Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Stay Alfred Publishes Helpful Vacation Rental Packing List

There's a reason vacation rentals represent the fastest growing segment of the travel and tourism sector: they're an amazing way to travel! By an large, vacation rentals are larger and better appointed than hotels of the same price. They also typically feature well-equipped kitchens--which lets travelers skip dining out some nights.

But if you've never stayed in a vacation rental before, you may not know what to expect. Do you need to bring your own condiments? Will there be daily housekeeping?

Stay Alfred--a vacation rental company with units in Bellevue, Boston, Denver, Nashville, New Orleans, Portland, and Seattle--has published a comprehensive vacation rental packing list that includes the 18 items most renters forget.
...But what should a first timer expect? Stay Alfred has prepared the ultimate vacation rental packing list to help you understand the difference between packing for a trip to a hotel and packing for a stay in a vacation rental–including the 18 items even seasoned vacation renters might forget!
For your Rental Home
  1. All-Purpose Cleaner and Sponges*: Unlike a hotel, a vacation rental is not cleaned every day. Having a little cleaner handy can help you take care of little spills and messes as they come up.
  2. Aluminum Foil: One of the chief benefits of a vacation rental is access to full kitchen facilities. Take full advantage of your cooking options with foil, wax paper or static wrap*.
  3. Baby Equipment**: Most vacation rental companies do not provide cribs or playpens...
Before you depart for your vacation, be sure to print off this handy packing list.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

SEALs and SWCC Operators Do Not Disappoint in "Valor"

If any of you have enjoyed Seal Team 6 Workout or my other posts about the strongest men on the planet, then I really think you should get out to see "Act of Valor."  I see a lot of films, and I don't take the time to review most of them.  I've been pumped about this one since I saw a teaser online last summer, specifically the outrageous moment when an underwater operator muffles the splash of a sniped sentry.  The action did not disappoint, and the film is an awesome vehicle for these alpha dogs to demonstrate what they do best.

The wannabe in me feasted on the weapons and tactics in "Act of Valor."  Though the above mentioned execution was a little too neat, there's authentic room-clearing, command and signal, and even a glimpse of the mysterious ASDS.  My favorite moment was the dramatic brown-water SWCC extraction with GAU-17/As emitting their trademark raspberry as they spew unrelenting lead into the jungle.

Whispers of government funding (or at least "support") for Valor certainly lend a bit of mystery to the project--as if a cast of active duty [identities redacted] SEAL/SWCC operators wasn't mysterious enough.  Though "Act of Valor" doesn't have the blatant propaganda devices of "The Great Dictator" or even "Casablanca," there were certainly ingredients of a wartime recruitment ad.  The plot was black-and-white, good-versus-evil.  The bad guys were just so evil, as to be sophomoric.  Within the first 30 minutes, dozens of elementary school-aged children had been firebombed, and a beautiful woman had been tortured with a drill.  After that, the bizarre Chechen/jihadi antagonist becomes pretty unsympathetic, so that the audience can guiltlessly enjoy his murder.

There were also some sketchy implications about Mexico's passive complicity with terror cells by failing to lock down the border.

Perhaps I'm needlessly muddying the waters.  SEALs and SWCC operators are the hardest motherfuckers on the planet, and I guess we should just be glad they're on our side.  "Act of Valor" takes a tired plot (made more-so by stilted, untrained line reading) and stands it up on the shoulders of giants.  Ignore the script, and be wowed by unrelenting violence of action and brilliant tactics.  And if you don't get misty at the end, you're just not human.

That said, I'll be in the pool today, working on my combat swimmer sidestroke.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Pagan Fitness: Working Out with the Wheel of the Year

What if the motion of the earth though space is trying to tell you something?  What if the length of the day or the angle of the sun is actually a cue to some deep-seated part of your physiology?

The fact is that the cycles of the sun and the moon do affect us physiologically.  Studies have shown changes in vitamin-synthesis, hormone-production, mood, fertility, menstruation, birth and more that correlate to changes in sunlight and moon-position.  Our modern, indoor lifestyle ignores these natural cycles to the detriment of our health.  Following the cues of our bodies as they relate to our need for things like sleep, food, water, sex, and exercise optimizes our performance as machines.  Like every other creature on earth, eons of evolution have connected our bodies to signals from the world around us.  A few thousand years of shelter from the elements isn't enough to reverse our link to the seasons.  The last few hundred years of alarm clocks and regimented scheduling can't have erased our natural responses to sunlight and the pull of the moon.

Isn't it possible that your path to incredible fitness may lie in a more synergistic relationship with the world around you?

Embrace your attachment to the earthly coil, and exceed the bodily potential of the modern fluorescent-lit man!

The Wheel of the Year is a Neopagan interpretation of the seasonal festivals observed by Celtic and Germanic pre-Christian cultures.  You'll recognize the solstices from what the modern Gregorian calendar labels the start of each season, but the Wheel interprets these as the midpoints within seasons.  (See my earlier post, Reject Standard Notions, for a rant about the way we mark the passing of the seasons.)  You may also recognize the dates of the "cross-quarter days", because they correlate with some modern Western holidays.  The reasons for this are fascinating and boil down to the consolation of the many cultures living in the Roman Empire during the reign of Constantine I.  For instance, his 313 A.D. Edict of Toleration codified equality of religion and placed the celebration of Christmas on December 24th to overlap the Persian rites of Mithra, the traditional Roman festival of Saturnalia, and the Germanic Yuletide.

Some other dates you'll probably recognize:
Imbolc, a.k.a. Groundhog Day, Candlemas, and Bride's Day,
Ostara, a.k.a. Lady Day and (often) Easter,
Beltane, a.k.a. May Day,
Midsummer, a.k.a. Lithia or Samradh,
Lughnasadh, a.k.a. First Harvest or Lammas,
Mabon, a.k.a. Second Harvest or Harvest Home,
Samhain, a.k.a. All Hallow's Eve, All Saints' Day, All Souls' Day, Last/Blood Harvest, Ancestor Night, Feast of the Dead, and
Yule, a.k.a. Midwinter, Christmas, and more!

The specific dates of these festivals were set by ancient astronomers to mark specific positions of the earth in its orbit and tilt.  Those dates hold true even today, as the planet makes its constant annual journey.  As you know, we receive the most sunlight in the summer and spend more time in the dark in the winter.  Here's how I incorporate this cycle into my fitness goals:

Cut from Imbolc to Lughnasadh
Starting on Groundhog Day, February 2nd, my goal is to bring my body-fat percentage down.  I eat a calorie deficit of about 500 kcals below my basal metabolic rate.  I abstain from alcohol and perform body-weight excercisies like burpees and intermediate-rep isolation auxiliary lifts.  I swim or run six days a week, alternating evenly among sprint intervals, continuous high intensity, and long, slow distance work.  This is the time for sun worship, so allow your skin to soak up some friendly photons and boost your mood.

This 6-month "cut" results in low single-digit body-fat percentages by June for a season of beach-worthy abs.

Bulk from Lughnasadh to Imbolc
On August 1st, I shift gears and work to put on mass.  I eat a calorie surplus of at least 1,000 and make sure I'm getting over 100 grams of (vegetarian) protein each day.  These six months include several traditional feasting festivals, so I'll allow myself some alcohol.  Workouts for this part of the year are low-rep heavy compound lifts: mostly squats, deadlifts, and bench.  If you feel like getting a jump start on your bulk, you can try GOMAD.  I used it to put on 15 pounds in a month.

These six months allow you to put on pounds of muscle so that each time you cut, there's more and more muscle mass left behind.  My annual weight fluctuation is about 20 pounds with a body-fat change of 5-7%.

God Mode: Use the Circadian Rhythm to time your workouts and other bodily needs.  Lift when you're producing the most testosterone.  Run when you have the most endurance.  Most importantly: sleep when it's dark, and attempt to awaken naturally to the light and sound of the day.  You're little more than a glorified ape, so why not pay more attention to the natural cues around you to build the physique that nature intended?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Finishing The Leaves

This book was so unsettling, so tangled, and so unnervingly powerful -- that it took me seven months to work through it.  Admittedly for most of the first four months, House of Leaves remained tightly closed with other, happier books piled on top of it.  My lonely bookmark remained tentatively tucked into the start of the second chapter.

I was initially excited to read a novel hailed by various critics with hyperbolic expressions like "most important," "most brilliant," and "most disturbing."  The last of these registered with me only as the kind of praise that accompanies any other good mystery or drama.*

On a bright spring afternoon, I read the unique introduction -- already slightly unsettled by the lonely warning on an otherwise blank page:

This is not for you.

The notion that the text of the novel is a found manuscript added a layer of disorientation to my reading.  The manuscript was said to have been written by a blind man, and it concerned a film about a mysterious house whose interior dimensions were just a little bit bigger than they should have been.  The idea that the author was just a drug-addled tattoo artist who was slipping into madness just by reading the words I now read really turned up the intensity, and I noticed a rising anxiety within me.  I felt cold and light-headed, and a knot moved from my throat to my stomach.

After a peek into the second chapter, I slammed they ill-sized cover** closed and turned on all the lights in my house.  I busied myself with small tasks and chores before bedtime, but my anxiety grew into a swollen, nameless dread.  I had progressed so slightly into the narrative of the book, that I knew that I couldn't have been responding to actual plot or concepts.  My response could only have been to the subtleties of language, of theme...of text.

I couldn't sleep with the book in my apartment, and I literally locked it outside that night.  I slept with the lights on -- and then: fitfully.

I gave the book away to a friend who scoffed and my emotional response to something as harmless as a few leaves of paper.  I felt silly, but I was glad to be rid of it.

Until I found it one morning sitting in my apartment again!

I called the friend to whom I'd given it, and she just laughed, "I didn't like it.  I dropped it off last time I was at your house."

I re-read the page that had stopped me last time, and felt my stomach twist.  I gave the book away again to someone else.

And yet I couldn't stop thinking about it.  I read about it all over the web.  I read reviews and essays and analyses.  I realized I was being silly, and I went to the bookstore to buy a fresh, full-color version.  If I was going to conquer this thing, I wanted to do so with blue houses and red Minotaurs.

At the bookstore check-stand, the portly clerk gave me a wide-eyed look.  "Oh my God," she said.  "This is the scariest book I've ever read.  Good luck.  I can't finish it."  She handed me my receipt, "And frankly, I'm glad you're getting it out of my store."

So that's when I tucked my bookmark into Chapter II and buried the fresh copy under other, less threatening books.





I finished over a dozen other books.  I reviewed some of them in my last post.  Then I even tackled Infinite Jest, which was so epic I'll be approaching it in an article of its own.  I finished book after book, and every time I reached past House of Leaves.

Until one day I didn't.

I cracked the binding, sat back and drank it in.  And I loved it.

But I made a rule for myself:  I read only two hours at a time -- and only before noon.  That way I had plenty of hours of daylight to digest and distract before turning the lights off to fall asleep alone in my house.

It worked for the most part.  My waking hours had none of the vague dread I experienced the first time around, though I still sometimes felt something lurking behind me.  Some void -- some darkness.***  My nights were harder, but I was cheered by my progress, and I kept going.

I generally read about 400 or 450 words of fiction per minute.  At over 200,000 words, House of Leaves should demand about 8 hours of reading.  But something about the twists and turns of that labyrinth tends to stretch time and absorb hours.  You'll have to open a copy for yourself to appreciate the way the author uses incredibly creative formatting to tell his story.  Swirling text to spin and disorient.  Lonely, spread-out text to quicken the pace.  Blacked-out and struck text to hide or reveal meaning.  Colored text to...well what the hell is the deal with the colors?  Codes, ciphers, and acrostics.  And the notes:  Pages and pages of footnotes and end notes.  Some of the notes reference other notes.  Some send the reader leaping forward or backward in the book.  Some refer to nothing that I could find.****  I was lost among those leaves for months.  

Until I suddenly found myself safely on the other side.  The house just dissolved away and I was done.  And though I've read every word between those too-small covers, I know I have missed most of the codes and surprises lurking in those ashy hallways.  Yet somehow I feel like the answers are already within me.  I feel the story swirling in my mind realigning itself with a tremendous roar.  It's different every time I turn around.

*I was naive.
**The pages of this book were a little bit bigger than they should have been.
***But how can darkness have claws and teeth?
****Missing - Ed.
The Navidson Record. Dir. Will Navidson. Miramax, 1993. Film.
‡And I feel compelled to return.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

10 Tiny Reviews of the Best Novels of the Last 20 Years

10 novels in 10 weeks.

That was the assignment I gave myself this summer.  Although I really enjoy fiction, I normally find myself compelled to spend my time reading what I consider "important" nonfiction like A Brief History of Time and The God Delusion.  This summer, though, I promised to branch out a bit and catch up on some of the great novels out there.  Still not wishing to waste my effort (or my summer) on unimportant text, I sought out a list of worthwhile and timely tomes, and I found a jumping-off point in ipresnel's list, Top 10 Best Novels of the Last 20 Years.

Although it took me more than the time-frame I had originally budgeted, I finished ten novels this summer and I have two still simmering for two very different reasons.  So here they are; my 10 tiny reviews:

  1. American Psycho:  A disturbingly likable whirlwind with a not so subtle subtext of hatred toward conspicuous consumption.
  2. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao:  A sad story - made more so by the ease with which the reader relates to the protagonist - that broke the binding of my Spanish-to-English dictionary.
  3. The Fountainhead:  Everything that’s been said is true; it’s pretentious and powerful and ultimately uplifting.
  4. Fight Club:  Delicious and easy to swallow whole, yet subversive and satisfying.
  5. Music for Torching:  A story of limited scope with unlimited reach and an ending that will choke the life out of you.
  6. The Road:  The only book that made me cry this summer; and for that reason, perhaps my favorite.
  7. The Rules of Attraction:  A bore and a waste.
  8. Strong Motion:  A plot so bizarre and obscure that it took me half the book to believe it wasn't sarcastic or allegorical, but ultimately a worthwhile surprise.
  9. Tree of Smoke:  A 600-page short story which should have been printed in a magazine so I could recycle it more easily.
  10. We Don’t Live Here Anymore:  So subtly powerful that this one hits you only in the hours after it’s over.

...and the two I can't review just yet:
Infinite Jest:  Only because I haven’t finished it – and may not for a year.  It’s an eleven-hundred-page behemoth with hundreds of characters and 400 end-notes which has somehow held my interest for the months it’s taken me to finish the first third.
House of Leaves:  I can’t finish it, because I can barely start it.  After reading the introduction and only the first paragraphs of the first chapter, I was filled with such a complete sense of utter nameless dread that I had to take a Xanax and get the book out of my house before I could fall asleep with the lights on.  Perhaps the most powerful book written, but it’s not for you.

So there you have it: reviews so curt and concise you can't believe I bothered at all.  What have I learned from the whole thing?  That I still love fiction, but The World Without Us isn't going to read itself.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

60 Hours in Singapore

I recently took the opportunity to tag along with my dad on a business trip to Asia.  He was invited to present at the 3rd Algae World Asiaconference in Singapore in his role as Senior Technical Advisor at Origin Oil, Inc, so I took him up on the invitation to book and plan a short trip for us.  I work in the travel industry, so it was my pleasure to use all the tricks of the trade to get the best prices on the best flights, and I negotiated an unbelievable deal at a top hotel across the street from the conference.  (That reminds me that I should write you guys a post on how to to play the system and get great travel deals.  Next time!)

I told my doctor that I had booked fifty hours of flight time in the next week, and she obliged my aerophobia with a benzodiazepine prescription.  I packed my smallest carry-on with the lightest of supplies and hopped on a jet from Jackson to Salt Lake to Los Angeles (where I met my dad) to San Fransisco, and then we settled in for the 14-hour flight to Hong Kong.

Singapore Airlines is the World's Most Admired Airline and is in the world's top 30 most admired companies, according to Fortune.  Service and amenities arrive intuitively and attentively: hot towels, Givenchy slippers and toiletries, constant food and drink, and individually-controlled media centers with the latest films and shows.  The Singapore Girls are as captivating as they are iconic.  Every one of them is gorgeous and accommodating and makes one feel like the center of the universe.  The menu had options for Chinese, Indian, Thai, and Continental tastes, but they diligently brought me vegetarian treats (as indicated by a "V" sticker discreetly affixed to my headrest early in the flight).

Our 90-minute layover in Hong Kong was a blur of complete cultural isolation.  Before I disembarked, a smiling Singapore Girl had rubbed a sticker on my chest that read "In Transit," the way one might label and unaccompanied minor.  This is a sensible precaution, as even the departures boards in Hong Kong airport are notated in Chinese!  Luckily gate numbers are denoted by more familiar Arabic numerals.  Dad found familiarity in Starbucks.  I perused glass-encased model meal displays at the food court.

The final flight to Singapore was just over three hours.  Xanax had made the previous 20 hours tolerable (even jolly), but it gripped me with lasting wisps of stupor.  The shuttle to the hotel was piloted by a brave man with a precise understanding of the dimensions of his vehicle, and he slipped and slithered through the merest of gaps in morning traffic to deliver us to the Orchard District.  He shouted all the while in the thickest slur of Singlish that "These malls: all mos'spensive.  This'a bes'place see the girls."  My father and I exchanged glances.

As it turns out, each mall is connected to its neighboring malls by skybridge or pedestrian underpass or SMRT train.  I suppose a Singaporean could live out much of his life without ever setting foot outside, which is probably by design and due to the wet heat of the world outside of the glass and steel.  In a way, the mall is the city.  Like some mind-bending Mandelbrot fractal, the mall is the city, and the city is the island, and the island is the country.  The country of Singapore is a mall -- paved or enclosed from sea to shining sea, and every inch is capable of separating its inhabitants from their money in some way or another.

The stone and concrete of the sidewalks shine like the floors of the malls, and everything you've heard is true: there is no litter.  There is no spitting.  There is no gum.  All these authoritarian rules seem to be self-enforcing, as I never saw one cop.  There is janitorial staff seemingly assigned to every cubic inch of the place.  Sweeping the leaves, scrubbing the grout, mopping the sidewalks.  Yes, mopping.  Yes, the sidewalks.

Humanity is omnipresent.  The crowd seethes and simmers in the streets and glides and glimmers in the malls.  The population on the island is only 5-million, but Singapore is second only to Monaco as the most densely populated country on the planet.  Though the crowd’s faces are mostly Asian in ethnicity, the constant murmur is in English of every accent.  Chinese, Malaysian, Philippine, North American, European.  I asked an exotically beautiful girl what activity can’t be missed in Singapore.  Her reply came in a bubblegum-flavored Valley girl lilt: “Like, nothing! Oh my gawd, that’s why I moved to Germany.”

My interpretation of Singaporean culture is a conglomeration of the most agreeable parts of any number of international societies: Asian foods seasoned with French techniques, pop music from Europe and the US – remixed into something purely local, architecture that blends pagodas with skyscrapers.  In the central Orchard District, it seems like the shopping centers have an inexhaustible supply of resources.  Their wide-open doors flood the streets with deep synth or techno beats and icy, perfumed air.

The grand lobby of the Royal Plaza on Scotts was attended by no fewer than a dozen alert staff: bellmen, valets, concierges, front desk agents, and three or four persons whose only job seemed to be to greet and assist.  All were handsome and groomed to a uniform standard of perfection.  All wore a sincere smile that American hoteliers can only dream their staff could emulate.

The room was done in a high-contrast Patrick Bateman modern with dark woods and bright accents.  It was spotless.  In place of the ubiquitous Gideon’s Bible was a copy of the Koran, though only 15% of the local population is Muslim (43% are Buddhist).  Affixed discreetly to the ceiling, in the northwest corner of the room, was a green sticker with the word, “Kiblat.”  Kiblat is a transliteration of Qibla, AKA the Kaaba in Mecca; so I knew in which direction to pray.

It was tempting to hit the streets immediately, but we agreed to relax at the rooftop pool first.  Though the skies we somewhat overcast, beating equatorial sun still bored through and recharged us after a long travel day.

Feeling refreshed, we set off for ION Orchard at the intersection of Scotts and Orchard.  ION attracts the hottest tenants: Burberry, Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Ermenegildo Zegna, Giorgio Armani, Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs, Porsche Design, Prada, Salvatore Ferragamo, Yves Saint Laurent, and many more.  These top names attract the richest, most beautiful shoppers from all over Asia.

At the very top of ION was a small grocery store in which we found wonderfully obscure Asian treats.  Not just seaweed crackers, but Pocky and the most bizarre and creatively shaped candies.  We found chips and sodas with flavor combinations that would never find a market in the US.

We then walked a couple of miles east, intermittently dipping out of the heat and into the air-conditioned storefronts.  We weaved our way to a mall filled with high school-aged youths loitering, loafing, flirting, and leering.  The mood was all bubblegum with amped up pop music pulsing into the treed courtyard and pink and magenta neon strobes flashing Hello Kitty, Domo-kun, and other cute brands.  We slipped into a shop called Old Town Coffee and ordered ramen and something called “white coffee,” which was actually tea flavored like coffee.  This was my first ramen not from a blue cellophane packet, and it was amazing: thick, savory, and heavy.  The tea was like some futuristic astronaut food that replicated the flavor of coffee while still allowing my palate to realize I was drinking tea.  It was so bizarre.

I fell in love twice a minute for the full time I spent in the city.  The women were gorgeous – dressed beautifully, smiling flirtatiously.  I would find myself drawn into the welcoming, dark gaze of some unbelievable angel; only to have her whisked away by the crowd.  I could barely shake the fuzzy feeling of longing before another stunning face would catch my eye and rattle my poor heart all over again.  They were exceedingly polite and dreadfully shy.  My attempts at conversation and proposals of marriage were seldom met with more than nervous giggles and returned waves.

As the sun set, we decided to people-watch at the Marriot patio.  We couldn’t understand why so few tables were occupied, since its location was perfect.  A teetotaler for two years, I decided to try a Tiger Beer.  It intoxicated me immediately, and we basked pleasantly in the equatorial heat and the icy glow of ION’s LCD screens across the street.  When we got the tab, we figured out why the bar was empty: each pint cost $25, US.

We slept like the dead.

The included Breakfast at the Royal Plaza was an enormous affair.  There was a line to appease each international palate: American, European, Chinese, Japanese, and Indian.  They offered every conceivable preparation of coffee or tea.  I tried everything, but I fixated on an Indian dish called Gobi chili.  It’s basically a spicy cauliflower dhal, but I can’t find a recipe which precisely replicated the Plaza’s flavor.

After breakfast, we took the mass rapid transit (MRT) south to the financial district.  It was the cleanest public transportation system I’ve ever encountered, despite crowds packed with the density of livestock.  It cost less than a dollar to cross the whole island.

We emerged in the already sweltering morning sun under the icy blue blades of the towering financial district.  Some had scaffolding and cranes and workers hammering at their bases or scrambling at their summits.  The overall effect was that the steel and glass had thrust out of the streets only moments before.

Under the sweeping shadow of the new Marina Bay Sands, we traversed the Helix Bridge toward the Singapore Flyer.  Dad, an engineer, was transfixed by the design and craftsmanship of both projects.

The heat was bearing down on us by the time we reached Merlion Park, whose namesake has a lion’s torso emerging from a fish tail – a national symbol that embodies the meaning of the city’s name (Lion City) and its nautical history as an entrepôt port.  We ducked into the historic Fullerton Hotel for a glass of ice water and a breath of conditioned air.

Along the boat quay were a hundred small seafood shacks – each with colorful posters announcing specials of savory preparations of exotic fishes.  Live shellfish of every size, color, and description scuttled and scrambled in their various aquaria.

We went to the Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel.  If the Tiger Beer at the Marriott made me dizzy, the Singapore Sling had me pretty buzzed.  The noontime temperature had me so thoroughly sweat-soaked that I ducked into the Raffles gift shop and bought a tee shirt and an embroidered handkerchief to mop my forehead.

We returned to the Marina Bay Sands and took the elevator 55 stories up to the Skypark, the world’s largest cantilevered structure and longest infinity pool.  It afforded 360-degree views of the city to the north, and of the countless ships awaiting entry into the port to the south.  Because of the annual haze caused by the Indonesian rainforest-burning 500 miles to the south, a torrential monsoon downpour erupted without warning from the white sky.  It lasted not 15 minutes, but it deposited more water in that time that my hometown sees in a year of rain.

We took the MRT back to the Orchard District and enjoyed the sunset with embargo-free Havana cigars on a popular cruising route where the billionaires ousted mere millionaires by displaying their Italian supercars.

The following morning was my father’s presentation at the Algae World conference, so I entertained myself with a final lap around the district.  I was out before the malls were open, but the employees stood at smiling attention at their stations at 9:59.

After one final breakfast of Gobi chili, French pastry, Turkish coffee, and Chinese phoenix rolls; we boarded the MRT for the airport.  Airport security on the way out of Singapore was unobtrusive, polite, and almost pleasant.  Metal detectors were nowhere to be seen.  Then again where could one find a weapon of any kind in perhaps the most tightly controlled first-world country on the planet?

We boarded a glistening new A380 and took our seats in the spacious second floor.  My Xanax took hold, and I relished the flight to Tokyo which I recall only as a luxurious blend of space and comfort and beauty.

Customs was a breeze at Narita, and we lunched on ramen and tofu.  We bought pounds of Japanese kitsch, including an adorable yukata for my two-year-old son and a pair of kamikaze headbands.  Before boarding for LAX, I bought a to-go plate of sashimi and had the best maguro I’ve ever tasted.

Final impressions:  I would absolutely recommend Singapore, even if you only have a short time to visit.  I would love to return, and I can even picture myself working and living there.  I'd just have to plan my schedule around a mid-day shirt-change.

*Click here to read Paul Reep's interview with Algae International Magazine.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

SEAL Team 6 Workout

I've had a lot of traffic since the assassination of Osama bin Laden.  The renewed media attention on the warriors of DevGru/SEAL Team 6 has generated a lot of interest in their fitness standards and physical training regimen, and I've paid a lot of attention to their program in previous posts.  (See A Warrior Workout, 6 Months of Self-Induced Hell, Hitting New Highs, and I'm Halfway There!)

The workout that these fighting men do just to get prepared for Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training (BUD/S) is more of a commitment than most of us can even imagine.  The entry standards for BUD/S are extremely high, but the attrition rate for even the most prepared athletes is 75 to 80% of every class.  The recommended workout outlined in the Navy Special Warfare Physical Training Guide is demanding, but completing it is no guarantee of success in the BUD/S program.  Even candidates with "Outstanding-High" scores in all 5 components of the Physical Readiness Standard are expected to drop out at a rate of over 30%.  For a male between 20 and 29 years old, an Outstanding-High is earned with
  • 101 situps
  • 84 pushups
  • 8:55 1.5-mile run
  • 6:38 500-yard swim
For those of you who want to experience a little slice of hell, I absolutely recommend attempting the Navy Special Warfare training.  You can download the guide straight to your Kindle.  I'd also recommend learning more about the SEAL ethos by reading SEAL Team Six or Inside SEAL Team Six.  Granted you can't put yourself through Hell Week, and nothing can replicate the cold and sleep-deprivation of BUD/S.  It's humbling to know that the men who have completed the program did so at their worst -- without enough sleep or food.  They don't have the luxury of taking a day off for the flu.

Last year, I did the Navy Training Guide's program for nine weeks before evolving to a more anaerobic program  that focused on a 4200-calorie diet and heavy compound lifts.  I made huge improvements to my speed and endurance in swimming, running.  I also took my lifts to new personal records:
  • Bench Press: 180 pounds (113% of my bodyweight)
  • Deadlift: 255 lbs (159% bodyweight)
  • Squat: 150 lbs (94% bodyweight)
I'm currently doing a hybrid program that I outlined in my post, A Workout for Skinny-Fatties.  It's a push/pull split with not nearly as much running and swimming as the Navy program.  It's designed for more hypertrophy (muscle-growth), at the expense of strength; but the cardiovascular component is pretty demanding.  Depending on your personal goals, I find it to be a good program for summer.  I'd love to hear how you've integrated the SEAL workout into your own program.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

My Next Book is Available Free of Charge in Installments

Can you read?
Do you love zombies?
Do you love to read about zombies?

If you answered "Yes" or "Sometimes" to any of the above questions, then you will go positively apeshit for Death Before Disaster, my new novel.  This is my second book and my first medical thriller.

DBD will be released, free of charge, in regular installments.  You can subscribe to the feed and receive them all by E-mail, or you can come back from time to time and read them at your leisure.  They appear here in reverse-chronological order, with the newest entry first.  When all the installments have been posted, the book will be made available for download and in print.

In the meantime, enjoy the fictional telling of the true story of a real infection.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A Workout for Skinny-Fatties

Hey, skinny-fatties, get in here!  I’ve written your program.  That’s the hard part, right?  Finding a program that suits your needs?  This program is just for those of you who look slim with your clothes on, but appear doughy with your shirts off.  If you’re already running Ottermode or level-10 Bearmode, this isn’t for you.  My Push/Pull is for skinny-fatties who want to look good with their shirts off.  It’s working for me.  It’ll work for you.  Ready?  Go!

1. Keep a log.  I can’t stress this enough.  Know how much you weigh.  Get measurements of the important stuff like your chest, waist, and hips.  If you’re insane like I am, maybe keep track of your neck, upper-arm, forearm, upper-leg, and lower-leg circumferences too.  Weigh yourself every morning at the same time.  Update your other measurements every week or two.  Oh, maybe take pics too, so you can visualize your progress.

2. Eat right, sleep well, be smart.  We can get into nutrition some other time.  Oh hey, now’s probably the best time to tell you that I’m not a doctor or a trainer of any sort.  I’m just a nerd who used to be skinny-fat.  Point is, I’m no expert, so you’re on your own if taking my advice were to injure your back or give you diabetes.  Conversely, if my advice gets you laid, I’ll take credit.  Anyway, log your calories.  Shut up.  Just do it.  It’s not hard – just tedious.  Once you’ve done it for a while, you’ll have a feel for the nutritional content of the foods you encounter most.  You won’t be writing down every snack forever.  But for now?  Do it.

3. You’ll need some weights.  Join a gym if you want, but having weights at home is often a cheaper long-term solution.  Cruise the usual second-hand venues, and you’ll be able to find what you need.  LOTS of people fail at fitness and sell their setups for paltry sums.  I’m partial to dumbbells, because you can’t compensate for your weak arm with help from your strong arm; but a barbell will be important once you get stronger.  Weights need not be fancy, but you’ll need some combination that allows you to add 2.5 pounds per side per workout.  A doorway chin bar is a must. You can wait on a bench and a squat rack, but you’ll need both eventually.

4. Guess what!  You don’t need cardio.  It can’t really hurt, aside from wiping you out and making you too tired to get your lifting workouts in.  If you’re more fat than skinny, go ahead and do some swimming, running, or biking (in that order) to burn a few hundred extra calories each week.  Otherwise, let’s focus on increasing lean mass, which brings us to…

5. My Push/Pull!  At first, you’ll be lifting three days/week, so workout on whatever days works for your work schedule – you have a job, right?  (That’s actually Step One to getting laid.)  If you can do it in the morning, awesome.  You’ll feel rad all day.  If you have to do it after work, fine, but not too close to bedtime.  You’ll release all kinds of hormones that will make you feel really Alpha, but not very sleepy.  Anyway, we’ll call push day “workout A,” and pull day will be “workout B.”  So your two-week cycle will look like this: xAxBxAx, xBxAxBx.  That gives you plenty of time between workouts for recovery.  “X” days are days you can do some light cardio or other active recovery.  Or maybe just play Modern Warfare.

6. If you are a beginner, e.g. you’ve been lifting less than a year OR you can’t squat 1.5 times your bodyweight (ass-to-grass), you’ll be doing four sets of 12 repetitions of every exercise at 60% of your one-rep. max.  If you’re talking shit to some gymbro, just say, “Skyler has me on a three-day push/pull split.  I’m doing 4x12s at 60%1RM.”  You can Google how to calculate your 1RM, or you can just start with five pounds in each hand and add weight every workout until you can’t.  Don’t rush this shit, kid.  Start light, and you won’t get hurt. What’s your hurry?  Yeah, yeah, yeah: getting laid, but you’ve gone without that for this long.  What’s another six months?

7.  If you’ve been lifting for over a year AND you can squat 1.5 times your bodyweight, you’ll be doing four sets of eight reps at 80%1RM. Pro Tip: Studies show that advanced lifters only need to work each muscle-group twice per week for hypertrophy and hyperplasia.  The benefits of a third day of training for you will be negligible.  You will be better suited to lifting heavy and recovering right.  But let’s be reasonable.  If you’re an advanced lifter, you’re not even reading this.  I don’t know why I wrote it.

8. PUSH DAY:  All right, childrenkids.  If you’ve never performed these lifts before, be careful.  Start LIGHT.  Watch tutorials online.  Ask a trainer.  Anyway, you’re going to be doing 4 sets of 12 reps of each of the following.  Feel free to do supersets, if you’re comfortable with them.  It will probably cut down your total workout time.  The workout is:
q      SQUAT, of course, for dem Quads.  This baby also engages your Gluteus Maximus, Adductor Magnus, Soleus, Hamstrings, Gastrocnemius, Erector Spinae, Rectus Abdominis, and Obliques.  Go as deep as you can.  With proper form and gradual weight-progression, you probably wont make your knees explode like most people think.
q      BENCH PRESS, for doze Pecs.  You’ll also be using your Anterior Deltoids, your Triceps Brachii, and the short head of your Biceps Brachii.
q      INCLINE BENCH PRESS, for moar Pecs.  More delts, bis, and tris too.
q      MILITARY PRESS, for shoulders.  It also hits your pecs, tris, and traps as well as fun stuff like the inferior digitations of your Serratus Anterior and your Levator Scapulae.
q      CALF RAISE, ‘cause you don’t want to look like a barrel balanced on pool cues.
q      SKULL CRUSHER, because you feel as Alpha when you say it as when you do it.  The Triceps Brachii contributes the most mass to your upper arms, so these will fill out your tees.
q      BONUS ROUND!!!  Still have energy to burn?  Throw in these extra lifts to make your PUSH DAY godlike.  LUNGE then maybe something for the Hip Adductors.  If you’re still ready for more after this, I salute you.  Now stretch, maybe foam-roll, get a bath, some protein and some sleep, and I’ll see you the day after tomorrow for…

9. PULL DAY.  Same drill; 4x12 of:
q      PULL-UP.  Skinny-fatties are lucky, because we can usually do these naturally.  If you can’t do one, you’ll have to settle for the lat pull-down machine which is so Beta that I don’t even want to talk about it.  The pull-up is the best thing to get the Latissimus Dorsi, but it also shreds not less than nine synergistic muscles and uses the Triceps as a dynamic stabilizer.  Do all 48 of these, even if it takes 48 sets of 1.
q      STRAIGHT-LEG DEADLIFT is actually about the only way to effectively target the Hamstrings without machines.  You can do normal deadlifts, if you’re comfortable with them.
q      BENT-OVER ROW.  I usually superset these with my DLs, because I’m already down there.  This lift engages 19 muscles in your back and arms.
q      CURLZ, for the girls.  You know!
q      UPRIGHT ROW.  This lift works the lateral part of your deltoids, which will give you more fullness when viewed from the front.  This lift is a chore after all you’ve already done on PULL DAY.  Take breaks; get through it.
q      BONUS ROUND!!!  Damn, boy!  Git sum!  Try BRIDGE ABDUCTION, HANGING LEG RAISE, SHRUG, CRUNCHES.  Stretch, bath, protein, rest.  You know the drill now.

10. And that’s it.  Rinse and repeat.  Add weight every workout.  Get to a point where you can’t add weight?  Add reps.  If you can’t do 12 reps of 45lbs, do 15 reps of 40lbs.  Then try for 45 next time.  I was going to get into supplements and shakes, but that will have to come some other time.  I’m spent.  Good luck, gents.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Transformation for the New Year

In the first half of this year, I shifted into overdrive.  I was eating a clean, vegetarian diet and lifting heavy.  I put on over 20 pounds and added 3 inches to my chest, 2 inches to my hips, and an inch to my upper-arms.

In June I cut my calories down from 4200/day, and I dropped lifting for more swimming and running.  I lost 15 of the 20 pounds gained, and -- though I was pretty cut for summer -- I am pretty much exactly where I began last year.

For my new year's resolution, I am ending 3 years as a vegetarian and moving toward an ethical pescatarian diet (i.e. eating only sustainable seafood).  I feel like this will allow me to get a better diversity of fats and proteins.  I'll also be able find something to eat in situations where I have previously gone without.

The goal for this year is to put on 30 pounds and keep them.  What are your goals for the new year?


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