Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Link Dump

So Russian it hurts...

I used to do this with some frequency on livejournal, i'm going to pick it back up again here. I'll from time to time post collections of links to things i find interesting or entertaining.

Tin tin meets Burroughs

Grant Morrison does the Mahabharata

Mine craft

Just got back from greece a couple of days ago. I saw GSY!BE in Athens, that was probably the best concert i have ever seen. I leave for Egypt in two days, as a side note the Egyptians and the rest of the Arabic speaking world call it "Masr" why on earth do we call it Egypt?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Why i'm leaving facebook

So i've come to the realization? conclusion? decision? that facebook is not meeting any of the criteria that tempted me into joining this site and using it's service. Certainly i've been contacted by people i used to know way back in the day. But beyond being "friended" that was the end of the interaction. In some cases i've not actually even spoken to any of these people since they friended me. I sound like i'm whining, so let me backtrack a little bit. Back in the days before facebook was the omnipresent entity that it is today i used livejournal to keep myself up to date on the goings on of my friends. People would post essays of dare i say actual content. I would read some thought out thing that someone put time and effort into and wanted other people to see ideally (i presume) with the effect of having people respond in kind with their take on the topic. The crazy thing is this actually happened, i took part in quite a few lively discussions on livejournal (howdy Arcane). But as people drifted over to facebook there were less and less posts from people i know on livejournal. My livejournal account now amounts to a feed service for various blogs that i wanted to keep track of a few years ago before i picked up an honest to god feed reader.

What i'm trying to say is that the medium that is facebook seems to generate primarily shallow surface interactions. We can step into any of our friends lives at the drop of a hat and see what they're up to. Huh, she had a ham sandwich for lunch, or she's thinking of watching that new film (*). We see their picture and see what they're up to, we "like" or leave some trite "ME TOO!!" comment and shazam, interaction with our friend. It makes us feel like we've gotten our human interaction on. But we haven't. Even your closest friends, on facebook they are more like people you work with. In that, what you discuss and the interactions available tend to be limited by the crowded lunchroom nature that is facebook. Honest open discourse cannot be held on facebook. Sure the message option exists for that purpose but how many messages do people really send? The format is so informal that correspondence tend to lack the polish that an email has. At least as far as i remember email had...It's been a long time since i've gotten an actual email from anybody who isn't on facebook. In fact i've received very few messages on facebook, considering the fact that i've got 125 "friends." I don't mean to call anybody out and say that you all are bad friends. I'm one too, when was the last time i sent anyone a message over a couple sentences? How many of you do i honestly enjoy talking to but haven't managed to do so in quite some time?

Partly it's our fault, and partly it's facebooks. People are lazy, that's our bad. But facebook is also to blame. In the same way that no one bothers to learn to spell anymore because spell checkers exist, or for the same reason that our ancestors would remember vast stores of knowledge out of necessity (oral histories, the epic poems, the ability of any "decent Gentleman" being able to quote various texts and authors from memory) but people no longer commit large stores of information to memory, they don't need to. The internet and it's various search functions (although there is really only google anymore) act as an external hard drive to our memory. We are all cyborgs to the extent that electronic devices now take up so much of the burden of remembering stuff for us. I'm old enough to have lived without a cell phone for years. I remember having to remember peoples phone numbers. Now i probobly couldn't tell you anyone's phone number off the top of my head. But i still remember a friend from 5th grades number. I don't mean to begrudge this behavior or go Luddite on everyone (despite the excesses i feel some of it has gone to) but by and large this is our culture now and this is how things will be in terms of our interaction with each other by way of technology. I recognize this and i'm not trying to fight it. Why would i bother memorizing phone numbers when the cell phone i have already does it better than i can?

But my issues arises with facebook in that we maintain the same behavioral model we use with google when using facebook. The difference being that with google it's simply information. With facebook we look up people and the events that currently make up their life. we find out by way of our friend feed what's happening with someone and go on our way. No actual interaction has occurred we don't have the personalized interaction with this other human being that we prize to the point that (i would hope) made us friend them on facebook in the first place. Facebook makes us feel like we're aware of what's happening in someones life. But we' really haven't got a clue. All we know is the sanitized version that is safe enough for people to post in front of a large group of people of varying levels of intimacy.

So where is the harm in this one might ask. From my point of view, a great deal. I feel like the format of facebook is structured well to take advantage of our natural tendency to laziness. It's hard to be a good friend. It's hard to write worthwhile correspondence to people on a regular basis. But people used to all the time before this became the de-facto option. But it's so easy to scrawl a meaningless "hey i still exist and i know you do too" on someone's wall and call it a day. In fact it is expressly designed to facilitate this sort of shallow interaction. That's not what i want, not from myself, and not from my friends.

From a personal standpoint, and i'm sure many others will see themselves in this. I personally waste more time on facebook than i would care to. I'm leaning towards saying all time on facebook is a waste, but for the sake of argument lets assume that the functions that actively constitute interaction on facebook are worthwhile. The amount of time i'm on facebook, and the amount of time which i could call "actual interaction" are very slanted, i would hazard something in the nature of 20/80 but it's probably more like 10/90 because reading statuses on a feed isn't really interacting, but it is kind of a way. So that brings to mind, what am i doing the rest of the time? Part of it is browsing through other peoples stuff, the electric equivalent of looking in a neighbors window. This is a meaningless activity and ultimately a waste of time. The other chunk of time is spent checking and rechecking to see if i have any messages or comments or requests. While only a minute or two at a time, that adds up. How much time do i waste checking to see if anything has happened? How much has ever really happened?

This is all compounded if one uses any of the application games. I've personally seen someone get sucked into these facebook games to a point that it becomes damaging.

So here is my roundabout point; facebook is specifically (the more paranoid aspect of me would say maliciously) designed to appeal to our lazy natures and it is structured in a way that keeps us on it, or checking it so repeatedly that it maximises the amount of time we spend on facebook compared to other sites. (once again the paranoid tin foil hat wearer in me says this is all built around add revenue and the kind of usage figures and google analytics that facebook can wave in the face of ad companies)

I'm tired of sitting down, turning the computer on and checking facebook and finding i've already lost an hour. As many of you know i am quite prone to losing hours to the internet, but in the past i was primarily researching things. The reason i know as much about as much as i do is because i spent years in a deep depression that kept me in a world of ideas, aided and abetted by the access to information the internet afforded me i was able to escape into a world of ideas and leave behind the world that always left me distraught and wanting. Face book has taken some of that from me as well. I find i can get on the internet, get off a couple hours later and not feel like i've learned anything. I used to get off the internet and be full of things i wanted to discuss and think about.

Face book has made me weak and soft. I apologize to you all for this. From this point on i'm closing shop on facebook. I'm not deleting my account or anything on it, but i will probably not check it again. I will henceforth be writing emails to people i care about. I will respond to emails that are written to me. These will be reasoned responses thought out and meaningful. I will write things of substance and post them in appropriate venues. I want more from my interactions with other people. I want more from myself in my reading of online literature. I am endeavoring to make myself a better friend to you all. I hope you will understand that this will take effort on both our parts. If your not interested, then no hard feelings, i understand, really i do. Life is tiring i can't begrudge anyone that gets worn down by it and can't find it to pursue interaction in this manner. While i am currently over seas, upon my return i intend to spend much more time with other people. I live within minutes of almost everyone i find interesting in albuquerque (i'm coming to visit you austinites don't worry) and i see you all so rarely it's almost criminal. There is no excuse for this behavior, other than being a general curmudgeon and antisocial tendencies.

I'm going to try and be a better person.
AIM: futilelord
E2: futilelord

*i guess it's pretty clear at this point that i don't have a twitter account

Sunday, October 24, 2010

barefoot running opinion essay

written: 4/25/10

Running in traditional running shoes is damaging to the human body. Human beings have only been running in large wedge heeled over cushioned shoes for about the past 40 years. It has been only in the past 40 or so years that we have seen a rise in both the number and the severity of the types of injures that are the constant plague of active runners today. Plantar fasciitis, IT band syndrome, Patellofemoral syndrome (aka; runners knee), these are all conditions that are way more common place than would stand to reason.

Depending on the sources one site's about 40-70% of active runners can expect to become injured over the course of one year of active running. This seems like an extraordinary number of people to be injured by such a simple and innate activity such as running. This injury rate is spread across the board as well; marathoners aren’t more prone to injury than individuals who run 10k’s or 5k’s. It seems as though anyone who has a regular schedule of running will be guaranteed to at some point suffer from one of a multitude of common runner injuries. This seems odd because there is very little in the way of record of these injuries being so common in the past. So it seems that the frequency of injury is a modern phenomenon. Which may lead some individuals to point out that the “jogging trend” was started by Bill Bowerman with the publication of his 1966 book “Jogging.” The injury rates we see today are a result of this increase in the number of people taking up recreational running.

This seems a solid premise till one notices that there is a long history of casual running across cultures of the world, and the curious fact that Bill was also one of the cofounders of Nike, and that the increase in injuries sustained by this new crowd of “joggers” runs a pretty close race with the sales of Nike shoes.

The concept of adding a cushioned heel to the shoe was that the runner would have something softer to land on and that it would cause his body to lean forward and add some minor “propulsion” to the stride of the runner based on the incline of the heel. All these assumptions were based on what might be charitably described as “hunches.” The result of these hunches and decades of advertising (though propaganda is a more apt term in my opinion) the “common wisdom” of the modern day is that the human body is not well suited to running for any significant distance, and that doing so is to incur great injury. The “solution” to this “problem” has been the liberal application of cushioning to shoes, along with air pockets, and a vast array multicolored dials and knobs that I will never understand (apologies to Hunter).

However, as time has marched on the amount of technology we pump into these shoes increases, the one thing that is supposed to happen never seems to. The injury rates have not gone down at all. We have been led astray by the shoe companies for so long that the idea of massive cushioning seems to be a-priori knowledge almost. It’s only been in within the last decade that people have truly started to question the reasoning behind this shoe design. If the claim that running hurts people is true, and the claim that running with these shoes will reduce the risk of injury, and there is a new shoe design every 6 months that purports to have “better” technology, why has the injury rate stayed the same?

Let us assume then the claim humans are poorly built for running (which is a claim that is getting quite a bit of doubt cast on it (Lieberman, Daniel. et all).) If that is true then in groups of people who run without the “aid” of modern running shoes we should see a significant spike in the number of injuries sustained. What we see is the exact opposite. Among the Tara Humara Indians of northern Mexico, a people known for their extreme running predilection, there are almost no cases of all the common ailments suffered by runners who use modern running shoes. The same holds for the various groups of runners in Africa. So then with that information in mind we move to a study (Lieberman, Daniel. et all) that shows that evolutionarily speaking humans are evolved to be incredibly capable distance runners. Persistence hunting is a method were the prey is literally run to death by the hunter. This method relies on the fact that most mammals perspire through their mouth (panting) and are not particularly efficient at dissipating heat. Humans are able to perspire over our entire bodies, and are capable of doing it while running and breathing in the manner required by that activity level. Something most animals are not capable of. While not nearly as fast as quadrapedalism, bipedalism is biomechanically significantly more efficient in terms of the energy use required for distance covered. Case in point once the distances become great enough we can run down almost any animal on earth. There is a Man vs. Horse race in Wales where humans on foot have beaten horses in a 22 mile race, there are video’s of African hunters running down kudu, literally chasing the animal until it falls over from exhaustion, then walking up and thrusting a spear in the animal while it gasps for air. There is ample evidence to suggest that humans are evolved to run great distances, those that claim that humans are not well suited are spreading lies so as to enforce the perceived need for specialized products for running. Science is starting to support the theories that have been gaining momentum over the past few years (Kerrigan DC, et all). The backlash of course is building momentum and trying to discredit the idea of the health benefits of barefoot running. What’s strange is there is no research to support a lot of the claims made by the opposing camp (Richards, Craig E. Parker, Magin. Robin, Callister.) What we hear is mostly fear mongering from those individuals who stand to lose money over the loss of shoe sales, or from the medical side of the equation, loss of sales in custom orthotics (a very large business.) As of yet there has yet to be any reasoned response to the evidence coming out of various studies and the growing number of personal anecdotes from runners who have suffered for years in traditional shoes but are now running pain free in minimalist or no shoes at all.

The fact that there is no research to back up claims, no logical reason to support the claims, and no history of success to back up the claims implies that the claim made by the major shoe manufacturers are fallacious at best and purposely harmful at worst. While I am not inclined to think that the orthopedic shoe insert business is in collusion with the major shoe manufacturers in creating a death spiral of injury causing shoes, orthotics to ease the pain of injury and furthered injury as a result of the individual not actually receiving any actual treatment for the injury. It certainly seems like that is the way things have turned out. I think it’s important for people to stop trusting people whose only concern is the monetary health of their company. It doesn’t pay Nike to bother to pay attention to what is or is not healthy. They will respond only to market pressures that affect their sales. The change will come from people finally realizing that they have been lied to for so long and demanding shoes that won’t injure them while running. As with so many ills, both in our personal lives and in terms of a the greater context of our society, it is the hoi polloi who will effect change, that is assuming they can get up off their butts and chase after it.

Works cited:

Richards, Craig E. Parker, J, Magin. Robin, Callister. Is your Prescription of Distance Running Shoes Evidence Based? British journal of sports medicine April 18 2008

Hirschmüller A, Baur H, Müller S, Helwig P, Dickhuth HH, Mayer F. Clinical Effectiveness of Customised Sport Shoe Orthoses for Overuse Injuries in Runners- a Randomized Controlled Study. British journal of sports medicine Nov, 1, 2009

Kerrigan DC, Franz JR, Keenan GS, Dicharry J, Della Croce U, Wilder RP. The Effect of Running Shoes on Lower Extremity Joint Torques. PM&R: The Journal of Injury, Function , and Rehabilitation. Dec, 2009

S.Robbins, E.Waked. Balance and Vertical Impact in Sports: Role of Shoe Sole Materials*1 Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Volume 78, Issue 5, Pages 463-467

Lieberman, Daniel. Dennis, M. Bramble. David ,A. Raichlen. John, J. Shea. The First Humans-Origin and Evolution of the Genus Homo. Chapter 8; Brains Brawns and the Evolution of Human Endurance Running Capabilities.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Notes from Beirut 2

I'm currently in Beirut doing an academic year abroad, but I fear that may get cut short.

A U.N. backed court is probably going to be releasing names of members of Hezbollah involved in Lebanon's former prime ministers assassination (Rafiq Hariri). Hezbollah says it's all B.S. and that it will cause a ruckus and great instability in the country (ie; don't say anything or we will raise holy hell.) In an attempt to maintain peace, the release of these names is going to be postponed because Ahmadinejad (Iran's president) is visiting this week to show support for Hezbollah. To compound matters Syria has just announced arrest warrants for 33 individuals involved in the case concerning the assassination, claiming that false testimony was given by said individuals which caused the imprisonment of one Jamal As-sayyed. Furthermore rumors that that false testimony was given due to economic incentive by Saad Hariri (Rafiq's son) current prime minster of Lebanon,is being tossed around which has caused some members of parliament to call for his resignation as prime minister These calls of course coming from the largest opposition party, the March 8th Alliance, which holds the second largest number of seats in the Lebanese parliament, and is generally considered to be pro Syrian.

Syria seems to have gotten the names of these individuals from the former general security chief Jamal As-sayyed who was just released from prison recently after a 4 year stint on charges of being involved in Rafiq Hariri's assassination. The only reason he got out was because an international investigation (the STL, or "Special Tribunal for Lebanon" the same people who are potentially going to be implicating Hezbollah personnel) just had him released (in 2009) due to lack of evidence. Upon arriving in the Beirut airport he was given an armed guard escort buy Hezbollah to the executive lounge. What does that say about his loyalties? Or how about the fact that Hezbollah can still just waltz into the airport armed to the teeth without any resistance?

Furthermore we all know that Syria and Iran are good chums, and Iran has been supporting Hezbollah for years.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Notes on Beirut part 1

To those of you just joining the broadcast I am currently doing an academic year abroad in Lebanon. These are just some thoughts I felt were necessary to share with...well someone I'm not sure who reads this.

Let me clear up some illusions that you may or may not have concerning Lebanon, and Beirut specifically. First, the Lebanese are a multilingual people who speak French, Arabic, and English. So far here are my findings on retrospect I hesitate to say illusion, so I shall rephrase it to an statement. Now this statement is thrown about willy-nilly all over the internet, and by the Lebanese themselves. Even our own CIA world fact book lists french as spoken here. Well if we shipped a Frenchman to the moon we could say that french is spoken on the moon, when clearly it is not a lingual-franca despite the prevalence of cheese on said astral body. All joking aside there is some french here. One will find it on the menus, the street signs, and rarely someone passing by will be speaking it. But that my dear francophone is as far as the dream goes. One of our first days in Beirut we went to a restaurant and upon sitting down I was delighted to see that the menu was in french. Imagine my confusion when upon ordering in french the waiter looked at me in utter confusion, I must have looked at him with utter confusion at that point and it soon became apparent to both of us that neither of us knew what was going on, but he gave me a look that said “this is a restaurant, you order food here, you do understand that right?” So I ordered in English and he nodded and smiled and came back later with the food I ordered. I had a similar experience in Italy, I thought that sharing a border as they do with France I might get to use some french to help me get along. However french only confused the Italians beyond any hope of understanding what I was trying to say. I did much better with short English sentences and lots of gesticulating.

In theory Lebanese people speak 3 languages and interchange them as they go. The reality is that the Lebanese people speak Lebanese Arabic, know a few phrases in french (if anything) and speak a level of English that varies widely. The Arabic class I took at UNM, turns out it was Egyptian, and all the phrases and whatnot that I remember have turned out to be 70% useless. Not useless because they aren't useful, but useless because the Lebanese dialect is spoken here, and while the two are not incomprehensible to each other they are different enough to make what I remember of minimal value. The french I know (up to and including 201 at a university level) has proved useless outside of reading things. I haven't (successfully) spoken to anyone in french outside of the 202 class I’m taking.

The other interesting factor I’ve noticed is that those individuals who do speak some french(or claim to*) are older, usually more affluent individuals. Here is my theory, someone versed in the topic please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. The french mandate was enacted by the league of nations after WWI and the fall of the Ottoman empire. Mandates were pretty much the European powers cutting up the middle east to suite there desires. France happened to get the area we now call Lebanon, and through collusion with the Maronite community managed to have a relatively successful exploitation. I say collusion because it was primarily the Maronites wanting to carve out their own state in the region that they worked so willingly with the french to create “Lebanon” the vast majority of the Muslim population (which was and still is the majority of the population, it's currently 59% currently as of a 2007 census I believe) wanted to rejoin with Muslim Syria (another french mandate.) But the Maronite Christians saw an opportunity to create a nation for themselves and so worked with the french.

The point of this history lesson? Those who wanted seats of power. Those who wanted to do well in business. Those who wanted the best education. Those people had to deal with the french to achieve those goals. As is still the case if you want to successfully deal with the french, it requires that one use their language. Which leaves the people of Lebanon with social stigma that states “knowledge of french probably equates to money power and intelligence.” So knowing french was a sign of the sophisticates, it separated them from their hoi polloi Arab speaking countrymen. Since everyone pretends to be above their station in life of course, lots of people learned french. There was a time I imagine when Lebanon truly was bilingual. However, the french mandate ended and in 1946 the last french troops were pulled out of Lebanon.

Crazy as it sounds, that was 64 years ago, over half a century. That's 3 generations of people who've no longer had any reason to maintain the french component of the overall language profile. That mixed with the almost viral like nature of English and what we see today is the tail end of some serious attenuation of use for french within Lebanon. It's a cultural remnant of something most Lebanese weren't even alive for.

Assertion number 2: the Lebanese are CRAZY drivers. Frankly I saw just as much swerving and weaving in Italy. Don't get me wrong here traffic is hectic, and people do use their horns WAY to much. But watch the traffic for a while and clear order and pattern emerges. Imagine a game of chicken at every light, every crossing etc. This is pretty much how traffic works here. Who wants it the most is who gets it. There are lanes, but they are ignored. Now to most Americans (and I assume Europeans) this sounds horrifically dangerous, and it should be, but let's take into account the compounding effect of so many people doing it. In Beirut traffic is so horrific that it can take over a half an hour to drive what would amount to maybe a 15 minute walk. In all the vehicle rides I’ve taken in this city the car rarely makes it over 30 miles an hour and even then it's only for a moment or so. As a result I also haven't seen many bad accidents, people just can't get enough speed to really damage each other. Let us also consider, as I was told today, that for every two people in Beirut there is one car. If everyone is trying their best to get where they are going at the expense of those around them what happens, Beirut traffic happens. It's like everyone in a very crowded room running for a fire exit and all trying smash their way out at the same time. What ends up happening is that no one gets out quickly and we all sit around jockeying for position to no real avail because it's just a huge press of people and only 3 or 4 are getting through those doors at a time. Traffic here could be much smoother, if everyone worked together that is, which as we all know the Lebanese seem to have a difficult history of doing.

*we've met a few older people who claimed to be french tutors who never once spoke to us in french even when they were floundering for words in their limited English

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Barefoot is the new shoe

It is argued that running shoes are necessary for the health of the human foot if an individual is doing a great deal of running, yet at the same time history tells us a different story. There is now a growing tide of evidence that suggest that the modern running shoe may in fact be the “Achilles heel” of most active runners.

The available literature on the benefits of cushion soled running shoes in decreasing the instances of injury in active runners is scant to say the least. In fact one study (Richards, Craig E. Parker, Magin. Robin, Callister.) from 2008 showed that there is no original research that shows that use of modern running shoes for health reasons is evidence based. The closest I could find was an article (Hirschmüller A, et al.) discussing the use of custom insert orthotics to aid people with running injuries. But what the study did not cover was the origin of the injuries, merely the treatment.

There are however studies starting to come out that point in the direction that perhaps running shoes are to blame for the majority of overuse injuries sustained by runners. One example is a study (Kerrigan DC, et al.)that showed that the amount of torque placed on all 3 of the lower major joints (ankle, knee, hip) was significantly greater while running in modern running shoes. While they make concessions that perhaps some other style of running shoe may give differing results, I think it’s safe to say that as long as the shoe abides by the thick heel over cushioned style it will (to a greater or lesser degree) cause the sort of force loads and shocks to the body that were evident in the research.

Though it is clear that based on the number of studies done on custom orthotic inserts that there is some value in them in terms of offering pain relief for injured runners, they fail to address the issue at hand: what is causing the pain. This issue was clearly addressed in the second paper I mentioned ( Kerrigan DC, et all). The study clearly shows that running shoes and the heel to toe running style exerts significantly greater pressure on the lower body. This kind of repeated stress can most certainly give rise to the multitude of injuries suffered by (depending on who one reads) anywhere from 45%-70% of active runners over the course of a year. The prevailing wisdom of course being that if one suffers pain while running the best solution is 1; stop running, or 2; get custom orthotics. As the study shows, orthotics are effective ways to relieve pain for a temporary time, but that then begs the question; what is it that the shoes are failing to do that gives rise to injuries that necessitate more padding inside the shoe. These shoes are already padded to the extreme so it should stand to reason that adding more padding might not fix the problem. As it turns out we evolved to use our feet as our primary source of information gathering for our body while attempting to balance ourselves (go figure). In fact one study (Robbins, S. E, Waked) found that the softer the landing surface the harder humans land on it. They theorized that the reason behind this is that when landing the human foot is looking for a solid surface on which to find purchase and thus gain balance. The softer the surface, the harder people hit in an unconscious attempt to compress the soft material into something firm that could be used by the foot to secure balance. So keeping this in mind we turn once again to the orthotic study, and one can’t help but think “is more padding what needs to be going on here?” This question is answered pretty clearly by Kerrigan, running in thick cushioned shoes causes the individual to land with much greater impact, which in turn causes significantly more stress for the rest of the body. So where does this leave us? Are people simply not meant to run long distances? One anthropology research paper says that this is not the case (Lieberman, Daniel. et all). In the paper a pretty convincing case is made for the idea that humans are evolutionarily designed for long distance running. Our ancestors would likely not have survived long had they been subject to the injury rate of modern runners. So it would seem that modern running shoes are the root of the problems facing (almost all) modern runners.

There is a growing community of individuals who advocate barefoot, or minimalist running. While these communities are claiming that there is less injury and less stress placed on the body utilizing these methods of running, the movement seems to be having a hard time gaining ground due primarily to the ingrained belief that running shoes are a necessary item for safety purposes. But a cursory examination (or an in depth one: Richards, Craig E. Parker, J, Magin. Robin, Callister.) shows that there is no evidence for this belief. So what is a runner to do if the fear of injury is present but they are unwilling to run without their beloved shoes? I think the answer is to be found in looking at form.

When an individual runs in modern cushioned heel shoes one is almost forced into the heel to toe running style that causes such stress to the body. While running barefoot (or in minimalist shoes) allows the foot to land on the edge of the forefoot slowly dropping the heel rolling across the ball and then springing off of the toes. This style of running is bio-mechanically what we evolved to do. As a result it is the least damaging way for us to run. People’s fear of broken glass and nails, the hard surface of the sidewalk, there are a multitude of reasons to look askance at running in either bare feet or in minimalist shoes. So you don’t want to get rid of your shoes? That’s fine. The knowledge gained by reading these studies can still be applied to how you run now. Adapt your style, don’t heel strike. Sure it will be harder to run in this manner when your shoes are designed to make you run in the exact opposite way you should. But there are ultra marathoners (Scott Jurek comes to mind) who run in racing flats, which while better than normal running shoes are a far cry from minimalist or bare feet. But a good portion of them remain injury free. The secret? they run in the same way someone who is running unshod would run ( see the book “Born to Run“ by Christopher McDougall.)

Injuries are almost guaranteed to occur in active runners, and orthotics seem to help reduce the pain of these injuries. But running in shoes with cushioned soles and heels seem most likely the cause of the injuries in the first place. If we take all the information available we can draw this conclusion; an awareness of style, and adaptation of form can take one significantly closer to running in a manner that will scientifically and significantly reduce the likelihood of injury.

Works cited:

Richards, Craig E. Parker, J, Magin. Robin, Callister. Is your Prescription of Distance Running Shoes Evidence Based? British journal of sports medicine April 18 2008

Hirschmüller A, Baur H, Müller S, Helwig P, Dickhuth HH, Mayer F. Clinical Effectiveness of Customised Sport Shoe Orthoses for Overuse Injuries in Runners- a Randomised Controlled Study. British journal of sports medicine Nov, 1, 2009

Kerrigan DC, Franz JR, Keenan GS, Dicharry J, Della Croce U, Wilder RP. The Effect of Running Shoes on Lower Extremity Joint Torques. PM&R: The Journal of Injury, Function , and Rehabilitation. Dec, 2009

S.Robbins, E.Waked. Balance and Vertical Impact in Sports: Role of Shoe Sole Materials*1 Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Volume 78, Issue 5, Pages 463-467

Lieberman, Daniel. Dennis, M. Bramble. David ,A. Raichlen. John, J. Shea. The First Humans-Origin and Evolution of the Genus Homo. Chapter 8; Brains Brawns and the Evolution of Human Endurance Running Capabilities.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Line cook: fire and pain at 9.50 an hour

As I step out the back door at 9:45 and sit down on an old milk crate I light a cigarette and slowly come back into my body. My leg itches, I have to pee, there is a burn on my arm I don’t remember getting. Slowly physical sensations come to the forefront of my mind and I become aware of my body once again. I become aware of the cool air that now surrounds me the fact that it’s dark outside now, and the fact that I am very tired.

It’s 3:00 and I’ve just clocked in. I go to my station and look over my “mis en place” and see what I need to start prepping for the dinner shift. I talk to the chef about what specials we will be running this evening, seeing what extra I need to do to prepare for those. At approximately 4:00 the wait staff starts showing up. I chat idly with a couple of them about service the night before and what’s expected for tonight, how many reservations etc. During this time I am making sauces, pounding out carpaccio, cutting apples, haricot vert, squash, blanching broccolini, scoring duck breast. A seemingly unending list of tasks to complete in the two hours before service lest I find myself trying to make something during the rush, one needs to prep enough to get through service, but not so much that there will be leftover product to go bad. It’s a race to get through the list and a pause at 4:45 to go outback and have a cigarette before shift and talk to the other cooks on the line, mentally going over mis, going over potential problems, talking about possible assists that may take place during service.

It’s now 5:00 and we are officially open for business. What begins as a trickle of orders slowly and steadily turns into a raging torrent. “Walking in second course two new yorks mid, mid well going with a fish special” expo yells over the clatter of pans, the tickets with the waiter’s orders spit from the machine in a near constant stream. The ovens are at 500 degrees the burners are all on full blast, the grill and the salamanders are cranked to the max. I take a moment to look down the line and see the air rippling in front of me, the meat thermometer held in the arm pocket of my chef coat is reading 120 degrees, and I immediately turn my attention back to the sauté pans cooking in front of me. The grill guy yells at me “how long on 43?” I respond “what’s on 43?” The expo yells back “I’m looking for 2 duck, house, 1 tuna going mid well” “3 minutes” I yell back over the washed out noise coming from the fryer. “You’ve got 1 and a half” expo yells at me.

I’m sitting at Denny’s having a milkshake, it’s 12:00 am. I left work at about 11:45. As I sit and enjoy the mediocre milkshake I get a surge of adrenaline and the feeling “MOVE NOW.” I have to keep reminding myself that the noise I keep hearing is the ticket machine for Denny’s, I don’t have to cook those orders, I don’t work here. But like Pavlov’s dog I jump in my seat a little every time I hear the distinct chatter of a ticket machine. I’ve gotten better over time but the instinctual reaction is still there. Every time I see a pan I treat it like a firearm, just as a “gun is always loaded” “a pan is always hot.” I know almost a dozen ways to cut a carrot. I can accurately temp almost any protein. When I eat, when I go out to eat, what I experience is vastly different from what I experienced before I started cooking for a living.

The requirements of a good line cook are roughly as follows; consistency, speed, endurance, accuracy. As a line cook one needs to perform a task (cooking dish X) quickly, correctly, exactly the same way every single time, and multiple times a night. As Anthony Bourdain said (paraphrased) in his book Kitchen Confidential: I don’t want an artist, someone who will sit and play around with my plating all night, I want a craftsman, someone capable of doing something the same way a million times. It’s this repetition and need to perform the task very quickly that causes a certain mentality shift in a person. Or it may further refine said mentality in someone already in possession of it. Cooking requires long hours in small cramped hot dangerous environments with the pressure of time working against every action you take in that environment. To do well in this environment a person needs to be organized both mentally and physically. One’s station must be immaculate in terms of the positioning and the preparation of all items on it so that during the heat of a rush one need not think or look to find where something is. Instead one just knows where something is because you always put it in the same place. One needs to be mentally organized because one needs to keep track of multiple items on multiple tickets, items that may have different cooking times. Keeping this causes a streamlining of thought and of action. There is no time for extraneous motion or thought during the middle of a rush. If I have to think about where I put something I may forget the temperatures of the five steaks I have on the grill, which means that I then have to look at the tickets or harass expo for those temps when I could have spent that time doing something else that needed doing 3 minutes ago.

Cooks look at food in a fundamentally different way. Where the average person will look at plate and see a steak and potatoes, with some sort of vegetable and a sauce, the cook will look at it and immediately know the processes that had to happen for the items on that plate to get there and knowing those processes a cook will judge the plate on the quality of the execution of said processes. In addition to judging the quality of the ingredients these factors will inform the reasoning behind whether the cook enjoys the meal or not. I personally also think about how I would go about setting up the prep for an item, if I receive an appetizer I think about what in this dish could have been par-cooked? What can be kept together in a container and what has to be added at the last second? How have they arranged the elements of the dish on the plate? Would I classify this as simply a messy presentation or are they attempting to be “rustic”. The texture of the sauce, the “mouthfeel” of the soup, the uniformity of the cuts of vegetables, there are a million things to pay attention to when cooking and just because I might not have cooked something doesn’t mean that I’m not thinking about them when I’m eating it.

Cooking has made me more direct, more efficient, and more than anything, more aware of what I’m eating. I’m focusing on the flavor of what I’m eating from the moment it touches my tongue till the moment after I swallow. I observe how the flavor profile changes over the course of chewing and swallowing. I try to identify what exactly makes up the flavors I’m tasting, “is that a hint of clove at the end? Did they use a blond or a brown roux in this?” This awareness has changed the process of eating for me into not only a necessity, but something that from time to time can truly be enjoyed. But not in the passive enjoyment that anyone might receive from a good tasting meal. But an enjoyment that extends to the recognition of the skill and the care that went into a dish. I can tell when a dish would be a pain in the ass to make, and I can tell when the cook that made it considers it a challenge to overcome, and when he sees it as a hassle he has to deal with. Emotion shows through in food as clearly as anything else. I don’t believe that one can enjoy food in this way until one has immersed oneself in the finer points of cooking and learned to truly appreciate food.

Friday, February 26, 2010

University athletics; playing on your dime

It is my contention that university athletics in general and at UNM in specific are a drain on the university and do not provide a worthwhile return on the investment the school makes in them. My modest proposal then is not the abolition of the sports programs at UNM, but to relegate them to the level of clubs. Vast sums of money are poured into the university athletics program. The usual justification for this is that having a successful sports team aids in national recognition and that aids in recruitment, arguably for the university itself, but the primary benefit for this probably falls to the sports program itself. Athletics are often cited as a way of maintaining alumni interest in the university and thus increasing alumni funding but a study by the NCAA found that this is not in fact the case. The relative success or failure of the sports programs at a university shows no apparent statistical relevance to alumni donations. Furthermore the study also showed that an increase in funding for athletics shows no statistical correlation between either team success or revenue from ticket sales. College athletics represent black holes for funding. That is money can be poured into the programs but there is no reason so suspect any return on that investment.
UNM’s athletic department runs on a $27,551,570 budget for the 09-10 fiscal year according to their SFRB application for a further $1,525,842(2). This is an immense amount of money to be pouring into these programs given the general state of the New Mexican economy and the economy of the school in particular. According to a 2002 article at the time, both Stanford and the University of Michigan, significantly better funded schools, spend in the area of 33 million a year to run their athletics programs(link). This should raise some serious questions as to the amount of funding being put towards the athletics programs at UNM. How is it that a school whose overall economic profile could never compete with either of those schools pays the kind of money towards sports as those two institutions. Furthermore I perhaps falsely assumed that the point of a university is to educate people, and to provide them with the best education that the institution can afford. To that end the university is paying somewhere in the neighborhood of $750,000 a year to Locksley plus benefits and Alford negotiated a $975,000 compensation. This while multiple departments are losing faculty due to individuals retiring and there is a freeze on new faculty. The average salary for a UNM professor is around $108,859 (link). I leave you to do the math as to how many professors we could manage off the salary of one head coach, much less the small army of support staff that make up the athletics department. The fact is that the amount of money we spend is disproportionate given the size and fiscal capability of the university.
To add insult to injury the student athletes are afforded a great many amenities that the average student does not have access to. Granted these “student” athletes probably do need more outside support to assist them in passing their classes since they miss so much class that any “mere” student would long have been dropped for a similar amount of absences. Health insurance, tutors, psychological assistance, the list of assistance options to student athletes is a long list of programs designed to assist the student athlete pursue their college degree. What I find strange however is the wording specifically used in the SFRB request. There seem to be a proliferation of programs that are designed to almost force the student athlete to study and work on school related material. This is of course because as the athletics department states in the SFRB request “student athletes are held to "strict academic requirements for competition as dictated by the NCAA and the mountain west conference, these standards are in most cases more stringent than those required of the general student population." I did a little research and found that the NCAA requirements are in fact simply a percentage of the school’s minimum GPA requirement. Of course the required percentage of the minimum GPA required by the school goes up for each year attended, the benchmark is still the minimum. That benchmark is the same one that all students are subject to. I fail to see how more is required (academically) of student athletes than other students.
University athletics provides nothing economically to the university. For a school the size of UNM having an athletics department the size of the one we have can only be detrimental to the overall quality of the education at the university. So much money is sunk into athletics programs with the only beneficial result being perhaps a heightened sense of community and moral. But my suggestion of maintaining sports at a club level would still allow for these benefits while allowing the university to compete academically with other universities due to the flood of funding that could be diverted from athletics. Furthermore student athletes who are serious about receiving an education would be able to receive a better education and not endure such demands on their time as are currently required by their participation in a sports programs. The relegation of sports to the club level seems the only responsible solution to the situation facing the University it would provide the athletic outlet for those who both enjoy sports and those who enjoy watching them. But at the same time it would allow the massive amounts of funding that are currently spent on sports to be diverted towards other, dare I suggest academic, programs. While some may say that the loss of division 1 sports will cause immense financial repercussions for the school I ask how could saving almost 30 million a year hurt the school financially? That money certainly isn’t made back in tickets. That is money that disappears every year and does nothing to further the quality of the education of the average student. If the school truly cared about giving a competitive education and doing first class research and turning the university from a no name backwater state school into a first class institution the solution is relatively simple. Abolish sports teams, relegate them to the level of clubs and let them lobby for funding like everyone else on campus who has a non academic interest but would like to pursue it while attending the university. I fully believe in the role of clubs and special interest groups that are funded in part by UNM. I don’t know why it is that one particular group should receive such a disproportionate amount of money while the fundamental elements of the university are left to suffer.

Please Don’t Spin Me a Yarn: I Live With a Knitter

When I sit down to watch a movie with my girlfriend, we’re always joined by someone else. As it happens this other person is the knitting project she’s currently working on. Admittedly i don’t pay as much attention as perhaps would be appropriate to what it is she’s knitting. But to be honest she usually whips the knitting out anytime her hands have some downtime and as a result I’m inured to the presence of the project. I suppose it’s at this point that I should wax poetic about the clicking of the needles and how it comforts me or some such nonsense but I intend to do no such thing. The thing is, that while I may not do any knitting myself I’m still rather involved in the whole process. I’m like a field engineer for the army, I don’t do any actual fighting but I install the bridges and remove the landmines before the troops with the guns roll in get the bloody mess over with. This usually involves sitting around looking at seemingly countless variations on a “slouchy beret,” or gloves, or mittens, or fingerless gloves, or mittens that are fingerless gloves. She’ll show me the ones she’s thinking about starting and a few other designs that caught her eye and I’ll give her my opinion, as that is what she called me over for, and she will proceed to ignore me and proceed with her own choice. I often wonder if I’m merely a check she makes before she starts; “I’m thinking I’ll make pattern X, hey Trace, which one do you like?” “Hmm…I like Y.” “Ok.” At which point pattern X has just been made a sure thing in her mind.
My other primary task as far as her knitting is concerned is the de-tangling of her balls of yarn. This, much like socks missing from the dryer is one of gods secrets that I fear man shall never truly explain. I’ve watched as ordered yarn has come to the house in boxes, my girlfriend will lift it from the box making permutations of pleasure noises as she looks over the yarn. The yarn is carefully spun into big soft coils which are delicately wrapped around each other in a manner that is utterly useless to a knitter as the yarn will need to be wound into balls anyway. The carefully (untangled) yarn is placed into a basket or a drawer and left unmolested till the project that calls for it is started. It doesn’t matter how much time has elapsed since the yarn was placed in the container till she starts using it. In that time the yarn will twist in on itself with such vigor and determination that one can only assume a small singularity momentarily opened up in the basket the yarn was in. The yarn twists and warps around this singularity but before it can be consumed by the black hole in minature, the singularity disappears causing the yarn that was in hyper dimensional space to collapse back into our reality into whatever postion it happens to be in in relation to the rest of the yarn. Needless to say this is usually in the position of “quite tangled.” It then, by some other miraculous process that I have yet to understand, becomes my responsibility to untangle said mess.
My girlfriend started knitting when she was in 8th grade. A couple failed attempts at learning with her grandma led her to learning from a family friend. She says that she was a “crafty kid” and liked to make things with her hands and as a result she took to knitting with vigor. Her enjoyment of knitting stemmed from the creation of something that she could use. “I guess, ultimately it’s a creative outlet, something functional, I like creating things that are functional and have a purpose.”
Initially her knitting was met with some mocking calls of “grandma” and people asking her why she was knitting. But times and people change and she now finds people asking her what she’s knitting instead of why. She informs me that knitting is becoming rather vogue, particularly with the DIY (do it yourself) crowd. In fact it’s becoming such a movement that there is now an appreciable sized group of male knitters in what was once a female dominated activity. “Actually there are a lot of really good knitting designers that are male.”
Though this popularity is not without it‘s downsides, as is the case when someone’s personal passion gains a wider audience. “Now it’s really, really popular, it’s a trend, which is kind of frustrating for me because I’ve been doing it for years. I’ve put in the time and effort developing my skills and when I meet someone who says “oh I knit!” and they just make shitty scarves with shitty acrylic yarn it upsets me.” I play devils advocate and try to rationalize that a lot of these people are just starting out, perhaps one should cut them some slack. But I recognize what she’s complaining about. “Knitting is a lifestyle choice for me, it’s not a hobby.” An influx of people into any group can cause feelings of resentment amongst those who’ve been there longer and feel like they put in their time and earned the right to define themselves as members of that group. But I understand her gripes and commiserate with her. It’s one thing to take up a Curling have done it once or twice and call yourself a curler, but it’s something else entirely to have put in years of effort into curling and call yourself a curler. It’s not the skill level achieved, it’s not the number of things one has knit. It’s having spent enough time at it that one develops an intrinsic understanding of the activity. This understanding may not translate into appreciable skill, but it allows one to nod knowingly when others speak on the topic. When I watch my girlfriend knit I see the body language of someone rather practiced at the craft. Her fingers are locked into postion and move with a precision and speed that can only come from countless hours of practice. I often find myself watching entranced at the way her hands are seemingly bent into specific repeated angles. Arthritic looking angles and strange positions so as to maintain the yarn in a specific arrangement that is the flurry of her silent needles. There is an unconscious understanding in her motions, her body knows what it is doing. One can see the same thing in anyone who is passionate and practiced at their art. The pianist whose fingers glide across the piano without effort, the sprinter whose every movement is set towards one purpose. It is an efficiency of motion that defines this level of understanding.
“Why knit?” I ask her, “is knitting important?” I get a look that says she could ask the same thing about some of the things I do. I make an attempt to elucidate what exactly I meant by my question which after some back and forth we come to an agreement about what exactly I meant by important. “Fine socially, is it important socially?” “I think it’s important socially. Being able to create something with your own hands and be proud of your work is very important. That’s a valuable skill to teach kids. There’s not a lot of art education anymore so giving kids chance to make something and be proud of it is important.”
Since she doesn’t interact with children currently I can only assume that she intends to teach our potential future kids how to knit. While I am not a child care expert by any stretch of the imagination I can’t help but think of the material instability field naturally emitted by children. What happens when one puts a small basket of yarn singularities next to a child emitting a strong “accident causal field” and asks them to do something with it…All I can be certain of is that I’m sure it will become my responsibility to fix it when it happens…


It's kind of embarrassing to realize how out of shape one is.. It's not something one is generally aware of till one goes out and actually exercises. I'm strong enough to do what I need to do and more. But I am far from actually being fit. So to that end I've started running and I've been monitoring my "progress?" on google maps:

View running map in a larger map

furthermore i've been running in a pair of these:

I've been researching body weight exercises that I will begin to work on in the coming weeks, I don't feel like going into the diet aspect of the whole shebang because I have neither the time nor the inclination presently to write about that however suffice it to say that I am following a relatively "paleo" diet, however since cheese is one of the greatest triumphs of man I am still eating that, in addition to drinking milk and still having sugars from time to time, I still don't eat enough fruit, but I have a shit ton of meat and veggies and I'm working on (and doing better at) drinking more water, also for those of you that knew of my habit before, I have cut down on the amount of soda's I've been drinking by an almost unbelievable amount. ( i used to probably average 3-4 on my days off work and gets unlimited soda working in restaurants I really have no idea how much I drank...) furthermore serious efforts to not eat any high fructose corn syrup or is derivatives. 5 days in and I'm still waiting for all the supposed benefits (better sleep, more energy, etc...) to kick in, but that's just my modern mindset getting in the way of realizing some things take time (often more time than we'd like). But time wise I'm using only about an hour a day to get in this exercise and while i could spend that time doing homework that needs doing or cleaning some dishes that need doing, I know that if I wasn't running I'd probably be sitting around wasting time on the I am now...