a weekday with most folks home from work, I'd run upstairs to the weight floor to find the joint jammed with bleary-eyed Thanksgiving binge victims expiating their guilt one curl at a time (of course, in the squat rack). I'd brought my iPod just in case I had to call an audible and burn 30 minutes on a piece of aerobic equipment while the scrum upstairs emptied out, though my schedule had Friday as a weight-training day, and I prefer to hold to the schedule if at all possible.

But I was lucky; the many cars in the parking lot belonged to the folks populating the treadmills and trainers, not the Cybex or Hammer Strength machines upstairs . . . and what few folks were busying themselves with their muscles were nowhere near the squat rack. Perfect.

November was a spotty month for me. I hit a low in job satisfaction, and also caught a cold, both of which screwed up my gym attendance, nutrition, and weight loss. But I found my footing again this last weekend, and thus far I'd been putting up good numbers. Even when your ass is dragging, I've found, if you can just keep going back to the gym for a couple of down days, it'll be a lot easier to get fully back into a program when your health returns or a dark mood passes. (And exercise is itself a fine antidepressant.) The squat is the foundation of the routine I do (the 5x5 beginner's routine), and after stalling out at 45 lb. of plates on the bar (for a total of 90 lb.), I'd been feeling strong enough to continue the advancement.

This week was fantastic. I broke through the 45-lb. weight to do five sets of five with 50 lb. on Monday. I ate more carefully and got more and better sleep. Wednesday morning, I entered the century club by adding 55 lb. to the 45-lb. bar, with which I was again able to hit the specified five sets of five reps. The kicker was yesterday, when, despite the Thursday binge, I racked up 60 lb., and still managed to complete final set with good form, albeit quite slowly. Even though I hit a temporary wall on the bench press later that day, I was still happy to have inched forward with the foundation exercise of the Stronglifts routine. Not sure if I can exceed that on Monday, but I'll have had two rest days to heal and prepare. So cross your fingers.

I returned to my parents' house for dinner that night, but I didn't go anywhere near a mall. I used to go out on Black Fridays. Not anymore. I don't need anything like that level of stress. People go feral that day and are best handled at the length of a cattle prod. Nothing I might need isn't already available elsewhere, either within walking distance of my apartment, or via the Web. Aside from the short trips to the gym and my parents' place, I put few miles on the car, or on my mental odometer.

Today, I've got a list of items I can find at local strip malls or grocery stores, rather than the mega-palaces of commerce straining at their rivets in Paramus. These are mostly things I need for the party next weekend: a nice scented soap, a few extra Pottery Barn mugs f0r my caffeine-craving guests, a couple of the giftcards I'll need for the grab bag I always have at the affair, and the envelopes in which I'll place 'em. I can even dodge the parking problem, because one of these places is within walking distance of my workplace, so I can stash the car and tromp down to the stores without jockeying with folks over spots. Insane.

That's how things stand as we cruise toward noon on Saturday, as a clear blue sky filters through the evergreens outside my window, and retailers gnaw the nails from their fingers hoping for sales salvation this weekend. I may venture over to the gym for a bit of treadmill and college football, before ticking off some more to-do's from the party prep list. A haircut would also be a good idea, which would take me no further than crossing the street outside that selfsame window. Other than that, and a bundle of leftovers awaiting me in the fridge, I plan to take the second half of this weekend at a delightfully slow pace.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Street Finds Its Own Uses for Things

WILLIAM GIBSON'S SUMMARY APHORISM of the cyberpunk ethic is proven to be true in the present with each passing day. News has filtered down, from the rustling pages of academe to the popular media, that athletes are experimenting with that Maginot Line of flagging virility, Viagra, to boost performance in other places than the sack. Because the drug relaxes blood vessels and thus permits enhanced blood flow, athletes reason that this will allow more oxygenated blood to reach muscles — a boon when competing far above sea level.

Some in the world of competitive sport never stop trying to find the performance magic bullet, no matter how small the effect, preferably an undetectable one, and sometimes one that's actually safe to take. Viagra originated as a solution to pulmonary hypertension, but its mode of action — via nitric oxide on blood vessels — is not restricted to the lungs. (Just ask Bob Dole or Ron Jeremy.) Over-the-counter nutritional supplements have used nitric oxide to increase blood flow to muscles for some time, presumably in subclinical doses relative to a Viagra pill.

So my question is, who first came up with the idea to apply a prescription dose of nitric oxide to an otherwise healthy person? Not all athletes fit the jock stereotype. The elite know very well what their food and nutritional supplements contain and do to their systems, and rightly so for such an investment of time, money, and effort. On the college or even high school level, however, I wonder if coaching staffs or even parents might be way these pills arrive in the players' hands. And for professional players, it's easy to say the guy needed the Viagra for its traditional use. Think how much is at stake. What's the off chance of a side effect or being found out compared with getting into a bowl game or the playoffs?

Just goes to show you that one person's finished product is another's prototype.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I'm Not Riding With This Valkyrie

I REREAD WILLIAM SHIRER'S The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich every year. Compelling, conclusive, and frightening, it reminds me of the extremes to which humans can push themselves. Not just in evil, but in resisting it. Possibly the most riveting story in the massive book is that of Operation Valkyrie, the failed, final, and most nearly successful assassination and coup attempt against Adolf Hitler. Its leader and direct instigator: Lt. Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, a count and General Staff member, who smuggled the bomb into Hitler's conference room at the remote Wolf's Lair forward command center.

Despite being a Nazi and part of its war machine, von Stauffenberg has been memorialized in Germany for his attempt to decapitate the Third Reich. When plans for a movie of the July 20 plot were announced, it caught the interest of the German people, along with my own. I enjoyed Downfall (Der Untergang), the first German-language film to recreate the last days of the Bunker in Berlin, and as I said, I find the unfolding — and unraveling — of Valkyrie to be dramatic and tragic.

So I was hugely disappointed to learn, early on, that von Stauffenberg would be portayed in this American production by Mister Hollywood, Tom Cruise. Many Germans were appalled as well, though somewhat more for Cruise's Scientology, which is rightly viewed in Germany as the cult that it is.

Tonight, I saw a trailer for Valkyrie, and I lost any tiny shred of hope that I might be able to soldier through in the hopes of watching the July 20 drama on screen no matter who was playing the Count. He didn't even speak with a British accent, which was often the default for American and British actors who needed to play WWII Germans without embarrasing themselves by speaking in ersatz Deutsch. Nope, what we've got coming out of Cruise, dressed in his General Staff uniform and flanked by a thousand fluttering Reich banners, is pure Cruise-ish American. I'd fully expect Cruise's von Stauffenberg to be confronted, during his final hour, by an injured and vengeful Hitler, yelling, "Sie können die Wahrheit nicht annehmen!" Whatever disbelief I might have been able to suspend came crashing down like the Valkyrie plot itself.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Why I'm So Alone in This World

SIMPLE REASON. I'm reading Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, From the Soviet Invasion to September 11, 2001, by Steve Coll. It's said to be on President-elect Barack Obama's nightstand these days, so I thought it worth checking out. Thus far it very much has been. Charlie Wilson, titular character of the recent book and film, is mentioned in the upcoming pages, according to the index, and I look forward to seeing whether my impression of him as an exacerbating cause of increased Islamist radicalism is based in any reality.

But here's the explanation for the header. The first chapter of the book recounts the 1979 siege of the American embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, by a huge mob of locals, inflamed by the same jihadist spirit that had just possessed students in Tehran to storm our embassy there and take both its staff, and the Carter presidency, hostage. The chapter begins when one American embassy worker is smoked out of his office by the mob when they torch the building. The revolutionaries rough him up, then drive him out of the embassy for a drumhead trial for crimes against the Prophet.

Am I the only one who finds irony in the captive American's last name: Putscher?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Royal Navy 2, Pirates Naught

FOLLOWING ON THE HEELS OF a report on NPR of the life of a Somali pirate — in which the reporter took considerable risk, and moral license, to interview one of the many seagoing thieves plaguing the critical sea lane through the Gulf of Aden — comes news that a British warship, aided by Russian vessels, finally took some hard action against these scum. From Wired Magazine's Danger Room blog:
For years, Somali pirates have terrorized the waters of East Africa, with only the occasional spasm of opposition. But now, NATO has begun to patrol the area in force. And the pirates are starting to get smacked back. On Tuesday, the British Royal Navy "repelled a pirate attack on a Danish cargo ship off the coast of Yemen, shooting dead two men," the BBC reports.
The pirates were given a chance to surrender, but after they fired small arms at the HMS Cumberland, the British sailors returned fire and dropped a pair of them.

Years ago, I recall reading a New York Times Sunday magazine article by Jack Hitt about modern-day pirates. I recall being surprised at how prevalent the problem had become. As evidenced by the first link in the quote above, Somalia's coast is now a hot zone for such crime.

I have no sympathies for the dead pirates, and I think it's about time such a clear signal was sent that this shit won't fly. One of the commenters to the article had the same thought I did: that the naval powers of the world should begin dispatching WW II–style Q-ships to begin throwing the Fear into these scum. I had an ambiguous reaction to the NPR report; though it was fascinating, I still felt like the world would've been better served had the story ended with the reporter emptying the pirate's skull with a shotgun. But that's a violation of journalistic trust, and let's face it, several of my favorite books were written by, or in collaboration with, Mafiosi. Still, if you look at the list of previous stories on the topic beneath the story behind the first link in the quote, this is clearly not a new problem, with over 100 incidents this year. Well, there are two pirates who won't be joining the next raid.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Obi-Wan Dances Back, Declares It To Be On

I'M NOT SO MUCH OF an ultra-orthodox Star Wars geek anymore that I can't do some creative speculation into the film. Used to be, though. Used to get indignant even at the thought of other science fiction franchises. The blinders eventually dropped off somewhere at the end of high school in 1987 when (a) while watching the original Star Trek to generate MST3K-style comebacks, I got into that show too; and (b) I began seeing the one girl who'd started hanging with me and my guy-friends, and her sister, in bathing suits more often, and my priorities realigned themselves somewhat. Some things just have a way of educatin' a man.

More jaded now than educated, I sometimes look back on that old film and wonder. Today it was Obi-Wan Kenobi's confrontation in the cantina with those two slags who threaten Luke. (Yes, I know these two slags' Extended Universe names. No, I am not going to use them.) A couple of months ago, I viewed Yojimbo, one of George Lucas's sources for Star Wars. Ben's rather one-sided bar fight had its birth in Yojimbo, right down to the severed arm. Toshiro Mifune walks away from that fight with a wry comment to the town coffin-maker about his services being needed. Obi-Wan, however, merely looks around grimly to ensure the fight is done, then snuffs the saber and helps Luke up off his ass.

I was thinking. Obi-Wan's no slouch as a Jedi Master. He's already Force-tricked a Stormtrooper into letting Luke and the Droids cruise through a DWI. Setting aside Lucas's hard-on to include scenes from like 10 Kurosawa and John Ford films in a two-hour skiffy romp, Ben easily could've used the Force on these two alien clowns and chilled their latex asses out before resuming his job interview with Chewie. The only two on-film Force-resistant creatures we'll meet — also on Tatooine, oddly enough — won't show up until later in the re-edit of Ep 4 (Jabba) and, years later, in the much-maligned Ep I (Watto). Everyone else? Fair game for the mind trick.

So that leaves two possibilities for why Ben didn't chose a softer way of resolving this conflict. First, he may have figured, we're going to be here for a while, and the longer we are, the greater the odds that Blondie over here is gonna step in shit with one of these freaks. I might as well make a statement now to disabuse them of the thought of fucking with us.

Second, and this is, if even less Jedi-like, my favorite. At this point, the details of Ben's 20-ish years of exile on Tatooine hadn't been frantically scribbled in yet by a million Extended Universe monkeys. (And me, in fact.) As far as we know, other than checking up on young Skywalker often enough for Luke to recognize his last name as that of a "strange old hermit," Ben hasn't been doing squadootch. Can't use the Force in any meaningful way; no sense in attracting the Emperor's attention, nor that of his chief flunky, whose midichlorian-packed kid happens to live down the road a piece. Tusken Raiders could be frightened off with a dime-store duck call, and he had nothing even a retarded Jawa would want to steal. Lonely days in the Jundland Wastes, endless nights under now-forbidden stars, a long damn way from a lifetime of adventure.

Obi-Wan Kenobi, hard-fighting General in the Clone Wars, wise and reserved Master on the Jedi Council, who bested two Sith Lords and a batshit four-armed kill-bot in combat during his prime, had a 20-year case of Force blueballs when he walked down those dusty steps into the cantina. When those two slapdicks got in Luke's face, it was like Ben's birthday and the Wookiee Life Day rolled into one bright gift.

Ben could've guided them away with a Force-ful suggestion. He didn't. He wanted that fight.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Networks Call Election for Obama

"And far away, as Frodo put on the Ring and claimed it for his own, even in Sammath Naur the very heart of his realm, the Power in Barad-dûr was shaken, and the Tower trembled from its foundations to its proud and bitter crown. The Dark Lord was suddenly aware of him, and his Eye piercing all shadows looked across the plain to the door that he had made; and the magnitude of his own folly was revealed to him in a blinding flash, and all the devices of his enemies were at last laid bare. Then his wrath blazed in consuming flame, but his fear rose like a vast black smoke to choke him. For he knew his deadly peril and the thread upon which his doom now hung.

"From all his policies and webs of fear and treachery, from all his stratagems and wars his mind shook free; and throughout his realm a tremor ran, his slaves quailed, and his armies halted, and his captains suddenly steerless, bereft of will, wavered and despaired. For they were forgotten. The whole mind and purpose of the Power that wielded them was now bent with overwhelming force upon the Mountain."

Tolkien, The Return of the King

The Most Satisfying Thing I'll Do All Day . . .

. . . ASSUMING SCARLETT JOHANNSON AND SALMA HAYEK don't stop by without enough money for the pizza they ordered:

As important as an Obama/Biden victory is — which you may research further here and here if you're not convinced — far more important is that you do get out and vote for all the candidates and issues in your precinct. Throughout the prehistory and history of this country, millions died to win and defend the right that some will cast cynically aside today. It's not just that you lose your license to bitch about the result by doing so. It's that you do those who sacrificed their lives to provide you with that right a grave disservice.

So be a good citizen and vote. And to editorialize again, be a good American, and vote Obama.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Long-Distance Runners Linked by Radio

I DON'T RUN OR EVEN JOG, but I do appreciate the tradition of the New York Marathon. It highlights the role of the Five Boroughs as the place where people of the world can live, work, and even sweat side by side. Oddly, I prefer to monitor it over the radio, usually over WCBS 880. The unity of coverage—from course-side reporters, the traffic chopper, commentators at the start and finish, even CBS employees running the race—reminds me that there's a clear line of heritage between this teamwork and the global links that CBS established 70 years ago between correspondents across America and Europe to document the march of Nazism across the Continent.

We think of something like today's Marathon coverage as a routine link of technology, but whether it's a simple radio signal streaming through my little portable, a remote broadcast from the WFMU Record Fair, or a debate spanning three continents on NPR, I marvel at the phenomenon. Maybe that's why I prefer the audio coverage; like the Marathon, it's got a tradition and a heritage. Even amid Internet radio streams and increasing corporate concentration of frequency ownership, they still all stem from vibrations in the air and signals along the wire. It would be sad to overlook the wonder behind the technology.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

NYT: "We fear it will take years of forensic research to discover how many basic rights have been violated."

NEW YORK TIMES: Obama for President. Their endorsement praises Obama and buries both McCain and Bush/Cheney. The header of this post is one of the best nails they drive into the Bush coffin. Read it all.

Putting Hard Numbers on Soft Tissue

THIS BEING THE SEASON OF POLLS, I submitted myself to a survey yesterday, but the results won't be used to tar any political opponent. I had my annual office health screening, part of a half-day fair in which I also received my yearly flu shot. I might bitch about work here and there, but my company follows the wise course of providing free flu vaccine to all employees. What used to be a last-minute scramble while working in Manhattan and dashing home for a doctor's appointment or a spot on a hospital queue is now as simple as walking down the hall.

In addition, employees can also get their blood pressure, nonfasting blood glucose and cholesterol, and bodyfat percentage measured. Not having had a fasting read on these recently, I brought last year's nonfasting results with me to compare. The med-tech this time around didn't provide as much blood info as I got last year — no LDL or triglycerides — but my HDL improved (possibly kinked by the ground flaxseed I'd eaten with my oatmeal an hour earlier), and my glucose, though a little higher than in November 2007 (also probably from earlier meals, either the oatmeal or the frozen berries and yogurt in the smoothie I'd downed after my gym visit), was still in the normal range.

Unlike last year, we got a bodyfat reading. They had some sort of induction-based handle gadget we had to hold out in front of us in both hands. Beats someone advancing on me with a huge set of calipers. Based on the data the nurse programmed in, and the wacky Tesla vibe it picked up from my grip, I was told I have a bodyfat percentage of 25.7. Normal for men was listed in the booklet we'd been given as 15.1%–18%.

Today I finally thought, how many actual pounds was this? Using yesterday's weight of 221 lb., I'm carrying somewhere around 56 or 57 lb. of fat. Now, under the 30x40 plan of hitting 198 lb. by my next birthday, and assuming I lost only fat tissue while muscle mass stayed constant, I still need to drop 23 lb. That done, I'd still be carrying about 33.8 lb. of fat, which would represent a body mass percentage of 17—within that normal range.

Good to know, because if I keep eating and working out as I've been doing, I should definitely gain muscle. Not as much as I drop in fat, but judging from the blunt red number on the scale, the result on the chart might be a leveling off of weight loss as I shift my fat–muscle balance. Without grabbing another bodyfat-measuring machine, if the scale read the same while I exercised and ate correctly, I'd have to assume my fat percentage was dropping. This would keep me from getting despondent and engulfing 2 lb. of Whole Foods jellybeans over an evening.

Let's make no mistakes: I've still got a hefty gut. Nobody's gonna mistake me for skinny. And 23 lb. of fat tissue represents a caloric deficit of 80,500 kcal that I've got to realize — via better nutrition, regular and progressively tougher exercise, and maintaining more lean muscle tissue to rev my resting metabolism — over the coming months, which include Halloween, Thanksgiving, my holiday party, and the Xmas–New Year's Axis of Eating. But I can tell, when I shave, that there's less flesh on my face. I can encircle a wrist with the opposing hand with more slack in the grip. I can cover the walk between the apartment and library, across the town park, without getting winded. I put on a shirt last week that hadn't fit me in about 2 years; there was slack around my abs even when I sat. The tape measure says I've lost 3 in. of circumference there since mid-June.

With all of this evidence, each piece small but collectively quite telling, I've got no choice but to continue. Tomorrow I may only add 5 lb. to my squat weight, but all of this work in the gym and kitchen could add quality years to my life.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Boldly Going Into a Theater Near You

SOMETIME IN 2009, a new Star Trek movie will be released, focusing, surprisingly, on the crew of the late-60s incarnation of the show. Not news to anyone reading this blog, I'm sure. I hadn't really been following developments of the shoot, plot, or portrayals of the characters and Enterprise — and it's been a very long time since I had any emotional investment in how that's handled. In that, I am a minority on the Internet.

Judging by replies to stories about the film on Gawker Media science fiction blog io9, interest in these films, or in getting them right at least, is massive. Your average io9 post will pull 10 to 20 replies. Recent Star Trek posts, like this group of stills and this speculation over whether J.J. Abrams has made this film, in possible homage to the original show, deliberately cheesy, pulled four to five times that number of comments. Only posts about the Watchmen film (in which I very much do have an emotional investment) and The Sarah Connor Chronicles have come close. Posts regarding original science fiction creations, relying on no previous and adapted intellectual property, don't usually get this level of attention.

Nor the level of passionate argument. Rightly or not, opinions run hot on the Trek film. The Original Series raised the game of fandom to a new level. Write-in campaigns to save a TV show, fan-organized conventions, fan fiction (including what we'd come to know as slash fiction): Folks owe a debt to those whom Star Trek inspired to express their appreciation in these modes. But some fans have become unhealthily possessive of their experience with the show, and nitpick things that displease them or don't match up with what they saw on TV as children. This might be why these io9 threads are so long. I've come to believe nitpickers and aggressive geek-savants do this because they feel such a lack of control over their lives, they seize upon minutiae, bits of obscure knowledge they polish to a shine in their nervous grips, in their overcompensating attempts to wield dominion over something. And when something threatens this control, they lash out like startled cobras.

In May, I attended a cookout and gathering hosted at the home of my fine friends Dave and Julia. It was a rare summit of geekdom for our group, featuring folks usually several counties or states away. I commented to my buddy Len that I would reserve judgment on Heath Ledger's take on the Joker, comic fans' favorite Batman villain and no doubt a contender for top comic book (and comic movie-adaptation) bad guy. I'd been a bit skeptical about the first publicity image, but I'd decided I would reserve judgment and see how this Joker fit into his own skin. (Two viewings later, I'd say he all but burst the fuck out of it.)

For this film, and for the Watchmen film over which I'm still pessimistic, my best course is just that: See how this Enterprise fits into its shiny new skin, and what Abrams hopes to achieve by doing so. Try to understand why he chose this Spock, that Scotty, and why he leaves out what he chooses to omit. (He's not going to be able to name-check each little bit from TOS in 2 hours, much as we'd all like to see a salt-vampire-scarred redshirt or a scuttling Horta around each corner.) Leave a little bit to faith and enter the theater ready to be enchanted. I can always throw in a DVD or pull a graphic novel off the shelf to revisit what's been done. It keeps a brain fresh to see what nobody's done before, even with 40-year-old character concepts. And without curiously entering the unknown, what's the point of Star Trek — or any science fiction?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

This Explains a Lot

ONE OF THE MAFIA SPECIALTIES I find most fascinating is loansharking. Wildly lucrative, damn near ubiquitous, yet nearly invisible, the art and science of the vig hold a peculiar intrigue for me. I could never make it in that business. Aside from its being grossly illegal, and my being physically and mentally less imposing than the job description requires, my math skills are so shite that to calculate what anybody owed me at a given point, I'd use up so much scrap paper, that the Feds could survey my crimes from orbit with a View-Master.

While Googling the term juice loan, however, this came up as the top paid search result. I hope it's because of the word loan, but it's tough not to connect this with the orgy of cheap subprime credit that got us into our current mess:

"Whether Sought or Unsought"

SOME OF THE FINAL PRESIDENTIAL words of Dwight David Eisenhower — whose example of taking responsibility for both potential sides of a grave decision was cited recently by a disastrously unworthy aspirant to his position — which still give me chills to read or hear since I first saw Ike deliver them at the beginning of JFK:
This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together.
Full audio of the address available here; video available various places; the excerpt used in the opening of JFK here.

Monday, October 06, 2008

My Goal One Year Ago Today

I AM UTTERLY CONVINCED THAT I made some mention of this a year ago or so, but I can't find the post. Maybe it was a journal entry. How dare I write something that doesn't get sprayed like narcotic frosting all over the Internet?

Anyway, a year ago today, while frustrated with my lack of progress on the then-current exercise routine, I got angry enough to yank my manual typewriter out of its case behind the couch, roll in a 3" x 5", and type the following off the top of my head:

The first month will be hell. Early mornings, uncaring stars, frost on the car and ice in the bones. Temptation will call you back to bed and warm oblivion. Fight past the alarm and out into the morning. Exercise six — SIX — times per week, 30–45 minutes each. Eat right. Purse each day with cheer. Revel in success and be humble, forgiving, and wise when course corrections are needed. You wield the most powerful force on the planet — an unfettered human will. Stack successes like the bricks of an immortal monument and meet triumph head on.

I was trying to dedicate myself to more frequent and programmatic exercise. I wanted a daily reminder of my committment to pin next to my bathroom mirror. And, surprisingly, it came to 100 words if you count the date, which would have made the folks at the 100 Words site happy. Though a touch fascist sounding, about what else in life can one afford to be dictatorial other than one's health? Anyway, I thumbtacked it on said bathroom wall and there it hung, aside from visits from guests (I didn't want to frighten them off).

Today, I fought past that alarm and into a cold autumn morning where I could see my breath as I walked to the car. I rode the elliptical trainer for 10 minutes to pump heat into my stiff limbs, then went upstairs to the weight floor. There, I managed to add just a little weight to the squats and bench presses I've been doing. The work I have to do comes outside the gym too, by making smarter decisions about food and sleep. But it all starts with throwing off those sheets and shutting down that alarm . . . and then putting on sneakers and gym clothes and getting the hell over there.

Moral? Write your goals down. No matter how small. Especially if they're small. Meet that small goal, then write another one down and hit that too. You don't yell at a person climbing a thousand stairs for taking them one at a time. You congratulate him or her for making the remaining number smaller. That's what fixing a goal to paper can help you do. It's seeing last workout's weight figures and saying, "Let's see what another 2.5 lb. can do here." It's noting that you consumed the right amount of protein and kept simple carbs well under control by checking the last week's worth of meals.

You'll have no idea how far you've come if you don't leave some traces of the steps you took to get there. Set yourself a little goal and see where your first step leads.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Spam Guard or Lovecraftian Horror?

A CAPTCHA I JUST SAW on my friend Amy's blog. I think the protagonists had to use the Powder of Ibn Ghazi on this one, then send it back to the other side with the Voorish Sign:

Dread Ylhtlgwm was sent gibbering back through the yawning dimensional chasm, where it was tended by blind idiot adjectives and quadripthongs until the stars (and spellcheck) be right again.

Inching Back to Normal

FRUSTRATION. Two weeks' worth of business travel have halted my forward motion on the 30x40 weight loss/exercise plan. Traffic/transit snarls Friday and today, plus the feeling of a cold coming on, wrecked my plan to see a back-to-back Godfather and Godfather Part II showing in the city. And the downside of fall — wet chill in the air and rain — draped the morning in gloom and further stymied my desire to get out and enjoy a Manhattan autumn Sunday.

I decided to sleep off the cold as much as I could. I'd been visiting the gym regularly since my return from River City, so skipping one day out of the past six wouldn't be a problem. Instead, I set the alarm clock for noon and curled back up beneath the covers. I heeded the clock's screech and ate breakfast, feeling less like I was getting a cold than actually getting over one: stiff joints and muscles, slow thoughts, and cabin fever. The day was still grim outside, which cut my desire to venture forth for a paper. Instead, I munched Grape Nuts and spent the rest of the noon hour doing chores I'd been catching up with since escaping from the black hole of business travel.

As always, things could be worse, even on the lonely, Sunday side of a three-day weekend. I'm just bitching. I did get to watch the Giants stomp the Seahags like roaches. The cold didn't feel much worse, and perhaps was just the side effect of leaving the windows open last night. Throat still feels a bit scratchy, though. On the social front, I've got the beginnings of a plan to see a friend of mine, with whom I recently reconnected after quite some time, some time later this month. And Jen and Steve will host the traditional Halloween party on the Saturday just after 10/31. No idea how I'll trump last year's award-winning costume, but I've got a few weeks to try.

So the goals for next week are (a) somehow dodge getting a full-blown cold, (b) resume my full-scale exercise and eating routine, and (c) enjoy as much of autumn as I can. I'd hate for the switchover this year to be straight from heat to dreary late-November rain.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Last Week's Work Travel

I SHOULD NOTE A FEW facts about last week's travel, before zapping off for another dose of it this week. After which, successful trip or not, I'll be quite ready to settle in for a few months.

Getting to the airport: Because flights to Central City on Continental are far less frequent than those to Las Vegas, I needed to awaken at 3:15 to get to the airport for a 6:15 flight. Oh, both of those are ante meridian. In a radical cost-cutting move, and to avoid having another narcoleptic chauffeur from the company's standard car service, I drove my own car to the airport. I decided to bet on there being little traffic, and that I would have no problem leaving my car untended in one of the medium-term lots at Newark for 2 full days.

The one hitch was food. Neither of the local bagel joints were open. I didn't feel like Dunkin Donuts (heresy to some readers here), so I got on the road without further local exploration and pulled into the McDonald's after the Route 3 exit on the Garden State Parkway. There, I ordered the only edible thing on the menu, hash browns. A guy who appeared to be the only employee in the joint asked if it was okay if it took a few minutes to get the two of them cooked, as he had none under the hot lamps; I said no sweat. As if to apologize for the very short wait, he gave me what felt like an extra one. I thanked him profusely and began digging them out one by one, shoveling them in as I drove with my knees. It turned out he gave me five of these steamy little grease slabs! I finished wolfing them down while navigating the little dippity-do through local streets to get from the GSP to 78 East, as I'd seen numerous car-service drivers do on past Vegas airport runs, and was, in record time, zooming onto airport property with an oil-scorched tongue and greasy fingers.

Parking: I left my car somewhat close to the entrance of the airport-wide monorail in one of the medium-term parking lots. I figured the closer to the Air Train entrance, the more often the airport security patrols would pass my car. There were plenty of spaces, actually, and probably even more in the cut-rate long-term lots. I didn't want to experiment while on such a tight schedule. At any rate, the lot was virtually dead. I took a picture of the nearest sign with my cellphone, and hefted my bags over to the escalator to wait for the train. Aside from a change of monorail cars halfway through, this process was quite simple, and I soon found myself at Continental's Terminal C.

Security: The streak of all but cartwheeling through the TSA gauntlet continues unabated. By this point it was about 5:00 or so, and the checkpoint was a ghost town. It might even have been that ersatz Rock Ridge from Blazing Saddles, complete with prop-up plywood TSA staff. With no computer, and all fluids obediently parceled in 3-oz. doses, I had nothing of interest to them. Putting my shoes and belt back on took longer than the whole scan of both me and my gear.

Now we wait: In addition to no bagel stores being open near home, the other flaw in my plan was that newspapers had yet to be delivered to the airport. Considering there had been big weekend financial news, I was hoping to read about the last living moments of Lehman Bros. I would have to wait until I arrived in Central City for a Web-based refresher. So I gritted my teeth while listening to the airport CNN and inane phone conversations of my fellow passengers. (Who the fuck was awake at that hour to take a call?) Boarding of our surprisingly full plane commenced on time, and we pushed away and lofted only about 10 minutes late. Flight was quick and smooth.

Lodgings: It was still way too early to check in at my hotel, but it was across the street from the Central City HQ, so I did duck in to check it out. Seemed nicer than the place I'd stayed the first time. I made my way up to the office, found a rest room to change into garb a bit businesslike, and accompanied one of the Central City magazine staff to my temporary cube. Aside from a computer set up for me to help close the issue in house, the cube was entirely empty. Considering my cube in the NJ office was strewn with many hastily unpacked piles from our move several weeks ago, I gazed on the blank walls and desk surfaces with envy.

Meetings and more meetings: One of my teammates estimated that we spent 5 hours in meetings that Monday. Brutal. The two meetings that mattered most were more or less painless, but I was numb by the end of the two days. Between meetings, I reviewed copy for the issue in production and harassed friends via email.

Night of the living Jesus freaks: Fortunately, my only night out there was a Monday night, so I had the Cowboys–Eagles game to watch. It turned out to be a barn-burner of a match. I caught part of the first quarter over mediocre Mexamerican food at a nearby Chili's. The scoring never stopped in this game; I missed one touchdown while calculating the tip, and a turnover while scouting out the restroom.

I scurried back to my hotel after eating to watch the rest. The lobby, previously empty, was seething with the members of some sort of Christian religious organization. A tour bus or two must have dropped them off. People of all ages, with matching religious medals on their chests, were standing around chatting. Some looked like high schoolers; I wondered how children could get sucked into a sect like this so young. Through the parents, perhaps. A whole clutch of these clowns was fussing over a fundraising sale in one of the small conference rooms, scrutinizing jewelry that made the knockoffs on Canal Street look like the contents of Tiffany's windows. I had to excuse myself twice to edge past one fervent pilgrim buttonholing a priest with the following query: "Does the prayer say, 'Now and at the hour of our death,' or, 'Now and at the hour of our deaths?'" Keep counting those pin-dancing angels, true believer.

I arose late the next morning; between watching the entire game and the luxury of a 2-minute commute, I could afford to sleep in. I wandered out sometime around eight for the hotel's breakfast. In the lobby and lounge, what looked like the entire group of Jesus freaks was congregating for a morning ceremony of some kind. As I sat in the adjoining restaurant area, I watched the harried hostess try to stop the worshippers from taking the chairs away from the tables into the lounge. Each time a new person came down from his or her room to attend the Mass, he or she would try to steal a chair, forcing the hostess to repeat her polite, wordy request not to take chairs from paying restaurant customers. So much for the Eighth Commandment.

One of these zombies tried to shuffle off with my chair while I was toasting a bagel. I rejected the hostess's apologetic approach and merely grabbed the chair to arrest his retreat, saying, "This is mine." The hostess caught up with us and she eased the thief away with her standard apology, sparing me the effort of escalating to threats of a broken pelvis. Apparently this crowd clots the joint a number of times a year. Assuming this poor hostess therefore had to repeat this act each visit, I tipped big.

After showering and dressing, I hauled my shit out to the front desk, having to thread through these pinheads once again. This time, they were all focused on something happening up by where the priest might be. Those not in the lounge seemed distracted, as did the hostess, temporarily drawn from her chair-guarding duties. I found out why. As exited the hotel, an ambulance pulled up, followed closely by a second emergency vehicle. Someone must have been stricken in the short time I was in my room. Well, at least this trip would be memorable for them.

Escape from Central City: My boss kindly drove me to the nearby airport, where — at about 5:15 p.m. — there was no security line whatsoever. I cruised through that, then bought a Wall Street Journal to read about the fast-moving collapse of Lehman for an hour or so. The flight back through beautiful stratospheric twilight took about another hour, and deposited me in Newark on time. There, to my relief, my car sat where I'd left it. I burned rubber for home, where I dropped my luggage and slept deeply, happy to be back in my own bed again.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Nutritional Bankruptcy

HAVE YOU EVER BEEN HAPPY to report failure? Surprisingly, I am. Last week, I failed to stick to the usual eating plan, and didn't track my eating accurately each day. What makes me happy is that this was only the first time I did so in 2 months and 3 weeks on the 30x40 weight loss quest. Even with my hit-and-miss dinner choices during some weeks, this is one of the most consistent attempts to establish a positive habit I've ever undertaken, and I am very pleased with the effort and the results. Plus my failure highlights the vulnerabilities of this plan, which will help me anticipate and avoid them. So even this misstep can be useful. And I'd be more nervous than anything else if I hadn't had at least one bust of a week.

Travel triggered my failure. I spent Monday and Tuesday in Central City, contending with chain-restaurant food, office-cafeteria grub, and gluey nutrition bars, with no gym access. Due to a late-Tuesday return, I had little time to buy decent food (especially vegetables) before Wednesday's workday began, so that day's nutrition was haphazard. Through Saturday, I did record my consumption on paper while at work, and I resumed gym visits Thursday morning, to my great relief (and soreness Friday morning). But my rhythm was thrown off. Most of my meals were in fact "on program," featuring the usual whole grains, proteins, nuts, and smoothie-makin's I eat or drink each day. Dinner choices, though, were poor, including a trip to a Chinese restaurant one night, which I try to restrict to weekends, and rarely at that. I supplemented during the remaining weekdays with protein bars, which I've come to believe are terrible, last-ditch replacements for real food.

So in sum, I declared nutritional bankruptcy last week and decided to soldier through the weekend as best I could, with this week as a chance to pick up where I left off. I weigh 223 lbs. today, not terrible, but a few pounds over where I had been last Sunday. The week proceeding that Sunday was great; I dropped fat on a clean diet and got stronger, particularly in my squat form and capacity. I knew 2 days of travel would disrupt this, so I tried to charge into it with fitness to spare. Gaining fat back to 223 during that trip and its aftermath is therefore not an immovable barrier to progress.

But I have to travel yet again this week, this time to, oh, let's call it River City. This hotel appears to have a partnership with a local gym, so I may be able to lift more often than I could during my two Central City trips. I would be overjoyed to find a squat rack with an Olympic bar to keep that up over my 4 days in the area. But I will be happy with some dumbbells and a couple of weight machines that were manufactured sometime after the release of Pumping Iron. The real challenge will be to find decent food while out there. Once past this week, I should be looking at a free and clear October — and autumn — in which to make the next big push toward the goal.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Elusive Sleep

I'M HAVING SOME TROUBLE SLEEPING. This poses a problem, as I need to awaken tomorrow at 3:00 a.m. I have a sixish flight out of Newark to Central City, and I'm taking the unprecedented step of driving there and parking my car in an airport lot. I prefer to handle unknowns by padding them with lots of time in which to fuck up once or twice.

I'm throwing the company a vague bone in using my own car. The last time I traveled for them, they raised no complaints about my use of the car service with which the company contracts, at an expense of somewhere between $175 and $200 for transit to and from the airport. I'm a little nervous about the expense it takes to get me out there — between hotel and flight, nearly a grand — and I wonder how long it will be before they decide not to burden themselves with such an expense in the NYC area if they can just cut me out and hire locally, as they did when they relocated several titles out there.

I will get reimbursed for using the car at IRS rates, as well as for parking fees and tolls, but using Newark's parking garages is an unknown quantity to me. I have a map of the airport, and the route of a tram that appears to connect the garages with the Continental terminal. My parents quailed at the prospect of my leaving the car so near to Newark. For two days' worth, I figured it was worth a risk. Just as long as I don't come back to find a decomposing Mob figure in my trunk.

If the remnants of Ike don't screw up landing conditions in Central City, I ought to get there well before the opening of the office, and hours prior to the usual 3:00 p.m. check-in time at the hotel out there. I doubt I'll be able to claim my room that early, but I might be able to dump my bags across the street at the office, then use the hotel, then just sort of announce my presence as an eventual paying guest, and either use their gym facilities, or ask them to point me toward the nearest source of real food. The hotel boasts a breakfast buffet. As long as it has caffeine, I'm set. As for the check-in, I'm very tempted to see if they'll compromise with a noon room-claim, then cut over there at lunch and nap for an hour-and-change.

It's actually two meetings I need to attend, one Monday, one Tuesday. The Monday one will probably end up being something I could've attended via speakerphone. The second one affects design of the publication's website, and thus may have a visual component. They're setting up a computer for me out there so I can do work. For some bizarre reason, perhaps because we're ramming this month's issue through production to compensate for three workdays we'll lose to an industry convention at the end of September, I broke a major rule against working on weekends by updating the website from here. (And in record time, with no office distractions.) Granted, the Giants game was on during part of it. But I am a firm believer in not working for free. Still, with my parents trekking down to the Jersey Shore, and thus not present for our usual Sunday dinner, and no duties today save the gym, packing, and football, I wedged in a bit of work. For which I fully intend to take back time from the company at an opportunity of my convenient choosing.

Hell, between these couple of hours, and the time I'll need to burn tomorrow morning and Tuesday night getting my ass to and from the airport, they'll probably end up owing me the better part of a day. The only question is whether to take it as a full day, or to salami-slice bits off of several workdays and either cruise home through unobstructed streets or get 30 minutes more sleep each morning.

May this be the most difficult side effect of letting travel for a job crimp my free time. I'll just be happy if my car's intact when I return.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Squats Are Paying Off

DESPITE SOME OFF-PLAN DINNERS this week, I managed to meet today's goal weight of 221. This after a temporary spike, last weekend, to 226, which I attribute to Sunday's carbohydrate-heavy dinner at my parents' place. Three of my dinners this week were considerably subpar as compared to the clean, controlled portions of protein, complex carbs, and healthful fats I had through the other four or five small meals each day. So why, at the end of the week, when I weighed myself and then double-checked the result with a tape measure around my waist, did I still manage to drop 5 lb.?

I believe it's because my addition of squats to the exercise regimen. This week, I did squats on Tuesday and Thursday, owing to taking Monday off from the gym after a solid week of gym visits. I actually woke up before my alarm on Tuesday morning eager to get over to the gym Squatting was the first thought on my mind. How weird is that?

I bumped up this week to eight reps (from seven) of five squats with nothing on the bar. I'll visit the gym for weight training tomorrow, after a cardio session today, because I don't know what sort of gym facilities the hotel where I'm staying Monday and Tuesday in Central City will have. Doubtful they'll have a power rack. I'll be lucky if they have one of those vibrating weight belts from the Coolidge era. So my idea is to put in a vigorous workout tomorrow that will hold me through spotty exercise opportunities and food options until Wednesday.

But back to the weight loss conundrum. I noticed my face looked a touch thinner; I could see my cheekbones more clearly. The waist measurement this morning indicated I'd lost ½" since last Monday, when the scale read 226. When I walked during the week, I was conscious of my quadriceps, the large thigh muscles that squats target. The feedback I got from them was an odd combo of postworkout soreness (though far less than the first couple of times I squatted) and the sense of being larger. The shape of the muscles are a touch different than two weeks ago. They're not Incredible Hulk huge by any means; I won't have to lay in a massive supply of purple pants to replace the ones my gamma surges shred. Indeed, my quads compete for space with no small amount of adipose tissue, to put it clincally. But it seems to be a slightly smaller amount of said fat, and a touch larger amount of said muscle.

I am permitting myself the least perceptibly hubristic shred of joy I can muster.

When you have an enemy on the run, you pursue and reduce them while they are thus vulnerable. My war against fat is still young. But any war comprises many battles, many duels between armies across the vast theater of strife. If I was able to add muscle and drop fat even when I had nacho chips and cheese two nights this week, along with pizza on a third, how much more success might I achieve with an entirely clean diet? Rather than ruing my slips, I will take them as proof that my exercise plan is working, that the overall 30x40 goal may be achievable, and that if I die young anyway, it will be in the midst of a fight I finally have dedicated myself to winning.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Too Late for a Blog Title Change?

HAD THIS BLOG STARTED ON 9/11/07 instead of 9/11/05, and had I read this interview, by Nick Hornsby, of David Simon, creator/writer/producer of The Wire, at the time, I might have been tempted to use the line in bold Verdana as my blog's title:
NH: Every time I think, Man, I’d love to write for The Wire, I quickly realize that I wouldn’t know my True dats from my narcos. Did you know all that before you started? Do you get input from those who might be more familiar with the idiom?

DS: My standard for verisimilitude is simple and I came to it when I started to write prose narrative: fuck the average reader. I was always told to write for the average reader in my newspaper life. The average reader, as they meant it, was some suburban white subscriber with two-point-whatever kids and three-point-whatever cars and a dog and a cat and lawn furniture. He knows nothing and he needs everything explained to him right away, so that exposition becomes this incredible, story-killing burden. Fuck him. Fuck him to hell.

(Original pair of quotes found, via Merlin Mann's Kung Fu Grippe, in The Believer.)

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Two Minor Steps Toward Better Fitness

LABOR DAY WEEKEND WAS, as I suspected, a foodfest. Though it lacked the sweets and chips I had over July Fourth weekend, just before I started my 30x40 program, it nonetheless included much "off-program" food I don't usually eat on a Monday. After a scary spike to 226 last Tuesday, I worked down to something closer to more recent averages. I missed my target weight for this Saturday of 221.5 by one pound, but it's drifted down a bit today. Even at 222, that leaves 24 more pounds to lose, about 2.4/month by next June 27. Insofar as I've been as low as 219.5 in mid-August, the new goal for next Saturday (221 lb.) ought not be unimaginable should my eating and exercise be sound.

I did make two changes to my life along both these lines in the past couple of weeks. I reduced the amount of Diet Coke (and with it aspartame) I drink, and I added the dreaded squat to my exercise program.

I am a hardcore Diet Coke addict. Caffeine addict, to be precise. Three cans per day keep the headaches away. Nine, twelve, and three is the dosage schedule. I kicked caffeine completely once, for several weeks, by weaning myself off using caffeine-free Diet Coke. This ended when my stress level at work surged. You can imagine how such abstinence didn't occur to me earlier this year.

I've been drinking green tea as the main liquid ingredient of my post-workout protein smoothies for months now. I brew up a big jug of the stuff every week or so and keep it in the fridge, ready to go when I come back from the gym. Two weeks ago, I brewed a travel mug of the tea separately, to drink at work later that morning while eating my cereal or oatmeal. No sweetener; I get enough early-morning simple carbs from the fruit and protein powder in my smoothie. I've been doing this since, except for last Thursday, when I forgot to bring my travel mug home.

This wasn't as much a caffeine-control move as a way to cut my aspartame intake. The amount of tea I'm drinking to replace that first Diet Coke contains nearly twice the caffeine of the omitted soda, according to Wikipedia's caffeine entry. (Though a couple of days last week, I got afternoon caffeine-withdrawal headaches. Another razor-accurate Wikipedia page for you.) For several weekends, I'd been drinking either hot green tea or coffee for my first day's caffeine, so this seemed a a good way to cut my dosage of a potentially dangerous chemical. The last thing I want to find out 40 years ago is that the tumors I'm having irradiated are due to this nasty shit that Donald Rumsfeld pimped to the food industry while working for chemical company G.D. Searle. By then he'll be too dead to receive my vengeance.

As for the exercise change, I attempted to add squats to my exercise routine in 2005. Recovering from the first couple of sessions in which I did them was tough, and I let that difficulty convince me to drop them in favor of an isolation-exercise machine for quadricep development. But I began studying the articles on squats at, and realized that I hadn't been doing them right.

I've given them another try, and thus far, I think I'm not only doing them right, but building a little more muscle with them. I have no weight on the bar, which itself weighs about 45 lb. I've been able to increase from five sets to seven (the goal is to have three light warmup sets, then five "working" sets with heavier weights). My quadriceps were burning burger last Sunday, and I could barely manage to sit while standing or get up once seated. The recovery time for each subsequent squat session has been shorter, even while adding new sets. And only my quads have hurt; last time I tried these, my back and knees hurt during recovery. Properly done, squats call upon back muscles and knees as stabilizers; only your quads should be hit. I think I'm doing a better "flight check" of the steps one takes before and during the motion. Bottom line: I haven't blown out a knee or snapped a hamstring. With any luck, greater proficiency and more weight will make those fates even more distant.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Storm Puts Brakes on Poker Jones

A TROPICAL STORM APPROACHES the area, threatening rain, wind, and flooding. I haven't wandered next door to the supermarket to engage in the ritual pre-storm purchase of milk yet. I used to wonder why folks swarmed the milk before hurricanes and snowstorms, but then I began drinking coffee, and then I Understood. Don't keep the residents of America's hurricane belt away from the morning joe, and maybe a nail to suck down while nervously eyeing the Weather Channel.

Aside from a catastrophic rainstorm back in 1994, I've lucked out during recent weather upheavals. Tropical Storm Floyd in 1999 laid waste to any parts of Bergen County near streams or rivers. An apartment complex owned by my landlord took on water to the second floor. Businesses near this building were saturated to the ceilings and condemned. All of this was only a couple hundred yards from my digs. While riding the bus on the Garden State Parkway the next day, I could see water shimmering in an unbroken sheet across the backyards of houses along the highway. Mere feet from my previous place of residence in Hackensack, Route 17 had become an inland sea through its Lodi–Rochelle Park stretch.

It's a stone bummer I won't be able to travel this weekend, but there's nothing out there that won't wait until fairer skies make my drive easier. I've got an itch to hit one of the local casinos. I haven't visited a cardroom since my return from Las Vegas. The Borgata is hosting a series of poker tournaments, which has the benefit of bringing out more crummy players, and would offer me another chance to say hi to the one and only Dr. Pauly of Tao of Poker, who is down there covering the tourneys. But that would take me straight down the barrel of the storm.

Heading north to Connecticut is the other option, but then I'd get tagged by Hannah's remnants while driving home in the dark. I do want to check out the expanded New England poker market soon. After missing out on the hold'em craze nearly from Day One by closing its poker room 5 years ago, Mohegan Sun launched a new cardroom this Labor Day. I've been giving them some time to get their shit together . . . and from the looks of this thread on the 2+2 Forums, they still have some glitches to shake loose. I hope they do.

It does seem they're trying to distinguish themselves from the 100-table poker room down the road at Foxwoods. From what I've read, poker dealers at Mohegan Sun keep their own tips, rather than following the lead of Foxwoods poker dealers many years ago to pool their tips with those earned by the rest of the casino's dealers. Nearly alone among the nation's poker dealers in this practice, Foxwoods' dealers occasionally get accused of being less committed to customer service. Insofar as the tips they're earning through good performance aren't entirely "theirs," they're perceived as not working for them as hard as Vegas or Atlantic City dealers do. I've seen dealers of every level of dedication at the Woods, both at poker tables and the regular casino games, but the rep was strong enough to motivate Big Mo's card-slingers to follow the example of their colleagues across the country and hang onto the chips they pick up during their downs.

Even grading the reactions of 2+2's posters on the usual curve for Internet opinions, there still seem to be some areas where the Mohegan Sun management can improve: selection of table limits, confused floor staff, the announcement system (i.e., the PA that calls players to games), weird cards. Plus they may have overtaxed their greenhorn dealers by soft-launching on a holiday weekend, which is going to stress even a veteran crew. Their official launch is said to be in October sometime. Still, even a couple of weeks' duty will tighten the operation, assuming the management is observant and attends to the real issues (and doesn't give in to any little nitty twitch of the notoriously fussy poker community). I'm looking forward to visiting, now that buying gasoline only requires a single kidney for collateral rather than both lungs or a leg. I like the ambience at Big Mo more than the mall-with-gambling feel of their older cousin down the road, Foxwoods. Granted the latter has upgraded its apparatus, pairing up with casino giants MGM Mirage to open a new wing. I haven't seen either the new Sun poker room or the Foxwoods expansion yet, and I'd like to take a day to explore them both.

This month will be a travel-packed cavalcade of whimsy, though. Two days in Central City midmonth, then four days at an industry convention in the final full week of September. Keeping the weekends free might be the only thing that keeps me sane amid this, and I might end up preferring just hanging locally for a boardgame night or run to a local eatery. We'll see how weekend plans pan out as this summer lashes us with its final few weeks of spiteful heat and hurricanes, before yielding to the welcoming embrace of autumn.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Sarah Palin Question Nobody's Asking

WHERE WAS SARAH PALIN WHEN the plane of Louisiana Congressman Hale Boggs — a member of the Warren Commission — disappeared without a trace in Alaska?

And don't give me that "But she was seven!" shit. I've seen The Bad Seed.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

A Truly Orwellian Blog

GEORGE ORWELL BLOGS. Being dead, he has some help. Domestic-life entries from 1938 right now, much concerned with local weather and wildlife, and — being the journal of a Brit — the garden. Come September, his political thoughts. Entries, each posted on the actual date + 70 years, are transcribed into WordPress; I hope they include more photos of the diaries themselves. I find the look of a person's diary as potentially interesting as its content, if not more so should the lettering be of striking character.

Bonus: Arch-diarist Samuel Pepys got the drop on Orwell more than 5 years ago.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

30x40: Weeks of 8/18–8/25/08 Progress

A WEEK AFTER MY TRIP to Central City, I still find myself recovering from the divergence from my home weekday eating plan and the time away from the gym. Some of the problem was self-inflicted; getting dessert with dinner out there was a mistake. Some of it was inadvertent, notably the poor gym facilities at the hotel and the pizza lunch we were given on the big-meeting day (with no alternatives like salad; in fact, I think dessert pizza was the salad) in the CC office. And some of the problem arose from having a weekend right after this comparative fitness/nutrition desert. Although I allow myself some divergences from the usual diet on the weekend, Mom was kind enough to offer her macaroni and cheese Sunday night, which made for leftovers Monday and Tuesday nights. . . . So the weekend represented a bit of retracement.

My weight didn't visibly shift too much, and my Monday gut measurement didn't show any gain, but I did feel fatter for a couple of days after my return. The bags felt heavier when I carried them upstairs here, and not because I stuffed them with souvenirs. (More likely were binges at the comic book and boardgame stores across from my hotel.) Not exactly the streak I wanted to rack up just before my second-month anniversary on the 30x40 plan. I'd much rather have continued the run I had between 8/14 — when I touched 220 for the first time in years — and 8/16 — the second of two days at 219.5. I'll have to analyze what exercise and eating combination resulted in this dip. But from the standpoint of the broader goal (losing .57 lb./week or 2.5 lb./month), I met my milestone: 222.5 lb. on August 27, down from 225.0 on July 27, for a loss of exactly 2.5 lb.

I didn't sweat the fat gain too badly upon my return. No mistake is totally irrevocable on this plan, and some — like a cold, or a business trip — are unavoidable and best rolled with and corrected ASAP. The iron was waiting for me when I returned to the gym Saturday afternoon, and I racked up a shockingly energetic weight routine. Doing so well got me through the last few days; nightmares have been kicking me out of bed at hours early even for me. This has left me a walking corpse by the end of the workday, which in turn fucks up my attempts to eat a healthful dinner. But I kept going back to the gym each day, to keep my muscles going on a regular schedule. When one aspect of my life gets out of balance, the smartest thing I can do is stay consistent with as many other aspects of it as I can, until I can fix the problem. Sleep last night was far more consistent and horror free than has been the recent case, so my plan may be working.

With Labor Day Weekend coming, I have a chance to address the dinner difficulty. And lunch; after I got sick of my usual turkey sandwiches, I had an important void to fill. I can grill a shitload of animal protein on Monday to get me through a few days of next week. Veggies I can handle day to day. (It would help if the current crop of broccoli were better; the heads I'm finding are being harvested far too late, with loose, overdeveloped florets. I am a broccoli snob.)

I wrote everything preceding this paragraph before I left for work this morning. As I closed the door after me upon my return home, I noticed the running list of daily weigh-ins, and the top- and bottom-left entries in that block of early-morning scribbles jumped out at me:

7/22: 225.5
. . .
8/22: 222.5

Three pounds in a month. As much as I still need to lose, as attentive as I need to be in my eating, as hard as I'll have to lift to keep what fitness I have and maybe develop just a little more, I can't help but be proud of that three-pound drop.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Inspiring Trip, and Fighting Pessimism

SOMETIMES I THINK PESSIMISM IS as reflexive a response in my system as blinking or breathing. These two functions and others like them don't veer off as unreasonably as does my willingness to assume the worst, however. May they never catch up. Better, may my flights to pessimism be delayed or cancelled.

It is in this spirit that I report being proved wrong in my initial feelings toward the Central City meeting in which I participated this week. I hope my apprehension grew from my anticipated sour experience with midweek air travel, my very real trouble in even getting a company travel account set up, and basic fear of the unknown — I'd never attended an editorial review of this type. I'd scoffed at the need to visit in person, wondering whether the cost of bringing me out there would justify the difficulty of hurdling the TSA and airline obstacles doubtless in my route.

As usual, these spectres fled under the light of actual events.

Tuesday morning found me packed and ready to fly. I used my Las Vegas packing list to assemble my gear; a fun-starved smattering of work-pertinent items and clothing bereft of the usual sunblock, desert hat, copy of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and poker dough. Naked, I felt.

After 2 hours in the office, I headed home to await the car service. When I wandered downstairs 15 minutes early to dump some garbage, I found him already there, catching some Z's. I awakened him and we got underway. I suspect he was sleep starved, as he spiced his 75-mph race to the airport with frequent drifts into the left lane, or the shoulder. He may have been drowsy, but it sure woke me up.

The first challenge was to get a boarding pass, which I couldn't print through the company 's chosen travel site. The credit card reader didn't recognize my purchase and instead referred me to human assistance. Said human realized my card had not yet been charged for the trips. She did so, then ground out my pass. I was glad I'd gotten there 2 hours early and during the midweek dead of August, rather than close to a major travel holiday. From there I went to the dreaded TSA chokepoint, where the line was delightfully short — shorter even than some of the 6 a.m. lines I find prior to a Vegas run. With such a small hoard of junk, I presented them with a boring X-ray profile, so I was through and clear in moments.

I boarded the Central City flight with ease, and lucked out by getting an empty seat between me (in the window seat) and the other row-occupant. Of course, the flight was preceded by about 25 minutes of delays on the ground. I realize now that the airlines are baking the delays into the ticket times, as they anticipate the impact of departing traffic and arrival snags. Flight itself was brief (compared to the EWR–LAS run) and smooth through clear weather, and with no checked luggage, I was into a cab and hotel bound swiftly upon arrival.

My hotel was one of several clustered near the Central City airport, in the midst of what appeared to be the chain-restaurant district, and across the street from both a mall and the local branch of my company. No need to rent a car. After checking in, I wandered over to the mall, which had the virtue of a local casual-dining choice; I'd scouted the area from home and decided, as with Vegas, why eat on the road what I can get at home? The burger there proved to be a solid choice, though the dessert (you can tell I was using a company card) nearly put me in a coma. Five bucks apparently buys a lot more out there, and I only made it halfway through the platter of death-carbs under whipped cream I received.

As I ate, I noticed a person who was leaving the mall with a plastic bag that advertised Free Comic Book Day. I wondered if there might be a comic shop in the bowels of the mall. A few minutes later, another person emerged with a bag that advertised a business with a fairly geeky name. That settled it. After I paid, I wandered into the mall proper to hunt this source down. No greater love there is for a geek than to patronize one's friendly local game/comic/music shop. Sure enough, not only was there a comic book shop, but two doors down there was a boardgame store. Both sported RPG and CCG sections, as well as tables on which to play them, and the comic shop also was a Warhammer miniatures dealer. Central City was beginning to look more salvageable by the minute.

Fitness and sleep were troublesome, though. The hotel featured a "fitness center," which included an exercycle, a treadmill, and a Universal-style weight center that posed more health danger in its use than its neglect. I elected 30 minutes on the treadmill the first morning I was there, and skipped it entirely the second day, resuming regular gym visits Friday. The first weight-training visit on Saturday actually showed some improvement; this makes me wonder whether I ought to add a little more rest time between lifting visits. As for sleeping, my room was close to the ice machine on the first floor. When the staff began laying out the complimentary breakfast, they needed to scoop up some ice, which they did at 5:30 a.m. both mornings. This is actually later than my usual wakeup time on weekdays, but I'd run into trouble both nights trying to fall asleep (both bed and pillow were far spongier than my home setup), so each morning I was staggering around on subpar sleep.

The next two days were spent primarily at the local office, about which I must be elliptical for security. I must say it's nicer than the one in Jersey, plus they allow employees to bring in houseplants. The first day comprised discussion of our editorial calendar for next year, as well as a look ahead at what conferences we might want to attend to foster development of these articles. It was tough to wing off for a few days for a convention when the headcount on the title was a whopping two, so with a full bullpen we can do this again now.

The second day was the money day. A pair of edit-gurus led a positive, open-ended discussion of what we'd accomplished over the past year, examining our mission, our graphic design (which we'd redone a year ago, so now was the time to see if it was working), the replies to a reader survey, and what our online outreach would accomplish . . . an area that involves me. I didn't get the chance to discuss a blog strategy, because apparently the site will be redesigned soon. We were told a couple of things we could do with the current site, the design of which was rejiggered at the same time as the print pub's, and I made it clear to the two hosts that my ability to address any of this sort of thing had been hampered by the staff shortage; I had been offloading my own web duties to a freelancer during that stretch. Those who mattered at the meeting seemed to understand this, so my ass is not on the line or anything . . . which, over the course of these meetings, I found myself once again caring about.

I took a ton of notes for what we can do in all of these areas, because we had unprecedented access to two keen thinkers on what makes magazines work. I also got the message that the new web design, as well as anything we would want to do in a blog, are up to us. I told them I would need some heavy training in these areas if I am to do anything besides just check to see that monthly content uploads were executed right; it's one of my review goals, in fact. But I presented myself as being part of a future set of solutions, not as any sort of whiner or cripple. I felt very much more part of a team effort, above and beyond enjoying the uncommon privilege of having the rest of the gang there in the flesh.

I think it's time to lay to rest any reference to our being short on staff. I never used it as a hollow excuse, but it was the legitimate reason why we weren't able to do anything besides put a monthly publication out there. With a full staff, I can ease some of my edit duties over to the other folks if the web action becomes more of a daily task — an offer my boss made unbidden after the meeting. I had been nervous about the rest of the staff getting web training that would render my own obsolete. Now there is a chance I may revisit the Central City office (where the head of all things web is based) for further, more specialized training and assistance in enacting the redesign once the staff and managers decide what we need to feature. All of this is possible now that we are well past the crisis stretch.

I thought about the ways I could make this sort of training serve me as I flew home. No trouble getting to the airport or traversing the tiny TSA line helped foster a reflective mood for the flight back. I do feel more enthusiastic about the position, which now seems at my power to craft. A former supervisor of mine used to say, "Once you stop learning, you're dead." I have the chance to stay alive in this sense now, even to flourish. Still wondering if this will truly be my calling, something I strain at the leash to do each morning. But my previous pessimism may be clouding my attempts to see what that might be.