30/5/2014

Balance

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:49 am

(this one is fueled by many conversations with Alexandra Geelan and is dedicated to Sue Geelan1)

I do like my music extreme, but in almost everything else, it seems like the Golden Mean is a principle to live by. To seek balance between competing elements, rather than to rush to the extreme end of any spectrum, is often healthier. Obviously that statement is over-simple: moderation in that as well! But I’d argue that (for example) extremists tend to cause more problems than the ‘luke warm’2 moderates.

The particular context in which Alex and I have been discussing it is (perhaps unsurprisingly) diet and exercise. Extreme diets like Atkins or the various juice ‘cleanses’ and ‘quitting sugar’3 are dangerous – and ineffective in the longer term. They’re not sustainable because they’re extreme: they’re all ‘going on a diet’ rather than ‘changing your diet’. They’ll lead to some quick weight loss initially – which is actually more ascribable to losing water weight and to realignment of gut flora – but in the end people have to go off them (or get sick because they don’t offer balanced nutrition) and they just go back to the diet that got them sick and overweight in the first place.

The whole ‘food as nutrients’ thing plays into this – if food is thought of as a package of quantifiable fats and sugars and carbs and proteins and vitamins and minerals, rather than as… well, food, it just becomes tempting to think that maximising the ‘good’ stuff and minimising the ‘bad’4 is the road to success. But nutrition is a much more complex picture than that – our body builds many of the nutrients it needs, and nutrients interact. Better to think of food as food, and have an interesting, enjoyable, varied diet. Maybe less (or no) red meat, less sugary ‘treats’, less processed stuff and more fresh veg is part of that… but that’s more because our diets tend to be quite unbalanced to begin with than as a medical approach. Sure, some foods can be eaten in larger quantities than others, and you’ll want to keep an eye on the balance and the overall energy intakes and outflows, but cutting out carbs or ODing on protein or whatever is not what is going to work long term. ‘Meal replacement’ approaches5 with shakes or whatever don’t work long term either, for the same reasons – it’s not a sustainable lifelong diet, so you’re likely to end up back on an unhealthy mix rather than a healthy one.

The same applies for exercise: an all-cardio approach for weight loss or an all-weights approach to muscle gain is likely to be less effective than a mix. Part of the reason is similar – it’s likely to get too boring to be sustainable long term. You want to be having fun with an exercise program, not gritting your teeth and doing it because you ‘should’. So going for a walk or bike ride to get somewhere – hopefully somewhere fun, but work will suffice in a pinch! – rather than as ‘exercise’ for its own sake. Play some kind of sport – team, pair, small group or individual – for the fun of it. Lift some weights and mix it up. Take the stairs. Lots of multijoint, large movement exercises that do both resistance and cardio. And so on.

Going on a diet and going to the gym won’t change your life if you go so hard that you can only go for a little while. Going easy but consistent, and having a balance, is just more effective.

Now, I just need to get better at applying this insight to work-life balance… ;)

  1. who has many exceptionally fine qualities, but I’m sure wouldn’t mind me saying that moderation is not one of them!6
  2. Of course, one of the characteristics of extreme ideologies of all kinds is contempt for those less extreme than themselves and the attempt to paint moderation as cowardice or weakness
  3. sorry Cheryl!
  4. of course, deciding foods have moral weight is itself a problem. I mean, if it’s farmed unsustainably or cruelly or directly taken from someone else, of course food has moral weight, but thinking of sugary or fatty foods as ‘wicked’ is part of the problem, not part of the solution.
  5. sorry Suzie!
  6. which is one of the many reasons we complement each other so well.

11/5/2014

What It Takes 2

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:13 am

(gratuitous diet and exercise details warning)

It’s been a good week in one sense – 69.5 km walked so far, and there’ll be enough more to get it over 70 for the week. That also takes me over 1000 km walked in total, which is a nice milestone to reach.

But there were two days away delivering workshops in the Sunshine Coast, which meant I both ate (and drank) more than usual and couldn’t exercise: those are not too hard to identify on this graph, from my MyFitnessPal app:

The red line is my current weight loss target, which is about 5500 kJ/day (1300 Cal/day). Maintenance for me at this weight is still not much under 9000 kJ/day, so the Thursday was a weight gain day, but Friday was maintenance or small loss.

Then yesterday was our (early, because Suzie is working on the real one) Mother’s Day celebration, and high tea with scones and jam and cream was the plan. I knew that was the case, so Peter, Alex and I went for a big walk in the morning to get coffee, and I skipped breakfast.

The walk ended up being longer than planned, because we saw an interesting-looking path and followed it, then got trapped by an uncrossable freeway, so we walked 16 km then called home to be picked up! That and no breakfast put me well into negative kilojoules for the day. Almost 3700 worth (long black is my new jam, and the kilojoules from the coffee were completely negligible).

High tea was at 2:00 pm, so that was lunch as well. It was lovely – and it was about 4400 kJ, or 80% of my daily allowance. But that was OK, because I was starting from the negative.

Would have been a good day… but then for a late dinner I just had a couple of slices of toast with nutmeat and barbeque sauce, and some Turkish toast with honey and banana… and that ended up being 3300 kJ!

I was still about 1000 kJ short of the target for the day, and normally would have been happy with that, but I’ve been on 85 kg for a couple of weeks already (partly because I had a similar workshop week last week), and I’d wanted to have a *really* low weekend.

So, yesterday evening, I found the Manly-Melbourne NRL match (that I’d been disappointed to find wasn’t being televised) on my ABC Radio app on my phone and headed out into the dark alone to do this:

10 km in 90 minutes meant I was listening to the game for all but 10 min of the walk, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience… and burned the extra 2500 kJ or so that made it the good day you see in the graph above.

Seriously: for me, for weight loss, walking is the magic. When you slip on food, there’s always a way out.

(I suspect I still might not quite make it to 84 kg for tomorrow’s weigh-in, but I’ll have given it a red hot go… and there are no workshops this week)

28/4/2014

What It Takes

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:34 am

So, 85 kg today. That’s 22 kg down from where I started, and 10 kg from my goal weight. Progress bar 69%.

Two weeks ago there was a week with two birthday parties in it, and I was dramatically (like, double) over my targets on those days. One week ago there was a games party with beers and I was over again for a day. Still under for each week, but not always by enough to lose a kilo.

This week I was well under until yesterday. Thought I was doing OK until 8 pm when I discovered 900 kJ I’d missed that day. That would have put me over target for the day by at least that much.

I could have left it – I was still well under on aggregate for the week. But before the party weeks I’d been under target every day for months. It’s going to get tougher from here on, so that discipline is important.

So I hied myself off to the gym and burned a quick 400 Calories or about 1600 kJ on the treadmill while watching the replay of the Manly game, to be well under for the day.

I’ve enjoyed the whole process, and it’s been far from a long trudge of privation, but make no mistake – it takes willpower and motivation and discipline.

7/4/2014

Fasting More Slowly

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:42 am

(hmm, kind of failing at blogging anything but weight loss and health stuff lately – ah well, in some ways with over 1800 posts here, and with my dislike of repeating myself, I’ve already opined on a heap of the other things I might have an opinion on! And politics is just too depressing to even write about at the moment…)

Alex and I have been attempting the 5:2 diet – two non-contiguous fast days a week. I’ve tried both completely fasting for a day, and the alternative of having no breakfast or lunch but having dinner that is less than 500 Cal/2000 kJ.

I think it’s something I’d like to continue, but not while I’m *also* dieting quite intensely. I’m already burning lots of fat and not eating a lot, and that is not a good lead in to the fast days: not when I’m also very busy, working hard and doing heaps of exercise. I think it also makes me hungrier and less satisfied across the week, which may even make the net energy for the week higher rather than lower.

So, not sure what Alex will do, but my plan is to just suspend the 5:2 notion for the few months until I hit my target weight. Once I’m back on ‘maintenance’ levels of 8000 or so kJ a day rather than my current 5500 or so, I think it will be much more doable, and a healthier thing to do.

29/3/2014

Measurements and New Goals

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:01 pm

Alex and Peter and I went this morning and each got a ‘bioscan’: a measurement of body fat, muscle, hydration and so on. It’s done by standing on scales with electrodes under your feet and holding electrodes with your thumbs, and the resistance of your body to electric currents yields a lot of information.

I was 87 kg on the scales at home this morning – second milestone, and 20kg down from where I started – and 86.5 on the (presumably more accurate) scales on the bioscan, so it looks like our home scales are accurate enough for our purposes.

Very pleased with this milestone: it’s 5 kg lighter than I’ve been at least since returning from Canada in 2006. Still, though, the weight you want to lose is the last to go – my arms and legs are noticeably thinner but I still have too large a waist-hip ratio and ‘love handles’ and a smaller-but-still-there beer gut.

The machine suggested that my goal weight should be 75 kg, so another 12 kg down from here, and that makes sense to me. It said my lean body mass (bone+muscle+organs+water) is 64 kg, and therefore 75 is about 15% body fat. If I wanted to go for 12% it would be more like 72-73 kg.

75 is a sensible next milestone. Given I’ve already lost 20, 12 more should be a doddle! I’d assume it wouldn’t continue at a kilo a week right to the target, and will get tougher and therefore slower as I get close, but still I should be there by midyear if I simply keep doing what I’m doing.

My ‘visceral fat’ (fat around the organs) was 10 when the top of the healthy range is 9, so I can stand to lose more of that too, but of course losing fat in general will also lose that. That’s most likely the result of ‘yoyo dieting’, and in particular the fast gain from 92 a couple of years ago back to 107. It’s some of the unhealthiest and nastiest fat, so it’ll be good to get rid of that.

At 107 kg I would have had 40% body fat, so the current 26% is definitely a big improvement, but with some way to go.

Other encouraging findings were that I’m more muscular than the average (like, out the top of the average range) and that my bone density is also high: no osteoporosis here. Weirdly my left arm is more muscular than my right, although I’m right-handed. Legs are equally balanced despite the old injury and the slight limp, which is excellent. Hydration level was good.

On the whole, I’m a hell of a lot healthier than I was, and on the road to being even healthier.

26/3/2014

Beyond Conspiracy Theories on MH370

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:23 am

Lots and lots of nonsense being talked, much of it racist or groundlessly anti-Muslim. To me, until better evidence becomes available, this is the most plausible explanation: https://plus.google.com/106271056358366282907/posts/GoeVjHJaGBz

It’s consistent with the available evidence and with what increasingly certainly looks like the final location of the wreckage. It is also the result of catastrophic failure of aircraft systems, rather than of human malice. Perhaps it’s just my humanism talking, that makes me prefer this explanation, but I don’t think so… as I say, this seems to fit the available evidence better than alternative explanations.

I guess if the ‘black boxes’ are ever recovered, or enough of the wreckage to forensically reconstruct what happened, this theory will be tested – as it should be.

The image of a ‘ghost plane’ with everyone aboard unconscious flying on for hours on autopilot over the ocean is a spooky one, but arguably less disturbing for the grieving families than an ending of hijacking and terror. And that has happened before.

25/3/2014

El Nino – Am I A Prophet?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:00 pm

I’m putting this on the blog rather than on Facebook (though it will get mirrored) because Facebook is too ephemeral. I want to be able to come back and find it if I’m right. And if I’m wrong, I want to be accountable in that others can come back and find it.

We’re hearing a number of reports that this might be a strong El Nino year. Here’s one of the more recent, more Australian-focused ones: http://www.smh.com.au/environment/weather/droughtthreatening-el-nino-event-increasingly-likely-bureau-says-20140325-35fua.html

It’s by no means certain that it will, yet, but here’s my prediction: if there is a strong El Nino, this year will be the hottest global year on record. Hotter than 1997 – the year of the last strong El Nino. It will be hotter by some distance.

Why do I say that? The apparent ‘pause’ in global warming, based on surface temperatures, hasn’t been a pause at all. The heat has still been accumulating, it has just been accumulating deep in the ocean. The El Nino phenomenon occurs because the currents are such that heat from deep in the ocean is released into the atmosphere… and there’s more there than ever before.

This is a simple, testable prediction, based on understanding what is going on with global climate. Note the included ‘if’ statement: *if* there is a strong El Nino, this will be a record hot year. If not, all bets are off.

Let’s see what happens…

16/3/2014

How a Scientist’s Mind Works

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:55 am

Alex, Peter and I were walking our dog, Buffy, yesterday. She likes to run to places where there are dogs on the other side of the fence, and then run with them, greet them or start a fight. She’s not allowed, and she’s being trained out of it, but – although we walk miles in all directions on a wide range of routes – she remembers every such fence, and starts sneaking away from us and toward it, well ahead of time.

I said to Alex and Peter “She must have amazing spatial memory, because even on walks she’s only been on once, she remembers where all the ‘dog fences’ are”. I didn’t say anything to them at the time, but did think to myself “Either that, or perhaps she smells something from the dogs as we get close…”

Later in the same walk – 2-3 km later – she also ran toward a path that we needed to take, that she had only been along once, and in the opposite direction. She did this before we knew where the start of the path was.

There’s no scent clue from a dog for the path, so that challenges the ‘smell’ hypothesis and supports the ‘spatial memory’ hypothesis. Her spatial memory may, of course, include a lot more scent clues, rather than being almost exclusively visual like ours…

So, automatically creating and testing hypotheses and seeking confirming and disconfirming evidence, even when just taking the dog for a walk. It’s how a scientist rolls.

14/3/2014

Where the Danger Lies

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:46 am

The news media in Queensland has been full of the trial of Brett Peter Cowan for the abduction and murder of thirteen-year-old Daniel Morcombe. It’s a horrifying case, and since it’s now in the sentencing phase it has come out that Cowan had prior convictions for abducting and raping boys.

Parents are holding their children closer and thinking about how to protect them, which is appropriate, but as I reminded one such thread on Facebook:

It’s very important, in the context of thinking about this case, to remember that incidents like this, while horrific, are very rare. *By far* the greatest risks to children are from people they know, not ‘stranger danger’. By all means protect them from strangers, but find ways to protect them from partners and family friends too… and also find ways to let them grow and develop without a climate of fear that oppresses them. Find ways to keep them safe that involve *your* watchfulness, not theirs, and that they don’t know about.

12/3/2014

Hunger

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:20 am

I think something our society has got quite bad at is being comfortable with hunger. Realising it is normal and OK, and not an emergency in need of immediate remediation1. Being comfortable with being hungry, in an environment where we know we can obtain food easily anytime, is actually an important part of being healthy. Without it, the tendency is to overeat, because we confuse the sensation of ‘not being full’ with the sensation of hunger.

Obviously, if you’re hungry enough that you get dizzy or suffer some other kind of impairment, or if you have blood sugar regulation issues that need managing, the story is different. But for most of us, most of the time, it’s OK to be a little hungry.

I mean, we’re often sleepy at work or when there are other tasks to be done, but we soldier on. We might resolve to sleep better tonight, or to change some habits and get more sleep, or whatever, but we don’t (usually) immediately rush to crush that feeling with a massive sleep. I won’t talk about it in too-great detail here, but we’re often horny at work as well… ;)

One ‘hunger’ we probably should be on top of is thirst – but water is even easier to get than food. The trick is just to choose water, not wait for something else.

Alex and I have been doing 2 fast days a week, for health reasons (not weight loss). We either fast for a full day, or just miss breakfast and lunch, and have dinner, so that it’s effectively 24 hours since the previous day’s dinner. That involves being hungry… and learning good strategies for dealing with being hungry… which may in fact be one of the main benefits of fasting in the first place.

Again, it’s not about asceticism and self-denial and punishing the body – it’s about better enjoying the pleasures of food, because it tastes better when you’re really hungry than when it’s just food time.

  1. In all this, I’m talking about developed Western society, of course, not the much larger proportion of the world’s population for whom hunger is the daily reality, and is an emergency in need of immediate remediation

3/3/2014

Recovering Lost Ground/Breaking New Ground

Filed under: — Bravus @ 5:34 am

In late January I posted that I had three milestones in mind: 92 kg (lowest I’ve been in recent memory), 87 kg (20 kg down from where I started) and whatever weight corresponds to 12% body fat for me – probably somewhere between 82 and 77 kg.

I hit 92 today, and it’s gratifying, but at the same time feels like just a start, because I’ve been this weight twice since we returned to Australia about 8 years ago, and lost it both times to end up larger again. The past 3 months have been great, but in a sense they’ve just got me back to where I started. I’ve regained some lost ground.

It feels like the real adventure starts here, in a way. Next week or the week after I’ll be 91, and within the month I’ll be in the 80s. My birthday is about 5 weeks away, and the next milestone – 87 kg – is 5 kg away. I’ll go close to, if not actually hitting, the two milestones together.

At that point I’ll get the body scan done to determine my body fat percentage, which in turn will determine the third and final weight milestone. After that it’s about (a) maintaining a healthy body fat ratio, (b) building muscle (which will mean the actual weight goes up) and (c) getting aerobically fitter.

At that point I’ll also go to the doctor for a major 50th birthday checkup: see whether my blood pressure has come down and the fat on my liver dropped, and that I’m healthy in general to carry on enjoying life as long as possible.

Thanks to all the many friends who have been unfailingly supportive throughout the process. I suspect I sometimes get boring with the level of detail, or annoying to those who are struggling to lose weight or get fit and not seeing the progress they’d like. My hope is that my journey is encouraging in the sense that it shows what’s possible.

And, of course, keeping the weight off and going further with it is a crucial part of that. I won’t be, as one friend suggested, pragmatically keeping my ‘fat clothes’ just in case. That seems like mentally setting up for failure. There’ll be challenges – more work, winter. But I’ve already made it through Christmas and kept losing weight, and this week is the start of teaching.

Onward!

24/2/2014

Do You Hear The Drums, Fernando?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:04 am

(OK, silly title for a serious post – couldn’t resist)

North Korea is a horrible mess. It’s been a horrible mess for about 5 decades. Yet, right now, there are more media reports, more documentaries, more news in general, than there has been for a long time.

Call me a crazy conspiracy theorist, but it just feels like the intentional, planned drumbeats of the buildup to an invasion: another war of choice. Noam Chomsky’s powerful phrase ‘manufacturing consent’ is how this is starting to feel to me.

The people of North Korea are in desperate circumstances, no doubt about it. In many ways, so were the people of Iraq – although far less so. The invasion killed perhaps 100,000 Iraqi people, and the violence since many more. The invasion has not yielded a safe, stable democracy as promised.

A war on the Korean peninsula would have potentially very harmful consequences, not only for North Koreans but for those in the very populous South. Not forgetting that North Korea is believed to have nuclear weapons and the will to use them.

I could be wrong. I hope I am. But when you see that next report about how evil Kim Jong Un is, just pause for thought… is my consent being manufactured right now?

I Thought I Knew It All

Filed under: — Bravus @ 4:14 am

I was looking back through old blog posts for something I’d written in the past, and stumbled across this one, from just a little under 2 years ago: On Losing Weight.

You should click on the link and read it, because the rest of this post won’t make a lot of sense without it. Go on, I’ll wait. ;)

See, at that point, 23 months ago, I was where I am right now: at 93 kg. I’d dropped 11 kg then, and 14 now – which means that since that positive post I gained 14 kg.

All the things I’m saying there I’ve also been saying, as though I’d discovered them for the first time, recently. And yet, that time, I never really got below 92, or maybe a glimpse of 91, and I ended up gaining it back.

(The timing is that, shortly after this post, we moved house to the Gold Coast. Fast food happened in the rush to move, and kind of never stopped happening, and some old habits and attitudes came back…)

What makes me think that (a) I’ll get further and (b) I won’t gain it back? Well, there are no guarantees. A slip is always possible. I think there are two things that are worth talking about, though.

One is exercise. Last time – and the time before that – I lost weight it was by diet alone, continuing my sedentary lifestyle. (Though I notice in that post I did talk about exercise – I just didn’t really follow through.) That meant, despite my chirpy pronouncements in that blog post, that I really was ‘on a diet’. Without exercise, the allowable kilojoules in a day just meant I was hungry, and feeling deprived… and that’s not sustainable, and doesn’t feel sustainable. I wondered ‘is the rest of my life going to be a constant battle of food guilt and deprivation?’ It wasn’t… but coming off the diet had the predictable effect.

I’m eating differently now, but the level of exercise I’m doing daily, consistently is the equivalent of a whole additional meal under my daily energy target. That means I eat a much wider range of foods, and have plenty of tastier options.

It’s more than that, though: Alex nailed it. She said “It gives you more control.” If you’re just using diet, and you slip, what’s done is done. You’ve over-eaten for the day, and that day is written off in terms of targets. Even if you don’t then go on to binge further, it doesn’t work well. On the other hand, chips are not that hard to work off… rowing 2 km and walking one up a steep hill will get it done. ;)

I might blog a little further about ‘control’ later: talking about it in relation to food has a bit of an ‘eating disorder’ edge to it… but I think demonstrating some self control in this part of my life has been healthy for my self-esteem.

Which brings me to the other topic: mental health. I’ve talked about it here before: Unburnt.

To eat crap just requires lack of control and laziness. To eat McDonalds for breakfast and then a bag of lollies in the afternoon and then a few beers in the evening, for me, requires depression. Maybe not clinical, but not happy.

Making some changes to my life and our lives has helped with that. And I think the other key thing is a synergy: there’s loads of evidence that exercise is excellent for mental health.

Who knows, maybe I’m in a manic phase and that will change. I don’t think so… but maybe I need you all to help keep me accountable. Maybe I can, at the very least, be stable and not gain it back. But I hope for more: for getting to my target weight, and then not changing much… except to keep getting fitter and stronger.

3/2/2014

Defeating The Rationalising Machine Within

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:51 pm

Arguably it’s the one thing humans do best: rationalise. In particular, we find excuses for ourselves. (We often work far less hard to find excuses for others, but that’s a topic for another day.)

I’ve probably said too much about fitness and weight loss lately, so I’ll pass over this example quickly. Learning to get past the little internal imp that can come up with a million excuses to avoid exercise or to eat what is unhelpful (or in unhelpful amounts), though, is really the single secret of success. All other strategies serve this.

The other thing I’m working on at the moment is a literature review for my Masters in physics. It’s actually quite a short document by my usual standards – about 8 pages at the moment and it will likely end up being not much more than 15. But it’s a literature review, so it means reading and summarising a lot of physics papers. There are 30 or so in the reference list now, but that’s after a cull due to a change of direction. There are more like 40 in my Papers collection, and there’ll be a lot more before it’s done.

It’s effectively my hobby, so finding time to fit it in around a ‘day job’ that is already very demanding is a challenge. That time ends up being on evenings and weekends and so on… and it’s very easy to rationalise that I need to spend more time with the family (true) and I need more rest time to unwind from my busy weeks (also true) and the software I need is the office so I can’t work from home (still true) and so on…

But, if I want to graduate from this degree next year – which I do – I have to find ways to simply get the work done. One foot in front of the other, one paragraph and then the next, one paper and the one it leads me to.

Shutting up the rationalisation daemon in my head – who is exactly as smart as I am – is the only path to achievement.

Now, a quick caveat: I do need time with the family and time to unwind. Working too hard is unfair on others, and it’s also part of what led to my doldrums last year.

So, as with everything, it’s a matter of balance. The devil of lazy rationalisation on one shoulder, and the… other devil of overwork and obsession on the other. To come back around to exercise for a moment, it’s definitely possible to get excessive with that… and perhaps even more so with diet.

Getting to know ourselves well enough to find a liveable path between the advice of both is crucial.

27/1/2014

On Academic Publishing

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:33 am

Thanks to my friend Elissa, I enjoyed this article yesterday:

What’s The Point Of Academic Publishing?

I’ve been cogitating since, and thought I’d share a few reactions. Of course, academic publishing is something I’ve written about here before:

Dopamine Junkie 1: Gamification and Academic Publishing

The Robber Barons of Academic Publishing

Pseudojournals

Quality and Quantity, Editors and Bloggers, Knowledge That Counts/Is Counted

…and it only took a decade!

I guess all those show, in a way, that I’ve bought in to the publishing mill… but also always seen it as a game to be played. Of course, I’ve always been fortunate, in that I got a tenure track position in Canada straight out of my postdoc and got tenure there after 4 years, and have been in permanent academic positions ever since. I can’t even imagine how much it sucks to be a young academic seeking tenure in America at the moment.

Professor Higgs definitely has a point, too: in the Century of the Beancounter, what can be counted must be counted, and maximised. And it’s sooo much easier to count quantity than quality. Efforts to measure quality end up being rendered down to numbers again, and missing the point.

At the same time, I think Sarah Kendzior’s article conflates a few different issues in a way that can be unhelpful. The link between an increasingly casualised academic workforce, for example, and academic publishing is not inevitable or direct. While the lack of tenured positions means that ‘publish or perish’ takes on more urgency, it is a phenomenon in itself that needs addressing. It’s both an economic and a political problem, and is related to beliefs about the purposes of universities and the roles of academics.

I had planned to go through and untangle the issues she conflates, but I think those reading this are smart enough to do that, particularly in the light of some of the issues discussed in the posts linked above (and the articles by others that they link).

Certainly ‘publish in order to have a job’ is flawed in itself – if that’s your motivation, it can be tedious, soul-destroying work, not least because so much of it is under the control of others. You have to publish because you think the ideas are exciting and worth sharing with the world.

That also means getting them out from behind the paywalls. While some Open Access publishing, both by the major houses and scammy new startup journals, is a scam for money, there is an increasing number of new Open Access journals, and I’ll choose them if I can. It’s really a win-win: my work is more accessible, seen by more, therefore cited and used by more, so it benefits both me and the readers/profession I want to serve. The only people it doesn’t benefit are the big academic publishing houses and their shareholders – but screw them, they don’t pay me for my work anyway, and they paywall it away from the very people who are most likely to use it.

It might be a bit premature to say too much yet, but we at Griffith are in the process of starting up an Open Access educational journal, which will also use a form of open peer review. I’ll write more about it here once we launch the journal.

I think the other thing is that you have to do it all. I blog about educational ideas (among many other things), write papers for teachers in teacher journals – they don’t ‘count’ for much but it’s worthwhile work – and also write papers in academic journals, including trying for at least one a year in an ‘A*’: the to journals in the field.

If you dislike writing, or are not full of ideas, or are writing strategically to get employed or promoted rather than out of the joy of the ideas and a commitment to serving humanity, doing it all will be a chore. For me, though, I love writing, and think the ideas are exciting enough to share… so getting them out there is worthwhile, and those who have the need to count can do so later.

As it happens, that approach works: on the ‘county numbers’, I’ll be in the top 2-3 ‘producers’ out of the 75 academics in our School this year. I think this blog is heading for 1800 total posts. And so on.

I guess the bottom line is that we need political action and will to make academic work fairer. That might also include thinking about a system that graduates far more PhDs than it can use. That’s an issue separate from, but linked to, publication.

In terms of publication, we need to take ‘accountability’ out of the hands of the accountants – and eschew the very metaphor – and put it back into the hands of the people in the field who can make the judgements. And trust them to make the judgements. There’s a whole other set of issues there about old boys networks and judging merit fairly, but those issues are no less tractable than those of counting… and arguably would be more likely to let Professor Higgs keep his job and expand the frontiers of our knowledge.

Scribblings On The Back Of An Envelope

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:36 am

Our bathroom scales (claim to) have the ability to measure body fat percentage. They have large flat electrodes on the top, and use body conductivity to do the calculations – the same technology as the more sophisticated ‘body scan’ machines.

So, on the (large) assumption that they are accurate, as of right now my body fat proportion is 32.5%.

I’m 96 kg at the moment, so that would mean my lean body mass with no fat at all is 65 kg.

Now, that’s not a goal weight: body weight below about 2-5% is massively unhealthy, because some of our fat is essential. Healthy body fat percentage for an adult male is 12-15%.

If we assume 12%, that would mean my target weight – assuming I lose only fat and gain no muscle – would be around 74 kg.

Interestingly, that in itself would put me – at a BMI of 25 – at the top of the ‘healthy weight’ category of BMI and into the low end of the ‘overweight’ category: bearing out my long term conviction that the BMI is pretty dodgy for anyone with any muscle at all.

This also means that at 107 kg my body fat percentage was around 39% – so clearly pretty obese. BMI 37. That’s not quite right – because it looks like at least 2 kg of that was water, not fat. Taking that out yields 105 kg and 38%. It also assumes I have gained no muscle – which is possible, but I’m rapidly coming up on 300 km walked so there might be a little more in my legs.

As I might have mentioned before, when we got married I was around 73 kg. I’ve added muscle since then, so I was maybe more like 15-18% body fat at that stage.

This calculation – and I will definitely check it with more sophisticated measurement tools – would mean that 87 kg is a sensible waypoint to check and think, but far from the final goal. Dropping 30 kg total, to 77 kg, would be more than feasible if I don’t gain muscle… but I most likely will, since I’ll need that level of activity to keep losing the weight.

Under 80, though, even with muscle, is quite plausible. And that means I won’t be lugging a 30 kg (66 lb) backpack of … me around all day every day.

25/1/2014

Multifocal 2

Filed under: — Bravus @ 4:51 pm

So, I got the multifocal contacts – and they work!

I’ve done a full day in front of the computer with clear vision and no appreciable eye strain. I’ve also done a reasonable amount of time on the bike, both commuting in traffic and on the freeway.

They’re much better for around the house – I’m not forever putting my reading glasses on to see my book or computer and then taking them off to go get a cup of tea or even talk to someone across the room.

They do take a bit of getting used to on the bike. The effect is that whatever I focus on I can see sharply, but whatever I’m not looking at is a bit blurry. The thing is, on the bike, it’s not a matter of scanning around focusing everywhere every few seconds as much as it’s a matter of letting your attention ‘go wide’ and paying attention to your peripheral vision. If something moves, it’s quick enough to focus in on it… it just feels a bit odd and blurry.

That also makes the world around feel a little unreal – a psychological effect I was getting too when my glasses weren’t quite strong enough. A break now and then to wear glasses helps with this – as does knowing it’s purely an optical thing.

I have these for a week’s trial before I make a decision, and will wear them most days, with a weekend day off to rest my eyes and my mutifocal glasses at home in the evening for the same reason. I’ll try to go for a ‘proper’ ride through the twisties in the mountains as well to get a sense of how the contacts handle that.

But over all, in terms of comfort, looks and convenience, I think it might be multifocal contacts for the win.

22/1/2014

What Shuffle Served Up

Filed under: — Bravus @ 5:54 pm

…for my walk home this afternoon.

Moonspell – Everything Invaded

Faith No More – Last Cup of Sorrow

Massive Attack – One Love

Tool – Viginti Tres

Darkthrone – Canadian Metal

Carcass – A Congealed Clot Of Blood

20/1/2014

On ‘Moral Panics’ and Reality

Filed under: — Bravus @ 3:37 pm

The issue of the day is alcohol-fueled violence. Politicians of all stripes at all levels are vowing to address it. Stories are being made up to explain the ‘increase’, from alcohol being to cheap, to pubs and clubs being open to late, to steroids and cultural issues.

Of course, any death or serious injury due to violence is a tragedy, and one is too many.

On the other hand, the ‘increase’ does not exist! The statistics clearly show that this kind of violence is decreasing, and has been for years.

One high profile case and then a media feeding frenzy unconnected to the facts is what is going on here.

Making up stories to explain a phenomenon is so compelling that it’s incredibly tempting to get into doing it even if it turns out the phenomenon is not real.

There might be an argument for better regulation and enforcement of steroid abuse, more uniform alcohol prices, earlier closing hours, better responsible serving laws and so on. But the ‘increase in alcohol-fueled violence’ is not that argument, because it doesn’t exist.

Disappointing in the extreme that we don’t have the kind of political leaders who care. They just all line up to placate the concern trolls.

Milestones: (Less) Round Numbers

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:33 am

(promise I’ll post about something more interesting than weight soon… ;))

So, today’s weigh-in reveals that I now weigh 97 kg, which is 10 kg lower than when I started. It’s also still 5 kg higher than the first ‘real’ milestone I had in mind when I started.

Obviously the ’round numbers’ are worth marking – below 100, 10 kg lost. Still to come, below 90 and 20 kg lost. I suspect ‘below 80′ and ’30 kg lost’ would be a bridge too far, but see below.

But the real targets I had in mind were two: 92 kg and 87 kg. The first is the lowest I’ve been in recent memory: at least since coming back to Australia. Twice I’ve gone on special, restrictive diets and made it down to 92. That’s also 15 down from the 107 I was at last November, which is the *highest* number in recent memory.

I liked being 92 – more energy and less gut, spare tyre, manboobs. But it was never the final goal – I just ‘fell off the wagon’ at that point the last couple of times.

I think the differences this time are that (a) I’ve added exercise – that makes a massive difference because (b) I haven’t ‘gone on a diet’ of restrictive, unusual, unsatisfying food. Rather, I’ve ‘changed my diet’ for good to healthier choices, but the level of exercise also means that I can eat a healthy amount of a wide range of foods.

The second milestone I have in mind is 87 kg – a further 5 kg down from 92, and 10 kg down from right now. And 20 kg from where I started. That will be the time to really have a good look – and probably a ‘body scan’ that measures my body fat percentage.

I understand that it’s about losing fat, not losing weight. The scale is a proxy for that, but not a perfect one, particularly once I join a gym and start really adding some muscle to the mix.

Healthy body fat for a (non-bodybuilding, non-elite athlete) male is 12-15%. I suspect that at 87 kg I’ll still be above that, and I know that keeping up the walking and adding gym (and some swimming and cycling) will let my body know to lose fat and keep muscle.

So the final milestone, once I’ve had the body scan, will be determined by whatever number on the scales represents say 12% body fat. After that, I suspect (and hope) the scales will creep up again, a little bit, as I add more lean muscle mass.

The first of the ‘real milestones’ – 92 kg – is definitely firmly in my sights now.