2015-04-16

No Fences?


Quote #1:

U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson also barred Hughes from the District of Columbia, except for court appearances, and said he must stay away from the Capitol, White House and nearby areas while he is there. He will also have to hand over his passport.

Quote #2:

Johnson said it was too soon to say whether the incident would prompt any change in security protocol, the AP reported. "We are a democracy. We don't have fences around our airspace, so we've got to find the right balance between living in a free and open society and security and the protection of federal buildings," Johnson said, according to the AP.

Notice anything funny?

Stairs


One great thing about working on one of the mid-to-upper floors of an office high-rise is that you get some exercise every time you choose to use the stairs rather than the elevator. For a person like myself, that happens every time I want to go from one floor to another.

I know what you're thinking: Great fitness advice, Ryan - I can similar advice from Good Housekeeping for chrissakes. And you would be right. But when you hear this advice from me, you get it in your web browser! 

But it's not just that. I don't take the stairs because I'm trying to win over the Weight Watchers crowd or shift my target demo toward old ladies. There is an all-encompassing philosophy here. Taking the stairs is about what I call fostering a culture of activity in your life. Don't take the stairs to lose weight; take the stairs "because transportation." You're at point A on Floor X, you want to be at point B on Floor Y (where Y <> X); so you walk.

You could object that it takes longer - but it certainly doesn't take more than a couple of minutes longer, unless you are really out of shape (and taking the stairs more frequently will change that in a hurry).

You could object that it's less pleasant than taking the elevator, but I assert that after a couple of weeks of dedicating yourself to stairs-only travel, that will no longer be the case. This should be especially true once you reiterate to yourself that you're doing it purely for reasons travel, not health. If something doesn't feel like exercise, then it's tough to mentally categorize it as "exercise." (This, by the way, is how we distance runners "do it without going crazy." I mention this because I have often been asked.)

2015-04-15

The Problem With Good Things

There are a rash of fresh headlines about the allegedly deleterious effects of fitness apps:


Etc., etc.

The idea seems to be that some users of fitness tracking smartphone applications get so preoccupied by maximizing their data that they start to worry, suffer anxiety, over-exert themselves, and so forth. 

Imagine if someone suggested that knowledge itself were harmful because, once you know that knowledge is possible, you may quickly start to worry about not possessing it.

It seems silly, but I vividly recall a conversation I once had with a close friend. I was telling this friend of mine all about my fabulous wife, then girlfriend. I was discussing what we had done the previous weekend, and a few things that she had done to demonstrate a few of her many great qualities. This friend of mine suddenly became sullen and withdrawn. After some questioning on my part, my friend told me that it hurt to hear about all the wonderful things I was doing with my girlfriend because the friend did not have a romantic partner. 

I remember being stunned. Here I had shared a big part of my life with my friend, hoping to receive some positive empathy, and really just making harmless conversation, and the friend instead took it as though I was rubbing everyone else's face in what a good life I had.

And so it goes with fitness apps. It's not enough that they can track our every caloric expenditure (and acquisition), geo-locate us anywhere in the world, automatically parse our bio-markers by time of day, and so on, and so forth. We now ask them to insulate our fragile egos from suffering the blow of not having had a perfectly healthy day!

The problem with good things, it seems, is that some people feel bad for not having them. If only there were an app that delivered narcissistic supply. Perhaps I should develop one.

In A Hurry? Improvise!

If exercise were my full-time job – and, boy, would I love it if that were the case! – then every morning I would wake up and carefully plan a new and exciting workout for myself. I’d extend my morning breakfast/coffee deep into mid-morning and arrive at the day’s perfect workout. Then, I’d deliver it in spades!

 

In the real world, I’m a working stiff, a parent, a husband, and a guy with a diverse set of interests and responsibilities. In short, I don’t always have time to concoct The World’s Greatest Workout, Man and then spend all day making my muscles sing from the rooftops. (Notes to future self in the event that reincarnation occurs: (1) You were wrong about atheism; (2) consider a career as a fitness model or personal trainer.) To put it concisely, I don’t always have a lot of time on my hands to think up a great workout.

 

What do I do in those situations? Well, I could always dig up someone else’s workout, but that starts to feel like a to-do list preceded by uninteresting internet research. I could also pull Stationary Waves up on my internet browser and see what I’ve done in the past. I’ve actually done this a number of times to smashing effect. (Indeed, it’s probably the main reason I blog my workouts – sorry to disappoint those of you who supposed I was primarily motivated by fitness altruism.)

 

But in this morning’s case, I opted for another handy approach to creating one’s own workouts: Doing the same thing you did last time, plus additional repetitions.

 

Unimaginative? Yes. Boring? Maybe. Effective? Absolutely!

 

TL;DR: Today’s workout was the same as Mondays, plus more reps.

2015-04-13

Light Calisthenics, Part Two

 

This morning's push-up/squat workout sure was fun. On the other hand, it didn't feel like much of a workout. I think that means I ought to push a little harder tomorrow morning, and that's exactly what I intend to do.

 

Before I do, though, I think I ought to supplement this morning's workout with a little more exercise this evening. Nothing too complicated, just a few more sets of push-ups - I'll make it up as I go, because I don't want to burn up mental energy heaping workout responsibilities on myself. I just want to have fun with this - no pressure, no commitment, just a little something to make me feel more accomplished tonight.

 

As for tomorrow, my plan is as follows, perforated by mountain-climbers:

 

·         Set 1: 10 L-sit pull-ups

·         Set 2: 10 underhand pull-ups

·         Set 3: 10 L-sit pull-ups

·         Set 4: 10 underhand pull-ups

·         Set 5: 10 side-to-side pull-up isometrics

 

I suppose now might be a good time to mention that my ultimate goal is to create substantial increases to my ability to perform calisthenics. More on that as details become available. For now, I’ll just focus on building my strength.

2015-04-12

Workout Of The Day

I typically use Monday as my triceps-and-chest day. As such, today's workout explores the deeper end of the push-up pool.

And speaking of push-ups, I typically do repetitions of between 20 and 40 - but that's sort of a runner's approach to push-ups, isn't it?

In the spirit of new-ness, today I'll try a new approach. I'll do five sets of push-ups as per below. Between each set, I'll do squats.
  • Set 1: 10 diamond push-ups
  • Set 2: 10 plyo-push-ups (clapping)
  • Set 3: 10 side-to-side push-up isometrics
  • Set 4: 10 incline push-ups
  • Set 5: one-arm push-ups to max

Mojo, The Return Of My

The road ahead, get it?
I was training for a half marathon that didn't happen due to inclement weather. In order to run my fastest, I was anxious to shed some upper body mass, and I did that very successfully. Then the race didn't happen, and since then, my workout pattern has been, shall we say, sporadic.

Well, cue the theme music, because it's time I reestablished myself as a purveyor of fine calisthenics and exercise ideas. To accomplish this, I'll need to get in shape - big time. And why not leverage my stagnating blog toward that process?

This time around, I'll be focused on all-around fitness, which means I'll be heavy on the calisthenics and plyometrics, significant on the free weights, and merely present on the cardio. I love cardio, but what this recent half marathon training reminded me is that I love cardio for fun, not for competition or serious dedication. (Perhaps some day I'll tell that story - it is probably worth it.)

Of course, I could always just go back to my trusty 8W routine; and I'll admit that it was a lot of fun. But I'd like to recapture some of that fitness mojo I've been lacking lately, and in order to do that, I want to focus on the playful nature of inventing my workouts on the fly. 

There will still be some semblance of structure, but within that semblance, all bets are off. 

Let's do this thing.

2015-03-20

Cocksackied: A Mystery

If you have children in daycare, and you're wondering whether adults can get hand, foot, and mouth disease, let me assure you that the answer is an unequivocal yes.

If you're like most people, however, you probably would never even think to ask the question. For my part, I don't think I had ever heard of hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) until my daycare facility provided me with a letter informing me - along with all the other parents - that a child in the facility had been officially diagnosed with HFMD. Naturally, my first reaction was concern for the health of my own child. Little did I know that my second reaction would be a bit more, shall we say, feverish.

* * *

Web searches for "hand foot and mouth disease" produce links that almost put one at ease about the matter. Most articles discuss how to comfort a child who falls victim to HFMD. The Wikipedia article is a case in point. Its simple language paints the picture of a common childhood malady.
Hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) is a common human syndrome... HFMD mainly affects infants and children, but can occasionally occur in adults.[3] ... The rash generally goes away on its own in about 1 week, and most cases require no treatment other than symptomatic relief.[7] No antiviral treatment or vaccine is currently available for HFMD, but development efforts are underway.[8] ... Medications are usually not needed as hand, foot and mouth disease is a viral disease that typically gets better on its own. Currently, there is no specific curative treatment for hand, foot and mouth disease.[13] Disease management typically focuses on achieving symptomatic relief. Pain from the sores may be eased with the use of analgesic medications. Infection in older children, adolescents, and adults is typically mild and lasts approximately 1 week, but may occasionally run a longer course. Fever reducers and lukewarm baths can help decrease body temperature.
Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. My, that almost sounds like a simple cold or flu virus. What are we talking about here? A fever and a rash? Big deal.

* * *

On Monday night, as the evening wound down and we turned on a movie before bed, my body began to ache and my head started swimming. I begrudgingly admitted to myself that there was a small possibility I was coming down with a flu. An hour later, I had the chills and started to worry about having to deal with vomiting and nausea - never a fun prospect for anyone, least of all a type 1 diabetic. And yet, when I woke up the next morning, I didn't have the telltale flu symptoms I expected. There was no runny nose, no nausea, no coughing. I had only a very mild sore throat, and what continued to feel like a fever.

As my head swam, my dear wife took my temperature and confirmed that I was running a fever, but only slightly. My temperature was 100.8 F. Other than this, I felt fine, so I hopped in the car and hurried off to work.

By noon, however, the fever had entered that part of the human mind responsible for things like good decision-making, competent work, critical thinking, and intelligibility. I made an executive decision: I had to go home. I spent the remainder of the day drinking fluids, resting and relaxing, allowing myself the lone mental luxury of an Xbox.

* * *

A deep enough dive into the far corners of Google's search algorithms finally produces some real information on HFMD, such as this Medscape article. It starts out much the same as all the others - HFMD is a daycare disease, mostly affecting infants and toddlers. Again, the author reiterate that the virus is "mild."
Hand-foot-and-mouth disease (HFMD) is more severe in infants and children than adults, but generally, the disease has a mild course. Coxsackie A6 often presents with more generalized involvement, as well as with more severe systemic symptoms.[4]
Of course, thereafter things get interesting:
Enteroviral infections may also cause myocarditis, epididymitis, pneumonia, meningoencephalitis, and even death.[5] MicroRNA profiles and elevated circulating histones have been used to characterize more severe disease.[6, 7]... 
Infection in the first trimester may lead to spontaneous abortion or intrauterine growth retardation. 
A large outbreak of HFMD in Taiwan caused by enterovirus 71 had a high mortality rate of 19.3% in the severe cases; the deaths resulted from pulmonary hemorrhage. During this outbreak, mortality rates were highest in children younger than 3 years.[8] 
In a large epidemic (138 cases) of HFMD related to enterovirus 71 in Singapore, 7 fatalities occurred, most from interstitial pneumonitis or brainstem encephalitis. The report's conclusions were that in general, HFMD is a benign disease but the presence of unusual physical findings, elevated total white blood cell count, and vomiting and the absence of oral ulcers may signify a patient with higher risk of a fatal outcome.[9] Newer reports of large outbreaks of HFMD in China have shown that longer duration of fever, elevated serum C-reactive protein (CRP), and hyperglycemia are risk factors for increased severity of disease.[10] 
A later study of an HFMD epidemic (14 children) in Australia, again with enterovirus 71, reported that 9 (64%) developed severe neurologic disease in which the host immune response seemed to cause most of the neurologic manifestations.[11] 
In one study of an outbreak HFMD in Sarawak, Malaysia caused by human enterovirus 71, the authors identified 3 clinical risk factors to help detect children at risk for neurologic complications. Total duration of fever for 3 or more days, peak temperature elevation greater or equal to 38.5°C, and a history of lethargy all were independently associated with cerebrospinal fluid pleocytosis and neurologic disease.[12] 
In a recent outbreak in the Republic of Korea with enterovirus 71, duration of fever longer than 4 days, peak temperature elevation greater than 39°C, vomiting, headache, neurologic signs, and serum glucose value over 100 mg/dL were all significant risk factors for neurologic complications.[13]
Wait, what was that last thing? Serum glucose value over 100 mg/dL?

* * * 

On Tuesday evening, I went to bed at 9:30 PM, thinking the extra sleep would serve me well. I woke up but an hour later, drenched in sweat. Finally, I thought, my fever has broken. I drank a glass of water, blinked a few times, and looked around. I felt great!

In the interest of good diabetes management, I tested my blood sugar. The number that appeared on the glucometer can only be described as "whopping." That disturbed me a little, especially considering how completely normal I felt physically. But I chalked it up to the breaking of the fever, managed my reading appropriately, and then went back to bed, thinking to myself that this was certainly the strangest flu I'd ever had. I had no symptoms other than a mild fever, which quickly ran its course and left me feeling no worse for wear.

The next morning, at work, I noticed a red and itchy spot on my finger. It looked and felt exactly like eczema, of which I have been a lifetime sufferer. I put some lotion on the affected area and went back to work. As I typed at my keyboard, I noticed a painful spot on my thumb. At first, it was an invisible painful spot, but already my mind had started to connect the dots.

Within two hours, all of the following had happened: The painful spot on my thumb had become a blister, the itchy spot on my hand had become larger and deeper beneath the surface than eczema, but otherwise still felt like eczema, a second blister had appeared - this one on the underside of my tongue - more phantom itchy spots had started to make themselves known on my other hand, and I had done sufficient Googling to admit to myself that I had probably contracted HFMD from my child's daycare provider.

* * *
Leukocyte counts are 4000-16,000/┬ÁL. Occasionally, atypical lymphocytes are present. 
Recent studies show that elevated serum concentration of C-reactive protein (CRP) and fasting and elevated blood glucose were significantly higher in severe cases than in mild ones.[10]
There it is again, elevated blood glucose levels, especially for severe cases of HMFD. Interesting. And yet, there is a bright note in this:
The prognosis for hand-foot-and-mouth disease is excellent; except in large epidemics caused by human enterovirus 71 in which neurologic complications and death have been reported, especially in children.
Once having traveled this far down the medical rabbit hole, however, one cannot resist the urge to try another Google search: "diabetes hand foot and mouth disease."

* * * 

I woke up with a start that night. It was midnight, which is a highly unusual time for me to wake up. My hands were so unbelievably itchy; so much so that I had to get up and read to try to take my mind off the itching or risk scratching all the flesh off my hands and fingers.

I tiptoed into the living room, grabbed my tablet, and set out to Google the ultimate HFMD itch relief strategy. Somewhere in the darkest corners of the parenting message boards, I came across a woman who declared that the one and only relief she was able to discover was putting ice on the affected regions. I decided to give that a try. I pulled an ice pack out of the freezer and pressed it onto the itchiest part of my hand.

Aaaahh! Instant relief. I continued the cold compress until my hands couldn't take anymore. 

The relief lasted long enough for me to get back to sleep, but an hour later the itching had returned. Back to the freezer, back to the ice pack, back to the cold compress, and finally relief again. I held on to the ice pack until my hands burned and ached from the cold, then hurried back to bed to try to fall asleep before the relief subsided again. 

It worked. I slept through the night.

* * *

Deep in the aforesaid rabbit hole, one finds this:
Group B coxsackieviruses tend to infect the heart, pleura, pancreas, and liver, causing pleurodynia, myocarditis, pericarditis, and hepatitis (inflammation of the liver not related to the hepatotropic viruses). Coxsackie B infection of the heart can lead to pericardial effusion. Muffled heart sounds and pulsus paradoxus are signs of this. 
The development of insulin-dependent diabetes (IDDM) has recently been associated with recent enteroviral infection, particularly coxsackievirus B pancreatitis. This relationship is currently being studied further.
Then, on a diabetes parenting blog, one young girl's "Diagnosis Story" begins as follows:
Arden turned two years old on July 22nd 2006. A few weeks later she had her two year well visit with our pediatrician. Everything looked great, she got her immunizations and we went home. The next day Arden seemed sick, she had a slight fever and was lethargic, I assumed that was from the inoculations. When she didn't get better after a few days I took her back to the doctors office. Arden was then diagnosed with Hand, Foot and Mouth disease (HFMD). A common illness for infants and small children. What was strange about the diagnosis was that she already had HFMD previously and it’s supposed to be one of those things you get once and then build a natural defense against, like chicken pox.
It's a throw-away comment. HFMD does not play a role in the rest of the diagnosis story except to set the scene for the fact that Arden's lethargy and frequent urination were "off the radar" for her parents at the time.

Still, it's haunting. There are no sure-fire, known causes of type 1 diabetes. There exists some evidence that it is an auto-immune response. Sometimes it is caused by certain bacterial infections. Sometimes people report a recent history of food poisoning. Some say it pertains to stress. Some say viruses.

The problem with all of these stories is that they are just vague enough to be convincing. Anyone who has type 1 diabetes can think back to the time before they had the disease, and say to themselves, "You know... I do seem to remember getting sick..." or "I think I did have a bout of food poisoning 6 months prior..." or "I guess I could have been under a lot of stress at the time."

Medically compelling enough to be studied, but not compelling enough to be scientifically validated, each new dive into Google produces a new look at the disease. But a truly honest look, accounting for all stories and medical research, reveals that while there is plenty of circumstantial evidence to go around, we still don't know what causes type 1 diabetes.

And, anyway, I've already got it. HFMD isn't count to make me any more insulin-dependent than I already am.

* * *

That evening, I had somehow managed to convince myself that the worst of it was over. The itching was starting to die down, and the rash was no longer raised. The blisters in mouth had finally burst and were starting to heal. Things were looking up.

That night, however, the clock struck midnight and I again awoke with what was perhaps the worst itching to date. An ice pack wasn't going to do it this time around. I grabbed a small plastic basin and filled it with ice and cold water. I'm sure I smiled maniacally as I plunged my hands deep into the cold water, so cold it was literally painful. What did pain matter? Any relief from the itching was a positive change. I grit my teeth and held my hands submerged in the water until I absolutely could not take it anymore. Then I lifted them out, let the water drip off of them a bit, and then plunged them back in.

Again, and again I held my hands in the water until they felt like blocks of ice attached at the wrist. Finally, I felt well enough to get back to sleep, and before long I was indeed dreaming once again.

When I woke up that morning, my hands were covered by new lesions, almost all of which greatly resembled eczema. The itching was unbearable. My feet, too had blisters on them, to the point that walking around the house felt almost like neuropathy - the lesions tingled to the touch, as though my extremities had lost circulation. Or else they simply and unbearably itched

The sores in my mouth, however, had almost healed, as had those on my face and around my mouth. I noticed a couple of odd ones on my knees and my earlobes, too. The itching was really severe, to the point that the closest comparison I could think of was anaphylaxis.

Well, that's cocksackie virus for you. While a common cold or flu virus will infect the upper respiratory tract, cocksackie viruses infect the skin and the mucus membranes. The good news is that this is one virus that doesn't give you a particularly runny nose, a bad cough or all the usual symptoms of having a common virus. The bad news is that all of these symptoms are replaced by a painful, itching, unyielding maelstrom of lesions and blisters on the hands, feet, mouth, tongue, and anywhere else that seems soft and moist. (Yes, anywhere else that seems soft and moist.)

The worst was behind me, or so I guessed, especially considering that this is one cocksackie virus I will never be able to catch again.

2015-02-20

How To Stoke The Flames

Two op-eds popped up on my Facebook feed this morning. Both could widely be viewed as "good articles," and yet underneath the sheen, both are utter garbage. By "garbage," I mean to say that both articles use weak rhetoric to evoke passion in those readers who already agree with the author. It's a form of "preaching to the choir," but it's a particularly smug one because it includes a thin veneer of intellectual credibility, which beguiles its more worthless true nature.

Am I being unfair? Maybe. You can find these articles here and here. Read them for yourself, then come back to this blog post, read below, and tell me whether or not you agree that these pieces fit the general form I am about to describe.

Okay, friends, here's how you write an effective op-ed piece!

  1. Step One: Identify a serious issue that cannot easily be solved.
  2. Step Two: Identify a trivial issue with high signalling value; the more it appeals to readers' vanity, the better.
  3. Step Three: Draw a parallel between the two issues.
  4. Step Four: Use the simple, ego-padding solution to the trivial problem as a means to imply that the serious, difficult problem could just as easily be solved, if people were simply more like the right-thinking readers of the op-ed (and its author, of course).
  5. Step Five: Op-ed goes viral.
In the first article I linked to, the rather serious and difficult problem of Bangladeshi corruption is compared to the dog-whistle issue of Charlie Hebdo. Oh, of course! All we need is more respect and decency, then we can overcome deeply entrenched government corruption! It's so obvious!

In the second article, libertarianism's troubling history of bigotry is compared to... wait for it... GamerGate! See how easy it is to "fix" libertarianism? All we have to do is expunge the nerds! Once again, nerds provide an easy and effective whipping-boy (oops - microaggression! I mean "whipping-person") for the "right-thinkers."

The sad thing here is that I actually agree with both articles. But because the rhetoric in each is so cheap, I'm left wondering if I agree because the points made are good ones, or merely because it's difficult even for critical-thinkers to rise above the tide of mood affiliation.

2015-02-18

Blog Ist Tot

I've been using the Blogger platform for I don't know how many years now. Years, anyway. I cannot tell you the last time I noticed a genuinely positive change to the platform. In fact, I don't even think I could tell you about any negative changes to the platform, either. Blogger has remained virtually unchanged for at least two years.

Compare that to Facebook application updates, which are fairly regular. It might not be a fair comparison, but the fact of the matter is that Blogger is a "social medium," and so there is at least some comparability to Facebook.

Anyway, the point is that Blogger as a Google application is either suffering from severe neglect, or blogging itself is slowly dwindling into nothingness. It its heyday, bloggers would cross-reference each other, quote each other, respond in comments sections, and argue, argue, argue! It was great fun. I even dabbled in that, myself, as I'm sure you've noticed (if you're even still following my blog).

But these days, all of that is long gone. My favorite blogs have all more or less become stale. It's not that there isn't anything to talk about, it's that no one is interested in talking about it on blogs. Or, more to the point, no one is interested in reading about it on blogs. Maybe they're watching it on TV, or on YouTube channels (although I doubt that, too). Maybe they're "tweeting." Maybe they're discussing it on Quora, or some other social medium that provides more real-time interaction among holders of opinion.

In any even, blogging has gone the way of the Podcast: Once mighty, it has fallen into the darker corners of the internet. The few who continue to indulge in blogging are facing dwindling audiences and low inspiration.

To summarize: blogging is dying, and the fact that Google is neglecting its primary blogging platform is evidence of this fact. I don't think this is contestable, so I guess the only thing left to do is to ask why.

One reason might be that people are facing "opinion fatigue." If you pull up Facebook, there is everyone's opinion, right there on your phablet screen. If you pull up Google+, there it is again. Quora? There it is in questions and answers. TV? Yep, every news program gives you 30 seconds of facts and twenty-one-and-a-half minutes of opinion. You open a magazine, and there it is again. You want to kill some time by reading Slate or something, and there it is all over: opinion. Opinion gives way to dispute and dispute becomes argument, and all you wanted to do was say some passing comment like, "Wow, Kanye West is a real dick," and suddenly you got sucked into a debate about the extent to which your comment is a form of microaggression.

God, exhausting, right? Might as well catch up on some old episodes of Weeds, or whatever it is on Netflix that has nudity and enough of a story line to convince everyone that it's okay to watch it without having to say that you're only watching it for the nudity.

I mean, it's not a sure thing. There may be other reasons why people aren't interested in blogging. Maybe it's just that this younger generation, whoever they are, are we up to Generation Z now, or do we have to go back to W? just isn't interested in long-form commentary. Three pages!? YUCK! But they still have to do homework, right? Which means they can read...

Besides, it's not just opinion blogs that people are running away from. Nobody reads fishing blogs, either. Or travel blogs. Or anything like that. Basically, they just skip the part where you write about your feelings, and they follow you directly on Instagram, where you're posting the pictures, which is why they decided to read your travel blog in the first place.

This seems to imply that reading someone else's inner thoughts and opinions is just about as interesting as hearing someone tell you about the recurring dream they have, where they're waiting at a bus stop and an old guy comes up to them and says something innocuous like Hi, Sally, I like your umbrella today, but for some reason you get totally freaked out and the next thing you know you're eating salad at a cheap restaurant and Randy is there, but he can't see you for some reason so you decide to go to a baseball game...

Et cetera.

We've navel-gazed ourselves into a corner. There's nothing left to opine about, because everyone's already more-or-less heard all the angles by now. Unless you're a truly original thinker, it's unlikely you have that much more to say about Federal Reserve policy that hasn't already been said by your Econ 101 professor by now. And by "you" I mean "me" and by "me" I mean "nobody is actually reading this, so who cares if I ascribe to the reader thoughts that have only occurred to myself?"

Speaking of which, I am utterly certain that hackers in Russia - and possibly a number of shady pornography companies - have been using my domain or blog somehow to do something nefarious. I know this because every day I get hundreds if not thousands of blog hits from shady pornographic websites and IP-routing services, even though nobody - and I mean nobody - is reading my blog anymore.

So there's that.

Also: Some of you may recognize shades of dadaism in this blog post. This is unintentional.

Those last two sentences, if you didn't catch it, are a kind of intellectual joke. The whole point of dadaism was to use nonsense to convey artistic expression. It was kind of ironic. But it can't be ironic if it's delivered unintentionally. In other words, there is a big difference between Banksy and some schizophrenic guy who makes a stencil of J. Edgar Hoover's shoe print and spray-paints it on every random public space he comes across. You expert practitioners of dadaism are already correcting me in your heads: No, actually, Ryan, that's outsider art! GET IT RIGHT! But screw those guys. It's my joke and I'll tell it how I like it, and here's how I like it: I'm not Banksy, I'm the dude with the stencil, and I'm running out of space.

And so are you. And so are we all. That's why blogging is dead.

2015-01-29

Google Fit + Strava Update

Contrary to what I reported the other day, the coordination between Stava and Google Fit does not quite work the way I expected. The way it actually works is that if you use Strava to log your runs then the Strava app will pass that data into Google Fit. If you don't use the Strava app while running, then the push to Google Fit never occurs.

I use a Garmin Forerunner to map my runs. This data gets pushed from Garmin Connect to Strava, but Strava does not push this received data into Google Fit.

So using Strava as a middle man confers no special benefit in terms of coordinating with Google Fit. Strava does seem like a great app otherwise, but unfortunately for them, my needs in that regard are already being met by the Garmin watch and app.

I've removed the Strava widget from my blog, the Strava app from my phone, and will be shutting down my Strava account. Please don't consider this a mark against Strava; I think it's the best free run-tracker app I've come across yet. It just wasn't right for me, personally.

2015-01-28

Stay On The Right Side Of The Law

A few days ago, Michael Esch published an excellent article at Liberty.me. The article was ostensibly about teaching his son chess, but more importantly, the article was about better alternatives to modern educational  methods.

In particular, he writes (emphasis in the original):
Educators can nurture these desires, but they cannot make learning happen. We cannot force a person to live a certain way. Many parents and teachers believe that they should force a child to do certain things. If the child does not want to participate, then he is punished. This type of conditioning will only insure that the child becomes blindly obedient to future authority figures. We should teach our children to do what is right, not what is commanded.
One problem with modern education is the fact that it has become a sort of de facto day care for busy modern parents, who can't seem to be bothered to do like Mr. Esch, and help guide their own children toward greater knowledge.

I certainly don't claim that doing so is easy - quite the contrary! Still, the dangers of a 20-year-old government day care program make themselves felt when I come across stories like the one I read at WFAA this afternoon:

GUSTINE, Texas — Here in Gustine, population 457, what happens at the schoolhouse affects nearly everyone. And something happened Monday that is causing a big controversy in this small town. 
"I felt uncomfortable, and I didn't want to do it," said 11-year-old Eliza Medina. "I felt like they violated my privacy." 
She was one of about two dozen elementary students who were rounded up in the small town 90 miles southwest of Fort Worth. 
Eliza's mother, Maria Medina, said boys were taken to one room, girls to another, and they were ordered "To pull down their pants to check them to see if they could find anything."
Every day our society faces a choice between making our children blindly obedient to civil servants who inevitably treat our children as though they are in fact the state's children, not ours, or reducing the size and scope of our public services.

Maybe you believe that all education might be public, and I don't want to pick that fight today. But if education is to be public, shouldn't we at least minimize our children's exposure to it in the same way that we minimize our own exposure to the TSA at the airport, or the DMV?

When we see educators practically forced to abuse their power because we have asked them to step in as surrogate parents, haven't we taken the idea of "public eduation" a little too far?

2015-01-25

Garmin Connect and Google Fit

Ooo, look, it's a new blog feature! Notice: at the right-hand side of my blog there now exists a Strava widget! This new widget reports some generic running data accumulated from my recent training. Now you can keep me honest.

If you're like me, you've been searching for a way to get Garmin Connect - Garmin's personal health data interface - with Google Fit, which is Google's entry into the same world. Also, if you're like the me of yesterday, you haven't yet found a way to do that. But, lucky you, the me of today has got some great news: I figured out a way to get all these applications to communicate with each other, at least until they formally amalgamate in Google's or Apple's or Facebook's quest to own all personal data from all human beings.

Why Would You Want To Do This?

Well, you might not want to, especially if you are especially concerned about data privacy. To be honest, though, the potential benefits to people like myself, who are both data-geeks and health geeks, are enormous. Diabetes is, after all, largely a data management game. If you can manage your calories, and your macronutrient balance, and your fitness activity, and your sleeping patterns, and your stress levels, etc., etc., etc., then you can manage your blood sugar effectively. It's all a data game: adjust your bio-markers and profit.

Personally, I've found this useful in the non-health sphere as well. My Nexus phone, for example, has the ability to detect traffic jams long before I ever hit them - and automatically re-route me on the way to work, home, or wherever else I happen to be. It sends me bill reminders, weather notifications for where I'll be, and so on.

Simply put, it does a lot of menial thinking for me, that I don't necessarily need to do myself. This, in turn, frees my mind up for more complicated thoughts, such as how I might want to invest, or whatever music I happen to be writing. Or whatever.

More practically, it is exhausting to try to log every piece of health data on a hundred different health apps. Wouldn't it be great to log something once, in one place, and have that data filter through to every other application that requires it?

Problem: Garmin and Google Aren't On Speaking Terms - Yet.

I use MyFitnessPal for calorie tracking, and Garmin Connect for everything else. When I noticed the Google Fit app on my Nexus, I thought it might be a good central location for all this data activity. I cannot confirm that it is, because I haven't had a chance to really use it yet. Why not? Because, although MyFitnessPal and Garmin Connect talk to each other easily, neither one can sync with Google Fit.

So one solution would be to just grin and bear it, hoping that some day, all these apps decide to talk to each other.

Another solution is to find a work-around. I'm a business analyst by trade (well... along with a bunch of other stuff...), so finding work-arounds comes natural to me.

Solution: Another 3rd-Party App!

Okay, I didn't say it was a particularly elegant solution, did I?

The way I've managed to accomplish a "full sync" of data is by adding a new app to my arsenal: Strava. Strava works more or less the same way as RunKeeper, or MapMyRun, or indeed even Garmin Connect. It tracks your running and cycling activity (using your phone's GPS info, for example) and reports it in a handy graphical interface, along with some meaningless bells and whistles such as "award" and "achievements" and so on.

Strava's primary advantage is that it has the power to communicate with Garmin Connect, MyFitnessPal, and Google Fit. That makes it something of a "Rosetta stone" for all my fitness data. Hooray for me.

So, the steps for achieving this are as follows:
  1. Add the Garmin Connect, MyFitnessPal, and Strava apps to your Android phone.
  2. In the "Settings" of your Strava app, connect it to both MyFitnessPal and Google Fit (they will show up automatically in your settings menu).
  3. Using a web browser, log-in to your Strava account and click on the plus sign at the top-right, on the option that says "Upload Activity."
  4. On that page, you should see a link to Garmin with a box that says "Get Started." Click "Get Started" and follow the instructions. You will be taken to a Garmin pop-up that will authorize the sync to and from Strava.
  5. That's it, you're done!

Conclusion

Time will see how this pans out for me. I might not like Google Fit. I might not like Strava. I might not like having all my data synced up. This is just an experiment. Ryan self-experiments so that his readers don't have to, that sort of thing. I'll keep you all (all two of you?) updated on how this goes. So far, so good...

2015-01-23

On "Blowback"

David Henderson has an interesting blog post at EconLog, in which he responds to another EconLog post, by Bryan Caplan. Henderson ties Caplan's point to a few other recent articles. Those articles, along with both EconLog posts, all grapple with the search for meaning in the Charlie Hebdo murders.

Henderson's post concludes as follows (emphasis added for clarity to distinguish embedded quotation):
Do I know that the Paris attacks were blowback? I do not. Nor do Ron Paul or Justin Raimondo. Does Shihka Dalmia know that they were not blowback? She does not. We simply don't have enough evidence. 
Bryan writes:
But the overwhelming majority of recent events are sound and fury, signifying nothing. Serious thinkers don't base their worldview on what happened yesterday, or last week, or last year. Instead, they endlessly ponder the totality of human history, a body of evidence that makes all recent events combined look small and hollow.
Each of those statements is correct. But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't also ponder recent events and try to extract the information from them that we can.
I first encountered Caplan's point about "recent events" in the book Fooled by Randomness, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. I would not be surprised if that were a major influence on Caplan's point, as they are made in such similar ways.

I think one way to view "recent events" is to wait long enough to know whether the particular "recent event" in question will meaningfully shape history. Many years later, we now know that the 9/11 attacks were not merely "recent events," but cataclysmic ones. We do not yet know whether the Charlie Hebdo murders will have any impact on history. I already strongly doubt the Boston Marathon bombing will be remembered by those who were not there in a few years. Already the "shoe bomber" is less than a footnote in history, and I suspect in five years or less most people will not remember why we take our shoes off at airports.

Now, in hindsight, it is easy to make the point that 9/11 was an example of "blowback" from US foreign policy. However, it is virtually impossible to make a convincing case that the shoe bomber, specifically, is an example of blow-back. Only time can tell whether we can say the same about the Charlie Hebdo murders, but given the public's general amnesia about these things, I doubt it.

None of this means that "blowback" doesn't occur, of course.