Fleeing zombies on a treadmill

I went for a treadmill run with “Zombies, Run!” this morning. Despite it seeming like a particularly ineffective way to flee the zombies, it was by a wide margin the easiest 30-minute treadmill run I’ve ever had. I can usually just barely get myself to run 20 minutes on a treadmill.

I’ve gotten in the habit of setting any treadmill to an incline of 1%, because I find that matches my speed on the treadmill with my perceived level of effort. (That is, when I’m running at a 10-minute pace on the treadmill, it feels about like running at a 10-minute pace outdoors, if the treadmill is set at a 1% incline.)

This particular run came out at just over 31 minutes and just over 2.5 miles. I had turned off the GPS on the game and told it to use the accelerometer instead. At the default setting, it suggested that I’d gone 2.31 miles, so I bumped up the stride length by about 8%. Next run I’ll see if the treadmill distance and accelerometer distance aren’t just about the same.

I’ve been playing the game with the zombie chases turned off. That was mainly with the thought that it would increase replayability—I figured once I finished all the missions, I could go back and play them all again with zombie chases turned on for a fresh experience. Since I’m currently in no danger of running out of missions, I might turn them on for treadmill runs, to add a bit more variety.

Window seat

window-seatJust a little post to brag on our townhouse, which is gradually getting set up the way we want it.

Of course, unpacking is a lot of work (on top of all our other work)—but that’s okay. When we need a break, we can sit in the window seat upstairs in the study.

I’m planning to get a wedgey cushion, but for now these two pillows are doing a fine job. Behind them on the window sill you can see: My tablet (which I’ll get back to reading a book on, as soon as I post this), my coffee flask, Wellington (one of my science fictional elephants, and sometimes the elephant of surprise), Norman the Chambered Nautilus, a tiny little Ganesh sculpture, a plastic yogurt container (currently empty, but used to hold odds and ends), and a tube full of brightly colored cat toys. And, of course, behind that you see the tree outside the window, and beyond that a view of Winfield Village looking east from our townhouse.

Squats, dumbbells, and the Winfield Village fitness room

Winfield Village has a little fitness room. From our townhouse it’s very handy—right across the parking lot.

It has an odd selection of equipment. There are perhaps 8 pieces of aerobic equipment—more than half treadmills, but also an elliptical machine and a couple of cycle-type machines. There are a pair of leg machines—leg extension and leg curl. There’s a fancy configurable machine with a pair of weight stacks hooked up to a pair of pulleys with interchangeable handles that can be set at any desired height, so you can adjust it for various kinds of rows, presses, swings, etc. And there’s a huge selection of dumbbells.

After two decades of doing my lifting with machines, I’d already been gradually switching away, so this new facility is nicely in line with what I was already headed towards.

My inclination to change away from machines started when I wanted to start doing squats (instead of doing the leg press machine). Maybe it would be more accurate to say it started when I wanted to be able to squat.

Being able to squat had always seemed like one of those basic capabilities a person ought to have (like being able to stand or walk), but like most westerners—like most people who own chairs—I lacked both the strength and the flexibility to squat properly. When I had to squat down—to look at something on a bottom shelf, let’s say—I could do it, but my heels would come up off the floor and I’d end up squatting with my knees way forward and my weight up on the balls of my feet. (Don’t do this—it’s dangerous for your knees.)

Primarily because of my taiji practice, I’d gained both a lot of control over my body and a lot of insight into how it ought to move, and some months back it occurred to me that I was probably at a point where I could do a proper squat.

I did some preliminary practice squatting, and found that doing it correctly wasn’t hard. (Keeping your heels down on the ground is only possible if you bend at the hips, stick your butt back, and lean your upper body forward. If you keep your head up, the result is a squat that looks just like the pictures of proper squat form.)

I experimented with squatting in the Smith machine at the Fitness Center, and did some squatting with a bar over my shoulders, but ended up deciding that bodyweight squats did the job just fine.

So I’m not really missing the bar or the squat frame. I can imagine wanting to add weight to my squats, but so far I’m happy just adding reps. When that’s not enough, I can add weight with dumbbells.

Since I have all those dumbbells at my disposal, I thought I’d look for some workouts that made use of them, and found an excellent dumbbell workout page over at Art of Manliness.

I’ve started doing something closely modeled on that page’s upper-body workout, with the addition of some qigong exercises from my taiji practice, and some exercises intended to help me work up to being able to do pullups.

I’d not had much success with the assisted pullup machine at the Fitness Center, so I was ready to do something different even if we hadn’t let our membership expire when we decided to move here. The replacement that I’m experimenting with at the moment is negative pullups: I use a bench to climb up to the top of pullup position, then lower myself down to hanging.

As I was writing this post I read a bit about working up to pullups. It looks like before I go all-out with the negatives, I should practice my dead hangs.

I’ll come up with a lower-body workout shortly. It’ll include squats.

With the fitness room right across the parking lot, I’m hoping to get a lot more regular with my lifting. If I succeed, I expect I’ll be posting about it here. If not, I suppose I’ll quietly start posting about something else.

iTunes twofer playlist

When I lived in Ft. Lauderdale (this would have been the early 1980s), there was a local radio station with what they called “Twofer Tuesday,” where they played two songs by the same artist, followed by two more by a different artist, and so on throughout the day.

I enjoyed it. Of necessity it eliminated the one-hit wonders. As performed by the DJs on that station, it produced a nice mix of newer and older stuff—most of the twofers had a recent hit followed by an older hit by the same performer or group.

A few years back, I spent some time trying to make an iTunes playlist that would give me twofers, and finally came up with something that was sorta okay.

I did it in two steps:

First, I created a smart playlist for each artist that I wanted to hear twofers from. The basic playlists was “Artist contains artist-name,” “Rating is greater than 2 stars.” Then I limited it to 2 songs, selected by random. (That didn’t quite work—it gave me a single instance of the playlist. To fix that, I added a third rule “Last played is not in the last 2 days,” so that once I played a song it would drop out of the playlist and iTunes would give me a new song for next time.)

Second, I created a folder for all those playlists, and sorted that folder by Artist. Voila: A twofer playlist.

Except for the fact that it always plays my twofers in alphabetical order, it works great. (If you randomize it, it doesn’t group the two songs by the same artist together, which defeats the whole idea.)

Here’s the list I’m playing right now. (If you’re adequately OCD, you’ll notice that I won’t get my Alison Krauss’s played together, because the second one is credited as “Gillian Welch, Alison Krauss, and Emmylou Harris,” so it’s sorting between Fleetwood Mac and Huey Lewis and the News. I’m okay with that.)

Lord Grenville    Year of the Cat    Al Stewart
On the Border    Year of the Cat    Al Stewart
Teardrops Will Kiss the Morning Dew    Two Highways    Alison Krauss
Hello City    Gordon    Barenaked Ladies
If I Had $1000000    Gordon    Barenaked Ladies
Paperback Writer    1    The Beatles
Hey Jude    1    The Beatles
The Stranger    The Stranger    Billy Joel
Only The Good Die Young    The Stranger    Billy Joel
Down On The Corner    Chronicle    Creedence Clearwater Revival
Someday Never Comes    Chronicle    Creedence Clearwater Revival
Tulsa Time    Just One Night (CD1)    Eric Clapton
Rambling On My Mind    Just One Night (CD2)    Eric Clapton
Second Hand News    Rumours    Fleetwood Mac
Dreams    Rumours    Fleetwood Mac
Didn’t Leave Nobody But The Baby    O Brother, Where Art Thou?    Gillian Welch, Alison Krauss, and Emmylou Harris
Whole Lotta Lovin’    Fore!    Huey Lewis And The News
Walking On A Thin Line    Sports    Huey Lewis And The News
Something In The Way She Moves    Best Of James Taylor    James Taylor
Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight    Best Of James Taylor    James Taylor
Danger Danger    Folk is the New Black    Janis Ian
Passion Play    Restless Eyes    Janis Ian
The Town Crotch    Thing a Week I    Jonathan Coulton
Mr. Fancy Pants    Thing a Week V    Jonathan Coulton
Make You Feel My Love    Heart of Mine: Love Songs of Bob Dylan    Maria Muldaur
Midnight at the Oasis    Maria Muldaur    Maria Muldaur
The Nearness of You    Come Away With Me    Norah Jones
Those Sweet Words    Feels Like Home    Norah Jones

Rick Bell talk on Active Design

Jackie and I rode the yellow bus into campus yesterday evening and attended a reception for and talk by Rick Bell about Active Design—using architecture to encourage people to move more, to eat better, etc.

We enjoyed it, and found the ideas very interesting, even though the talk itself was only fair—a long series of slides with pictures of places that exemplified one or another aspect of what he’s talking about, arranged geographically rather than according to the principles he’s suggesting. (The talk would have been more interesting for me if it had been organized by idea, rather than by place.)

One focus throughout the talk was on staircases. Of course any multilevel public space needs to have elevators (to make the space available to people who can’t climb stairs) and perhaps other things as well—ramps, escalators, and so on. But stairs are required too (for fire safety, if nothing else) and Bell points out that staircases can be done well or badly. In a bare concrete box closed in behind fire doors, they’re pretty uninviting. Brought out front and center, they can be wonderful. They can be beautiful design elements—glass stairs can float in the space, mirrored risers can reflect the space, etc. Staircases—if they’re broad enough—can also be places where people gather in small groups to stand or sit together. He had a photo of what I guess is a famous red staircase being used that way. (The talk was for architecture students, and was full of references to famous architecture and architects that mostly meant very little to me.)

He also had some photos of places where these things had been done badly, such as a second-floor fitness center with escalators to the entrance, and no sign of where the stairs might be, even if you wanted to use them.

There’s a lot to Active Design besides staircases—walkable spaces, bicycling infrastructure, creating (often re-creating) multimodal transportation infrastructure (like having bike paths and foot paths lead to and from the bus station, and having the bus station co-located with the train station and a bicycle rental place), seasonally appropriate spaces (like skating rinks), bringing food production into the city center, etc.

I’m glad we went. I’m glad we went by bus, rather than driving.

Downtown Champaign sunset

downtown-champaign-sunsetWe were downtown for drinks and dinner at Seven Saints with Barbara and Rosie, and I noticed a rather spectacular sunset (click for larger, more spectacular version).

A merely fair picture of it—it was more spectacular in person—but good enough, I thought, to share.

And, in relation to my recent post on pelvises, among the Halloween decorations inside Seven Saints, I happened to notice another depiction of a skeleton with iliac crests dramatically smaller than an actual skeleton’s. Look at that! Surely no one could expect a lifetime exposure to such misleading representations to do anything other than produce a whole range of body dysmorphic issues.


A walk around the block

At Country Fair, we had route for a walk around the apartment complex that we could do almost entirely on sidewalks that we called “walking around the block.” It took 7 minutes, so I figured it was about a third of a mile. Most nice evenings we’d go do that walk, often going two or three times around.

One of the first things I wanted to do at Winfield Village was find a similar walk, and the situation is actually a bit better here: At Country Fair the old part of the complex had its various sidewalks connected so that you could walk in a big circle. The newer part of the complex wasn’t like that: It had sidewalks from each building to the closest parking lot, but they’d not been connected to one another, so there was no good way to go for a walk—you constantly had to either cut through the grass, or else walk through the parking lots. Here the whole complex is well-connected with sidewalks.

The most obvious way around is a bit over half a mile, but has the disadvantage of taking us out along Curtis Road, which doesn’t make for an especially pleasant walk.

It’s easy to skip that leg, staying inside the complex, but that shortens the walk, making it a bit less than half a mile.

Happily, there are some additional segments of sidewalks, connecting the sidewalks that run to the backs of the parking lots to one another (exactly what was missing at Country Fair), meaning that it’s pretty easy to put together a connected walk around the perimeter of the complex.

We went out for just that walk today, and I tracked it on Endomondo to see the length, and was pleased to find that the most obvious way to walk around the perimeter of the complex, starting and ending at our townhouse, is exactly one mile.

Here’s the map:

It’s not crucial to have a defined walk to call a “walk around the block.” It would be just as good to just go wander around, turning whichever way we feel like on any particular day, putting together different segments in a different order each day. But I like having a particular walk that we call a “walk around the block.” It’s comfortably predictable.

I expect we’ll take that walk pretty often.

Misleading pelvis depiction

I mentioned a couple of posts back about being surprised by how high the top of my iliac crest was—nearly as high as my navel.

small-hips-skeletonAs chance would have it—not such an unlikely chance, with the date approaching All Hallows Eve—I happened upon a depiction of a skeleton outside a local shop. And look! That poor guy’s iliac crest comes no higher than his coccyx!

I present this image purely in an effort to spread the blame around. My ignorance of pelvic configuration is an ignorance deeply rooted in inaccurate depictions in popular culture.

I told this story to one friend who was baffled that I was so misled by these sorts of images. “Just look at any bikini model,” he said. “You can plainly see how the top of the iliac crest is nearly as high as the navel.” (Which is true—search for bikini model at wikimedia commons and see for yourself.)

The topic under discussion shifted at that point to optimal waist-to-hip ratios, after which it started getting strange. But all that is beside the point: Is it any surprise, in a world where plastic Halloween decorations cheap enough to leave out on a public bench are this inaccurate, that I might be confused about this particular aspect of anatomy? No, I say. It is not.

Moving one last time!

All our moves this summer—from Country Fair to our summer place to our winter palace—were in support of a plan to move to a townhouse in Winfield Village. That plan was looking a little shaky along about mid-summer, when we were still far from the top of the waiting list for a townhouse and needed to find a place to live when our sublet ran out, but our plan has come to fruition! We are now members of the Winfield Village coop, and yesterday we picked up the keys to our townhouse.

We’ve spent the last two days scoping out the new place—measuring doors and windows, updating our furniture plan with the new information, etc.

The movers come Monday to move all our stuff out of our winter palace and into what we’re tentatively calling our country estate.

More updates as things progress. There’s a lot of cool stuff out that way, some of which I was completely unaware of. (For example, there’s a gorgeous reconstructed prairie just a few minutes walk from our front door.)

Normal weight

I’ve been losing weight for the past few years, and wanted to share a small milestone: With a body mass index of 24.9, I am now in the range the National Institutes of Health consider “normal weight.”

It’s been a strange process. Subcutaneous fat departs on its own schedule—probably mostly genetic, but probably other things as well—so I’ve had the experience of bodyparts changing shape at unexpected times. A few months ago I noticed something hard in my side, a couple of inches down from my ribs. It took some seconds of poking with my finger, tracing out the contours, for me to realize it was my pelvis. (For someone who assembled a Visible Man in elementary school, I had a surprisingly poor conception of where the pelvis is. I thought of it as being down by my hips, but the top of the iliac crest comes up to the height of the navel, I guess.) I had similar, if less startling, experiences with other bits of my skeleton, including my ribs and my cheekbones.

I wish I had a better understanding of what changed. I’d been overweight essentially all my adult life. I’d been trying, largely without success, to lose weight for 40 years. Then, a few years ago, something changed, and the weight started gradually coming off.

I did make an effort to eat less, and to exercise more, but I’d done those things a hundred times before.

I know some of the things that changed. I quit working a regular job, so I had more time for exercise, and more flexibility in my schedule to schedule the exercise. I started studying taiji, which is not an especially vigorous exercise, but which I now do almost every day—and consistency has a vigor all its own. Jackie’s willingness (and creativity) in producing healthy meals that conform to my odd preferences has been a big help.

One other thing that was different from all the other times was that this time I didn’t have a goal weight.

All the other times I had an idea in my head that I wanted to lose 15 or 45 pounds, and I’d calculate how many weeks that would take if I had a calorie deficit of this or that amount. Then I’d track my weight, and be pleased or disappointed as it progressed along or deviated from that track.

This time I didn’t do that. Instead, I decided that my goal was simply having a downward trend to my weight. Being in calorie deficit would (I figured) improve my blood chemistry, and probably right away get me most of the health benefits of losing weight.

Since I don’t have a goal, I’m not at an inflection point here, now that I’m at “normal weight.” I can just carry on doing what I’ve been doing. I’m in no danger of becoming underweight any time soon. (The National Institutes of Health suggest I’d be “underweight” if I lost another 40 pounds.) So, I’ll go on gradually losing weight for a while. I expect it will become more and more gradual over the next year or two, before I eventually stabilize, probably not too far from the midpoint between “underweight” and “overweight.”

There’s no evidence for a health benefit to weighing less than I do now, but probably some health benefits to being in calorie deficit—so it makes sense to prolong that phase.

There are, of course, the other benefits to losing weight. There’s an aesthetic benefit. (At least, I think I look better now than I did 40 pounds ago, and expect I’ll look better still if I lose another few pounds.) There’s a convenience benefit. (Society has upsized almost everything as Americans have gotten larger—the main exception being coach seats on airliners—but being slimmer still makes almost everything easier and more comfortable.)

If I lose another 15 pounds or so, I’ll be at the same body mass index as Jackie. She’s most fetchingly slim, and there’s a certain symmetry to us matching that way, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a goal. Just a whimsy, really.

I promised a while back that this wouldn’t becoming a weight-loss blog, and I think I’ve kept that promise, but this was a milestone that I wanted to share. I’m not sure there’ll be any more, though. Since I don’t have a goal, there’ll really be nothing to announce.