Monthly Archives: February 2015

An INSANE new #TheDress wrinkle

By now, you’ve all seen that weird photo of an ugly blue-and-black dress that looks like an ugly white-and-gold dress to a lot of people. The reason isn’t entirely clear, although explanations that have been offered include lighting, forms of color-blindness, or serious moral failings on the part of those jerks who see an ugly blue-and-black dress when the picture clearly shows an ugly white-and-gold one.

But there’s a whole new wrinkle to the debate. A new photo was posted online late Friday, and it may be even more bizarre than the original. Fully 70% of the people who see this image see an ugly blue-and-black dress similar to the one that started all this foolishness. But 30% see something completely different.

What do you see?

Blue-and-black dress or 40-pound kettlebell? Different people see different things.Unlike the original, science is pretty clear about the reasons people see this image differently. Those who perceive a 40-pound kettlebell do so because they’ve experienced such a device before, and they understand how using a kettlebell can make them stronger and more able to tackle activities like obstacle course races. The other 70% don’t have that experience, so upon seeing such an unfamiliar sight, their brains do a bit of trickery to convert the image into something that falls within their experience—generally a sad, ugly blue-and-black dress that they really shouldn’t wear.

“In short, people who see a kettlebell are much cooler than people who see that stupid, ugly blue-and-black dress,” said Jennifer Markintosh, head of science at the Central California Institute of Science. “I’d say about 47% cooler. Or 61%, if they actually run obstacle course races.”

A spokesperson for the ugly blue-and-black dress had no comment.


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The Best Most Worstest Workout Music Ever!

This week, my gym is having a special event in which all of the classes will have different themed music playlists. Fun, if perhaps a minor promotion for the amount of work entailed. (I have a feeling the people who had to put the playlists together might have started out thinking, “Yeah! We’ll make a bunch of playlists!” and ended thinking “Fricking Doombruggles! We have to make another playlist!” And yes, “Fricking Doombruggle” is the only profanity allowed at the gym.

But, while I enjoyed working out today to those ’80s hits that you’re not supposed to admit you enjoy, it does create the opportunity for some delightful mischief. For example, there’s one instructor whose tastes tend toward classic rock and punk—which is great for working out, by the way. But at the same time, it seems so hard to resist giving him a playlist of all Carpenters and Katy Perry. Or maybe starting a playlist normally for a few songs before dropping in the most show tuney show tune ever. (My first guess would be “I Am What I Am,” but I haven’t actually run the numbers.) Some of my workout buddies and I were trying to figure out what his reaction would be; probably shutting off the music and having the class continue in silence, but I could also see converting the class to 60 minutes of stair climbs.

And then I got to thinking, what would some truly terrible workout mixes be? I should admit: the music I have on my phone to accompany my runs is shit. It’s music I like, but it doesn’t have the driving beat or high energy that makes workouts better. But even though it’s bad, it’s not awesomely bad like these ideas:

CDs featuring music played on toolsThe Building Challenge: Featuring music played on power and hand tools, such as these albums, from my personal collection. (I used to work for a pair of trade magazines that covered the furniture- and cabinet-making industry. So it’s not completely random.) Ideal for ladder drills, flipping tires, and swinging sledgehammers. “In the Hall of the Mountain King” and “Habanera” are both quite good, so that sorts 6 minutes and 13 seconds. The rest is on your own.

Vulgarity that Christian Grandmas Won’t Get: “Afternoon Delight,” “Dancing With Myself,” “Puff the Magic Dragon,” “She Bop”. I have to think that dirty songs are great for any OCR workout, even if some of them aren’t actually dirty (yeah, right… and speaking as someone who was once groped live on PBS by Peter of Peter, Paul, and Mary during Pledge Week, I bet Puff the Magic Dragon is about pot, oral, and Rule 34 versions of everything from Stomp to The Great British Bake-Off.)

Lawrence Welk Classics: One time I was visiting my grandma, and she enjoyed watching Lawrence Welk reruns on PBS, and I’ve blocked that out of my memory apart from a vague memory of horribleness and one specific song introduction: One of the ladies very earnestly stated that she realized that a lot of people thought that the Lawrence Welk show could be kind of “square” (yes, she pronounced the quotes), but really, they showed just how “hip” (quotes pronounced again) they could be, by performing an Elvis Presley song, and I quote, “just a few short years after he died.” So obviously, this playlist would be appropriate for a lower body day, consisting of pull-ups, chest presses, bicep curls, cotton candy, and meth.

Songs Released By Drag Queens: Don’t get me wrong, I love me some RuPaul’s Drag Race, (1 week ’til Season 7!) but the music the contestants release is almost universally terrible. It would probably make the burpees fly by, though, if you could count through the Auto-tune.

The Most Unwanted Song: Holy cow, this exists. I didn’t know that before starting on this post. And it was created by science, or at least opinion polling, which is completely different. It’s 22 minutes long, which would make a decent HIIT workout, though you’d probably need 5 minutes of flatulence for warm-up and another 5 minutes of your family’s Thanksgiving political discussion for cool-down.

I’m sure there are many I’ve missed. What would your ideal terrible workout playlist be?

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Sunday Mockery: Passive Aggressive edition

I am suspicious of the number of people who have given up my blog for Lent. #runchatThis is the first Sunday Mockery feature-ee that I’m sharing out of admiration. See, on Twitter (and other social media), a lot of people will make these passive-aggressive pleas for retweets: “RT if you support our military!” “RT if you love Jesus!” “RT if you don’t believe in killing babies for sport!” — with the implication that if you decline to artificially boost their social media stats, then you are a Bad Person who Does Not/Does sufficiently like a Thing that is Good/Evil.  That general concept isn’t unique to the interwebs—remember when “patriotism” in potential political leaders was “determined” through the presence and size of the American flag lapel pin?—but Twitter is a natural home.

One could argue that this one has a twinge of that—but it’s also funny. Which is what got me to visit the blog, and got it added to my sidebar, and made it one I think I’ll be watching even though it seems to be running- rather than OCR-focused. So, you know, well done.

So you're on #Twitter... BUTT are you following #killcliff? Make it happen.Unlike this one. Now, to be honest, I first saw this on my phone, and the picture didn’t fully show. So I just thought it was a typo, and while I’m not a fan of grammar Nazi-ing in general, there is a difference between typos slipping into a sizeable, deadline-pressed publication and a 76-character tweet that a company paid to display to non-followers, and so my extraordinarily witty comment was that apparently asses are now conjunctions.

Then preparing this post I saw that “BUTT” was actually a… pun, I guess? Maybe they’re trying to visually describe the product’s taste? I don’t know. I’ve spent way too much of my life thinking about it. Unlike…

You Could Win $7,000.00 a Week for Life on 4/30 It's FREE to ENTER!… Publishers Clearing House, which apparently still exists, and which is doing well enough at convincing people they’ll win money that they can buy sponsored tweets to remind people that they exist. Although I think perspective may be being used for dodgy purposes here. I suspect that boat could actually fit into my bathtub, which as you may recall, is not quite large enough for me to fit into.

Previous Sunday Mockeries:
Let’s Math
The First One


Filed under Funny, Sunday Mockery

Trapped in the Doldrums

The past week has been rough. And yet I’m coming out of it, I think, much better than I went in.

It’s been miserably cold in Chicago for most of the week, which likely contributed to me getting a cold starting on Wednesday. It’s weird getting sick like that; it’s generally pretty minor—just some coughing and congestion—but it lingers. I’m feeling much better now but there’s a decent chance I’ll still be feeling some after-effects next weekend.

I realized today that sickness tends to beget sickness, and I think it’s because I try to over-rest it. I’m only an average sleeper in the best of times; I can easily have a lousy night of sleep here and there even when I feel fine. But this week, both Wednesday and Thursday I didn’t sleep well, and I think it’s more that I was trying to rest so I didn’t do much all day either of those days—so come bedtime I really wasn’t tired. Which meant that I didn’t improve much overnight, so I needed to rest the next day, and so on. I did a light workout Friday, and it seemed to make a big difference.

The late-winter cold snap contributed to keeping me inside, and it feels worse now both because it’s been like that for most of the past few months, and because we’re at the point where it feels like it should be letting up (but it isn’t). It has clarified something for me: I hate where I live. There is almost nothing public around—you have to go half a mile to hit something that isn’t a convenience store or gas station. In the summer and fall, it’s fine—I’m happy to walk or bike. But when it’s 0 degrees out, that loses its appeal. Long story short, it’s clear that when my lease is up I shall be moving.

The other moment of clarity came Wednesday morning when one of my bosses decided to complain about how I wasn’t adequately following an instruction given six months ago. (I was instead following a different, contradictory instruction given to me.) Combined with feeling lousy, this just reminded me of what a former boss of mine said: I may be working for someone else, but really, I should be working for myself.

So the positive that comes out of it is focus: I got the reminder that—despite the miserable rigamarole of job-hunting—my situation is not permanent and that I need to channel my anger about job-hunting (and my poor fit with my current job) in a productive way. Which carries through to my fitness goals as well—even though being ill and not terribly eager to spread germs among my co-work-outers made it harder to take productive action on that one. At least weight-wise, I didn’t lose any significant ground, and while I certainly felt weak today, I think that’s just a symptom that will disappear as I return to a regular schedule.

So I come out of this week a bit stuffy in the nose and a lot ready to make things happen. Perhaps I’m not trapped in doldrums after all. It’s possible that I’m just coiling them neatly into a spring that will shoot me at unheard-of speeds as soon as I release it.


That’s something of a mixed metaphor, no? It assumes that doldrums not only have a physical form—and yes, I was envisioning The Phantom Tollbooth—but that they also have the necessary mix of elasticity and stiffness. So maybe don’t try to turn this into an inspirational Facebook meme.

P.S. Exciting news on the #CardamomWatch front: I used 3/4 of a teaspoon in some split pea soup. I can’t really detect the result.

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The Numbers Game

I’ve been pondering inspiration recently. I’ll be writing more about the concept in the future, but basically, I don’t believe in it. Or at least, I’ve never gotten any value from anything “inspirational”—posters, Facebook memes, people without limbs, that kind of thing.

Which has led me to ask myself, what does inspire me? And I’m not so much talking about big-picture things—I’m talking, in the middle of a workout, when I’m cranky and tired and cursing whoever set the task and whatever idiot chose this weight, what keeps me going.

I may be strange, but…

Wait, let me correct that. I most definitely am strange. But one of the things that works is simply numbers.


All of these are numbers. Except for the squares. Of course, some of the squares are numbers too.

Training running got a lot better when I figured out how to make the app alert me every mile. And better still, when I figured out how to change its measurements so it alerted me every kilometer. Having that clear progress—knowing when I have finished one kilometer out of five—is hugely valuable.

Although, really, not enough. And here’s where things get weird. Because… I count steps.

Not all the time, but when I’m in a cranky, not-so-much-in-the-mood-to-run kind of mood, I’ll count the steps down. 90 steps with each leg is about a minute. 540 steps each side is a kilometer, and 2700 a 5K. It doesn’t work out that precisely, but it’s close enough.

I don’t always just count steps either. Sometimes I’ll break up the count. Counting 100, then 90, and so on down to 20 happens to hit 540 as well. Going from 100 down to 1 by 1s will tally 5050, which should be great once I’m doing a 10K. And so on, et cetera.

What else do I obsess about? Well, when we do stair climbs at the gym, 138 steps gets you to the top floor. When I’m on a treadmill, I usually break things up by time—either tallying 10% segments of the total workout or counting down fractions of the total time. (10 seconds is, of course, 1/180th of a 30-minute workout!) On a rowing machine, I’m more likely to go by stroke count. 35/minute is a typical clip, so I’ll generally go by sevens, because how often do you get to do that?

And, of course, how often would you want to?

The inspiration for this post isn’t actually because I wanted to brag about being not normal. (It isn’t even a conscious cry for help, although re-reading it I could see how you might think that.) It was triggered a few weeks ago. My gym (the good one, not the crappy emergency backup) held a 1,000 burpee challenge, which was just that: 2 and a half hours of burpees, broken up into 8 per minute, with breaks every 25 minutes.

I couldn’t go—it was the weekend of my massive freelance stay-at-my-computer gig—and I was genuinely bummed about it. A thousand burpees may not be fun, but the countdown—oh yeah.

Mid-workout arithmetic seems to work for me. I feel like that’s not quite an adequate conclusion, though. So how about I leave you with this clickbaity summary: This INSANE New Trick Will Make Your Workouts Fly By!

That’ll make my visitor statistics soar.

Wait… statistics?

Oh, shit.


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Why I Hate My Gym

A while ago, I saw this article asserting that most gyms are designed to make you not go there.

It’s a clickbaity article, and therefore its facts are inherently suspect, but it seems to gibe with my experience at my gym.

Or, more accurately, my emergency backup gym. My actual gym (the Enrgi Fitness of the sidebar) is great for several reasons that I should go into at some point. But it is a bit of a haul for me to get there, and there are days when it’s tough to justify the time investment. During the months when the weather isn’t really fricking cold, I’ll plan runs for those days, but in the winter, I got a cheapo membership at a terrible chain, just to have a place to go.

Now, I should make it clear: I really don’t have any complaints about what happened here—I went in with my eyes open, and got what I wanted out of the deal. But the place really does suck, and it’s nice that I’m able to distinguish between a good gym and a crappy one.

Why do I hate it? Let me count the reasons.

  1. So much crappy stuff I don’t want. The gym floor is at least 1/3 weight machines, which seem to suck. At least another 1/3 is cardio machines, which are okay, as far as they go. There’s a tiny little bit of open space which is nowhere near the free weights. Meanwhile, the free weights don’t have any space where you can use them if you’re not inside one of the racks. I’m not opposed to those, but I’m also not terribly familiar with them. The free weights are, as the article suggests, located at the far end. It’s not inviting, and I don’t care much about being not invited.
  2. Kettlebells. The gym used to have kettlebells in the open space—four of them. (One 30 pound, two 20 pound, and one 10 pound.) It recently got rid of even those, though.
  3. The steroids. I’ve never seen steroids used there, or anyone who appeared to be within 12 miles of having a steroid-built body. If you’re taking steroids and going to this gym, then something has gone deeply wrong. But the locker room has several prominent, permanent signs, warning everyone that steroids are strictly prohibited on the premises and detailing their potential side effects. Obviously there’s a reason, and that confuses and disturbs me.
  4. Suspicious behavior. Unlike the highly professional steroid signs, there are plenty of inkjet-printed signs warning you to watch out for and report any suspicious behavior. I’ve never seen any suspicious behavior there, but these signs sure make me expect some.
  5. The smell. It’s not sweaty gym smell, more like poo. But not like you’re in the toilet after Rush Limbaugh’s morning dump, more like you’re three doors down from an apartment that’s shared by a Polyphonic Spree-sized band that hasn’t had working plumbing for three weeks. That’s what the locker rooms are like.
  6. The classes. Or at least, the class. I only took one, and it was terrible. Over-choreographed bullshit, with lousy generic “fitness” music rather than anything that had actually been released. (Classic rock or punk is my preferred accompaniment, although pop crap is acceptable for workout purposes. This music didn’t rise to the level of pop crap, though.) In addition to the class being crap, the people taking it were dumbasses. Many would stop during the class, which I can accept, but some of them for some reason crossed into or just stood in my personal space. It wasn’t malicious; they were just oblivious to the idea that for other people, working out might involve movement. I just don’t get it.

Anyhow, I’m happy to report that this will soon be my ex-emergency backup gym. I’ve given the necessary notice, so shortly after the official beginning of spring my membership shall be terminated. As I said, I got what I needed, but I don’t think I’ll miss it.

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What Do You Do With an Assload of Cardamom?

One of my goals for the month is to do a bit of from-scratch cooking, and I made my first attempt at that on Sunday.

Here’s the recipe: Chicken Massalé, from Oh! You Cook!, but originally from A Kitchen Hoor’s Adventures, and via the Secret Recipe Club.

I learned a few lessons from making this recipe. First off, yogurt is hard. I don’t buy it much; to me it just tastes like milk that’s gone a bit off. So I wasn’t prepared for the yogurt cooler thingy. There are yogurts of more or less every flavor: vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, cookie, donkey*. Shelves and shelves of the stuff, just loaded with extra flavors and probably sugar, all of which I was pretty sure I didn’t want, since I was pretty sure the recipe demanded plain.

Even plain yogurt is complicated; there’s milky yogurt and Greek yogurt and soy yogurt and tree-based serums and so on. Then there’s the problem of quantity: The recipe only needs one cup, but you can’t buy less than 2 pounds of the closest thing to “plain yogurt” that I could find. Instead I went for “plain Greek yogurt” which was available in a 1-pound tub and I’ve also heard that Greek yogurt is the kale of yogurts.

Quantities became even more problematic when I was buying the spices. See, the recipe requires a fair number of the things, and since I don’t do a huge amount of cooking, I needed to buy a bunch. Had I put all that together I probably wouldn’t have gone through with it, but I had already had the yogurt and the chicken in my basket, so I was committed.

Cardamom receipt


But spices are pricey. And for some reason, the grocery store doesn’t really sell particularly small quantities of them. The result: $15 was the smallest quantity of cardamom available.

I’ve managed to go my entire life without purchasing cardamom, and I used about a teaspoon of it here. If I continue to use one teaspoon per 38 years, 10 and a half months, I should have enough cardamom for approximately 389 years.

But I don’t like the idea of wasting “food,” so instead, I’m going to institute:

The Official Fat Boy Big Wall

Which is harder: A Spartan Beast or a single man using an entire jar of cardamom? The experiment begins. Here’s my progress so far:

Cardamom Watch as of 2-10-15

The status of my cardamom as of February 10, 2015.

Stay tuned for updates!

After the excitement of Cardamom Watch, it’s kind of an anticlimax to tell you about the recipe, isn’t it? But in the interest of information: I wasn’t overly impressed by it, although I suspect that’s more cook’s error than any fault in the recipe. I probably overcooked the chicken and didn’t grind or roast the spices, and the yogurt didn’t seem to be the kind of texture it should have been. In other words, someone with a modicum of ability can probably make it better. (It’s probably best if you’ve purchased cardamom at some point in the past.)

* In an improv class once, I inadvertently appeared to be trying to force a joke in a warm-up exercise where everyone was in a circle and we just named foods in rapid succession, and I said “donkey.” But I wasn’t; I had just gotten home from a tour of the woodworking factories of Italy, Switzerland, and Austria**, and at one of the meals they served donkey—both the meat (which tasted kind of gritty) and some kind of “delicacy” made with the intestines or some other entrail, which I did not sample. The point of improv warm-ups is to get your mind into a state where you’re instinctively reacting to what is happening, rather than trying to plan your thoughts; the fact that something simultaneously weird and true tumbled out of my mouth should have been viewed as a Good Thing.

** I was working at a woodworking trade magazine at the time. It wasn’t a recreational tour of the woodworking factories of Italy, Switzerland, and Austria—although the bus ride through the Alps was lovely, and the night we spent in Lucerne was also quite nice. And I got to see The Last Supper in Milan. I assume it did not have donkey.

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