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Despite attempts to get myself to use Things and OmniFocus, I've always gone back to a hand-maintained Excel document plus writing down physical to-do lists if I'm out running errands.  Maybe it's just inertia, or perhaps the simplicity of just typing tasks into cells made everything else feel cumbersome. 

It looks like OmniFocus has better mobile syncing these days, so perhaps it will be easier to use the second time round.  I just tricked the desktop version into giving me another 14-day trial period. 

I could also go for a web-based solution, which would be nice when I've booted my mac into Windows or Ubuntu.  However, none of the web-based versions had clear support for easy mobile use. 

Any advice?
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 It's interesting to reflect how much my day-to-day life has changed in the last two months.  

In November, I was still scattered, splitting my time between numerous pursuits like snowboarding, hang-gliding, and various art projects.  Now I wake up on a Saturday and think "hey, how can I make progress on my 3D vision project".  The transformation's been very interesting.  Distractions that used to be highly alluring are much more easily resisted.  I ask myself how side activities relate to my core goals.  

Overturning the entrenched habits from my 2-year mini retirement seems like a daunting task but really all it took was an idea exciting enough that I convinced myself to take quick action.  Passion and urgency apparently trump methodical habit change when it comes to self-development.  

I have to be careful not to go too far and lose all the great habits I picked up in the last year.  I still want to reserve some time for travel, regular exercise, adventure sports, parties, and other things that keep my life balanced and ensure that my creative powers stay undiminished.
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There are already implantable glucose monitors.  Why not create one that causes harmless pain if blood glucose rises beyond a certain level, with the amount of pain increasing commensurate with the level?  People modify their behaviors quickly to avoid pain if there's a clear and rapid connection between the pain and a pain-causing stimulus.

Devices that intentionally cause pain might be difficult to get FDA-approved, but it seems like techniques like gastric bypass essentially accomplish the same thing, with far more side effects an irreversible changes. 

I feel like I have a natural version of this glucose-pain connection; when I eat many kinds of junk food, I start to feel sick within minutes.  It's trained me to not eat junk food, even if it once tasted good at the time of eating.
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On the ski lift today:

Me:  The fall wasn't bad. I had knee pads.
Woman: You have knee pads?
Me: Yeah.  I also have a tailbone pad and body armor -- that's wrist, elbow, shoulder, back, and chest pads -- and a helmet.
Woman: Wow... you must have been in a terrible accident.
Me:  (laughs)  No.  I want to avoid being in a terrible accident.  That's why I bought all that stuff.  
Woman:  Oh.  That makes sense.


People don't get it.  You can do more cool things in your life if you lower the cost of failure.  I was able to learn to snowboard faster because I was less afraid to fall and because the falls I did take bruised me up less, allowing me to spend more time on the slopes and less time sitting around feeling achey.  

This is one of those useful general purpose life lessons.  "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" is true, but many kids are likely to ignore it because it sounds burdensome.  However, if it's reframed as "You can do more fun things if you also take care of these precautions", it's more positive and gets the point across better.  

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 I posted earlier about my experimentation with blue-blocking glasses to help improve my sleep.  I ended up not enjoying the experience of wearing the glasses, but I realized that I could achieve similar results by setting up red and orange colored night lights in my house.  This was especially nice to add to my bathroom, as it now allows me to use the bathroom in the middle of the night without forcing myself awake again with bright white lights.  You can get these lights for cheap ($5) at Home Depot.  

While this took care of the ambient room light, it didn't take care of the bright white of my computer screen.  For that I used f.lux, which reduced the blue light coming from the screen. I used f.lux on the strongest setting (Tungsten lighting) and I was surprised by how quickly my brain's white balance adjusted to the new color, especially when the surrounding room lights were red and orange.

This combination of colored room lights and f.lux seemed to work well at helping me get to bed, but not quite as well as wearing the blue-blocking glasses.  

However, based on a couple of weeks of data (which admittedly isn't much), the partial blue blocking setup using the colored lights and f.lux starting 2-3 hours before bedtime did not substantially affect my sleep latency -- it averaged 19min instead of 23min.  What did change substantially was my bedtime.  I found I shifted to going to bed an average of 28 minutes earlier and waking up an average of 5 minutes earlier.  The results actually seemed much bigger until I realized I had seasonal fluctuations in bedtime, so I went back and compared only with data from February, which had a similar day length.  I'm getting more sleep and feeling more well rested, which is good.  

Now I'm going to play with Nocturne, a program that gives me much more full control of screen brightness and appearance than f.lux.  Nocturne lets me set my display's entire color space, invert white to black, and do lots of other tricky things.  So far the best compromise between minimal blue light and maximum readability I've found is to just use the "monochrome" and "tint colors" settings on Nocturne, with the "white" color set to pure red and "black" set to black.    It's not the sort of thing I'd want to use for photo editing, but it works fine for working with text and some web browsing.  I'll report back in a couple of weeks on how that goes.


At some point I'm not sure mow much more sleep self-experimentation is worth it.   I do know I still move a lot more than the average sleeper, I'd like to get rid of my remaining mild snoring, and I'd like to improve my recovery time on days when I have to get up extra early, but I don't know how much improvement to my waking life I'll get from further changes.  For now I'll keep gathering data, since the cost to do so from a time perspective is very low.  

It would be nice to declare some sort of victory at some point, but this is one of those infinite games where improvements may continue but the margins will diminish, and true value lies in correctly answering the question of when it's no longer worth the trouble to try to improve further.  
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After hearing about blue-blocking glasses at the Life Extension Conference, I decided to give them a try.  The basic principle behind them is that your body keys its circadian rhythm off of the presence of sunlight, specifically light in the blue wavelengths.  A lot of insomnia (the hypothesis goes) is caused by exposure to blue light well after sunset via our artificial lights and computer screens.  This light apparently confuses our circadian rhythms and causes a suppression of melatonin production, which can lead to insomnia.  There have been some studies (both in mice and in human shift-workers) coming out linking a lack of melatonin to a variety of cancers. 

I've found melatonin to be useful as a sleep aid, but the idea of using blue-blocking glasses to naturally increase melatonin production earlier in the night seems even more appealing as it's less of a brute force method. 

Here's my experience after trying it for a few nights:

First, the world is ugly while wearing the glasses.  Each type of light is a different sickly shade of orange or yellow, and when they're both lighting an object, the combination of colors in the light and shadow areas is unpleasant and irritable.  It's like some bad '70s nightmare.

The color gamuts of the camera and computer monitor are insufficient to capture the rancid sickliness of these colors, no matter how much I try to manipulate the white balance or use Lightroom's advanced color management. 

The world with blue-blocking glasses  The world with blue-blocking glasses
The world with blue-blocking glasses  The world with blue-blocking glasses

Especially on the first day, this miscolored world made me irritable.  It's become less annoying with further uses though.  One frustration that doesn't go away is that the glasses make you blind to a lot of information on the computer.  Graphs will have lines missing, blue buttons will be invisible, unvisited and visited web links will be the same color.  It gives me more appreciation for what red-green colorblind people have to deal with. 

However, on the plus side, they do appear to work.  While I haven't noticed much decrease in the time it takes me to get to bed, I have noticed that it makes me get up earlier and with less grogginess.  That alone makes them worth using on certain days.  Scientifically this makes sense, as suppressing blue light in the evening causes the brain circuits responsible for controlling circadian rhythms to start (and thus end) the night phase earlier. 

While wearing the glasses can be a pain, there are some easier things that you can do to help your body have a more natural rhythm:
- Buy red LED night lights.  Turning on bright bathroom lights in the middle of the night totally messes up your melatonin production.
- Get red compact fluorescent lamps for your bathroom, bedroom, and living room, and use them exclusively during the last hour or two that you're awake. 
- Turn your monitors' brightness as far down as possible during the last couple of hours of the day.

I'll be doing more quantitative research on the glasses over the next month or two.

If you want to buy the glasses, you can buy them from for $70 or from Amazon for $10.  your choice.  :-) 

For $10, they're worth a try. 
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Seth Roberts has been doing self-experimentation for a couple of decades on top of his professional professorial pursuits.  He recently wrote up the fascinating article "The Unreasonable Effectiveness of my self-experimentation", which states:

Over 12 years, my self-experimentation found new and useful ways to improve sleep, mood, health, and
weight. Why did it work so well? First, my position was unusual. I had the subject-matter knowledge of
an insider, the freedom of an outsider, and the motivation of a person with the problem. I did not need to
publish regularly. I did not want to display status via my research. Second, I used a powerful tool.
Self-experimentation about the brain can test ideas much more easily (by a factor of about 500,000) than
conventional research about other parts of the body. When you gather data, you sample from a power-
law-like distribution of progress. Most data helps a little; a tiny fraction of data helps a lot. My subject-
matter knowledge and methodological skills (e.g., in data analysis) improved the distribution from which
I sampled (i.e., increased the average amount of progress per sample). Self-experimentation allowed me
to sample from it much more often than conventional research. Another reason my self-experimentation
was unusually effective is that, unlike professional science, it resembled the exploration of our ancestors,
including foragers, hobbyists, and artisans.

His points about rapid iteration of hypotheses and the power-law distribution of scientific progress are fascinating.  The modern scientific environment makes the use of human intuition through play much more difficult.  (Among other things, no animal subjects ethics board would let you have some mice to "play" with.)  He also makes some great points about how medical researchers who do not have contact with patients are less likely to make practical breakthroughs -- I've noticed similar issues occur in companies, where engineers and other employees who do not meet with customers regularly often end up making less useful features than those who do.

Seth also points out that it's likely doctors will decline in their role as gatekeepers, a trend I would agree is likely to happen.  This may lead to more quack medicine and other issues, but I believe alternate reputation systems can be developed to handle these concerns.

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As I was doing followup research to make my final decisions on which blood tests to take as part of my self-tracking project, I stumbled upon some difficulties.

I was deciding between two labs for one particular test, one of which had a sketchy-looking logo (Doctors' Data).  I typed its name into Google, and Google suggested the auto-complete "Doctors Data fraud".  Oh my.  I spent a good bit of time poking around for the next couple of hours, and learned a lot of disturbing things. 

Apparently there are certain tests at certain testing labs that are commonly known to produce "abnormal" readings for just about everyone who takes the tests.  Scam nutritionists and other shady alternative medicine practitioners know this and will tend to use these companies to produce official-looking documents to back up their claims to the patients.  (Every lab that the Scientologist nutritionists at HealthNOW used is on the list)  There's plenty of morally conflicted economic self-interest going on.   Apparently there was a big lawsuit a while back, when a toxic metals test with poor methodology led a woman to choose a dangerous chelation therapy that killed her.  

It's hard to tell how far I should let this mistrust spread.  Only one of the tests I was considering (the IgG/IgE food allergy test) is on the list of dubious tests.  However, should I not trust other tests from the same lab?  Should I not trust Direct Labs for offering these tests, or should I think of them more like an Amazon that offers everything for sale, good and bad.  Can I trust the site (quackwatch) that has come up with the labs-not-to-trust list, or is the site's owner being too reactionary?  It's kind of maddening, like this picture except less funny:

I think I'm going to pull back on the couple of tests from Metametrix and Genova that I was considering, but I'm going to keep the bulk of the remainder.  If many labs offer a particular test (and they're not just rebranding a third party lab's test), it's probably a legitimate test.  In addition, if I get results from a test that imply that I should do something radical, I'll talk with a doctor and have the test redone by different labs.  I should also accept that some of my money in doing these tests will likely be wasted, and some of the changes I make will be pointless, but on the whole it's most likely still a lot better than doing nothing. 

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(Background post -- I've tried lots of things to improve my posture but none of them have worked because as soon as I stop paying conscious attention to my posture, I slouch.  However, I recently worked my tailbone area to the point of soreness, and instantly had really good posture for the next day.)

I haven't been able to precisely pinpoint the exercise that made the muscles around my tailbone sore in such a way that my posture instantly improved, but I did find other muscles that do the same trick.  I've tried this a couple of times, and it works. 

Here's the exercise

Basically, it's an extension of the erector spinae muscles in the lower back.

To help push the muscle harder, I'm holding a 10lb medicine ball behind my head while I do it.  (My rock climbing gym has a small, err, regular boring gym inside it). 

This is awesome.  I've been annoyed by having poor posture my whole life, and the answer might be as simple as an exercise that takes a couple of minutes three times a week.  Before you run off to do this, note that numerous websites warn against letting your lower back curve during this exercise, hyperextending your back, or pushing too hard too soon.

If you don't have a gym membership, here's something you can do at home that works the same muscles.  I can't speak to whether this improves posture as well, but it feels similar. 
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I already self-track numerous metrics, such as weight, body fat %, cholesterol, sleep, stress, and happiness.  However, the Life Extension Conference helped me realize that there are far more things that I should track.  Here's why:

- You might discover that you are abnormally low or high in a particular metric, and this knowledge will allow you to quickly and cheaply take corrective action that will improve your quality of life or prevent you from developing a disease.
- Although it is useful to know how well you stand relative to the rest of the people your age and gender, knowing how you are doing relative to a past version of yourself is also very helpful as it can indicate some physiological change that has taken place.  For example, the PSA test, which tests for evidence of prostate cancer, is notoriously inaccurate, but it has been found that a significant increase in PSA over time is much more predictive.
- Frequently collecting data on a particular metric allows you to do self-experimentation to see what affects that particular metric.  The more frequent the testing, the more we are able to learn about ourselves.  The self-experimentation approach is especially good when trying to deal with diffuse conditions that have a range of possible causes, such as insomnia, allergies, anxiety, and depression.

So what is worth tracking?   Here's my first cut at things I might want to check periodically:

Physical performance:

Cardiovascular fitness:

- One of the biggest indicators of cardiovascular health is something called VO2Max, which is the maximum rate of uptake of oxygen by your lungs.  Actual VO2Max testing requires a doctor and lots of specialized equipment.  However, there is a way of indirectly testing VO2Max that's very simple, very accurate, and just about free.  It's called a beep test or shuttle run, depending on which side of the Atlantic you grew up on.  You basically run between two cones 20m apart at a particular rate, and the rate gradually increases until you can't make it in time.  


- I'm tempted to measure my performance on a particularly hard song on Dance Dance Revolution, but perhaps something simple, boring, and technology-free like the Hexagon Drill would be better, especially if I want to be able to do the same test in 20 years.

Strength & Power:

- Max # of pull ups.   (In high school I could do 1-3, now I can do 12-14. :-) )
- Max bench press for some # of repetitions.  
- Standing long jump
- Standing vertical jump


- I could do the sit & reach...  (ah, memories of high school)
- This site also recommends a trunk rotation test and groin flexibility test

Physical health:

- Body composition (body fat %, water %, total weight).  My current scale has decent but probably somewhat inaccurate measurement of this.  
- Glucose levels fasting and after eating a high-carb meal.  This is easy to measure.
- Sleep quality (sleep latency, time in each sleep stage etc.  Technologies like Zeo and FitBit allow for some measure of this.  

I can also order specific tests for levels of various minerals, fats, and other components.  While these tests are somewhat expensive, I really can get by doing them every 1-5 years, with possibly more frequent tests around things I'm trying to change.  The way my health insurance works (high deductible, low monthly premiums) I would order these tests myself from sites like and (their testing and supplements business is way more respected than their monthly magazine).  


The above table, and the decisions of what to take, took a couple of hours of research.  Doing all the tests I want to do will take about $500, and I estimate that I'll spend a fraction of that each subsequent year.  I'm still not sure about the food antibody IgG vs IgE tests -- I have heard that some of them are highly inaccurate.  

Mental performance:

This is a tricky one.  There are so many possible things to measure, some of which are extremely difficult to quantify repeatably.  In addition, while I like the automatic data gathering of computer software, anything I use has to still be available in 20 years so that I have consistent methods of measurement.

I could use a brain training suite not to train my brain (only a subset of the tests appear to generalize to other situations) but to periodically test it.  The best brain software appears to be the web-hosted, but I'm worried that the tests may change over time (the site brags that they're making changes and improvements *all the time*).  In addition, the service costs around $80 a year, which is a lot if I only use it a couple of times a year to assess mental performance.  I started looking for desktop software and quickly realized that the low/mid end desktop software market died several years ago.  There's very little, and most of it is crap.  One alternative would be to get iphone/ipad software.  (I'm imagining myself 20 years from now, turning on some ancient hardware to run some games.)  However, getting access to the performance data will be an issue.  

In terms of specific things to test, it would be interesting to cover:
- Working memory
- VIsual attention and tracking
- Ability to focus with distractions
- Multitasking
- Visual/Spatial processing
- Audio processing
- Logic
- Mental flexibility (Boggle?)
- Face recognition (lots of these exist)
* Idea generation / creativity (Ability to plan and prioritize short and long term goals simultaneously)
* Organization
* Self-awareness of emotional states
* Emotional processing
* Recognition of social cues
* Reading comprehension
* Performance under stress
* Willpower 

The eight starred items do not appear to be easily testable in an automated way with the software I've found.  There are a couple of ways of measuring willpower, such as resisting a particular temptation or enduring a painful but harmless sensation.  

Any suggestions on brain testing technique (or any of the things I'm considering, for that matter) are highly appreciated.

Also, if you're interested in doing a testing/discussion group with me (these things are more fun with friends anyway), let me know.
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The Life Extension Conference last weekend was an overwhelmingly large pile of information, much of it contradictory.  One of the most amusing parts was watching a panel of five experts offer advice on what supplements to take.  I've spent much of today sorting through the material from the conference and doing follow-up research to validate it.

Here's a high-level picture of what was talked about at the conference:

- The conference was attended by people (including me) who believe that the right approach to health and longevity is a proactive one; it makes sense to take action while you are young and healthy instead of waiting for your body and mind to deteriorate before doing anything.
- Testing is important.  By taking blood tests, you can determine if you are getting enough of various vitamins and minerals, keeping inflammation and stress down, maintaining a proper hormone balance etc. 
- Diet is very important, and has broad-reaching impacts on longevity and the rate of aging. 
- Physical and mental health are very tightly linked. 
- There are a lot of new devices coming out that let you automatically track various metrics of performance, like calories burned, movement, sleep quality, stress levels etc.
- Meditation now has a lot of solid research backing up its effectiveness at reducing stress, improving cardiovascular health, reducing chronic inflammation, improving mental focus, and other measures of health.  Apparently as little as 5-10 minutes of meditation a day can have an impact.
- It's worth getting detailed baseline physical and mental health data on yourself now so that you can detect changes as you get older.  This data also lets you run self-experiments and see the results.  The self-experimentation approach is especially good when trying to deal with diffuse conditions that have a range of possible causes, such as insomnia, allergies, anxiety, and depression.

As for the panel of nutrition experts, the only things they could agree on (and perhaps the only advice worth following without lots of research) were:
- Take fish oil supplements
- Take 2000IU of Vitamin D a day (almost everyone is deficient)
- Take probiotics (food or pill)

The panel did have a near-consensus that people should take Deprenyl, a relatively unknown drug that appears to halt or reverse age-related brain decline.  The drug, which is typically prescribed for Parkinson's disease, acts on a variety of neurotransmitters.

I've got several posts worth of information to sort out.  I also need to write up my talk. 
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A while back I wrote about how neural rerouting around injuries is fast -- your body, normally slow to change habits, changes them very quickly when the avoidance of pain is involved.  I hypothesized that this phenomenon could be used to change other habits, such as posture.

Sometime in the last couple of days I worked out the muscles in my lower back, specifically the area around my tailbone, to the point of soreness.  I've noticed that this has made me pay attention to the muscles there and consequently stand up straighter.  This is most excellent, as posture has seemed to be almost impossible to change with conscious effort. 

Now I just have to figure out how to make this repeatable -- I want to periodically work this muscle to the point of soreness so that I learn to stand up straight all the time.  It's time to experiment at the gym.  Failing that, maybe I should just invent something mildly uncomfortable that I can stick on the skin over my tailbone. 

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While I was traveling in Greece, I spent some time exploring Meteora with a young substitute teacher who told me about the principle of "Brain, Book, Buddy, Boss".  It's something he frequently explained to his students as the proper order to try to figure out something you don't know.

1. Brain.  Think about the question.
2. Book.  Look it up.
3. Buddy.  Ask a classmate
4. Boss.  Ask the teacher. 

It's catchy, but is it correct?  Does it apply well to life in general?

"Brain" -- Going first to "brain" helps you build connections between concepts in your mind, enhances critical thinking skills, and, generally speaking, rewires your brain to more efficiently process issues you are facing in your environment.

"Book" -- This really means "just google it".  Given that a web search is only marginally more work than thinking these days even when you're on the go, it seems like we should really get in the habit of seeing if a fact we don't know for certain is easy to work out with a simple web search.  So perhaps we should use "book" first unless we are sure of a particular fact.  I think people tend to underutilize online resources when in social settings.  I've been in lots of stupid conversations where people are arguing over facts right next to a computer.  I usually threaten to look up the answer if the conversation continues.

"Buddy" -- the modern form of this is basically "your social network".  What's nice about "buddy" is that your social network has a reputation system.  You know your friends well enough to trust (or apply the appropriate bias correction to) the things they tell you.  Your social network can also personalize answers for you.  Question answering is also a form of social connection, and some questions may be asked more with a primarily social intent.  However, I have seen lots of questions that should really be answered by "book" get asked of "buddies".  This is sometimes out of laziness, but sometimes a person is so new to a subject that they don't even know what the proper knowledge resources are.  The smart answerer (or even better yet, the smart asker) would reframe the question in terms of orienting the asker toward the resources they need to become more self-sufficient or providing a high-level knowledge framework that would make the knowledge processing more efficient. 

"Boss" -- Of course the boss wants you to try every other source of information before asking them.  This is how a teacher can manage a class of 30 students.  However, the "boss" is most likely to know the answer, so it's in the question asker's interest to go directly to an expert.  This is part of why people pay for instructors rather than trying to learn a skill on their own.   A skillful teacher can package and deliver knowledge in a customized way to a student that will result in faster learning than any other technique.  I do think a lot of people tend *never* to ask the experts questions out of a fear of looking stupid.  This is actually a bad strategy, as asking good questions of experts is a way of building rapport with them and establishing a social connection with them.  In the end, most successful people can point to one or more mentors who helped them find the way when they were young and inexperienced. 
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This is fascinating:

As a child I very much shied away from and often ridiculed the "jock" approach to things.  "Jock" was often synonymous with "dumb".  This probably was aided by the fact that the cool kids in my school were not the jocks but the academic overachievers.  (I went to a well-funded public school that was full of Stanford professors' kids).  However, it's interesting to come around and realize that the jock approach can often have a lot of value.  It should be seen not as an antithesis to the "nerd" approach, but as a separate skill that's worth using when appropriate.

Back to the video...  The weightlifter, Kirk Karwoski, has spent years building up his strength via a variety of exercises and fine-tuning his proprioception so that he knows exactly how far he can push himself.  It's not the most intellectually demanding work, but it involves an incredible amount of willpower, perseverance, and an ability to be extremely in tune with his body.  When it comes time to do the record-setting lift, the movement sequences and possible contingencies are all completely mapped out into muscle memory and learned procedures, requiring little to no deliberative conscious input.  When there's 1000 pounds of weight on his back, he has to know exactly what he's doing.  He also has to set aside any doubt, minor pains, or other mental obstacles in his way.  All the animal grunting serves a purpose -- it gets him purely focused on the task and ready to push his abilities to the limit.  Nike understood this when their marketing department, after I'm sure was a long and extensive deliberation, chose the slogan of "just do it".

What can "nerds" learn from the jock approach?  When is it applicable outside scenarios where large amounts of mass must be moved using human muscle power alone?  I've noticed a lot of objectively highly intelligent people suffer from indecisiveness, hyper-rationality, procrastination, getting lost in details, timidity, lack of focus, poor body awareness, and poor body care (lack of exercise, poor diet).  Often these issues are over-expressions of a trait that is good in moderation; indecisiveness is overactive comparative analytical skill, procrastination is overactive perfectionism, etc,  However, these issues prevent their intelligence from translating into making a significant impact in the real world.  I believe that having some fluency in the "jock" approach, and knowing when to apply it, can go a long way toward correcting hyperactive "nerd" abilities. 
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I'll be speaking at Personalized Life Extension 2010, Oct. 9-10 -- 

The focus of the conference is on actions we can each take now to extend our lives, and delay or prevent the diseases of aging.  Preventative care is far cheaper in the long run than only paying attention to your health once you're already diseased.  (It's not affiliated with the Life Extension brand or the Life Extension Foundation)  It should be a fascinating group of speakers and attendees, and I'd love see you all there. 

Christine is tracking influence vectors using hedonistic discount codes.  Mine is, unsurprisingly, "MATT".  It gets you a $100 discount. 
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I've been doing indoor rock-climbing as my primary form of exercise since mid-April, and it seems to have had a significant impact on my amount of muscle.  Since I started tracking my lean mass in mid-May, I've put on around 10 pounds, mostly muscle.  I've put on close to 20 pounds since I got back from my trip, (at which time people described me as rather emaciated).  Meanwhile, my girlfriend, who's been doing a fitness challenge, has dropped her body fat percentage by 6.5% while adding a few pounds of muscle. 

Rock-climbing builds muscle

I wish I had a good "before" photo...  This is the closest I could find.  I look kind of emaciated in this one, which was taken about three months after I got back from my trip:


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 A year ago, I posted this:

I went on a walk this morning and found I could run through my entire trip (all 4 1/2 months of it), day by day, recalling the major highlights of what I did every day. I can say with confidence that I would not have had that ability nine months ago. Even though my job was interesting, Monday through Friday often slurred together into a big mush. I could probably have remembered the last couple of months of weekends, but that would be it. Routines make my top level of consciousness sleepy.

I've found that in general the human mind will compress experiences that are repetitive so as to store them in less space. Experiences that are not repetitive cannot be compressed as much. I value the presence of variety in my life, so I think it's a reasonable goal to live my life such that I can recall what I've done every day for the last couple of months.

Now there's psychological research supporting it.   From the NYT article:

On another level, the research suggests that the brain has more control over its own perception of passing time than people may know. For example, many people have the defeated sense that it was just yesterday that they made last year’s resolutions; the year snapped shut, and they didn’t start writing that novel or attend even one Pilates class. But it is precisely because they didn’t act on their plan that the time seemed to have flown away.

By contrast, the new research suggests, focusing instead on goals or challenges that were in fact engaged during the year — whether or not they were labeled as “resolutions” — gives the brain the opportunity to fill out the past year with memories, and perceived time

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I found my old diary from my senior year of high school and reread it.  (It's a file on my hard drive.  I keep everything.)  Holy shit folks, it's worth keeping a diary.  Not only is it useful at the time, but it also will dramatically appreciate in value as it ages.  It's the intellectual version of preserving your embryonic stem cells.  More than anything else, it will help weave the disparate threads of your evolving personality and mindset into a coherent trajectory through your life.  Themes will recur, and you can witness the birth and propagation of dramatic changes.  Blogging is great for encouraging yourself to share via social reinforcement, but the lack of self-censoring that happens in a more private setting is incredibly valuable.  As for Facebook and Twitter, unless you use them *really* well, it just isn't the same.  How do I know?  I wrote a twitter-length summary of what I did and felt every day for a year in college, and reading it over again isn't nearly as valuable.  Reading the summaries can sometimes trigger more full memories, but it doesn't give a good sense for what *I* was like back then.

One thing my past self was very aware of was that I was a work in progress that was changing over time, and that at some point a future version of myself would find it and read it.  It turns out that my diary is peppered with references and bids to my future self and earlier past selves that ranged from funny to bittersweet to oddly prescient.  I am not a single person but a range of people along a timeline, and strange things happen when those people talk to each other.

To make your life more meaningful:
1. Go deep.
2. Write it down.
3. Back up your fucking data so you don't lose it.
4. Wait.
5. Reread.
mattbell: (Default)
The vast majority of my exercise now comes from indoor rock-climbing.  There's a gym about 5 minutes by car from my house.  In terms of atmosphere and focus, rock climbing is one of the geekiest sports out there.  It tends to be more collaborative than competitive and has a heavy intellectual emphasis.  Climbing routes are called "problems", which you must "beta", or solve from a technique perspective, to get to the top.  It's a giant 3D puzzle that you solve using your body.  In the process of solving the puzzle, you are strengthening a wide range of muscles.

I have an extremely hard time reliably integrating things like exercise into my life unless they're fun.  Weight rooms are never able to hold my attention for more than a few minutes.  Yoga is more useful than fun, so I tend to do it only occasionally, like when my body is aching.  However, rock climbing offers continual and varying challenges, and seems to keep my mind engaged.  In the past I used the videogame Dance Dance Revolution as exercise.  While it was fun, it was pure cardio and didn't do much muscle-building.  Rock climbing manages to hit balance, cardio, and strength at the same time.

Now I do about 1.5 hours of rock climbing three times a week, and I force myself to piggyback some time in the rock gym's weight room to work out muscles that aren't hit by rock climbing.  All in all it's been going well.  I've picked up a few pounds of muscle in the process, though that has plateaued in the last month.  I've paid a lot of attention to pre and post workout nutrition; since I'm an ectomorph I have to give myself a ridiculous amount of protein and carbs around workouts. 


Rock climbing geekery:
It took only a couple of months to reach the point where I was doing 5.10c and 5.10d routes, but progress has been very slow over the last three months.  I'm now doing some 5.11a routes, but not reliably.  Perhaps I should remember that skills often progress along a punctuated equilibrium model.  My bouldering has improved somewhat over the last month though.  I'm finally able to do some V3s, though I still can't do many V2s with steep overhangs. 
mattbell: (Default)
I spent several hours today taking care of little things around the house (and on my computer) that have been annoying me for days/weeks/months.  I finally realized that I had reached a point where every couple of minutes I'd run into some old mess or some half-broken thing that needed attention, and that the stress of having all these things crying out for attention everywhere I turned was starting to get to me.  My living environment doesn't look that different now, but it feels a lot better. 


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February 2011

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