Saturday, October 28, 2017

Who 'da Man 2

The Verge has an interview with Yann LeCun, identified as "Facebook's AI chief ", that ties in well with my own understanding of AI, both as to function and the rate and direction of development efforts. Having read the article, I am more convinced than before that "robots" will quickly come to mean "human-controlled mechanistic devices" and "AI" will mean "non-human controlled systems". Robots will be the machines doing things (under direct - more or less - control of human operators). AI's will be complex constructions controlling devices that semi-autonomously operate systems like vehicle traffic control systems, or shipping/receiving/warehousing systems.
I keep repeating this whenever I talk to the public: we’re very far from building truly intelligent machines. All you’re seeing now — all these feats of AI like self-driving cars, interpreting medical images, beating the world champion at Go and so on — these are very narrow intelligences, and they’re really trained for a particular purpose. They’re situations where we can collect a lot of data.
So for example, and I don’t want to minimize at all the engineering and research work done on AlphaGo by our friends at DeepMind, but when [people interpret the development of AlphaGo] as significant process towards general intelligence, it’s wrong. It just isn’t. it’s not because there’s a machine that can beat people at Go, there’ll be intelligent robots running round the streets. It doesn’t even help with that problem, it’s completely separate. Others may claim otherwise, but that’s my personal opinion.

We’re very far from having machines that can learn the most basic things about the world in the way humans and animals can do. Like, yes, in particular areas machines have superhuman performance, but in terms of general intelligence we’re not even close to a rat. This makes a lot of questions people are asking themselves premature. . That’s not to say we shouldn’t think about them, but there’s no danger in the immediate or even medium term. There are real dangers in the department of AI, real risks, but they’re not Terminator scenarios.
Vehicles in the near-term future will undoubtedly have some form of semi-autonomous "AI" that will operate the vehicle without continuous direct human operator input (in limited applications, at least), but the more likely scenario will be AI semi-autonomous operation of a traffic control system allowing vehicle access to highways, stop light timing, variance of traffic speed limits to conform with road conditions (changing weather or traffic load for instance). The vehicles themselves would still require operator input to function, but the AI traffic control system would have direct access to the vehicles internal control system "AI" to limit the operator's choices (presumably with an emergency override function - factory installed or otherwise :)).

I am also pleased that Mr. LeCun agrees that the virtual assistant application is the most likely near-term market that will most broadly interact with the most people (what I called a "data orchestra")
 I think virtual assistants really are going to be the big thing. Current assistants are entirely scripted, with a tree of possible things they can tell you. So that makes the creation of bots really tedious, expensive, and brittle, though they work in certain situations like customer care. The next step will be systems that have a little more learning in them, and that’s one of the things we’re working on at Facebook. Where you have a machine that reads a long text and then answers any questions related to it — that’d be useful as a function.
Having a virtual assistant that you can verbally (and presumably textually or pictorially too) interact with, one that has internal data bases of reference sources, would be an exponential improvement of the education and skills development (training) activities that are central to achieving any success in a technologic society (education is mathematics, history, languages, art; skills development is the construction/maintenance trades, martial arts/physical fitness, ultimately engineering generally). A personal device that can provide you with immediate access to information, when and where you need it, would drastically alter the way and extent of human learning and personal capability.

One that could also call emergency services (or your lawyer) semi-autonomously would no doubt prove useful too.

Someone is going to arrive at the decision to make a business of improving humanity's individual ability to provide for itself, simply as a means to increase his/her customer base in both total numbers as well as in total market range of participation. Maybe that will be Jeff Bezos, but it obviously doesn't have to be. What it continues to seem more and more we can be certain of is that it will be.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Who 'da man?

On August 3rd of this year, I wrote about my then-recent appearance on the podcast The World Transformed, in which I discussed my contribution (finally titled, "Ask Jeff Bezos To Hire Humanity") to Phil Bowermaster and Stephen Gordon's book Visions for a World Transformed. In that interview I mentioned that one of the ways that Jeff Bezos could make money from hiring humanity was to create a means whereby people could learn how to remotely operate robotic devices (for a modest fee) and, not incidentally, create a place from which they could subsequently do so and earn themselves a living in this brave new robotic world (less another modest fee to him, of course).

Proving that opportunity is also fleeting, I read with interest this article in IEEE Spectrum magazine by Ben Wolff (CEO of SARCOS Robotics) about a company building robotic devices intended to be controlled by human operators:

Imagine a machine that is your personal proxy, controlled by you, leveraging your intelligence, knowledge, instincts, intuition, and judgment while able to physically perform in the same manner as your own body, but safely, and with super-human strength, endurance, and precision. This vision is at the core of the Guardian robot systems concept developed at my company, Sarcos Robotics, based in Salt Lake City, Utah.

It doesn't take any special visionary powers to foresee the likely results of peoples openly discussed development efforts, whether for robotics or for human education or employment. It does take a willingness to test your level of confidence in your personal vision to allow for incorporation of other's vision therein. There is a telling turn-of-phrase from the athletics world, "Comes the hour, comes the man". That hour is steadily approaching; it remains to be seen if Jeff Bezos has it within himself to be that man.

Someone does.

Monday, September 4, 2017

More Life In The Future

Via the Instapundit, I read in the Telegraph an article by one Sarah Knapton: "Nanomachines that drill into cancer cells killing them in just 60 seconds developed by scientists". I'm hoping the headline writer doesn't have it in for Our Sarah as much as the just quoted example leads me to believe might be the case.

That aside, Ms Knapton goes into informative detail about the anticipated benefits sufferers of skin and breast cancers may soon receive, while ignoring all of the pictures scattered throughout her article of the aforementioned nanomachines drilling into prostate cancer cells.

If I've read her article right (not always a given, that), women can expect to have smooth skin and breasts as a result of their glowing cancer treatments, while we guys can anticipate getting a UV flashlight up the back channel for ours. One hopes it won't require multiple "D" cell batteries.

Tell me again about the advantages of Male Patriarchy, will you? I need something to keep me focused on holding the old cheeks tight while I'm dominating all and sundry.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Have You Ever Heard The Phrase "Tit For Tat"?

From Peter over at Bayou Renaissance Man comes notice of the latest display of terminal stupidity by the 21st century's version of The New Soviet Man (that would be the clown posse styling themselves as Antifa). Not content to swan about in black gym clothes with diapers over their faces, now they've gone and challenged the denizens of 4chan directly.

As ought to have been predicted by even this collective of dubious intellects, 4chan immediately demonstrated their willingness to bring all of the Tat in response to Antifa's latest display of Tit. If you have ever wondered about whether or not someone of your acquaintance (heaven forfend you might actually share DNA) really is as stupid as you've long thought, now you can look up his/her/zir name. Helpfully listed in alphabetical order.

I suppose it would be too much to ask for the nice people at 8chan to reorganize the list by locality?

Do go read Peter's post and follow the links he provides. How does that saying go; "When your enemies are making a mistake, never get in their way"? Well played, 4chan, well played indeed.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Adding To My Intellectual Posterity (or, Yet Another Failure To STFU :))

I'm going to archive my most recent foray into Internet Fame here because, if you can't be narcissistic on your own blog, why bother to even keep breathing on your own, I ask you?

Part The First: Should Jeff Bezos Hire Humanity?

For the permalink challenged:

Followed "the next day" by Part The Second: The Semi-Automated Economy by The World Transformed

Second chorus, same as the first:

Proof positive that you don't actually have to know what you're talking about to have a "respectable" (or at least printable) opinion.

You really should buy the book:

Visions for a World Transformed

Wednesday, August 2, 2017


I recently participated in a podcast  in which the concept of Artificial Intelligence came up. Basically, there are two fundamental categories of AI: Weak AI and Strong AI.

To dismiss the latter first, Strong AI exhibits all of the intellectual capabilities of a human being and does so at an exponentially faster speed and more accurately than any human is capable of. This all hinges on the (so far) handwavium of designing and building a machine that is capable of human-type imagination or cognitive leaps of intuition. The difficulty here is, we don't now how we humans do this, so the question then becomes: how do we build a machine that possesses a capability we can neither fully describe the function of nor replicate within ourselves? Unless and until we can fully describe and replicate the electro-chemical neurological processes that transpire in the human brain when we individually experience imagining a concept that is not contained within the disparate data sources we link together to inspire that intuitive leap, there simply isn't the possibility of including that capability into a device we construct.

Weak AI, however, I believe is essentially within our existing technological grasp. If you network 7 distinct Alexa units into what I term a "data orchestra", you can replicate the appearance of a Jarvis-like (from the first two Ironman films) entity. The primary unit is the Director which contains within its internal hard drive and memory the contents of a dictionary, thesaurus, and literary style guide. This unit coordinates the input from the remaining units. Each of the remaining six units has the entire contents of an encyclopedia downloaded to internal memory and one sixth of that in as great a level of detail as the data record allows. A sufficiently capable data search and retrieval system, with a robust prioritization function for assigning "relevance values" to disparate data returns, would permit the primary unit to conduct a "conversation" between the six sections of the orchestra and the inquiring human. By providing a range and depth of pre-programmed decision trees allowing the combined unit to semi-autonomously manage certain functions independent of direct human management, we begin to approach a functional emulation of what I regard as a true - if limited - Weak Artificial Intelligence.

Data security from external sources (particularly during the necessarily frequent content updates required to keep such a device current) is a critical matter to be addressed before such a device might be safely marketed, but that too is within current technology capabilities. No doubt there will be other concerns not considered here, but this does demonstrate what is possible today, I believe.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

De-bugging Gold

I've discussed the concept of money here before, but one aspect of money I've given some thought to lately is the concept of "fiat currency".

Fiat currency is any currency that doesn't have a fixed metric of independent valuation. The refined metal gold has long been regarded as a desirable basis for such a metric. For so long, in fact, that the metal itself has become synonymous with the concept of currency/money. This despite the well documented short-comings historically associated with using the metal in that capacity.

I'm going to suggest that there exists a more universal, less tamperable metric available.

A single molecule of hydrogen can be theoretically converted into a known quantity of energy. That energy release can be quantified in units of electrical energy. A given nations ability to generate electrical energy is also quantifiable. By pegging a given currency at some arbitrary unit of electrical energy, and quantifying the issuing country's total electrical generation capacity in the same unit of measure, it becomes a fairly straight-forward calculation to valuate any currency in relation to a fixed metric as well as relative to any other currency.

The notion of fiat currency disappears into the mists of history, and economics takes a serious step into the realms of science.

Where this becomes acutely urgent is the day Elon Musk's Mars colony begins to issue its own currency (which will be necessary in order for the colonists to develop and utilize the local economy that assuredly will develop right along with the colony itself). Any Earth currency could be used, of course, if the colonists wished to have their lives and fortunes held hostage to someone else's political quirks and whims.

Can we all agree on the unlikeliness of this being accepted for very long based on humanity's history of colonization?

Changing to such a valuation system will be disruptive in ways large and small (any wagers being offered on how few countries currency will prove not to have been fraudulently manipulated by its own government?), but for the human species to be able to successfully migrate off of the planet and into the solar system, we must have a currency valuation metric in place that applies equally reliably (not to mention transparently) throughout the solar system. Having such an inflationary resistant system in place would greatly increase the viability of concepts like Universal Basic Income and multi-century financial planning for only two other examples.

We're going to have to do this (or something indistinguishably like it) at some point, so why not do it via talk-talk now, rather than by some future strongman regime the way Germany's economic (and basically every other) system got imposed upon it post-WW II?

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Considering The Proposition: How Jeff Bezos Can Hire Humanity

Since first submitting How Jeff Bezos Can Hire Humanity for consideration as a contribution to the book Visions for a World Transformed, I have had further thoughts I would like to add.

The first of those being that the published concept isn't a stand-alone. While Jeff Bezos likely could finance such a thing, and build a profitable company therefrom, the idea makes better sense as a principal component of a larger, more mutually supportive structure.

Secondly, the idea of Universal Basic Income itself makes better sense as a profit-making venture rather than as a purely tax funded endeavor. As I have already given previous attention to the first part, here follows some thoughts on the second.

UBI is by no means a new idea. The one change from all previous efforts I would insist upon is that UBI be primarily a mechanism for funding a national health insurance system for US citizens (if you don't live in the US, please feel free to initiate an identical program in the country you are a citizen of). To this end, all current financial support mechanisms currently available to some citizens, some of the time, is re-directed to funding issuance of One (1) Primary Share of UBI to every United States citizen (and ONLY US citizens as that condition is legislatively defined in [entirely arbitrary date of] the year 2000). This share entitles the citizen to unlimited health care for the citizen's lifetime, and has a per share face value of US $12,000.00. Each Primary Share is paid by the US government in lieu of any other financial benefits or payments that a citizen might previously have become eligible for (Social Security principally, but ALL other financial supports are explicitly included) Said Primary Share of UBI has a lifetime equal to that of the citizen who owns it. When the citizen expires, the share value escheats to the general UBI fund. When a new citizen is born, the US government issues him/her a UBI Primary Share. When a new citizen is otherwise created, part of the citizenship process is purchase (at face value, though there ought to be a mechanism whereby such share may be granted in whole or part) of a Primary Share of UBI. In addition to Social Security, all US military pensions of every description will be replaced by UBI shares.

For the sake of example; stipulate there are 300 million US citizens and each year 15% of them spend US $10 million on health care. 45 million x US $10 million = US$450 million that UBI total investments have to generate in order to cover this expense. Assuming 300 million citizens individually own an average 200 total UBI shares, and an annual 2.5% return on share investment of US $50 billion, I think we can afford not to exclude ... well, pretty much anything anyone wants health care-wise.

Additionally, there will be created as part of the UBI development and implementation process the category of Supplemental Share of UBI. Each Supplemental Share has a face value of US $1,000.00. Any monies a citizen might have become eligible for previously to the creation of UBI, and not applied to purchase of the Primary Share, is applied to the purchase of Supplemental Shares. Unlike Primary shares (which apply only to paying US citizen's health care treatment), Supplemental Shares are a means of earning income. Sales of Supplemental Shares are open to any investor from anywhere on - or off (looking right at you Elon Musk) - the planet, and are the permanent property of the purchaser, who may dispose of them when and as s/he likes. Supplemental Shares pay an annual dividend (on a to-be-determined schedule) of 1.5% of the face value. Citizens (or anyone really) are encouraged to invest in Supplemental Shares as extensively and often as they are able to. These initial "calculations" only apply to existing citizens at the time of UBI initiation, so a mechanism whereby parents of new citizens may affordably build a Supplemental Share fund for their children during their legal minority years will have to be considered and included in the UBI development process.

For the sake of example; stipulate that the "average" annual Social Security payment is US $20,000.00 and that the "average" period of claim is 25 years (age 65 to 90). The sum is US $500,000.00. Minus the Primary Share value of US $12,000.00 and the "average" now-living US citizen receives 488 Supplemental Shares of UBI. US $15.00 x 488 = an annual payment of US $ 7,320.00. Add to that initial purchase any other financial payments a citizen might be eligible for, and it will likely still be necessary to create an age-related discount for those between the stipulated ages at the time of UBI creation (although a mechanism to include private pension funds into Supplemental Share purchases would also prove useful I suggest - a tax reduction inducement to private pension fund providers to apply the actuarial total of expected pension payments in full at the time of UBI creation might prove helpful as well).

For UBI to be a profit-making venture (which it must be to pay dividends), the initial investment of UBI funds will be applied to the establishment of a US national electrical generating capacity of 5 terra-watts (in excess of the national generating capacity in the year 2010). The only means of doing so at this point in human history is by means of nuclear power plants (which are always subject to replacement with fusion power plants should that technology prove out as a stable power source). To permit quick development of this strategy, the President of the United States, in the capacity of Commander-in-Chief of the US Armed Forces, will direct that these power plants will be constructed to a pre-determined design of 1,000 KWe on all existing US military reservations within the United States (to include all US territories) as a matter of National Security. Existing electrical power distribution business entities will be invited to bid on distribution of this energy at such a price per kilowatt as will exceed the forecast UBI funding requirements. Additionally, construction of a sufficient number of nuclear plants that burn "spent" nuclear fuel will also be directed as part of the power plant project (the subsequent unburnt fuel having a half-life measured in a few hundred years instead of thousands).

Additional UBI investment possibilities seem certain, but unnecessary to this presentation.

Further refinements of both the employment and the UBI parts of this strategy need to be considered, but the basics of the concept are in place. The Bezos Planetary Employment Office, working with the UBI Fund management, ensures all humans (assuming successful replication of the UBI model planet-wide - initially throughout the United States) with the means of attaining an education, applying for a job (or funding for a self-employment circumstance), training for future occupational opportunities, managing personal finance (to include UBI share management), personal health care (explicitly to include Healthy Life Extension technologies and therapies), and no doubt as many other applications as will seem likely to make the Agency shareholders (many - even most eventually - of whom take the form of UBI share investments) a regular financial profit.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Research For A Charm

From the company website, the ingredients (source: wikipedia so a grain or two of salt as you think best) listed in reverse order below, with attached commentary.

1) Vinpocetine: an extract from the lesser periwinkle plant.[2] Vinpocetine was first isolated from the plant in 1975 by the Hungarian chemist Csaba Szántay. The mass production of the synthetic drug was started in 1978 by the Hungarian pharmaceutical company Richter Gedeon.
Vinpocetine is reported to have cerebral blood-flow enhancing[3] and neuroprotective effects,[4] and is used as a drug in Eastern Europe for the treatment of cerebrovascular disorders and age-related memory impairment.[5]
Vinpocetine is not approved in the United States for pharmaceutical use, but it can be sold as a dietary supplement. Vinpocetine is widely marketed as a supplement for vasodilation and as a nootropic for the improvement of memory and cerebral metabolism. Vinpocetine has been identified as a potent anti-inflammatory agent that might have a potential role in the treatment of Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease.

Of the two of us, I'm the more likely candidate for Parkinsons or Alzheimers, although if you want to pop a bleeder in your head, taking a vasodilator with known cerebral blood flow enhancing characteristics might be an option to pursue.

2) Sulbutiamine: is a synthetic derivative of thiamine (vitamin B1). Although its clinical efficacy is uncertain,[3] it is the only compound used to treat asthenia that is known to selectively target the areas that are involved in the condition.[4] In addition to its use as a treatment for chronic fatigue, sulbutiamine may improve memory, reduce psycho-behavioural inhibition, and improve erectile dysfunction. At therapeutic dosages, it has few reported adverse effects. It is available for over-the-counter sale as a nutritional supplement.

Basically this is a synthetic component of Vitamin B. You will recall my Fitness advice regarding taking a Multi-Vitamin? If you wish, consider adding a Vitamin B-12 supplement to that (I do; and, No, not for that reason either :)).

3) Vitamin B-12: See 2) above.

4) Taurine: This one seems a bit deceptive in my opinion. There are at least 5 different (or at least variants of) this amino acid that have human applications, and they all differ in application and effect. The company website isn't specific as to which variant of this amino acid is contained in their product (I'm willing to assume they aren't talking about the sub-species of cattle originating in the Near East :)). Without much more specific chemical detail, we're just uselessly speculating here. 

5) Tyrosine (L-tyrosene): A naturally occurring amino acid in the human body. Dosage is the thing to be concerned with here. From wikipedia: "A recommended daily intake for phenylalanine and tyrosine is 25 mg per kilogram of body weight, or 11 mg per pound.[4] For a 70 kg person this is 1750 mg (phenylalanine + tyrosine).
Tyrosine, which can also be synthesized in the body from phenylalanine, is found in many high-protein food products such as chickenturkeyfishmilkyogurtcottage cheesecheesepeanutsalmondspumpkin seedssesame seedssoy productslima beansavocados, and bananas.[5][better source needed] For example, the white of an egg has about 250 mg per egg,[4] while lean beef/lamb/pork/salmon/chicken/turkey contains about 1000 mg per 3 ounces (85 g) portion."

You're a chef; if you can't generate 1800 mg/day of this stuff from your regular diet, how can any of the rest of us hope to survive? If you're really concerned, there is a supplemental product called some variant of Co-enzyme Q-10 available OTC. You have to pay close attention to the contents (some manufacturers have been busted for putting "no measurable amount" of the actual co-enzyme in their product), but the stuff is a legitimate enough dietary supplement for those concerned about their gibbering capability.

6) Huperzine A: "Huperzine A has been found through multiple studies to be effective as a medicine for helping people with neurological conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, but the meta-analysis of those studies concluded that they were poor quality and the findings should be interpreted with caution."

So, basically we have a selection of faulty studies into the effectiveness of this alkaloid as an Alzheimers treatment, that is known to cross the blood/brain barrier, and has a known association with causing the puking shits. Your call ...

7) Caffiene: I take mine black with 2 teaspoons of sugar (preferably Xylitol instead), but a portion of condensed milk is also an occasional option too. I've not had the opportunity to make you coffee yet.

8) Alpha Lipoic Acid is one of the primary components in the commercial creatine body builder protein supplements available OTC. 

As a long-time gym rat, I'm frankly dubious about the claims made for these products generally. If you want more protein in your diet, you can spend your money here as well as anywhere, I guess, or you could ask a chef (I can recommend a great one).

9) Vitamin D-3: Hearkening back to my Fitness series, you will recall I'm certain that this is the other vitamin supplement I suggested taking on a daily basis (I recommended 5,000 IU dosage). Vit D-3 is naturally produced by the body as a result of direct sunlight on the skin. It is necessary for the body to adequately uptake calcium and other nutrients, so a modest overdose is actually helpful for good health. At worst you will have very slightly more expensive pee.

10) Phosphatidylserine: Associated with cell signaling and blood coagulation (clotting). Occurs in plants and animals/fish (the common source for this in a "western diet" is from consumption of meat and fish). The plant-based product has no known effect on human memory or other cognitive functions. The company website doesn't make clear their source for this lipid.

11) GABA: a derivative compound of a neurotransmitter that is used therapeutically for anxiety meds, sedatives and as an anticonvulsant. 

I'm not convinced the 1,000 yard stare is quite the look for you.

If I may impose upon a friendship just a bit here at the end with an unsolicited personal observation; NO.
You already eat healthy, the stuff in this that you know what it does to you and want done to you (two different things there) you are already taking in sufficient quantities and dosage to achieve and maintain good health. You want to increase your mental focus, ask your sensei. I'm confident he can recommend some useful mental exercises for you.

Final advice; there is no good cheat. Ever. Put in the work and you'll get the results, mental and physical. 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Friends Of The Ages

I have collected a series of advisory posts I wrote for my friend Charynn McCurdy here, because I thought I did rather well in putting together my disparate memories of lessons learned, but more because I wanted to retain easy access to my interactions with my friend.

I have had many acquaintances over my 63 years of life, but not that many friends, and of those never a friendship so unlikely seeming at first glance. What does a man nearing retirement age have in common with a teenage girl (beyond the obvious source of attraction - I'm old, not blind, and Charynn suffers not at all in the attractiveness department, but that's still not it) (really :)) (Ok, that's still not ONLY it, alright?) (Jesus Tits!)? Turns out, the differences in her and my individual assumptions makes the least consequential of our statements or beliefs shared with each other into a journey of mutual discovery, and our truly consequential revelations into shared confessionals that armor us from our personal demons and doubts (I hope they do for her too). Or perhaps this is only evidence of why my friendships have been so few, because I imbue them with over-much meaning and significance.

Every question we ask, every statement we declare, every opinion we assert to each other, in every aspect of our lives, all are influenced by and bounded within our assumptions. The unspoken, indeed too-often unasked and unquestioned, beliefs and ideas that guide how we construct our understanding of life and each other. The unquestioned assumption that right-and-wrong = good-and-bad, that truth = justice, that faith = fact. Charynn and I steadily discover that we share a belief in so many things, agree on so many different conclusions, but that we arrive at these shared convictions by means of completely different assumptions.

Do friendships go somewhere? People so often say, "Our friendship has gone ...", and then recite a time travel itinerary. My friendships seem to abide instead, the few recognizable landmarks in my passage through life. We all move on, of course, inevitably apart if history is any judge. And that's probably both good and natural, if more than a bit lonely. Experience changes our assumptions, obligations change over time, commitments tend to compete for our individual time and other resources; perhaps it's only healthy that we gradually withdraw from interaction with our friends over time. Or, perhaps it's a consequence of having over-many shared assumptions in the beginning?

Perhaps Charynn and I will be able to make the time together to discover how that question gets answered.

I hope so ...

Fitness is a journey: Part The Fifth

Archived from my FB page from Dec 30, 2016

Endurance training.
In my friend Charynn McCurdy's pursuit of physical fitness, one of the less well understood aspects of training is often characterized as "aerobic training". This is a bit misleading, in a couple of ways.
First, aerobic activities are basically any physical action that is performed at a sufficiently brisk pace as to induce a temporary anaerobic condition in the person doing it. In reality, "aerobic training" consists of training yourself to continue functioning at an accelerated pace of activity in a condition of the body being unable to input sufficient oxygen into the bloodstream to relieve the anaerobic condition. Aerobic training induces a shortage of oxygen in the bloodstream so that you can train to work in that condition.
Second, weight lifting is an excellent form of aerobic training. You just have to use lighter weights than you ordinarily would, and perform the chosen lifts at an accelerated pace and for extra reps/set. This is an excellent way to break up your strength training routine occasionally.
Mostly, and most of the time as well, people focus on treadmills, elliptical machines, stationary bicycles and the like for their usual endurance training while in the gym. The primary purpose of which is to elevate your heart rate and air exchange rate, while sustaining a moderate level of muscle stress over as many of the large muscle groups as are involved in the activity, for as long a time period as reasonably possible. There is always the old stand-by, going outside for a walk or a run, but this is frequently difficult for sailors aboard ship.
I'm going to stick to the treadmill here, but do try out the other machines available to you as you can.
As with weight lifting, you want to discover your initial performance parameters, but instead of "how much can you lift?", you want to find out "how far can you walk in how much time?". A reasonable starting point might be a pace of 3 mph for 20 minutes, which would equal 1 mile walked in that amount of time. Don't be disappointed if you can't do this the first time you try. It seems easy (and it is, really), but most of us have no idea of just how little physical endurance we actually have. We can remember doing (insert some memory of past athletics here) back in high school (or wherever) and don't realize just how transitory a skill set physical endurance actually is. Rule of thumb here; every day you don't endurance train, you lose the gains of a day you did.
Once you can do 20 minutes at 3 mph, increase the pace to 3.1 mph and see how many minutes it takes you to reach 1 mile. Increase the pace gradually over each training session in an effort to build yourself up to 3.5 mph, which is about as fast as you can walk.
There is a transition from walking to running on a treadmill that isn't as noticeable when running outside on a track or path. It's harder to maintain your balance within the relatively narrow confines of a treadmill's rails than people appreciate. One of the fundamental training lessons running coaches impart is how to run forward, and not up-and-down or side-to-side during your stride. You're going to have to teach yourself how to do this, or you won't have much success as a runner generally and especially on a machine.
Watch people running; see how many of them have their heads bouncing up and down rather than maintaining an even distance above the ground. Those last ones are the good runners. What worked for me was to put my hands on the rails and jog along (maybe 3.7 or 3.8 mph) and feel what stride motions in my legs and hips resulted in the least amount of movement of my elbows (both laterally and vertically) while maintaining that pace. Then figure out how to make that combination of hip and leg motions your regular running stride. As you up the pace, recheck your stride for excess upward or lateral motion and focus on making the necessary stride movement corrections. It is called endurance TRAINING, after all.
You don't want to spend more than 20 minutes a day endurance training (as a distinct segment of your overall fitness routine), but you do want to train to complete at least 1 mile each session. As with weight strength training, you can vary the pace, distance, and time (if you can run 1 mile in 6 minutes, you can theoretically run 3 miles in 18 minutes - if you actually do that, congratulations, you're an average line Marine grunt; CNO will be so proud) (yes, that is indeed a 10 mph pace - you're gonna be a while getting there). The point of this is to train yourself to a degree of physical capability that is likely to exceed the requirements of your normal duty day (or just life its own self). This reduces the effects of exertion on you generally, and makes you capable of doing more for longer on the hopefully rare occasion when that may be the difference between you living or dying (or only just hearing harsh language from some bystanding CPO).
On the days when you simply don't have the time to do anything but one form of training, choose endurance training over anything else, as physical endurance is what is most necessary over the broadest range of activities you can find yourself confronted with.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Fitness is a journey, Part The Fourth

Archived from my FB page of Dec 28, 2016

Strength training.
I have directed these monologues at my friend Charynn McCurdy, but they are more or less my accumulated recollections of lessons learned, over a few more years than are comfortable to remember these days, bumming around different kinds of gyms. I've largely avoided referring readers to any particular source material, but we have reached the stage when doing so becomes a necessity.
For detailed instruction on pretty much anything to do with weight training, Mark Rippetoe is your go-to source. His book "Starting Strength - Basic Barbell Training" (Amazon link below) will teach anyone who can read English how to safely and productively train with weights. He basically starts from the pretty much irrefutable premise that, if you want to get strong enough to lift heavy things, you need to lift heavy things, and do so in the manner that your body naturally does that sort of activity.
That said, and I have no argument against his position, I'm nevertheless going to advocate that a beginner, especially one in Charynn's position (a young sailor who will have to alternate her training environment from a shore-based gym to the facilities that can be built into whatever ship she deploys aboard), would be better off starting out working on the machines available in almost any gym not dedicated to a specific training regimen (or not a martial arts gym - these sometimes have their own "machines", but they are combat specific, and not for beginners either) (personal note; Charynn and I first met in a martial arts class. This is mostly me just covering the different types of gym that might be available to any reader, she's well aware of what martial arts training is comprised of). I think it reasonable to assume that the gym/fitness center available on a modern US Navy base will be reasonably well equipped and maintained. I use Anytime Fitness personally for my weight and endurance training.
There is another aspect to this advice that should be commented on. There is a form of "gym etiquette" that basically holds that others should be left to their own training unless they ask for help or are obviously in trouble. This gets observed more in the breach than in practice. You know that whole clubbing/bar scene of getting dressed up to attract a "date"? People (not just women either) routinely dress much less provocatively to get laid on a hot Saturday night than they do to get sore and sweaty doing exercise.
- [Pro Tip: Wear utility underwear (especially knickers - the "wet fart" is a real and all-to-common weight training gym event) (or pretty much any other physically strenuous environment come to that; grappling training anyone?) underneath uniformly dark-colored sweat pants or long-legged shorts, a long-waisted (a size too large might be in order here as well) T-shirt/sweat shirt, and good weight training athletic shoes (something that provides a uniformly level foot structure that doesn't pre-load your ankles to twist to the side under stress - the old-school Converse high top basketball shoes are a reasonably available example) (For women, I can recommend the Otomics brand name of shoe as well). Also, roll a pair of sweats or shorts into a compact shape and keep them in your gym bag with your towel and the other gear you will gradually accumulate (see: wet fart, above). You'll know you're accepted by the experienced, serious lifters when they give you a little friendly stick about the quality of your fart. It's that kind of atmosphere, if you'll pardon the terrible pun.]
Everybody occasionally gets distracted by the scenery at the gym. Be polite, nod your head in a friendly fashion (if you think you won't attract a shark-pack by doing so) (being a more-than-attractive girl, Charynn no doubt learned how to dodge that years ago), maybe offer a compliment on form or technique, and get on with your own training. You will get hit on at the gym (even my old ass, to my considerable surprise - the End Times may indeed be upon us). Try not to be a hitter yourself; it's poor form, if nothing else.
The thing to keep in mind about weight training is that it is data-heavy driven behavior. That is, there is a number (more commonly a complex of inter-related numbers) for literally every exercise you can do with a weight. I've touched on this in earlier essays: "Max weight", "max rep". For a complete beginner (or anyone starting out again after a long-ish lay-off from weight training), there are a few basic body areas to concentrate on initially. In no particular order of importance, they are:
Leg Extension
Leg Curls
Leg Squats
Calf Raises
There are machines designed to focus your workout on these muscle groups solely. Any modern gym has a staff trainer; do consult him/her as to which machine is which, and how to use it properly.
It has to be acknowledged that this isn't actually the most optimum training you can do. All of these muscles come into play on any of the basic Olympic weight lifting forms, for example. Your initial focus is to determine how much weight you can lift in each of these body categories, and how many times you can lift that weight in each category. Be prepared to take notes (seriously).
Keep in mind, max weight is how much weight you can lift, one time, using correct lifting form for that body part.
- [One of the less-than-compelling arguments for machines over free weights is that a machine forces the lifter into more-or-less "correct form". Whose definition of correct form is left unanswered, of course. My argument in favor of machines initially can be divided into two areas of concern: ease of initial data division by body part/area, and reduction of distraction from training at all. The first seems obvious to me; the second is an aspect of motivation I haven't touched on earlier. If you rely on a training partner or group or class, you will fail to train regularly due to schedule conflict. Training on machines is by its nature a solitary approach to weight training that relies on no one but yourself.]
Max repetitions is how much weight you can lift a certain number of times (commonly 8 to 10 times) in a row, and for how many reps in a set of reps (max set isn't an actual "thing"; commonly lifters will train for 8 to 10 reps per set, and adjust the time between sets, as well as the number of reps in each set, or the weight lifted in each set, to prevent "plateauing" - not something a beginner needs to worry about). A common weight training routine might be: 3 sets of 10 reps on each major body part/area, each training day (this will change with accumulated experience - dividing the body parts into complimentary training groups [arms/calves, chest/back, shoulders/legs, for example], to be trained on different days, is an idea that naturally comes along with adding weight and training devices to your routine).
- [A common rule of thumb to give your training some external point of reference is that you "should" be able to lift roughly 25% of your body weight directly overhead in a Military Press, at least your own body weight for your chest Bench Press, and at least 150% of your body weight from your Leg Squat. You will be a while getting up to these levels of lifting performance. Probably well into the free weights stage of your training. Don't get frustrated; nobody can do this when they are getting started. This is a generic example of the sort of external training metric you can use to guide your training development on your own.]
Once you have accumulated this basic training data and physical capability, you will be ready to consider adding dumbells to your training routine. When you do, you will no longer be a beginner at weight training, but expect this to occur only after probably 2 months of regular training (4 days a week minimum), and more likely longer than that. A regular training session for a beginning lifter will probably average about 20 to 25 minutes of weight training, with at least 20 minutes of endurance training (topic of Part The Fifth, forthcoming).
Keep in mind that your initial training is to achieve a desirable muscle mass to body fat ratio, as well as a generally firmer body composition, before beginning to add muscle mass. You need to achieve a desired physical dimension before adding to your body weight, or you will simply be adding bulk to an already over-padded form. This is only achieved when your diet reduces the quantity of body fat to the desired level, and thus the routine experience of having to allow additional time before beginning training to add specific muscle bulk (a note on that: women have an incredibly difficult time adding very much visible specific muscle bulk without resorting to extreme physical training or chemical assistance. Frankly, women just don't "bulk up" in the same way that men do. Get over it, and don't let a fear of that result stop you from beginning weight training).
Remember, it's a journey.
Post-script: I see that I haven't mentioned abdominal muscle training. Can you do a sit up? Whether or not you can (yet), can you do a supine leg lift? Lie on your back on some available area of reasonably clean (don't get pissy about a little dirt, you're already sweaty and stinky and it will all wash off, I promise) floor, place your hands palm down beside your hips, now lift your straight legs about a foot off the ground and lower until your feet are almost touching the floor again. Repeat at least 20 times.
Once you catch your breath, move your hands to the side of your head, now sit up (if you need to lodge your straight legs or feet under something at first, you're cheating) (keep in mind the ancient training adage: if you're not cheating, you're not trying hard enough to get good enough that you don't have to). Repeat at least 20 times.
On a related note, can you do a regulation push up? If you can't, don't drop your knees to the floor, use the "snake motion" by pushing your shoulders up until your arms are fully extended and then snaking your hips up until your body is in alignment again. Lower yourself until you are almost touching the floor and repeat at least 20 times.
These three daily exercises will keep your abs well toned, and your back strong enough for them to have something to leverage all that strength against without injury.

Starting Strength has been called the best and most useful of fitness books. The second edition, Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training, sold over 80,000 copies in a competitive global market for fitness education. Along with Practical Programming for…

Friday, January 6, 2017

Fitness is a journey: Part The Third

Archived here from my FB page of Dec 22, 2016

There are whole sections, never mind shelves, of libraries dedicated to the concept of "motivation". Much of psychiatry addresses the ways in which humans motivate themselves in ways both healthy and un. Fortunately for us, we only need to take a passing glance at the complexities as our focus is on a very narrow application of the most fundamental of the ideas that make up human motivation.
Basically, it needs to be understood that motivation consists of two supporting, but not necessarily interacting, parts. I think of them as "internal" and "external" motivators.
An example of an external motivator that very much will be applicable to my friend Charynn McCurdy in the not-too-distant future, will be the physical requirements necessary to performing successfully on a working party during an underway replenishment evolution at sea.
In Navy-speak, unrep - underway replenishment of consumable stores and supplies - is probably the most fully worked out example of the concept of "organized chaos" known to human civilization. It seems a virtual certainty that, as one of her commands most junior members, she will be detailed to be a working party member during the regular unreps a modern warship requires to meet the operational demands we place upon them (and necessarily their crews). A typical working party requirement is to manually transfer cases of consumables (anything from beverages to preserved foods to lubricants to - pretty much anything that can be packaged in a cardboard shipping case for transport) from the pallets they are shipped on into any available storage space that can be free'd up to meet the demand for short-term storage. It isn't actually a requirement that this be in the most inaccessible location aboard the ship, it just seems that way when you're doing it.
The usual method is to form a "chain" of workers (who, if they are smart, stand on opposite sides of the passageway from each other alternately, so they can pass items from one to another with the least difficulty) and pass each individual case from the pallet to however far down a twisting passageway is necessary to get to the stipulated temporary storage space. A case of canned Cokes weighs 25 lbs as I recall; a case of #10 cans of preserved food can weigh in excess of 30 lbs (but the Navy is pretty good about keeping the case weight down to about that amount at most). So, here is an external fitness motivator that Charynn must be able to meet, prior to her first at-sea deployment, in order to not be THAT GIRL (the one who exemplifies the stereotype "girls don't belong in combat arms" to the assholes).
We will take a look at the training requirements to achieve this very basic fitness goal as a separate topic.
The internal half of motivation is always a personal choice, more idiosyncratic in nature. It can take almost any form, but the essential requirement is that it be a thought or idea that inspires you. Very commonly this takes the form of some imaginary standard of approval you are willing to work to achieve.
Lemme 'splain.
We all have someone whose approval we seek. It is common for athletes to imagine a physical goal (again, often appearance based) they wish to achieve that "Person X" would be ... fill in the space with your preferred adjective. It is important that this set of goals not be something a real, actually breathing-on-his/her-own person really wants you to do. I mean, think about it, that has to be a pretty creepy conversation no matter how intimate X is. More importantly, that removes you from control of the desired result and we are talking about your fitness.
So, an imaginary version of someone whose good opinion you desire is created in your imagination to give specificity to your otherwise pretty random fitness objectives. "X would really be happy if I looked like this when s/he walks in the room when I get back from this cruise." Whatever. This isn't about what X might or might not really want, but about keeping you engaged in your fitness pursuits when the inevitable distractions arise. Working to gain the approval of someone important to you personally is a very common technique for doing this.
For the more practical minded among us Charynn , next time you're in your quarters alone and get out of the shower, look in the mirror and take note of what you see. Notice your profile, face-on and sideways. Not in any kind of critical way, but simply as a baseline observation. Following a period of training (and this varies considerably for a lot of different reasons) you will subsequently observe that your waist will have reduced in circumference by an inch or more, your hip profile will have probably remained about the same overall measurement but the tissue placement will have altered (fat tissue tends to be more susceptible to gravity than does muscle, so your hips will be about the same size but shaped differently), your thighs will begin to display greater size and definition, especially above the knees, with more mass in the hamstring muscles and less fat tissue along the sides, and your calves will become more defined as well as simply larger (stronger). So too your shoulders and, less noticeably probably, your neck will gain in muscle density and visible size. Your bra cup size will remain essentially the same, but your chest diameter will increase by possibly as much as a couple of inches (this depends in part on how much muscle growth you experience in your back). There will be other changes as well, but they tend to be less obvious to the casual glance until very much further along the fitness path.
Your external motivations are in considerable part the result of factors you can't control. Your internal motivators are the result of factors you largely must create from your own experience of life. An added factor helps to coordinate these two impulses in my experience.
I can't say who, but I read somewhere that an English family "of yore" had as their family motto (suitably gussied up in properly declensioned Latin, I'm sure) the phrase, "Be as you wish to seem".
I've always found this to be profound enough to be useful in virtually any fitness application.
"To seem" is any aspect of appearance or strength or endurance qualification you can imagine. "Wish" is always a factor governing our choices. "As you" confines the choices and selections to those acceptable (or maybe just available) to the circumstance you presently, or anticipate to, inhabit. "Be" though, that's the magical bit for me; the successful culmination of two distinct but inseparable things. I must achieve a capability I do not currently possess by acting as if my possession of that capability is the normal standard of my existence.
To a large degree, physical fitness is an ill-defined standard we all pursue (or ignore) with very little practical reference to what and how others pursue that exact same goal. By actually being as you wish to seem in your own mind, soon enough you will seem as you will have become. You will know - and demonstrate - that you have the ability to master the physical demands placed upon you by the circumstances of your chosen life, and you will maintain this condition through motivating factors that have intense meaning only to you.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Fitness is a journey; Part the Second.

Archived from my FB page from Dec 18, 2016

Since Charynn McCurdy specifically mentioned she has no kitchen in her quarters, I thought I'd do this one a lot earlier than I would have otherwise.
Everyone fixates on what the pros do. No one stops to consider the differences between themselves and the physical demands pro athletes routinely live their lives with.
In an effort to keep it honest and the pain at a minimum, you ain't that. To be honest, the specialized diets that professional (or even "only" high level amateur) athletes require would be almost entirely wasted on someone just beginning their athletic journey. The actual food consumed would be healthy, but it wouldn't be in the proportions your body needs, so you wouldn't achieve the results top level athletes would from such a refined diet plan.
What anyone needs to focus on in the beginning is discovering their physical limits and refining their existing body from that of a sedentary human into an athletic human (and not all that athletic, when you get right down to it). That means learning how to perform the most basic physical activities, and healthy calorie restriction.
If you can reduce your food and beverage consumption of calories to a daily average of 1600 calories, you will lose body fat. If you can perform a daily exercise routine (particularly one that varies from day to day to include all of the major body parts as well as aerobic activities like brisk walking or slow running) along with that, you will gain muscle tone and some muscle mass. Only after you have achieved the basic muscle-to-fat ratio and physical strength-to-weight ratio your body is naturally capable of are you ready to begin building beyond your natural body parameters of muscle mass or perform any of the more extreme physical activities.
How to get started? Go to the store (or the commissary, if the .nav still has such a thing). Start reading the data printed on the packaging of the food items you can keep and prepare in your quarters. The only really vital data point you should be noting down for now is the total calories per serving amount. While you're there, buy a jumbo bottle of a daily vitamin (one with an iron supplement included would be useful since you're a woman) and a bottle of vitamin D supplement (I recommend the 5,000 IU dosage). This will provide you with the basic vitamins necessary to good health, even if your diet were to be much more restricted than what is proposed here. Do drink enough clear liquids to keep your urine clear-ish, mostly not-too-odorous, and of reasonable quantity to keep your kidneys working.
Anyone can make a sandwich if they have a refrigerator to keep the makings in. How many calories in a couple slices of bread? How many calories in a tablespoon of mayo (or mustard or ketchup; insert the condiment of your choice here)? How many calories in a slice of your preferred sandwich meat (don't forget to include things like tuna here)? How many calories in a package of shredded lettuce or a tomato? When you reach a total of 400 calories, all you have to do now is put it all together into some form you can get down your neck instead of your shirt front. :)
Look around the store for the powdered drinks. Buy one each of every flavor of Crystal Light you think you might like and at least two 1 quart tupperware drink containers. If you have to have fizzy drinks, buy a bottle or two of carbonated soda water. For regular drinking, mix the Crystal Light as directed and drink as much as you want. If you are completely fiending for a fizzy drink, mix a package of Crystal Light with about 40% of the usual water required, stir like crazy until it's reasonably well mixed, fill a glass about 60% full of carbonated water, top up with the concentrated Crystal Light mix and belch with gusto. If you let both containers get cold first, you can do it without ice even. Oh, and Crystal Light flavored ice cubes are an excellent way to make a glass of tap water seem a whole lot more palatable too.
When you absolutely cannot face another sandwich, total up the calories from a salad instead (just go with a vinegar-and-oil dressing and look around for small packages of different kinds of nuts for variety. Other than peanuts, most nuts are surprisingly high protein for their caloric content). Again, 1600 calories total per day.
Total calories in a packet of ramen noodles? 190. Get about 200 calories of diced meat from the deli, add a splash of soy sauce (go on, splurge, make it two splashes), cover the lot with water from the tap and you're about 2:00 minutes away from post-nuclear dinn-dinn.
The critical factors to keep in mind are: kiss is more than fun or a really glam rock band, it is an acronym for a simple way to go about making you into someone you want to look at in the mirror (or just not have to buy new uniforms for), a little fore-thought makes keeping to a training/diet regimen equally simple, and you don't really care what percentage of your calories come from what segment of the dietetic spectrum of foods at this point. What you want are an average of four meals a day consisting of a total of 1600 calories. It's nice to divide them into 4 meals of equal stomach volume if you can, but don't stress over that too much either.
Sugar-free gum and non-peanut nuts are good items to have around for those "gotta have something in my mouth" cravings, but you gotta remember to add them to the daily total when you give in (which you will; welcome to the human race, we're none of us perfect).
Get your head space around the idea that sugary, fizzy drinks are a thing of the past, as are pretty much any type of fast food. Candy is right out, unless you want to add the calories to your daily total. Your call there.
A few small size ice cube trays, a couple three tupperware bottles for drinks, a couple nuke-safe bowls for salads and hot soups. If you can arrange routine access to a 'frig and a microwave oven, this process doesn't have to be uncomfortable or especially expensive to begin. Which is good, because you aren't going to have any of that aboard ship, so you're gonna need the time you have to figure out how to get the same levels of nutrition from your ships galley before you actually have to do that thing.
Actually, once you achieve your initial goals of weight-to-fat ratio, you want to increase your caloric intake as you will then be adding exertion levels to your physical workouts at the same time. If you can get in the regular strength training in addition to the other exercise routines you will have developed, you'll probably be looking at a 2000 calorie average daily intake. That's when you'll want to start paying attention to how many calories are from fat or protein or carbs, etc. In the beginning, not so much, so don't stress yourself.
For the record, my usual daily diet consists of a single bacon and egg Hot Pocket, with two sandwiches for lunch/dinner. All the Crystal Light Iced Tea or Fruit Punch flavor drink I can stand, and a non-sugar sweetener for my coffee called Xylosweet (24.99 plus shipping from Amazon for 5 lbs, made with xylitol which has about a third of the calories of regular sugar, but is used in the same proportions as sugar for cooking or flavoring). When I absolutely will kill someone if faced with one more sandwich, I cheat. Sue me. Actually, I mostly go with a tupperware bowl full of brown rice and some quality steak chopped into bite-seized pieces for easy nuking and chewing.
My exercise routine consists of about 30 minutes a day of either boxing training on the heavy bags (and Bob - you need a precise target to really focus your punching training and Bob's THE go-to guy for that) usually 4 times a week, or roughly the same time on the weight machines at Anytime Fitness with some added time on the treadmill. One or the other, every day. That's the key. Devise a routine you can do, and structure your day around doing it - and staying employed, of course. I find it extremely important that my martial arts interest in historic pugilism and the Backsword (which uses essentially the same foot work) is a critically important contributor to my continued willingness to put in the work. You will have to find your own motivation, but everyone has to so I'm confident you'll have no difficulties there.
I hope you find all this encouraging and helpful in your efforts to achieve greater fitness and general health.