All posts by mtastafford

Life! She goes!

Time is flying by rapidly. Summer is almost 25% over — which means I’m getting closer to going home to the dogs, the kitty, and the Caity. Not too much to report, but I thought peeps might like to see what my month has looked like thus far. Check out the pics & Youtube vid below to see what I’ve been up to!

Life keeps plugging along…

Where to begin? Exams are over. April is over. But many things are just beginning and time is plentiful. On the third, for some reason or another, I had to drive myself to Calgary… again. I enjoy my job, but I don’t really enjoy the situation. I like being home with Caity and the animals. I miss them both pretty substantially. What do I miss most, after the lady and the beasts? The espresso machine. My god do I ever miss that thing.

But enough about the espressos I don’t get to drink for a while — there’ll be many more to come. Calgary actually isn’t a very bad place to hang out — at least it wouldn’t be if it wasn’t still winter over here. Actually — maybe it’s not Calgary’s fault. Maybe the blame is to be laid upon Kelowna, for getting me prematurely ready for summer. It was 27.5 degrees outside on Thursday, and also very nice on Friday. When I drove to Calgary on Saturday, I was greeted by temperatures dropping to -3, and (albeit light) snow that has gone pretty steadily.

The snow isn’t exactly getting me pumped up and motivated for my Whistler Halfie training, but I think I’m going to have to man the fuck up and brave the cold (I feel like a sissy — or a Texan — for calling -3 degrees cold) and get my run on. I went for a bit of a jaunt today, and it was nothing special. That’ll change once I get back into a rhythm though, and I think starting work tomorrow morning will help add some structure and routine to my days.

Besides (not) running, I’ve been keeping busy with some rock climbing. The gym here is actually pretty rad — two really neat ceiling mounted bouldering areas upstairs (see the short clip in the video), with climbing up to 13m high on the ground floor, and some weights/stretching equipment in the basement (complete with gymnastics rings hanging from the ceiling, and something similar, but instead of rings, there’s rough orbs to work on grip strength). So I’m actually pretty pumped up about the gym. I bought a one-month membership today, and that came with a free beginners lesson that more or less outline the basics of some of the equipment (harnesses, belay gear, etc…) and how to use them properly and safely. I think I like bouldering more, because it’s simpler, and it seems to me to be much more difficult in terms of problem solving and strength, but I also think it would be rad to do some taller sport climbing — so I do think I’ll get geared up with that stuff too. I think that’s about all I have to say.

Actually wait. I also started that “Capital in the 21st Century book” — I’m not very far into it yet, but it already has me interested. Gonna start reading at the end of the night instead of cruising reddit and youtube. Economics, bouldering, running, yoga and dancing. Life ain’t so bad.   Check out some pictures and videos from the drive and my first couple days in Cow Town.

The Fields!

So today I wanted to take the dogs out for a hike, but it was way too hot — they would have died out there. So instead, I ventured out into the wilderness by my onesies and checked out the boulder fields. The boulder fields are about 12km south of Kelowna, and that shit blew my mind. This was my first experience with any outdoor climbing, and even though I barely did anything (I didn’t have any crash pads, or a spotter in the event that I hurt myself) I had a lot of fun. Outdoor climbing is a completely different beast compared to practicing indoors at the gym — and I can’t wait to go back for more.

The boulder fields ( http://vimeo.com/76744215 )is this rad area where it looks like the ground just collapsed, leaving this crumbled area full of boulders (ranging from the size of a large person, to a city bus, to a bigass house) and with vertical walls surrounding the area. I plan out buying a couple harnesses and some rope to try doing the higher climbs that are bolted to some of these faces out here. For now though, I just need to get some crash pads and some motivated buddies. Check out the pics!

Exams are done! Funk yeah!

Yesterday was the last day of my exams, and now I don’t even know what to do with myself for the next 3 days before I ship off to cowtown. Actually — I’ve got a pretty good idea. I’m going to get started on this earth-shaking book on Capital in the 21st Century, run, fight a cheese-grater, and go golfing with Frits. Other than that, here’s a quick peek at what my 1-Second-Everyday video is starting to look like (I’ve been on-and-off forgetful for the last week unfortunately).

Resuming Training

After finishing the Okanagan College 2014 Half Marathon (with my fastest average pace yet!) I took a break, got sick, studied for exams, and started to think about getting ready for my next adventure and race. Today was supposed to mark the first day of training for the 2014 Whistler Northface Half Marathon (June 7th!), but after getting about 1 mile into my jaunt, I turned around with some pretty gnarly pains in my left foot. With only 6 weeks until the race, I figured it would be best to come home, put that shit on ice, and try again tomorrow. I’m not too worried about it.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg

The Power of Habit is another book about how our brains work. Instead of insights and creativity though, The Power of Habit deals with things like, you guessed it, habits and addiction and free will. This book was separated into what could have easily been three shorter books based on different levels of habitual action – personal, small groups (such as a business), and communities.

The book asserts that habits govern almost every aspect of our lives, and can be broken down into a basic structure of: a cue, a routine, and a reward. It argues that while habits can be powerful, they can also be molded and changed to suit our desires and goals – and all that one needs to do it implement the basic structure. To change old habits into new ones, use the same cue and reward, but change the routine. For instance, a smoker would first catalogue themselves to understand the cues that make them smoke, and how they feel afterwards, or the reward they get from smoking. Once understanding this, they can forcibly practice a new routine after the understood cues to achieve the same reward. Simple in theory, but in practice, each individual is different. I feel like I can relate to the process however, as every morning when I get into my truck and get ready to go to work – I start thinking about going to Tim Hortons. Getting into my truck to go to work is my cue, getting a hot coffee and greasy breakfast sandwhich is my routine, and being warm and full is my reward. It’s powerful enough that as soon as I sit down, I start thinking about Timmies. I’m confident that I can change this practice to start saving calories and money.

But alas, my battery is running low, and after typing five other review, I’m getting tired of talking and thinking about books. Of the three sections of this book, I found the personal topics to be more inspiring than the rest (it’s easier to control myself than others), but did enjoy the other two. It was also interesting at the end when the author started talking about the implications of habits, and who is actually in control of themselves and when. For example, and man with a history of sleepwalking had, for the first time, a night terror (where all but the most primal part of your brain are shutdown and non-functioning – but your body can still move) and strangled his wife in his sleep because he thought he was grappling with an attacker in the house – was contrasted next to a lady who gambled compulsively and lost her house, he savings, and her inheritance. The murderer was found innocent while the gambler was found guilty, for reasons I’ll let the book explain. One thing that BLEW MY FUCKING MIND, was that it mentioned people with Parkinsons disease, and a large class action law-suit and many individual trials are ongoing, as their medication does something to their brain, and makes them have nearly uncontrollable temptations to gamble – this blew me away because I recalled working at the casino, and seeing lots of people (more concentrated than I see them at other public places) with Parkinsons on the table games and slot machines, which made me feel bad.

Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power

Drift, by Rachel Maddow, is about Americas military power, and how it has slowly been becoming unchained from it’s historical roots. It takes a fascinating look at (older) current events, and talks about why they likely should not have happened and how they ultimately ended up happening. A long and unforgiving tug-of-war between the legislative and executive branches of the US political system has been raging for the power over the American military.

The book goes into large detail about how todays wars America is involved in, although lasting a decade or more, no longer have the cultural shock that other wars such as Vietnam and the Korean “conflict” have generated. It’s not necessarily being desensitized by an overabundance of war related media, as some would believe – but largely due to the privatization of war that is responsible for this fact. Checks and balances were put in place historically to ensure that wars weren’t just started willy-nilly, and they’ve slowly been removed and eroded. For example, it used to be impossible to go to war without calling in the National guard and army reserves, which meants uprooting citizens and civilians from their daily life to face an enemy and their bullets – which did not go unnoticed. But in today’s world of private military contractors, reserves that are more solider than civilian (and it’s more shocking to see them at home than at war), and secret unmanned drone programs – it’s easy to see how the American people are losing touch with, and faith with not only their military, but government.

I enjoyed Maddows writing style a persuasive use of rhetoric. She tends to go on powerful rants in text just like she does in person or during interviews. Her writing style  largely reminded me of Richard Dawkins, sans all the big fancy words and British accent that plays in my head when reading his words. If you’re at all interested in politics, history, patriotism or military, you’ll probably enjoy Drift as much as, or more than, I did.

Imagine: How Creativity Works, by Jonah Lehrer

Imagine by Jonah Lehrer, has been one of the most interesting books I’ve read all summer/fall. It is largely oriented around discussing how our brain actually works, and a lot of the time, these faculties aren’t under our control.

A few sections of this book caught me off guard, because I had just thought about it within a week or two previous to reading it in the book. For instance, I was in my work truck, and Nickelback started playing on the radio. I’m not a big fan of Nickelback (or the radio in general), so I began to think about why I didn’t like Nickelback as much as other artists. I came to the conclusion that it had something to do with how the instrumentals and lyrics seemed clichéd, over-used, and predictable (repetitive verses & power chords, featuring very structured lyrics about drinking and fighting on a Saturday night). Almost this very same topic was covered in the first chapter of the book, and discussed using Bob Dylan as an example – as he had almost quit music to stop himself from regurgitating the same clichéd folk songs. Dylan had retreated to a cabin to stop thinking about music and relax. That’s when it happened. Dylan started (and couldn’t stop) writing in the cabin. The right hemisphere of his brain was vomiting out a constant stream of less structured, and more metaphorical songs – from which emerged a song that launched a generation of music – Like a Rolling Stone.

This book covered a wide range of factors that influence creativity, from having warm showers or going on a walk (I’ve often had a Eureka! moment shortly after walking away from an exam of some sort when I’ve stopped thinking about it), to how many and what kind of people you surround yourself with in projects and general daily life. It talks about these factors, and why they happen to be factors. It talks about insight and puzzle solving, and how the right hemisphere of the brain is in charge of making more abstract connection between loosely connected ideas – thus helping on think outside the box – and how it can be influenced by having a warm shower, going for a walk, or even smoking a bit of marijuana. It talks about how typical classroom brainstorming where there’s no criticism and only pats on the back is largely a futile exercise, and demonstrates how corporations such as 3M, Pixar, and Google rely on the cross contamination of departmentalized groups (be them people, ideas, or resources), and how their “brainstorming” sessions involve constructive criticisms that groups thrive off of.

Imagine was an exceptionally interesting book to read, and I believe a lot of the information contained within could largely be utilized if kept in mind – and I tend to try. Knowing when to take a walk, or when to have a cup of coffee – understanding that I can thrive off of group work instead of only dreading it – have fantastic potential for myself as a budding engineer and current student. I think almost anyone could get something useful out of this book, but if not, at the very least, it’s always fascinating to come a few steps closer in understanding the underlying mechanisms of our brains.

Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Tricked Us, by Michael Moss

Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Tricked Us, by Michael Moss was a fascinating book to read. What I found most interesting in this book was the fact that, while I came into this book knowing that processed foods are obviously processed and not very good for you – I didn’t really think about it very often. This book helped change that. Maybe just by the act of consciously reading an entire book oriented around the three pillars of processed foods, or maybe the content of the book really struck me – but I’ve already started looking at foods differently.

I’ve been trying to eat healthily for some time now. Before reading this book, I’ve stopped drinking sodas, started exercising, and stopped eating as MUCH crap as before – and all that has helped me lean up and drop about 30 pounds. Salt Sugar Fat talks a lot about nutritional aspects of these three components, and about how bad they are. It also, fascinatingly, talks about the science behind making people crave these ingredients – through focus groups, calculated bliss points, and scientific studies – we are hooked on what’s not good for us. Too much salt causes hypertension and increases our chance of heart problems. Sugar messes with our bodies in a whole host of ways, from diabetes to addiction, and our bodies love it. The issue with fat was mostly centered around caloric intakes and energy expenditure imbalance, except for the case of saturated fats, which again, cause heart issues.

For anyone interested in nutrition and health, this is a cool book to read. Or if you’re interested in finding out about how food processing giants have meticulously figured out how to capture/hook/tantalize us, and are locked with one another in a capitalistic death spiral towards higher profits and higher sugar/fat/salt loads, then I would also recommend you give Salt Sugar Fat a once over.