Thursday, August 28, 2014

screw top surprise

I've never knowingly had wine poured from a screw top bottle, until yesterday. That's not to say I've never had it, since if a glass was brought to me, I have no way of knowing what container it had been in. But all my bottles are cork. How's that line go? "Call me old fashioned."

But this was pretty darned good! I suppose eventually I won't be able to buy cork anymore and will have to go to an artificial cork, or replace my glass and got to screw tops myself. Not soon, I hope.

I'm not sure what it is lately. Walking from work to where I usually park I've been wading through people towing luggage, and people smoking. You might know I walk past the front door to the Palliser Hotel, but there isn't usually much luggage there. This was all from there towards the tower and then to the bus station near City Hall. Luggage everywhere!

And smokers. I'm trying to be calm here. Waiting on the LRT to come home today, it was broken. Lots of people waiting. And smokers just upwind, on the platform. Near the no smoking signs. This is where I want giant remote controlled fire extinguishers. I'm sure glad I don't have to use the LRT much.

The swim this morning was excellent, mainly because I was trying not to look like a weenie in front of the awesome Katie F. She was cruising back and forth, recovering from winning (first overall girl) a race last weekend. My almost full speed is barely faster than her cool down speed. Still, I was in the  water 40 minutes, lots of stuff, felt good about it.

Two work farewell lunches in two weeks. Chris the developer that started the same day as me had his last day today. Last week was my buddy Sean from Skystone. My office roomie Jason has been sick, but his last day was today too. Our little corner of the office is getting very quiet.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Ok, so I screamed like a little girl

This morning I didn't really think about the cupping my massage therapist did yesterday. There was a small tender spot on the back of my thigh that looks like it had been scraped. I thought about it very loudly after getting into the shower this morning! I hope I didn't wake the neighbours. Like nipple chafe, only worse. This evening it's much better, seems to be fully scabbed over. The other spots just look like they got a bit of sun.

My legs felt good enough to try running in the new Altras again. This time I really did shut off the WiFi in my phone and got a much more reasonable looking pace line on my graph. My legs felt great during the run, with only the smallest of twinges. Normally I'd have kept on running, but with breaking in new shoes I want to take it easy. I could feel my feet getting a bit tired, and some of the twinges were in odd places. I really do have trouble running at a steady pace without my run buddy.

Afterward I stretched and used my new gear roller. Feels so good, and digs so deep!

As I was walking home I discovered that either one of my neighbours has won the lottery, or has rich friends. In the photo this looks like a nice yellow, but in fact it's a neon green. I'm reasonably certain that If the top was up I couldn't get into it, and with the top down once in, I wouldn't be able to get back out again.

Monday, August 25, 2014

squid marks from sleeping funny

Sunday was a zoom with book club friends coming over. A book club isn't really quite the right word, it's more of a social club. I had finished the one book, but nobody else read that one, and I hadn't read the one that two other people really liked. At the moment I'm totally spacing on the next book. And we forgot to set a date for the next meeting.

I was feeling pretty good, though I was gradually getting creakier and creakier as the day went on. Then getting up today was a thoughtful process. I think I had contorted myself into an odd position while sleeping. My hams and back were so tight, and my neck was so stiff I could barely do shoulder checks driving to work.

The swim was nothing to write home about. Short with some extra stretching. I was so looking forward to my massage, and since she just got a cupping certificate, we were going to try that.

She told me a couple of them really spucked on and I might get some bruising. The one just above my knee looks like I had a bit of a scrape happening. It's a really odd feeling. Massage is mostly compression, with a bit of cross-ways striation happening, but this is actually suction. One can pull the muscles up and around a bit, and I think it's all good. I'll have to check tomorrow to see if there are any other marks like a giant squid tried to drag me under for dinner.

I do have to admit I went into the massage very tight, and I'm feeling much better now. She really worked over the hams, and the tops of my shoulders. I have no idea why any of that was tight.

I forgot the chocolate! Linda had brought home some high end chocolate a couple weeks ago. The ingredients list is very sparse. You might have to turn the photos sideways and embiggen them to read the very, very short ingredient list. It was all wonderful. The ginger, and the mocha were excellent, and the Habanero had a very nice bit of zing. In comparison the Madagascar was a bit bland, but only in comparison. They were all excellent, even if the plastic wrapping required an actual tool to open.

One never knows in Calgary, but this might well be my last evening this year sitting out on the back patio, drinking wine and writing, while wearing only shorts and a T shirt. We have been loving the new back yard! Like so many other things, we should have done it long ago.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

gears and zero drop

Is this not fearsome looking? How could I not buy it?

It already has the Linda seal of approval for how it worked over her shoulders.

Believe it or not, I went to a shoe sale the other day. One of these things is not quite like the others.

Mine were samplers in the $50 box. I don't have especially wide feet, but my little toes sometimes feel the pinch. When I saw how roomy the toe box was I had to try them. These are zero drop shoes, meaning the distance between both the heel and the ball of my foot to the floor is the same. Most shoes have a built up heel.

I've done a bit of barefoot running. A very little bit. It's good for reminding yourself of what a mid-foot stride is, since it's essentially impossible to run on your heels barefoot. Of course, that exposes your feet to anything that might be on the ground or path. Let's not talk about that.

I had thought I'd like to try a zero drop shoe, but was unwilling to bet full price on liking them. At less than half I'm willing to go for it. Today was actually my first run in them, and I don't have the first idea how far or long I went in them. Just knowing the neighborhood, I'm thinking not quite 2 K.

The GPS was terrible today, both apps lied their faces off. In 25 minutes running, they both thought I'd done nearly 7 K. NOT! I started with my Asics and ran maybe 2 K, just enough to feel warmed up. Then I changed into the Atra's and headed out. I was astonished how light and stable my feet felt. My quads were a bit tired but that's a typical thing these days. Toward the end I could feel the very beginning of a calf twinge, but if I hadn't been paying attention I probably wouldn't have noticed it. Then it was back into the Asics for maybe another K or so, which was almost a bit of a shamble at the end. My feet felt really clumsy in the Asics.

Throughout this I was getting the most amazing pace times, but I didn't believe a word of it. At the time I thought that whatever it was measuring, it would at least measure consistently, and I'd be able to tell where I changed shoes by the big change in the pace line. Tell me, can you see where I changed shoes?

Thought not. Sometimes I wonder why I bother. Here's the crazy map. Linda thinks it looks like a savage dog.

Friday was another swim lesson. My buddy is doing great! The biggest problem to overcome now is learning to roll to breathe. We did some exercises there, but I'm really pleased at the progress so far. I got kicked out of the teach pool for a bit, and I managed to get in some hard sprints.

Even when I swim I'm one of the first people into work these days, and I got this neat reflection shot just down the hall from my office.

And lastly, one of the more adorable photos of Curtis and Celina. How can I not publish this?

Celina was grumbling at me while I was writing, complaining that Curtis gets all the photo action, and that she's much the prettier kitty, so I should include more of her. So here she is.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Cats, grab bag, highly technical swim stuff

My readers really liked my political rant. That hit the all time top 10 very quickly! The recent rant on the ALS bucket videos, not so much. That's what's fun about doing the blog; I can never guess how popular something is going to be.

Today I was wandering around tying to deal with stuff on the way to writing this blog. With cats underfoot every step of the way. Then I get this look when I actually do sit down.

Later on he was happier about it.

The pool was lovely this morning. Nice half hour swim with a variety of stuff, very nice.

This is where it gets highly technical, describing what I was thinking about during my swim. If you aren't a swimmer, you might want to go on to the next blog.

Most people get their arm out in front of their head ok, then it goes all wrong. They don't enter the water cleanly. Then they push down on the water, trying to roll their bodies, most often trying to breathe or get their head out of the water. Then they grab a handful of water and bubbles and try to throw it backwards while leading with their elbow. No wonder they aren't swimming quickly, and that's without talking about anything else.

Just so you know where I'm coming from, my test today was 50 m, 43 seconds, 40 strokes, counting each arm. Assume 3 seconds each push off (start and flip turn) where my arms aren't moving, so 20 strokes per arm in 37 seconds is 1.85 seconds per stroke. Let's just say half the time is recovery, with my arm either leaving the water or out of it. Down to .925 seconds. I'm guessing that two thirds of that is the actual power stroke, pushing against the water and where my arm is moving slowest, so that's .616 seconds. That leaves .308 of a second for my hand and arm to enter the water and get vertical.

Blinking your eyes takes about a tenth to a third of a second. My times might be a bit off, but the time from my hand entering the water to the time the power phase is done in a small number of eye blinks. That's the piece I was working on today.

Clearly this happens much too quickly to consciously control. This is where practice and the water feel comes in. The idea is to get your hand and forearm as vertical in the water as soon as possible, as far forward of your shoulder as possible. That gives you the longest possible time to have your hand and arm anchored so you can move your body past it, with your elbow high throughout.

I was working on feeling the water as my hand slid in, then trying to angle it down while catching water, just as if there was a beach ball or barrel under my forearm. Not pushing the water down, but inserting my hand into the water like a knife into a cake. Just like the wind over an airplane wing produces lift at right angles to the wind direction, I'm trying to produce forward motion. Remember when you were a kid, waving your hands out the car window? Angling your hand up or down just a little moved your whole arm pretty quickly. (Yes, I realize kids that grew up when almost every car is air conditioned have no idea what I'm talking about.) And it isn't even my whole hand at first; it starts with bending the fingers ever so slightly to initiate the catch, as the very first step to getting vertical.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. There is the small fraction of time from where the hand enters the water and extends forward to the full reach of your arm. Some people say you should glide like this a little bit, since this is when your waterline is longest. However long you glide will depend on exactly how fast you are going, and how efficiently you can pull. As you extend your hand forward is where you bend your fingers to start the catch. All this should be very clean, with as few bubbles as possible. Generally I look straight down, but today I was trying to peek forward to see what the bubble situation was. Bubbles are bad, generally speaking.

This is all very subtle, and comes from feeling the water over the very tips of your fingers. How far the fingers are apart, where the thumb is throughout, exactly how cupped the hand is will be slightly different for everybody, depending on their exact body mechanics and speed. I was playing with some of these variables and seeing how it felt.

This feel of the water over your hands and past your body is all important, and it goes away fast if you don't swim. It goes away faster than your fitness. Almost as fast as a boy's first time. Most people think they have lost fitness when they can't swim as fast, but it's more likely the water feel is gone, leading to a poorer stroke. I've had my 1000 m time change by as much as a minute within a week, just because the feel is there one day, and not the other. Fitness doesn't change that fast.

My experience has been that if I swim twice a week I just barely maintain the water feel. Three times a week and I'll improve. Four times a week, but not every week in a month is perfect for me to improve my swimming, and yet not beat up my shoulders.

I rarely think about trying to swim fast. Even when I'm doing intervals I'm not thinking about going fast. I'm thinking about technique, trying to be clean in the water, trying for a good stroke, and trying to nail my flip turn. A clean technique means you can swim faster, and probably with less effort.

Many coaches give their athletes a ton of drills. I don't agree with that, with a couple of exceptions. If you want to get better at getting your forearm vertical in the water soon, swim with your hands in a snug but not clenched fist. It will feel like you're flailing, but that's ok. There are some other drills that are good for teaching specific aspects of a stroke, but unless someone is watching it's much too easy to cheat the drill, and that's a waste of time.

The secret is swimming lots while thinking about your stroke. I look at my time every 50 m, and if I'm more than second slower than I expect, I start paying attention to my stroke to see what I'm messing up. How much is lots? Depends on your goals. You should be swimming your goal race distance at least once a week, even if you're doing Ironman. Not your first week, of course, you have to build to it. If my goal race was a half iron next summer, especially if I was doing the swim leg of a relay (hint, hint) I'd be looking at swimming at least 2 K every swim, minimum of 3 times a week.

If you're learning to swim you will find it enormously tiring at first. It's odd, but a sloppy slow swimmer is getting a better work out than clean fast swimmer. Swim what you can, rest if you must, and try again. I swam lots in my early 20's, to the point a 20 minute 1000m didn't even get my heart rate into the aerobic zone. Then I stopped for many years. I thought it would be easy to get there again. Not. It was brutal at times, and took years. The first time I did it again I nearly puked. The next time a couple of days later I was 20 seconds faster and felt great.

You have two goals as you learn to swim:

One is to extend how far you can swim at a steady pace. Part of this is finding out where your cardio and muscle endurance is. But once you can hit about 8 minutes straight, you should be good for quite a bit longer. It might take a long time to get to that eight minutes, but very soon after that you'll be doing twice and three times that. Keep track of whatever pace this is.

Two is to swim faster by swimming clean for a much shorter distance. Probably 25 m at first, then later 50. Aim for several to 10 seconds faster than your regular pace. Get your breath mostly back, then do it again. Build to doing 10 reps, then start shortening the rest, or swimming faster. You will notice that your regular pace is faster too, without really trying.

Since many of my readers are women, I looked for a male swimmer model. Just because. Get a drool kleenex and check out this amazing video. I mean, the stroke is amazing. (Try not to drool too much!) Look at the data they give in the lower right corner. Look how few bubbles he produces. Look how steady his head is during the body roll. Look at the bent elbow so far forward of the body. Look how frigging fast he is going! His easy pace is faster than I can swim all out. Then again, I don't want to think about how much practice it took to get this good.

This video is an age group woman swimming in an endless pool, with a coach giving lots of good comments. I specifically like what she says about head position. Here's one of a superb female swimmer who has a really high stroke rate, but as the commentary points out, still has the classic elements of a great stroke. If you've got shorter arms, have the cardio, and can maintain the turnover, this might work for you.

Monday, August 18, 2014

A rant, and I might have burned out the weed whacker

There was a feeble attempt at plank last night after my run. I felt so bad about it I didn't even want to mention it. Only 60 seconds, and stopped with low back and right knee pain. Considering I'd been up to 1:45 and was going for 2 minutes, I was pretty disappointed.

And none tonight, not after the mega yard work. You see, we planted new grass when we did the back yard. As suggested we watered the heck out of it, and let it grow a bit long. I might have got carried away with that.

During the lodge staining I was laying cardboard down to save me from kneeling on stone, and from getting the stone spattered with stain. That cardboard carried over onto the grass and flattened it down pretty good.

It was pretty long. Really long. Long enough that when I started working on it this evening I quickly realized it was soaking wet underneath. It hasn't rained for several days now, and we've had hot sunny weather. Wet grass, thick wet long grass, is very hard to deal with. By the end of an hour of running nearly constantly my poor weed whacker was making a funny noise and beginning to smell. I'm not fussed, I think it's on it's last legs anyway. The cord feeding mechanism is getting very fussy.

It's still pretty uneven, but better than what it was. If it dried out I could consider tackling it with the push mower, or make another more careful pass with the weed whacker. The other day my neighbor was working his hedge, and it was only after I was almost done that I realized I should have asked to borrow it.

I suppose I should have taken a before picture, but there's lots of those if you look in the background of the lodge staining shots. Here's the after. A garbage bag and a half of clippings.

Have you seen those ice bucket videos that are polluting the internet lately? I shake my head at the videos that go viral sometimes, and this is one of them. Supposedly it's raised a lot of money for ALS, and so far so good.

But the name and shame thing troubles me. Dump a bucket of ice water on yourself, and you get to challenge others to do the same or send money to ALS. Pardon me for being blunt, but fuck you. I make my choices about charitable giving based on my values and where I see the help needed. I've given various one time donations when I've thought appropriate, and I've also participated in ongoing paycheck deductions. I don't need to be bullied into an either or choice.

I can appreciate that charities are hustling for a buck ever more aggressively as government funding is cut back. Everything is always more expensive, and there is a never ending list of charities for us to give to, each claiming to be more worthy than the last.

Don't get me wrong, many of them ARE worthy, no denying that. Some are not, given they appear to duplicate other organizations. Some are scams, and it's getting harder and harder to tell. But the needs never stop no matter how much money is given, and next year there are new charities for new conditions.

So I can understand the need for a gimmick to raise awareness and trigger the urge to give generously. Supposedly the bucket of ice water is to simulate what ALS does. I wonder if anyone has asked an ALS sufferer what they think of that idea. But do we give because it matches our values, or because it's the cause de jour? I suppose the charities don't care, as long as the cheque doesn't bounce.

One of my windmills to tilt at is the whole raising awareness thing. I think it's a fraud. It lets someone give themselves a warm and fuzzy feeling while not actually doing anything real for the cause. They're trying to persuade others to do something, and are hoping for a multiplier effect. I wonder how real that is. In the meantime, they've raised awareness, and other people start doing their thing to raise awareness, and everybody is aware, but nobody does anything.

That's why I say Bah! I think that one case of someone getting in and doing something real is worth a hundred cases of someone raising awareness. Something real can be donating money, if the group actually needs money, and most of them do. Or it could be actually doing something by volunteering your time to do something the group actually needs done. Which might not be obvious, but if you're really impelled to help out, you'll find a way to do it. I'm certainly far more impressed by someone giving their time than their money, and I'm more impressed with people giving money over those raising awareness.

At the bottom of the barrel are those that say "I"ll pray for you." Screw you too. What that means is you aren't willing to do anything, but want to feel good about it. Prayer, in the sense that most people use it, is a complete and total waste of time. It's actually insulting on so many levels. It implies that you've got an in with your god, and you can talk him into doing something for the group needing help. It implies your moral superiority in that you know what to tell god to give them. It implies that your prayer is more valuable than money or time. It implies that even if they had been smart enough to pray, that isn't good enough. You can't eat prayers, and they won't keep you warm in a Canadian winter.


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