Saturday, February 28, 2009

Meatheads in the mud, Part II

New neighbors... same inept handling of a motor vehicle.

I'm not even sure why they felt the need to park in the backyard. There was only one car, and plenty of nice asphalt driveway. Maybe this was the same guy Emjay heard scraping the house next door trying to back out? Was he trying to turn the car around so he could nose out instead? We may never know. Perhaps future archaologists who uncover this Toyota Matrix from a fossilized mudhole will be able to put together the forensic evidence, and tell us.

I actually spoke to the guy this morning in the midst of his attempts to free himself.

"Welcome to the mudhole," I said.

"Yeah. Fuckin' ridiculous."

Meaning, 'it is ridiculous that I cannot drive my tiny front-wheel drive car through a mudhole with impunity, for both God and Nature entitle me to do so.'

I let it go at that.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Crash Wednesday

As far as diet, my day of repentance was not so bad. I did not feel any ill effects from Tuesday, and fasted straight through until dinner. My workout was a bit disappointing, though. I hurt my back trying to clean 135# in the middle of a set of sumo deadlifts of the same. It really annoys me that I am still messing up my back after 3 months. Bench press was also disappointing, I could not manage 175#. But my pullups were stronger, I had no problems in a 5x3 with 25# extra on the belt. Thanks to Jeff for putting up with my grumpy petulence during this workout!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Fat Tuesday

My EF friends, I must confess to you and be shriven: I am going completely off the wagon today.

In honor of Mardi Gras, I am suspending all paleolithic rules for one day. I intend to graze on carbs and fruit. I've already had a muffin and yogurt, nuts and cheese (OK, protein does taste really good) and a piece of toast! Oh, and it gets better. Leftover pasta for lunch. And there's a pancake supper at church tonight, and I'm gonna have me a stack. With syrup.

Laissez les bons temps roulez!

Really, this is mostly motivated by the fact that I'm home sick. I could certainly have toughed it out, but I had no meetings scheduled today and it would be better to take a day to recover than miss work later in the week. But hey, if there's a day to break the rules this is it.

Of course Fat Tuesday leads to Ash Wednesday. That means fasting, until dinner unless I feel that the fast will blow my recovery. I'll take more opportunities for fasting during Lent, probably on Fridays as is the tradition.

And no, growing up I never seriously observed Lent- but hey, I fast for fun and health now, so why not take advantage of the spiritual angle? I might also see if I can drop hard liquor for 40 days.

But you'll have to excuse me now, I hear a cookie calling me.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Accuracy of Fiction

Susan Higginbotham has a post on accuracy in historical novels that I find very interesting. There is always a question in historical fiction of how "historical" it should be. Of course there are as many opinions as there are readers. Some people just treat the work as pure fiction using a previous time and real people, and don't expect much. Others at least hope that there is nothing misleading or impossible in the work. And then there are those who expect it to be a fully realized scholarly work that nears the genre of narrative history. I had one reader of an early draft of Saint Mark's Body insist that I should include a disclaimer that clearly stated the parts that were true and the ones I made up.

She doesn't read much historical fiction.

Anyway, it caused me to examine the characters in my book who were real people, and the liberties I took with them.

Buono and Rustico, the Venetian merchants who according to legend stole the body: I've never been able to find a thing out about them other than their names, and that Buono is also called "Tribunus" in some legends. I made them fully developed characters with personalities, which I have no reason to beleive accurate. However, it is likely that I do so without fear of contradiction.

(the future) Pope Gregory IV: biographies paint him as an ally of the Franks and favored member of the Roman ruling classes. He's only in one scene so I don't need him to do much. I chose to have him sort of gently push things in the background, and created a purely fictional character to bring in some of the heavier intrigues.

Emperor Michael II "the Amorian" : A lot has been written about this man - a soldier, probably illiterate, constantly at odds with the workings of the Byzantine Empire he rules. Michael had a lot of trouble both internal and external in his reign. I tried to present him as straightforward, uncomfortable with the byzantine nature of the Byzantine empire, and easily frustrated.

Caliph Al-Ma'mun : Here a lot of writings survive (thank you, literate medieval Islam) about not only the politics and interests of Al-Ma'mun but also his character. I felt that I knew him reasonably well, and was quite comfortable giving Al-Ma'mun words and actions according to his character as I understood it. Interestingly, despite him appearing in only two chapters, a couple of my draft readers said he was their favorite character.

The Doge of Venice, Giustiniano Partecipazio : His history is known, but I have found very little about his character. So I made him what I needed him to be, and tried to think about how the known events of his life (his brother jumped him in the line of succession to the throne, so he deposed his father and brother.... then later on made that same brother his heir!) would have shaped his character. One nice thing about Giustiniano is that his will survives, so we can at least see what he was thinking in the year of his death.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

28 minutes of mayhem

I admit it, I paid attention to an infomercial.

It was playing on a TV in the gym yesterday, and it showed a bunch of flabby people turn into cut, lean physical specimens as a result of the program. Ho hum. Another ad targeted to the masses, home waching TV at one in the afternoon. With one exception:

It looked like it could actually work. It looked kind of paleo!

There was a fair amount of timed resistance work and boxing-like drills. I realized watching it that I could go a bit more hard-core. So, I decided to do a series of 4 minute drills today: most were 3 minutes on and one minute rest. I managed seven:

1) Dumbell Snatches: 65# - did about 17 each hand in 3 minutes.
2) Squat Thrusters: with two 20# dumbells. 40 seconds on, 20 seconds off. Managed about 40 reps total.
3) Heavy bag; 3 minutes.
4) Burpees: 27 reps in 3 minutes.
5) Kettlebell clean and press: 35#, one hand at a time- 40 second on, 20 off, Lost count of reps, but was about 20 each side.
6) KB pushups to row: 35# bells, did pushups holding handles then balanced on one kettlebell while rowing the other. 3 sets of 3 reps each side in 3 minutes.
7) Turkish Get-ups: again 35#, did 5 each side total.

It was a great workout: being on the clock was very helpful. It was a challenge to design a sequence that would not just destroy one part of my body too early, for example my legs.

If I'd had four more minutes, I would have done front squats.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

President Lincoln's Body

The DVD recorder/player is broken, so Emjay and I took a rare look at the broadcast tv schedule. History channel had a program on that I couldn't resist: "Stealing Lincoln's Body" I couldn't help but laugh, especially when we sat down to watch and the program made repeated references to thefts of saints' bodies and relics over the centuries.

So, how similar was the theft of Lincoln's body to that of Saint Mark's? Well, not very. A few similarities:

  • Lincoln was about the closest thing America had to a native saint, having been martyred for the cause of Union. It's estimated that 20% of the U.S. population saw the train carrying the body from Washington to Springfield, and millions actually viewed his remains in more than a dozen open-casket stops.
  • In the legends, a saint's body is always preserved incorruptible by holiness. (in my book, I give a more scientific explanation for Mark) Lincoln's body was prepared for its long journey and many viewings by the relatively new science of embalming.
  • Merchants (in my book, smugglers) steal Mark. Counterfieters steal Lincoln, with the intention of holding the body for ransom.

And some major differences:

  • Lincoln's theives were not successful. The counterfieters were stopped by U.S. Secret Service agents. Interestingly, their mission was NOT to protect the President, nor had it ever been, at that time in history. They were involved simply because their role in investigating counterfieters.
  • There is no mention of miracles surrounding the theft or (attempted) transport of Lincoln.
  • Lincoln's head seems to have remained attached to his body. As far as anyone knows, it still is.
  • Springfield, Illinois did not become the central city of an empire destined to dominate the Great Lakes for centuries.

More than once I had to snicker at the incompetence. Buono and Rustico would have gotten away with Lincoln's body, no problem.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Some Historicals of Note

Now that I'm getting more and more into the business of finding representation for my book, I've started to follow a couple of blogs by historical fiction authors.

Historical Boys is by author C.W. Gortner. He posts on a variety of subjects, brings in guest authors, and lists some good resources for the aspiring writer.

Another is Readings, Rantings.... (I'm not typing the whole title) by Susan Higginbotham, who specializes in late medieval England and, like any good blogger, doesn't let that specialization limit her posts.

Friday, February 13, 2009

One simple rule: OBEY!

Oh, how sick are we in the Evolutionary Fitness community of these paid ads popping up everywhere? If you've ever bothered to click one you see that the one simple rule is actually two... or really, two supplements. The first apparently turns all your fat into poop, and the second makes the poop come out. Hooray, poop!

What drove me to post on this foolishness is that we have been obeying a very simple set of rules ourselves, and the results show. Of course the execution of these rules is far from simple. It requires dedication, a little suffering, and sometimes teriffic discipline. But one of the simplest rules of all is TANSTAAFL.

I'd like to start the discussion with One Simple Rule that I obey... I invite others to add theirs. History teaches us that lists of Simple Rules tend to number about ten. (As in, commandments, and the Bill of Rights) However, even the greatest ten-rule lists could use some editing. (Quartering troops? Come on. And we could maybe have been told not to covet only once. But let it be as Thou wilst.)

My rule: (OBEY!)
"The physical training regimen must make the body fit for combat, because that is the most relevant evolutionary pressure recognized by the human genome."

Going on from there... the body optimized for combat is capable of delivering explosive power in bursts, enduring for long enough to kill or critically injure another human being. If you watch a knockout in boxing or mixed martial arts, you'll see that it takes several seconds of mayhem to finish off a trained fighter. That defines the time window in which your exercises should be developing full power at full speed. You'll also notice that this knockout sequence does not usually happen right away. A fighter will see an opening, attack, and if the defense is successful he will have to create or wait for another opening later. So your body needs to make full power at full speed several times until the attack is successful. Boxing rounds are 3 minutes long because if they were much longer then we would only have one-round fights. (one fighter would get exhausted enough to fail to defend.)

And this brings us to exercises like the tabata: 4 minutes total, 8 sets of 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off at full power and speed - whether you do it for front squats, thrusters, or wailing on the heavy bag.

I invite your One Simple Rule. OBEY!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

It was a stormy and punishing workout

"Off" day yesterday following heavy lifts. On such days I like to do sprint-like training. This week my plan on the heavy lift days is to reduce reps and aim for failures/maxes, and on non-lift days do, well, stuff like this. Next week I will probably go back to the 25 rep-bigger engine plan, unless I think of something else to try.

Track sprints: 5 sprint laps (each ~100m) with a lap of jogging/walking in between
Front Squat Tabata: 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off, for 4 minutes. I did the first 2 sets with 60# and had to drop down to 40# to respect this very punishing sequence. Doing the math, there were 8 sets total with the squats as fast as I could go. I averaged 12 reps in each of the 20-second sets.
Heavy Bag Tabata: Again, 20 seconds on and 10 seconds off for 4 minutes total. Each of the 20-second punching sets was a full-speed flurry with as much power as I could deliver- a much faster pace than in a typical 3 minute round. The limiting factor on speed was me having to chase the swinging bag all over the room.
Suicides: Short gym version: did 4 at a reasonable pace and sprinted the last one. lots of squeaking sneakers.

The legs hurt today but not as bad as I thought they would.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Early abs, and first rejection

My son woke me up early so I did a quick abs workout: 25x toe-supported situps, up fast and down slow. Then 2x24 alternating knees, then a minute each on front, left oblique, and right oblique plank.

Then opened the computer to find my first rejection letter from an agent! I had actually been looking forward to crossing that hurdle. It's a milestone every author has to pass. I expected a rejection from this agent since he reads just the first page of the book before making an initial decision, and my first page was admittedly somewhat weak. But wait!

In chess, you move the weakest piece first... when we lift weights, we concentrate on the weakest muscle... why didn't I deal with this before?!!

So I changed the first page before sending out to another crop of agents. Now instead of painting a picture first of the sky and the sea and then getting into the action, here's the first line:

"It was a magnificent sunset, and since the San Nicola's sailors had nothing better to do than worry about being hanged, they lined the rail to watch it."

Hopefully at least one agent will want to know why they're in mortal danger, and ask for the rest of the book!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

First queries to agents

I took an important step this weekend towards the publication of my book: I sent queries to three agents who I think might want to represent it.

If you haven't tried to get a book published before, let me tell you it's a strange process. (Possibly filled with mayhem.) First, you have to do all the work and finish the book. Only then, can you try to get an agent. Then the agent has to hook an editor, and the editor has to sell it to his or her publisher. Every agent has unique preferences and quirks. Each one has different rules for what you can and cannot send in the initial contact. Since agents can get dozens of inquiries from unpublished authors every day, this is necessary. It doesn't make it any easier on the author.


To agent JK: by email, a one-page query that includes a description of the book's plot, and the first page of the text.

To agent ES: by snail mail, a one-page query that just gives the "hook" for the book, because the package also includes a 9-page complete plot summary and the first three chapters.

To agent IG: by email, a one-page query (short version), the aforementioned summary, and the first ten pages of the text.

I'm sure I'll be doing lots more of these - hey, maybe I'll submit to an agent that wants exactly the same thing as one of the first three, and I can save some time for workouts!

Weekend Workout Catch-All

I could not get to the JCC this weekend - but am finding myself able to improvise more using some of the tools I've learned recently: notably the 25-rep "huge in a hurry" method.

Yesterday I got up with the kids and when my son had gotten on my nerves enough, I invited him to come in the basement and watch me swing the kettlebell. That session was,

20 kg kettlebell:
25 jump squats (in one set)
swings, descending sets, each hand (8,8,7,7,6,6,... 1,1) No rest for this whole sequence. Near wipeout!
25 rep (each hand) clean and press. Roughly, 7+6+6+6.

In the evening, Emjay had a girls' night out and the DVD player is broken, so a good excuse to get in the rest of the work:

DB press, 55#, 25 reps as 7,5,5,4,4
DB chest fly, 35#, reps as 7,6,6,6
"Jack LaLanne" pushups, arms stretched out overhead. 3x10

What I like about the 25 rep method is that I can do it with ONE weight. I do not have a whole rack of dumbells at home, and it's laborious to change weights two or three times for a single exercise. This way I set it once, and I am doing something that gives excellent results.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Google can be strange sometimes

I signed up for Google Analytics so I could track traffic over at Yesterday I started tracking this site.

One of the visitors yesterday got here from the Google search, "all about theodore being in the russo-japanese war". According to the analytics, the searcher bounced right off the page and I suppose went on to the real information.

Too bad; I would have liked to see the angry comment after some kid got an "F" for repeating my story about Teddy and Batman.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

<8 :^)

No, that's not a party hat emoticon. See sidebar.

Finally affecting the ab fat! I credit intermittent fasting over the last few weeks.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Power of a Workout, and the value of a calorie

I was thinking a bit about the physics of lifting weights. Just off the top of my head:

Bench Press
I will do a 25-rep sequence in about 5 minutes with 66kg. (145lb). I estimate the bar moves about a half meter, and if I'm lifting with "snap" then the lift takes about half a second.

Power is (force * distance) / time = (66kg* 9.81m/s^2)*0.5m / .5sec = 647 watts

Wow! That means I'm almost as strong as a horse! (one hp= 746W)... but only for half a second.

In the 5-minute sequence this happens 25 times. The total energy expended is 25*(66kg)(9.81m/s^2)(.5m) = 8093 joules. What's a joule? Interestingly those convert straight to calories.

7970 J = 2.0 C

WHAAAT? only two calories? That's a tic-tac! Well, there are a few other things going on here. First off, it takes energy to bring the bar back to the chest with control. Maybe, half the force for a full second each time... that would add 25% to the watts and 50% to the joules. So, three calories.

To me, this points out something very interesting: counting calories out is about as useful as counting calories in... from an evolutionary fitness perspective. You will "burn" a lot of calories treading a mill for 40 minutes. You will probably "burn" as many calories racking your weights as you did in the actual exercise.

So what's the point? What I did do for two calories that I didn't do for 200 calories of treadmill walking is build a structure in my body that requires fuel all the time, whether I'm in the gym or not, and will burn that fuel from the protein and fat I eat or store in my body.

Think of it another way: suppose you have a 2500 calorie/day diet. A hard-core treadmill session might "burn" 400 calories. Where do the rest go? If your weight is stable, you have to be using the vast majority - 2100 calories - somewhere else. You do it walking, sitting, standing, sleeping.

Think of how much energy it takes to maintain body temperature! What if you had your body weight in water? For me that's about 66kg, so 66 liters of water... so, imagine 3 cases of Perrier. (Hey, I'm French.) How much energy would it take to maintain that much water at 37C / 98F? A heckofalot more than it takes to lift a weight a few times, beleive me.

To summarize: the workout is not to burn the calories. The workout is to build the engine that burns the calories when you're NOT working out.