Tuesday, May 31, 2011

This is dedicated to the one I love

I'm sending this one out to all the oscillating fans out there and to the special one in the room next door.  Thank you.  Thank you.

A form of late-spring-like weather finally came to visit us in Madison yesterday.  While I'm loving the warm weather during the day, it can be tough to sleep at night when it's 75 and humid.  All of this could be solved with ceiling fans, but alas, we do not have one, and our apartment is one of 1000+ owned by the university. They are not inclined to carry out special requests.

So we resumed the debate from the previous two summers: What should we do to keep our apartment reasonably cool at night?  We have a window unit AC that sits in a hole in the wall in the living room and cools it about as well as if we left the refrigerator door open.  It's great to stand in front of if you are sweaty from commuting home or to cool the room down after cooking dinner, but the way our apartment is laid out, it's hard to get that cool air back to the bedroom.  Did we need a stronger AC?  At $300, the answer was "No."  Plus we weren't sure it would make much difference since the real problem was air flow, not amount of cold air produced.

This was someone's fan science
and technology PhD project.  Credit
Did we want a different fan?   We had a fan that perched on top of the dresser, but it didn't actually blow air on us.  Yes, yes, we needed a new fan.  Fans are cheap (compared to air conditioners) and circulate air, which was the goal.  But did we want a cool new Star Trek-looking fan or an old-school oscillating fan?  Which would be tall enough to blow air on us while we were sleeping?  I mean, I want balmy summer breeze here, people.  And more importantly, which would be the less death-trapish option for our tiny bedroom.  Because I'm pretty sure we discussed the oscillating fan option before but ruled it out because of it's middle of the night tripping hazard.

Maybe I just wanted
to pretend I was on Mad Men.
Is that so wrong?  Credit.
At the end of the day Target trip, we decided on the old school fan, and oh yeah, it was great.  We had to turn it up to "jet engine" to cool things down enough, but it fanned right at sleeping level and increased my comfort and quality of life by 1000%.  I'm not sure how Daniel feels about it because he was tinkering with it at about 4am.  Sorry, but the butterfly whisper setting is not going to cut it.  So maybe it's going to go back to the fan orphanage Target, but until then... I just can help myself... I love you, fan.

What small pleasures make your life worth living?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Death in a Major Key

Because we wanted to squeeze just a little more vacation out of our vacation, Daniel and I traveled to Chicago this weekend to sing at the Midwest Sacred Harp Convention.  For those of you who don't know what Sacred Harp singing is- and I would have counted myself in this group this time last year- you get together with a bunch of other people and sit around and sing old-timey hymns in four part harmony.  Pitches in the scale are given shapes (which is why this style is also called shape note singing) so you sing through the song using the shapes first and then using the words.  Each person takes a turn selecting a song and leading it. Here's Daniel leading.  I didn't lead anything.

The thing that makes Sacred Harp "interesting" (the preferred pejorative) is that it is about singing to God, not performing for humans.  Therefore, the most prized qualities of a Sacred Harp singer are loudness and enthusiasm not finesse or intonation.  I think it's best described as a combination of church choir and marching band.  The other fun thing about the songs in the Sacred Harp hymnal is that they are almost all about death- eminent or otherwise. Click here for a more through "official" description of what Sacred Harp singing is all about.  

Here's a good example of a song being done by a Chicago group in 2007.

Although Sacred Harp singing is popular in the south, the whole thing feels very "Midwest-y" to me.  This prompted me to think about a few ways the Midwest is very different from where I grew up- Florida.

1. Beards - Beards are not a big thing in Florida, but men in the Midwest seem to pride themselves on having impressive facial hair.  And while I thought that growing a beard was about keeping your face warm in the winter, evidently even your facial hair needs special protection from the elements.

2. Potluck - If you were going to have a large group lunch when I was growing up, it would be pizza.  Or if you had the audacity to ask people to bring food, they would all show up with Publix rotisserie chicken and chocolate chip cookies.  Not so in the Midwest.  Someone made a huge dish of barbecued ribs for lunch - two days in a row.  And- defying stereotype- every potluck I've ever been to has had plenty of salads and vegetarian options.

But yeah, sometimes people make some weird/nasty stuff.

Credit: Toothpaste for Dinner.
Even that might be too spicy for the people from St. Paul.

3. Events at places that look like Hogwarts - Watch out, UF, The University of Chicago will give your lovely vine clad halls a run for their money.

I got in a nice run through the campus yesterday morning and checked out all the pretty Gothic style buildings.  Not a place I'd like to go to school, though.  UC is infamous as The Place Fun Comes to Die.

4. Perception of temperature - Yesterday in Chicago it was rainy with a high temperature of 64, which was universally pronounced as being far too hot.  Note that the average high in Orlando in January is 72.

5. Central air conditioning - Okay, so a big part of the last one is that everything in Florida is air conditioned.  I think they even passed an amendment to the state constitution that requires chicken coops to be air conditioned.  But people, please, 64- with or without AC- is not hot.

6. BratFest - And the multiple alterna-BratFests.  Some things cannot be parodied.

So what are the quirks of the place you live?  Got any hobbies that are hard to explain to your friends?  Going to a BratFest or other sausage-related event this Memorial Day weekend?  Have a special serviceman/woman you are remembering*?  Hope you are sleeping in! 

My family will remember my cousin Chris who was killed in Iraq 2007.  

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Check out my new "About Me" page

 What does one do with hundreds of freshly scanned* old family photos?  Post them on the internet, of course.

Just a teaser:
This is officially the most flattering photo taken of me
between the ages of 11 and 14.
I'm going to live where in my late 20s?

This one time, at band camp...

*My family and I all had great results using the ScanDigital service.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Back to Life, Back to Reality

Sadly, the traveling part of our vacation is over, but luckily I don't have to go back to the work part of reality until after Memorial Day.  Rather than do a blow by blow of the entire trip, which is kind of boring for you and for me, here are the highlights of Vacation 2011: The Mid-Atlantic Edition.

Best part of vacation:
Seeing my wonderful family- both the family that shuffled me onto this mortal coil and my family-in-law.  Thanks for the great time!  
My mom and dad plus D and I by the fountain in Duke Gardens.
Runners up: Being warm and wearing shorts and sleeveless tops. (It's currently 52 and windy in Madison).

MVP of the trip: 
Our car, which allowed us to add 2k miles to the odometer without complaint.

As a side note, this car has made one round trip from Miami to Virginia, one round trip from Miami to San Fransisco, one round trip from Miami to Albuquerque + one trip from Miami to ABQ, one round trip from ABQ to Las Vegas, two round trips from ABQ to Ft. Collins, CO, one trip from ABQ to Madison via South Dakota, three round trips from Madison to Tennessee, a big trip around the Great Lakes last year, and this 2000 mile jaunt.  Way to go, red Honda.

Best meal:
Watts Grocery in Durham.  Didn't hurt that we had good company.  Thanks again, Sarah, for making reservations and meeting up with us.

Runner ups: Med Deli in Chapel Hill and Which 'Wich in Johnson City.   I'm a sucker for grilled vegetables and feta cheese and basically any kind of hot sandwich.

Weirdest food:
Four words- seafood nachos in Cleveland.  

 Oh yes I did.  Shrimp + pineapple + Velveta-like white cheddar goo + carrots + corn + peppers + cabbage + sour cream.  It was wild.   However, this is one of those cases where I hoped the food wasn't raised locally.

Runner up: Deep fried pickles and jalepenos at Top of the Hill.

Best news:
Seeing my college roommate and hearing about her success running the grueling academic job application gauntlet and being hired at her first choice university.

Runner up: Hearing that her husband found a post doc near her university (J- Lamar is going to start at NRL this fall!)

Craziest tourist attraction:
The Museum of Appalachia.  It was part Little Norway, part House on the Rock.  This place was a collection of everything old from the Tennessee/ North Carolina area you could possibly imagine down to the last bone saw and Coke can ukulele.  And it was overrun with peacocks.

Runner up: The Zorb in Gatlinburg.  While there was no way I was going to roll down a hill in a giant bubble, I thought the concept was- insane.

Best graffiti:
Old candle smoke writing in Mammoth Cave.

Worst graffiti: All the writing on every surface of every house in Cades Cove.  It was terrible!

Strangest Historical Re-enactment:
The kids from the inner-city school carrying the Stars and Bars, re-enacting Pickett's charge in Gettysburg.  Daniel said he wasn't sure what he thought that meant about American society today.  Probably that it's universally true that kids like to yell and run.

And now for a final random mish-mosh of pictures:

Inside Mammoth Cave.

At the Old Mill in Gatlinburg, TN.

Black bear on the trail up to Clingman's Dome.

From the parking lot at Clingman's Dome.  Unfortunately
the Smoky Mountains lived up to their name, and I couldn't
 get a good picture from the top.

Whew.  I feel so blessed that we are able to take a vacation like that and even more so that I have a few more days off to do laundry, stock the fridge, run errands*, and otherwise do what needs to be done before I start back to work on Tuesday.

Got any exciting vacation plans for the summer?  What's the longest car trip you've ever taken?  Anyone else wonder if it's ever going to get warm here in Madison?

*Like replacing the laundry detergent and bleach that was stolen from us while we were gone.  Very strange because 1.Whoever it was didn't bother with the dryer sheets and 2.In the almost three years we've been here, we've never had anything stolen before.  

Saturday, May 14, 2011

More signs of spring

As seen at the UW gym:

If you can't read it, the three "construction season" rules on the lower left are 1.Drink water, 2.Clean up your sweat and 3. Wear shoes.  I can attest that the first two are important because the gym does not have air conditioning.  It's not soooo bad in the morning, but by the afternoon the place is a sauna.  You could charge $15 an hour and call it Bikram's weight training.  We're talking so much sweat that you can slide around on the floor.  Which, although I've never actually seen anyone come in barefoot, explains the importance of rule #3.    

Two other exciting developments from gymland are:

1. They got new towels!!!  At the UW gym, you can buy a towel one time and then swap it out after you take a shower, but as you can imagine these are some of the smallest, roughest, dingiest towels you've ever seen.  You can't even wrap one of the old ones around your torso while you walk to the shower.  You just have to hold it up in front of you and not get too bent out of shape because you are about to take a shower with eight grandmas (Hi, 6:30am senior fitness class) anyway.  BUT the new towels are still relatively soft and white and are long enough to wrap around your entire body.  Feels just a little bit more like I'm working out at a gym and not a minimum security prison.

2. I did a 150lb deadlift.  Three singles, actually.  And PS, I'm up to three reps at 105 on the bench press.  Not that I'm trying to brag... :)

Back to signs of spring- our cherry tree is blooming!  I heart you, cherry tree.

And because spring is all about new beginnings, I want to say congrats to Jamie on hers.

Check out the sweet animal print cake:

And now it's time to run!


Thursday, May 12, 2011

As seen on my run yesterday

1. My legs, arms, and hands.  May 11 was the first time in 2011 that I ran in Madison in a t-shirt and shorts without mittens.  It wasn't all that long ago I was dressed like this to go out on an easy 6-miler.

2. Green stuff on trees and the ground.  I heard they are called "leaves" and "plants", respectively.  Monday I was washing my hair after my run and thought I'd given an hitchhiking caterpillar a ride home on my head, but fortunately it was only a chunk of oak pollen the size (and texture, yikes!) of a caterpillar.

3. A crow fly off carrying a dead mouse/rat/baby squirrel (cue The Circle of Life).  Reminds me of the squirrels we used to see at Florida that could jump from a trash can to a tree carrying a discarded piece of pizza.

Stronger than they look.
4. My brother-in-law's wife's "twin".  My brother also has a twin that I see from time to time, but his twin needs to lose about 50lbs.  A, your twin appears to be in pretty good shape.

5. An old Chinese woman carrying a fishing pole try to run down a goose on the sidewalk with her bike.  Surf 'n turf?

How can anyone say running is boring?  What's the most interesting thing you've seen on a run lately?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Thanks to Daniel for guest posting while I was away.  Check out the hat post if you missed it.

We had some long days at the conference, but I can't complain too much because they were started with beach-side runs and ended with beach-side seafood dinners.  I got to wear shorts and sandals for the first time since... last September??    

Tuesday was my poster presentation.  Unfortunately, instead of hiding out in a back corner, it was selected as a "hot topic" so I got a fair amount of traffic.  99% of people who came by were helpful and interested.

The title is so long this has to be important.
The rest of the time was spent at talks and looking at other posters.  I feel like I learned some stuff, especially about genetics.  I camped out in front of the poster of another young woman from the Mayo Clinic and refused to leave until I understood what copy number variation meant.  

And then no conference would be complete without checking out the freebies.

Sadly neither the cute stuffed mouse or the eyeball were free.  I'm thinking that the ratio of cute stuffed mice at an exhibit booth to the actual happiness of the mice the company works with is pretty high.  Most of the swag was limited to pens and Hershey kisses, although I did score three bags of chocolate covered coffee beans from one vendor.  Two of those kept me alive during Wednesday afternoon.

Now I'm back, hopefully slightly smarter and not too much fatter after having gorged on delicious seafood and Snickers from Genentec.  Time to hit the gym.  It's 60 degrees out at 6am!  Spring is finally here!

Thanks, Kerri, for the pictures!


Thursday, May 5, 2011


Throughout the history of the internet, animated GIFs have been used for three main things:
  • Hot girls
  • People falling down
  • Cats
Some intrepid photographers are actually using animated GIFs to create beautiful, artistic images called cinemagraphs.

The aesthetic is to capture a particular moment in time, like a photograph, but with more context and action than a still image can supply.

You can see more cinemagraphs here.  The other photography is also quite nice.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Some Training and a Test (Daniel)

Here is yesterday's training. This is pretty typical of what I've been doing this year.

-- 135x8
-- 225x5
-- 305x4x4 (barely touch the ground on each rep)

-- 275x4x5

DB Overhead Press
-- 55x4x5

-- 2x10

Bench Press
-- 135x8
-- 205x2x1

Shoulder moves with light dumbbells

This is my "rep" day, where I perform higher volume on the deadlift and press. On the weekend, I do a "heavy" day with singles or doubles. Last weekend I hit an easy 365x3x1 deadlift; this week it will be 365x3x2.

I've moved away from hard benching. Overhead presses are easier on my joints and better for my physique. I'm throwing in a couple of moderately heavy singles just to keep the feel of the movement. Truth is, I'm a terrible presser and always have been. My lifetime best bench is only 245, done at a weight of about 175. That's not terrible, but definitely isn't smashing any records.

I like the idea of working up to 225x10 on the bench, so that I could accomplish the 10-10 Ultimate Fitness Challenge:
  • Bench press 225x10
  • Immediately afterward, run 1.5 miles in under 10 minutes
A few years ago, everyone was worried about all-around fitness and being ready for everything. I blame CrossFit*. People were making up all kinds of ridiculously complicated challenges and lists of skills that needed to be mastered.

I made up the 10-10 challenge as an antidote. Individually, neither of the tests are that hard, but the combination is deceptively challenging.  Lots of guys bench 225x10 and lots of people can run a 6:40 per mile pace for 10 minutes, but surprisingly few can do both.

I can't do the 10-10 Ultimate Fitness Challenge. Yet. I guess I need to put it on my list of 37 things to accomplish in 370 weeks.

* CrossFit deserves blame for a lot of things, but this blog is not prepared for that amount of hate.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Something More Important Than Osama (Daniel)

I don't want to distract from everyone's killhappiness at the death of a guy that sucked, but I have other news.  While walking in to work yesterday I saw A MOTHER DUCK AND EIGHT TINY BABY DUCKS ON THE SIDEWALK.

Unfortunately, I didn't have a way to take a picture, so I have to supply this artist's rendering of what it was like.

Life is like a hurricane

I'm not sure why the McDuck family was making its way down Old University Ave. at 8:00 in the morning.  Maybe they had been lost and wandering ever since the unspeakable horrors of the Mifflin Street Block Party two nights ago.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

On Squat Depth (Daniel)

Let's talk about squatting. Here's a picture I stole from this blog. Who can spot the problem?

This squat is not anywhere close to the correct depth*. Go into any gym, anywhere, and almost every guy will be squatting just like the picture -- way too high and probably using the same weight.

Most books and trainers call for squatting to parallel. This is the standard in powerlifting, where a legal squat requires the hip crease to drop below the knee. This is fine, if you actually do it.

In reality, parallel squatters cheat**. I know, because I've done it myself and I've seen literally hundreds of other people do it. In this style of squat, the last few inches above parallel are the most difficult part of the movement. Add heavy weights and the temptation to cheat becomes nigh irresistible. If you don't force yourself to go well below parallel, you will squat high.

My solution: squat to full depth on every rep. This means descending as far as you can on each rep, feeling the hamstrings make contact with the calves.

Yeah, I know, full squatting is overkill, you can't use as much weight, some stuff about your knees, whatever. Based on what I've seen, though, I think the average trainee would get more benefit from squatting if we treated the full depth version as the "regular" squat and saved the parallel version as a special case.

By law, all blog posts about squatting must include this picture

The exact form of any exercise will vary from person to person, so there is no one true "correct" way to squat. That being said, here are some tips I gave Chelsea when she was learning the movement:

Take a comfortable stance. There is no reason for regular people to go uncomfortably wide or extremely narrow***.

The bar sits in a natural groove on the traps. Some authors teach a very low bar position borrowed from powerlifting. This can give you better leverage, but stresses your shoulders.

Toes straight ahead or turned out a little, whatever feels best.

Keep your chest up and back flat throughout the movement. A little forward lean may happen, but don't allow yourself to suddenly drop forward, especially on the ascent, where it may make you miss the lift.

If you have trouble going deep, try raising your heels with a small plate. If this helps, you need to improve your ankle mobility.

In general, strive to make your movements natural and fluid. Deep squatting requires full lower-body mobility, so this may reveal some areas where you're stiff or inflexible.

Finally, contrary to what some authors say, you don't have to squat. The squat is good exercise, but it isn't mandatory. You can get excellent results without doing heavy squats.

* Partial squats are a legitimate exercise, particularly if you do them with very heavy weights. The great Paul Anderson did a lot of high squats as assistance for his full squats. Letting your normal squats turn into high squats is the problem.

** They don't necessarily want to cheat, it just sort of happens.

** Powerlifters like a wide stance to decrease the range of motion. Bodybuilders may use a narrow stance to emphasize the quads.