Tue, Dec 09, 2014


• Post categories: Omni, FOSS, Rant, Technology, My Life, Helpful

That old chestnut, internet advertising. Still causing problems after all these years...

The problem is clicks. When advertisers came to the Web, they realized they could make their adverts clickable. Unfortunately, this single fact caused their brains to melt.

You see, no form of advertising ever has relied on "See ad, buy product". That is an approach that has never worked. It's well known that advertising works on a subtle, slow-and-steady approach: The first half-dozen times you see an advert, you don't even register it. Then the next half-dozen, you vaguely remember having seen it before. Then the next few times, you wonder briefly about the product. Then a few more exposures and you start to think about buying the product. A few more, and you resolve that you WILL buy the product. A few more still, and you finally take action and actually buy the product.

And that's the best-case scenario. Sure, sometimes you'll see an ad that reminds you you already meant to buy a product and you might seem to do "See ad, buy" but those are exceptional edge-cases, not brilliant advertising.

So the whole industry was based around ensuring you saw a product advertised many times, because it was repeated exposure that did the magic. And everybody knew that. A never-ending stream of subtle nudges that ultimately resulted in a purchase.

Nobody ever said "We put up a billboard by the road that says 'Buy cola!' and the drivers didn't immediately pull over and dive into a shop for a cola. Clearly, the advert has failed." That would be nonsense. Advertising doesn't work like that.

Internet advertising should have been just another form of exposure: A reminder of a product, which was linked to a site where you could buy it solely to make your life easier if this happened to be that one-in-a-hundred exposure that caused you to buy the product.

Instead, the entire industry threw out everything they knew about how adverts work, and began a years-long scream of "CLICK ON OUR FUCKING ADVERTS YOU BASTARDS!!!"

Simple text ads not getting clicked? Make them brash colours!

Still not enough clicks? Bright, flashing colours!

Still not enough? Animations! Dancing monkeys!

Still not enough? Full-on movies!

Still not enough? Movies with sound!

And so on....

And so adverts became bigger, brighter, louder, and in every way possible harder to ignore. They even over-shadowed the content people were actually trying to view. And so the ad-blocker was born - a desperation move by people who just wanted to read the content they had clicked on without seizure-inducing movies screaming at them from all sides.

I've used Abdblock Plus in my browser for years. For a while, I tried to maintain my own list of sites to be blocked, but it became harder and harder to stay on top, so ultimately I caved and signed up for the auto-updating filters it offers. And it eliminated the vast majority of obnoxious ads for me, and still allowed harmless ads through: the ones that were just simple text, or static banner.

And that was fine, and indeed still is.

But I also started using a tablet. And ads soon made their unwelcome appearance on that, too. Beyond obnoxious: Simply opening a web page sometimes saw me suddenly finding myself in the Play store being asked to okay the installation of an app. WTF?!?

Not just obnoxious, this was becoming a genuine safety hazard. Something had to be done!

And I discovered my old friend, Adblock Plus, had an Android app. Installed on a tablet you have root on (Which I do), it blocks ads not just in Firefox, but across all applications. Win!

For a while, all was well. But then a couple of problems: Firstly, ABP had a tendency to crash and need a manual restart, which was annoying. Secondly, YouTube started using HTTPS.

This is a problem, because ABP works by being a proxy, diverting all network traffic through it. This works beautifully for filtering out known advertising servers, like doubleclick. However, youtube adverts are videos. They come from youtube.com. And HTTPS obscures all details of a request other than the server: All ABP could see was "Youtube, please send me stuff" - it couldn't distinguish "Video I asked for" from "Advert I don't want"

And youtube, like most other advertising, has been getting slowly more and more intrusive. Un-skippable ads before you can watch a movie, ads that pop up in front of the movie you're watching... all the shit that makes US TV so painful to watch, ported into the web. Lovely.

Youtube was getting steadily worse; ABP couldn't help; Youtube can't realistically be boycotted; Google is only just beginning to consider a "Paid membership" option to remove adverts. What to do?

Well, when you have a technical problem, a useful approach is often to bitch about it on an IRC channel. Which I did, and as hoped, got pointed at something useful. AdAway, and YouTube AdAway.

AdAway, instead of being a proxy, simply updates your hosts file to redirect ad requests. Nice and simple. YouTube AdAway was a plugin for the Xposed framework, a handy little framework that can alter the way the system, and any installed apps, work.

So, there was a certain amount of jumping through hoops - install F-Droid to use it to get AdAway, install the Xposed Installer to get the framework to get the YouTube AdAway module...

But I got it all done, and the end result? So far, no ads in YouTube: No pre-video clips, no pop-ups during the vid. YouTube is no longer annoying.

Browsing, I have more ads than I'm used to - I've not yet done anything to customise AdAway - but less ads than I'd get with no block at all. And so far, none of the dangerous "Hey, install this app!" crap.

So I count it as a win.

A couple of other things I've picked up lately that may be of use to desktop users. Firstly, that old favourite, the video player VLC: It can open YouTube vids from the URL. If you just want to watch a movie without any ads, suggested "What to watch next" vids, etc. then this is a quick & simple way to get it.

Secondly, if you use ABP, there's also an extension that will work with it called AdNauseam - ABP simply blocks everything, AN adds a simple addition: It simulates clicking on everything blocked.

This answers two of the common objections to adblockers: "You should support sites you like by clicking on their ads!" and "I don't want my preferences to be tracked" - clicking on everything makes your preferences unknowable, costs advertisers money, and raises funds for your favoured sites.

Lastly, if you worry about how much Google knows about you, this has some links that will allow you to not only see what Google knows, but also to correct and even delete some of it.

Have fun!


Mon, Nov 03, 2014

[Icon][Icon]An experience

• Post categories: Omni, Health, Rant, Exercise, My Life, Helpful, Science:ItWorks

I don't have an addictive personality.

I can't relate to people who talk about it being hard to give things up. I once read an article about the popularity of Thai green curry, and the author (a real fan) stated that if she went too long without eating the stuff she started to get mild anxiety attacks. I can't comprehend the idea of being that attached to a food.

Or smoking: When somebody says they can't stop, I get visions of a cigarette spontaneously igniting itself, leaping into the air and forcibly jamming itself between their protesting lips. This actually makes more sense to me (on a certain level) than the idea that not doing something is somehow difficult. If you want to give up smoking, just don't put a cigarette in your mouth. Simple.

Intellectually, I understand why this isn't the case. I understand that habits are hard to break; I understand that drug addictions are hard to overcome; I understand that psychological attachments to a habit or routine can be hard to suppress. It all makes perfect logical sense. But that's the only level on which it makes sense. I understand, but can't relate.

If you don't appreciate the distinction, try this: I can understand that to a male shark, a female shark is a desirable mate. But I can't actually relate to the concept of wanting to mate with a shark :)

On the few occasions when I've had to give something up for some reason, I've never found it hard: I just stopped. Whether it was a habit like chewing nails; or a food that I had to cut out; or whatever; it just wasn't a problem.

So when I recently found myself facing the prospect of dieting, I was actually quite looking forward to it: Although it's not exactly addictive per se, food is something that it's clearly not easy to go without. And I do have a fondness for sweets and savory snacks. Here, it seemed, was my chance to experience the challenges of going without. At last, I might be able to find a way to relate to the difficulties people report.

My motivations for going on a diet in the first place were a little different than most, I should explain. I was by no means obese: I didn't expect anyone to notice any difference, and sure enough, nobody did. So what was the point? Well, having spent the last year or so working hard on overcoming the damage done by a motorbike accident followed by a car crash, I'd spent a lot of time in the gym. The enforced inactivity for months due to severe whiplash had weakened my back to the point of uselessness: Returning strength and flexibility was a slow process. One piece of advice you'll see on most fitness fora is that an important factor in building strength is fueling it: Eat plenty.

Naturally, if you eat a lot, your body will be prone to putting some of it aside as fat rather than muscle, which leads a lot of people to adopt a "bulk/cut" cycle: Eat a lot to build muscle; then cut back to burn off the fat. It's a chore, sure, but it's easier to over-eat then under-eat than it is to stay at a "sweet spot" where you're doing neither.

I'd done the "eat lots" part, and it certainly helped fuel my time at the gym. But I was starting to have difficulties here and there: A twist hold I do each morning was starting to put pressure on my gut; and I was making next to no progress with pull-ups. Since arms are nowhere near as strong as the legs, being able to use them to lift your entire body weight is quite a challenge. Although I was able to do 18 in a morning workout, I was struggling. And the main advice to make progress with pullups is to ease the burden: Reduce the bodyfat.

I was also curious to see what was involved in cutting back to fat levels that would result in visible abs - something I've never had, but aspire to someday. Probably not realistic to do it all in one go, I figured, but at least finding out what weight loss is like should give me some idea of how big a chore it would be. Starting with a bit of a belly, how far could I get towards that goal?

So I had both practical and cosmetic reasons for wanting to cut down my BF%. And I was also interested in the experience for its own sake: The understanding I hoped it would give me of what it's like to find it hard to give something up.

So I looked at my routine and my eating regime, and came up with a fairly simple plan: A very strict diet during the week, relaxed at the weekend: Since it's the only time I get to spend with my other half, the weekend tends to work out as "date night" and it would have been a major inconvenience to try and stick to a strict eating plan during it, so I didn't try.

Also, building in "cheats" to any eating plan is generally a good idea: It means you don't go through "Oh, I didn't stick to my diet" guilt. Some people might prefer one small cheat per day, but I opted to resolve to stick to a rigid plan during the week and only have the "forbidden fruits" at the weekend.

Partly that was a practical decision - it's easier to manage - and partly it was just to make it a little harder: Five days in every seven, absolutely no snacks or sweets. I'd allow sugar in my first cup of tea, and a couple of biscuits as dessert at the end of the day - that was it as far as sugary things was concerned. Savory snacks were simply not allowed. Ruling out my favorite 'sinful' foods should ensure that I'd feel the temptations that people told me made it so hard to stick to a resolution to go without.

The idea of weekends, I should clarify, was not "Yay! Splurge on everything! Nom nom nom!!!" That would have been rather counter-productive. Rather, it was to be as sensible as possible about intake without there being any rules: If I'd spent the week fancying a donut, at the weekend I could have that donut. But I would have a donut, not scarf a bagful of the things. If we went out for a meal, I'd order the BBQ ribs without a twinge of guilt. But I'd get the half rack rather than the full rack. And so on.

So I began with that plan, and four months later I decided enough was enough: The experiment was over. That was a month ago, and this is the first time I've had to write up my thoughts. First, the good:

I lost weight. Most noticeably, my belt got looser. According to the not-terribly-reliable scales, I went from a little over 100kg to a little under 90kg - I reckon I lost around 13kg all-in.

Muscle definition did indeed improve: If I stand up straight and the lighting's flattering, you can just about make out that I have abs in there somewhere.

Pull-ups got easier/better: I went from maxed-out at six sets of three to being just about able to do three sets of ten. Pushups and single-leg squats also improved noticeably.

The not-so-good:

It was boring. I mean, really boring. I'm one of those people who tends to snack when bored, and losing that option was no fun.

It was frustrating: Walking past a bakery and getting a whiff when you can't eat a damn thing they sell.. no fun!

I was hungry quite often. No surprise there, right? Never painfully "I must feed!!!" hungry, but I was very ready for food when I reached mealtime.

My stamina dropped. Mostly I didn't feel lacking in energy, but cycling up a steep hill killed me in a way it wouldn't usually.

The worst part:

It wasn't hard.

It just wasn't. I successfully lost weight just by dieting for months. Hand on heart, I didn't cheat - not so much as a crumb, not once. (About the closest I got was having to take cold medicine at one point, which technically does contain sugar..) I planned a diet, and I stuck rigidly and absolutely to it. It was no fun at all, it was frustrating and uncomfortable at times.. but it wasn't hard. The worst thing I can say about it was that it was boring. And it *did* give me an unexpected insight: I've never before understood becoming institutionalized. That does now make sense to me - it's proving really hard to get out of the "I know every meal I will eat for the next week" mindset and into "Eat whatever, whenever" mode.

It may seem odd to be disappointed that it was easy to lose weight. But I was genuinely looking forward to a new experience, something that would allow me to relate to people in a way I hadn't been able to before. And that never materialized. The cravings, the temptations, the hunger, all the things that people say make losing weight so hard.. I didn't get them. I still can't relate to the idea that it's difficult to diet off fat.

For a while, this baffled me. It seems like hunger, being a fairly primal thing, should provoke similar reactions in anyone. I'm pretty sure I'm not that much of a freak. Why was my experience so different to other people's?

And then somebody posted a link on Fitocracy which made things suddenly click into place. It was an article titled 10 mistakes women make with diets.

I can't say whether those ten points are valid - I'm not a woman. But they did help me realize that in a few ways, I really am that much of a freak. I don't watch TV: So I don't get bombarded with ads about the latest gimmicks and fads. I have a strong science background: I try to stay current on studies about exercise and nutrition.

So when I came to work out how I would eat to cut down bodyfat, I didn't use a "points" system. I didn't use an "amazing breakthrough" or "one weird trick". I didn't think it was a good idea to cut out major food groups. I didn't go into a massive calorie deficit.

When I factored in how the typical person must go about trying to lose weight, swimming in a sea of misinformation from advertisers and long-discredited yet still-believed studies.. it all came into focus. Dieting is a multi-billion dollar industry, there's no profit in teaching you how to get weight to come off & stay off. The typical dieter is unfortunately a misinformed dieter.

The misinformed dieter has some vague idea that "carbs are bad" so would try to cut out sugar and bread and fruit... which I consumed daily.

The misinformed dieter still believes that saturated fats are bad, which means "no meat or dairy". Which were my main staple foods.

The misinformed dieter thinks that the best exercise when dieting is cardio, so hits the treadmill at the gym. When I'm in the gym, I do no cardio at all: weight training burns more calories and builds more muscle which will burn even more.

For example, here's a breakdown of my last day on a diet:
06:00 Wake up, drink glass of whole milk
06:45 Cycle to work
07:30 Gym: press-ups; horizontal pulls; leg lifts; dips; stretching
09:00 Get to work, tea with two sugars & two slices of buttered white toast
10:00 Tea with no sugar
12:30 Carton of whole milk, lunchtime walk
18:00 Cycle home
19:00 Home-made chilli & couscous with olive oil, glass of whole milk, tea with two sugars, two shortbread fingers
20:00 Holds (crow stand/hollow body) & stretching

That really is everything I ate and the exercise I got. The calorie intake from food was just slightly in excess of my estimated base metabolic rate, i.e. enough to fuel a day when I did no exercise. So the time on the bike & at the gym etc. all went into generating the required calorie deficit for weight loss.

When I look at it and think "What would the misinformed dieter do from that list?" the only thing that comes to mind is "They'd use a cycle machine at the gym" - the carbs and satfats and sugar... no chance.

And yet the misinformed dieter struggles to stay on a diet, and fails to loose weight. I stuck with my diet religiously and the fat just slowly melted off.

And it really wasn't hard.

Not because I'm some superhuman dieting machine. Not because I have amazing reserves of willpower and self-restraint.

No, just because I'm lucky enough to have good sources of information that I pay attention to, instead of the attention-grabbing profit-driven bumf that the misinformed dieter is bombarded with. When I try to work out what you can eat if you believe the typical "these foods are bad" nonsense, about all I can think of is "salad" - which will give you a calorie deficit, sure enough, but it won't supply you with decent nutrition, so it'll cost you muscle mass as well as fat. Which is a Bad Thing.

So having reached the end of my first dieting experience, I can't say it's granted me the insights I was hoping it might; but it does look like I might be able to generate something useful with it even so: I figure the best thing I can do is provide some links to useful sources of information, so that maybe other people who've struggled with losing weight can find something that may help them.

Do bear in mind, I'm neither a dietician nor a qualified fitness professional. My sole claim for credibility is "I succeeded in losing some bodyfat" - Hopefully I can tell you something that will help you do the same. No guarantees, though.

First off: BMI is bullshit. Whilst it may be true that "obesity means high BMI" it's totally wrong that "high BMI means obesity" - in the same way that "tigers are big cats" is accurate but "big cats are tigers" is not. The BMI was meant for measuring populations, it has no place being used on an individual. Do not base your weight loss goal on where it puts your BMI.

Next up: There is no magic bullet or clever eating strategy that will allow you to eat as much as you like and still lose weight. Anything that promises to allow you to do so is bullshit. Eating less calories that you use up is what will work, and it will only work if you do it consistently. Feel free to look for eating plans that will make it easier to do that, by all means, but don't think that cutting out carbs/cutting out fat/eating meat, nuts, and berries/whatever will do the magic on its own. It won't.

Dairy is good for you. Cutting out eggs and butter is not a healthy choice.

Similarly, whole milk is better for losing weight than skimmed - it's a long-discredited notion that switching away from full-fat is good advice for dieters.

Cardio is not the best way to burn calories, weight lifting is. If you do only one exercise in the gym, do barbell squats. Especially if you're a woman. No, weight lifting won't make you bulky: It takes years of dedicated effort to get visibly big muscles. What it will do is strengthen your back (good for your health and helpful if you're chest-heavy); increase bone density (protecting against osteoporosis); and build your thigh and gluteal muscles, countering the long hours of sitting modern life tends to bring. And since it uses all the biggest muscles in the body (the leg and back muscles) it burns calories like crazy. I thoroughly recommend Starting Strength to learn how and why to lift. If you'd prefer a useful free resource, Reddit's Fitness sub has a detailed FAQ. (Kettlebell swings are another good way to burn calories and undo the effects of prolonged sitting, if you really can't face barbells)

Be very skeptical of supplements: Antioxidants have been linked to increased cancer risk; multivitamins give no benefit if you've got a healthy diet; loading up on protein won't build muscle faster; and in quite a few countries, supplements are almost entirely unregulated and can make any promises they like. Absolutely do not rely on "everybody knows" or "I saw on TV" - the amount of bad information out there is staggering.

Because, in the end, there's no money to be made out of healthy people who are happy with their body. The dieting industry wants to make sure you spend your life on a diet that they're selling you. Even the people who run gyms don't believe they're effective. Billions is spent every year on selling you the dream of the body you always wanted whilst making sure you either won't get it, or won't keep it.

Screw that.

The knowledge is out there. Find it, use it. Weight loss isn't complicated. Fitness isn't for an elite few. If you want to change your body, all it takes is persistence.

Good luck!


Mon, Oct 20, 2014

[Icon][Icon]The right to be forgotten

• Post categories: Omni, Rant, In The News, Technology

tl;dr: The right to be forgotten means that if John Smith gets a page removed from Google, it is only removed from searches for "John Smith" - it remains findable from any other search

I'm so sick of the "Right to be forgotten" ruling being misrepresented by journalists.

For anyone who didn't hear about it: an EU court ruled that Google (and others) must remove links to stories about people that contain outdated or incorrect information.

A simple example of why this is needed: John Smith gets taken to court and convicted of a crime. This makes headlines. He then appeals, and the conviction is quashed: He is found innocent. This doesn't make headlines.

Somebody googles "John Smith" and the first result is a link saying he was convicted of a crime.

It's not hard to see how this could have negative repercussions on a person. So the EU court ruled that in such circumstances, Google (et al) must remove the links from their search.

The two big lies that we keep being force-fed by the news services are:

  • Google is now obliged to remove any links that people don't like - e.g. if John Smith's conviction never got overturned in the above example, he could still get it removed so nobody knows about it. This isn't true: Information has to be irrelevant or inaccurate, and Google is entirely at liberty to refuse the request until a court insists that the link must be removed.
  • Far more importantly: Even if Google decides the request is valid and removes it, this does not cause the link to be removed from Google's results.

That might seem contradictory, but it's very simple: What Google has been obliged to do is remove the specified links from the results for a search for the person, not to remove them entirely.

To go back to our imaginary "John Smith", it means that if you google for the search term "John Smith", you will no longer get the page referring to his court conviction in the results. If, however, you do any other search that would turn up that page, such as maybe "man convicted of crime", then it will still turn up as always.

I'm so utterly sick of articles like this framing the matter as "Google cast me into oblivion", or claiming that pages "will no longer be findable when searching on Google in Europe."

Bullshit. It's a total lie. Prove it for yourself: Click on the link that it claims has been "cast into oblivion" and you'll find it's a page with the headline "Merrill's Mess"

Put those two words into a Google search, and what is the first result? A link to the fucking article that he claims has been erased from Google.

The right to be forgotten has not erased one single page from Google. It has not removed a single thing from the Internet's "memory". It does not allow terrorists, corrupt politicians, paedophiles, or any of the other "usual suspects" trotted out in these stories, to cleanup their past by removing any links to pages that say bad things about them. The pages are still there, still linked, and still findable. And Google should only be reacting to "right to be forgotten" requests that meet the criteria of the court. So a corrupt politician who's still in office, a criminal whose conviction was never quashed, etc. etc. - they don't have any standing to have their links removed.

If you're going to have an opinion on the "right to be forgotten", at least make sure you're basing on what it actually entails, instead of the "argh, mass-censorship!" bullshit that some journalists are trying to make you think it is.

Because I'm sick of this shit.

Thank you.


Wed, Sep 24, 2014

[Icon][Icon]A year of Convict Conditioning

• Post categories: Omni, Health, Exercise, My Life, Helpful

In September last year, I began a new chapter in the gym. After six months of Starting Strength, followed by a few months of just working on mobility courtesy of Supple Leopard, I began a regime based on a new book. I don't remember where I first came across it - an Amazon recommendation seems likeliest. But wherever it came from, I quite liked a lot of what was in Convict Conditioning.

A brief segue into the book's name: The author claims he began to learn about calisthenics whilst in jail. Some people claim this is a myth just to hype up the book. I can't see their point, tbh: If it were "Convict Combat" I'd see where the macho "surviving high-security jail" image could help. But how many people looking for bodyweight workout info are going to be lured by the jail aspect? I tend to believe Wade has genuinely been in jail. If he hasn't, it's frankly irrelevant to the subject of the book - it neither glorifies jail nor really relies on it for its content.

So, for those who aren't familiar with it: CC is a series of progressions to take you from completely unfit to mastery of six bodyweight moves, namely:

  1. Pushups
  2. Pullups
  3. Squats
  4. Leg raises
  5. Back bridge
  6. Handstands

Typically, step 5 is the 'normal' step that people assume you mean by default: A two-handed pushup; a squat with feet shoulder-width apart; lying on the floor and lifting straight legs to 90 degrees, etc. Step 10 is a far harder version: A one-handed push-up; a one-legged squat; lifting your legs parallel to the floor whilst hanging from a bar. etc.

Because step 1 is intended to be easy enough that literally anyone can do it, you'll find a lot of people online asking if they can skip the early steps and get straight onto the harder ones. And no shortage of people replying "Sure you can. And do less reps than the book recommends, too." There is some validity to the claim that CC's advice will see you progress substantially slower than most other guides to building strength. However, it's also notable that despite the large number of people advocating skipping steps & reps; I've yet to encounter one of them that can actually do the master steps. The few people who you encounter online that demonstrably can tend to be fans of the CC approach. Such as the Kavadlo brothers, who are calisthenics teachers themselves and such fans of CC that they posed for a lot of the photos in the sequel.

My personal view is that, however certain you are that you could ace the early steps, don't just skip them: Even if you only do it once, to prove that you can, begin at step one and do the full reps & sets. And pay close attention as you do them, and be brutally honest with yourself. If you can do them easily, and perfectly, right up to the progression level, then good for you! Move onto the next step, and repeat the process.

But if you get aches or twinges, or sore muscles the next day, or you get tired before you meet the required volume, or if you just can't truthfully say "I am as good as it's possible to get with this step", then stick with it, however easy it may seem, until you can.

Myself, I began with step 1 across the board, and stayed with it for a month, as the book recommended. And yes, I found it hard to resist skipping ahead - On SS I'd been squatting with a 100kg barbell, FFS, and now I was supposed to do shoulderstand squats? That's not even a joke, it's an insult!

But funnily enough, doing those laughably easy steps for all those reps for all that time, I actually found & fixed a whole bunch of little problems with my form. And a lot of the little aches and pains (of which I had many, courtesy of my girlfriend's car losing a fight with a tree in 2011) began to fade.

So if I were to suddenly wake up and find myself a year or more in the past, knowing everything I do now, I would still do CC, and I'd still begin at step one. It's slow, often boring, and sometimes frustrating, to hold yourself back. But it has many benefits, that shouldn't be overlooked:

  • The average person, even the average gym-goer, is starved of motion, to the point it causes real problems with health and mobility. Kelly Starrett, Pete Egoscue, Ido Portal are three experts who go into far more depth on that subject than I can, there are plenty of others. Starting out with low-stress, high-rep workouts and progressing slowly begins to fix this.
  • It's well known that big muscles can grow faster than small ones: This is why SS, for example, tells you to expect the weight you can squat to go up a lot faster than your overhead press: Leg and back muscles are bigger and will adapt faster than the arm muscles. But it's often then ignored that in any movement, the bulk of the work is done by big muscles, but balance and stability is done by far smaller muscles which cannot adapt as fast.

    E.g. when you squat, you use great big muscles like the quads and calves, attached to great big levers like the femur; but you're kept from falling flat on your face by the far smaller muscles in your feet, attached to the far smaller bones. Constantly pushing to the limits of the big strong muscles without giving the little ones time to catch up is a recipe for poor form and strain on the joints later - and if there's one thing I've noticed in conversations with people who lift regularly, it's that damn near all of them have joint pain and a record of nasty injuries. In the year I've been doing CC, most of my aches & pains have simply gone away - I'm feeling better than ever, I never have to ask if I should take a break from workouts to allow time to heal.
  • Many people have tried and failed to stick to an exercise program before. Many have despaired of ever being able to get fit. By placing the bar so low at the start, and encouraging a slow but steady approach to progressing, CC ensures that you build a habit of succeeding and progressing. It's better for somebody to take a year to build up to doing a pushup and then continue to progress than it is for them to do pushups for a month, get stuck on the next step, and give up completely within six weeks.
  • Insisting on getting a step perfect before you move on means you fix a lot of problems before you ever hit them. I spent MONTHS at the progression level for uneven squats (the one with the ball) because I wasn't happy with my form. When I finally nailed it and moved on, I immediately realized I'd have found the next steps impossible if I hadn't fixed my 'tiny' balance problems first: Without mastering the early step, I'd have stalled completely on the later.
  • What's the big damn rush anyway? Maybe you could reach all the master steps way quicker by skipping steps, but so what? Sooner or later, if you stick with training, you will eventually get as strong as you'll ever be. And from there, it'll be downhill all the way: At best, you'll stay static, at worst you'll get weaker and weaker as you age. Why rush through the best part, the stage where you get better every workout, just so you can spend more time hoping you won't be any worse than last time? Better to spend the rest of your life getting a little stronger every day than give up on training and spiral into decline because you peaked too soon and can't motivate yourself to keep training any more.

Rant over. But hey, this is supposed to be a post about my thoughts on CC after a year, and the rate of progression is something that gets raised often in discussions.

So, given the deliberately slow pace advocated by CC and taken to heart by me, where am I after a year?

Well, I can do sets of 20 pushups. I can do sets of 10 pullups. I can do pistol squats and bridge holds. I can do hanging bent leg raises and tucked L-sits. I can do a crow stand but I'm not as stable as I'd like at them yet. I'm still making steady progress on every move with every gym visit. I've lost a chunk of bodyfat, built a noticeable amount of muscle, increased my flexibility, and largely cured my chronic pain problems. My posture has improved significantly - my anterior pelvic tilt is almost gone, I don't get headaches from neck/shoulder tension any more, and sometimes I don't even snore at night any more!

[One year in]

The observant and knowledgeable amongst you will have noticed L-sits in that list, despite them not being in the CC book. They're in the sequel, CC2 (which is also an excellent book) as part of a set of three holds called the Trifecta. Which is a very worthwhile set to know about: I can do the master step for twists and bridges, L-sits are lagging but I'll get there.

In short, then, I've benefited a great deal from CC. For one thing, I've stuck with it and enjoyed it for over a year. I go to the gym every weekday morning before work and I resent the odd occasion when I'm not able to do so. I haven't stuck religiously to the CC progressions - half-moves in particular don't work for me: The half-pistols and half-pullups feel like they do more harm than good - and I've added in a few other moves, like horizontal pulls and dips. CC isn't the be-all and end-all, but it's a good place to start: It's simple, engaging, and even if you grow out of it, it's still liable to kindle an interest in calisthenics that will serve you well.

Wade's other books (CC2 and C-Mass) are also worthwhile reads, and if I can find the time and the money, I'd definitely be up for one of the rare UK PCC courses.

As for the DYEL brigade who much prefer barbells to bodyweight: I switched to CC from SS. It was a good choice for me, because my motorbike- and car-crash-ruined posture benefits significantly from calisthenics. That doesn't mean I have a downer on SS - I would (and do) cheerfully recommend it to anybody who wants to lift weights or build strength. I may well mix barbell work back into my workouts in future - I occasionally miss deadlifts in particular. I think a lot of lifters could benefit from mixing in some calisthenics, too. YMMV, but for me, CC is a better choice than SS.

I have every intention of sticking with it and reaching the master steps for the Big Six, along with a few others like the press flag. I should have a good year or two to go before I run out of moves from the CC stuff alone. God knows what I'll move onto after that. I'm sure I'll find something, tho :)


Mon, Jun 09, 2014

[Icon][Icon]For the sin of moving & editing in one commit

• Post categories: Omni, Technology, Programming, Helpful

A good rule of thumb for version control is to have each commit reflect a single operation. Nowhere is the failure to adhere to this rule more annoying than when somebody moves a block of code *and* edits it in a single commit: The move makes the whole block show in the diff, so you can't see the small edit as well.

That is:

$ cat <<EOF> oldfile
heredoc> one
heredoc> two
heredoc> three
heredoc> four
heredoc> five
heredoc> six
heredoc> seven
heredoc> eight
heredoc> EOF

git add oldfile; git commit

$ git mv oldfile newfile
$ vi newfile
$ git diff
diff --git newfile newfile
index b00a0f1..9e9d5bf 100644
--- newfile
+++ newfile
@@ -1,7 +1,6 @@

$ git add newfile
$ git commit

We now have this diff for our commit:
new file mode 100644
index 0000000..9e9d5bf
--- /dev/null
+++ newfile
@@ -0,0 +1,7 @@
diff --git oldfile oldfile
deleted file mode 100644
index b00a0f1..0000000
--- oldfile
+++ /dev/null
@@ -1,8 +0,0 @@

and it's not easy to see from this that when moving the file, we also deleted a line.

What we need to be able to do is compare the oldfile and the newfile. We need a function that will take:
$ git-compare [branch/sha/tag/whatever] [oldfile] [newfile]
and DTRT.

So here's the simplest way I could think of to do it, which should work in bash or zsh:
git-compare () {
diff -u <(git show $1^:$2) <(git show $1:$3)

Which gives us:
$ git-compare master oldfile newfile
--- /proc/self/fd/12 2014-06-09 11:58:01.442468718 +0100
+++ /proc/self/fd/14 2014-06-09 11:58:01.442468718 +0100
@@ -1,7 +1,6 @@

which shows us what we want to know: Somebody did indeed move AND edit the file. The monster!


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