How much exercise?

I’ve always struggled to get the right amount of exercise.

I used to blame much of my difficulty on having a job. My experience over the past three years makes it clear that it wasn’t so simple. (It wasn’t completely wrong. Especially when the days get short—when I would be going to the office before sunrise and returning home only after the sun had set—it was very difficult to get enough exercise. That is much improved.)

There have been periods I have managed to get enough exercise. Three different summers I managed to do so by organizing my exercise around training for a future event (twice a race, once a century ride), but those efforts never carried over into the following winter. More successful have been the times when I integrated my exercise into my day’s activities, such as by walking to school or by bicycling to work.

The first time I was running seriously, I kept a training log. At the peak in late summer I was spending just over 100 minutes per day exercising. (That was averaging a 5-hour weekend bike ride in with shorter weekday bike rides, almost daily runs, and two or three sessions of lifting per week.)

The problem was that 100 minutes per day turned out to be more than was sustainable if I was also going to hold down a job, keep up with household tasks, and have a life. Even now that I’m not trying to hold down a regular job, I’ve found it impossible to put 100 minutes per day into exercise.

That’s all prelude to mentioning the extensive coverage in the news lately on a recent study on physical activity and weight gain prevention. For people of normal weight, it seems that one hour per day of exercise was sufficient to prevent weight gain. People who got less exercise gained weight. (The details were complicated. People who were already overweight didn’t seem to benefit from exercise.)

Still, even with the complex result, it seems like a target of 60 minutes per day of exercise is a reasonable one. It seems to be enough to maintain a healthy weight. (That is, if you can’t sustain a healthy weight when you’re getting that much exercise, the solution is not likely to be more exercise.) And it’s well under the 100 minutes that I found unsustainable.

The first news story I saw on the study had a great line, to the effect that if an hour a day seems like too much time to spend exercising, think instead that 23 hours a day is too much time to spend being sedentary.

So, that’s going to be my goal: about an hour a day of exercise.

I’ve already got two days a week covered—on Mondays and Thursdays Jackie and I have a well-established habit of doing about 30 minutes of lifting plus 60 minutes of Taiji. If I aim to spend an hour a day on the other five days of the week walking, I can hit my target even if I miss an occasional day due to bad weather or schedule problems.

And I’ve already started. Thursday I did my lifting and Taiji. Yesterday I walked with Jackie for an hour just after lunch. Today I walked into campus for the Esperanto group meeting.

One great thing about this new exercise plan is that I don’t need to work up to it—I’m already in good enough shape to walk for an hour every day. I just need to do it.

Financial disaster stories—mortgage crisis

I always enjoy James Howard Kunstler’s rants, and the recent revelation of sloppy bank record-keeping gives him a good jumping-off point.

It’s true that this rather seems to be a third strike by the banks. First, they lent money to people without regard to whether the borrower would be able to make the payments. Second . . . .

I always enjoy James Howard Kunstler’s rants, and the recent revelation of sloppy bank record-keeping gives him a good jumping-off point.

It’s true that this rather seems to be a third strike by the banks. First, they lent money to people without regard to whether the borrower would be able to make the payments. Second, they made loans on houses that were wildly overpriced thanks to the housing bubble. And now, strike three, it turns out they did such a poor job of record-keeping that they may not be able to prove that they own the mortgage on the house!

The value of those mortgages was already somewhat doubtful, given that the banks only option was to foreclose and sell the house for a fraction of its bubble-inflated value. But if their bad record-keeping means that they can’t even foreclose, maybe the paper is worth zero. If the paper is worth zero, Kunstler figures the results will be dire:

With fraud absolutely everywhere in our banking system, like some advanced metastatic cancer, financial metabolism comes to a sickening stop. Nobody can buy or sell property. Nobody can trust any American financial institution. Money can’t circulate. Nobody will be able to get any money.

Personally, I doubt if most of the records are really lost. If the banks are willing to spend the money—hire a bunch of researchers, archivists, and paralegals along with some secretaries and assistents—I expect they can prove most of the mortgages. But it’d be expensive.

My hope is that this will mean, finally, that the banks will have a real incentive to do what they should have been doing right along—renegotiate the mortgages, writing the value of the mortgage down to something under the fair market value of the house, and the interest rate down to current market rates. If they keep proper records of these new mortgages, they can sweep the problem of the old, sloppy records under the carpet.

So, I’m rather more optimistic than Kunstler on this issue. In fact, I think it just might save us.

Shozo Sato at Japan House

Noted Zen artist Shozo Sato gave a talk on black ink painting and calligraphy at an open house for the Japan House on the University of Illinois campus.

It was a wide-ranging talk, starting with his own history at the University and at Japan House and his earlier work here with kabuki theater. Then he went on to talk about black ink (the same ink is used for painting and for calligraphy): how the blocks of ink are made, about how there are two colors of black ink (a slightly red warm black and a slightly blue cool black), and about how an electron microscopic image of the brush strokes of a piece of calligraphy looks distinctly different from a similar image of the artist’s signature (even though they’re made with the same ink, same brush, and by the same hand).

He talked about and demonstrated some painting techniques involving crumpling the paper—wadding it up to make random crinkles, and then painting the peaks of the crinkles to show a texture like a rocky surface, or folding it up and painting the edges of the folds to show a texture like clefts in a mountainside. (Then you can dampen the paper and the folds will relax.)

Calligraphy is going to be the topic of his next book, and he demonstrated that briefly. He showed us how to hold the brush (vertical, with the elbow high). Then, after pausing for a long moment, he quickly drew a few Japanese characters with bold strokes.

After just that one calligraphy example, he finished by talking about traditional Japanese and Chinese black ink painting. He showed us the basic brush strokes—thick-to-thick, thick-to-thin, and thin-thick-thin—and demonstrated how you can use them to draw a bamboo plant. (He even showed us an ancient Chinese secret: You can easily paint a leaf that goes behind the stem by masking the stem with another piece of paper as you paint.)

After the talk, he autographed copies of his new book Sumi-e: The Art of Japanese Ink Painting. (That page at Amazon has a video of Shozo Sato demonstrating black ink painting techniques.)

After the talk, walking through the Japanese tea garden, I wrote a haiku. In the original Esperanto it is:

La majstro staras
brosho en mano kaj jen!
Rapide skribas.

It doesn’t work quite as well in English. A literal translation would be:

The master stands
brush in hand and behold!
Rapidly writes.

It was a really interesting talk. I actually have a little Chinese black ink painting set—ink stick, grinding dish, brush, and a book of techniques. I think I’ll get it out and do a little painting.

Chicago trip, with sculpture

Jackie and I traveled by train to Chicago, going up Tuesday and returning Wednesday.

I like traveling by rail. It’s is more comfortable and more convenient than traveling by either car or plane, especially if you’re going to want to be downtown (where the train station is) anyway. So, as I’ve written before on Wise Bread, I’m a big fan of Amtrak. On the trip up, though, we did have a problem. Apparently, a freight train had derailed somewhere north of Gilman, leaving the track blocked.

Amtrak hired buses to take us from Gilman on into Chicago. Here’s a picture of where we waited for the buses to arrive:

The passengers who’d been faster getting off the train than us had already filled the first bus and departed, so here the rest of us are, waiting for the next bus. I’m not sure what train that is sitting there. The train we’d been on (the Saluki) had already departed, heading on back south to be ready for the next day’s trip to Chicago, I suppose.

The station itself is that bus shelter structure in the middle of the picture.

We got to Chicago about three hours later than planned, which rather messed up our schedule for the  afternoon, but we had a nice trip anyway. Jackie and I went out for some brisk urban walking shortly after checking into our hotel. In Millennium Park, north of the Art Institute, we saw this:

Object in Millenium Park

Coming upon it produced the following conversation:

Me: What do you suppose it is?

Jackie: An amusement park ride?

Me: Maybe. Maybe it’s a solar power station.

Jackie: But it’s all shiny. That wouldn’t be very efficient.

Me: I bet I know! I bet it’s designed so that one day a year, when the sun is at a particular point in the sky, all those surfaces work together to concentrate the entire reflected power of the sun on one single point, vaporizing whoever happens to be standing there.

Jackie: That doesn’t make any sense. Think of the liability.

Me: You’re right. I guess amusement park ride is a better guess.

Today we took a bus down to Jackie’s old stomping ground in Hyde Park. We went to the Oriental Institute, the Seminary Co-Op bookstore, had lunch at Edwardo’s, and went to 57th Street Books, before heading back to Chicago and catching the Illini to come home.

A good trip, despite the unplanned bus ride from Gilman.

Retirement, health insurance, financial institutions up at Currency site

Currency, a new personal finance site sponsored by American Express, has just gone live with several articles by me. . . . .

Currency, a new personal finance site sponsored by American Express, has just gone live with several articles by me.

On retirement

The main article is How Much Money Will You Need to Retire?

It appears along with sidebars:

On health insurance

The main article is How Freelancers Can Budget for Health Insurance.

It appears along with sidebars:

On financial institutions

The main article is Should You Put Your Money in an Alternative Financial Institution?

It appears along with sidebars:

You may have noticed my posting on Wise Bread was a bit sparse lately. Part of the reason is that I was writing all of those. Enjoy!

Failure to deliver possession

Around here, most leases have a “failure to deliver possession” clause that says that, if the landlord can’t deliver the apartment at the start of the lease, you don’t have to pay the rent until he does. That seems superficially reasonable, so lots of people sign leases with that clause. Especially lots of students.

What the students don’t understand is that, without that clause, the landlord would be responsible for paying the damages that result from the landlord not honoring the lease. (Typically, the cost of a hotel room and storage fees for your stuff. Also extra money to your movers, since they probably charge extra to unload your stuff into storage, and then load it back up to deliver it when your apartment is finally ready.) Instead, with the clause, the student is just out in the cold—no place to live, no place to store their stuff—for an indefinite amount of time. Plus, they can’t just go find another place to live, because they’ve signed a lease. Once their landlord delivers the keys, they have to start paying the rent.

This is not something that I would have worried about when I was a student. In fact, I was shocked and appalled the first time I heard about a whole apartment building that was supposed to be finished in time for students to move in August 1st, but was still unavailable the day the dorms opened in late August. (The most common version of this clause in contracts around here does give the renter the right to cancel the whole lease if their apartment isn’t available after 30 days. Maybe that’s required by state law, or maybe it’s just that judges found it unconscionable to try to hold a renter to a lease for an apartment that can’t be made available even several weeks late. In any case, it’s kind of meager comfort since all the good and cheap places to live will have been long ago rented out by the time it’s safe for you to sign another lease.)

Over the years, though, I’ve gotten kind of inured to it. It happens year after year. Especially in years that a big new apartment building goes up, the newspapers have a bunch of stories in late August with sad and angry quotes from frustrated students with no place to live. I almost begin to hold it against the students, for being so foolish as to sign such a one-sided lease. And then I remember how surprised I was the first time the real effect of that clause was explained to me. I remember realizing that I could easily have been caught in the same error. Even six or seven years out of college, I didn’t know the ins and outs of that clause. How could the students know? (Actually, I kept a dorm room right through college, partially because I knew that I didn’t want to try to deal with all that stuff.)

I wish I knew a way to prevent this problem. The two obvious ways have both already failed:

  • Education doesn’t work, because there’s simply too many things that someone who’s trying to set up housekeeping for the first time needs to know. The evidence shows that this particular one falls through the cracks. (The local Tenant Union has been warning about this issue forever.)
  • Reasonable rules don’t work, because there are reasonable rules, except that the rules permit the parties to agree to waive them.

I guess what we need are rules that can’t be waived (or, at least, can’t be completely waved) in the lease. But that’s always fraught. Some people really don’t need the protection—local students who can easily enough wait another few weeks to move out of their parents’ house, for example. And the landlords are already taking a risk by investing in constructing a new apartment building. Layering it up with the risk that a minor construction delay could force them to cancel dozens of leases may be asking too much.

But I’m sure that the current scheme is bad. I see the bad results in the newspaper year after year.

Jay Lake on titles

I’ve had a mixed experience with titles. For some stories, they come easily. For others, I can wrack my brain for hours and never come up with a title I’m happy with.

So, I was pleased to see Jay Lake’s note on titles, which has several useful ideas.

His last suggestion (Bible searches and Shakespeare searches) has the obvious extension of searching in other classic poetic works, but a quick search failed to turn up a really good site for that. Of course, you can search in any particular classic work by grabbing the whole text off Gutenberg, and then just searching in your web browser. But it would be handy if there were a good poetry search tool where you could target your search to a few broad category of poems, and I couldn’t quickly find one.

Making doom funny

In my review of Dmitry Orlov’s book Reinventing Collapse, I talk a bit about how everyone says that the book is funny, but no one ever quotes the funny bits. There’s a reason: The humor sneaks up on you, building on previous bits. All the really funny bits are only funny if you’ve read up to them.

For those of you who want to read something really funny about peak oil, but were unconvinced that such humor was worth shelling out the cost of a book (or taking the time to read it), there is now an alternative: Dmitry Orlov’s latest article at Culture Change, Peak Oil is History.

Once again, it’s tough to quote a sentence or a paragraph that’s funny, but that’s okay: Just click on over and read the article. It’s free, and it’s much shorter than a book.

Whether you’re one of the people who understood peak oil some years ago or one of the people who just figured it out, Orlov wants to make sure that you understand that the reality of life on the declining side of the oil production curve won’t look like the mathematically smooth logistic function that’s usually displayed. Rather, it will look something like the front side of the curve, with spikes and dips that map to wars and recessions and other catastrophes. Further, he wants to make sure that you know those little jerks up and down—especially the jerks down—matter to you.

It would be theoretically possible to ride the downward curve of oil production in a fashion that would look like the reverse of riding it up. In fact, if we’d spent the thirty years since Jimmy Carter warned that our “intolerable dependence on foreign oil threatens our economic independence and the very security of our nation” preparing to do so—improving our rail infrastructure, switching to wind and solar energy, and generally becoming much more efficient—we’d be in a position to do that pretty comfortably.

In practice, though, things are going to suck.

Things will, however, suck rather differently than people expect—which is Orlov’s point. People expect that the rich will go on much as they have, while the poor will get squeezed by high prices—and there will be plenty of that. But after laying out the reasons why it won’t work that way, Orlov concludes by saying, “it becomes difficult to imagine that global oil production could gently waft down from lofty heights in a graceful smooth and continuous curve spanning decades. Rather, the picture that presents itself is one of stepwise declines happening in more and more places, and eventually encompassing the entire planet.” A stepwise decline that quickly results in even rich people having “no access to transportation fuels and severely restricted transportation options.”

Orlov makes doom just about as funny as possible, perhaps even a little funnier.

Eighteen Views Suffice

View of Mt. Fuji, originally uploaded by bradipo.

Jackie and her mom and I went to the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s exhibit of Utagawa Hiroshige’s “36 views of Mt. Fuji.” This was part 2 of the exhibit, and featured 18 of the woodcuts.

I’ve always liked the Japanese woodcuts of this era, for much the same reason that I like poster art: I like the use of strong, simple images and the effective use of a limited color pallet. (I also rather like the particular shade of blue that they used.)

Besides the woodcuts, we also spent a chunk of time in an exhibit on drawings together with prints, etchings, and the like. Some were source drawings prepared for the engraver. Others were copies of etchings, drawn as studies. I find it interesting to think about the differences between poster art and woodcuts, versus etching, engravings, and so on—differences in intention, technology, result, etc.

We also walked a bit on the grounds. I particularly enjoyed the tow path along the canal behind the museum.

This was just our second visit to the museum, which is too bad—it’s a great museum. It’s more than 2 hours away, though, which makes for a rather long day. We enjoyed it enough that we’re thinking about getting a room in a hotel and making a 2-day trip of it. That would mean that we could spend a whole day (or two half-days) at the museum, instead of trying to cram everything into a few hours between two long drives.