Wednesday, May 24, 2006

You are happy

The title of one of my favourite poems, and favourite books of poems, by Margaret Atwood. (Side note: I discovered Atwood the poet in the late 1960s or early ’70s. I was excited she was a visiting professor at York University when I was there. I did not think of her as a fiction writer, but as a poet, and still do. I have many of her books of poetry, but have never gotten past chapter 1 of any of her novels.)

In The Toronto Star on Sunday there’s an interesting article about how happiness is about small things, and often not what we expect. After decades of wanting to be happy, I’ve pretty much come around to the view that you’re about as happy as you want to be. Professor Gilbert has a subtler position, but it’s pretty close.

(Even though we take the Star I missed this, and found it through Arts & Letters Daily.)

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


Coach Bogie asked me to write up a testimonial of our boot camp. Here’s what I wrote:

Despite having run seven marathons and many shorter races, I’ve never worked as hard as I do for two hours every Saturday at Coach Lindsay’s Multisport Boot Camp. The programme has delivered on its promise of improved warm-up techniques, increased flexibility, explosive strength, and critical power, but I find its greatest benefit is the confidence it gives me to face physical failure as a learning experience; not to be afraid to push myself to my limits, and then through them. Coach Lindsay seems to have a sixth sense for what his clients can do without injuring themselves, and pushes us to success. The environment of collective suffering is also good; until
now, I haven't been a “team” person, but the group works well together, and seeing what different people can, and cannot, do, is great for morale.

The boot camp has helped me believe that, at age 52, I have significant athletic achievements, even personal bests, ahead of me.

Monday, May 15, 2006

A sad day for Flutie fans

Doug Flutie announced his retirement from professional football. The Canadian Football League—where Flutie was the Most Outstanding Player six times— has a decent summary here.

Watching Flutie play was one of the most joyous experiences a football fan could have. We kept our season tickets with the Argonauts just to see number 2—optimistically listed at 5 feet and 10 inches of height—pick apart opposing defences. Even when he was a Stampeder I was a fan.

I ceased being a fan of the Buffalo Bills when they treated him so badly—and illogically.

Retirement is inevitable for a professional athlete, and Flutie has had a good run, and I wish him the very best.

Tags: , , , ,

Stay away from that kettle! (Or is it all in your head?)

Ben Goldacre’s more or less weekly column on Bad Science in The Guardian is always an amusing read, but sometimes (like a lot of other professional or semi-professional skeptics) he picks the low-hanging fruits.

Saturday’s column is different, a sensitive and insightful look at how real but mysterious symptoms might be associated with, for instance, the electric kettle in your kitchen.

Update, May 16: In a related bit of pseudoscience, my city’s Board of Health has asked the Medical Officer of Health to review the health effects of the city power utility’s plan to build a wide-arew Wi-Fi network.

Tags: , , ,

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Call me “Festus”—again!

Starting yesterday my left knee has been quite painful. It bothered my sleep, and today I’m limping about, especially after I’ve been sitting a while. It’s completely mysterious: yes, I ran on Monday, but I felt fine then and on Tuesday. Yesterday, the only athletic thing I did was swim for half an hour, and while that’s certainly athletic, I don’t recall my knee being a particular problem. I don’t remember twisting it or hitting it on anything. Yet here it is, painful in most positions, and with a very tender spot.

This puts at risk three things dear to me right now:
▪ my run this evening;
▪ boot camp on Saturday; and
▪ my season première at Victoria’s Duathlon.

I suspect, though, that I can bike, so I can do that.

Tags: .

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Run like a bunny

The rather murky picture was taken on my RAZR. It’s a small brown bunny, er, rabbit munching on the grass at Lakeshore Towers (q.v.i.). The point?

Well, on Monday evening I ran for the first time since March 22, and only the second time since Feb. 22, when I realized that my badly twisted knee couldn’t handle the stress even of running home.

Since Monday I’ve been pain-free, so I have high hopes for the duathlon on Sunday. Or is that too aggressive?

My plan is to run again, tomorrow, perhaps two miles. I’m excited!

Splash! Triple splash!

The shiny building that takes up most of this picture is the 24 Hour Fitness Lakeshore Towers Club, in Irvine, California.

(The building to the left is Il Fornaio, which is where I usally “eat up” when I visit my company’s Irvine office, which is just outside the picture to the bottom. The street on the right edge of the picture is Von Karman Avenue, and the highway at the top is the notorious San Diego Freeway, I-405. Note that the complex you’re looking at is called “Lakeshore Towers”. That pond between the club and Il Fornaio is, I guess the “lake”. The former Irvine Ranch, in its time the biggest ranch in the world, is arid. Central Irvine has several large ponds that are called lakes, but Lakeshore Towers has nothing resembling Toronto or Chicago’s respective Lakeshores. It’s just a funny moniker.)

You’ll note the bright blue of the club’s outdoor, salt-water pool. lists it as 25 m long, but I suspect it’s 25 yd.

No fewer than thrice I’ve been to the pool this week: Sunday, Monday, and this afternoon (Wednesday). Each time my work-out has been precisely the same—four lengths each of: kicking on my back without fins; then, with fins, fish, skate, shark, switch, double switch, and triple switch—a total of 28 lengths, for an estimated 700 yd.

The good news is: I’m going to the pool, by myself, and doing my drills. And, I think, I’m getting better, a bit better, each time.

The bad news is: I can’t steer! Especially my first two times—less so, today—I would veer from side to side, between the pool wall and the next lane rope!

I plan—hope?—to go again tomorrow, my last chance on this business trip to southern California.

I had planned to do some weight work after I swam but this was a fond hope. I’m such an inefficient swimmer, even 700 yd with fins tires me out. Having said that, I do expect to run a mile this afternoon. (See my next post.)

Update, May 11/06: Just got an e-mail from 24 Hour Fitness. The pool is indeed 25 metres long. I’ve happily added 66 yards to each of my work-outs!

My first FBI agent!

I have lived a sheltered and uneventful life (for which I’m grateful), so yesterday was the first time I met an FBI agent. (Living in Canada all my life has no doubt impeded this quest, tho’ I believe there’s a small FBI office in the U.S. consulate three blocks from my office.)

I was making a presentation at the offices of the Long Beach port authority on a security-related system I project-managed for a joint agency of the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. I knew an FBI agent was coming, and that the agent was a woman, and the second person in the room was a woman I didn’t know—but she was so unlike my preconceptions of an FBI agent I didn’t realize it was her. She didn’t have the swagger that (male) armed law enforcement usually has.

When I asked her for a card, telling her she was the first FBI agent I’d met, she remarked, “I guess that’s a good thing.” When I told my SO I’d met my first FBI agent, she remarked quite wittily, “That you know of.” Too true.

In keeping with this blog’s theme, I should explain why I didn’t work out yesterday, after two pretty good days. (Getting to swim twice, by myself, two days in a row, is a solid triumph for me.)

The presentation was a disaster. Although I’d given it before, it is really little more than an introduction to an extensive live demonstration of our system. But we could not get a VPN connection through the Port’s firewall, even after 110 minutes of trying. This all meant I didn’t have time for lunch or coffee. Then I had to drive to the office I work with usually, and by the time I got home I was zonked (q.v.i.). A light supper, a conversation with my SO, and I was ready for an early bed. Even Three Men in a Boat couldn’t keep me awake more than 12 minutes.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

The Road of Iron film review: King Kong

I saw Peter Jackson’s 2005 King Kong on the American Airlines flight from Chicago to Santa Ana, California. Understand that this review, such as it is, is no doubt affected by the circumstances: even in first class, we’re watching the movie on little TV sets, to which the movie has been reformatted; and even with noise-cancelling headphones, there’s still a lot of noise in the environment.

Surprisingly, my word for it is boring. At several points I felt like returning to my magazines. In the theatre I’m sure I would’ve squirmed.

I’m not sure if Jack Black as the driven and self-centered filmmaker Carl Denham is brilliant or off-key.

There seem to be all kinds of plot threads everywhere, not always tied up. The deck hand Billy reading Heart of Darkness seems to pick out the Conradian nature of S.S. Venture’s master, Captain Engelhorn, but Engelhorn disappears from the movie when Venture leaves Skull Island.

Why is Venture carrying an enormous cargo of quart bottles of chlorofom? And, when the crew dump all moveables overboard to float the ship off Skull Island’s rocks, why is the chlorofom not included?

For that matter, why is Venture carrying a crate of Thompson sub–machine guns? And, given that there is such a crate, why did Captain Engelhorn’s first dramatic rescue (of three!) of Denham & al. involve the use of just a Luger? While I’m on the subject of Thompsons, one of the neat things about The Lord of the Rings was that the actors’ swords weighed as much as real swords would, which meant that the actors carried them properly, walked properly. A Thompson with a 50-round drum magazine weighs, what, twenty pounds? 25? Yet those carrying waved them around like, well, prop guns.

How did Denham, the half-mad filmmaker, become the smooth theatre man?

And certain events repeat themselves: I lost count of all the dramatic surprise rescues. And at least twice Ann and Kong have crypto-romantic moments interrupted by sneak attacks from the U.S. Army.

And my final geek complaint: how is Kong so invulnerable to gunfire? Eventually the airborne machine guns finish him off, but midway through the movie he’s hit by dozens (at least) of rounds from the Thompsons, but doesn’t seem at all fazed.

The big problem with the movie is that you have time to wonder all these things. I found it amazingly slow and meandering and (as I noted) thread-dropping. The only other Peter Jackson movie I’ve seen is The Lord of the Rings and it has none of these faults. I’ve read that Jackson had wanted to remake King Kong for years, but after seeing it I wondered why.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Boot camp!

Session 8 is over. Only 3 left.

Actually not a bad day. It’s funny how it’s tolerable to be abused for 110 minutes.

I got something close to objective evidence that I’ve not been feeling well. We did one odd drill where we did striding lunges while hold 10-lb weights to the opposite side of the forward leg. After two “lengths” thus, about 60 m, I was huffing & puffing while my fellow sufferers were sweaty but serene.

A little later we did a “circuit” where one of a pair would do striding lunges & squat jumps while the other peddled a Spinning-type bike “up hill”, standing—ten times around! Although we didn’t adjust the tension, by the 7th or 8th circuit I could barely get the bike going. On one circuit Coach Lindsay had to give my driving foot an assist!

The last drill of a day was what Coach Lindsay called a pancake drill: 30 s of sit-ups followed immediately by 30 s of push-ups. I can actually, kind of, do a push-up! That’ll be the first time ever. Wow.

As “Coach Bogie” said to me in the dressing room, how did I expect to do this boot camp and not get fitter?

Friday, May 05, 2006

A day at home: Friday, May 5

(Sorry about the big “Sample” stamped across that little Trisha Romance picture. I own about half a dozen Romance prints, a kind of secret vice, but I don’t think any artist’s work speaks more of “home”.)

I decided I’d “work at home” today; or, more accurately, be at home. I spent the morning doing my weekly review, a good, thorough, but not paralytic analysis of the past and future. Another session with my shrink, trying to work through my anxiety. And lots of laundry and getting ready for my week in California.

And not a single work-out. Tomorrow is boot camp no. 9, and I’m dreading it.

Squinched up and not effective: Thursday, May 4

Piles of meetings, starting with a sideways meeting with my shrink; then the agenda briefing for the Pedestrian Committee (of which I’m co-chair). The beginning: Daniel is a good friend, but it was obvious I was rubbing him the wrong way. I squeezed in an hour of shiatsu with Alison, but I was so tight, so anxious.

I do not get stressed about trips, about presentations, about deliverables due. I can get up I guess you’d call it; but I don’t get stressed. This day I was stressed: my chest felt tight; and I don’t think Alison could do much with me. Perhaps, for once, I wanted the pain.

Then a meeting on some work we’d like to do for the Port of Long Beach. I had maps & notes, but I think I was largely irrelevant. I felt, again, like I was a bit out of control.

The day went down hill. I had my swimming stuff, but the anxiety was huge. As I pushed paper around, I had images of the water closing over my head. Not a good mood to go swimming in!

I overheard a conversation that we were going to have to leave Friday at 4 p.m. (3 hours or so before my usual leaving time) so the guys could come in, finish our carpet, and put in our dividers. I decided to work at home Friday, so Mona volunteered to come downtown in the van to pick me up. She showed up, right on time, at 7:15 p.m. I had three bags and my bike and its panniers all packed, and they all made it into the van. Mona was dressed for our Tafelmusik concert that night, but suggested we go home instead, so we did.

I carefully unpacked, and went to bed early, reading about sport (the current Sports Illustrated) rather than doing them!

Not a good day: Wednesday, May 3

I’ve been drafted into a project for the transit property that operates the train to the left (the wonderfully named O Train). I won’t speak about the project, but I had to (or felt I had to) spend the day reading the background material. Did I have to? Could I have left at 5:30, 6:00? Perhaps. But I left at 7:00 p.m., only an hour before sunset, and I did only a single lap of the Port Area loop (Cherry, Commissioners, & Leslie streets & Unwin Avenue). It was probably the “right” amount: walking to Number One Chinese Restaurant my legs felt shaky—which is a good sign!

I also had a forty-minute session with Dr Sarah, who indirectly complimented Alison on how much supplemenss she’d brought to me. And on the way to & from the Source Centre, I had sharp words with a Rogers Cable guy who parked his van right across the sidewalk, forcing pedestrians to walk in a live travel lane on rush-hour Richmond Street. Grrr.

Back in the saddle: Tuesday, May 2

Tuesday morning dawned bright and clear—not a cliché for once!

In my Jetfuel Coffee jersey, I tore down Pottery Road, my maximum speed of 32 mi/h only limited because I was slotted into motor traffic. I then turned north on the unnamed but now closed road that connects Pottery Road and Beechwood Drive. At the police kennels Beechwood Drive kicks sharply up the eastern wall of the Don River ravine. The idea is to do the steep quarter-mile seated. Last Tuesday I did it three times. I did the three, and felt enough energy to do another. And another. And another.

A few dog-walkers. A Ford Crown Victoria and Jeep Cherokee in Toronto Police livery. One elbow-jutting exercise walker. Oh, and a young woman on a nice-looking bike rocketing down the hill. But not up. Only I did that.

The seventh time was my last. Seven times seated. Very good.

I’m not a fan of multi-use paths for cycling. Sightlines too poor, and too many opportunities for accidents. And there’s a special reason not to like the Don Trail these days (see below).

I had the inevitable encounter with an unleased Labrador retriever ambling across the road, but of course I just hung back until its mistress brought it to her side. Otherwise quiet.

At Queen Street the Don Trail is closed while the Conservation Authority rebuilds the old Toronto Viaduct to save downtown Toronto from flooding. So I humped by bike up the Sherk Stairs to the Queen Street viaduct. Then I risked the Toronto streetcar tracks to get to work.

“Coach Bogie” was surprised and a bit pleased—as I was!

That evening I had my swimming lesson with Coach Kelvin. I was tired—and quite dizzy. We took it easy, and I took lengthy breaks between lengths. But I not only did the requisite thousand yards—my skills have hit some new level. I could actually kick and get forward motion, even doing, e.g., skate drills. And I was lucky that Mona decided to pick me up—it was 9:15 p.m., after all, a long night when I wasn’t feeling well.

A dubious week begins: Monday, May 1

I’m pretty sure I was “scraped too thin” by a virus, but as the week progressed perhaps that changed.

The only “work-out” I did was my commute, about 12 miles both way—and a source of humiliation (see below).

I did allow Alison to poke her fingers and elbows deep into my “stuck” muscles. Remarkably, she tells me some people come to seek the pain of deep-muscle shiatsu therapy. I don’t (at least not yet!), but there’s no question that having it twice a week is leaving me quite loose-feeling.

“Coach Bogie”, as noted above, was a tad contemptuous of my self-babying, and urged me to do my hill repeats Tuesday morning, to aim to do five (the last time, I did three).

Monday, May 01, 2006

Toast buttered too thinly

In The Lord of the Rings, Bilbo tells Gandalf, “I feel thin—sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” The Ring has not worked its ill magic over me, but that’s how I feel. Since my five-minute trip to boot camp on Saturday I have not worked out, except for my 11-km bike to work. And that was funny, too.

About 8:40, I was pedalling my commuter bike up Poplar Plains Road, a road steeply pitched up the old Lake Iroquois shorebluff, popular for hill work-outs by hard-core roadies and triathletes. My bike was heavily loaded: computer, change of clothes, swimming kit, papers for work. Still I usually smoke the other commuters I encounter there. “Good morning!” I call out, “On your left!”

This morning was different. I was passed by a young woman—on a steel city bike—wearing office clothes—and high-heeled shoes! I thought I was biking fairly hard; but I guess not.

So there’s a lack of energy, of oomph. In the past I would just take the time off till the virus passed—and that’s what I have, a virus. Pretty clear.

But “Coach Bogie” has a different view. He says, do it. If you can’t do the whole work-out, do part. He wasn’t condemnatory; just very eastern European!