Swimming, Hair Care and Hygiene

I have very long hair about which I am inordinately vain.

I am a swimmer.

I color my hair.

Now common wisdom would say my hair is so fried I’d have to cut it off. Or, that I must spend a million dollars on the special shampoos and conditioners. I don’t. That two dollar a bottle stuff works just fine.

Matter of fact, the one single thing I do to ensure that swimming doesn’t ruin my hair doesn’t really cost much in the way of money at all. You see, I do what they tell you and shower before I get into the pool, completely saturating my (rather porous) hair. This means that the water that has more of a chemical saturation can’t penetrate my hair as easily.

As a side note, I know a lot of people don’t shower before they get in the pool. It’s gross. They’re often the same people who complain about the “chlorine smell” or worse, think a swim can substitute for a bath. Well that smell isn’t actually chlorine. It’s a by-product of the filth the chlorine is breaking down, and it means you’re getting the pool nastier than the chemicals can keep up with. Yes, yes, the pool manager does test the water every hour or two and adjusts the chemicals going into the water to compensate for this. At least, they do in well-maintained pools. Even so, shower before you get in the damn pool. It helps reduce how much needs to be dumped into the water.

Let the Minimum Be the Maximum

I have a bad fitness habit. I will get into working out, go hammer and tongs at it, pushing to improve performance till I get tired of it or obsessed with something else (knitting cables, learning to do a French manicure, learning Klingon – it really varies) and quit with working out as my main obsession.

If I were training for a specific event or competition, this pattern would make sense.

That’s not what I’m doing, or what I need to do. What I need to do is just to have a habit of working out on weekdays. That’s pretty simple, isn’t it?

I choose swimming as my activity for several reasons. It’s easy on painful joints, it really is good cardio, and it does provide for a full-body workout in terms of muscle use. ‘Course the major advantage of swimming is the simplest. I’ll do it. There’s a great deal to be said for the exercise that you’ll do for all the cheesy adverts about Ultimate Workout Secrets that Top Athletes Don’t Want You to Know. The real secret is simple.

Do you do it?

Reinhard Engels of Everyday Systems fame has an interesting point of view about habit and self-discipline. Paraphrased, it’s that when you want to develop a long term habit, don’t clutter habit and progress. Track number of days you exercised v. how well you did during the exercises. Days on habit are ultimately more powerful, and oddly enough generate more long term progress, than the training mentality.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with training for a sports event. But if you’re not thinking of yourself in terms of being an athlete, and just want to work out for good body maintenance, being able to be faster and stronger in intervals of less than a year aren’t even all that useful. When you’re going for that life-long habit, high-velocity momentum just isn’t where it’s at.

Engels has a phrase for this. “Let the minimum be the maximum.” Choose a specific amount of time you want to work out. Work out that much1. Don’t do more when you’re feeling macho and don’t do less when you’re feeling like a slacker. Go for consistency. Think in terms of years. What can you put up with for ten years?

For me, the idea of swimming half an hour a day for ten years doesn’t make me freak out. It even seems a little small. But in ten years’ time, I’ll be in considerably better shape than if I did the stop and go thing of pushing myself to increase my pace, then losing the obsession, rather than just accepting that this isn’t worthy of obsession, but is just something I need to do without throwing in a lot of emotion or intensity.


1He choose 14 minutes a day for intense work, and then does his best to walk everywhere he can otherwise. His pictures over the long term support his theory that this works.

DRM and Purchasing Habits

I talked yesterday about a soft paternalism that Amazon is using to encourage people to use their Kindle device for more things that just reading books. As I mentioned before, the Kindle is so extraordinarily good at displaying text, and making it pleasant to read, I’m all good with this being a single tasker – rather like a really good kitchen knife. I don’t need a corkscrew on my chef’s knife, after all.

If I could only read that book on a Kindle and nothing else forever, I’d be pretty ticked off and would be unlikely to buy the book. Even so, when I am looking for titles, I’ll go to other publishers (like Baen) first to see if that title has been released in a non-DRM protected format first. That’s the copy I’ll buy. My husband has a Kindle, too, and we don’t like to make the reading experience totally account-specific. If I buy a book for the household, after all, everyone can read it! Yes, I know that some authors and publishers allow for lending a book for a couple of weeks. While I’m all good with not being able to access the content while the book is “leant”—I couldn’t if it were a dead tree title, after all—many of the restrictions, and the paucity of publishers that allow this make this a really unsatisfactory solution. I think that there should be some option for a family account. Do like many software company and go for maybe five or so users to be on the license.

The funny part is that Amazon got it right when it came to music! You pay a buck for a song, just like iTunes, but the song is non-DRM protected, so you can play it on any device that suits your fancy. And it only costs a buck. iTunes charges extra for non-DRM music, IIRC.

In my case, it makes for more sales.

Amazon Marketing Fail

I’ve been using Audible since before Amazon bought it. Cheap audiobooks? I’m there, honey! I’ve been addicted to being read to aloud since before1 I was born.

When Amazon bought Audible, they pushed linking Amazon and Audible accounts. Okay… That’s fine. Not thrilled, but not annoyed enough to kick up a fuss.

When they came out with the Audible app for the Android, I was thrilled. It was well designed, had features2 I really want in an Audiobook player and it worked out great.

Well, the Kindle can play Audible content, and Amazon is now pushing for people to listen to their audiobooks on Kindle, first by offering to send any Audible purchase directly to the Kindle, then by changing the listening format to Enhanced, which is the format required by the Kindle.

I love my Kindle, mind you. Use it every day. It’s a great e-reader. But:

The Kindle is a terrible way to listen to audiobooks.

You don’t listen to an audiobook when you’re sitting still, except maybe when you’re in a vehicle. One listens to audiobooks while moving – doing household chores, cooking dinner, working on a sewing project… The Kindle is just too big to be a decent device for listening to audio content when on the move. When listening to audiobooks, you want a small device. You want a device that’s really a bit too small for comfortable, long-term reading. There’s a reason I prefer my Kindle to the Kindle app on my Android for actual text reading.

I might have tried it out for before sleep listening, except that the Audible player on the Kindle does not have a sleep timer. That makes it completely useless even for that purpose.

Amazon, please. The Kindle doesn’t need more features to make it awesome. It’s perfectly-designed for what it’s intended for – reading text. Don’t try to shoehorn other features into it. I’m still buying the audio content, honest, but stop trying to push me into consuming it on your Very Special Device. You’re starting to act like Apple and devices. There’s a reason I’m not an Apple customer. I don’t even use an iPod any more!


1Seriously. Mom started reading aloud to me when she was pregnant, and was very patient about my story addiction until I learned to read for myself.

2Sleep timer. Developing the habit of falling asleep to audiobooks has done more to prevent nightmares and staying up all night ruminating on problems than any other technique I’ve ever tried. It’s wonderful.

Putting Brainlessness to Work

I’ve spent the last couple of months being lousy about exercise. You name it, I found excuses not to. But I also learned something about myself.

I’m a morning exerciser. There’s just no way around it. By the end of the day, I’m done and I want to be comfortable, quiet and at home.

Oh, I’ve tried evening workouts. “Sure, honey, when you get home from work, we’ll go work out before dinner.”

It doesn’t happen.

However, if I get up, go work out and don’t give myself time to think or decide about it, I’m up and at ’em at 5:30 in the morning.

I think for me, it’s that my imagination and ability to visualize works against me. At 5:30 in the morning, morning person though I am, my brain isn’t engaged yet. I’m not thinking about cold, or physical effort or anything like that. I’m just following through on what I’d preprogrammed in my brain the night before. I roll out of bed, make it, and throw on my bathing suit and sweats without any real conscious decision because that’s what’s laying on my bedside table for me to put on. I’m at the gym before I’m thinking about the fact that I’d rather be in bed.

For all that many of my readers are intellectuals and value conscious thought, it’s important to remember that we’re learning that conscious thought is expensive in terms of energy – even when we’re really smart. There are things that don’t deserve conscious thought, once you’ve decided you want something in your life to be a habit. If we had to put conscious thought into wiping ourselves and washing our hands every time we went to the bathroom, there would be some subset of the population that would find themselves struggling with these very basic and ingrained habits. But it is habit and we don’t think about it, or decide to do it. We just do it.

I think it is helpful to put the habits you want into these sort of pre-programmed subroutines. I’m not talking about necessarily exercise. I mean any desirable behavior that you want to do, you think would be good for you to do, but you don’t and you struggle with doing it. Placing it in your day where you’ll be more likely to do it without conscious decision means that you can apply the conscious mind to more important things in your life that deserve it more.

Part of the World Needs a Stage

I like Shakespeare. Okay, I know. Who doesn’t? That’s on up there with “Pain hurts” for non-controversial statements. I’ll see a performance whenever I get the chance. I do watch the movies, but I like it better when I can actually see a play.

Up until I was in my early twenties, though, I read the plays, and while I enjoyed them okay, it wasn’t that big a thing. Read ’em in school. Sure, sure, the teachers were competent. They got the students to read them aloud, at least.

I read Romeo and Juliet as a freshman in High School, same as about 90% of people educated in America.1 But when we read Romeo and Juliet; we read an expurgated version with the (mildly) dirty bits taken out. Nope, I’m serious, we did. Go Stafford School board… I didn’t learn Shakespeare was often rather saucy until much later. Yeah, I thought Romeo and Juliet was kind of a cool story. Wasn’t as cool as The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury, which we read after that, but it wasn’t as mind-bogglingly dull a Great
Expectations, either.2

I didn’t wind up touching Shakespeare again until I was a senior. We read Macbeth. I was in love. I even put aside some new Heinlein stuff I was reading to finish it, then re-read it. Loved, loved, loved it.3

But that was the sum total of any Shakespeare I experienced until I was in my early twenties. I got a volume of the Bard’s plays for my 20th birthday and read a few. But I admit I didn’t get much into them.

Then, when I was twenty-two or so, my in-laws invited my husband and me to a Shakespeare in the Park event in DC at the Folger outdoor theater to see The Merry Wives of Windsor. My husband and I wanted to see it at least in part because an actor who’d appeared in a Star Trek movie was playing Sir John Falstaff.

Now, the connection between Shakespeare and Star Trek has been discussed once or twice4, so I’m not going to get too heavily into it other than to speculate that it’s probable that many people my age got into The Bard at least in part due to its influence.

But going to see a live performance of The Merry Wives of Windsor gave me a much better perspective on Shakespeare in general. Reading the plays is okay, and the movies are often good. But to really enjoy it, you need to see a good live performance. Now, a Luddite, I’m not. Technology is awesome and all, but there’s something about Shakespeare plays that just needs a stage, and it’s the way I prefer to experience The Bard’s work.


1And like some 90% of them studied it side by side with West Side Story.

2 Other than being very fond of A Christmas Carol, I’m just not that into Dickens.

3 Yes, Throne of Blood is my favorite Kurosawa film, too.

4After all, you’ve never experienced Shakespeare until you’ve heard it in the original Klingon.

Learning About Learning

I’m well into Tri-Aran-Angle — a wonderfully-designed shawl for a cold climate, by the way. If you want to practice making pretty cables, this is definitely a great pattern to use! I’ve have learned some things about my mental block in following knitting patterns.

The convention in knitting patterns is to give line by line instructions for the creation of a garment. If you follow it line by line, and trust the designer, you’ll get a nice product.

I don’t think step by step for anything I do. I need to understand the principles of the whole, why I’m performing an action, and then not only will I be able to do what’s needed, I might be able to create variations on it. I think one of the reasons I found Knitting Without Tears such a delightful knitting instruction book was that Ms. Zimmerman spent a lot of time teaching the principles behind what she was doing along with the instructions for how to create the garments – whether it was the percentage system for constructing a sweater, or why wool acts the way it does.

This type of learning style has had its consequences in other areas of my life. Probably one of the reasons I never became much of a pianist (other than the fact I was not willing to practice enough. That was the biggie!) was that I was not taught musical theory anywhere near early enough in my studies. Not blaming my piano teacher. I’m sure to her eyes not only was I too young and not nearly interested enough in music, I was far too unskilled to handle theory before I got the process down. I am a theory-based learner, no doubt about it. As an adult, knowing that has big advantages. It means that I can pretty much learn anything I want to without being at the mercy of teaching style. Heh… I ought to thank my third grade teacher for being such a rotten teacher, actually. She might have turned me off to school and caused me to distrust teachers, but that’s when I started trying (with inconsistent success) to learn things on my own.

So, back to knitting. Instead of following knitting patterns, I’m deconstructing them to get the theory behind the techniques. I really wish Elizabeth Zimmerman’s style of pattern description were more common than the line by line convention that’s so common, but I can understand why it’s not. That much expository writing is pretty time-consuming.

Do you ever think about your learning style? What is it, and why does it work for you? (Why yes, that is of professional interest to me!)

Charity Knitting and Challenges

So, having set myself the challenge of learning to knit from patterns properly, I started simply, and am going the Tri-Aran-Angle shawl.  Since it’s a shawl, getting the size wrong isn’t really a concern.  Also, I’m learning to do cables and such.

I’m actually doing the shawl for a the local hospital.  Like many places where people are in need of comfort, there is a Comfort Shawl project going on.   People who are caregivers for the elderly, or caring for very ill relatives, can get a hand-knit or hand-crocheted shawl if they want one.  There are people who find them a help in time of trial.  This one is a fairly heavy one, so it’s going to be like wrapping yourself in a security blanket.  Also, it’s appropriate for the cold winter weather.

So, what the heck?  I have yarn, the project looks like it’ll go fine, and someone can have a little something to feel better at a difficult time of life.  That works for me.

Knitting Confession

I’ve been knitting seriously for about six years. I can make basic socks, a scarf, mittens, whatever. I’ve posted pictures of some of my work, and it’s decent stuff. Wearable and attractive. Even creative. But most of the detail work in my knitting has been from stranded colorwork.

Confession. I don’t really know how to read a knitting pattern. Not well, anyway. Mostly, this is because I never knit to other people’s pattern, but use some design templates I’ve found such as Elizabeth Zimmerman’s seamless yoke sweater, or Wendy’s Generic Toe Up Socks, then added color details as it suited me. The colorwork? Mostly easy, because I learned how to do stranded colorwork from the We Call Them Pirates hat. Yes, that is a pattern, but using some really simple stitch techniques so I didn’t get bogged down in the chart. I’m confident enough with this kind of thing that a steeked Nordic sweater only presents the problem of what sort of pattern and colorwork would look cool on it.

However, I’d like to branch out. I’d like to make an Aran sweater; I’d like to add texture detail on socks. But for the most part, the charts with their symbols weren’t making sense to me.

Why? I was expecting to be able to skim them.

You can’t skim when you don’t know the language. Just sayin’.

I get this with my computer students all the time. They don’t have the vocabulary for whatever it is we’re doing, and it short circuits their brains. Abbreviations and symbols are difficult to decipher until you’re actually fluent in the language. When you’re used to things being easy and fluent, going back to it being tedious to decipher can be a bit of a difficult leap.

The simple fact is that while I can knit some classes of garments quite well, and am a structural thinker, until I’m fluent with the language, puzzling out the charts and patterns for textured knitting is going to be hard. Nothing wrong with that mind, but I’d gotten too used to knitting being easy and automatic and had forgotten that tacking on a new skill is going to require more concentration.