Random Updates

The upgrade from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10 went okay. It took a minute or two to go though “custom” settings and select more sensible options than “express” offers. The only thing so far is the mouse pointer often goes into its “working” blue-circle state, and it’s even more pesky and intrusive than 8.1; just now it was bugging me about logging onto their X-box scheme so I could play solitaire. On my other machine I have Lubuntu, which has been trouble-free.

I’ve been using SpiderOak in preference to Dropbox for a while now. It works well and has better privacy features, though it is a bit slower. They say everything is encrypted, but I don’t think all of the source code is available for audit and review. They also have a password manager, Encryptr, but I’ll stay with Keepass for now.

Finished Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. It’s solid hard science fiction, mostly excellent, but I kept thinking to myself, “five thousand years is a long time.” I have no complaints about the physics or biology, but the anthropology and sociology strained my capacity to believe.

This gingerbread was not hard to make, and came out well.

The exercise program for the summer has mostly been swimming laps, lifting weights, and mowing the yard every four or five days. Last winter I hit a heavy bag once or twice a week. It’s a good cardio and strength workout, but too hard on my hands to do year round.

Bees have built a nest out back, in the underground remains of a tree stump. They haven’t caused any trouble except when I have unknowingly run the mower over them. I’d rather not exterminate them if there’s a way to live with them.

Doc Rampage has a thought-provoking post up about anti-Christian religion, Science and the post-Christian trinity. Lately I’ve been going the Baptist church, with occasional visits to the Episcopal church. This suggests some incoherence in my understanding of theology. Maybe next week I’ll see what the Methodists are up to.

Here’s something to think about: Look at the schools, the federal government, the mainline churches, the news, the movies: except for the UN, have liberals made every institution what they said it was in 1968?


I’m not really a gun guy. As a boy I shot a .22 rifle whenever I could, at cans and stuff, and I had a target model .22 air pistol that was really something, and a bb gun. In the army I qualified with the usual weapons, but small arms were not central to my job. After getting out I didn’t shoot anything for twenty years, except a black-powder pistol at a fair once.

The other day I went trap shooting, and I look forward to going again. Say what you want about Barack Obama, but he has done more than any president in living memory to encourage gun ownership.

Trap shooting seems to be one of those activities that tempt a man to buy stuff. Having shot exactly once (and poorly), I thought “Well that was good, but if I had a shell pouch like that one, and some of those glasses, and one of those things, and a couple of those, and a re-loading setup, and another shotgun, and yet another shotgun…”

That’s folly. Really, there’s only one thing I need: to show up regularly for a couple of seasons, do some hunting, and then maybe think about new gear.

Oh, and I do need a shell pouch. And maybe some shooting glasses. I’ll just see what they have at the store.

Today’s workout

Though not a Workout of the Day

I call this workout the flying accordion, because the linked 80s music video was on my mind at the time.

  • Speed bag 20 minutes
  • Heavy bag 20 minutes (intervals)
  • Three sets of chin-ups, as many as possible
  • Four sets of push-ups, one side elevated, 2 sets each side, as many as possible
  • Between sets of chin-ups and push-ups, mow the yard
  • Finish in two hours.

The suggested recovery meal is two hot dogs with chips and a bottle of beer, and a piece of cake. The beer is optional, but don’t skip the cake.

Kettlebell and medicine ball exercises

This isn’t fitness advice, it’s a web log post about what I’ve done. I have no education in exercise or health, and no idea what might be good for the reader. Don’t take health advice from random guys on the internet. Ask your doctor about exercising.

Medicine ball

Someone left a medicine ball at the gym a few months ago. It’s kind of girly looking – made by Danskins of blue and white swirly plastic, eight pounds. But what the heck; heavy is heavy, and it turns out eight pounds is plenty for a good workout.

As an American man of a certain age, there are three things I can legitimately do with a ball: throw it; hit it with a stick; or grab it and run. Suppose I grab the medicine ball and run for the door:

“Where’s the medicine ball?”

“Dunno; Marcel grabbed it and ran out the door.”


Wouldn’t do to appear eccentric, nor is there much training effect in that. If I were outside, wailing on the medicine ball with a stick might be a workout, but it’s still kind of weird. So in the gym I’ve been throwing around the medicine ball for a couple of months. The exercises I’ve seen on the web emphasize waving the medicine ball around. Unless it’s training for rhythmic gymnastics, I don’t really see the point. If I want to wave something around, I’ll use a kettlebell, as below. With a medicine ball, this is my typical workout:

Thoroughly warm up before starting. Then, hold the ball at chin level and shoot it up against a wall with both hands, kind of like volleyball. I might do 20 to 50 of these. Next, hold the ball at waist level, twist, and slam it against the wall, catching it on the rebound, maybe 8 to 12 times each side. Next shoot it up high against the wall like a basketball; throw it with both hands from behind the head; throw it overhand; throw it with both hands from the chest. Some of these are listed at the always-informative exrx.net under other plyometrics. This pdf from the MF Athletic Company has more ideas for using medicine balls. I throw as hard as possible with good technique, being careful not to strain a shoulder, which seems especially easy to do throwing overhand.

Three cycles like this can be a short upper-body workout, or the throws can be combined with other exercises like squats or deadlifts, or with some kind of cardio intervals like jumping rope or using an exercise machine. I’ve found I have to limit plyometric exercises (throwing hard, jumping, hitting the heavy bag) to once a week to get adequate recovery, and to take a week off every two or three to avoid hurting myself.

Initially I was throwing against an interior cinder-block wall. That was thoughtless. Sensing someone behind me, I paused and found the facility manager, who had noticed the noise and vibration from the other side of the wall. He asked me instead to throw against the reinforced concrete pilasters, or against a foundation wall, this gym being in the basement. Most of these throws work better with a partner, if there’s overhead clearance and someone else is interested. I can’t say it’s really caught on yet. Maybe we need a black leather Everlast instead of a swirly-blue Danskins.


About a month ago a kettlebell appeared at the gym. Stuff seems to be accumulating and it’s getting crowded in there, but I’m glad to have the kettlebell. It looks like a cannonball with a handle, and weighs 35 pounds. I would have thought it’s about like a dumbbell, but the kettlebell has a different feel and is very satisfying to use. Here are some kettlebell exercises listed and helpfully illustrated. The one-arm and two-arm swings and the basic press are what I’ve started with. For the swings, I have to warm up thoroughly, stretch my legs and back, and concentrate on correct technique. These are demanding exercises.

Kettlebell presses integrate well into a weight workout. I’ve been doing these instead of dumbbell presses. At the end of the workout I do some kettlebell swings, typically a set of 8-12 two-handed, then two sets of 8 one-handed, with sit-ups or something between sets. On the third set I often pause to recover after one side. Kettlebell swings are a heavy cardio workout. I feel the swings most in my legs and lower back. To avoid over-stretching my lower back it’s important to keep control on the down-swing. Since I’m swinging around a 35 pound iron ball, I make sure the area is safe and use some chalk for a good grip, and think about where the kettlebell would go worst case. I’d hate to launch it through a window or wall, or into someone else.

As summer approaches I’ll lift less and do more stuff outside. The kettlebell and medicine ball should integrate well with that.

Fitness update

The 5k, my first in maybe 6 years, went pretty well. I finished under 33 minutes, feeling good. That’s slower than I recorded four months ago, but I’m satisfied for now. I recorded three 10 minute miles, but haven’t since been able to repeat that.

Leading up to the race I’d felt really slow, and was resigned to 12 minute miles. Then on race day, the first mile went well (for me), at 10:06. The second felt at least as fast, but there was no split at the two mile mark. After another quarter mile I got tired, the terrain got difficult, with much mud and many tree roots, and I slowed way down. I hope to go faster next time (faster pace = better time, you see…), and then get under 30 minutes.

All the times I’ve recorded myself are loose approximations, because my fancy watch failed. The lcd screen developed some kind of black area on one side. Sometimes faint, ghostly numbers appear on the screen, so it’s still keeping time internally, just not usefully. I’ve used an old self-winding analog watch a few times, but it’s hard to read accurately, and may be pausing unpredictably. It’s entirely possible that I didn’t really run that fast back in September, but just misread my unreliable watch.

Dogs bark at me as I halt by them

Over the winter I’ll run outside when I can, go to the gym otherwise, and try another 5k when opportunity presents. I’m taking fish oil and vitamin D, the new wonder drug everyone’s talking about. So far so good.

This plan depends, of course, on avoiding injury. It’s like I have the knees and ankles of a middle-aged man. An increasing number of my friends have begun to complain of the same condition, some kind of new syndrome that’s going around. Maybe the fish oil will help.

Speaking of watches

Last weekend I got in a pretty good 2 mile run, but could only estimate the time. Today I managed to run 4 miles, and the middle 3 under 30 minutes, according to my old analog watch. The real test will be tomorrow morning. If I can walk, I’ll buy a new battery for my fancy watch, and plan to get in a 5k before December.

Six Minutes a Week?

Don’t take health advice from random guys on the internet.

From Can You Get Fit in Six Minutes a Week?, with [editorial comment]:

A few years ago, researchers [somewhere] put rats through a series of swim tests with surprising results. [Turns out wind sprints are brutal. Who knew?] The potency of interval training is nothing new. [Ah. Apparently everyone knew.] Many athletes have been straining through interval sessions once or twice a week along with their regular workout for years. [Indeed. Hang on to that grant writer.] Could it be that most of us are spending more time than we need to trying to get fit? [Yes and no. A man who likes to run will come up with a fitness program that requires 30 miles a week. Another who likes to lift weights will be in the gym 90 minutes a day. A third, who doesn’t really like to exercise, probably won’t.]

“There was a time when the scientific literature suggested that the only way to achieve endurance was through endurance-type activities,” such as long runs or bike rides or, perhaps, six-hour swims, [says some guy. Hey, New York Times, it’s html! Instead of distracting me with an in-line biography, use a link.] But ongoing research […somewhere. Again, a link, or maybe a footnote] is turning that idea on its head. [Why did those old studies give a misleading answer? Do these new studies have the same problem?]

In other words, six minutes or so a week of hard exercise (plus the time spent warming up, cooling down, [vomiting,] and resting between the bouts of intense work) had proven to be as good as multiple hours of working out for achieving fitness. The short, intense workouts aided in weight loss, too. [Maybe it’s the vomiting.]

There’s a catch, though. Those six minutes, if they’re to be effective, must hurt. [Really. We aren’t kidding. Bob thought he was going to die.]

Could a single, two- to three-minute bout of intense exercise confer the same endurance and health benefits as those six minutes of multiple intervals? [Maybe. Squat down, grip the bar, and we’ll find out.]

“I’m 41, with two young children,” [Then you should be getting plenty of exercise.] “I don’t have time to go out and exercise for hours.” [Everyone’s busy (well, 90% of us) Everyone gets 24 hours a day. Time spent exercising is time not spent doing something else. Suck it up.]

Seriously, you have to be in good health, start slow, learn proper technique, and build a base before you go sprinting up hill, or doing heavy deadlifts. Sudden hard interval training is like going out to shovel snow. You’ll be lucky if you just hurt your back. Andrew Heffernan, who (unlike me) really knows something about fitness, discusses this with less snark and more thought in Health News: Interval Training, Plus The Benefits of Fat


There are two ways to write about exercise. You can say what you did, or what you will do. For example:


Blogging is going to be light, ’cause I’m going to be hitting it hard for the next 16 weeks. Mornings will be for cardio intervals: wind sprints MWF, and hard laps in the pool TThSat. Afternoons, it will be weights – Monday and Thursday I’ll do upper body, Tuesday and Friday, lower body. Wednesday and Saturday I’ll relax with some long slow distance on the bike. That and my eating plan – fruits and veggies, lean meat, a piece of whole grain toast or a bowl of plain oatmeal once a day – should bring my cholesterol under 150 and my body fat to basically zero.


My last deliberate extended rest period was a success. I didn’t gain much more weight than I expected, and I re-read all the Harry Potter books. The last couple were pretty heavy. Tomorrow, my recipe for stuffed spaghetti pizza.

I haven’t decided exactly what program to follow this summer. I’ll post an update later, by August for sure.

They’re on to me

Speaking in public has always been easy for me, partly because my standards are so low; partly because of a lifelong commitment to hard cardio workouts. But now some changes may be necessary.

“There is one style that always stands out, no matter what. I like to call it the “Scatter-Drone.” That is the presentation that has 50 bullet points scattered on every slide with a long-winded drone of a voice wavering in the air saying something, but nobody really knows what because catatonia has already taken over.” — Doing a 15 Minute Presentation in 10 Easy Steps

That’s just how I do it, except without the PowerPoint.

See, if the audience says “that was boring,” I can dismiss it as uninformed opinion. If they knew anything about the subject, they’d be giving the talk. But now that they have a word for it – “another one of his scatter-drones” – I’ll have to shape up.