Monday, February 25, 2008

Kicking it Old School 8-bit Style

Adulthood has a lot going for it. I've been spending quite a bit of time playing all kinds of games for the NES that I never got a chance to when I was a kid, drinking beer and eating pizza. Delightful. Back to the days of enemies that spawn to a ridiculous extreme, passwords instead of saves, and simple to learn yet incredibly difficult games.

One good resource in this old-school quest has been this top 100 list from the gentlemen at Since most of these games can be had for somewhere between a dollar and 10 dollars from your local game shop or ebay, you can certainly while away the hours in style. And since my girlfriend has an NES that is in great shape, I don't have to buy some Chinese knockoff just to get my game on. Which is sweet.

I've been playing a lot of Ninja Gaiden. Great game, but practically impossible for a mere mortal. To get an idea of how hard this game is, there's an entire walkthrough for one level (6-2) on the game on Game FAQs. I, therefore, humbly leave you with one of the most amazing things I have ever seen.

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The Android's Dream by John Scalzi

The Android's Dream by John Scalzi is an entertaining action/science fiction romp through one possible future. The characters are fun and not too serious, and the writing reminds me most of a young Neal Stephenson--which is good. He also runs into more hardcore space opera/alien territory without taking himself too seriously--which is also good. This is probably the best sci-fi I've read this year, but only pick it up if you're in the mood for a quick, breezy read that's fun and enjoyable and packed with action: it's more "sci-fi" than science fiction. Highly recommended.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

On Diet (part 1)

This is one of the posts that I promised a while back. I've lost about 25 pounds since this time last year and my measurements say that it's over 90% fat. (I have been using a simple waist-wrist:weight ratio. I know it's not hydrostatic weighing, but I knew my body fat was too high, and now it's getting lower). I know I'm stronger than I've been--especially in pressing and upper body pulling--since I have been since about 2003-2004 when I set a bunch of PRs. But now I'm significantly lighter. I'd like to introduce you to the dietary concepts that I think are important and worthwhile, that have enabled me to lose weight and fat while gaining strength.

These are:
1. Eat a lower carbohydrate diet.
2. Consider carbohydrate cycling.
3. Fast occasionally, intermittently, and randomly.

Eat a Lower Carbohydrate Diet

The one book that I think everyone who is trying to lose fat should read is "Good Calories, Bad Calories" by Gary Taubes. Most of the fat I have lost has been in the time since I read Taubes' book. Twice as much fat in less than half the time-that's four times the rate of loss. This is the kind of thing that you could sell on an infomercial, but it's all true: faster fat loss while retaining strength and muscle, much less hunger, and increased energy levels. I realize that I am one person and this is not a representative, scientific sample (how do you measure "increased energy levels" anyway?) but it does represent my experience.

OK, so I've had great results since reading Taubes' book. Why? The biggest problem I have had following lower carbohydrate diets in the past is psychological. The dietary zeitgeist of the last 25 years has been that all fat is bad, and protein is viewed with concern: being a vegetarian is not only healthy, it's somehow more ethically laudable than eating meats.

The problem is that eating a lower carbohydrate diet works. So you get a certain sense of dislocation and cognitive dissonance: as your diet is working, you're being told that it couldn't possibly be working, and even if it is, it's killing you. So you try to walk a fine line in between the two extremes: fat-free chicken, veggies and fish do not an appetizing diet make. We need some fat to feel sated. So we feel hungry all the time, and we slip off the diet. Or we do the Atkins' plan and eat a bunch of butter and cheese and saturated fats, we feel physically better, but then our mind starts hemming away with "You're clogging your arteries... you're going to die." So we mentally screw ourselves up, and find ourselves unable to continue working with the diet, even though all measurements show that it's working. I've had a couple of "realizations" where I thought "this can't be good for me" and that would basically end that.

Taubes lays this debate/cognitive dissonance pretty much to rest, by spelling out most of the research done on the dietary question for the past 200 years, then showing how the science got off track, and why the common "knowledge" became that fats would kill you. Anyway, I've posted too much text, it's time for a couple of links so you can decide if you like what he has to say or not. I've got a couple of videos. Excellent stuff, but I hope you have an hour per link and enough time to pay attention, at least to the audio.

Berkley, November 27, 2007

Stevens Institute of Technology, February 6, 2008

And you can buy Taubes' book here.

One note about the second link: it goes to Jimmy Moore's blog. Jimmy Moore annoys me, but he puts up consistently good information. I'll let you draw your own conclusions.

Also note that Taubes book is descriptive, not proscriptive. You're smart though, otherwise you couldn't have read his book, so you can figure out a game plan that would work. If you can't, I like the Protein Power and Protein Power Lifeplan as a place to start. There a tons of books out there that are proscriptive and lower carbohydrate.

Consider carbohydrate cycling

Once you've nailed down the basics of a lower carbohydrate diet, I would recommend looking into a carbohydrate cycling approach.

Basically, why I think this is a good idea is that it's psychologically satisfying. If you are on a diet, eventually you're going to want to eat ice cream, so it's a good idea to give yourself a few hours a week where you can eat whatever you want.

The best books I've read about this approach are the following:

1. The Metabolic Diet by Dr. Mauro Di Pasquale
2. Natural Hormonal Enhancement by Rob Faigin
3. The TNT Diet by Dr. Jeff Volek and Adam Campbell

These books all deal with the tricky topic of losing fat without losing muscle, or losing fat and gaining muscle at the same time, or gaining muscle without gaining fat. The traditional "wisdom" of bodybuilding is that you "bulk up", gaining muscle and fat at the same time, and then you "cut up". The problem comes when you put on too much fat in the bulk, and lose too much muscle in the cut. A carbohydrate cycling approach allows you to avoid this negative cycle.

I recommend the third book: it has the best proscriptive plans, but the least science and it's cheaper and more easily available. The other two have good (but less flexible) plans and much, much more science. Depends on what your wants/needs are.

I'm going to leave the third part of this post for later, as I've gone on long enough, and it's going to involve quite a few more hyperlinks.

Stay tuned.