Saturday, July 17, 2010


Wow! I did not see that coming...a year of planning wiped out. So here's the dealee-yo. Last week I went online to register for my classes and an error message kept popping up "the classes you have requested are not in the system" or something like that. Knowing that most university/public service websites have infinitely more glitches than corporate ones (why? do universities get the first year computer students to design the sites?) I wasn't too worried and wrote an email to the department head explaining the problem.
Rewind about 6 weeks....I'm listening to NPR (the US equivalent of CBC radio) and the president of UNLV (my university) is being interviewed. The gist of the interview was that due to state budget cuts, UNLV was getting significantly less money this year and 7 programs would have to be cut. Several programs were mentioned as potential candidates but my program never came up. No decisions had been made but the university was trying to figure out which ones to cut.
UNLV is quite a large university with at least 60 programs so I'm listening to this thinking..."hmm, what are the odds that my program will be cut?" Well, technically it's 11.6 % but *spoiler alert!* apparently the odds were much higher....
Something like this is so out of left field that you never formulate a contingency plan in the months leading up to classes. Can you imagine your academic advisor looking over your application and projected study plan and saying, "ok, it looks like you've done a good job of planning you're education, but I don't see any contingency plan for if the state financially collapses, forces major budget cuts on our university, cuts your program with only a month before the first day of class and stomps on your hopes and dreams."...To which I'd wittily reply, "what's your contingency plan for when they cut your position?"
I just can't help but laugh at the irony of cutting my program: Ethics and Policy Studies. First of all this is Las Vegas. To many it already a source of much smirking that there even is an ethics program. But think about it, without an ethics program, who besides the Mormons (Nevada has many Mormons) is going to waive a self-righteous finger at the city? At least we can provide arguments besides "this would make sweet baby Jesus cry" or "god says it's baaaaaaaaaad" or "our loving, forgiving god is gonna condemn all you sinners to hellfire for eternity" or "not even magic pyjamas will protect you from the consequences of your sinful deeds" ...I could go on and on, and just might!
But the irony doesn't stop there. Nevada is ranked 50th (basically last) for education in the states. What are the ethical (and practical) implications of a policy that further decimates an already crumbling government service. Can Nevada really afford to cut education? How can you have a stong economy with high skill/education/wage jobs when most of the population has only basic literacy at best. Has anyone seen the movie "Idiocracy"? It's already happening...I meet these people every day. Maybe they are intentionally cutting this program as a pre-emptive defensive strike against qualified critics.

So, what do? After I received the news from my dept. head that the program had been cancelled the theme song for A-team and/or Mission Impossible started playing in my head as I tried to devise a plan using nothing but my wits and a compooter. First thing I did was type random keys on my computer so if anyone were filming me it would look like I was typing something really important, really fast. Then I turned my computer on.
The next thing I did was run to my car, jump in through the open window and peel out. I am a man of action. I get shit done. After circling the block, I came back into my house at sat down at my computer now that it had booted up. (Did I mention I bought more MEGS of RAM for it? It's really improved the MEGA pixles.) I checkout out the two closest universities that offer masters programs in philosophy and discovered that I can register as a general grad student until Aug. 1.
After a day or two I decided I'd go to Arizona State University because it's close to Vegas and I love the desert climate. There's a catch--actually a few. Because Arizona is home to many right wing nut jobs (anything the gov't tells you to do is by definition baaaaad) and alt-med people (anything from the "medical-industrial complex" is by definition designed to make you sick!) there's a strong anti-vaccination movement there. This means no herd immunity. The enlightened folk and ASU don't want any viral outbreaks on campus (who can blame them) so enrolment is contingent on proof of having had your MMR vaccine.
I had my shots when I was an infant but where the crap am I going to get documentation of this. Does anyone really have their childhood vaccine documentation? Especially when it was done in the pre-computer era? Unfortunately, after being passed around and spending inordinate amounts of time on hold with the Skeena Valley Health Authority I was told that they only had records going back to 1984 (I had my first shot in 1976...wow! I'm old!).
Luckily, there is an out. You can get a blood test that (hopefully) shows immunity to MMR. Got that scheduled for Mon. After that I can register for classes.
So, check this out. Classes start Aug. 16th i.e. in one month. So, I basically need to leave Las Vegas in 20 days to give myself time to find a place to live, buy books and get settled before class.
Not all is rosey though...As a general grad student only 3 classes can be used as credit toward a degree program. All degree programs start in the fall. This means I'm going to go to school for 1 semester, apply for the degree program beginning the following fall, then wait for 9 months before I (assuming I'm accepted) start again fall 2011. I already waited a freakin' year to start at UNLV. Oh, well, it's not like I have other options. Anyway, that sums things up as they stand right now. Hopefully, I'll have good news early next week about the blood test and will be able to register for classes. I guess the lesson here is, to use a hackneyed marketing line for bad action movies, professional wrestling and monster truck exibitions, "expect the unexpected".

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Health and Nutrition Part 3: Sleep

Health and Nutrition Part 3: Sleep (Hopefully last one--then I can get back to more interesting material)

Ok, first I'd like to express gratitude to my brother and sister for not only reading but commenting. Now that I've thanked you I'd like to discuss some of your comments because they raise some interesting issues.
Ez, in part one you brought up your experience that when you exercise you find yourself eating healthy foods. Although we are only 2 little points on a graph and our evidence is anecdotal I have to concur that there seems to be a positive feedback loop with exercise and healthy eating. I also think the opposite is true--poor exercise regime leads to poor eating habits. I would like to offer a crackpot theory on why this is true.
When you work out your body will need better nutrition to recover. Healthier foods generally offer better nutrition, so your body craved these healthier foods. There's probably a psychological reason too. After a good workout nobody wants to "waste" all that hard work by eating junk food. I think the psychological reason could apply to the negative feedback loop too. If you're sitting at home eating donuts and ice cream watching the tube after a certain point you think "ah, what's the point".
Of course you could argue that in some cases exercising can lead to eating unhealthy foods. For instance, after a long run you come home and you've been craving cheese cake. After your meal you eat it because you justify to yourself that you've "earned" it or can afford it calorically. It's your reward. I'd counter this argument with another argument! ah! ha! I acknowledge that this type of behaviour does actually happen (guilty!) but tends to represent episodic, not habitual behaviour.
Now, Ez, while I do agree with your/our positive feedback hypothesis, I respectfully disagree with some of your other comments. Regarding my rant that if you're not sweating you're not working out you dared to challenge me and advanced the idea that walking was the best exercise to build upper body strength. You might of accuse me of misrepresenting your argument but for those readers who didn't read the comments, you look like a fool.
Back to reality, you tendered the idea that sweating might not be the best indicator of good exercise. Let me clarify. When I say that, if you ain't got no sweat comin' outta youz, then you ain't axercising, what I'm really referring to is exercise intensity. Sweat output is a good measure of this but, I concede, is inaccurate because it does not take into account environmental temperature and individual propensity to sweat. So, I will grant you this.
The best measure of exercise intensity is heart rate. I do not believe in these BS low intensity "fat burn zone" exercise program. Show me one person that does low intensity exercise that is slim. Show me just one and I'll believe the hype.
I believe these programs are designed by the fitness industry to take over our minds and make us kill the Malaysian prime minister....oops, I mean get people of below average fitness levels to buy gym memberships. People are such babies that they'll cry and go home if you make them work too hard. They'll never come back when they wake up with, horror of horrors, every muscle sore the next day. Guess what crybaby nation? (My pro-wrestler alter ego is coming out!) That's what happens if you sit on your ass for 10 years or more, eating donuts and then finally get up to do something beyond walking to your car. The gyms know this. They know people are soft but they want as many people as possible to buy memberships, use personal trainers, and do the classes. So they design a program that's so easy and painless (and useless) that you will keep paying for more....and KILL THE MALAYSIAN PRIME MINISTER! That said, I will agree that some exercise is better than none at all, but people should seek to maximize their efficiency in the gym. This means higher intensity. If you're going to go for an hour get as much out of that hour as possible.
I have one more bone to pick with you Ez: You suggested that swimming was a strenuous activity in which one doesn't sweat. Actually you do sweat, ya just don't notice cuz you're already in the water. What's next? I don't breath when I'm in air!? Booya!
To address your question about how long to exercise, there is a short and long answer. The short answer is 45 min of med-high intensity not including warm up and cool down. The long answer is that it depends on your fitness goals. For the average Joe shmo 3x a week of 45min is fine. But if you want above average fitness you need to put in above average work. I find that if you want to take it to the HNL (hole nuva lev'l) you should work out 4x a week 45-60min a session. When you approach the 60min mark the law of decreasing marginal returns starts kicking in (unless you are an endurance athlete--I'm just talking about general health, fitness and "wellness"). But in truth, if you are working out with sufficient intensity, eating healthful foods (notice I didn't say "healthy". Bet ya didn't know that "healthful" is the correct adjective!) , and are mindful of your caloric intake, 3 days a week is fine.
Coonie, I offer my sincerest apologies for the mistakes with my possessives. I usually write at about 2am and finish at 3am. By then my proof reading skills aren't anything to write home about. Nevertheless, I will be more vigilant.


Done with the comments from the peanut gallery...last item to discuss in the triad of health: Sleep. I know! It sounds so simple! But as someone who suffered from insomnia for 5 years, I can tell you it isn't always. (I overcame my insomnia 2 years ago). Allz I'm gonna say is that if you aren't getting enough sleep regularly, the other 2 elements of health (exercise and nutrition) don't mean poop. In fact, without sleep, exercise can harm your health.
He's a couple of quick notes on sleep (mostly directed at those who have some degree of sleep disorder): 1) Try to keep a regular wake up schedule. 2) Only use sleeping pills for 1 or 2 nights in a row to get back on schedule, never use them regularly (you build tolerance--at one point I would take 4 and still be wide awake) 3) Be outside as much as you can to get direct sunlight--at least 30 min a day. 4) Invest in blackout curtains. 5) Avoid any stimulants (caffein, cocain) after noon. It takes at least 8 hours for caffein to completely leave your body. 6) Read academic books before bed (anecdotal...worked ok for me). Reading books that don't require much brain power and are plot driven won't tire you and will end up drawing you in making you stay up even later. 7) Find time for yourself during your day for your mind to unwind (no TV or internet!). Rushing around from the time you get up until the time you go to bed leaves your mind no time to reflect on your day and this need is what might be keeping you up.
Anywho, those are some things that worked for me. I hope that in writing this somebody can learn from my mistakes and hard earned knowledge. Most of my life I've made a living off my body, whether it be manual labour, sports, dancing, or prancing. To maintain my livelyhood I've done plenty of tinkering with different approaches to exercise, nutrition, and sleep. Through trial and error and research I've learned a lot and I've also been very fortunate to have met many people along the way that were willing to share their hard earned knowledge with me. Shout out to: Coach Buono, James Wilcox, Carlos, Shaun Thomas, my seester (coondawg), my ma, my pa, Anne, Auntie Katinka, Tiki, Clay Cannon, Lind Walter, Yohan, Chris Connel, quackcast.com (Mark Crislip), Skeptics Guide to the Universe, and many more I can't remember at this moment.

By the by here are some AP approved websites for health info:
saveyourself.ca (canadian website...woohoo!)
pubmed.gov (for research--u can access all published medical studies here, unfiltered by the "evil" media)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Health and Nutrition Part 2

This entry will be about what to eat and how to exercise 

Ok, I don't want to get carried away with this topic. I chose it last week because I'd promised myself I'd write. I was tired and it required the least amount of thought. On the other hand I don't want to leave a bunch of loose ends. So lets see if I can wrap up the nutrition portion of this treatis (sp?).

First, there are a couple of important (unintentional) omissions from the previous post. I got sooooo carried away with the calories and macronutrition thing that you'd think there's no need for fruit and vegetables. Aux contraire! (For those of you who don't speak French, this means "I like chocolate chip cookies".) Veggies and fruits are obviously important in your diet because a) they contain many of the vitamins and minerals you need, and b) you can eat a lot of veggies to fill yourself up to avoid over-eating higher calorie foods.

Although many vitamin companies will tell you that you need to supplement, the truth is a North American diet has more than enough of most of the vitamins we need (with the possible exception of vitamin D, which is added to milk...so problem solved!). Most North Americans eat a lot of meat and meats have just about everything we need. Think of it this way...we are made of meat, so if we eat that of which we are composed, we are consuming that which we need. A totally unscientific oversimplification....but true.

There are of course some vitamins and minerals for which vegetables and fruit are an equal or better source, not to mention the importance of fibre. So, eat meat, eat vegetables, eat fruit. Nothing new here since what they told you this in Kindergarten. I will however add some moderately helpful information. 1) Since vegetable are low in calories, fill up on them before you eat the protein, carb, and fat portion of your meal. 2) Don't overdo it on the fruit. People think that it's automatically good for you in all cases but forget that fruit is high in calories. Fructose, despite "being natural and therefore good for you" (google "naturalistic fallacy") is still sugar. Your body treats a gram of fructose the same as it treats a gram of sucrose or dextrose...or maltose...or bigtose..babytose. A gram of sugar, regardless (by the way, to anyone who misuses this word and says "irregardless"; I will tackle your ass!) of it's source or it's number of hydrogen atoms has the same caloric value...they just have very slight differences in absorption rates. So once again, we need to refer back to the calories in/out equation in deciding what to eat.

What if I'm craving something sweet and fruits not gonna do it? Here's what works for me: Modern protein bars, unlike their barely palatable ancestors basically taste as good or better than a chocolate bar...and there are just as many flavours to chose from. Buy a box. Have them on hand. Eat them when you're craving sweets; it tastes just as good and the protein will make you feel full.

Doh! Somehow, I've gotten bogged down in details again! Ok, I'm gonna sum up nutrition: 1) Pay the most attention to calories in vs. calories out/used. 2) Tinker with the ratios of protein/carbs/fats to find the ideal mix for you. 3) Avoid white (i.e. processed) carbs. 4) Eat your meal in this order: veggies, protein, carbs&fats. 5) Be aware of the calories in fruit. 6) Eat protein bars when you're craving "bad-for-you" sweets.

Why the crap did it take me 2 blog entries to say what I just condensed into a paragraph? My first year English teacher would have a fit and make me rewrite the whole damn thing...and he'd be right! But...Too late!

In the spirit of condensing things lets look at another leg people often get wrong: Exercise


You know what? Before I even start, there are a couple of things I should say right away pertaining to what exercise is not. (I warned you it would be opinionated!) Based on some of the behaviours I've seen in gyms all over the world, it seems that there is some confusion over what it means to exercise--please allow me to clarify 1) If you're not sweating...you're not exercising PERIOD! (Sorry, the period key on my computer was temporarily broken so I had to type it out....) 2) If you can sip a mocha-latte machiato with 1 pump of vanilla while on a cardio machine...you're not exercising PERIOD! (Darn button is acting up again!) 3) If you can squawk incessantly to your friend while on any machine (especially one near me)...you're not exercising PERIOD! (gotta get that key fixed). Ah! I feel much better....serenity now! serenity now!

There are obviously many types of exercise and you should find one that you enjoy. For some people it's the gym, others prefer an organized sport (golf and base/soft ball don't count--see rant #2), others might prefer a solo activity like hiking, running, or rock climbing, others might like dance or aerobics. It doesn't matter what it is, or if you combine various types. What matters is that you engage in some physical activity at least 3x a week and it is more probable that you will do so if you actually enjoy the activity.
For simplicity sake I will focus on rules of thumb for success in the gym. Not because I think it's superior to other forms of exercise but it is probably the most popular.

Priority of Body Parts:
It's important to know that all body parts do not have equal importance in the gym. What I mean is that if you have limited time and you have to choose between training body part A or body part B, there is a correct answer to this dilemma. The larger the muscle group the greater the priority: 1) Legs 2) Back 3) Chest 4) Shoulders/traps 5) Arms. Notice a couple of things: a) Arms are last. If I want to find the most out of shape person in the gym I just look for the area where people train bi's and tri's. If I want to find the most fit people, I go to the leg equipment, especially the squat rack. Don't believe me? Try it at your gym. b) Notice the midsection is conspicuously missing, that's because you should do minimum 3 sets for your midsection every time you go to the gym (abs/lower back).

Why is important to prioritize in this order? 1) Using large muscle groups burns more calories. Think how many calories are burned doing leg press or a squat vs. a bicep curl. It's simple physics: F (force) xD (distance)=Energy. With the larger muscle groups you can use more weight so you can exert a greater force thereby using more energy. 2) When you engage your major muscle groups (legs, back, chest) to lift weights your body releases HGH (human growth hormone) which, in short, is the fountain of youth.

So when you plan your workouts make sure you give most of your attention to the big 3 areas (legs, back, chest). What you should not do is give equal time to back or chest and arms (for example). You already engage your arms in every pushing and pulling upper body movement when you work your back, chest, (and shoulders) so it is overkill to do more sets for your arms. You've already worked them. As an example I do about 12-16 sets for my chest and on that same day only 4 or 5 sets for my triceps. I've already worked the triceps in every pushing movement so why do more? It's more beneficial to do extra sets for the chest.

Related to this is the concept of compound movements. Unless you are training for a professional bodybuilding competition you should always chose compound movements over isolation movements. A compound movement as you may have gathered, is one that engages more than one muscle group. Some examples are: the squat i.e. the king of all exercises (quads, glutes, hamstrings, lower back, traps), bench press (chest, front delt, tricep) , dips (same as bench press), pull ups (lats, biceps, forearms, triceps) and so on. 

 Basically, if you are going to the gym for fitness you want to choose exercises that use as many muscle groups as possible because you are using more energy per movement and therefore being more efficient with your time. Also, for sports and general co-ordination it's better to do compound movements because it aids in neuro-muscular co-ordination (I threw in the "neuro" to make myself sound more science-y. For you new age-y types I will re-write the last sentence for you in your language) ...it's better to do compound movements because it is a more holistic approach to moving the weight and will help you feel more balanced and centred (by increasing your chi).

Ok, this is taking waaaaaaaay too long I'm gonna wrap it up and recap. If you have specific questions, just ax me:
1) Always exercise large muscle groups first and more. 2) Choose compound movements over isolation movements. 3) Don't ever let me catch you sipping a grande mocha latte machiato on or near a cardo machine...I'll tackle your ass!
Hope this was helpful!