Friday Fitness Notes

Swimming. My freestyle has always been, shall we say, slipshod. My nieces have yelled hurtful things at me, Coach Smith has barked at me from the deck and gestured wildly. All to no avail. Then I watched this underwater freestyle pull video and something clicked. Thanks to Gary Hall Sr. I’ve been dropping time in my twice weekly naked (no pull buoy or paddles) 1,000 yard swims. Probably too late for London though. Typical April 2011 workout—1,000 free; 400 kick; 400 drill; 12×100 IM every third free (yikes, this week on a very leisurely 2:00), 500 free paddles/buoy.

Running. Those Boston times were obscene. I disagree with the experts on the inevitability of a sub 2:00 marathon. Dropping another 183 seconds is going to be excruciatingly difficult. I just don’t think the pace of improvement over the last decade is sustainable. I’m going to go so far as to say I will not live long enough to see a sub2. I’m running about 30 miles a week. Enjoying the morning light which means more trails. Here’s a picture of my “best listener” running partner after the “paw wipe-down” and in the middle of the morning chore.

The labradude earning his keep

Cycling. Three very fast training rides with the local team recently. Road strong and held on for the first two and got dropped early on the third this week. No excuse, just got caught sleeping and when the gap formed, I didn’t have enough snap to close it. The Costco potato chip/swiss cheese pre-ride snack probably didn’t help. Then I made the mistake of flipping through my April 2010 log and found out I’m not ahead of schedule, I’m behind. It’s looking like I’ll log somewhere around 400 miles this month. I suppose I could use the weather as an excuse, but I’m already forming a fair weather reputation. DG pulled up next to me shortly before I was dropped Tuesday night and chided, “Kinda iffy weather for you isn’t it?” The good news is I’m in RAMROD, as is Supplement, Lance, and DG. This is where I might write that it will no doubt be the summer highlight, that is, if my 25th wedding anniversary wasn’t this summer.

In related news, I watched Ironman NZ while cycling indoors earlier in the week. Make that Nutrigrain Ironman NZ. Forced advertising on swim caps and elsewhere. I know resistance is futile, but for me at least, it takes away from the whole event. As if the participants aren’t paying enough already. My family gets tired of me watching Ironman races on Universal Sports (greatest channel ever, even better than Oxygen) and Lance regularly rips me for not toeing the line. Maybe I’d swim 3,800 meters, then cycle 180 kilometers (the metric is just to ruffle Lance’s American sensibilities), and then run a marathon if I could find a low-key, non-descript, non-commercial race setting.

I know what you’re thinking. “What’s stopping you from swimming 3,800 meters in Ward Lake, cycling 180k all over Thurston and Lewis counties, and the running out to BHarbor and back?” When it comes to avoiding Ironman, I always have an answer. When I beat my brother’s and Lance’s studly Ironman Canada times, they’ll both say my time isn’t official.

Green Tour 11

Last April the GalPal and I thoroughly enjoyed Olympia’s first Green Tour of 7-8 environmentally advanced homes. Two weekends ago we went on the second annual tour which had 20 homes and businesses available for people to visit. Last year the tour highlights took one afternoon, this year we spent the better part of both Saturday and Sunday visiting probably ten homes.

The extra-personable designers and builders use the tour to educate people and of course network in the hope of drumming up business in an obviously dismal housing market. Sometimes we’d look at a house for fifteen minutes and then spend another forty-five talking to the designer or builder.

We were especially impressed with the work of a young female architect who has designed Olympia’s and Washington State’s first passive homes. Here’s her company. I can be as skeptical as they come when presented with trendy buzzwords like “green,” “sustainable development,” “and eco-friendly,” but I’m convinced that when it comes to energy efficient home building there’s at least as much fire as heat (pun intended) and substance as style.

The one downer of the tour was visiting the “Jewelbox“, an 1,100 square foot passive home (excluding the separate state of the art art studio/shop) with an incredible 270 degree view of the Puget Sound just two miles from downtown. As the GalPal and I walked down the tree-lined street towards the “Box” and the Puget Sound, we realized it was on a property a friend had tipped us to two years ago before it went on the market.

We looked at it and loved the location, but passed because we thought it was overpriced and we couldn’t get past the decrepit house that would need to be knocked down. The furniture maker/sculptor owner found it on craigslist. He said the day he visited it the owners dropped the price 100k and eventually accepted his offer that was another 100k less. I’m glad I resisted punching him because he couldn’t have been a cooler, more soft-spoken, down to earth dude. I’m fascinated by the way many artists can envision things that I can’t. Sometimes landscaping, decorating, housing design vision is just built-in.

In the last year, the greenest U.S. designers and builders have taken a great leap forward. If your house is even two or three years old there’s a good chance it doesn’t capitalize on many of the most recent advances.

Granted, the science is interesting, but I’m more interested in the economics and the politics. In Europe, passive homes add about 7-8% to the cost of building a traditional home of equal size. In the U.S., because most of the wall and window materials have to be imported, it’s more like 15%. That 7-8% gap will no doubt slowly close as North American demand picks up. Once completed, a passive home’s utility costs are about 10% of normal. I’ve looked at computer models that suggest the pay-back period is approximately ten years. One 2,400 square foot home used a 1,000 watt b.t.u. air blower (less than a blow dryer) to heat the whole house.

Even with padding and rugs, the concrete floors would probably take some getting used to, and the outdoor siding is quite rough and different looking. No doubt you and I will adjust to those differences in short order as we become more familiar with them. More generally, the aesthetics of the kitchens, bathrooms, and other parts of the homes can be exceedingly nice.

I know not everyone can afford a stand-alone home and very few will ever be able to afford “overpaying” up front in anticipation of future savings. But for the economically most fortunate, the economic calculation is the same one I did with paper and pencil five years ago when deciding to buy a slightly more expensive hybrid car. I thought it would take 7-9 years to begin saving money on my car, but we’ve chosen to drive it more than expected and with a higher average cost of gas than I conservatively estimated, it’s only taken five years to reach the break-even point.

Now every time I fill up for $40 (based on about 46mpg), I think I just saved myself $40 more (based on 23mpg). Here’s another interesting example of the same concept. The analogy works even in the sense that I received a federal tax break for my hybrid car purchase because there are many rebate type incentives in place for things like solar energy (in that case, for nine more years apparently).

I’m thinking seriously about building a passive home, or more accurately, sitting passively while the home of the future is built for me.

The Subtleties of Privilege

I’ve been teaching first year college writing seminars since my oldest daughter was knee high. Now that she’s a first year college student herself I sporadically think about her when interacting with my students. Sometimes I imagine her sitting around our seminar table. What kind of discussant would she be? Would she tune in or go through the motions? Be bold enough to come to office hours? Appreciate my killer sense of humor? How would her writing compare to theirs?

Most recently I’ve been thinking about how her college experience compares to theirs. Her family is flawed, but more stable and secure than average. As a result, her life is more simple than some of my students’ lives, one who has missed a few classes as a result of “family business emergencies” and another who disappeared for a week and a half because of serious domestic problems. She doesn’t know it, but her comparatively uncluttered mind is a subtle, but significant form of privilege. When it comes to her homebase, she doesn’t have to worry about substance abuse, abusive behavior, violence, estrangement, or divorce. Consequently, in class, at swim practice, hanging with friends late at night, she has no excuse not to be fully in the moment.

When it comes to her family, my guess is that most of the time her orientation is “out of sight, out of mind”. We’re social media luddites meaning we don’t exchange a constant stream of text-messages. Alright I confess, we don’t exchange texts at all. However, we do enjoy Sunday night skyping. Last Sunday though, she texted younger sissy and said she was hosting a prospective student so now we’ve gone a week and half with zero contact. Not complaining, just illustrating how relaxed she is about her distant family’s well-being.

Maybe the most challenging aspect of parenting is striking the best balance between providing your children a stable and secure foundation while simultaneously giving them increasingly challenging responsibilities that prepare them for independence and adulthood. Provide the former without the later and you run the risk of children developing a debilitating sense of entitlement. Provide the later without the former and odds are the increasingly challenging responsibilities will prove overwhelming.

I worry that some of my students may not persist to graduation because their chaotic family lives will prevent them from attending class regularly and they may not roll up their sleeves and strengthen their basic skills enough to earn passing grades in increasingly difficult courses.

And I worry my daughter may not fully realize the extent of her privilege.

A Cry for Help

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll recall a confession I made a month or two ago—I’m more handsome than handy. As a result, once a year, the GalPal hires a handyman or should I say “person” to caulk, replace the carpet on the garage steps, fix faucets, and other things that I should probably know how to do.

But I’ve always been mechanically challenged and no one ever taught me how to replace or fix carpet or faucets. My “tool chest” is unbelievably bad. So once a year I suck it up and make out a $300 check to some manly man who spends five hours doing what would take me five weeks. Good for the economy right?

The GalPal upped the ante recently when she came home from church with the “great” news that she met a handywoman who was just starting up her business. “I want to give her a try.” Damn, what if her van is parked in the driveway when the boys drive by? Screw the Neanderthrals, good for gender relations right?

If only I was that evolved. Truth be told, one of two things has to happen. She has to switch to a nondescript van or my hyper handy brother-in-law has to move from Indiana to Washington so he can chip away at my “Honey do” list throughout the year, thus sparing me more Handywoman humiliation. My b-i-l, let’s just call him Bil, is known among his four adult children as “The Smartest Man in the World.” Not just the smartest, also the handiest and funniest. I’m beggin’ ya Bil.

Like all of us, Bil is fallible. His one flaw is a doozy too. He lives several states and thousands of miles from his only grandchild, see below in full dog regalia, my godchild. The inhumanity! It’s high time he pack up his fishing poles, rifles, Pittsburgh Stealer jerseys, wife, and head due west. If Olympia is too dark, gray, and wet for six months of the year, what about Wenatchee, which is convienently half way between here and Missoula, MT, home of flappy eared grandchild.

The outcome? He sees his grandson every few months, he sees us a few times a year, he makes the Handywoman redundant. A distinct win-win for family and my ego.

Postscript. I recently installed a new toilet. Well, truth be told, I watched my friend next door instal our new toilet. To his astonishment I had removed the original before he arrived. Him, where is it? Me, recycled downtown at Habit for Humanity. Him, didn’t know you had it in you. Wish you had saved the hardware. Me, breaking down things and demolition have never been the problem, it’s the putting back together where I suck.

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It Gets Better Project

Timely, important, moving, potentially life saving website, book, videos and more based on a pledge—Everyone deserves to be respected for who they are. I pledge to spread this message to my friends, family and neighbors. I’ll speak up against hate and intolerance whenever I see it, at school and at work. I’ll provide hope for lesbian, gay, bi, trans and other bullied teens by letting them know that “It Gets Better.”

And although the week is only half-over, I’m going out on the limb and anointing this semi-related (connect the dots yourself) post by Alex Tabarrok, Do Cellphones Cause Brain Damage? POW-status (Post of the Week).

And this Jerry Seinfeld Royal Wedding gem the QOW (Quote of the Week).

“You know, it’s dress-up. It’s a classic English thing of let’s play dress-up. Let’s pretend that these are special people. OK, we’ll all pretend that—that’s what theater is. That’s why the British have the greatest theater in the world. They love to dress upand they love to play pretend. And that’s what the royal family is—it’s a huge game of pretend. These aren’t special people—it’s fake outfits, fake phony hats and gowns.”

And this Sudhir Venkatesh’s Slate magazine semi-related piece (again, connect the dots yourself), “What Is the Matter with Sociology?” the BESS award—Best Essay on the State of Sociology of the week.

And at the risk of starting a ROW, I anoint you Reader of the Week.

Is Online Learning A Good or Bad Thing?

I know you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, but is the steadily increasing popularity of on-line learning a good or bad thing?

Depends. If all one wants students to do is recall mostly factual information on mostly objective exams, online learning makes a lot more sense than everyone meeting at brick and mortar locations at the same time.

But if it’s important that students learn to think critically, analyze content, and show empathy for others or develop greater self-understanding, a social conscience and interpersonal skills, it’s problematic because those skills tend to require “thinking out loud” side-by-side, asking questions, debating case studies, listening, problem-solving, and in the end, constructing knowledge together.

Then again, it’s probably just a matter of time until on-line instructional software incorporates group video conferencing and other related features that will make all of those more interpersonal aims equally achievable on-line.

Until then I confess to getting more than a little queazy when applicants to the Masters teaching certificate program I coordinate inform me they attended on-line universities. “Is that going to be a problem?” Inner voice, “Hell yeah!” Apart from counseling and diplomacy, I can’t think of any more intensely interpersonal profession than teaching.

I want prospective teachers to be subject-matter experts—which means knowing the elementary curriculum AND eight year olds inside and out or 9th grade physical science AND adolescents. I also know that their success as teachers will hinge as much or more on their ability to get along with students’ families and their fellow teachers and administrators more than their undergraduate grades or teaching licensure test scores. When it comes to adults getting along with one another, every school is dysfunctional, just in different ways and in different degrees.

Isn’t most contemporary work similarly interpersonal? And shouldn’t education be about citizenship as much as it is employment? And doesn’t effective citizenship require well developed interpersonal skills?

Maybe the better, more specific question is what distinguishes good online programs from bad ones? My guess is the best online programs are hybrids that require students to combine their online learning with weekly or monthly face-to-face teaching and learning experiences on brick and mortar campuses.

Palm Springs Retrospective

Managed to earn points while sharing a one bedroom, one bath timeshare with the in-laws for four days in Palm Springs last week. Something about my “unusual patience” and “good humor”.

In-law humor can be kinda delicate, but I have to admit, I was pretty funny. My sense of humor is a barometer of my level of stress and my connection to the peeps I’m with. The greater the inner calm, the deeper the connection, the funnier.

Sunshine and warm temps were a highlight. It was bizzare walking off the plane after 41 straight days of rain into the sun-drenched semi-opened airport. Thought the GalPal was going to pull a Pope, get on all fours, and kiss the ground.

In four days, I worked out for 45 minutes. Went for a run one morning. Ran through the development, down to Dinah Shore, into Patriots Park, around the high school, to Mission Hills, and back. Ran and ran and ran some more. Thought to myself, that had to be a solid 7.5-8 miles. Pulled the GPS out of my shorts pocket, 5.75 miles. Chalk it up to warmer temps and no teammates.

Playing golf with my father-in-law was a highlight. I negative split both rounds, 46-40-86 and 50-38-88. Easy, shortish, 6,100 yard courses rated 69.5. As expected I have no touch, but I somehow finished round one off with two birds for the first time ever. Round two was a par 35-37, so I had a 12 footer to play the back nine in level par as the Brit’s say. Channeled my inner-Schwartzel and hit the hole, but it lipped out. Renting clubs was an interesting experience because they were nicer than my sticks. It has been twenty years or so, so maybe I should upgrade before Senior Tour qualifying school next year.

The California strawberries and Salmon Farfalle at a restaurant whose name I can’t remember were off the hook.

Enjoyed a grande green tea latte non-fat extra hot (that was for my sissy who probably quit reading a few pgraphs ago because of the self indulgent nature of this post) at a swanky hotel with a lake in it. While there, we saw a bikini clad women walk smack dap into the middle of a business attire happy hour.  The GalPal declared, “Sex worker.” Who knew she possessed that type of radar? So of course the rest of the afternoon, whenever I spotted a scantily clad woman, I had to ask, “Sex worker?”

Taking the tram up to the top of Mt. San Jacinto was a highlight. The GalPal is injured so instead of hiking we found a big rock in the sun, grooved on the cool temp, meditated on our surroundings, and had a nice talk. We didn’t plan well, only having two apples in one backpack. Make that one after the GalPal watched hers bounce down the side of the mountain. I had to make a tough call, could I rescue the runaway apple without expending more calories than contained within the apple. I rolled the dice, hunted all over the hillside, and finally tracked it down. Bruised, but still edible.

The one lowlight was the 40+mph winds on our final day. Let’s just say our take-off was NOT fun. All I could think was “I’ve probably flown more miles than 90% of the people on this plane, but I’m still more scared than 90% of them.” One would think the more you fly, the more you get used to turbulence. Not me. I sacrificed all of the points I had earned over the four days in about four minutes. Certain my life was about to end, instead of thinking about my lovely wife and wonderful daughters, I thought I may never get a chance to hone my short game and turn my 86 and 88 into 76′s and 78′s. How tragic that would be.

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Teach Friendship

Most friendships just evolve. Our closest friends typically end up being people with whom we share a common activity or interest. In terms of living emotionally healthy, constructive, fulfilling lives, nothing matters much more than who we become friends with and whether they inspire us to be better or worse people than we would be without them.

Because we aren’t as intentional as we might be about our friendships, we assume the young people we have responsibility for will just “find their way”. Experience is a great teacher, but parents, teachers, coaches, youth pastors, and other adults that regularly work with young people should explicitly teach friendship. Choosing friends that inspire is a learned skill. Just hope that those types of friendships naturally evolve at your children’s and your own risk.

Those were my thoughts while reading a nice one-pager by KJ Fields titled “How to spot an unhealthy relationship” in Group Health’s Spring 2011 NWHealth magazine. Thanks to Fields for providing a tool for teaching friendship. These are signs that a relationship may be bad for you:

  • You don’t feel respected or listened to.
  • The other person’s opinion is always the one that matters most.
  • Your feelings are belittled.
  • You act differently around this person, fearing disapproval or anger.
  • You feel worried and tense about the relationship, rather than enjoying it.
  • You’re always the one to make the effort or compromise.
  • Your values and beliefs are far apart.
  • The other person is overly critical of you, and frequently insults you.
  • You find yourself lying to hide information from the other person.

That’s a nice conceptual framework for dinner table, school, or youth group conversations with adolescents especially about peer relations in general and dating relationships more specifically.

In Praise of Anonymous Giving

We’re living in the Age of Self Promotion. That’s why this recent headline, “Secret Admirers Give University $100m,” is so refreshing. Thank you to the anonymous “Kalamazoo Promise” donors.

The magnitude and non-Ivy League nature of their generosity are both inspiring, but their counter-cultural selflessness even more so. Appears as if the donors were honest about a few strings or conditions that accompanied their gift. “If you accept this gift, you can’t name the medical school after us, you can’t allow us to influence your construction and operation of the medical school, and you can never reveal our identities to anyone.”

Save or Spend?

There are three types of people in the material world: savers; spenders; and somewhere, someone, who perfectly balances the two. Too bad young lovers rarely get around to asking, “Saver or spender?” because mismatched partners no doubt deal with more than normal stress and conflict.

A consummate saver, I’m a distinct minority. News outlets have been churning out report after report about Baby Boomers not having saved nearly enough for their impending retirements. Look for older and older employees in the workforce.

Recently, a Wall Street Journal writer (article link—Want to Retire Wealthier?) asked, “Why is it so difficult for people to set aside money for the long-term future?”

Then answered, “Low earnings and high temptations are obvious reasons. But perhaps the most basic cause is a fundamental human frailty: We view our future selves as strangers.”

The intriguing article continued:

Estimating with any precision what you will want 30 or 40 years from now is almost impossible. You don’t know your future desires, because you don’t know your future self. What will you want or need when you are 65 or 70 or 80 or older? Who knows?

Viewed this way, it isn’t surprising that the young typically don’t want to save for their retirement, since that stage of life feels as if it will be lived by someone else. And when you save money today on behalf of your remote future self, you deprive your immediate present self of cash you could use right now.

Of course, if you spend tomorrow’s savings today, you won’t have cash when you need it in the future—but that day of reckoning is decades off. That is true for those of all ages, but the lost opportunity is greatest for young people, because money set aside at an early age has more years to grow.

Yet it is highly unusual for people to think more vividly about their future selves than about their present selves, say psychologists.

The project underway at Stanford seeks to close this gap between the present self and the future self, without turning young people into misers. By enabling the young to see themselves as they will be when they are old, virtual-reality technology can transform their urge to spend for today into a willingness to save for tomorrow.

Interesting finding. Pictures of people’s future elder selves inspire them to save more.

Reminds me of the “marshmellow study” described here.

In that study, researchers learned that young children who couldn’t wait to eat one marshmellow (“low delayers”) and thereby sacrificed receiving a second one, seemed more likely to have behavioral problems, both in school and at home. They got lower S.A.T. scores. They struggled in stressful situations, often had trouble paying attention, and found it difficult to maintain friendships. The child who could wait fifteen minutes for a second marshmellow had an S.A.T. score that was, on average, two hundred and ten points higher than that of the kid who could wait only thirty seconds.

You and I know S.A.T scores are inconsequential in the bigger picture, but it’s hard to underestimate the importance of delaying gratification.

I wonder, what’s the secret to striking the best possible saving-spending balance? Put differently, how should one balance living in the present on one hand and in the probable future on the other? And if virtual-reality technology holds promise for helping spenders save more, what might help hyper-savers strike a better balance?