Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:26 pm

Metanao is the Greek verb that corresponds to the noun ‘metanoia’. The latter means a change of mind, view or perspective, and the former means the act of changing one’s perspective.

Suzie was looking for a name for her counseling and relationship education business, and this seems apt.


‘Keeping Focused’ on Research and Writing

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:12 pm

A colleague asked me to present a session at a forum yesterday for Higher Degree by Research (Masters by Research, Doctor of Education, Doctor of Philosophy) students. My first reaction was ‘Are you sure you have the right person?’ I tend not to perceive myself as particularly focused, and I imagine most of the people who know me best have a similar perception.

Sometimes the way we perceive ourselves and the way others perceive us differ, though: I was talking with a colleague at UQ a few years ago and started to say “I think of myself as a…” What I had in mind to say was “…mellow, laid-back sort of guy”, but she finished the sentence for me with “…high-energy person”. It made me think again…

So, yesterday I delivered perhaps the least focused presentation on ‘Keeping Focused’ ever.

It was from 2:15 to 3:00 in the afternoon and I knew the participants were likely to have been listening to talks with PowerPoint most of the day by that point, so I didn’t use that. I thought about the topic and the issues over the previous few days, then scribbled notes on a yellow legal pad on the train up from the Gold Coast to Brisbane. Spent some of the time talking to the groups, and some having them talk among themselves to share their own approaches.

Most of the other presenters will have shared their PowerPoint slides for students to use as notes or for people unable to attend, so I thought I’d use this blog post to summarise a few of the ideas I shared yesterday.

Preamble and Themes

Part of the challenge is that ‘focus’ may not mean what it used to, or at least not for everyone. In a more-complex and intensified world of work, taking a week to do nothing but write is a lot tougher. Even taking a couple of hours a day can be challenging. I was at the forum all day, listening to the presentations and enjoying them, but at the same time requesting data and calculating statistics about our School for a report, completing and submitting an Expression of Interest letter for a grant program, working on learning and teaching issues… and this is just a typical day.

The corollary is that what works for one person may not work for another. My own approach is to multitask. The research says we don’t do things as deeply when we do, but I do get a fair bit done. Others may organise their work differently, and find those whole weeks or couple of hours a day to work on research.

Suzie is doing a Master of Counselling program at the moment, and studying Solution Focused Therapy. One of the precepts of that approach is “If it’s working, do more of it. If it’s not, try something else.” My own approach to ‘focus’ seems to be working – I’m getting the publications out, getting the grants, all that stuff. So the test of an approach is empirical: does it work?

Who knows whether another approach might make me even more productive, but I also feel ‘productive’ enough for my purposes… and I enjoy my life, which is also a criterion!

This is part of the point and the argument: it’s hard to establish efficiency and effectiveness without deciding on the goals. What do you want to do with your research? What are your career and life goals? If you want to be a career researcher – PhD, postdoc, fellowships, research-only profile – then you need to be focused on research and writing to the exclusion of other things. If, on the other hand, you plan for something more like my career, which tries to balance teaching, research and service to the profession and community, multitasking may also work.

It also relates to the way different people’s minds work. Some can simply sit down and write (which partly relates to being immersed in the literature and the project to the exclusion of other things). I find that I need to load the ideas into my subconscious and then go off and do other things while they ‘cook’, then when the time is right the writing tends to be easy.

So, in all of this, ‘know thyself’ is important. I can talk about what I do and what works for me, and why, but finding out what works for you is the goal.

Day Scale

At the scale of focusing every day, I’d suggest the following:

  • manage email and social media in a way that works for you: for me, it’s helpful to respond to email as it comes in. For others, leaving it to the end of the day or other strategies work better
  • reference as you go: leaving referencing until the end is incredibly inefficient. Use EndNote or another referencing package if it works for you – I don’t
  • take weekends, or at least a day off a week (it needn’t be a weekend day if that works better with your life and those of the people you want to hang out with): being so hardcore at work that you work every day is a recipe for burnout. Not always easy, particularly for those working full time and studying part time.
  • attend to your physical health: your brain is in a body, and your body needs care. Don’t say “I’m too busy to exercise”, say “I’m too busy not to”. It might only be walking the dog, but getting the blood flowing gets it flowing to your brain.

Thesis (or Project) Scale

At the scale of a PhD thesis, or a research project:

  • work-life balance is key: the stats correlating PhDs and divorces are worrying. Finding ways to focus on work enough for your purposes but also have a life and relationships and friends will make your life better and your career more robust and resilient.
  • do something on your research at least several times a week. Keep it ‘top of mind’. Leaving it months means it takes a long time to get back up to speed. Even if it’s just writing an informal summary, or reading a paper of two, do something regularly.
  • focus on goals, not regimens: think about where you’re headed, rather than blocking out 2 hours a day or 2 days a week (participants’ mileage varied on this, and regimens did work for some)

Career Scale

People will advise you – as they have advised me throughout my career – to focus on having one clear, identified research program and focusing on that. I haven’t done that – I’ve followed the things I find interesting, and it seems to be working OK. (With some exceptions… I think I’ve been slower to be promoted than I’d have liked, for a variety of reasons: one of the trade-offs… But not inevitable.)

Something I learned from one of my own doctoral students in the past, Mark Hirschkorn, is ‘first do what is worth doing, then figure out how to get rewarded for it’. The times when I’ve tended to struggle and be depressed and unproductive in my work have happened when I’ve bought into other people’s reward systems, and tailored my work to that, rather than to what I thought was worthwhile and interesting work. Conversely, when I focus on the ‘good stuff’, the rewards seem to flow. Parker Palmer’s (highly recommended) ‘The Courage To Teach’ talks about how, when we teach out of who we are and do the work that nourishes our own spirit, it also nourishes our work.

I hope these bits and pieces might be useful to colleagues at all stages of their research careers. I certainly don’t hold myself up as an example… but I’ve thought a bit about how and why I do what I do… and it works for me. This is written as much as anything to encourage you to do the same kind of thinking about yourself and your own goals.


Your Ten (or more) Commandments

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:57 am

I posed this question on Facebook last week:

What would be your personal 10 Commandments? Create your own list of rules for living.

Here are a few of the responses I particularly liked:

David Jewell:

1. Love thy neighbor as thyself.
2. (See #1)
3. (See #2)

Lachlann Murray:

Just one. Don’t be a dickhead.

Michelle Hill:

Be Kind
Be respectful
Be happy

My first attempt:

1. Find the shared humanity in everyone – that means not owning people, not demonising, not stereotyping.
2. Don’t rape anyone – get enthusiastic consent and enjoy!
3. Recognise that we share this planet with 7 billion humans and trillions of other living things. Don’t take more than your share and live in ways that make it better.
4. You only get one go around, don’t waste it all working – remember to rest.
5. Give respect to everyone, seek to earn respect from everyone.
6. Don’t kill – heal, give life.
7. Don’t betray your partner sexually* – embrace, build, enjoy.
8. Don’t steal – give, share.
9. Don’t lie – seek the truth in everything.
10. Understand what you need in your life materially and don’t stress about getting more than that.

*Whatever agreements you have made, whether or not that includes exclusivity.

The order is a bit weird here because I’ve tried for the parallel – I’d move 2 and 7 closer together and 3 and 10. I don’t think these are exhaustive, but I think they’re better…

Bill and Ted:

1. Be excellent to each other
2. Party on, dudes!

Anthony Bishop:

Number 1: No rules, only heuristics.

Jennifer Nixon:

Be authentic
Be kind whenever possible
Be the change you want to see in the world
Remember that other people’s shit is not your shit
Love more than you think
Celebrate as much as possible

Alex Senior couldn’t stop at 10…:

1: First, do no harm.
2: Empathise.
3: Proportionality in all things
4: Make the best decision you can, with the information you have at the time according to your highest principles.
5: Be prepared to examine your reasoning
6: Take ownership of your decisions
7: Those that have the capacity, have the responsibility.
8: When faced with untenable alternatives, look to your imperative.
9: Entropy will get us in the end. There is freedom in the transience of all things.
10: Be informed.
11: Communicate to your audience. Be transparent and honest in your dealings, with very limited exception.
12: Be judicious when exercising power. More often than not it is better to stay the hand.
13: Think long and hard before you embark on a course of action that removes another’s freedom of choice.
14: Have greater expectations of yourself than you have of others. Only you can benchmark yourself, do so honestly.
15: To truly connect with others, to truely love others, you must give of yourself freely. You must give others unconditional faith and credit, until proven otherwise. Expect that in doing this some people will take advantage of you.
16: The experience of yourself and others is unique and valuable. There is always something to be learnt from others. Respect the dignity of life.

Heather Stathopottermus:

Add value, respect (all) humans, treasure life, be kind, be grateful, take care of the planet, don’t be an arsehole, be inspirational in your own niche, leave things better than you found them, and finally, don’t tolerate fucked up shit in others (it’s the same as doing it yourself).

Ryan Bishop asked “Can we rephrase these to be ‘do’ statements rather than ‘don’t’ statements?” I responded “I tried to add the ‘do’ bit in my list but keep the flavour, but we could probably dispense with the “thou shalt nots” entirely.” Harry Kanasa made the counterpoint: “Short, sharp, and punchy is the key to getting anyone to follow rules. ‘Don’t rape’ beats ‘only engage in consensual sex’ on all counts.”

Anthony Johnson added his list:

1: Be happy with what you have
2: Like ALL of my jokes :0}
3: Forgive idiots as they don’t know they are idiots
4: Don’t drink too much as you will get drunk and have a hangover for a week :0{
5: Believe in something. I believe in aliens :0}
6: Don’t piss your wife off. It’s not worth it
7: Learn to walk away from FACEBOOK sometimes
8: Start your own religion up and take over the world :0}
9: forget 8 I lost it for a moment :0}
10: Just remember when the aliens come, I told you they would :0}


It’s Alliivvve!!!

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:12 pm

Hmm – my last post in this blog was in early February this year, about 9 months ago. At that point I was tired of blogging and blogging was tired of me. I declared it dead…

But, as for Mark Twain, rumors of its death may have been exaggerated. A few ideas have come to me recently for which it seems like this is a better medium than Facebook, Twitter or a web forum. These are longer-form pieces and ideas, to which I want to have permanent access.

Facebook does immediacy well, but it also does ephemerality well… or durability very poorly, depending on your purposes.

So there’ll be a few more posts here: probably not daily, maybe not even weekly, but some. I think the links to Facebook and Twitter still work to alert my friends of new content, and I hope you’ll find the new content interesting.

If you want your comments to be durable, post them here, if you want them to be ephemeral, post them on Facebook or Twitter.


Requiem for a Dead Medium

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:33 am

I guess this Bravus blog has been dead for a while now – there have been occasional intimations of life every few months, but it’s functionally moribund.

People are talking about blogging as a dead medium, and I guess it is… I know I don’t get the urge to write them any more, and I seldom read them.

I suspect it’s the instant gratification of social media that has done the murder: if I have an idea I will usually pop it on Twitter if it’s short or Facebook if it’s a little longer (and being aware of the slightly different audiences on those two media) and get instant reactions, rather than write a longer piece like a blog post.

The blog has been useful to keep around for the instances when (a) I know I’ve written something more detailed on a topic and want to link that to a Facebook or Twitter discussion or (b) I want to write something longer and with more detail than Facebook is well adapted for, or that I think I might want to access again in future. I’ll probably keep it open for those reasons, but post rarely.

I’ll also keep it open as an archive: it contains a couple of thousand posts chronicling my thoughts and reactions across almost a decade, and as such I think it’s a useful ‘externalised memory’ to have available for myself and others.

Thanks to all those who read it in the past, and who dig into it in the present and future, or who I send here with links – reading is the ‘third moment of ethnography’ that makes the writing worth doing.

But I guess this is really ‘vale’ to the Bravus Blog – may it requiescat in pace.


Extremely Progressive Valley

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:21 pm

Cassie and I saw upcoming Melbourne band Ne Obliviscaris at Brisbane progfest in 2010, and I reviewed that show here http://www.bravus.com/blog/?p=1959. When we saw that they are touring their new album and playing in Brisbane, we made plans. Just for fun, we decided to do a shared review of the gig, like the one Alex and I did of Soundwave in 2011 http://www.bravus.com/blog/?p=2246. Incidentally, if this review makes you want to see Ne Obliviscaris for yourself, they’re playing at Soundwave in 2015.

The Brightside
(the venue)


I’ve been to most of the rock venues in Brisbane, The Brightside in Fortitude Valley was a new one for me. It’s a fairly new venue, in a space that has held a number of others over the years. It’s next to a club housed in a deconsecrated small church, and reports suggest it may also be a former church, or possibly church hall. It’s the right shape… Here’s a short review of the venue http://www.au.timeout.com/brisbane/music/venues/963/the-brightside. There’s an excellent little open air bar outdoors, which made for a much more enjoyable wait for the show than the more usual line in the street. This was a pretty small extreme metal show, so the line wouldn’t have been huge anyway, but waiting with a beer until most had headed inside was even mellower. Good range of craft beers and ciders available, along with some truly preposterous cocktails.


$10 preposterous cocktails O.0 An example of one of these cocktails is the Heart-shaped Box – a combo of vanilla-infused vodka, lemon and strawberry compote topped off with lemonade and a heart-shaped lollipop.


Inside, as a venue, it’s great. There are (comfy looking) booths along the walls but you need to get in early, and most of the space is for standing, but there are balconies at about head height along both sides overlooking the main floor. Cassie and I grabbed a spot on the rail on the balcony, and stayed there all night, with a great view and above the fray. Sound mix was fantastic, too, with the acoustics of the venue better than a lot of the local rooms.

From our perspective, we could have done with just a touch more security presence. I’m all for unobtrusive security not messing with the flow of an extreme metal gig, and too much is arguably worse than too little, but incidents like one dickhead getting right up into the bands’ faces video recording them on his phone, with the flash light on shining in their faces, and not being stopped kind of damaged the gig for the majority of the more-considerate punters. Some idiot was also back-chatting the band which is ok to an extent, but this same idiot was then standing on tables and running around the venue with no one to reign him in. There was an energetic pit, which is fine, though there were one or two inevitable minor injuries, but I think Cassie was concerned about the crowd surfing. I’ll let her talk about it, if she wants to.


I am far too empathetic to stand back and watch as someone falls. There was this weedy looking guy who kept crowd surfing and kept getting his upper body dipped towards the ground. I was even more nervous when the extremely good looking guitarist from Beyond Creation, who was a lot larger than the weedy guy, jumped onto the crowd. Dad said his band’s singer was looking worried too. Usually this stuff would not be so hard to watch as the crowd is VERY packed in and so there is a small chance of someone actually hurting themselves but as Dad said above the crowd was a bit sparse.

Halcyon Prophecy


Local support was symphonic metal band ‘Halcyon Prophecy’ https://www.facebook.com/HalcyonProphecy. They were technically astonishing and had a great dynamic range and variety of songs. The singer had excellent stage presence, and handled a supportive but too-noisy idiot in the crowd with grace and humor. Vocal style involved too much scream and too little clean or growl for our particular tastes, but the skill and beauty of the music was impressive. (Though the drummer did tend to overly rely on one particular ride cymbal on every song – mix it up, dude!) I suspect we’ll hear more of these guys.


Ditto, I loved the music not so much the singing. I have never liked screaming again because I am too empathetic and I imagine that it would really hurt your throat to do it for a lengthy amount of time as this guy was doing.

Beyond Creation


Progressive death metal band Beyond Creation is from Montreal, Canada https://www.facebook.com/BeyondCreationOfficial http://beyondcreation.bandcamp.com/album/earthborn-evolution. It’s complex, dense music, but not as ‘tech-death’ speedy as their town-mates Beneath the Massacre – but Montreal must have a hell of an extreme metal scene.

Singer and rhythm guitarist Simon Girard plays an 8-string with fanned frets http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fanned_fret_guitars, lead guitarist Kevin Chartre an 8-string with standard frets and – here’s the real point of distinction – bassist Dominic ‘Forest’ Lapointe plays a 6-string bass with no frets. The fretless sound, along with lots of two-handed tapping and sliding, gives the band a distinctive sound (Cassie: sounded a bit like those ‘thong xylophones’, kinda like a boing-ing sound). Drummer Phillipe Boucher anchors it with complex blast beats and a great variety of tempos.

It’s heavy, intense, but also groovy, complex music, and just mesmerising to watch and listen to. One song in French – as the names hint, these guys are not from the English-speaking enclave in Montreal – and great banter between the songs. A cute touch, in a show in which the bands obviously respected each other and enjoyed each others’ company – was a birthday cake with one candle coming out mid set for Kevin Chartre’s 25th. I’ll definitely be acquiring their albums and checking them out: in some ways I think the complexity of the music will be more accessible in recorded form, but it was definitely a very enjoyable live show. As with both other bands on the bill tonight, the technical chops are mind-blowing, but it’s the way they’re used musically and in the context of complex compositions that’s impressive, not just mindless shredding.


This band was fascinating to watch (not just because of the very attractive 25 year old guitarist :P). The speed and agility with which they played was astounding. The technicality in the songs was breathtaking. I will definitely steal the album Dad gets and listen to it as well.

My only gripe is that this band was trying to force a scary, dangerous mosh pit which is really not what I came to the show to see. As I am a people watcher I find that the aggressiveness of the mosh pit detracts from the beautiful-ness of the music played.

Side note: If you read this Cadmann, I think you would really enjoy this band.


With a bit more experience with metal shows, I’d suggest that the pit is less dangerous and violent than it looks. It’s all good fun, and there are lots of watchful people who will pick someone up the moment they fall, and make sure no-one gets badly hurt. As already noted, the relative sparseness of the crowd on the floor made it look worse because physics – more distance available in which to build up momentum between collisions.

Ne Obliviscaris


I was blown away by this band http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ne_Obliviscaris_%28band%29 last time I saw them, and again over the past couple of weeks by their new album, Citadel, released this month. It’s complex, progressive, beautiful extreme music, which is very much my thing, and I put them right up there with Opeth, Agalloch and Ihsahn in my pantheon of extreme beautiful music. So I was very keen, and waiting with anticipation for the set. Since we last saw them, violinist and clean vocalist Tim Charles has grown his hair a bit, so he looks a bit less like an accountant, but he’s still, in Cassie’s words, ‘adorable'(He pokes his tongue at the crowd and does everything on stage with a massive smile on his face). Extreme (he does a range of growls and screams) vocalist Xenoyr (Marc Campbell to his mum, or very possibly his mad scientist creator) is as strange and intense as ever, and does a fantastic job of bringing both the music and the presence. (Cassie: I would love to see what his personality is like off stage, because he seems so aloof and uninterested, but something someone in the crowd said made him smile and I think he could have a very different off-stage persona). The band has two lefties, stage left, in headless bass player (um, I mean, his bass is headless, not him!) Cygnus (Brendan Brown) and lead guitarist Benjamin Baret, and right-handed guitarist Matt Klavins stands stage right, with the singers and drummer centre stage. Drummer Daniel Presland still looks like a rugby player, which is kind of an incongruous note in an extreme metal band, but is absolutely killer. Like Carcass’ Ken Owens, he can do the double-kick blast but still lay down a solid beat on the 1, which makes it easier to headbang and keeps it heavy.

Lots of complexity and variety in the compositions, lots of light and shade, lots of melody. The heavy breaks are cool because they’re not all the same, and have a complex variety. It’s also not as simple as ‘this is a heavy bit, this is a light bit’ – the band use all the tools available in their considerable toolkit in rich combinations. Apparently one of the compositions from their previous album, Portal of I, has been added to the repertoire of the Melbourne Conservatorium, which surprises me not at all.


My favourite part of Ne Obliviscaris was the more melodic breaks. Last time we went, the violin was only a backing to the music, this time the breaks were just the violin with a guitar backing. I trained in violin when I was younger but had no sense of timing so it was incredible for me to see the technical playing that I couldn’t really pick up with the rest of the band playing.

Footnote: One of our sports at gigs is spotting band t-shirts (other than for the bands playing). I think the list for me was Carcass, Opeth, Meshuggah, Moonsorrow, and Cassie said she saw an Iron Maiden (I’m wondering whether I can formulate a new law that it’s physically impossible to go to any metal show ever without seeing an Iron Maiden t-shirt).


Year of the Beefcake (Phase Two)

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:53 pm

So, it’s a year since I started losing weight. I’ve lost close to 30 kg, and kept it off for a couple of months.

That means I’m going to stop counting every kilojoule every day of my life. I’ve learned a lot about how to eat well and be healthy, and I think I can maintain that without the tool now. I’ll keep an eye on the scales, and if I start to gain weight I’ll reconsider.

I’m currently walking an average of about 60 km a week – several recent weeks have been over 100 km. I hit 3000 total km walked last week. I’ll keep on walking, though perhaps a little less.

The next phase, now that the weight is off and the habits of healthy eating and plenty of exercise are established, is to build some lean muscle. I’m actually quite skinny in the arms now, because I’ve been on low calories and low activity for a long time.

So the plan includes:

  1. Pushups every day – as many as I can do in a single set, no reps. Hope to build up to 100 a day. May add situps or crunches if it gets too easy.
  2. Gym twice a week – starting with whole body, but perhaps a new PT session to develop ‘upper body day’ and ‘lower body day’ later as it builds up.
  3. A balanced diet, but less carbs and more protein.

Lean muscle mass cranks up the metabolism and makes it easier to keep the weight off… and I guess makes me feel good.

I won’t subject you to shirtless photos, but I might kick out some measurements on Facebook now and then…


A Dog of a Different Colour

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:42 am

I guess I knew it would happen, and that it would be the real test.

I started this process of getting healthier in a ‘good’ cycle, and it’s been going for almost a year now. And now there’s a ‘bad’ cycle.

How do I know? The office door is shut every day and I’m very tempted to eat lollies (a temptation I don’t always manage to resist) and to drink alcohol (small amounts only) every day rather than couple of times a week.

It’s not clinical depression, it’s just busyness and stress. I’ve been in the office all week, worked hard all day every day, and the task I planned to start on Monday is still not done. Plenty of other stuff done, plenty of demands met, plans made and so on. I’ll be in the office one or both days this weekend.

This was always going to be the test: I gained all the weight, and gained it back after earlier losses, in cycles like this.

So far, so good: walked 100 km last week and am on track to do the same this week, and haven’t gained any weight. Still generally pretty happy as well, though also pretty stressed. But it’s normal, healthy stress, caused by overwork and overcommitment.

And the strategies that work for life in general, work for these cycles too.


Managing the Mechanics, Managing the Panics

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:24 pm

There are some changes in one of our teacher education programs at the university I work at. They will only affect students in the first and second years of the 4 year degree, and we’re planning to meet with those cohorts to explain the changes. A colleague suggested that we also meet with the third years. There is no substantive impact on them, but the rumor mill has been running about changes to their program and they’re stressed and asking questions. Reassuring them will end up as less stress for them and less work for everyone who has to field their questions.

It was a good lesson for me: it’s not enough to make the changes work, you need to also manage perceptions and anxieties and people’s reactions to the changes. I’m usually OK at the empathy thing, but just being aware of these two related facets and attending to them both more consciously will be helpful.


I think I finally know what I am

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:45 am

…religiously speaking.

Listening (a practice I highly recommend) to the podcasts of the Long Now Foundation (thanks to Anthony Bishop for recommending them to me), I heard the following exchange:

Eric Schneider asked “Mr Eno, as a Zen Buddhist (Eno: “I’m not!”) how do you reconcile the 10,000 year clock project with the Buddhist notion of impermanence?”

Brian Eno: “I’m actually not a Zen Buddhist. I’m not embarrassed to be described as one, but, um, I…”

Stewart Brand: “What are you, actually? (laughter) Do you have any belief structure whatever?”

Brian Eno: “The sounds like an accusation, Stewart. (laughter) No, I don’t think I do actually, I think I’m a, a… (Brand: “You’re an atheist?”) somebody who believes in the muddle. I’m a muddlist. (laughter) I more and more think that things just muddle along. Everything just muddles along.”

Stewart Brand: “Are there rituals that muddlers…?”

Brian Eno: “Muddlers like me surrender to the muddle, and love the process of surrendering to the muddle.”

I’m a muddlist too! This seems like the most perfect description I’ve ever heard of how I think and feel about religious matters. Not for me the ironhard certainty of any position…

The Long Now Foundation is dedicated to getting us lifting our eyes above the rut and taking a longer term view. Their iconic project is building a mechanical clock that will run and be accurate for 10,000 years. This podcast takes about the features of that and so much more, and is hilarious and moving and brilliant. You have to join the foundation to watch the video, but the podcasts are free, and I *highly* recommend this particular one.




Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:49 am

(this one is fueled by many conversations with Alexandra Geelan and is dedicated to Sue Geelan1)

I do like my music extreme, but in almost everything else, it seems like the Golden Mean is a principle to live by. To seek balance between competing elements, rather than to rush to the extreme end of any spectrum, is often healthier. Obviously that statement is over-simple: moderation in that as well! But I’d argue that (for example) extremists tend to cause more problems than the ‘luke warm’2 moderates.

The particular context in which Alex and I have been discussing it is (perhaps unsurprisingly) diet and exercise. Extreme diets like Atkins or the various juice ‘cleanses’ and ‘quitting sugar’3 are dangerous – and ineffective in the longer term. They’re not sustainable because they’re extreme: they’re all ‘going on a diet’ rather than ‘changing your diet’. They’ll lead to some quick weight loss initially – which is actually more ascribable to losing water weight and to realignment of gut flora – but in the end people have to go off them (or get sick because they don’t offer balanced nutrition) and they just go back to the diet that got them sick and overweight in the first place.

The whole ‘food as nutrients’ thing plays into this – if food is thought of as a package of quantifiable fats and sugars and carbs and proteins and vitamins and minerals, rather than as… well, food, it just becomes tempting to think that maximising the ‘good’ stuff and minimising the ‘bad’4 is the road to success. But nutrition is a much more complex picture than that – our body builds many of the nutrients it needs, and nutrients interact. Better to think of food as food, and have an interesting, enjoyable, varied diet. Maybe less (or no) red meat, less sugary ‘treats’, less processed stuff and more fresh veg is part of that… but that’s more because our diets tend to be quite unbalanced to begin with than as a medical approach. Sure, some foods can be eaten in larger quantities than others, and you’ll want to keep an eye on the balance and the overall energy intakes and outflows, but cutting out carbs or ODing on protein or whatever is not what is going to work long term. ‘Meal replacement’ approaches5 with shakes or whatever don’t work long term either, for the same reasons – it’s not a sustainable lifelong diet, so you’re likely to end up back on an unhealthy mix rather than a healthy one.

The same applies for exercise: an all-cardio approach for weight loss or an all-weights approach to muscle gain is likely to be less effective than a mix. Part of the reason is similar – it’s likely to get too boring to be sustainable long term. You want to be having fun with an exercise program, not gritting your teeth and doing it because you ‘should’. So going for a walk or bike ride to get somewhere – hopefully somewhere fun, but work will suffice in a pinch! – rather than as ‘exercise’ for its own sake. Play some kind of sport – team, pair, small group or individual – for the fun of it. Lift some weights and mix it up. Take the stairs. Lots of multijoint, large movement exercises that do both resistance and cardio. And so on.

Going on a diet and going to the gym won’t change your life if you go so hard that you can only go for a little while. Going easy but consistent, and having a balance, is just more effective.

Now, I just need to get better at applying this insight to work-life balance… 😉

  1. who has many exceptionally fine qualities, but I’m sure wouldn’t mind me saying that moderation is not one of them!6
  2. Of course, one of the characteristics of extreme ideologies of all kinds is contempt for those less extreme than themselves and the attempt to paint moderation as cowardice or weakness
  3. sorry Cheryl!
  4. of course, deciding foods have moral weight is itself a problem. I mean, if it’s farmed unsustainably or cruelly or directly taken from someone else, of course food has moral weight, but thinking of sugary or fatty foods as ‘wicked’ is part of the problem, not part of the solution.
  5. sorry Suzie!
  6. which is one of the many reasons we complement each other so well.


What It Takes 2

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:13 am

(gratuitous diet and exercise details warning)

It’s been a good week in one sense – 69.5 km walked so far, and there’ll be enough more to get it over 70 for the week. That also takes me over 1000 km walked in total, which is a nice milestone to reach.

But there were two days away delivering workshops in the Sunshine Coast, which meant I both ate (and drank) more than usual and couldn’t exercise: those are not too hard to identify on this graph, from my MyFitnessPal app:

The red line is my current weight loss target, which is about 5500 kJ/day (1300 Cal/day). Maintenance for me at this weight is still not much under 9000 kJ/day, so the Thursday was a weight gain day, but Friday was maintenance or small loss.

Then yesterday was our (early, because Suzie is working on the real one) Mother’s Day celebration, and high tea with scones and jam and cream was the plan. I knew that was the case, so Peter, Alex and I went for a big walk in the morning to get coffee, and I skipped breakfast.

The walk ended up being longer than planned, because we saw an interesting-looking path and followed it, then got trapped by an uncrossable freeway, so we walked 16 km then called home to be picked up! That and no breakfast put me well into negative kilojoules for the day. Almost 3700 worth (long black is my new jam, and the kilojoules from the coffee were completely negligible).

High tea was at 2:00 pm, so that was lunch as well. It was lovely – and it was about 4400 kJ, or 80% of my daily allowance. But that was OK, because I was starting from the negative.

Would have been a good day… but then for a late dinner I just had a couple of slices of toast with nutmeat and barbeque sauce, and some Turkish toast with honey and banana… and that ended up being 3300 kJ!

I was still about 1000 kJ short of the target for the day, and normally would have been happy with that, but I’ve been on 85 kg for a couple of weeks already (partly because I had a similar workshop week last week), and I’d wanted to have a *really* low weekend.

So, yesterday evening, I found the Manly-Melbourne NRL match (that I’d been disappointed to find wasn’t being televised) on my ABC Radio app on my phone and headed out into the dark alone to do this:

10 km in 90 minutes meant I was listening to the game for all but 10 min of the walk, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience… and burned the extra 2500 kJ or so that made it the good day you see in the graph above.

Seriously: for me, for weight loss, walking is the magic. When you slip on food, there’s always a way out.

(I suspect I still might not quite make it to 84 kg for tomorrow’s weigh-in, but I’ll have given it a red hot go… and there are no workshops this week)


What It Takes

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:34 am

So, 85 kg today. That’s 22 kg down from where I started, and 10 kg from my goal weight. Progress bar 69%.

Two weeks ago there was a week with two birthday parties in it, and I was dramatically (like, double) over my targets on those days. One week ago there was a games party with beers and I was over again for a day. Still under for each week, but not always by enough to lose a kilo.

This week I was well under until yesterday. Thought I was doing OK until 8 pm when I discovered 900 kJ I’d missed that day. That would have put me over target for the day by at least that much.

I could have left it – I was still well under on aggregate for the week. But before the party weeks I’d been under target every day for months. It’s going to get tougher from here on, so that discipline is important.

So I hied myself off to the gym and burned a quick 400 Calories or about 1600 kJ on the treadmill while watching the replay of the Manly game, to be well under for the day.

I’ve enjoyed the whole process, and it’s been far from a long trudge of privation, but make no mistake – it takes willpower and motivation and discipline.


Fasting More Slowly

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:42 am

(hmm, kind of failing at blogging anything but weight loss and health stuff lately – ah well, in some ways with over 1800 posts here, and with my dislike of repeating myself, I’ve already opined on a heap of the other things I might have an opinion on! And politics is just too depressing to even write about at the moment…)

Alex and I have been attempting the 5:2 diet – two non-contiguous fast days a week. I’ve tried both completely fasting for a day, and the alternative of having no breakfast or lunch but having dinner that is less than 500 Cal/2000 kJ.

I think it’s something I’d like to continue, but not while I’m *also* dieting quite intensely. I’m already burning lots of fat and not eating a lot, and that is not a good lead in to the fast days: not when I’m also very busy, working hard and doing heaps of exercise. I think it also makes me hungrier and less satisfied across the week, which may even make the net energy for the week higher rather than lower.

So, not sure what Alex will do, but my plan is to just suspend the 5:2 notion for the few months until I hit my target weight. Once I’m back on ‘maintenance’ levels of 8000 or so kJ a day rather than my current 5500 or so, I think it will be much more doable, and a healthier thing to do.


Measurements and New Goals

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:01 pm

Alex and Peter and I went this morning and each got a ‘bioscan’: a measurement of body fat, muscle, hydration and so on. It’s done by standing on scales with electrodes under your feet and holding electrodes with your thumbs, and the resistance of your body to electric currents yields a lot of information.

I was 87 kg on the scales at home this morning – second milestone, and 20kg down from where I started – and 86.5 on the (presumably more accurate) scales on the bioscan, so it looks like our home scales are accurate enough for our purposes.

Very pleased with this milestone: it’s 5 kg lighter than I’ve been at least since returning from Canada in 2006. Still, though, the weight you want to lose is the last to go – my arms and legs are noticeably thinner but I still have too large a waist-hip ratio and ‘love handles’ and a smaller-but-still-there beer gut.

The machine suggested that my goal weight should be 75 kg, so another 12 kg down from here, and that makes sense to me. It said my lean body mass (bone+muscle+organs+water) is 64 kg, and therefore 75 is about 15% body fat. If I wanted to go for 12% it would be more like 72-73 kg.

75 is a sensible next milestone. Given I’ve already lost 20, 12 more should be a doddle! I’d assume it wouldn’t continue at a kilo a week right to the target, and will get tougher and therefore slower as I get close, but still I should be there by midyear if I simply keep doing what I’m doing.

My ‘visceral fat’ (fat around the organs) was 10 when the top of the healthy range is 9, so I can stand to lose more of that too, but of course losing fat in general will also lose that. That’s most likely the result of ‘yoyo dieting’, and in particular the fast gain from 92 a couple of years ago back to 107. It’s some of the unhealthiest and nastiest fat, so it’ll be good to get rid of that.

At 107 kg I would have had 40% body fat, so the current 26% is definitely a big improvement, but with some way to go.

Other encouraging findings were that I’m more muscular than the average (like, out the top of the average range) and that my bone density is also high: no osteoporosis here. Weirdly my left arm is more muscular than my right, although I’m right-handed. Legs are equally balanced despite the old injury and the slight limp, which is excellent. Hydration level was good.

On the whole, I’m a hell of a lot healthier than I was, and on the road to being even healthier.


Beyond Conspiracy Theories on MH370

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:23 am

Lots and lots of nonsense being talked, much of it racist or groundlessly anti-Muslim. To me, until better evidence becomes available, this is the most plausible explanation: https://plus.google.com/106271056358366282907/posts/GoeVjHJaGBz

It’s consistent with the available evidence and with what increasingly certainly looks like the final location of the wreckage. It is also the result of catastrophic failure of aircraft systems, rather than of human malice. Perhaps it’s just my humanism talking, that makes me prefer this explanation, but I don’t think so… as I say, this seems to fit the available evidence better than alternative explanations.

I guess if the ‘black boxes’ are ever recovered, or enough of the wreckage to forensically reconstruct what happened, this theory will be tested – as it should be.

The image of a ‘ghost plane’ with everyone aboard unconscious flying on for hours on autopilot over the ocean is a spooky one, but arguably less disturbing for the grieving families than an ending of hijacking and terror. And that has happened before.


El Nino – Am I A Prophet?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:00 pm

I’m putting this on the blog rather than on Facebook (though it will get mirrored) because Facebook is too ephemeral. I want to be able to come back and find it if I’m right. And if I’m wrong, I want to be accountable in that others can come back and find it.

We’re hearing a number of reports that this might be a strong El Nino year. Here’s one of the more recent, more Australian-focused ones: http://www.smh.com.au/environment/weather/droughtthreatening-el-nino-event-increasingly-likely-bureau-says-20140325-35fua.html

It’s by no means certain that it will, yet, but here’s my prediction: if there is a strong El Nino, this year will be the hottest global year on record. Hotter than 1997 – the year of the last strong El Nino. It will be hotter by some distance.

Why do I say that? The apparent ‘pause’ in global warming, based on surface temperatures, hasn’t been a pause at all. The heat has still been accumulating, it has just been accumulating deep in the ocean. The El Nino phenomenon occurs because the currents are such that heat from deep in the ocean is released into the atmosphere… and there’s more there than ever before.

This is a simple, testable prediction, based on understanding what is going on with global climate. Note the included ‘if’ statement: *if* there is a strong El Nino, this will be a record hot year. If not, all bets are off.

Let’s see what happens…


How a Scientist’s Mind Works

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:55 am

Alex, Peter and I were walking our dog, Buffy, yesterday. She likes to run to places where there are dogs on the other side of the fence, and then run with them, greet them or start a fight. She’s not allowed, and she’s being trained out of it, but – although we walk miles in all directions on a wide range of routes – she remembers every such fence, and starts sneaking away from us and toward it, well ahead of time.

I said to Alex and Peter “She must have amazing spatial memory, because even on walks she’s only been on once, she remembers where all the ‘dog fences’ are”. I didn’t say anything to them at the time, but did think to myself “Either that, or perhaps she smells something from the dogs as we get close…”

Later in the same walk – 2-3 km later – she also ran toward a path that we needed to take, that she had only been along once, and in the opposite direction. She did this before we knew where the start of the path was.

There’s no scent clue from a dog for the path, so that challenges the ‘smell’ hypothesis and supports the ‘spatial memory’ hypothesis. Her spatial memory may, of course, include a lot more scent clues, rather than being almost exclusively visual like ours…

So, automatically creating and testing hypotheses and seeking confirming and disconfirming evidence, even when just taking the dog for a walk. It’s how a scientist rolls.


Where the Danger Lies

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:46 am

The news media in Queensland has been full of the trial of Brett Peter Cowan for the abduction and murder of thirteen-year-old Daniel Morcombe. It’s a horrifying case, and since it’s now in the sentencing phase it has come out that Cowan had prior convictions for abducting and raping boys.

Parents are holding their children closer and thinking about how to protect them, which is appropriate, but as I reminded one such thread on Facebook:

It’s very important, in the context of thinking about this case, to remember that incidents like this, while horrific, are very rare. *By far* the greatest risks to children are from people they know, not ‘stranger danger’. By all means protect them from strangers, but find ways to protect them from partners and family friends too… and also find ways to let them grow and develop without a climate of fear that oppresses them. Find ways to keep them safe that involve *your* watchfulness, not theirs, and that they don’t know about.



Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:20 am

I think something our society has got quite bad at is being comfortable with hunger. Realising it is normal and OK, and not an emergency in need of immediate remediation1. Being comfortable with being hungry, in an environment where we know we can obtain food easily anytime, is actually an important part of being healthy. Without it, the tendency is to overeat, because we confuse the sensation of ‘not being full’ with the sensation of hunger.

Obviously, if you’re hungry enough that you get dizzy or suffer some other kind of impairment, or if you have blood sugar regulation issues that need managing, the story is different. But for most of us, most of the time, it’s OK to be a little hungry.

I mean, we’re often sleepy at work or when there are other tasks to be done, but we soldier on. We might resolve to sleep better tonight, or to change some habits and get more sleep, or whatever, but we don’t (usually) immediately rush to crush that feeling with a massive sleep. I won’t talk about it in too-great detail here, but we’re often horny at work as well… 😉

One ‘hunger’ we probably should be on top of is thirst – but water is even easier to get than food. The trick is just to choose water, not wait for something else.

Alex and I have been doing 2 fast days a week, for health reasons (not weight loss). We either fast for a full day, or just miss breakfast and lunch, and have dinner, so that it’s effectively 24 hours since the previous day’s dinner. That involves being hungry… and learning good strategies for dealing with being hungry… which may in fact be one of the main benefits of fasting in the first place.

Again, it’s not about asceticism and self-denial and punishing the body – it’s about better enjoying the pleasures of food, because it tastes better when you’re really hungry than when it’s just food time.

  1. In all this, I’m talking about developed Western society, of course, not the much larger proportion of the world’s population for whom hunger is the daily reality, and is an emergency in need of immediate remediation