I’ve been going to the gym regularly for the last seven years, so I thought I would take the time to share some of what I’ve learned in that time.
Why you Should Lift Weights
Besides the obvious benefits, better health, longer life, and better looks, weight lifting has a number of ancillary benefits. Primarily, lifting weights will make you more confident in yourself, which will in turn improve a number of areas of your life. Increased confidence absolutely helps in your sales process, whatever it is that you may be selling. If you are selling yourself to a potential mate, selling yourself to a potential client or hiring manager, or selling some product or service, increased confidence is outwardly apparent. It’s not something that can be faked, it must be built.
In addition to increased confidence, I’ve found that the physical activity that is inherent to weight lifting helps me think significantly better. I generally wait until I encounter a difficult problem in my work, then head to the gym. By the time I am done lifting, I’ve worked through the problem from several approaches, usually solved the initial problem, and worked through the next several issues that would have arisen if I sat at my desk and just tried to power through it. Evidence would suggest that this is caused by the increased blood flow to the brain, which brings me to the next benefit.
I’ve found that weight lifting gives me an energy and alertness spike equivalent to drinking two or three cups of coffee, without the jitters. If I’m feeling tired or irritable, I’ll go the the gym and after twenty minutes or so, I’ll feel much more lively. The extra energy is matched with reduced stress. I strongly believe that my workouts turn stress and tiredness into relaxed raw energy, it’s kind of unintuitive, but it works.
I also learn something while I lift weights. I signed up for a free Audible.com trial and ended up renewing because it’s the cheapest way to regularly get audiobooks. I get a lot from listening to books while working out because of the increased alertness, and I am a big fan of expanding my mind while I work on my body. In particular, the Freakonomics audio books are quite good as they are ready by the author, as is Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.
Finally, it delivers a positive message about me to other people. I went to meet with a potential client, and when he recognized me from the gym, he remarked that he already knew that I was motivated and dedicated, and that those are the hardest attributes to gauge. Another client asks every time I see him if I still lift weights. We haven’t gone to the same gym in five years. It’s immediately obvious from outward appearance alone who puts in the time and effort necessary to take care of themselves.
How You Should Exercise
So you’re sold on weight lifting and are ready to put a little pride in your stride, a little strut in your stuff, but you don’t know where to get started. When I first started lifting weights, I had a number of preconceived notions about the whole thing that are well worth dispelling. The primary problem I had with it initially is that I was self-conscious about the amount of weight I was capable of lifting. I didn’t feel strong, and I didn’t want to be embarrassed. I didn’t want the bigger guys to look down on me. Now that I am capable of lifting heavier weights, I realize that these fears are unfounded. The only people I notice or care about are the guys that are doing more than I am. I don’t notice anyone else.
I was also under the impression that the people that routinely lift weights are stupid and unfriendly. Neither of these things are true. They knew much more than me about weight lifting, and often other things as well. In addition, the vast majority are willing to give free advice, and spot you if ask. The guys that have been at it a while know tons of information, and can be a great resource. Don’t start lifting weights in January though, there are a huge influx of people every year at this time that don’t know what they’re doing, and get in the way. They’re mostly all gone by February, so the people that have been around a while assume that these newcomers won’t stick around.
The most important thing as a beginning weight lifter is form. Focus on perfecting the technique, and everything else will follow. Every gym I’ve ever been in has been full of mirrors so you can easily observe your form, so take advantage of this. You can get videos of every lift you would ever want to do online, so you can check them out for an initial reference.
In general, I recommend a few basic things that seem to produce the best results. First, emphasize the lowering of the weights, the negative portion of the exercise. When bench pressing, this would be lowering the weight to your chest. When performing arm curls, this would be lowering the dumbbells from your shoulders to your hips. I try to take two full seconds to lower the weights. This helps strengthen the inverse muscle, your triceps for arm curls, and improves your overall control.
When the weight is fully lowered, explode. Give it all you’ve got. This will empathize the development of your fast twitch muscles. Having said that, never lock out (fully extend) any of your joints. You’re unlikely to hurt yourself locking out with the lighter weights that you’ll start with, but if you get in the habit of it early, you will hurt yourself when you move on to heavier weights. So explode, then purposefully slow down and stop the lift before you lock out.
I always recommend free weights over machines as free weights demand proper form. I feel that the machines can force you into improper positions, and can ultimately lead to injury. In addition, free weights limit your ability to overcompensate with one side of your body, so should result in more symmetric muscle growth.
I perform each lift the following number of times:
15 times at 45% of One-Rep Max 7 times at 60% of One-Rep Max 5 times at 75% of One-Rep Max 3 times at 85% of One-Rep Max 2 times at 90% of One-Rep Max
Your one-rep max is the maximum amount of weight that you can perform one full repetition with. This isn’t something I would suggest measuring, instead calculate it with the following formula:
weight / ( 1.0278 - ( 0.0278 * reps ))
To use the formula, you’ll want to pick a weight that you believe you’ll be able to lift between two and ten times. Lift the weight as many times as you can, then plug the weight and number of repetitions you were able to perform into the formula, and you’ll get your calculated one rep max. From there, calculate the weights you should be able to lift with the table. I usually round down to the nearest five pounds. For example, if you were able to lift 135lbs seven times, the formula would be 135 / ( 1.0278 - ( 0.0278 * 7 )), returning 162lbs. Multiply this by .45 and you’ll get 72.9lbs, suggesting that your first set of 15 repetitions should be performed at 70lbs.
The magic number for mental fatigue and physical growth seems to be 3 weeks, so I would recommend picking different lifts and recalculating your one-rep max every three weeks. I usually only lift weights three times a week, although I perform cardiovascular exercise every day. I always recommend changing what you’re doing at least every three weeks, it’s very easy to get bored and stop lifting all together if you don’t.
If you are just starting out, you should focus on a core set of exercises three times a week. I’d initially focus on the bench press, squats, arm curls, dead lifts, and shoulder presses. As you gain experience, you can add additional exercises, and focus on specific muscle groups for specific days. Just starting, you will gain muscle relatively quickly, so you should get the best initial results this way.
If you own a lawnmower and start it and run it every day, it’s never going to get stronger. Fortunately, you aren’t a lawnmower, if you lift weights and exercise every day you will get stronger. If you lift weights as I have described, you will achieve tangible results within 9 weeks.
I bought a 30" LG Monitor a bit ago, and out of the box the color was not very good. I was researching a fix when I came across the Pantone huey, a hardware-software combination that will calibrate the color of LCD screens. Since it was less than $60, I decided to buy it and try it out.
The installation process was very simple, after the software is installed, it walks you through the process. The Huey is positioned in front of your monitors, where it measures the light levels. After the light is measured, it's suction cupped to the monitor, where the software flashes different colors on the screen which are measured by the device. The process only took a couple of minutes, and on the LG monitor, the results were stunning, presumably because the color was so far off to begin with.
The device can measure light levels continuously and adjust the monitor colors as the ambient light levels change. I'm not currently using this feature, so I can't comment on it, but I would assume it works as well as the rest of the package. I also found out that there is a pro version available, and that the regular version can be upgraded to the pro version with a $39 software upgrade direct from Pantone. I intend to purchase the upgrade because the results are so good, and the upgrade will let me use the device with all my monitors at once, and will also automatically change the colors with the light levels on all four monitors. Very slick package and very slick presentation.
If you need accurate colors, or just want to maximize the attractiveness of your display, I would definitely recommend this product.
Years ago I had a serious problem with change piling up all over the place. I'd come home and empty my pockets and the change would stay wherever that happened to be. Eventually, I got tired of change being everywhere, so I bought a jar and started throwing change in there. The problem has been solved ever since.
I was walking through Office Depot a few weeks ago and saw the NeatDesk Scanner. I wasn't sure how well it actually worked, if it worked at all, so I went online and read some reviews. They were mixed, as is often the case with tech products, especially when those not-so-technically-inclined have difficulty figuring out how to use a product.
I decided to take a shot and buy the scanner, and I'm happy I did. I had about a years worth of receipts, mail, and business cards piled up on my desk, inches thick. I knew I was going to need somewhere to put all that stuff after I scanned it, so I also ordered a heavy duty cross-cut shredder, the Fellowes PS-79Ci Shredder. The shredder comes with some lubricant, but I also ordered a supply of Shredder Lubricant Sheets so I can keep the machine in good working order without much effort.
I was able to get everything scanned into the NeatWorks software and categorized in about a day. The scanner works very quickly, and can scan both sides of a page in either color or black and white. The really great part about the NeatDesk package is the software. The software automatically performs text recognition on scanned receipts, and is usually very accurate. This makes your scanned receipts searchable, and it also makes it very easily to categorize receipts and make notes for tax purposes. If you don't want to categorize a document right away, you can scan it and categorize it later. It will stay in your NeatWorks inbox waiting for you to place it in the appropriate folders. I usually scan stuff in as soon as it hits my desk, and categorize everything once a week or so, primarily because starting the categorization application is kind of slow.
The Fellowes Shredder is also quite good. It was able to rapidly destroy boxes of documents that I wanted to get rid of, and everything that was on my desk very quickly. It is on casters, so I keep it under my desk and roll it out only when I need it. There are two downsides to this unit. First, it has a very bright blue LCD that drives me nuts. I keep it off most of the time because of this, so it's not a big deal. It also has a poorly designed waste receptacle that tends to rip bags. Neither of these are deal-breakers as they can both be easily worked around, but they are both annoying. The lubricant sheets seemed to work well, and are very easy to use.
All said, I spent about $575 on this endeavor, and I couldn't be happier. My desk is clear of stuff today, and it's been clear for the last month. Presumably, it will continue to stay clear in the future. I know that clutter slows me down, so this upgrade should be well worth the money. If you're self employed and looking for a fast, easy way to stay organized, this is definitely a viable solution that I would recommend.
In the last few days I've noticed a lot of interest in Dating and the Pickup subculture, such as the article The New Dating Game, at The Weekly Standard. While I read the book The Game and found it to be amusing, the most interesting book I've read on the subject, though it wasn't really on the subject, is a little-known out-of-print book by Dr. Robin Baker, Sperm Wars: The Science of Sex. Because it's out of print, new copies are going for about $600. I'm primarily writing this becasue I recently found that this great book has been reissued as Sperm Wars: Infidelity, Sexual Conflict, and Other Bedroom Battles.
Sperm Wars is all about sex. Baker uses sexually charged stories to setup scenarios, and then explains the significance of each scenario in the context of evolutionary psychology. Baker covers everything, from masturbation and routine relationship sex, to female bisexuality, manual stimulation at the start of a relationship, and infidelity. The books namesake, Sperm Wars, are covered in great detail. Essentially, when a woman sleeps with multiple men, the 99% of their sperm that aren't capable of fertilizing the egg fight to the death to outflank the challengers. Fascinating stuff.
The heart of the book, to me, was the manner in which Baker tied the underlying evolved drives to the outward actions that people are intimately familiar with. For instance, Baker explains that men and women tend to sleep together less frequently, but more routinely the longer they've been in a committed relationship because it's only necessary for the man to "top-off" (his words, not mine) the woman, as his sperm can survive inside of her for about a week.
Baker's scenarios and explanations made it easy to extrapolate why people do what they do in practice, even if it's not immediately obvious. It doesn't make much sense for a woman to cheat on a man that she's happily in love with, unless you consider that she's overwhelmed with a subconscious desire to mate with a partner as fit as possible. Just as it's not easy to see why Tiger Woods would trash his name so thoroughly, unless you consider that a part of the desire for success is the in-built male desire to procreate as much as possible. Procreation for males leads to evolutionary success, whereas for women, it's much more complicated and refined.
The woman must not only conceive a fit child, but also raise them, at least from an evolutionary standpoint. The author asserts that unlike some apes, there is no outward sign that a human female is ovulating, so she is able to subconsciously control when she mates with different men, to control who fathers her children. Baker backs this up with the somewhat sobering statistic that 10% of the men that children call "dad" aren't actually their father.
All in all, Sperm Wars is an excellent book that I would recommend to anyone that is anxious to learn why people do the irrational things that they do. It could change your whole perspective, and may even have you questioning some of your own actions.
There are many misconceptions relating to government contracting, especially amongst technologists, so I thought I would take this opportunity to clear some of those confusions up.
I once bid several cents per e-mail to send out thousands of e-mails a month for a government organization. Ridiculous, right? Anybody can run sendmail in a colo for $100 a month. What the actual term of the agreement doesn't say, is that the e-mails were to be sent from an application we were to develop with features unique to the organization, and the e-mail addresses were to be collected using a marketing website and software package that we were to construct, maintain, and promote. We also had to provide two dedicated T1s, four dedicated servers, a load balancer, as well as design and produce all the print marketing materials to promote the new service. All of these things were included in the contract, but we were only paid per e-mail sent. Things aren't always as they appear at first glance.
In the case of the bolt, it's not an ordinary bolt. Normal bolts are never individually tested, a single bolt from the lot is taken and destructively tested. In the case of the expensive Department of Defense bolts, they are generally one of a kind, limited production, bolts designed for one purpose. In addition, they are generally non-destructively tested, which means that they are each individually subjected to the forces that they are rated for, and then examined. This is expensive.
For the hammer, the situation is similar. The price was inflated because of the equalallocation formula in use at the time. "The equal allocation method calculates prices for large numbers of items in a contract by assigning "support' costs such as indirect labor and overhead equally to each item. Take a contract to provide spare parts for a set of radar tracking monitors. Suppose a monitor has 100 parts and support costs amount to a total of $100,000. Using the equal allocation method each part is assigned $1,000 in such costs, even though one item may be a sophisticated circuit card assembly, which requires the attention of high-salaried engineers and managers, and another item may be a plastic knob. Add $1,000 to the direct cost of the part and you get a billing price. This is what the government is billed, though not what the part is really worth--the circuit card being undervalued, the knob being overvalued. The need for billing prices arises because contractors want to be paid up front for items that are shipped earlier than others." (from The case for the $435 hammer.)
As far as "cost plus" goes, there really isn't a better way to do what it does. Whenever I bid a contract I estimate cost, then add profit and that is the price. In the case of the e-mail contract I described above, I calculated the cost then decided on a fair profit. After that, I made best case, worst case, and average case estimates for e-mail volume. I ended up basing the per e-mail bid on the worst case number of messages sent. In other words, the bid price was ((cost + [slightly less than fair] profit) / worst case estimate). Had we won the contract and not gotten close to the worst case, the profit would be substantial. Had it been a "cost plus" contract, it probably would have been less expensive for the government overall, however, the risk would have been theirs, not mine (if our software was ineffective or underused, we could have potentially lost money).
Cost plus is most often used when something has to be built that is either difficult or impossible to estimate. If I were to ask you to build something that nobody has ever built before, and intended to have you sign a contract saying that you would construct it for that price, you'd probably greatly overestimate the actual cost, because you would have to make sure you don't end up too far in the red. The costs are evaluated and approved by an oversight group (like government engineers), so they can make sure project costs are really necessary. In addition, the records are audited and unnecessary cost is often disallowed. Cost plus isn't perfect, but it's less expensive in the long run then having the contractors make guesstimates then inflate them to deal with the risk and uncertainty.
In the long run, the single most disingenuous thing I've seen in government contracting is the blatant racism and sexism. Females and minorities are given preferential treatment because of their race or gender. Depending on the contract, their price proposals are also evaluated differently as well, often getting a 5% discount. In other words, a $100k bid placed by a Minority-owned business will be read as $95k when compared to other bids. The process is not only unfair and discriminatory, but can result in less qualified firms winning contracts on the basis of quotas.
In the end, the ultimate check and balance is the openness of the process. Anyone can put their money where their mouth is, start a company, and win some contracts. All you've got to do is demonstrate that you can do the work, and bid low.
My workspace has been getting dustier and dustier, so I have been wanting to do something about it. I've used canned air in the past, and that seems to work pretty well for clearing my electronics of dust. Unfortunately, the canned air pressure seems to rapidly decrease while it's being used, and the bottles don't last very long at all.
I started investigating the use of an air compressor for cleaning electronics, and a big concern was water condensing in the air lines and shooting onto the electronics that are being cleaned. I learned with some additional research that this problem also occurs when painting with compressed air, so there are a number of techniques for dealing with liquid in the air. Satisfied that I could deal with the water issue, I started looking for a compressor.
I settled on a DEWALT D55140 Heavy-Duty 1-Gallon 135 PSI Compressor. I selected this particular compressor because of the relatively low price and positive reviews. In particular, this model is supposed to be quieter than others, and I've had positive experiences with DeWalt tools in the past.
I also decided to buy an accessory set with a gun attachment and a 25' coil airhose. To deal with the water issue, I purchased an Air Dryer Kit. I placed one of the desiccant dryers at the compressor, and the other at the end of the hose just before the air gun. The desiccant balls turn from blue to pink as they absorb water so it's easy to see that they're working, and the state of each filter.
With this combination of compressor and accessories, I'm able to maintain 80psi bursts of dry air to knock the dust off of my electronics. It does a very, very good job of quickly knocking the dust off of my stuff, and onto the floor.
From there, I use my old Roomba to pick the dust off the floor, and move it out of my office. If you've never used a Roomba before, it's worth checking out. I have both a Scooba and a Roomba, which I run every day. They do a great job of keeping stuff clean.
The total cost for the compressor and the related parts was about $240. I'm pretty happy with the setup so far. It's definitely resulted in less dust being in my office.
An article, Why Most People Think Memorizing Historical Facts is Useless (and Why It Actually Isn't), was making the rounds yesterday. I strongly believe that the author is wrong, memorizing historical facts is useless, and so are History classes in general, as they are taught in the United States.
Knowing who someone was, where something happened, and when it happened are all essentially useless unless you know what happened, and why it happened. Unfortunately, I was never able to comprehend why I really enjoyed reading about history, but why I hated history classes. I figured out exactly what the problem was when I first read my favorite book of all time, The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. In The 48 Laws of Power, Greene goes to great lengths to describe what leaders throughout history did to obtain, or lose, their power, and why they acted in the way that they did. The really fascinating part about history is all in the why. Why did they do that?
As History is taught in schools today, it's just a series of titles connected to events. Match Year X with Event Y. It is worthless. If you teach why's, and not just the who's and when's, all that other stuff falls into place, because it's contextually vital. If you care about why something happened, you'll understand what happened and who the major players were.
By far my favorite "character" in Greene's book, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord (Talleyrand), was never mentioned in any history class I have ever taken. Talleyrand, a French diplomat, was intensely interesting, especially with respect to his interactions with Napoleon. Talleyrand actually collaborated with the British to allow Napoleon to escape from the island of Elba, which he had been exiled to after his failed invasion of Russia. Talleyrand firmly believed that Elba was too close, so he worked to convince the British that this was the case, and that if they let Napoleon escape now, he'd quickly enter a war where he'd be defeated and could be sent further away. Napoleon "escaped", and did indeed lead France into war again, where he was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo, and was exiled off the coast of Africa for the remainder of his life.
The real tragedy is, I'd never heard of Talleyrand until I read Greene's book. In college, I was tasked with writing an essay on Napoleon in a European History class, and decided to cross out the question posed by the professor, and construct and answer my own. I couldn't remember the facts I was supposed to, but I could remember and construct an essay on Talleyrand, which was good enough for the professor to give me an A, noting that it's not usually a good idea to disregard essay questions unless you have something really interesting to write about.
If a story is interesting and relevant, because you understand why something happened, you'll remember what happened. It is a big part of why. Take, for example, the story of the con artist Victor Lustig, famous for selling the Eiffel Tower. Lustig was able to play on Al Capone's desire to interact with someone of integrity to con him out of $5,000, a rather brazen act. Lustig approached Capone and asked him to invest $50,000, which he promised to double. Lustig returned in 2 months, and returned the $50,000 to Capone, along with a story of the hard times he had fallen on. Capone was shocked, and told Lustig that he had expected him to either return $100,000, or nothing, and confessed that he knew he was a con artist. So impressed by Lustig's honesty, Capone gave him $5,000 to help with his situation. There never was any investment deal, Lustig left the money in a safety deposit box for the two months. The con was all a play on Capone, who longed to deal with a man of integrity, since he was constantly surrounded by those who had none. This story is easy to remember, because it's easy to see why the actors did what they did.
After reading Greene's book, I became convinced that history education is all wrong. Why things happen, and why people do what they do, is intensely interesting. When they happened is boring and irrelevant. Not teaching why things happened dilutes the value of history to such an extent that it's worthless as it is. It serves no purpose, it must be fixed or abandoned.
I recently added a 30" LG Monitor to my 3-monitor setup. Originally, I had intended to replace my 24" Viewsonic widescreen, but when I started considering it seriously, I began to see the utility in having a forth monitor, instead of just a larger third.
I was initially unsure of how I would accomplish this, but I had seen a 3M Monitor Arm in Office Depot, so I thought I'd buy it and try it out. Unfortunately, the 3M arm didn't have the lift that I really wanted, so I returned that arm and started searching online for other options. I came across the Ergotron Single Desk Mount Arm and the Ergotron Dual LX Monitor Arm. My thought was that I'd be able to purchase a dual arm, and mount both monitors on the left side of my desk on the arms, one above the other.
Once the dual arm arrived, I was able to get it setup in about 30 minutes. I was somewhat surprised at the ease of the setup. I had to unmount the other monitors from their stands, attach the monitor arms, secure the base to my desk with the desk clamp, and route the wires through the arms. The hardest part was removing the stands from the existing arms, and that wasn't very difficult. I did have to adjust the tension of each arm because of the weight of the monitors. All in all, I was very impressed with the ease of the setup process.
After a day of using the arms, I was so impressed that I ordered a second set for the monitor on the right side of my desk, and the Mx Desk Mount LCD Arm for the center 30" panel. The setup of the 30" monitor was a little more difficult than the smaller panels, but that's largely a function of the size and weight of the display. The desk clamp for the MX arm is larger than the other, and seemed very secure to me. The MX Arm is very solidly constructed, and has no problems whatsoever keeping the large display in place. I wouldn't attempt to use it with a smaller display, it really is designed for heavy displays, and the smaller arms do a fine job.
The cable management system of the arms is very well designed, and actually seems to work. I upgraded all of my DVI cables and power cables during this process to either 10 or 15ft so that the monitors positions could be easily adjusted, so the cables are rather large and inflexible, yet the cable management system still worked fine.
While I originally wanted the arms only to allow the two displays to be elevated, as soon as I got them installed I realized that I had needed these arms for some time, I just didn't know I needed them. For starters, they make dusting my desk significantly easier, as the monitors can be easily repositioned out of the way. Additionally, the appearance of my desk is cleaner than it was before, with the arms really improving the visual aesthetics of my work area; it looks much cooler and more high-tech now, and that counts for something. The arms have also made it easier to reconfigure the display configuration for specific situations. I'll occasionally shift one of the monitors to landscape view, and the arms allow any of the monitors, even the 30" display, to be transitioned.
From a productivity standpoint, I've got 4,096,000 reasons to be happy with this upgrade. The 2560x1600 resolution of the large display allows me to display either 2 or 4 files, plus the filesystem tree, in my IDE simultaneously. This has greatly enhanced my coding productivity. WIth the other three display, two 1600x1200, and a 1680x1050 display, I have a total of 9.7 million pixels to work with. In the upper left I usually keep my email, iTunes, and my project management software open. On the right hand side I usually have a web browser open with the stuff I'm working on. In the lower left I usually have a bunch of SSH windows open, tailing files, running irb, cucumber and autospec. In the center I'll keep my IDE or anything I'm actively working on. This allows me to keep everything I'm currently working on open and on top, so that I can reference things without having to move or change any windows. In particular, it's nice having autospec always running on my project so I can glance over and see any regressions.
All in all, I'm extremely happy with the monitor arms. I estimate the upgrade cost about $600, and my only regret is that I didn't make the investment sooner.
About three years ago I purchased a Liberty Chair by Humanscale. The chair hasn't held up as well as I would like. With the Vellum cover and the Gel seat, the seat cover has started to tear. This chair was very expensive, about $1,000, and I would not have expected the seat cover to deteriorate.
All in all, I still think it's a comfortable chair, and it's definitely allowed me to log lots of hours in relative comfort. If you're in the market for one of these chairs, you may want to get this chair with leather instead of vellum, since that will hold up better. It's probably also worth considering another brand.
I think the Aeron chairs are probably just as comfortable, and more durable.