No, I haven't bought the brand new 8-core Mac Pro I've been drooling over in secret. And will continue drooling over for exactly six months. Which is the time it will take me to save up enough pennies to buy it. Yes, when I come back from Spain in May 2010 (I'll explain later) I plan to get myself an 8-core Mac Pro. Hmm. Oh yeah.
In the meantime, gotta keep myself happy, right? Not that that's hard to do. But I've been seriously missing something that I discovered when I was ten and have been doing on and off ever since : fencing. No, not selling black market jewelry and stolen art (alternative meaning; look it up). I'm talking about swordplay. The modern sport version, anyway.
It's a bit complicated to do around here... there are a few clubs but nowhere I can go with public transportation. So I've been telling myself it was fine, I could do without. And that was true, mostly. For a while. Recently though, my armed hand has been itching more than usual. And with winter setting in, no chance for a good game of paintball to compensate.
So I've come to a decision: I'm going to find some kind of solution. And I've taken the first step: I just procured myself a glove, an épée and a sabre. (By the way, I love internet shopping in the USA, there is absolutely no limit to what you can find and have delivered to your door -- at most you just have to have an adult sign for it; good thing I am one.)This way I can practice my basic moves, maybe get some muscle fiber back into my forearm. Work on the old lobster claw, yeah?
There is a risk of course. Couch cushion evisceration... it's not pretty.
When I spent three and a half months in China last year, I adapted to the local customs and cuisine -- to my great pleasure, I might add. I gained the most in humanistic aspects of course. But there were physical side effects; I lost nearly ten pounds without even trying. And while my general state of fitness was nothing to write home about, neither was it anything to be ashamed of.
I've been in the USA for eight months now and I feel right at home. The culture and customs are mostly very familiar, and the food is easy to like. Nay, too (gr)easy. After a winter of deep hibernation (WITH nutritional intake) my waistline has expanded to Plutonic proportions (i.e. not quite planetary, thank you very much IAU) and so I have decided to give in to one of the few local customs that I had been resisting.
Jogging. Yech. The very word makes me think of Norwegian pickled fish yogurt (which exists only in my mind -- I hope). I know, jogging is not strictly USAmerican -- but the way it's done here is on a whole other level compared to, say, Europe.
Physical exercise in general, in fact, is like that here. It's riddled with bizarre cultural paradoxes. Everything in everyday life is designed to make people's lives easier, allow them to walk less (the Car is Almighty Master of the roads of course), carry less, move less. All week/day long this economy of movement is at full throttle (or minimal throttle, rather?). Then, evenings and weekends witness an explosion of physical activity, in (expensive!) gyms and on sidewalks. People running like hamsters in their little wheels, walking up endless flights of invisible stairs, activating levers and executing exercise routines to the beat of the latest sport/dance fusion frenzy.
Well I say (with no pretension to originality whatsoever) hook up those machines to a set of electrical batteries and power the Eastern seaboard for a year. Solve the energy crisis, yeah?
These criticisms observations aside, my point was, I'm giving in to it. Not the gym thing -- I refuse to pay just for having a place to sweat -- but jogging. Even though in my heart of hearts I still believe, like Frodo's character in the delightful teen horror flick "The Faculty" (which also brought us the twin revelations that snorting aspirin powder can get you high and will help identify alien impersonators), that a person should only run when they are being chased. Though I would add trying to catch a bus or a train to the list of reasonable reasons for running. And maybe performing a flanking manoeuver during a bunker raid in a paintball game.
So today, full of good resolutions and no small amount of self-deception, I got my kit on (including the iPod-in-an-armband, this season's must-have for style-conscious jogsters) and went out for a run in the early morning (11 am) sunlight. Hah. The title of this post says it all. Suffice it to say it's not so much a muscular problem (I'm actually of rather sturdy construction) as a cardiovascular/pulmonary one. There was way more wheezing than running going on. I did stick with it though, and I'm not giving up -- I'll just try to focus on building up my pulmonary capacity for now.
Gosh darn it, that last bit sounds like something the locals would say. I really am going native.
Yes, I know, an event of momentous historical importance took place today, and I'm not blogging it. What could I say that millions of others aren't already punditing about? Nothing much, I venture.
So my contribution today is to highlight a fun concept: squirrel performance evaluation, aka squirrel fishing. (I was originally looking for research on the microbiota of squirrels...)
Due to the lack of peer-reviewed documentation, I'm not sure who first formalized this method/discipline; personally I stumbled onto an old webpage by Nikolas Gloy and Yasuhiro Endo, who were at the time students at the Harvard University Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Gloy and Endo appear to have established their protocol independently of any other initiatives around 1997. Since then, very professional-looking clubs of enthusiasts have sprung up, such as the World Official Squirrel Fishing Association. Be sure to go check out their fantastic photos.
Squirrel fishing is the sporting practice of "catching squirrels” using
a peanut tied to a string or fishing line, or perhaps, optionally some
kind of fishing pole. The fun is when the squirrel grabs the peanut and
tugs at the line to try to pull the “bait” off. Sometimes a squirrel
will not give up and the “fisherman” can attempt to gently lift him a
few inches into the air.
There are many styles of “fishing.” Essentially, one ties a peanut (the
bait) to a piece of kite string or light cord and tosses it out about
fifteen feet in front of a squirrel. The “fisherman” then remains
motionless for a few minutes. The squirrel hunts for the food, and then
as it closes in on the peanut, the fisherman teases the squirrel by
gently pulling it an inch or two, and then lets the line relax again.
The squirrel becoming attracted, again approaches the peanut, and the
“fisherman” teases the squirrel by gently drawing it back a few inches
Last weekend the institute that my host lab is a part of organized a "tug of war" competition, bringing together the teams from the various labs in the institute to face each other in several rounds of fierce tugging. Teams faced off two by two (obviously); the winner was decided by a
"best of three" format and went on to face the other winning teams in
succeeding rounds until a team was procl
aimed champion. As I understand it, participation was entirely voluntary, and the turnout was very high - there was obviously a lot of enthusiasm for the event.