Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Human Machine and the Neglect Cycle

My innards look something like this.
When I was writing my earlier inexpert articles on nutrition, I frequently likened the human body to a machine, which isn't entirely inaccurate. While there are some differences, the basic rules of mechanics apply, particularly when it comes to fuel and maintainance.

Humans suffer any of a broad variety of physical and mental breakdowns over time, from acute problems to more chronic ones. Today's bad posture is tonight and tomorrow's back problems, bad shoulders, and overall "age-brokenness". Today's bad diet could very well be tomorrow's Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

I find myself particularly aware of when I am and am not fatigued, partly because the job demands a fairly reliable high-energy, and partly because fatigue can also be a symptom of my own idiosyncratic chemical imbalances.

Recently, I went through changes in my life that dramatically impacted my fatigue level. I reduced my overall activity level from five-times-daily full-hour aerobic activity (not counting for the anerobic exercises of being employed) down to a piteous ten minutes. At the same time, I rather dramatically (and foolishly) reduced my caloric intake by a good 20% and went off of caffine cold-turkey, down from a habit of double-dosing on energy drinks first thing in the morning.

The resultant month-long experiment has been a tremendous burden and I found myself having serious doubts about what I was doing - in all aspects. Being literally too tired to care has its definite disadvantages.

I'm feeling better now. To some degree I think my body has adjusted, but it shouldn't have had to. I consume far less than I should calorically, even at my reduced activity level. The nutrient balance is so far out of whack I often wonder how it's possible I function at all. I became severely ill for about a week, and in one 24-hour stretch I slept for about 18 of them.

I'm more or less back to normal now - mostly because I've let softer forms of caffeine back into my life and consume an unabashed quantity of empty sugar calories - but the continuation of the easy fatigue and the other help problems has inspired me to write about patterns of neglect.

We, that is to say humans who are in a position to be healthy and yet aren't, habitually neglect ourselves.  For me, as with all other behaviours, this is a somewhat cyclic process, though there are certainly some aspects of health I neglect more than others, and on the whole I think the neglect probably wins out over the otherwise. I'm a socially-anxious homebody who prefers the company of books and pixels over the company of other noisy humans (when I'm not the society-starved extrovert who spends and spends and spends just to keep my friends company for a few hours), after all.

Then periodically, something comes along and causes us to give a damn. We take a stab at resetting our diets onto healthy patterns, maybe go for a walk, run, or cycle now and again. Take up a sport. Try freakin' yoga. Whatever.

Then, as our focus wains and we realize superhero training montages are only possible in the movies, we lose our interest in our latest health initiatives and go back to assaulting our bodies with casual neglect.

I think, to change that, you'd need to make a few changes:

  • Bad Diet Habits are Good Diet Habits-in-Waiting. Every craving has a healthier alternative, and the example I usually use for that is that a furious craving for fruity candy is almost always slain by fruits. It's easier mentally to think of diet adjustments less in terms of what you're trying not to do, and more in terms of what you are doing.
  • Ditto for Exercise. You aren't a couch potato. You're training for your sport/activity of choice. I think humans in general and people in my mindset in particular have a fear or aversion to being seen as novices in a particular craft, which is odd, because I've always considered the position of the novice very endearing and the pursuit of expertise a noble effort - one of the most human drives, in fact.
  • Game it. It bears repeating that humans like to win at things. That's why we think of physical activity and sport as synonyms - they often are. So keep score. Chart your times, or your reps, or which targets in your nutritional system of choice you hit. (N.B.: A lot of different nutritional guides have been published by numerous countries that are very interesting in their design. As with everything the truth is in the results, but many of these alternatives are worthy of pursuit if you, like me, can't actually be bothered tracking each individual neutrient). You'll then have a useful tool to gauge your progress toward goals, which is also important.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Life In The Lapse I : Syncretic Decay

(Let me appologize in advance for the quality of grammer here. I am bound to typing on a badly-damaged touchscreen for a few more days.)

It should come as no surprise to anyone that I am a member of the Choose Your Own generation. We come from an entertainment culture of games and books so open-ended that clear interpretations are entirely subjective. As a result, we ourselves take things in pieces.

For me, at least, religion is no different. A brain fuelled by critical thought on every available topic leaves little room for rote orthodoxy. In the months following my conversion, I grew increasingly heterodox, as I dropped doctrinal positions I knew in my heart to be false - in a manner of speaking.

I replaced thed doctrines with new ones - often borrowed from the world's other religions - to try and make sense of issues I have only half-understood. It probably wouldn't surprise anyone that the geneartion of infalibility produced an attitude of unaccountability, but there you are.

Still, from time to time, I feel a call back to orthodox Catholicism. Perhaps not radical orthodoxy as grows prevelant in the Catholic blogging community. I think simpy accepting the dictates of the Catechism should suffice.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

An Announcement Long in Coming

This seems to be a suitably recent photo.
So while those of you who are also friends with me on facebook have already long known what I'm about to tell you, as are those who know me or The Katherine in person (these groups are not identical), there's quite a few of you out there who I hope are still reading who haven't been told.

Back in April, on our 7th dating anniversary at a cosy little sushi restaurant downtown here, Katherine and I got engaged to be married.

There aren't many details to be had besides that just yet, but I'm sure I'll be too excited to not keep you posted!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Polymath Approach

Vault 29 owns this photo of my work.
One of the things I like most in life is the development of skills. I hesitate to say I am an expert in anything - whenever I become convinced I have attained some level of mastery in this hobby or that ability, the universe conspires to forcibly remind me that I'm going to likely be a student forever.

My current sous-chef (that is to say, under whom I work, not who works under me), actually, has a favoured saying in the family regarding such things, namely, "if you are the smartest person in a room, you are in the wrong room". Granted, he usually says this while actively being the smartest person in the room - but tales from the workplace are past-tense now that Anthony Bourdain wrote his Kitchen Confidential.

Something I fail to capitalize on, however, is the idea that all the numerous individual skills and talents I daily hone can be taken together. While this is somewhat obvious in the fusion of my business and culinary training in the rekindled desire to open a restaurant of my own one day, being as I am a mad man in a hurry to grow grey.

However, it's taken until relatively recently to realize that sometimes the lessons from one profession, or indeed one hobby, can be taken together with the goals and lessons of another. For some time, the Katherine has been expounding upon the virtues of her powerful design systems and extensive training, while I sit here in my obstinate refusal to admit that Word is not perfectly adequate for all tasks.

This comes in a number of forms - it's basically an extension of the idea that no man is an island, only applied to skills - but I think the true inventiveness is in the overlap. The visual arts impact the culinary in more ways than cute menu photography. Colour theory works as well on the plate as on canvas. A good understanding of growing conditions and labour involvement leads to a better understanding of the true value of food. Spreadsheets are remarkably useful in the kitchen both at home and at work. And so on.

Mostly, though, the whole concept is good for filling a page or two, while I wait to make a much larger announcement tomorrow.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Seven Quick Takes: Take-Noko!

--- 1 ---
Urban Exploration Phototime
The fact that I'm doing a link-up of any sort pretty well tells you I'm not very good at coming up with ideas on the fly anymore. Truth be told I spent most of my mental energy on retaining a number of things I promised myself (and have been told by wiser folk than I) not to hold on to anymore. While I'm pleased to learn my memory is much more voluminous than I give it credit for, I'd really rather use it for other things. I suppose the only thing for that would be to finally offload some of the memory-kruft into other formats. Speaking as someone equipped with a reasonably broad pallet of paper-based and digital storage media, you'd think I'd be able to get a handle on all this junk... but no, not so much.

--- 2 ---
Over a year ago now, I had a particularly bad week at the old Pet Store, where i used to work at the time, as many of you will remember. There was a spree of bad luck involving a number of digital devices - my phone and my iPod Classic among them. Screens were broken, nasty words spoken to nobody in particular, and the up and down of it is that I wound up with no real motivation to replace them.

It wasn't that I wasn't replacing broken things. I have replaced, since then, several pairs of headphones (including a very expensive computer headset I use for doing audio-video work and gaming, the five minutes a week I have to myself). But the thing is, I have always been bad with my electronics, since I was very young. I suppose a factor in that might have been my generation (I had a freakin' palm pilot in 1999. When I would have been in the fourth or fifth grade. That's messed up), but the factors don't mitigate the problem.

I figured if I could go a year, limping along with equipment that was in less-than-perfect condition, I could make do. The iPod was a relatively easy fix - set single playlists of a manageable length and change them out when they get boring. The phone itself was a non-issue. I can't always see the screen as well, but the touch functionalities still worked fine, and I could still bank, hammer out a text message, or dial as I saw fit. It wasn't until recently, when dust and moisture started being able to get their way into the phone, that the broken glass really became an issue. If it wasn't for that, honestly I would have waited another year, until my contract expires and I can get a new phone at reduced cost.

Now, I'll probably do an early upgrade - renewing my contract on new terms - or buy a used phone of a similar model. The iPod itself as simply stopped working altogether. The four or five days I went without it were so torturous that I'm borrowing a spare one of The Lady's until I can replace it, or at least ween myself off of having total audio control.

--- 3 ---
Fredericton, where I now live and have for several months, was recently struck by the tail-end of Tropical Storm Arthur. This is not an unusual occurence in this part of Canada, and in fact, living closer to the ocean as I used to, I became rather used to the odd bit of high winds and heavy rains that such storms represented. That's why I was surprised to not only lose power on the day of the storm (a Saturday), but to not get it back until Tuesday of the following week. While I freely admit that nothing in my fridge was quite so "correct" as I would have liked it to be, the loss of a few pounds of salmon, half a pork tenderline, a bit of leftover roast duck, and all told about another $80 worth of condiments, long-storage dairy, and other munchables was sort of an unexpected kick in the gut.

The part of the storm I can't stop laughing about, though: Literally two nights before, I threw out my best-and-only piezoelectric flashlight because some impact or another had cracked the casing in a way that rendered it inoperable. They say it never rains...

--- 4 ---
Beautiful work patio often leads to late nights after-hours.
I just can't get enough of this new game I've been playing. It's supremely irritating when my brain does this sort of thing, in some ways, though there is a great and satisfying itch in the childlike enthusiasm for the latest whateverthehell has my attention now.

I suppose in large part I have been overly luxurious. I was rather showered in books at my birthday, but the lucky chance of cheaply acquiring the recent Bravely Default (Nintendo 3DS by SquareEnix) was surprisingly welcome. The game is very good and I recommend it to fans of classic RPGs. It turns away from Square's millenial fascination with ATB-style systems to take a trip down memory lane to turn-based, but also includes some interesting new features to take advantage of the 3DS's sleep mode, passive wireless functionality, and Augmented Reality architecture. Very good title.

--- 5 ---
In one of those never-say-never moments, I've learned I actually have some level of skill in pastries - just so long as no actual pastry is involved. My day-to-day work, until very recently, was entirely concerned in the perparation of small, bite-sized desserts. Vault 29 has me, after consulting with a few highly-qualified chefs, making their desserts-in-miniature. So I've acquired some real chops when it comes to no-bake cheesecake, fresh lemon curd, vegan desserts, chocolate mousse, panna cotta, and, of late, Key Lime Pie.

It's almost a shame that I won't be doing pastries much longer, though I never really intended to be a pastry cook forever. Still, having a section of my own to run independently and with a minimum of supervision, and rather a lot of lattitude as far as creative control, has been really, really good for the ol' mental health.

--- 6 ---
I've taken to eating breakfast again! Neat trick - if you eat breakfasts that are good cold, there's absolutely no reason not to make it the day before. Lately: Lemon Greek-Style Yogurt, Grapefruit, mini-doughnut and water.

Also, gigantic fan of random beverages - today I had the juices from a somewhat-too-juicy berry compote cut with soda water.

--- 7 ---
Apart from bravely default - of which I've played about an hour this week, I really haven't had much time for any other gaming. Any other free time has been eaten with plans for a big move that's upcoming, or recouperating from being alive with beer and books.

Lately: The Lord of the Rings, and a lovely little HP Lovecraft anthology.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!