Thursday, August 28, 2008

Everything I need to know about Work, I learned from Chess.

- About half the time, it’s not your move.
- You only get to move one piece at a time – but that one move can help all your other pieces.
- Pay attention. The clock is ticking.
- Forty good moves can be undone by one bad one.
- Before you go after the other side’s King, make certain you’ve protected yours.
- Move your weakest piece.
- The secret power of pawns is that your opponent doesn't want to lose a bigger piece by capturing them.
- You can't win a game with just a King and a Knight. But many, many games are won with King and Pawn.
- Extensive preparation makes spontenaity possible.
- Sometimes winning means knowing when to break cover and attack with the King.
- Sometimes a draw is as good as a win.
- If you’re losing and you want to win, find a way to attack.
- If you're winning and you want to lose, stop attacking.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Inching towards 185#

The extra work on triceps is paying off. Got to 170# on the bench today, also did incline dbells and some back work: close grip lat pulls and weighted pullups. The latter has become one of my favorites. I highly recommend it, it's very functional and works a lot of big muscle groups. Weighting the pullups let's you keep building strength even after you've reached the point you can bust out, say, a dozen pullups unweighted.

No time for a gym workout yesterday,so I did burpees at home before and after work. I did a 12! set in the morning (the ! is for factorial, mind you) and attepted a 20! In the evening. I didn't make it. Collapsed in the set of 14, so I did 20!-14!+4 total. This is close to 12!, not coincidentally.

Had the fat check today and it was 26mm total for 8.7%. I'm a bit disappointed, based on falling weight I was hoping for 8.2. It might be time to cut back on the home fries... Nah!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Hey you kids, get off my lawn!

"Sir, do you have to raise your voice?"

"Yes, I do," I said, because I'm sick of this!"

He stood in his driveway in the open door of his car, an old black SUV. I assumed it had been the family car until Little Meathead went off to college. Two of the car's tires rested on my lawn.

"Look, I know you like to park on the back lawn instead of the street. And it's hard to make the turn without driving on my lawn. But that's not my problem!"

"Well, Sir, it is my backyard, and..."

"No, it's not your backyard," I interrupted, "it belongs to the people who acually own this house."

A low blow? Maybe. But I had had enough. It's moving-in weekend for this autumn's prize crop of meatheads. They had parked three-across in the backyard the day before, and I'd yelled something nearly pleasant out the back window when one of them swerved onto my grass trying to make the turn. One of the kid's dads had even clipped the rental house. And today, Sunday dinner, a lovely Asian-spiced pork chop by Emjay, interrupted by me rushing out the front door in socks to confront the latest tresspasser.

He was trying to "manage" me. Calling me Sir, playing the calm one, trying to act innocent and accomodating. Oh, no, son. I manage managers. I'm mad and I'm going to stay that way.

"Look, Sir, I'm willing to talk about this..."

"Good. You need to understand that normal people do NOT park in their backyards. The driveway isn't designed for that. If you can't get back there without hitting the house or driving on my property, then park on the street like everybody else."

"Well, I'm sorry you feel that way, Sir."

Oh, the non-apology. Is this guy preparing for a career in politics?

"Good. Are you also sorry you drove on my lawn?"

"Yes," he admitted.

"Thanks. I appreciate that. I'm Richard."


"Sorry we had to meet under these circumstances," I said, and went inside.

Let the Games Begin!

This post is Completely True, except,

*all idiot college-age neighbors in this blog will be assigned the pseudonym 'Ted'. Why? Imagine one of them introducing himself to Tarzan.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Oracle at DelFino's - Part One

Andy Castro was the kind of guy who could blow through a thousand bucks in half an hour, and then live on his last twenty for week. Either way, he always seemed to be biting on a cigar with a plastic tip. I don't think I ever saw him light one.

I met him at DelFino's Grill. That's what the place is called, although you'd have to be an idiot to order food there. But nobody can screw up pouring whiskey from a bottle, and at DelFino's if you asked for it neat, they tended to pour a lot so it wouldn't look so lonely by itself in the glass.

"That's a smart hat," Andy told me when I sat at the bar next to him.

"Thanks." I had on my favorite brown fedora. I wasn't the original owner, and it was showing some wear after 50 years. I still thought it was a pretty smart hat, myself.

"You don't see those anymore," Andy said, taking the unlit cigar out of his mouth to take a bite from his cheeseburger. "Hey, Angie, this burger's all right!" Andy's hat was a Tommy Bahama refugee from the 90's that had probably once been white.

"Jack Daniel's, neat," I told Angie.

"You want that on the rocks?"

"No, neat," I said.

"He means he don't want nothin' in it," Andy roared, still chewing a tough mouthful of burnt hamburger.

Angie poured me half a rocks glass full of bourbon. I sipped it, and noticed Andy was watching me.

"You play Quick Draw?" he asked me.


"How come?"

"It's just an extra tax, on people who are bad at math."

"Oh, I see. Well you look like a smart guy, I bet you're good at math, huh?"

"I'm not bad at it," I said.

"Right. Hey, you want some advice from an old man?"

"Not really," I said, turning back to my drink.

"Good," Andy said, nodding approval, " 'cause sometimes it seems everybody who comes in this place wants my advice, and ain't none of it good. But you know what?"


"They always take it," Andy said. He scooped ketchup with a limp french fry.

"Hey, Angie, these fries stink! You ever change the oil in that thing?"

"Screw you, Andy."

This story is Completely Fabricated

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I am going to bench press 185 pounds.

I did dome thinking after working out with Jeff yesterday, and came to a decision:

I am going to bench press 185 pounds.

This is 20 pounds over my current best. I have a few reasons for picking this goal:

1) The plates to do it are "pleasing to the eye", as Aristotle might put it: 45+25 on each side.

2) It's 1.25*bodymass. That's what Jeff did yesterday, at 225.

3) It also happens to be my weight (147) plus my age (38). The Numbers make it fate.

So, how am I going to add 20 lb to my bench before I turn 39 and screw up the math?

TRICEPS- I don't work them separately. It's possible my chest has room to grow, but I can't lift the weight I need to develop my chest because my triceps are underdeveloped.

LATS- Provides a floor to push from.

REST- Max out on chest once a week. In between, work on the auxiliary muscles.

I am going to bench press 185 pounds!

Progess will be reported. Back to stories soon.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A day of bests

Worked out with Jeff today- he lifted yesterday but was still up to go heavy. He bench-pressed 225# in very impressive fashion. That's his weight +50lb, or +28%. Wow. I barely got 165#, which is +18lb / +12%. You can see the difference in our chests, too. So its a good thing my wife has lower standards than Jeff's.

I also got a personal best on the clean and jerk, 150# which is just over my mass. We were watching the olympics at about the same time, I think they were the 120kg guys doing 200kg snatches... so that puts 67 kg me lifting 68kg in perspective. Jeff's psychological help was invaluable:

JEFF: OK, say it.
RICHARD: I do not lift with my arms. He who lifts with his arms has forgotten the face of his father. I lift with my legs.

OK, that was Not True. But I did lift it. Then we did weighted pullups and 5x 1 minutes HARD rounds of boxing. Jeff beat the crap out of the bag. One of the caribiners holding it up snapped clean in half, so the bag swung very free after that and I got to practice one of my favorite things, circling the bag at speed and raining jabs into the target.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Some days you win...

...and today wasn't one of them. I fenced very well up until we started keeping score. I made good attacks, and when my opponent got tired and his actions got bigger I took advantage. I showed him a point, and when he swept his blade in a big arc to try and bind it I waited for it to go by like a second-hand and thrust behind it to score.

But when we started keeping score, it all changed. He went to a very high guard. The body was completely open, but I didn't go for it. Sure, it was a trap, but I should have just attacked it and made him react. Instead I played his game up high. I didn't trust my attack. That's not iai! I have forgotten the face of my father!

I only lost by a few points. If he busts that guard out again I'm stabbing him in the belly.

Jeff, I took a cold shower after. That felt better than the fencing.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

I'm not really a writer- Part Two

I don't remember where I went after I left Dean Rich's office. I might have gone to play pinball, or eat. When I got back, my roomate handed me a note.

"Your english teacher left this."

It was hand-written on looseleaf.

"Dear Rich"- I was called Rich back then- "I apologize for the way I treated you in my class. You are registered for Creative Writing 101 and I look forward to seeing you on Thursday. If you have any questions I'd like to invite you to my house for dinner," and he gave an address in Brighton.

"He came here?" I asked my roomate.

"Yeah. About an hour ago."

I imagined the sequence of events that must have happened after I left the dean's office. Dean Rich called the dean of English and verbally keel-hauled him. Then that dean came down on my professor, who found out where my room was and came to apologize personally.

"He came here?" I said again.


It was too late for dinner but I decided to go see the professor anyway. I caught the green line T to Brighton, which was free outbound. I would be walking home rather than spend the 75 cents.

The professor lived in half of a duplex not far from the T stop. He opened the door himself. I thought he looked old, with graying brown hair and big round glasses. He couldn't have been more than 40. I caught a glimpse of a woman in a sort of loud orange caftan. She went into a back room and closed the door.

"You drink?" he asked, "Whiskey?"

I didn't, then, but I said yes anyway. He poured a glass for me and I had a sip. It went straight down, kicked my ass, then bounced back up and burned my nostrils.

"I got your note," I said when I could talk, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to get you in trouble."

He shrugged. "Had worse. So, you're a writer?"

"Not really," I admitted.

"But you write."



"Short stories. Some science fiction."

He snorted a bit. "Of course you do. Everybody writes short stories. Why?"


"Why do you write?"

"Because I can," I said without thinking.

"And can you?"

I finished the whiskey. The second gulp was easier. I had made a life-long friend.

"Look, I'm sorry. Thanks for letting me take the class. I'll see you Thursday.". I put the glass down and left.

It was about a 20 minute walk home. Green T's clatterered past me. The outbound ones were filled with boys and girls heading to parties in the suburban student ghettos.

On Thursday I went back to the class. The professor never hinted that we'd met, or that Dean Rich had come down on him like the hand of God. The chairs were set up in a circle.

"Thursdays will be for reading your pieces, and having the class critique them,," he said, "I know it's the first week, but does anyone have anything to get us started?"

Silence. None of the English majors had written anything, or were ready to admit it.

I pulled a thin stack of paper out of my bag.

"I have a story," I said, "It's called 'Douglas Webster and the Ode to Joy."

I read it aloud. It wasn't great. Maybe it was at least interesting. But I had it, and I read it. In that moment the only writer in class was the engineer who didn't deserve a seat.

This story is about Half True.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Olympic Fencing: Changing My Game

I watched the womens' sabre sweep - very nice moment with President Bush 41st (never thought I'd be nostalgic for that guy) giving one of the athletes his hanky. I used to fence sabre so this was very interesting to see. I noticed that the USA women were very aggressive, more agressive than the competition. They controlled the action by attacking, and made the other women react - that's how you win at sabre!

In the last couple of years, despite my natural aggression, I've been more of an epee fencer. I found a partner here at work and we fight on mondays. We typically go for about 40 minutes without counting touches, and then race to ten. The rules of epee don't favor the agressor so much - in sabre if both fencers are hit, the one who started the action gets a point. In epee, both get a point. So epee is more of a mental game: hit without being hit. More like a duel. Honor means putting yourself at risk, but the important thing is to come home alive.

For me, this makes sabre (at least the way I learned it) sabre-jitsu. I'm trying to learn epee-do.

After wathcing the mens' individual epee matches online (available here) I could see very clearly that these guys have The Way. How else can one know when to leap flat out, get the touch, and not be hit in return? That reminded me very much of another sword art: iaido. Draw and cut in an instant, and strike first. That is the defense. For a great example of this, see the duel in the beginning of Seven Samurai. The one where they start out with wooden bokken, and the loudmouth calls it a draw, but the Samurai says "No, I won." They do the exact same thing again with real katana - and the loudmouth dies.

If you don't have a copy of Seven Samurai, watch The Magnificent Seven. The equivalent scene is James Coburn bringing a knife to a gunfight- and winning. THAT is iaido.

So, how did I do? Well, I made enough attacks in the practice period that I got hit a lot - my opponent even commented on how I was open for the counterattack and the stop-thrust.

"Yes, I know," I told him, "I'm forcing you to teach me how to attack properly."

He taught me enough: I was first to ten touches this week, with some margin. More important, the attacks felt good. There is a moment when it is too early to attack, and the moment after that it's already too late. In between there is time for attack - and if you notice with your mind that it is time, it's already too late. When it happens right, when your blade is bent on the opponent's chest before you realize that you've struck, there is a moment of purity of the soul.

Then you realize, "I scored!" and with that, the moment is ruined.

That is Do... you cannot grasp it, but sometimes it can be reached.

This post is More Truth than I Can Handle.

Friday, August 8, 2008

I'm not really a writer - Part One

I've written for fun for as long as I can remember. My friend Tom Skuja and I used to make our own books in elementary school and junior high. (He's published a book of short stories, by the way: The Reluctant Prophet, available on Amazon. I am editing drafts of my first novel- tell you all about it sometime)

I kept writing through high school, and Tom and I shared the school's creative writing prize (never saw him again. You out there, Tom?). Then I went to engineering school. I figured I could be an engineer for a career, and write on the side. One does not find many career writers who do engineering as a hobby, after all.

I was "forced" to take a humanities course in my first year. I passed on the easy ones, like "English for Hockey Players 101" and signed up for a creative writing course. It was the kind where enrollment was limited and you had to have stamped approval. I got it all squared away with the dean of the Liberal Arts college, and a couple of weeks later I showed up for the first class.

I was not welcome.

"Sorry, we're overbooked. You have to drop the class," the professor said.

"But I signed up! I have approval from the dean!"

"That was the old dean. Look, you're in the engineering school, right? Well, we need the seat for the english majors. How'd you like it if an english major took your seat in a physics class?"

"If any English major can handle it," I said, "let him try."

"Sorry, you have to leave. I'm starting class."

So I left. And I went straight to the office of the Engineering dean.

Dean Willis Rich was a trim, neat man in a dark suit. His bright eyes broadcasted a profound intensity. It made slouching undergrads stand up straight and wave the hair out of their eyes.

The Dean's last job had been with the Navy. He had been a submarine captain, commanding both attack and nuclear missle boats. "Start World War III" used to be part of the man's job description.

I knew that taking this to Dean Rich was like turning the first key to arm the nukes. It was up to the Captain to turn the second key, and the English Department was under the bull's-eye.

This post is Completely True.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Sorry, No Legs Tomorrow

Got the invite, Jeff, but will have to restrict tomorrow's session to upper body. Today's workout:

Squats- progressive sets ending with 2x3 at 245# (new best!)

Deadlifts- 1 at 285, 2 at 295, 2 at 295# (another best)

Jumps- 70# curl bar on my back,jumping up and down to a 12" platform. Also single leg jumps. 3 sets x 8 reps each exercise.

Did it on a fast- Jeff would be proud- then chowed down on meatball soup and nut-heavy salad. Looking for more protein now. I think there's an Odwalla bar in my desk. If not, squirrels beware.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Why I love the Pentathlon- and you should, too.

I'm a great beleiver in functional exercise, and an Olympics junkie. That's why I love the Modern Pentathlon. Other sports select for highly specialized athletes. Making the body ultra-specialize to do something its not evolved to do has its risks. How many little girls have had their bodies destroyed by competitive gymnastics? In pentathlon, if you specialize, you lose! You will also be less beautiful. I cite no less an authority than Aristotle, as fine a judge of young men if ever there was one... not that there's anything wrong with that.

"Beauty varies with each age. In a young man, it consists in possessing a body capable of enduring all efforts, either of the racecourse or of bodily strength, while he himself is pleasant to look upon and a sheer delight. This is why the athletes in the pentathlon are most beautiful, because they are naturally adapted for bodily exertion and for swiftness of foot.

"For one who is able to throw his legs about in a certain way, to move them rapidly and with long strides, makes a good runner; one who can hug and grapple, a good wrestler; one who can thrust away by a blow of the fist, a good boxer; one who excels in boxing and wrestling is fit for the pancratium, he who excels in all for the pentathlon.

The most perfect sportsmen, therefore, are the pentathletes because in their bodies strength and speed are combined in beautiful harmony."

Of course Aristotle spoke of the ancient pentathlon- running, jumping, wrestling, discus, javelin. These were the military arts of Aristotle's day. In Pierre de Coubertin's day, the founding of the modern Olympics in 1896, the military world had moved on. The events have changed, but the spirit of functional performance is the same.

1. Pistol - ten meter air pistol, shooter is standing. Requires body control, steady strength in the shooting arm, and a hunter's eye.

2. Fencing - epee, ONE touch, round-robin format. Fencing requires quickness, burst power, endurance, and a fighter's reflexes. One touch bouts instead of the ten normally allowed makes this very much like a duel.

3. Equestrian Show Jumping - WHAT??? Yes, that's right. Not only that, the pentathlete doesn't meet the horse until 20 minutes before the competition. This simulates an Army-issue horse, or one taken from the enemy. Horse riding is a full-body exercise, especially when controlling a horse through a course of 4 foot high obstacles.

4. Swimming - 200 meters, freestyle. Again a whole-body discipline. Strength and sustained power a must. The distance is right for fast and medium twitch muscles to excel.

5. Running - 3000 meters, cross country. A perfect distance, I think. Not anywhere near the muscle-eating endurance runs, but long enough to be exciting. And it's cross country: random terrain=functionality! As an added bit of stagecraft, the start for this last event is staggered based on the points for the first four. So, the pentathlete who crosses the line first is the champion!

I'd love to be good at all these events. I'm not. I'm a good shot and an epee fencer, I run OK at 3k, I'm a terrible swimmer and I've ridden a horse across country exactly once. No jumping.

In a future post: it's been 100 years and time for an update. What 5 events go in the Post-Modern Pentathlon? Comments welcome.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Today's Workout: New Best Clean and Jerk!

145lb clean and jerk, up from personal best of 140lb. Huzzah! Within about 1 kg of my weight.

Also did a lot of cleans/front squats with a lighter weight. Also did bench, weighted pullups and dips, close-grip lat pulls...

And also dumped the bar with 145 lb on it trying to do a full squat clean, right after the record. Just lost my balance. I was pretty low already, so I simply pushed the bar in front of me. It made a heck of a bang, since the gym only has metal plates. A bunch of guys heard it and started running over- I bounced up OK before they got too worried.

Here's a picture someone took for publicity last week. It's me, power cleaning 150#. Hey - first picture on this poor excuse for a blog! Hopefully there will be more: Jeff has formally requested meathead photos.

Monday, August 4, 2008

I Miss Enos- Part Two

Enos was not the ideal neighbor. He was a putterer. This in itself is not a sin. You'd expect a man of a certain age, one who enjoys his power equipment, to putter.

Every puttering episode took a full day. It started with the radio. He'd being it outside and tune it to the light jazz channel. I like jazz. I'm a great fan of J.J. Johnson, Diz, early Miles, the Desmond/Brubeck quartet, Sonny Rollins... but Enos's music was jazz in the same way Pat Boone's was rock and roll. That is to say, it wasn't.

Once Enos had forcibly changed the neighborhood ambiance into something like the cereal aisle at Hannaford, the serious work could begin. No matter how small the project, Enos began by taking everything out of his garage and lining it up neatly on the driveway. Everything. Boxes, toys for Keenan, lawnmowers- yes, plural- snowblower, EVERYTHING. Then he found the object he needed, like a paint can or a bottle of weed killer, did the job, and put everything back in again.

I'm quite sure that he thought ahead to his next project, and put the things he'd need at the back of the garage so he'd be able to perform the same ritual next time.

Since he was home on disability, the puttering wasn't confined to the weekends. Emjay would call me up at work sometimes.

"He's doing it again!"

"What is it this time?"

"I think he's waxing his van."

"Everything out of the garage?"

"Everything. Why does HE get to pick the soundtrack for the neighborhood?", she'd complain.

"Play some opera."

"Oh, sure, if that wouldn't be the perfect crazy white lady response. And you're the one who likes opera."

"Play your music then."

"I'd still be able to hear Kenny G. That might ruin the Cowboy Junkies forever," she'd sigh.

All day, every day sometimes when the weather was nice. Puttering. Shuffling along at middle-aged disability speed. With happy sunny major key dreck that some apostates call jazz.

But of course, he was keeping the house up. And Enos was a lot of things, but he was no meathead.

One day his lawsuit for the disability was settled. I found out when I saw him and Jill on their porch, having a meeting with a financial planner. In a week, he'd bought a place in Florida. In a month, he'd sold out to a couple who live in California, and the place was rented.

It went to a group of women graduate students first. We had a noise problem exactly once, on someone's birthday. After that school year, the first meatheads came. Then more, then meathead subletters, then still more meatheads.

I miss puttering. I miss Kenny G. I miss Enos.

This post is Mostly True.

Friday, August 1, 2008

I Miss Enos - Part One

There's a spot in the kitchen that we tell people is the exact place we were standing when we decided to buy the house. It's true, the realtor was leading us through, and when we saw the inlay in the floor and the stained glass on the kitchen pass-through, Emjay and I turned to each other with the look that says, "we're buying this house!"

But I had already decided I wanted it, weeks before. I had driven around the city taking pictures of all the houses for sale, to go over later with Emjay and narrow down the choices. It had snowed recently.

I saw Enos, who owned the house next door, using his snowblower. Of course I didn't know his name yet. His winter clothes meant business. I bet he had matches and a candy bar in his pockets, in case he was trapped in the snow in front of his house and had to spend the night.

You could tell he was the sort of guy who liked power equipment. He proudly wrestled the handles of his 12-horse snowblower against about 2 inches of snow. He clenched a fat, unlit cigar in his wide grin. His young son played in the snowbank near him.

I took one look at Enos and thought, "I want to live next to that guy."

We bought the house. Enos's wife Jill was a great neighbor too, and their 7 year old Keenan was a nice kid. I learned that Enos was really on his second life. He'd been disabled at work and was on disability pension. Some time before he'd also been a drunk, on the streets. I found this out when a man came by begging money, and Enos hustled him away before I could say a word.

"Ain't nobody has to go hungry in this city," he told me, "That's just his excuse."

Enos knew. He'd been there, he'd pulled himself out of the hole, and he had nothing but contempt for the ones who were to weak to do so themselves. I think he felt the same way about his old self.

This post is Completely True.