Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Maybe I'm storing it for winter?

I got the skinfold caliper check yesterday... and for the first time since I've been measuring, I've gone in the wrong direction. Up to 8.8%, from 8.2.

The total measurement was up 2mm from last month. I suspected something was wrong, as my weight had climbed a couple of pounds and my belt wasn't getting any looser. Analysis shows that lean muscle mass did not change. The extra two pounds are fat. Specifically, it's abdominal fat. I dropped half a mm on the chest but added 2.5mm to the belly. Great news, a few days before Thanksgiving!

So, what am I doing wrong? I think it's portion size. I had myself convinced that my total intake of calories was going to muscle, since I eat (mostly) EF. So for a couple months I've been finishing any meat and vegetables the kids leave on the table. Also I tend to eat 2-3 full meals a day. Again, these are all fat and protein- but it may be that I've put on all the muscle I'm going to put on, and the extra calories have to go somewhere.

Now, what to do about it? I'm going to target a weight of 148 lb. I'll go back to leaving some food on the plate... quitting BEFORE I feel full. And of course I'll continue to stay away from processed carbs and sugars.

But Thursday? Some things take precedence. I am going to fast until dinner, and then I'm having stuffing and gravy. Stuffing and gravy, baby.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Modern Shaving for the Paleolithic Man

He has a totally ripped Superhero body... but after he works out, the man massacres his face with a disposable Bic and still ends up looking like Sonny Crockett... and not in a good way. And so, as promised, here is Richard's Step By Step Guide to Manly Shaving.

0. Find a mirror and a sink.

If you have been following the Evolutionary Fitness way, now would be a good time to reflect on your achievements. Go ahead, take a look. Flex a little. You've earned it.

1. Prepare the lather.

Here's where you will need some new equipment. I have a fancy shaving mug with a handle that Emjay got me last Christmas. Up until then, I used a metal 35mm film developing tank. The brush should be badger hair - don't get boar if you can help it. Badger hair holds and sheds water just right. You might spend $50-$80, but you will have the brush a long time.

My soap comes in a tube from Crabtree & Evelyn. There are a lot of choices. You can also get the soap in cakes, but I have trouble getting a consistent lather from a cake.

With soap in a tube, i just put a dollop in the mug like so. Meanwhile, the brush is heating up in the sink.

2. Prepare the face

Wash your face with hot water. You need to open up the pores so that your hairs stand up well and can be cut close to the skin. You may also want to put a hot towel on your face, like they do in the barbershop.

Ahhhhhhhhhhh..... now, mix up the lather. Shake the excess water off your brush. Experience will show you how much is "excess". Your lather should not quite be the consistency of the cheap stuff that comes out of a can. That crap is only for squirting at cars on Halloween. You are "wet shaving" - using the heat and the fluid to soften your beard and get a closer shave.

Now lather up, cowboy.

3. The Razor

I prefer a clamshell-style safety razor with platinum-coated double edge blades.

I got the razor, a vintage Gilette adjustable, for a few bucks on Ebay. You can spend a lot more and get a new one, of course. The blades are Merkur, good German steel. I buy them by the case from a variety of online dealers. I find I can get 3-4 good shaves out of each of the two edges.

4. Shave

You should know how to do this already... but with a double edge there is a bit of an art to it and you can cut yourself pretty badly if you are not careful.

Your face has a grain - the direction in which the hairs want to lie. Too many guys using electric razors or fancy 7-bladed vibrating monstrosities don't know which way theirs goes. Usually it's down on the cheeks and up on the neck. I have some spots where the grain goes across, from cheek to chin. You can find yours pretty easily with your fingers before shaving, or by testing with the razor which direction seems to be easiest.

Shave with the grain first. The angle of attack varies by user from 30 to 45 degrees. The steeper the angle, the closer - but possibly the rougher - the shave. As in many things, you must find your own path. Note the direction: for me, down above the chin and up below.

After a first pass with the grain, I like to take a second pass AGAINST it for my chin and cheeks. Doing this will give you a very close shave. Be sure to lather up again. It's important to keep the skin warm and wet, or you will get serious razor burn doing this.

5. The Post-Shave

Rinse off all your equipment and splash your face with cold water. Ahhhh. This re-seals the pores.

To complete the shave, you might want one or more products to take care of your skin and make your face smell nice. If there is a particular person from whom you want regular affection, involve that person in the selection process.

My products: "Every Man Jack" lotion from Target followed by a few spriztes of cologne, again from Crabtree and Evelyn. Note that the brush is hung up to dry: this is important for protecting your investment in badger hair.

That's it! You're ready to start the day. It might not be paleolithic, but this way you can save the stone knife for skinning squirrels.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Oh no he di'nt

Following my workout today (dumbell snatches, 4 rounds heavy bag with O2 debt, incline negative medicine ball situps) I was walking out with a colleague, and we spotted this magazine cover:

Me: "Ha! That's pretty funny"
Him: "Yeah, look at that, he's all pimped out."
Me: "Waitaminute. You know who the original picture is of, right?"
Him: "Yeah, well..."
Me: "So FDR wears this and he's just FDR. A black man wears the same thing, and you think he's a pimp?"
Him: "..."
Me: "Dude, you need to go get yourself some training."
This is the same guy who I caught expaining to someone exactly why it is that black men can't swim. Means well, nice guy, but somewhere along the line he missed getting a few memos.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Too much for the Hilton

Went to the hotel gym at 6am. I t was clean, new, and too light for me. The biggest dumbells were 50 lb, so I warmed up with those on the flat bench and then tried to get something burning on a pulley machine. It only went up to 150, so I maxed that on lat pulldowns with no trouble. Then, inspired by Jeff, I went asymmetric.

Yes, I licked the Hilton gym with one hand!

I used the pulley machine to continue the chest presses: doing a twist and push one-handed up to 90lb each side. Also used it for pulldowns, etc, going one handed on most exercises. Ended up building a pretty good burn and getting some work on the obliques with all the twisting under load. Finished the set with one-armed pushups and felt pretty well exercised after all.

Then, to work- and I decided to work out again in the real gym over lunch! 15/8/4 squats ending up at 225#, weighted pullups ending up at+15, skullcrushers, jump squats, and finished it all off with snatches. I got 115# up on my last lift- might be a new best, I'll have to check.

I should be pretty well ready to sleep on the flight home!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Medieval Prices - yes, it's as confusing as you'd think.

In my opening chapter I have my two merchants arriving at Venice with a cargo of oil and pepper - pretty valuable commodities at the time - but they have covered this cargo with a bit of grain and are telling the customs official that it's "grain... all the way down." As part of the fact checks, I had to work out whether all this is plausible, and whether the actual values of the goods involved justify such deceit.

A ship of this kind (52 tons displacement, 15m long) was found off Bozburun, Turkey. Dr. Matthew Harpster reconstructed the wreck, and he estimated that there were about 1100 amphorae in the cargo hold. Each could hold a couple of gallons of liquid. My estimate is that the same ship could hold about 4000 bushels of grain.

Based on this handy reference site, I calculated some prices. I had to make some assumptions to convert everything: for example, that in this time period a gram of gold is worth 10 grams of silver. (It's more like 50:1 today, I think) Also a byzantine solidus weighs 4.5 grams. And so:

A cask of pepper weighing 20 pounds is worth about 32 solidi: they are smuggling "a few dozen" casks. Estimated worth: over 1000 solidi.

Could not find a reference for oil - but wine was worth 4-8 pennies per gallon. I estimated 2 shillings for the capacity of one amphora... 1000 amphorae * 2 shillings * 18g/shilling * 1g Au/10g Ag --> about 800 solidi.

Claimed cargo: 4000 bushels of grain... @ 50 lb/bushel ... a different source gives a value of 10g silver per 100kg wheat... yada yada ... about 200 solidi.

So, it all checks out: they pay 10% duty on 200 solidi but are bringing in 1800 solidi worth of goods... saving 160 solidi (less whatever bribe they made) 100 solidi at that time would have been a nice yearly income for a minor noble.

So there you have it Dear Reader, I am thinking about all this stuff... it's not all blood and pirates and sex and riots in the street!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Stranger in a Strange Gym

One of the nice things about my company is that when I travel, I get to use the local gym! Today's workout was a bit ad hoc- the gym here in South Carolina is well stocked, but not the same as home.

Clean & Jerk - ramped up to 145#, alternating with straight-up mil presses, up to 85#. Had some joy watching a very big dude do 125#-155# shoulder presses in a Smith machine while I was tossing weights about the same size over my head, and actually involving some stabilizer muscles.

Punching Things - instead of the suspended heavy bag of home, a weighted floor model... but my kickass jiu-jitsu gloves are a thousand miles away. So... I WRAPPED MY HANDS IN GYM TOWELS!!! and beat the crap out of that bag. I think I might have scared off a yoga class. Two minute rounds: could not manage three minutes, because the floor model doesn't swing away to give me a breather. Felt like a pankrator or something with my ad hoc wrappings.

Lethal Negative Incline Situps - No kettlebells here, so did it with 20lb dumbells. Finally recovered from doing those last Thursday. I should be sore in 2 days based on prior experience.

One-Hand Assisted Chinups - Something I see the big boys in the home gym do from tome to time. Good asymmetry. Alternated with shoulder presses up to 45#.

Dinner after was at Outback Steakhouse: nice med-rare steak with grilled scallops, double order of steamed veg and a nice shiraz. Read more Goitein.

Document Life Cycle Management is Older Than You'd Think

My nautical archaeologist contact clued me into an amazing resource. The Jewish and Arabic scholar Shlomo Goiteim made his life's work the translation and understanding of a trove of medieval documents from something called the Cairo Geniza.

Jews believe, as many do, that the name of God is sacred. This extends to the written name: so any paper that might contain God's name is considered special. As a practical matter, any writing in Hebrew may contain the Name. At the very least, the characters YHWH would all appear in any writing of length. So even if out of order and separated, the Name is in there.

What to do, then, with personal letters, bills of sale, property records, lading bills, legal arguments, etc, etc? A special room in the medieval synogogue called the geniza was set aside as a repository. Eventually the documents would be interred to await the Resurrection. In Cairo, the geniza was a room with no doors or windows, with only a slot near the ceiling accessible by ladder. It was opened in the late 19th century and has been studied ever since.

This is one of those, to my Goyish way of thinking, quaint and wonderful bits of Jewish scholarly thought. One bit of logic leads to another, and then naturally one needs to construct a geniza!

It gives us a unique window on daily life in medieval times which is not available from any other subculture. The Muslims and Christians of course wrote things down, but their more casual writings are ephemera. For the Jews of Cairo in 1100 AD, everything went into the Geniza.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Some welcome help on fact checks

I've made contact with a nautical archaeologist based in Turkey who has done an extensive reconstruction of a ninth century sailing vessel on which my Venetians' ship is based. I have a whole list of questions on sailing and cargo characteristics for him: so I'm very excited to have gotten a reply and also some references for commerce at that time. You'll notice from the fact check list that a lot of the details are in specific prices and relative values. Also the technical information on sailing characteristics will be very helpful in the action scenes.

Sure, sure, the casual reader doesn't know a tack from a clew and doesn't care. But I find that the best part about reading good historical fiction is immersion in the culture and technology, even if it's not understood as long as it's self-consistent.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Facts I'm checking

A selection from the fact check sheets: just to give you an idea of the scope of the next phase of book writing. Aren't these fun taken out of context?

  • A 9th century vessel displacing 52 tons can carry about 200 amphorae of oil, or 4000 bushels of grain.
  • In Venice in 827, you could sell a few dozen casks of black pepper for 600 gold solidi. (2.6kg gold)
  • But even a whole ship full of saffron would not be worth 10,000 solidi.
  • Women dancers in venice in 827 were considered disreputable.
  • In 827, the Pope wore red slippers.
  • Sharks exist in the Mediterranean.
  • Depths in the Giudecca Canal can range from 3 1/2 to 4 fathoms.
  • 9th century fishermen in the Adriatic used hook-and-line to catch big fish
  • 6 solidi is a high, but reasonable, price for treating a dislocated shoulder
  • Goat droppings come in piles.
  • Belaying pins were commonly used in the 9th century.
  • An old man with an arrow in his lung would last at least a minute before suffocating.
  • A brothel in Constantinople might have a floor made of reed mats.
  • The road Makoros Embolos in Constantinople was made of crushed stone.
  • "Al-Sinnif" is the Arabic equivalent of the nickname, "Lefty".
  • The Coptic pope in December, 827 was named Yakub.
  • The Pharos lighthouse was on the left side as one exited Alexandria harbor.
  • Catapult stones fired over water can skip if launched at a flat enough angle.
  • It is possible to float an iron pin in sea water by coating it in oil.
  • A Dromon carried about 150 oarsmen.
  • Greens and squash are available in Bari, Italy in January.
  • There are carvings of Abraham and Mary on St. Mark's Basilica

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The importance of failure

Went to the gym to work chest today. Usually I do a 30 seconds of shoulder loosening, warm up with a quick light set, and then hit my max. Last 3 weeks in a row, that max was 185 pounds. Today, I couldn't do it. Failed on each of two reps.


Failure tells the body something. It says, "you needed to do something- and you weren't strong enough."

I have to believe there is a further conclusion embedded in the evolutionary wiring.

"You weren't strong enough, and you were damn lucky to survive."


"Next time you might not get lucky. So get stronger."

And that makes building muscle a survival signal, the highest priority signal for any organism.

It makes sense, doesn't it? Food is scarce. Muscle is expensive. Why should the body build muscle it doesn't need? And what tells it what it needs?

A near miss- coming up short-


I went on to do descending alactic reps until I was exhausted. Then I alternated triceps skullcrushers and lat pulldowns, then weighted dips with "pec deck". All heavy, every set to failure.

I hope I taught my muscles a lesson. Next time, they might not get off so easy.

Redlines done!

It was a sprint to the end: in all I burned through three red pens and covered 396 pages with scribbles. Also I compiled a detailed list of facts to check, and made notes to track how each character and plot idea develop in the course of the book. Next step is to churn through all that, make any factual or structural corrections necessary, and then it's time to write the draft for submission to publishers.

Friday, November 7, 2008

A few lines of Coptic

I'm editing a fun section - the actual taking of the body from St. Mark's Church. The event in my book is surrounded by the chaos of a multi-faction street riot. Sometimes I feel like I'm trying to write a baroque fugue, with all the different lines coming together. Hopefully the writing is tight and clear enough to make it all hang together.

I have a couple of lines of Coptic that I want to put in the text, if any speakers of that language happen to be looking at the blog. They are,

"Mark, save us!"


"Save Saint Mark!"

The astute reader will figure something out about how I've written the event based on these two lines...

I realize of course that the real Coptic uses a different character set: I will be transliterating to the English alphabet in the text.

Hey, while I'm at it there is a single word of Arabic that I also need. What would an Arabic-speaking sailor from, say, Syria yell upon sighting land? The classic English line is, "Land ho!" or just "Land!" Naturally I would have to transliterate that as well.

I thank my readers for any help they can offer.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Already voted!

First in my district this morning at 6:06 AM! Can't wait to see the results come in tonight.

The presidential race is so odd... I can't help but think of it as though the gods were handicapping the race to make the bets even:

Thor: Look, Bush screwed things so much, it's gonna be a slaughter.

Zeus: Then we'll make the Republican candidate somebody who Bush hates.

Thor: Not enough. Just being in the guy's party is poison.

Zeus: OK, we'll make his opponent black.

Thor: So what?

Zeus: Mixed-race then. And raised outside the country.

Thor: Still not enough. Can you make his middle name "Hitler" or something?

Zeus: Don't push it. How about "Hussein"?

Thor: All right, you've got a bet.

This post (other than the fact I voted is Completely Fabricated.