Monday, February 22, 2010

Guide to Group Workouts I: Midlife Crisis Edition

If you have long since passed 40 and started to work out not too long ago under the illusion that you could still become a professional bodybuilder, fitness competitor or strongman, this simple 10-step guide can help you establish your reputation as a shitkicker as well as help you maximize attention while at the gym.

Step 1.
Before you set foot in the gym, it is important to groom. For men, this means adopting one of the two following regulation hairstyles, depending on your follicular density; 1) shaved head or 2) see-thru ponytail. If you opt for hairstyle 1), you need to follow up with a fake tan and various bracelets. From option 2) follows by necessity a scruffy, unkept beard and a complexion reminiscent of a hung-over vampire, save from a trucker's tan (optional), with a celtic cross necklace as the only allowed accessory. Irrespective of hairstyle, it is adamant that you get yourself tribal armband tattoos. And remember: "Obsession" by Calvin Klein, Axe or rancid sweat work for any occasion as far as fragrances. For women: Dry, peroxide-blond, jet-black or extra-fake red hair. The blond hairstyle requires lots of spray-tan, while the latter two also work with Caspar-the Friendly Ghost complexion. Regardless of hairstyle, apply copius amounts of make-up, lather up with fragrant body lotion and be sure to use at least half a bottle of perfume. Depending on the pay level of day job (hairdresser, cashier, waitress or kindergarten employee), get one of the following regulation tattoos: Shoulder blade dolphin, heart or "authentic" chinese characters, or tramp stamp and accessories: navel piercing or implants.

Step 2:
Before you can arrange for yourself and at least two of your comrades-in-arms to arrive at the gym, you need to assemble the season-independent workout attire. For men, this means one of two acceptable looks: 1) Ca. 1976 Muscle Beach transplant, or 2) Badass biker wannabe. In either case, make sure that the tank top or XS Li'l Boys' tee is extra snug to show off that upper body, and that you're wearing extra baggy work/workout pants to hide those scrawny, never-exercised legs ('cause you've got bad knees and/or a bad back which prevents you from squats and leg you've read that those exercises might hurt the knees or back and they're damn hard). The only allowed exception to this rule is if you belong to the subclass known as "Brightly colored bicycle shorts and tank top delusionites". As far as colors and design, you can never go wrong with camouflage-patterned tank tops, Ed Hardy tees, GASP wear or something featuring the Harley Davidson logo. For women, it can apparently not be tight, ill-fitting and small enough as far as workout attire. Preferably with an exposed belly button, irrespective of fitness level. Make sure that you've got a car that matches your look. For men, this means either a chopper or a truck (season-dependent) for the badass biker wannabe, or some type of horse-power abundant sports vehicle (alternatively a Hummer). For women, either a small black, red or pink sports car or a token BMW SUV.

Step 3.
You're now ready to assemble your crew and get to the gym. Remember: You've got to roll at least deuce deep - preferably three - so if you arrive before the pack is all there, hang out at the counter, talking loudly to the gym staff or in your cell phone. Make sure that the ringtone on your cell phone doesn't betray your physiological age, but rather something from the present top 40, alternatively gangsta' rap (for men only). As you enter the workout area, make sure to carry at least four invisible suitcases.

Step 4.
Did you remember to train, say your prayers and take your vitamins this morning? For the affluent middle-aged male, some hgh and ~600 mg/week of deca and test. For women: Clenbuterol.

Step 5.
Carry a workout bag (GASP) large enough to hold two weeks worth of clothing and shoes. Stock said workout bag with workout gloves, and belt, wraps for every joint on the body, water bottle, at least one shaker bottle containing protein powder for post-workout consumption, towel, amino acid and creatine tablets, little pink tablets, and Icy Hot.

Step 6.
As your crew gets ready to get swole, make sure to occupy approximately 47% of the gym area, including as many benches, dumbbells and machines you can get your hands on in order to mark your territory and make people understand that something big is gonna go down. Get really annoyed if people are trying to cramp your space.

Step 7.
Talk loudly amongst yourselves and shout in order to psyche up/garner attention for the monumental feats of brute force and athleticism to follow. If you can throw some punches in the air in the general direction of your invisible enemies and the mirror, it's a plus. Make sure to start the punch from your shoulder, dropping your guard and sticking your chin out as you menacingly deliver the knockout haymaker to your transparent nemesis. Wonder why that douchebag working out next to you is looking at you with a smirk.

Step 8.
Use 75% heavier weights than your one-rep max for every given exercise and loudly proclaim that you're "Gonna get 10 or 12". At this point, workout partners need to launch a barrage of motivational clichés including "Let's get SERIOUS", "Time to play the GAME", "LIGHT WEIGHT" and "Squeeeeeeze it!". Use full-body movements to complete the reps, no matter the intended muscle group or exercise. As the lifter completes his or her set, and consequently as the spotter completes a set of another exercise (i.e.; spotter does bent-over rows for most of the weight for bench press), make sure to give an "ALL YOU" shout of enthusiasm.

step 9
As you drop the weights to the floor/starting position thus generating maximum noise and resulting attention, walk angrily away from the equipment, shouting that it was easy, and that you could've at least done two more reps. Sometimes the acoustics make it difficult to reach absolutely every corner of the gym, but give it a try anyways. remember; how are people gonna know that you're buff and swole if you don't inform them of this fact? Flex biceps and chest in the mirror (irrespective of muscle groups worked that day). If you're working out with a woman in your crew, loudly remark how you're warming up with heavier weights than her maximum effort. If you're a woman hanging in this crew, it is customary to remark how the males use more weights to warm up with than your maximum effort. Exclaim your intent to use even more weight for the next set. Damn; that motherf*cker with the NC State hat working out next to you is looking at you and shaking his head again.

Step 10.
Smear Icy Hot on all your aching joints and hobble out of the gym while sipping a protein shake and hi-fiving.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The media noise pollution

The media marked is in constant change, which is especially true for the news papers. News on paper is in steady declined compared to online news, even in a country like Norway with a strong tradition for reading papers. There are several good things about news online, like up-to-date news, live coverage, the use of sound and video, etc, etc.

However, I've seen some use of adverstising I'm not very keen on. As a general rule, I feel strongly that advertising and news should be clearly separated. I was just browsing different pages on, when I suddenly relized I was reading an ad. Take a look at it, it is marked at the top, but it's really easy to miss if you're just browsing.

I couldn't remember clicking on any ads, so I vent back to investigate further. On the right hand side of the webpage, there is a column. This column contains both ads and news articles. Check out the example on the left: How easy is it to spot that the top one is an ad and the bottom one is an produced news article? It may be legally valid, but ethically, I think it crosses the border to unacceptable.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

"This is not a scientific poll..."

Internet polls. If you just have the slightest knowledge about statistics, you know that internet polls are infamous for have large biases by itself. The design of the questions are often equally bad, with unbalanced wording and lacking of a "Don't Know" or similar option. And also where the poll is posted does matter (do you think a poll on gun legislation would yield the same result on the websites of Guns&Ammo and the Nobel Peace Price?). This has been discussed before, and not my point of this post. And this has been pointed out to the media several times.

But how does the paper deals with this? VG does this by adding a disclaimer under their polls: "This is not an scientific poll. It only reflects the view of those internet users that has chosen to participate." They also refer to it as "Just an assessment of the opinions, not a scientific survey".

Well, guess what, VG. "Not scientific" is not a property like the color of a car. Being "not scientific" means your results says s¤%t about the general opinion, especially on a biased question hidden in an online article where it's possible to vote as many times as you like...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Unexpected Presentation Zen Design fail; I was fixin' to start making a ten-minute sales pitch for my research to potential collaborators at a seminar next Friday. I had a few good ideas on how to structure the talk Presentation Zen-style, and I was going to start off fresh by using some new font combinations. After cracking open Presentation Zen Design to the section on fonts and typesetting, I was ready to carve out a new font identity for myself. Comic Sans and Tahoma before that have served me well, but surely there are other fonts which better suit my needs and profile.

As I opened up PowerPoint and started browsing the ocean of available fonts, it dawned on me that the ocean was but a shallow puddle. Of all the "basic" fonts that "everyone should have at their disposal", only a measly two - TWO - were available in my university edition of Office. Garamond and freakin' Helvetica. No Futura, Gill Sans or any of the other cool fonts.


So I checked shareware on the faculty folder to see if there was a Holy Grail of fonts waiting to be unleashed on the wide open canvases of my slides. Not a freakin' thing.

Relatively undeterred, I opened the "Help" menu under "Where in the blue hell can I find me some more goddamn fonts." Windows directed me to a few websites, some of which were offering up some fonts for free. On the other hand, the fonts they offered were 100%, grade A, guaran-damn-teed useless and butt fugly to boot.

As I went down the list of websites suggested to me by Windows, I came across some which sold all kinds of fonts - including the entire Gill family. With my last shred of optimism I selected this package for pricing information.

1,400 NOK for the Gill family of fonts.

The hell with that - Comic Sans just rose like freakin' phoenix from the ashes.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Selecting a new car is serious business

With an eight months old baby boy, it's a definite limit to how much time one can spend roaming around car dealerships. Not to mention that there is a definite limit to how much time one can stand being around slime-drippin', "Obsession" by Calvin Klein-reeking, polyester-wrapped weasels trying to convince you that purchasing THIS model NOW is the best decision you'll ever make.

Hence, it makes a lot of sense to do a lot of research before you actually enter a dealership. There are many things you have to consider, like what fuel source would you like your vehicle to run on (diesel, since the diesel process is thermodynamically more efficient than gasoline, hydrogen fuel cars won't be launched until 2012 and there is as of today not a single hybrid car of sufficient size on the market), station wagon vs. minivan or SUV (station wagon, since European market minivans typically are shorter, and since the SUV caste is a club I'd prefer not to have a membership in, douchebag-laden as it is), and the key decision; which BRANDS are relevant. Once you pick the brand, there is typically only one car model (with many variables, but still) to choose from, so this seems like a good place to start.

Using a process derived from available statistics and personal bias, my wife and I managed to eliminate most car brands before we ever even looked at their models online. Like:
  • Brands that are way more expensive than their performance and breakdown-statistics can justify. So long, Mercedes, Audi and BMW.
  • Brands that suck at fuel efficiency, which may be problematic getting decent service on, parts to, and aren't made to withstand winter. Sadly, so long every traditional American brand.
  • Brands that are soon to be extinct. Buh-bye, Saab.
  • Brands where the local service providers have given us plenty of reason to distrust their service. See ya, Ford.
  • Brands that are trying to shed their past history of making substandard (in every way imaginable) products, whether or not their new cars are decent (yeah, right). Lo siento, FIAT, SEAT and Skoda.
  • Brands we've had bad experience with as rental cars (a.k.a. the "Just say NO to french cars" clause). Au revoir, Renault, Citroen and Peugot.
  • Brands that don't really have models in the class you're looking for. Sayonara, Honda and Nissan.
  • Brands which have designs which lessen the available trunk volume.
  • Brands that have no business making automobiles. We're not really brand-obsessed, but if the car manufacturer made nothing but vibrators and electric nose hair trimmers up until five years ago, then I won't be caught dead in one of your wannabe vehicles. For one thing, new brands are impossible to compare with traditional brands with respect to for example odds of their ricockulous, cheap-looking, pre-rusted hulks breaking down or spontaneously combusting in shame. So of course the brand offers 36-year warranties, because the manufacturing and material cost is comparable to that of a small stove. Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out, KIA, Huyndai, Daewoo and other brand names sounding suspiciously like FookHue.

So in the end, there were only two...

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Epic justification of own actions...

Two weeks ago I received an invitation to write (and submit) a review article from a journal which thematically is very relevant for my research. Getting invitations to submit review articles don't happen every day - especially not for academics relatively new to the game. The person inviting me did so because she really enjoyed an article we published last year on the very subject we're asked to write a review article on.

Long sentence bonanza right thurr.

Anyhoo; I've actually had to think long and hard about whether we should do it, for three reasons:
  1. The deadline is March 1st, and considering that I'm on 50% leave, and that pretty much my entire reduced workload stems from not having time to do research or write articles, I'm not sure this is feasible. Sure; there'd be three other authors, but they've also got plenty of schtuff to do before March 1st. Including writing articles and teaching.
  2. The impact factor of the journal in question is significantly lower than what we usually aim for with our work. Of course, a review article is more likely to get cited than a "regular" research article, but I'm not overly enthusiastic about the impact factor-dealie. We'd work just as hard writing this review as we would if the IF had been four times higher, so realistically speaking, this is time we could've spent getting manuscripts ready for high-impact journals.
  3. A colleague and good friend of mine has had some "issues" with the publisher of said journal, as has his boss. The publishing house in question charges quite a lot for teh "privilege" of publishing articles there, despite their journals not exactly being PNAS. I am definitely not desperate enough to pay in order for an article to get published in a journal with an unimpressive impact factor.

Still; I can't believe I turned down an offer to write a review article.

Time to play The Game

Being that I'm on 50% paternity leave, and that apart from research, the other tasks have not been reduced accordingly, I told myself that I'd cruise through the teaching of my main subject. In the sense that I would rely on last year's slides, that is, not in ay other sense. Normally I spend a lot of time revamping the slides material each semester the course is taught, because one always discovers ways to make it better (like Presentation Zen), and because each set of new students helps highlight areas where I need to work on my lectures.

It's called progress.

As it often does, however, reality struck in a big way when the supposedly parent-friendly administration dealt me a bum hand with respect to lecture hours.

Thursdays from 5-7 PM and Fridays from 3-4 PM. Snake eyes.

What this entails, is that I have to work a lot harder to retain the same percentage of students in the lecture hall. Consequently, I'm spending at least as much time as before updating slides and coming up with all kinds of things to make the course appealing to the (thankfully large) percentage of students who opt to be there for my lectures.

I might as well start bringing my own intro music and a video entrance package.