Tuesday, 21 July 2015

A GTD secret in Microsoft Outlook

Every once in a while, my email processing goes completely off the rails and my inbox runs into hundreds (if not thousands) of unprocessed emails.  Here's a handy setting in MS Outlook that lets me go super ninja when dealing with an overflowing inbox.

Go to Outlook Options --> Mail --> Others and look for the option After moving or deleting an open item

Setting this option to "Open the next item" forces one to deal with the next item in my inbox as soon as the current item is dealt with.  

This tip works very well if you have a bunch of Quick Steps defined that take care of your most common actions.

Happy GTDing!

Monday, 20 July 2015

Simplify the Facebook newsfeed (and regain some sanity)

There are a number of articles about how Facebook can cause or worsen depression.  
I can relate to some of these symptoms firsthand, and believe that there is a large dose of truth to what the above articles say.  And I am guilty of having way too many Facebook friends.  My friends' list is 800 people long not because I know all of them intimately, but because I was trying to be polite.  I didn't want to offend them by declining their friends' request.

So here's a fix I have been implementing on my Facebook news feed:

Here's my rationale: I am not interested in the lives of all the 800 odd people on my friends' list.  And unfollowing people is the one way to deal with the astounding amounts of clutter my newsfeed was serving me every time I log in.  

Yes, I am still following the absolute barest set of people whom I truly care about, or whose posts I find inspirational.  And my newsfeed is now a bit sane.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Disabled and Differently-abled

Are we taking political correctness to extremes these days?  I especially noticed this during the recent newspaper articles about Ira Singhal, the candidate who topped the latest UPSC exams.  Ira Singhal suffers from scoliosis, an abnormal curvature of the spine. Some news articles were calling her "differently-abled" instead of "disabled", presumably for the sake of political correctness. 

Why is "disabled" considered a negative word? It really shouldn't, should it? It is a fairly objective word to describe that a specific human body is not capable of what might be considered ordinary by others.

Yeah, someone might argue that she topped the UPSC this year, and that is her different ability. But hey, so did some non-handicapped person last year - his name was Gaurav Agarwal. The media weren't calling him differently-abled now, were they?
I don't intend to sound judgmental against Ira Singhal, but from what I have read about her, there is nothing differently abled about her. She is a really smart person who happens to have a sub-optimal curvature of the spine. If the word "disabled" is the official Oxford Dictionary term used to describe, albeit in a generic manner, this condition, then there is nothing politically incorrect about it.
Coming to the point of differently-abled, there are two TED talks that got me thinking about what differently abled really means.
  1. Could Genetics Hold the Answer to Curing Autism - Wendy Chung is a researcher focusing on genetic causes of autism and explains that Autism is not a disease, but a spectrum of diseases. And often, a child can have a trade-off of one skill in favor of another. E.g. when growing up, a child may not learn to make eye contact, but can be super smart in math at the time. Perhaps that is what the term differently abled should mean.
  2. How Do You Reinvent Yourself After a Near-Death Experience? - This one must be one the most inspirational TED talks out there. Hugh Herr shows how to convert disability to opportunity in the truest of senses, and to expand human capability.  I preferred the Guy Roz interview of Hugh Herr to the actual TED talk.  Please do click on Listen to the Story at the NPR link before you watch the video.  
My favorite line from Hugh Herr's talk is "So when I was feeling badly about myself, insecure I would jack my height up. But when I was feeling confident and suave, I would knock my height down a notch just to give the competition a chance."  Just to give the competition a chance?  Isn't that the attitude that exemplifies what "differently abled" should mean?  And honestly, that is kind of different ability I personally would love to cultivate.

So in my opinion, calling the disabled as differently-abled purely for reasons of political correctness is not right. As long as one does not use the word "disabled" with contempt, there is no disrespect in using that word.  And let's save the phrase "differently abled" for those who truly are.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Book review: Immortals of Meluha

Turned out to be a good read, but thankfully I did not have too many expectations to begin with.

I had heard a lot of positive reviews of this trilogy, and decided to pick it up when I found it in the Kindle ebook format. The author has done a pretty good job of "humanizing" Shiva, and seems to have set a decent stage for the next book, where I suspect the real action will begin (I haven't read that book yet).

The author also has an interesting take on the societies of the Suryavanshis and Chandravanshis. IMO, both societies do not fulfill the principles of a true Utopian "Ram Rajya", i.e. the Suryavanshi society is almost Dystopian, while the Chandravanshi society is almost anarchaic / chaotic. I use the word "almost" because in spite of the flaws in these societies, citizens of both appear to be highly contented, which is uncharacteristic of true Dystopian and Anarchaic societies. The author has presented the duality of these two societies in a fairly simplistic and easy-to-understand manner, which is quite commendable.

The book is fairly easy to read, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in an alternative take on Indian mythology. It might help readers knowing a bit about traditional Indian mythology in advance, to truly appreciate how the author deviates from it.

There are quite a few spelling errors in the book - not sure if that's there in the original print publication, or if it is true for the Kindle format. If not for this, I would've given it 4 stars.

Overall: I am looking forward to reading the next book in the trilogy.

(Review also posted to Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/review/R3ICA3KUB60MWJ)

Friday, 19 April 2013

T-bar row self-challenge

In March last year, I attempted a T-bar row challenge in the gym.  The idea was to stack up all the weights that were available in my gym (40 kgs in all) and do 5 reps of a one-armed T-bar row.

Here's the video from that attempt:

I did complete the five reps on the left hand, albeit with a break (my palms got really sweaty).

Since that time, I've been through a big down-phase in my workout routine, and only in the last few months have I been slowly recovering my former strength.

So my challenge for next week is simple - to repeat the same workout, but with 10 reps for each hand.  This time around, I will be using wrist straps to eliminate the strain on my wrists and the pesky palm sweat.

I'm going to do this early next week, and have one of my gym buddies shoot a video of my attempt.  Will post the video, whether I succeed or fail.  Wish me luck!

[Update 25th April]  I still haven't been able to hit the gym this week... thanks to a training I've been attending.  But this challenge is still top priority - will update this space soon!

[Update: 30th April] Completed the challenge!! Shall post the video in a few days

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Alternate push-up styles to return from a gym break

This year, December has been surprisingly heavy work-wise.  For some reason, all of our clients and prospects have asked for a million deliverables before they go on leave.  Thanks to whirlwind of activity at work and a personal trip out of town, I wasn't able to hit the gym for almost 10 full days.

When I got back to the gym this Monday (my usual chest day), I decided to try something different.  Instead of using the bench press to hit the chest in isolation, I opted to do a series of push-up variations so that I'd hit more body parts than just the chest.  Here's how my workout turned out to be:
  • 2 sets of regular pushups: This is more like a warm-up
  • 2 sets of spiderman push ups (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKBeHALPsSU): The unevenness of the weight distribution hits the obliques in addition to the chest.
  • 2 sets of scorpion push ups (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_26f6HTbYn8 0:34 to 0:47): This one does a fantastic job of hitting your core and stretching out your quads.  And the raised leg makes for greater stress on your chest.
  • 2 sets of dumbbell push ups (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M0h1wmPf7YY): One needs to do this using round dumbbells and not hexagonal ones.  Since the round dumbbells tend to roll, one has to make use of shoulder muscles just to stabilize the dumbbells, thus making this exercise double up as a shoulder workout.  A precaution: this workout can strain the wrists.  It helps if this is the last workout so that the wrists don't get strained any further.
So, I did each of these sets with 12 repetitions. So that makes a total of 8 x 12 = 96 push ups.  With all the rest breaks, I was wrapped up in a matter of 20-25 minutes.

I think that made for an effective workout, especially since I was getting back from a break :)

Monday, 26 November 2012

What does not kill you...

... makes you stronger

And this is especially true for a fitness routine, provided:
  • You are giving yourself adequate rest between your workouts
  • Your nutrition is aiding the strengthening process
  • Your workout program is holistic, i.e. you're not injuring one body part for the sake of strengthening another.  Examples of not following this principle include workout routines that cause RSI
  • You are pushing yourself to the maximum each time you work out.  This is the principle of progressive overload.  There are exceptions though: one shouldn't train to failure when hitting the tendons (e.g. with pull-ups, chin-ups)
Yes, there are prerequisites to every fancy rule.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Stupid pigeon

A window was open, but no one in the house had realised it. Insomniac that I am, I couldn't help notice (at 3AM) the flutter of wings coming from the room with the open window. When I walked into the room, I could count at least three pigeons, with more in the queue to come in to the room through the open window. I attempted to block the window to stop the onslaught of new pigeons, and simultaneously (in hindsight, attempting this simultaneously was a mistake) shoo away the ones already in.

Sometime during the ruckus that emerged with me and the pigeons, one of the pigeons managed to flutter around me and peck at my neck a million times.  It must've been a gruesome sight to see me fend myself from the pigeon.

Fast forward to the next day: I'm at the clinic, and the doctor (pretty young thing, by the way) is describing how pigeons carry all sorts of dreaded germs, and that I need to take a bunch of antibiotic and antiviral injections as a precaution.  I took all this with the same calmness with which I fended off the pigeon the previous night. And then she started administering the first shot - perhaps it was an anti-rabies thing.

So there I was in my dream, getting a shot from a doctor, and simultaneously in real-life, my heart starts pounding away at 160 beats per minute.  And here I am now, well before 9 AM, blogging about how a stupid imaginary pigeon managed to wake me up this early on a Sunday.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Avoiding the "side-effect" syndrome of fitness goals

A comprehensive fitness program should produce results in the following three parameters:
  • Strength
  • Endurance
  • Flexibility
Any results outside these three parameters are mere side effects.  Let me repeat: any results outside these three parameters are mere side effects.  And I am not implying any negative connotation when I use the term side effect.  Some of these side effects include changes to posture, immunity levels, body fat level, weight, sleeping patterns, appetite, etc.  As one can see, the list of these side effects can be really long.  And classifying these side effects as a positive or negative depends on the individual and their context.  E.g. weight loss may be a good thing if you're just coming off a holiday season during which you've binged a lot.  But it is probably not a good thing if you're already in the underweight zone on the BMI scale (or any other metric that you're following).

Now, it's quite common to see ourselves setting goals focussed exclusively on these side effects: in fact, it's usually one of the reason people start to hit the gym, isn't it?  Typical comments one gets to hear from newcomers is, "I need to lose at least five kilos before my cousin's wedding."  This is short-term mentality at its best.

If you are following a fitness program that is focussed on any of these side effects while compromising on the three fitness parameters listed above (strength, endurance, flexibility), you're doing yourself more harm than good.  In fact, even if you are focusing on one of those three parameters while compromising on the other two, you are doing your body a disservice in the long run. So, please set yourself holistic fitness goals, and follow a program that does not compromise on these three parameters. 

Comments welcome.

[Update: Retitled this post]

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Pocket: Online Reading List Manager

Found this handy tool to manage my online reading: http://getpocket.com/
This is a rather neat app that allows the user to manage your online reading lists across your multiple devices: computer, phone, iPod / tablet – they have a reasonably good app for iPod, I’m yet to check out the Android version.

I’m still trying to figure out how to incorporate this into my GTD workflow, but here's what I'm thinking:
  • Link to page received (from Google Reader, Google News, or links shared by email, IM, etc.)
  • If can’t read within 2 mins, add to pocket
  • Look through Pocket list of “reading material” – read top priority
  • For items to be saved/shared: bookmark them | save with notes to Evernote | share with contacts.  Else mark as read, and be done with.
By the way, I had used the previous avatar of this tool (ReadItLater), but I'm realizing the benefit of this tool now since I started using iOS and Android.

[Update - 22 Oct 2012]
Found this nice read on Pocket: http://www.macstories.net/news/read-it-later-reborn-pocket-saves-everything-for-later/

Monday, 24 September 2012

Too busy to work out?

If you are, check this athlete out:

More about Rohan Murphy is available on wikipedia.  One snippet that caught my eye was that he won bronze at 2006 IPC World Powerlifting by lifting 127.5 kgs, and he's all of 56 kilos!

I'll probably never gain that kind of upper body strength, but may I be damned if I don't even put in the effort to get fitter.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

On Fitness Goals

People (usually the overweight ones hitting the gym for the first time) often set themselves a goal that goes like,
I need to lose 5 kilos in the next month.

Instead, how about setting a goal such as:
I am going to hit the gym 20 times in the next month.

Isn't setting an effort-based-goal (the number of times to hit the gym) better than an end-result-goal (the targeted weight loss)?  I think so, and here's why:
  • Control: Your achievement of the goal is pretty much under your control.  You know what you need to do in order to hit the gym 5 times this week (reduce the time you spend at office, cancel that dinner, etc.), but you can never really control all the variables it takes to hit your weight loss target, which for all you know, may be completely unrealistic. 
  • Testing your commitment: We've all heard stories of  people who take up a fitness program only to give up within a few short weeks (months if they're lucky) simply because they were unable to meet their "target".  The usual suspect for such a discontinuation is their lack of commitment to their fitness program.  Setting a goal around the effort one is willing to put in helps you test how committed you really are.
  • Course-Correction: You'll know early enough if you're taking any short-cuts and can take corrective action. If you find that all of your gym sessions are lasting less than 15 mins, you know you're not being true to your objective. But with the weight loss goal, it gets more complicated.  Just because you lose 1kg in one week does not mean you're on-track to meeting your weight loss objective.
  • Sustainability: The goals around effort are more sustainable.  It's realistic and sustainable (but probably not easy) to extend the goal to say, I'll hit the gym 20 times per month for the next 12 months.  Try doing that with the weight loss goal.  
  • Fine-tuning: It's also easier to fine-tune the goal statement around your effort:
    I will hit the gym 20 times in the next month to have 15 weight training and 5 cardio sessions.
    But it's almost funny to hear someone say,
    I will lose 5 kgs, of which 4 kgs should be body fat, 0.5 kg water, and 0.5 kg lean muscle.
    Perhaps expert body builders can set themselves goal statements like this, but then the keyword is "expert".
I believe that the goals around weight loss / fat loss / body tone should be set up after one has set up a sustainable fitness program.  So before you set yourself goals around end-results, do set up realistic goals that will help you enjoy and stay committed to your fitness program.  Without that, achieving your end-results will simply not feel rewarding enough, and definitely not fun! 

Would love to hear what others have to say.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

But walking is the best exercise!

This is my third attempt with weight training, and at 10 months, my longest attempt so far. And I'm glad of the progress I have made this time: I certainly don't feel like a beginner any more - I can talk the gobbledygook of GH and leptin levels, and the differences between a stiff-legged deadlift and a Romanian deadlift :)  But I'm also not an expert - there have been plenty of occasions where I have overtrained, and experienced soreness for days.

The typical beginner (and I could count myself as one when I started) encounters many problems when starting out with bodybuilding - there isn't adequate time to devote to the activity, form is always an issue, minor injuries keep occurring, the list goes on and on.  Beyond these, an issue that pops up is that one's support structure (friends, family, etc.) is not always supportive of an individual's weight training.  Even my doctor said, "You don't need weight training, cardiovascular endurance should be more than adequate."  Another common comment I keep hearing is "Walking should be enough.  It's the best exercise!"

Walking is the best exercise - Really? Best for what? Can one set a goal saying "I'll walk till the strength in my shoulders improves"? How does walking help improve the flexibility of the neck?

I'm not trying to make fun of walkers or cardiovascular exercises.  In fact, I enjoy both running and cycling  - I don't run very regularly, but I love doing a 25 klick cycle ride as often as I can. But doing a cardiovascular activity in isolation can do the body a lot more harm than good.  Let me elaborate:
  • Running long distances hurts the knees [google for the phrase "joggers' knee" - it will flood your browser with a zillion results] - Seasoned runners know they have to complement their running with specific exercises for the glutes, hamstrings, and the back, in addition to the pre-run stretches
  • Cycling is a great exercise, but can take a toll on the back.  It's unnatural for the body to be crouched down for long periods, and this leads to muscle fatigue.  Ultracycling.com lays out some resistance training tips for cyclists (and swimmers).  Even Lance Armstrong's training program mentions a few points on weight training - I would assume this includes hyperextension exercises for the back.

Now, walking may not be as intensive as running or cycling, so the wear & tear takes longer to appear, but as I sarcastically mentioned earlier, it can not help the body parts that it doesn't work out: walking can not help improve upper body strength and flexibility.  

So, here's my opinion: it helps the body more if a cardiovascular activity is done as part of a more comprehensive fitness program that ensures:
  • Coverage of as many muscle groups as possible
  • Increase in strength of muscles and joints
  • Increase in flexibility of the overall body
  • Endurance [the cardio will probably take care of that]
Now, body building isn't the only option to meet the above criteria. Other options include calisthenics, yoga, and pilates, to name a few.  So, pick one, and give your body the full-fledged fitness regimen it deserves. And please don't let others brainwash you by saying, "Exercise X is the best exercise."

Workout lessons (learned the hard way)

Some lessons I've learned while weight training, especially in the last few months:
  • The back and legs have the largest largest muscle groups in the body, and working them out (even for a short duration) not only strengthens these muscles, but also affects the body's overall physiology. More experienced weight trainers refer to this effect as the GH boost.  Lesson: If one can work out for only two days a week, it should be for the back and legs, instead of the chest, biceps, shoulders, etc. [but one should work out more often to include them as well]
  • If the body is excessively sore after working out, it helps to feed on some carbs. Carbs do aid in recovery, and can help get back to the gym the next day. Of course, it helps if the carbs are not made of refined sugars :-)
  • Compound exercises work out more muscle groups than isolation exercises, and a lot of them end up hitting the core muscles.  Again, if stuck for time, compound exercises are the way to go.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

gmap pedometer

If you're interested in trying cycling or running, check out gmap pedometer at http://gmap-pedometer.com/ It allows you to mark the routes you've taken on google maps interface.  And yes, you can save routes for posterity.  If only I could get symbian phone to work with this :(

In other news, I did a 41K ride last weekend, around the Bannerghatt National Park.  I now know how hilly Bangalore really is :)