curses

cact-glow
One day I was walking home with a tote bag of groceries and cursed the foolish designers who made the straps just long enough for the bag to drag on the ground.

Another day I was on the bus with a tote bag of groceries and cursed the foolish designers who made the straps just too short for me to hold on to them while resting the bag on the floor.

At that moment I was enlightened.

tarot

mage
For someone who believes that tarot cards are a source of random input to provoke thought, I seem to get a lot of uncannily incisive readings.

I enjoyed doing a reading with the Homestuck tarot! That's what I enjoy and value about stories anyway, their ability to connect me with an idea or experience or a piece of my own potential in a relatable, specific way. If I can't imagine doing something then it scares me, but if I can think of a story about someone doing it then it seems possible. It's enjoyable to see someone else doing this so well. And it's valuable to have help in taking the sprawling, multilayered Homestuck canon and tagging parts of it that I can use as inspiration (or warning) in different situations.

asthma

hood, fabio
I finally started talking to a doctor about the fairly obvious exercise asthma problems I've had ever since I moved to the Bay Area. If this had happened back when I was running it would have been a much higher priority, but for the past few years it's taken a backseat to my joint problems. Still, I'm glad I'm looking into it. And I received a wonderful reward for my initiative: A peak flow meter! Now I can measure an entirely new phenomenon that I never even thought about before!

I love measuring things.

214

hood, fabio
My life is a little boring. But I don't think it has to be. For several years things were a bit of a mess, but now they're looking up. There are so many possibilities! Earlier this month, on the plane back from Boston, I made a list of 214 things I could do in 2014. It wasn't even hard! Perhaps I will post some chunks of my list here.

(Don't worry, #122 is "decide which of these things I'm really going to try, and don't feel bad about the others.")

paleo diet conclusions

hood, fabio
When I last posted about my diet, I was lamenting my misapplication of a reduced-carb paleo approach. I never made a really concerted effort to become fat- or keto-adapted, and as a result I ended up with a lot of hypoglycemic panics and a lot of muscle loss. The paleo community doesn’t talk much about this kind of thing, but I suspect I’m not the only one who’s gone through it. But on the other hand, the community does emphasize self-experimentation and customizing the diet to your needs, and it’s not like anyone was holding a gun stone axe to my head and forcing me to stay with it.

My approach to recovery was to increase my daily calories by 10-20% and to make sure I didn’t let my blood sugar get low (I wasn’t measuring it, and so I may be misapplying the concept, but I can definitely tell the difference between normal hunger and panicky hunger with mood swings). This was physically very uncomfortable for about a week, but I got used to it. By mid-October, my weight was close to what it had been at the beginning of the year. Around that time I started doing some strength training and have been continuing to gradually put on weight since then. This has also been great because getting back into strength training was one of my goals when I started paleo, but I wasn’t able to do it because of joint problems. I dealt with this by working under a trainer who had me start with the mildest exercises possible, and rigorously sticking with his prescriptions no matter how embarrassed / impatient / affronted I was. It worked!

Anyway, it looks like we’ve closed this chapter. I’ve learned a lot from being on a paleo diet, and I was able to fairly conclusively rule out most of its more categorical recommendations. I’ve gained back the weight I lost, and may have even found a sustainable way to start gaining some strength.

I admit that it’s a little triggering to watch the numbers on the scale creeping up, even though I know how inane that is, especially when I’m working out and trying to put on weight. Part of me insists on doing naive extrapolation: If my weight went up 10% between September and November, then in two years I'll weight twice what I do now! But this is... unlikely.

hiking

cact
Last weekend nfnitperplexity and I went for a hike around Angel Island. This fulfilled three goals at once:

* I've been meaning to go to Angel Island for almost a year, and it was on my latest list of challenges. In general, it's amazing how little I've seen of the bay area after living here for years, and I want to rectify that!
* I've been wanting to do more hiking with nfnitperplexity
* My coworker Mike invited me to join him on one of his hikes. He's twice my age, has four times my stamina, and is so hardcore that the shortest hike he could come up with is ten miles. I've been gradually recovering from joint problems for a while and this was my first big test!

The weather was perfect -- On the way up Mount Livermore we got to enjoy crystal-clear views of the North Bay on one side and quintessential Bay Area pea-soup fog on the other. At one point there was a wall of gray obscuring the sea, the land, the sky... I could have sworn we were looking out at The Nothing.

There's only one ferry back each day, so we had to wait around a lot longer than we'd planned. That gave us the chance to explore and discover a secluded, rocky beach with lots of beautiful striated rock, occasional bits of sea glass, lots of fat jolly seaweed, and molluscs everywhere. We saw a sea lion swim right by us!

It was an excellent day. Coincidentally, Angel Island is the first hike listed in the bay area guidebook nfnitperplexity just bought, Sixty Hikes Within Sixty Miles. Now he's considering working through them all (:

continuity edit

dude
Today, I hereby dub thee "Saturday, the day when I wasn't expecting to get a lot done anyway." Tomorrow, you will henceforth be known as "Friday, take 2." I think this will be best for everyone.

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diet experiments

cact
Six months ago I went on a paleo diet. I wish I'd been blogging about it the whole time, because now there's so much stuff built up that every time I try to write about it I get bogged down and give up. The diet (by which I mean "approach to nutrition" as opposed to "ill fated crash-weight-loss plan") is easy to describe in essence, basically "eat food, not too much, mostly plants and animals." It's usually a high-fat, moderate-protein diet and includes both ketogenic (low-carbohydrate) and moderate-carbohydrate variants.

There's also an emphasis on avoiding many foods that humans are believed not to tolerate well, chiefly grains and legumes. The "paleolithic" part of the diet doesn't refer to simple-minded historical reenactment. It's just a reminder that many of our beliefs about a "balanced" or "natural" diet date back to the beginning of agriculture, which 1) is a negligibly short time, evolutionarily speaking, and 2) came out of a desire to maximize caloric output per acre of land, not to optimize human health. I mean, when a nutritionist says you should get half your calories from whole grains, they're making the very strange assertion that the healthiest fuel for our bodies is something that, just 20,000 years ago, no human had ever eaten except in very small, seasonal quantities.

Marlene Zuk and other trendy anti-paleo writers like to point to teeny microevolutionary changes that look like adaptations to an agriculgural diet, but it's a big leap from extra copies of a few carbohydrate metabolism genes to assuming the kind of wholesale biochemical rearrangement that would need to have happened for us to be really adapted to starch-based agriculture.

I could say a lot more about what paleo involves, what I've learned from the community, and the wide variety of beliefs I've encountered, ranging from solidly research-based to abject superstition and bro-science. But the part of the story I should really be telling is what happened to me: I screwed up.

When I went on this diet, I intended to work out and put on some weight. But my persistent joint problems intervened and I had to drop the strength training plans. Instead I gradually started losing weight, which I clearly didn't need to do. I increased my daily calories by about 10% above what I'd been eating before changing my diet, and then by another 10%, but somehow I still kept losing. By the time I decided there was something seriously wrong, I was at my lowest weight in a decade, and it was clear from looking at me that a lot of it had come out of muscle. I am now officially too skinny.

Looking back, I think I understand what happened. One of the things you want to do on a paleo diet is become fat-adapted, meaning that your body preferentially burns fat for fuel. The main advantage is smoother blood sugar regulation and less chance of developing insulin resistance. It's also handy because even lean people have plenty of bodyfat to tide them over between meals, whereas non-adapted people are reliant on the body's very limited stores of glycogen, after which they start to get hypoglycemic and cranky.

So, I dropped my carb intake from about 50% to about 25% of daily calories and started eating a lot more fat. The problem is, I never became highly fat-adapted. I have some specific thoughts about why, but the upshot is that I ended up getting those panicky, emotionally labile low-blood-sugar feelings at least once, almost every day. Those feelings are, I later learned, a sign that the body is engaging in gluconeogenesis, producing the glucose it needs from stored protein. And your body's store of protein is... your muscles. Everyone breaks down and builds up a bit of muscle tissue over the course of the day, but I was doing it much too frequently.

I've got some more ideas for dietary experiments that I want to try, but right now priority #1 is putting on another 10 pounds. I don't even care whether it's muscle, water, or pure abdominal fat; I just need some buffer before I screw with anything else. So I've increased my calories yet again, gone up on carbs, and set a goal of eating every few hours and making sure I stay on top of my blood sugar.

This is strange and intensely anxiety-provoking. But I guess that's good.

Incidentally, I hope this doesn't discourage anyone else from trying a higher-fat + lower-carb diet. I think the evidence for them is quite strong, and if you get the blood sugar problem it's not hard to fix: Eat some damn fruit. I was just excessively stubborn and didn't stop to think about what was going on.

The window of dread

hood, fabio
Today I had three projects that I was absolutely dreading. They were boring, confusing, frustrating, interminable. So I grit my teeth, forced myself to set up at my nice standing desk, and started a 15-minute task switching timer. By the end of the first 15 minutes, I was really into task #1 and reluctant to stop. By the end of the second 15 minutes I was actually having fun with task #2. By the end of the third 15 minutes I hated task #3 slightly less than I had before, and decided to stick with it so I could get it out of the way sooner.

I was pretty sure that some combination of those three things would happen. This is what happens about 75% of the time, once I finally got down to work.

It took me about 10 years to learn that. Followed by 10 years of knowing it, but not being able to overcome the subjective sense of dread. I'm not quite done yet, but I've got the dread down from months to hours, and that makes a hell of a difference. My life is so much cooler than it used to be.

artichoke

whoa, clue
The Artichoke: The only food that takes up more space after it's been eaten?

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Actually, I kind of liked it.

hood, fabio
Culinary discovery of the evening: You can make hummus where you replace the tahini with pureed sardines!

Second culinary discovery of the evening: You should not.

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The New Challenge

whoa, clue
Tonight is a big night in Kingdom of Loathing. The new, secret challenge path for Fall rolls out at 8:30 PM. The /hardcore chat channel will be full of laughter and roaring arguments and ingenious spading. On the exclusive channel for past champions, all the big players will be discussing who's going to dive in, who's going to sit it out, and who's leaving because now the game is ruined forever. There's always the chance that some old, forgotten item will suddenly become ascension-relevant and quick-thinking investors will make their fortunes. And of course there's the new path itself, and all the new puzzles and strategies to figure out.

I'm going to miss it.

A year ago, at this very hour, I was holding my breath to see if my Summer challenge path run was going to stay on the leaderboards. I'd put a lot of hours into Bugbear Invasion, pioneered some new strategies, and even discovered a few small mechanics that no else knew about. And it all paid off! I ended the season with an award-winning run and a permanent commendation on my profile. After years of fumbling along and standing in other players' shadows, I had my big triumph.

In the weeks that followed I started pulling away from the game and pouring myself into other real-life challenges. I established that KoL was going to take a backseat to my other obligations, and for most of that time I've been under an ironclad vow not to play unless I was caught up on work. Right now I am... not caught up. I probably won't even be able to peek in until the weekend, and I might not be able to seriously try the path at all.

Has it been worth it? Yes. I've been more productive, and I've been able to throw myself into all sorts of other awesome things. Does it still kind of suck? Yes to that too.

blessing scams

hood, fabio
The Richmond is full of posters warning Chinese residents against blessing scams. They're a con in which a "psychic" comes up to you on the street and warns you that your family is being attacked by evil spirits. They offer to place a blessing of protection over your family, but they need you to bring them your jewelry and cash savings to use as a focus for the spell, and... you can imagine where this is going.

The message on the poster is "AN URGENT MESSAGE FROM ATTORNEY GENERAL GEORGE GASCÓN: BEWARE OF BLESSING SCAMS." (I assume the Chinese part says the same thing. maybe not.) I'm not sure if that's the message that will really carry the most weight with potential victims. I'd think you'd want something like:

"AN URGENT MESSAGE FROM [local Buddhist priest]: No qualified priest or spiritually enlightened individual will ever ask for your valuables or personal belongings. If you believe you are under attack by evil spirits, go directly to your local temple for assistance."

In other words, basically the same as a phishing warning.

please note

hood, fabio
Dear UCSF sysadmin who is monitoring my activity: I am not looking at porn at work. I am testing the "ignore adult websites" feature of the website tracker we want to give people in our exercise and technology study. Thank you very much.

trivia

hood, fabio
Trivia: Some google searches that did not answer the side-question I encountered while writing the previous post:

"How many chickens per cow"
"1 cow in chickens"
"chicken cow conversion"

what is the unit of harm in meat-eating?

hood, fabio
Is there anyone else here who eats animals, but still considers it morally suboptimal? Like, you're willing to do it for health or hedonic reasons, but if all other things were perfectly equal, it would be better not to? I feel that way, and I've always imagined that other former vegetarians do as well.

If so, what do you think of the idea that it's more moral to eat large animals than small ones? If you believe that every life is of equal value, then it seems clear that it's better to get a given amount of food by killing one cow than by killing 3 pigs or 200 chickens. Or, if different animal lives are incommensurable, then at least it's better to raise large breeds of cow than smaller ones.*

I've heard this idea used as a joke, but I can't see any real holes in it.


Obviously there are other considerations -- in some cases, smaller animals are a better match for the environment and resources, and among fish almost the most sustainable species seem to be the small ones. But let's set those aside for now.

Also see Zach Wiener's take on the subject.

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running

cact-run, cact-gym
Just got back from a 2.5 mile run! I am slowly clawing my way back from the absolute bottom. There may be something to this trendy biomechanically efficient running everyone is going on about, since running often causes me less joint pain than walking does.

Mostly I just wanted to see cactrot again.

ready.squid

hood, fabio
E posted on facebook about her horizon-expanding experiences with squid preparation. In case you ever have to prepare squid, I'd like to direct you to this set of helpful infographics. It is the ready.gov of the squid preparation world.

hi!

hood, fabio
I wrote this entry almost a month ago, but didn't have anywhere to put it. Which helps explain why I'm back on LJ. Hi, LJ!

-----

My 35th birthday was earlier this month, but I still want to stop and celebrate having been 34. 2012 in general was a great year for my mental health and outlook on life, and the first year in a while that I wasn’t relieved to see the back of. August 2012 was the beginning of a true personal renaissance. True enough that I’m willing to call it a “renaissance” no matter how embarrassed it makes me feel.

I got serious about using psychology and technology to motivate and organize myself, and my life became fuller and yet less stressful. I got serious about quantified selfing and started gathering tons of data. I got five times as serious about getting shit done at work, and had my most productive year in a very long time. I also began tracking my time and keeping a journal, which means that I can look back and actually have some idea where all the time went.

In November, I decided that I wanted to tackle a bunch of long-delayed errands and obligations and vague aspirations. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas I accomplished 22 challenges, some of which had been hanging over my head for years. I’m now on round 3 of challenges and have moved on to things that I _want_ to do, as opposed to ones I’m just relieved to have out of the way.

In March I started an ambitious, ongoing dietary change experiment. Eating paleo hasn’t drastically improved my health — in fact, it’s pretty weird how small the change has been. But it’s taught me a lot about my ability to confront anxieties and behave more flexibly. I have lots more experiments I want to run, and I’m absolutely delighted to be in a place where I’m actively experimenting instead of always wondering, but never getting up the will to actually find out.

In April I decided to try to tackle my joint problems again. I went through another round of physical therapy, following my therapist’s instructions with unprecedented fidelity. Her regimen of core strengthening did absolutely nothing for my hips and knees (though it did make my abs look better). In June I had a few sessions with a deep tissue massage practitioner, and since then I’ve had almost no pain during daily activities, and I can run almost 3 miles! I don’t think the improvement is permanent, but this is the most progress I’ve made ever since these damn problems started. It’s not inconceivable that I’ll be able to fulfill my vow to run Bay to Breakers next year.

In June I went to the positive psychology conference, and it’s the first time in several years I’ve gone to a conference that was inspiring, instead of just making me feel like a loser.

So here I am! I’ve missed blogging all these years, but I think for a while my daily life was pretty depressing. Now it’s something I feel like talking about.

Hi!

hood, fabio
a slime appears!

Welcome! This is my personal blog. Many of my posts are visible to the public, and everyone is welcome to read and comment. If I know you in real life, be aware that you are also welcome not to read -- please don't feel as if I've cornered you in the hallway, and you have to listen to my latest political opinion / medical problem / pie recipe until you can come up with an excuse to escape. I will never be offended if someone chooses to read selectively, or not at all.

I talk about many of the same topics I work on, and I recognize that colleagues or co-workers may also find this blog. Nothing here should be taken as an official position statement or an authoritative scholarly assertion. And like everyone else, my opinion does not necessarily reflect that of my employers.

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