Monthly Archives: April 2015

Marketing Mockery: Holy Crap, Deadlines! Version

Before I mock some fitness-related marketing, let me whine a bit. I’ve got deadlines up the wazoo this week. And last week, all of which I successfully met, but I’ll be crazy busy through Friday. And yet, here I am, posting for you, hoping to give the OCR world a bit of a chuckle, when my employer (and my freelance gig) would prefer that I be working my arse off to finish their projects. So I hope you enjoy it. And while it doesn’t necessarily come through via the internet, I mean “I hope you enjoy it” as a threat. If you don’t enjoy it, I will say unpleasant things about you, if you’re Adam Sandler. (I suppose it’s possible that I just don’t like Adam Sandler. I’m still traumatized by That’s My Boy.)

Anyhow:

Underarmor store displayWhy yes, Underarmor. I would like to be bettep.

(Okay, that was cheap. I mean, it’s mocking a typo that isn’t even a typo—a bit of the sticker on the window just ripped off. On the other hand, they do have a store on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, so I feel like they can withstand this withering criticism. I’ll make up for it with my well-reasoned comments on the next one, though.)

Let me turn your attention to the magazine being advertised. First off, the juxtaposition of nameplate and cover image is problematic: covering up the “for” makes it look like the magazine is called “Healthy Men,” which combined with the image of a fit, shirtless man means that the piece could easily be confused for a catalog of buff studs to purchase for holding bookshelves or perhaps as centerpieces for the buffet at a high-end dinner party.

Moving past that, the method of advertising is a bit… well, not actually off, really. This goes back to my journalism school days and analyzing magazine strategy, so you’ll have to stick with me for a while. Consider Men’s Health, which one could feasibly argue is the most important magazine launch of the 1980s, because it successfully adopted the Cosmopolitan model (which can be rudely oversimplified as a blend of “you don’t look good enough and here’s how to fix it” and “here’s how to get laid”, with a bit of a clubbish atmosphere thrown in for good measure) and showed that men would buy it too. This magazine seems to be trying to go a half-step further and adopt the Woman’s World supermarket newsstand model—promising bajillions of quick fixes for your life and kajillions of dollars of savings for the low, low price of just a dollar twenty-five. (Okay, fine, a pound twenty-five, pretentious Brits.)

Based on that, and without having actually seen the magazine, I would say that the magazine is probably as utterly crap as Woman’s World almost undoubtedly is. (I haven’t actually read an issue of that magazine either, but its unholy blend of desserts, diets, and Dr. Oz can’t be good.)

Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad business model. According to Wikipedia, Woman’s World sells more than 1.2 million copies per weekly issue. So maybe this British Women’s World for Men has a bright future.

Previous Marketing Mockeries:
Nothing to Do with Taxes Edition
Twitter Superlative Edition
Welcome to the Dungeon
Passive Aggressive edition
Let’s Math
The First One

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The Work/Workout Clash

Without going into too much detail, I work at home. Ultimately, this is probably good for my workout habits; I can set my own work schedule, for the most part, so I can go to the (generally less crowded) lunchtime classes at my gym, and I’m so desperate to see other humans that the workout is easily the highlight of most days.

Complaining about how easy things are is hardly inspirational, though, and it’s not generally the basis of any epic fiction. Lord of the Rings probably wouldn’t be a classic if it were about a short fella who had to destroy a ring by taking it to the local Jared and having it melted into a nice pendant that his girlfriend preferred. Unless the stated reason why she preferred it was “so she could keep a piece of him close to her heart” and the actual conflict was Frodo’s battle against nausea. Which I would totally watch.

Anyhow, since great inspirational tales require hardship that is often conveniently difficult to fact-check*, let me tell you today of a time when it didn’t go right.

It was during a war-torn, post-apocalyptic time, the kind so popular in young adult fiction and sepia filter manufacturing, and I, an orphan in a decidedly mediocre hat, was scrambling to feed myself and my fourteen younger brothers by creating and selling Information—a currency worth more than gold.**

On this day, I had managed to set up two appointments to acquire Information, one at 9 am and one at 11, as well as a session to receive the intoxicating drug Workout—to which I was so addicted I would surely die without—at noon.

[I think I’ve just demonstrated why most dystopian fiction doesn’t include a detailed schedule of the protagonist’s day. It kind of takes you out of the mood.]

The appointments could be conducted by phone, so my clever scheme was to do the first at home, then travel to a place near my gym that’s public but relatively quiet and that has tables to do the second appointment, and then receive my dose of Workout.*** Any spare time would be consumed with work on my laptop, which while fairly ancient by computing standards is surprisingly easy to keep powered in a postapocalyptic dystopia.

The first interview went as expected, more or less. And I got on the city bus without any particular hassle, despite the fact that most postapocalyptic dystopias don’t have an effective public transportation system.

A little while into the bus ride, however, we stopped. This happens periodically—for some reason, Chicago’s bus system likes to switch its bus drivers in the middle of a route, rather than at an end. But this stop was not due to that, because one thing that postapocalyptic dystopias do have is burning things.

Yep, there was, apparently, a fire. And fortunately we still have a fire department, and most of them appeared to be fighting this one.

(I didn’t actually see the fire, but there were quite a large number of fire trucks, and the road was closed down, and the preceding bus was stopped, so I would assume it was there. It would be annoying if it were just a kitty that was threatening to jump from a building, even though the buildings are reasonably tall there—I just am not certain that a single unhappy kitten is adequate use for an entire fire department.)

Anyhow, after a while of waiting the driver came on the intercom and announced that he would check out what was happening, and after a while longer I decided that it wasn’t worth staying on that bus. Fortunately, despite being a postapocalyptic dystopia, Chicago still had both an active bus network and an operational train system****, and I happened to be only a few blocks from an el stop.

So a quick hike over, and I was all set. Except that the postapocalyptic dystopian operational train system was having some track maintenance being done on this day, causing the (not actually dystopian) train to travel at reasonably dystopian speeds.

Long story short, the fire plus the track maintenance meant there was going to be no way I’d get to the public but quiet spot with tables in time for my interview. Fortunately, I had a brainstorm; there’s a little bagel place near one of the stops on the way. The bagels are terrible (or average, for Chicago; I don’t know why but decent bagel-making technology either never made it here or it didn’t survive the apocalypse), but I figured I’d buy a drink and sit down and make the call. Which I did. I mean, I felt guilty so I left a pretty sillily big tip, and it was a bit louder than ideal, but I had earbuds so it worked out.

Except that I called my interviewee… and he was under a deadline crunch and had to reschedule.

The workout, at least, was delightful.

*Like certain political movements.

**Okay, even I can’t keep a straight face for that one. Just go with it. If I have anything to do with it, it’s gonna get even weirder.

***And yes, the timing does work out – I expected the 9 am call to take about a half an hour, and traveling to the gym takes upwards of an hour, owing to an experiment in living situation that will be ending in a few months.

****Fortunately, no one tries to jump from it. Man, did Divergent suck.

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The Final Descent?

Something about having taxes done or being able to bike without a jacket on or who knows what makes my planned Spartan Races (Citi Field on May 9, “Indianapolis,” which isn’t particularly close to the city, on May 16) suddenly seem imminent.

In a lot of ways, I wish they weren’t. I’m not sure my training is where I want it to be. Certainly today I feel fat and weak and broken. That’s kind of understandable—I’ve been slightly sick since Wednesday, and I am thinking that maybe resting as much as I was to try to get it out of my system before it became anything truly annoying might have been a mistake. Sleep is important to kill illness, and while I went to bed early last week, I didn’t sleep well, probably because I didn’t do much all day so I wasn’t tired. I also had a weird heel pain that arrived pretty suddenly on Wednesday and was bad enough I couldn’t walk without limping for a day.

Hopefully the illness is playing itself out, and the heel definitely seems better. So I’m hoping the timing of these minor setbacks is a blessing in disguise—I’ve got three weeks until the first race, which is a good amount of time to be thoroughly serious about preparation. I’m hoping that these issues will resolve themselves and I’ll be able to approach the races in the best possible health, and feeling like myself.

One more obvious potential speedbump, though: After a few weeks of extremely quiet work, things have gotten absolutely crazy in the past week. Plus I accepted one of the worst-timed freelance gigs in human history. So that adds stress and time management complications to an already worried situation—since, yeah, I can put a positive spin on it, but I’m scared that something else is going to start hurting for no apparent reason, since that’s been the way things have been for the past month and a half.

Hmm… Didn’t mean to get all glum on a Sunday night. Let me brighten it up a bit: I officially registered for the Chicago Super in August. That will certainly make my credit card company happy. And if you can’t make the credit card company happy, who can you make happy?

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Filed under Metapost, Obstacle Course Racing, Training

My OCR Origins (Plus Another Questionable OCR Idea)

There is a weird thread that connects my late teens to my late 30s. In a sense, I was an obstacle course racer back then, even though I was not serious about fitness and the term didn’t exist. (Does that make me OG or OPP or OTT or OTOH or another term that I’m vaguely familiar with but not cool enough to understand?)

And no, before you ask, I wasn’t a Double Dare contestant. So I’m not taking the basic cable technicality.*

My high school obstacle course experience was through something called dog agility. As you might expect that involves dogs, and even though I wasn’t one at the time,** humans get to play along as the handler.

Agility course

Agility course image by Ellen Finch, via http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:AgilityFieldLeft.jpg and available under Creative Commons.

Agility pops up on TV now and then, but if you haven’t seen it, here is an overview. The dog runs through a course of about 12 to 20 obstacles, directed by the handler. There are really only a few kinds of obstacles: jumps, tunnels (which are a lot like the ones kids play with, only a lot sturdier), ramps that the dog has to walk over, and weave poles (which are just a series of poles that the dog has to weave through). The dog can get faults if they don’t do an obstacle correctly, like if they knock down a pole in one of the jumps or if they don’t touch the yellow contact zone at the start and finish of each ramp, or by exceeding the courts time for the run. Fewest faults wins, with fastest time as a tiebreaker, although in general people are more concerned about having a qualifying run than their placement. Qualifying is difficult—in most of the agility organizations (there are many), any fault of any kind is renders a run non-qualifying—but qualifying runs lead to titles that let you move up to higher classes with harder courses.

Much like OCR, agility is a lot of fun. If you’ve got a dog and you think you might be interested, I’d encourage you to check it out—it’s open to all types of dogs (they all use the same obstacles, although the height of the dog determines how high the jumps are set at), and I recall representatives of most dog shapes participating successfully, with the possible exception of some of the more massive working breeds. (When I was very young, my family had a St. Bernard; agility might not have been ideal for him, due to all the jumping, but something German Shepherdy would probably be ok. And Wikipedia has a picture of a St. Bernard doing agility, so obviously they can.) The dogs seem to enjoy it, and generally I think doing things with pets will enrich their lives. (Of course, I have no pets now and haven’t in 20 years, but I still think the statement is valid.) The one concern I would have is the tendency of humans to ascribe competitive importance to things, which may not be fair to the dog, although I suspect it’s possible for most people to separate the two to an appropriate degree.

One other thing about agility that’s worth noting from an OCR perspective. In addition to the standard course run for titles and qualification, there were several games. These were mostly for fun, although at higher levels you had to earn qualifying scores in them to earn titles. The typical games were:

  • Pairs, a two-dog relay (occasionally expanded to a larger team relay).
  • Jumpers, a slightly misnamed game that consists of a course made up mostly of jumps, but tunnels and weave poles were included too.
  • Gamblers, a two-part game. In part 1, obstacles were set up around the course, and you can do them in any order. Every one completed successfully earns points, based on how long the obstacle typically takes and how far from the “gamble” it is. After a set amount of time on the course, a whistle blows and you go to said gamble, which is a series of obstacles that the dog has to do properly. The real tricky part is that the handler is restricted in where he or she can go and has to direct the dog from a distance. If the dog does it within the time limit, they get a sizable point bonus. (In the early days, the gamble was optional and carried a penalty for failure, thus the name of the class, but that had pretty much stopped by the time I was involved.)
  • Snooker: An asinine concept that was fun. It translates the pool table game to agility. There are three 1 point obstacles, and then other obstacles spread around the course from 2 to 7 points. First, you do a 1 point obstacle, then any of the other obstacles, then one of the other 1-point obstacles, then any other obstacle, then the last 1-pointer and any of the others. Then, you do the 2- through 7- point obstacles in order, for as long as you can until time runs out. Most points wins.

I’m not sure if any of this has applicability to OCR, but it might. The title concept might be an alternative to the age-group-swimming-based ranking system I pitched a few weeks ago. The relay format with specialization turned out to be true the next day, because I am both psychic and awesome. The gamble concept could be implemented by having optional obstacles that could be completed for a time bonus, although logistically that would be a nightmare.

The asinine OCR Snooker concept is, horrifyingly enough, the most intriguing. It’s not something that would work for general crowds, but as a televisable event it might. It would be a test of both physical ability and strategy, and it’s not hard to imagine that there would be a lot of variety in what courses different racers choose.

The drawbacks? It’s really not a head to head competition, since only 1 person could be on course at a time. There’s also a fairness issue, since there’s a huge benefit to going last—both to get a sense of how much time it takes to get from obstacle to obstacle and do each obstacle, and to know what score you need to win. And, just like in the dog world, it does seem a bit cutesy.

Still, if anyone’s in the mood to try to take a shot at it, feel free.

*apropos of nothing, one of the best Halloween costumes I ever saw was a pair of friends who went as Double Dare contestants. It was the perfect costume. They’d Assembled it themselves, with me pads and those plastic cups with lines on them on their heads, but it was cheap and easy and everyone on the bus knew that they had one Halloween forever. Unfortunately two stops later another pair of double dare contestants got on completely unrelated and really ruined the magic of it.

**I mean, I was ugly, and still am, but species-wise, I’m not a canis anythingus.

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Marketing Mockery: Nothing to Do With Taxes Edition

And it’s a good thing that it has nothing to do with taxes; my withholding got messed up so I’m owing a solid $900 this year. It’s a good thing I’m going climbing today—that always improves my mood. And speaking of:

DSW adThis ad for DSW comes from the bus stop nearest my apartment, and it struck me because it features somebody who appears to want to appear to be doing some rock climbing/bouldering/etc., using the text of the ad as grips. Clever, in that it got my attention, except for the minor problem that DSW doesn’t sell climbing shoes. So maybe I’m wrong, and the guy in the ad is just being arrested. I guess it’s possible that I’m just using this post to brag about knowing what climbing shoes are. (I really hope I’m not wrong about my claim that DSW doesn’t sell climbing shoes; I guess I haven’t explored the store thoroughly, and I’m not really an expert on exactly what makes a shoe climbing or not. I think my assertion is well supported by teh internet, though, and that’s what really matters.)

Protective cup adThis one, on the other hand, comes from my beloved(?) Sports Authority. It reminds me of those old ads where a razor company said that some people think of shaving as something that a man does for three minutes a day, but that they think of it as something that a man does for a lifetime. This “First On Last Off” slogan is kind of like that. Only for your junk

Previous Marketing Mockeries:
Twitter Superlative Edition
Welcome to the Dungeon
Passive Aggressive edition
Let’s Math
The First One

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Link Dump: Retro Edition

So, I’ve been collecting, sort of, interesting bits and bobs from the OCR world to put into a quickie link dump like this for a while. Only I haven’t been all that diligent, and I have been busy, so some of these are old. That’s okay, though. Perhaps the flood of traffic will make the original writers think that I’m Noah.

5 Things that Are Hurting OCR’s Legitimacy (Blue Highways)—I don’t necessarily agree with McCauley Kraker’s rant (I’ve got way too much integrity to accept sponsorships, until someone offers to sponsor me, in which case, yay sponsors!), and much of it applies to the top racer’s end of the sport rather than the schlubs like me, but there are ideas well expressed here, which makes it worth a read. I’m totally on board with the overall counterproductivity of the non-humble-bragging about impossible workouts that he references in point 3 (or at least, the harm it can do to people who read about them).

More Cash and Mandatory Obstacle Completion for “Savage Pros” (Obstacle Racing Media)—The news itself doesn’t actually interest me, but the revelation that top racers fail obstacles does. At the one Spartan Race I’ve done, while there were several obstacles I couldn’t do, there was nothing that wasn’t doable. I think, with a mix of proper training and less body weight, that a burpee-free run is within my grasp. Of course, that’s just one race and others may have tougher obstacles, and I have no idea what kind of toll the higher running pace may take, but it was still a surprising revelation to me.

Why Spartan Are Not Competitive Races—And How That Can Be Resolved (Mudstacle)—Argues that burpees aren’t a good penalty for obstacle non-completion, and offers recommendations for alternatives. Again, the idea that burpees aren’t monitored for the elites surprises me, and while burpees are part of the Spartan brand, I’m neutral on whether that should be, and I enjoy other ideas. (And even come up with a few myself…)

Survey Predicts Top 20 Fitness Trends (American College of Sports Medicine)—This kind of survey should never be taken as fact (it is, after all, based on opinions, and self-reported ones at that), although the results can be interesting. Apparently Zumba is no longer a hot trend. The thing that amuses me about the survey (and raises massive questions about its validity) is how uncomparable the options are—there were 39 possible trends for respondents to rank, which included things like general training techniques (body weight training, HIIT), social concepts (worker incentive programs, worksite health promotion), specific exercises (yoga, Zumba, medicine ball slamming), and things that make no sense in context of the survey, though they might make for good headlines (“Educated, certified, and experienced fitness professionals,” which I’m sure ACSM was disappointed only came in at #3 in a survey of educated, certified, and experienced fitness professionals.)

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The Nipple Saga Continues: BodyGlide Makes Me A Real Runner?

To follow up on the issues with my tuning knobs, I did take my friend’s advice and got myself some BodyGlide.

BodyGlide

I got the middle one. I’m not sure why all three sticks share just a single cap, though.

It’s kind of a personal, awkward thing to have to purchase. I’m glad I looked up online the stores that carry it, because its retailers are a bit more specialized than I’d hoped. I initially thought it might be in the pharmacy part of my grocery store, so i could buy it in complete privacy, except for the writing about it on the blog part. I could wedge it in between some flank steak and a bag of kale and the checkers wouldn’t have even noticed, as long as the bar code registered. Not the most attentive folks, those checkers. Diligent about announcing price checks for items to address chafing over the PA system, but not attentive.

Alas, it wasn’t to be. The closest store that had it was that dreadful Sports Authority, which may be a blessing. I don’t respect them, they don’t respect me, so what better place to make awkward purchases?

Finding BodyGlide in a Sports Authority isn’t easy for the chafing neophyte. There isn’t a “BodyGlide” section. What sport does it fall under? Running was the closest thing to an obvious choice, but that section seemed pretty limited to clothes. At least the men’s running section. I didn’t go through the women’s section thoroughly, because weird. General fitness? No luck, although it looks like they’ve invented soft fabric kettlebells weighing four pounds for… Well, I’m not sure who the audience is, but I hope it does them good. I tried the bike section, even though that mockery of gear makes me weep for engineering. There was a lengthy rack up front by the registers that seemed appropriate for miscellaneous smallish gear, but the whole thing was consumed by candy. (Do all sporting goods stores have a candy aisle, or does Sports Authority just have a loose definition of sport?)

I made another round of the store checking out all of the little kiosks in the middle of the aisles. There were a lot of these, and they followed no reason at all-there were earbuds next to protective cups, which isn’t even correct anatomically (I hope). And since there were so many and I thought I might have missed some, I wound up doing a third round, just to make sure.

Me walking around in circles repeatedly didn’t attract any attention, which probably says something disturbing. But as my phone insisted the BodyGlide was somewhere on the premises, I persisted and asked the first person I saw who worked there. “Do you have BodyGlide?”

“Yes,” she said brightly and then went back to pleating some neon jerseys, which is not the post-apocalyptic sex act you might think.

“Can you tell me where?”

“I’ll show you,” she said, with a big, and clearly murderous, smile. But she didn’t act on her desire for blood as she led me to the nondescript middle of one of the nondescript shoe aisles, where a few sticks of BodyGlide were hanging on a nondescript peg.

I was tempted to wear it out, just to annoy her, but there are some lines I only cross on the blog. Plus, I wasn’t running, so why waste it?

I got (is that really the right word?) to use the BodyGlide the next day. The instructions are a bit vague (“Apply where needed”) and slightly worrying (“Wash off with mild soap”). Is the soap I use normally mild enough? I am not cool with having to purchase specialized extra-mild nipple soap.

“Apply” is a slightly odd term. BodyGlide comes in a stick rather than a gel, so you have to rub it on like Speed Stick rather than smear like Vaseline. It was pretty easy to address the smooth part of my arm where the strap was rubbing, but the teats are a bit trickier. I mean, they’re inherently sticky-outy bits—thus the issue in the first place—so rubbing a solid object against them is an odd feeling. Is there a proper form for that? Do you go vertical or sideways? I tried them all but ultimately went hybrid, going vertical but holding the stick vertically too. It seemed to have the least amount of grip and grab.

Also, how much is enough? Is one pass enough or should there be a visible layer of white covering the pink? Again, I went for a mid-point, applying enough that there were a few flaky white bits trapped in the crevices of my front horns.

Chestburster alien

Fortunately, this didn’t happen.

It all seemed to work. I finished the run that day with no particular pain, or bleeding, or chestburster alien awakenings. Of course, that was a relatively short run, just 5K, which from my reading online seems to be a bit shorter than when issues tend to start. I’ll be doing a somewhat longer run today, so fingers crossed. (But, as always, nipples straight ahead.)

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