Chess Diet

I’ve been playing the Chess Diet. The opposing King is the electronic scale. It is merciless and never misses a move. Its pawns are the free chocolates over the reception desk, and the free cookies near the associate’s desk. Its larger pieces are the leftover sweets and cakes brought in by coworkers (Bishops), the occasional boxed lunch with chips and cookies for a seminar (Knights), the Friday morning donuts and bagels (Castles) and MariaD’s – the pizza shop down the street (Queen).

I am the King, my Queen is the non-processed food diet, my big pieces are running (Bishop), biking (Knight) and swimming (Castle). My pawns are saying no my opponent’s pawns.

I am locked in a positional struggle, so I am very careful not to give away pawns. My queen has been controlling the center of the board this Spring. My bishops are currently undeveloped, but I try to play my knights several times a week, and now that my shoulder feels better I should be in a position to shore up my diet with well-placed castles.

The best mornings are when I step on the opposing King and laugh.


The First Casualty

Last night I was surprised to see at the top of the front page of the New York Times, Russia Economy Worsens Even Before Sanctions Hit:

While the annexation of Crimea has rocketed President Vladimir V. Putin’s approval rating to more than 80 percent, it has also contributed to a sobering downturn in Russia’s economy, which was in trouble even before the West imposed sanctions. With inflation rising, growth stagnating, the ruble and stock market plunging, and billions in capital fleeing the country for safety, the economy is teetering on the edge of recession, as the country’s minister of economic development acknowledged on Wednesday.

From a textbook perspective, the deep-rooted ills in Russia’s economy have been clear for years: The decade-long skyrocketing in energy prices that buoyed Mr. Putin’s popularity has flatlined, exposing the country’s dangerous over-reliance on revenues from oil and natural gas. Efforts to diversify into manufacturing, high technology and other sectors have failed, and officials have been unable, or unwilling, to stop the rampant, corrosive corruption that scares off foreign investors.

But yesterday I had also seen that The Automatic Earth reposted a graph from Tyler Durden, at ZeroHedge. In truth neither TAE or ZH are known for posting good news, but even recognizing that the two curves have been pushed together, this chart seems to report the opposite of what the Grey Lady is claiming:

I find another chart from ZeroHedge even more telling:

The bottom chart is not about Russia, but apparently we’re supposed to believe that our sanctions are hurting Russia worse than business as usual is hurting us.

Bilateral Breathing Works

BilateralBreathingTwo years ago I started an experiment to remake myself into a bilateral breathing swimmer. It worked. I am expanding the original article here on my own blog, adding some more opinions and my own experiences since then.

I’ve long admired the grace, efficiency and symmetry of swimmers that breathe to both sides at any pace and distance. Laure Manadou, Rebecca Adlington, Federica Pellegrini and many other elite female swimmers breathe bilaterally while competing, as do many excellent masters swimmers. But, many other women and almost all of the elite male swimmers in the world breathe to one side, their dominant side, in their races.

Welsh distance swimmer Dave Davies is one of the few male swimmers I have seen consistently breathing bilaterally, but with his high arm turnover and busy crossover kick, he’s hardly a model of the modern swimmer. World 1500m champion Sun Yang quickly breathes to both sides before and after turning, but mostly breathes to one side. Sprinters breathe infrequently, and can sneak a breath to either side to keep track of an opponent, but most distance swimmers opt for the additional air available when breathing every other stroke.

Despite the prevalence of same-side breathing, most coaches recommend bilateral breathing to develop symmetrical body roll to each side and to avoid the lopsided stroke that often comes with same-side breathing. I swim at Meadowbrook, where Michael Phelps was coached to greatness by Bob Bowman. Phelps generally breathes to his dominant side, but in this youtube video, Bowman recommends that the novice swimmer learn bilateral breathing, and that the older swimmer at least breathe to different sides on alternate laps to reinforce body rotation.

USA Swimming endorses bilateral swimming as a tip of the week:

If you’re not breathing to both sides, it’s never too late to start. It helps balance your stroke, creates symmetry in back musculature, helps eliminate cramping and increases your oxygen intake, resulting in a more efficient, faster stroke.

I’m an alum of a Total Immersion swim workshop. One of the many TI goals I learned that day was to make my breathing technique so streamlined that it wouldn’t slow me down no matter how often I needed air. But even while teaching streamlined breathing, TI founder Terry Laughlin recommends bilateral swimming while training:

One of the most common questions I get from swimmers is whether they should use alternate-side, or bilateral, breathing. The quick answer is yes, you should breathe to both sides. At least in practice. And on some occasions it can be an advantage while racing too.

… The problem with single side breathing is that, over time. it tends to make your stroke lopsided and asymmetrical. And small wonder; in just an hour of swimming, you’ll probably roll to your breathing side about 1,000 times, meaning all your torso muscles pull more in that direction and less to the other side. Multiply that by hundreds of hours of swimming and you can see how a lopsided stroke can easily become permanent.

On the now-closed CoachesInfo site, aquatics scientist and masters swimmer Ross Sanders advised that same side breathing can interfere with streamlining:

… ‘Twisting’ of the upper body during breathing is common and increases resistance. Observation of swimmers indicates that this twisting is more common among swimmers who have a preferred breathing side. I believe swimmers should learn and practice bilateral breathing. Coaches should establish symmetry of action to improve balancing of rotations and streamlining.

Badig Endurance Training describes the stroke flaws that come with same-side swimming:

Right handed? Then your right arm/pull is typically stronger than your left. To make matters worse, swimmers will cater to the strong side by breathing to the strong side. And the domino effect begins. In order to breathe just to one side (we’ll use the right for this discussion) they start swimming with the left shoulder lower in the water to make for an easier breath. This makes one arm pull deeper than the other. To compensate for that they begin to reach a little further with the right arm to get a bigger pull with the strong arm. This soon turns into an overreach, and now there is a slight wiggle in their stroke. In order to compensate for the wiggle, the swimmer adds one really large kick with his right foot to get the body to rotate back over. Now he has a scissor kick and can’t swim in a straight line. What started out as favoring one side of breathing a little has turned into a bit of a messy stroke. This isn’t an exaggeration either. I have corrected a stroke just like this on numerous occasions by simply forcing them to breathe every 3rd stroke to make the pull symmetrically.

iSport Swimming paints a even more dire picture of same-side swimming, one that reminds me of my high school stroke:

When breathing to your right, your left side tilts downward when you breathe. You balance on your left side as you take in air, causing the left lateral muscle to develop more. Also, you’re putting a ton of strain on your shoulder as you balance in that position. This repetitive motion can start to irritate your shoulder. Take some of the pressure off of your overused shoulder by breathing to both sides.

When solely breathing to your right side, your body rocks more to your left side as you swim — even when you’re not breathing. This habit can create a limp in your stroke. This means you’ll spend more time on your left side, and take a quicker stroke when rolling to your right. Not only do you put more strain on your lower shoulder when you have a limp, but you also don’t get the maximum force out of each pull. If you shorten the pull with your non-breathing arm, you’re slipping water.

Bilateral breathing will help even out your stroke, as well as put you into a nice rhythm. It will create symmetry in your stroke. This balanced, smooth feeling will make you feel stronger and more efficient in the water.

From the above authorities and testimonials, one would think that bilateral breathing should at least be attempted by any serious swimmer, but in an online interview with staunch bilateral breathing advocates at Swim Smooth, Swimming Fastest author and swim coach Ernest Maglischo cautions that teaching bilateral swimming might be a waste of time for some:

I believe bi-lateral breathing is a good way to teach beginners because they will tend to be more rhythmic. But, I am of the opinion that competitors should breathe to only one side when racing. Oxygen consumption should be greater when more breaths are taken during the race. Having said that, swimmers in races should resort to breathing to both sides on occasion in order to check their direction and the position of their competitors. As for using bi-lateral breathing in the training of experienced swimmers, I have found that it is a waste of time. They will swim more symmetrically in training when breathing to both sides, however, they will revert to the same somewhat lopsided stroke when they breathe regularly in competition.

One Step Beyond Multisport goes even further than Maglischo on more air, more speed:

For events lasting longer than 5 minutes, the predominant system is the aerobic system. And here is where breathing patterns become a lot more important. Since I coach primarily triathletes and open water swimmers, we are training for events that last at least 5 minutes and typically more in the 12 to 30 minute duration. Here oxygen intake becomes vastly more important if speed is a concern for the swimmer in any fashion.

Would you tell a race car driver to reduce his fuel consumption by 50%? He would say you are crazy. But that is essentially what coaches do when advocating a bilateral breathing pattern over a one-side breathing pattern to distance swimmers.

There are certainly some streamline and stroke mechanic issues that bilateral breathing can help address, but at some point we need to consider maximum achievable speed via fuel channels versus pure perfect stroke mechanics. …

Oxygen is not exactly fuel for the auto or the athlete, though both have to breathe more to work harder. Also, 1R/1L bilateral breathing drops breath-taking from 1:2 to 1:3, about 33% less – not 50%. 2R/2L bilateral breathing drops breath-taking from 1:2 to 2:5, only 20% less.

When I used to debate folks on, some posters claimed that asymmetrical stroking, or what they called loping, had less to do with getting lots of air than with arm dominance, aka motor laterality. One doesn’t see noticeable asymmetry in backstroke though, where one breathes facing up, or in breaststroke or butterfly, so I did not find such claims convincing. In 2005, Seifert, Chollet and Allard ran a study (PDF) that asked:

… does an asymmetric arm pattern emerge from internal properties (functional pathology, dominance of one arm) or in response to external constraints (breathing)? And what is the direction of causality: Is the asymmetric pattern determined by unilateral breathing? Or, conversely, does an asymmetry due to arm dominance lead to unilateral breathing?

But their conclusion to the chicken or egg question was … chicken and egg:

This confirmed the relationship between unilateral breathing and coordination asymmetry, and suggests that coordination symmetry relates to both motor laterality and breathing laterality.

I personally experienced different development of my torso muscles after a long stretch of same-side practicing. So my bilateral breathing strategy from 1999 to 2012 was to breath to the right and left on alternate lengths. I breathed right going out and left coming back. I found that I was a 5% faster swimmer breathing to the right, though, and even faster when I breathe bilaterally once every three strokes.

Despite some of the cautions, my experiment for the 2012 season was to incorporate one right, one left (1R/1L) bilateral breathing into my long practice swims and all my sprint sets. (Gary Hall, Sr calls that 1:3 breathing.) To retrain my body, I quit same-side breathing altogether. I started by alternating 50m crawl lengths with 50m easy breathing backstroke lengths. On the first few swims, I was desperate for air before and after the flip turns, and gasped as I surfaced in backstroke.

But a few swims later, I was not feeling so bad after the turn, and stroked hard on the backstroke. By about 600m, bilateral breathing was feeling like the right and proper way to swim. Moving to the outside 25m lanes one Sunday, I swam three lengths of crawl for every one of backstroke. Due to a sprained ankle I was doing open turns, which gave me an extra breath, of course, and I felt no air desperation at all. I knew that flip turns would be more challenging.

One day I swam a full 1500m of crawl and 500m of backstroke. I was able to manage flip turns with tentative pushoffs. I found that extra breathing just before the turn tended to mess up my flip timing, and I had to tuck a lot to make the rotation. For about the first half of the swim I stuck with bilateral breathing–one breath every three strokes–but gave myself extra breaths before and after the turns. I even tried breathing on successive strokes, like Sun Yang, but I don’t exhale fast enough to be ready for the next inhale. For a few lengths I tried breathing twice to the right and once to the left (2R/1L), and eventually settled into breathing twice to the right and twice to the left (2R/2L), which seemed to be enough air. Both 2R/1L and 2R/2L average four breaths per ten strokes, but the rhythm differs.

By May 2012, the 2R/2L (or 2:3) pattern was giving me enough air for longer swims. And during sets of shorter crawl swims, the 1R/1L pattern felt very smooth and natural. I swam 2R/2L in my long swims for about a year.

In July 2013, on one 1600m swim I started swimming 1R/1L and found that I had enough air. I chalked that up to being in better aerobic shape from cycling to and from work. In the 1600m I was swimming the same speed with less effort, and felt much smoother. My worst bad habit has always been holding in air, so exhaling fully requires a great deal of concentration. While thinking about exhaling I was doing a lighter two-beat kick, but at least it was a steady, well-timed kick.

In August 2013, while riding my bike home I was clipped by an MTA bus, breaking my hand and dislocating my shoulder. I cut down to two swims a month but aggravated the shoulder shoveling wet snow over the winter. Not being able to extend my right arm forward has taken a toll on my swimming, but I swam 500 yards today. The shoulder still hurts a bit, but the stroke still works.

Stabbed Not Shot

I got a taste of the shiny new gun bug last weekend. My stepdaughter and her son came a-visiting. Her husband had gone to a gun show, “up the mountain.” They all own guns and she was telling us how she won a 9mm pistol at that show one year. Something inside me lurched a bit, and my wife – her mother – looked at me and said, “You’re jealous, aren’t you?” Yeah, I was. Even though I have no use for a gun, and can’t carry one here in MD anyway, I do understand the appeal.

So today I got out of a meeting to read that a sixteen-year-old student at Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville PA (near Pittsburgh) knifed nineteen - mostly students with some faculty members. Though most attacks led to extremity injuries, seven victims suffered life-threatening injuries to organs in the torso, and are in surgery. No one has died as of this writing, though.

How many would already be dead if he had been shooting two 9mm semiauto pistols? Fortunately he only brought knives. Blocking a point-blank bullet is almost impossible; a knife thrust from an amateur can be survivable.

Of course if I had won a gun and I had been there, I’d have saved the day. Or shot my own foot. Or shot some kid getting stabbed.

Dmitri Orlov added this paragraph to his latest collapse post, Business As Usual:

The US has spectacular and ever-higher levels of gun ownership, along with the use of antidepressants and antipsychotics. It also has a large, well-armed military, which isn’t very good at achieving policy objectives, but is very good at killing civilians, having killed hundreds of thousands of them in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as those dozens of countries the US has invaded over the decades. This military will have to be brought back home due to lack of resources. If this weren’t enough, the police in the US is already highly militarized. Throw in the narcocartels, which, as I predicted previously, are diversifying away from drugs and into all sorts of other lucrative activities. Add to this already volatile mix a large set of long-standing grievances, over racial discrimination and other injustices. Make the antidepressants and antipsychotics unavailable, throw everyone out of a job, destroy every last vestige of hope in a brighter future and what do you get? That’s right, a hail of bullets. Those who think that they will be able to stand their ground and defend their homestead need to realize that this is not for amateurs. Dispensing violence is a profession …

What’s Next, Noflation?

After Christine Lagarde bandied the Deflation ogre about, more moderate voices insisted we talk about the Disinflation, umm spectre instead. Spectres just scare the pants of of us rather than rending us limb from limb. That’s so much better.

At Bloomberg last week, Peter Kennedy reported on a new ‘flation-word. Inflation. Deflation. Disinflation. The Threat to Europe? Lowflation:

For all the fears of a Japan-style era of deflation, a more likely threat for Europe is what International Monetary Fund officials are calling lowflation.

A sustained period of ultra-low, albeit rising, inflation still has the potential to destroy output, hurt hiring and revive memories of the recent fiscal crisis by hammering the ability of governments to repay debts. With data yesterday showing inflation about a quarter of the European Central Bank’s goal of just below 2 percent, President Mario Draghi is under pressure to respond.

“It is imperative to return inflation to the target as quickly as possible,” said David Mackie, chief Western European economist at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in London. “The ECB needs to acknowledge having low inflation for a long time isn’t neutral.”

But, Lowflation might be more ogre-ish after all. In Getting the message, The Economist picked up on lowflation, and took it seriously:

With inflation dropping further in the euro zone to just 0.5% in March, Ms Lagarde had highlighted the emerging risk of “lowflation”. Mr Draghi said that the council was unanimously committed to using unconventional as well as conventional measures to “cope effectively with risks of a too prolonged period of low inflation”. With little conventional ammunition left, since the ECB’s main lending rate is already just 0.25%, he spelt out that the unconventional measures might include quantitative easing – buying assets with central-bank money – as well as charging negative interest rates on overnight deposits left at the ECB by banks. …

In fact, that is not the only worry about lowflation. Another is that when inflation is so weak, it would take only one further unfavourable shock to demand to tip the currency club into outright deflation, which would harm growth by creating an incentive to postpone purchases and by exacerbating already onerous debt burdens in real terms.

Peter Schiff, a financial analyst of the Austrian leaning, seems comfortable with disinflation and/or lowflation, which leaves little opportunity to make money other than financial speculation – his bailiwick. Schiff is bearish on the US main street economy, preferring foreign investments, and while he (and Roubini) garnered some respect for predicting the collapse before the Great Recession, he has often (so far incorrectly) predicted that hyperinflation is lurking in the wings. In Russia Today, he pooh-poohs Lagarde’s fears in Meet ‘lowflation’: Deflation’s scary pal:

In recent years a good part of the monetary debate has become a simple war of words, with much of the conflict focused on the definition for the word “inflation.”

Whereas economists up until the 1960′s or 1970′s mostly defined inflation as an expansion of the money supply, the vast majority now see it as simply rising prices. Since then the “experts” have gone further and devised variations on the word “inflation” (such as “deflation,” “disinflation,” and “stagflation”). And while past central banking policy usually focused on “inflation fighting,” now bankers talk about “inflation ceilings” and more recently “inflation targets”. The latest front in this campaign came this week when Bloomberg News unveiled a brand new word: “lowflation” which it defines as a situation where prices are rising, but not fast enough to offer the economic benefits that are apparently delivered by higher inflation. Although the article was printed on April Fool’s Day, sadly I do not believe it was meant as a joke.

Update 20140409: Many otherwise progressive peakists and collapsniks find themselves as strange bedfellows with anti-inflation economists like Schiff and at odds with inflation-creates-growth Keynesians like Paul Krugman. Peakists feel that growth and inflation rely on increasing supplies of limited energy resources, thus that trying to grow is doomered to failure. Unfortunately, limping along in low- or disinflation is also increasing the misery index as financial barons profit while everything else declines.

I wonder if there is a third choice.

Sitting Down for Standup

I watched live standup comedy last night. I’ve never been to standup before, though I’ve watched many clips on cable. A long, long time ago, I saw a comedy duo, Skiles and Henderson, do a very socially-palatable routine about sheep or something while opening for The Carpenters at Merriweather Post Pavilion. A decade later I watched some poor schlump open for a rock band in some small Georgetown club. The crowd wanted music not comedy; he tried to reach us, but walked off after someone threw something.

When Things Unseen posted on Facebook that they were hosting a standup night at the Church-in-the-Middle-of-the-Block (Chitmob) I answered Maybe. I never know when I’ll be in town, but I like supporting the alternative theatre group. As it turned out we were at Chitmob in the morning for a memorial service, so going back to watch the Chasing the Coffin Comedy Tour seemed like weird irony.

A few weeks before Things Unseen had presented The Weir – an Irish play. They also served plastic cups of Guinness and Harp and got good crowds. But my wife was annoyed by the constant utterance of fookin by the male characters. I thought it was funny that the men said fookin this and fookin that but apologized for saying bollocks in front of the young woman. I don’t cuss a lot, but my Dad was a sailor, so I’m not easily shocked. But I try not to cuss around the wife.

I also avoid cussing and talking about sex at work. I sit near a younger, married woman, and we get along, but I try not to be the sort of guy that makes women feel uncomfortable. I’ve written three posts, Cyber-Abuse, More Cyber Abuse and Even More Cyber Abuse of Women about hostility towards women online. But I do enjoy jokes, and sexual jokes don’t shock me either.

So we, and my stepson Eric, went to watch the show. My wife told us she would leave if it got too raunchy, and during his intro, John Dick Winters warned us that the language would be dirty. My wife lasted longer than I expected. The first guy was a bit of a sad sack comic while the second guy had more of a manic bitchy voice, and was very funny while insulting just about anything one might consider sacred. I liked his string of holocaust puns. The third guy was too much for her. His approach was to shock with bizarre assertions about eating babies and such, so she went downstairs. John Dick Winters returned to close the show and she may have found some of his material too much as well – hard to say.

Eric and I groaned a bit but like the mostly young crowd, we laughed a lot. I found myself wondering what I would say if they had an open mike. I thought of Gilbert Gottfried getting in all sorts of trouble for tsunami jokes, and all the debates about what is funny, what crosses the lines, when is too soon, etc. Clearly I can’t go to work and repeat this material to everyone, but in an evening club atmosphere, lubricated with BYOB, I did enjoy most of the jokes.

This morning I read Technology’s Man Problem in which tech developer Elissa Shevinsky took offense to her business collaborator’s amusement at Titstare:

“… things got worse. The next day, Pax Dickinson, who was her business partner in a start-up called Glimpse Labs, as well as the chief technology officer of the news site Business Insider, took to Twitter to defend the Titstare pair against accusations of misogyny. “It is not misogyny to tell a sexist joke, or to fail to take a woman seriously, or to enjoy boobies,” he wrote.”

Shevinsky quit Glimpse, but Dickinson later publicly apologized and they reconciled. Good for them, but what is the place of humor? Some comics unabashedly assert they should be able to make fun of anything. Others say you should be able to be funny without resorting to gutter language.

My own feeling is that comedy is a release for both the comic and the crowd. The comedian tries to shake us a bit; we agree to be shaken up. Maybe he won’t be funny, maybe he’ll go too far, but it is a risk worth taking and an experiment worth performing. These four guys were from a radically different background than me, and we probably disagree about some big life issues, but I still found them entertaining. Does that always translate to the world outside that room? Probably not, and with today’s ubiquitous cameras that becomes a problem, but when you sit down in that room you tacitly agree to follow the comic’s lead.

Update: Coincidentally, my coworker took her parents to see Jeanne Robertson - former beauty queen and now Christian humorist – last weekend.

Right of Way

Yesterday I rode the bike home on a cool, but clear, sunny day. Adding a front derailleur and smaller gears has taken a lot of stress off my knees as I ride the hills. I know this because I can now climb the stairs at work without grimacing. All props to Bernie at Pikesville Bikes for getting the Xootr kit to work properly.

Riding the long downhill through 25 mph residential streets on Cross-Country Boulevard towards Kelly (the intersection shown above) is exhilarating and usually uneventful. It isn’t obviously steep, but even with no pedaling gravity will pull you along faster and faster. The road is very wide with a concrete joint four to eight feet from the curb on each side. The concrete paving is smooth, then patched and bumpy, then scattered with gravel, so you don’t want to let yourself roll too fast. I ride about four feet off the curb and steer around the holes and cracks.

I passed a small car that looked ready to pull out from Sulgrave and expected it to overtake me, but I didn’t hear anything pulling up from behind. I was braking in anticipation of stopping at Kelly when I heard a car honking quite a way behind me. Turning to look when you’re braking hard is asking to vault over your handlebars, so I just ignored it, but whoever it was got right behind me and kept honking as if I was intruding on his stretch of road. Again, it is a very wide road and I was staying to the right.

I just stopped at the intersection, waited for another car to turn, ignored the honking and rode through. The honker turned right and I never bothered to look back. It was a minor irritation.

So I was amused to see the video on Gawker of a similar jerk in a big truck get his comeuppance after tailgating some woman in an SUV. SUV woman was doing fifty in the left lane of a small – and wet – two lane road, passing slower trucks in the right lane and looking to make a left turn. That didn’t suit Mr Truck Guy, who passed on the right, gave her the finger, skidded off the slick road into the median, and faces charges for leaving the scene.

Many Gawkommenters leapt to the tailgater’s defense. It seems that in the brave new libertarian America, you can’t deny anyone the freedom to go as fast as they want, whenever they want, but you can deny anyone the freedom to take their time, drive safely, be a little bit lost or maybe ride a bike to save gas and get some exercise.


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