Wednesday 16 May 2012

18, Stay a while, and listen.

Today's first attempt at one of these ended up being a blog post about exercise. I got sidetracked. For the second day in a row.

So anyway, today I wrote a blog post, linked above. I also did some housework, although not as much as usual, because my right shoulder has a crazypainful spasm. I blame Deckard Cain.

I googled a recipe for paleo meatballs, to try and make some snack-sized meatballs I can freeze. I would normally not bother with my shoulder the way it is, but the meat was defrosted a couple of days ago, and I'd feel guilty about throwing it out.

Oh, and I made myself breakfast. Mushrooms, rosti, lean ham and two duck's eggs. Duck eggs taste ... not quite the same as hen's eggs. I think I'll scramble them with garlic or something next, as they were just a little peculiar for my tastes just fried. I will admit, though, they looked gorgeous. Om nom nom. Overall, as far as my dietary requirements go, it was a pretty good breakfast. 470 calories, 15g carbohydrate, 27g fat, and 42g protein. Maybe a little high on the fat side, but certainly okay otherwise. It probably seems a little high in calorie count, until you take into account that I don't snack, probably won't eat again until 4pm, and then it'll be something fairly light, leaving me about the same calories for dinner. Today I'll probably go over on fat, under on carbohydrate, and hit my protein goal. A detailed analysis of my food requirements will probably get a post of its own, sometime, but not right now. In any case, I'm satisfied that I tried something new today.

So, the shoulder spasm has put paid to plans for a workout this evening, which is somewhat annoying, but these things happen. On the bright side, it means I'll get dinner at around 8pm instead of around 10pm, which is a definite plus.

Still to do: clean out the fridge of perishables in preparation for next week's trip to Seattle, since it's bin day tomorrow. 

.... and hit level 20 in Diablo 3.

DOMS (not the fun kind)

This was going to be an achievements post, but then I got into rant mode. It happens. Twice in two days, actually. Enjoy.

Woke up tired and sore today. Annoying, but oh well.

I'm researching branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) to help mitigate the delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) I get from working out. For some reason, I have both prolonged and intense DOMS. Most people, as it happens, get this for about 12 to 36 hours post workout, that is, starting 12 hours after a workout and going until 36 hours after the workout. So basically just the next day. For me, it seems I get it for around 12 to 60 hours post workout. This, amongst other things, makes for a really awkward work/rest cycle.

To put it more concretely, say I work out on Monday evening. Normal recovery would then allow me to work out on Wednesday morning. Personally, I'm still sore, and I certainly will still be sore this evening. I'll be okay probably tomorrow morning (Thursday). This leads to a cycle of something like this: Mon (eve), Thurs (morn), Sat (eve), Tues (morn), Thurs (eve), Sun (morn), Tues (eve), Fri (morn), Mon (eve) ...

Frankly, that's not going to work for me. There is the other option, of course, of doing only 2 workouts a week - but with a fixed group session on Friday evenings, that means I get only one chance a week to work on my fitness goals. I mean, exercise is exercise, and that's good, but I have goals.

There have been a few studies done on the effect of BCAAs on DOMS. It seems to be effective in some degree in reducing both the duration and the intensity of DOMS. As I understand it, the BCAAs act to reduce muscle damage during a workout, and also promote muscle repair post workout. It does mean swallowing a bunch of pills before and after, but well, I can deal with that.

Intensity of pain wise, my DOMS is also fairly severe. Usually, DOMS is related to the amount of effort you put in - it's basically caused by muscle damage and repair. Generally, your muscles will inform you during the workout how much damage they're undergoing, and from there it's generally easy to work out how sore you're going to feel afterwards. For some reason, I don't really get those signals. I can do a workout where I go nowhere near my maximum effort, feel nothing but nicely warm and loosened up afterwards, and the next day I'll be stiff and sore. If I actually go all out, the next day I'm lucky to be able to shuffle around, and sitting down and standing up become exercises in pain tolerance. And I'll be like that for the next four days. I wrote about this a while back here.

For mitigating my pain and recovery, the current things I'm doing are protein before and after; electrolyte solution during and after; no caffeine the same day or following day; calcium supplementation after; and low rep sets with heavy weights. Each of these things have helped a bit, dropping caffeine the most.

BCAAs are the only thing that aren't yet part of my regime, so here's hoping they help too.

17, someone set us up the bomb

Many things occurred.

Housework, as usual. I spend a lot of my time dong this. Well, half an hour to two hours a day, concentrated before breakfast.

I was having a relaxing day, cruising along, installing diablo 3, looking at cabin luggage online since one of ours is dying. That kind of thing. Then, most of the way through a particular quest, my mouse stops working properly.

I have a razer naga epic, which I got in November last year. It now has a really weird failure mode - it works as a pointer, but not as a clicker or keypad. Or, well, it does sometimes - about every 50ith keypress or so. This is while it's wired, by the way. I've written an email to the manufacturer, and hopefully I can either get it replaced under warranty or some form of diagnosis leading to a fix. This, however, ruined my day. I mean seriously, even if you're a fairly chipper person, having your favourite toy busted is going to make you a wee bit cranky.

Instead of ranting and raving about it, I gave myself a free pass to not cook beef and ale stew  with dumplings for dinner as I was planning, and get the dearly beloved to cook our colcannon bastardasation instead. I know that comfort food is considered a bad thing, but honestly? A good meal makes me high. Most people I know who comfort-eat don't get euphoria from it. I do. A really good meal that matches exactly what I want to eat makes me high for hours.

Also, I read about two thirds of "A Fire Upon the Deep" by Vernor Vinge. Awesome book, you should go read it. Science fiction, involving really alien aliens. Won a Hugo award.

Mood restored, I tried to play Diablo 3 using my dearly beloved's mouse, but I couldn't get past that first mini game - you know, the one where it says 'Retrieving Hero List'. It's really hard. 

Then I stayed up waaaaay too late playing Portal 2, until my brain stopped working, then I found I could log into Diablo 3, and well. Stayed up later.

This morning, I'm a bit tired, but oh well. These things, they happen.

Monday 14 May 2012

16, move every zig

Today's been a productive day.
  •  Housework! Laundry, dishwasher, a quick tidyup. 
  • Wrote a blog post, State Change, about how I've been going the last couple of weeks. I really appreciate the messages of support, empathy and encouragement I've been getting. Thanks guys, you're all incredibly awesome.
  • Talked to my mother on Skype for an hour.
  • Had some lemons that were getting to their use-by date, so I juiced them and froze the juice for use in home-made electrolyte replacement drinks (so much cheaper and probably better for me than Gatorade). 
  • Ordered the groceries for the week.
  • Ate in a timely manner before going to the gym. Hopefully this means I won't hurt too much tomorrow. Fried eggs with lean ham and rosti. Mmmmm. Om nom nom. 
  • Went to the gym, and worked out. I think I can safely say I've achieved one, possibly both of my 6-week strength goals. For pushups, the goal was 12 minimum extension knee pushups as a single set max. Today, I did 10 full extension knee pushups on my second set. For one-arm rows, the goal was to do a 7x10kg set. Today I did a 4x35kg, on my fourth set, which is nearly double the weight per hand of my goal. My third set, which wasn't quite good form, was 4x40kg. I think I can fairly say that I've probably overachieved. I'm going to do a formal retest on Wednesday to see how my progress is going. And then set some new goals - again for a 6 week period. 
  • Had a wonderful hot bath.
  • Finished reading "The Way of Kings" by Brandon Sanderson at the end of my bath. Excellent timing, that. And now, to bed!

State change

This morning, I've reflected on the changes that have occurred in the last few weeks.

A few weeks ago, I was depressed. I cried or felt like crying all day every day. I didn't leave the house, because it was too hard. I didn't write, or cook, or take photographs, read new books, or do anything much. I hadn't called my family in weeks. I hadn't had a marginally acceptable night's sleep either, due mostly to insomnia caused by the depression.

What changed?


I have a history of depression and anxiety. Quite a long one, really. Caused at various times by various things. This one was mostly culture shock compounded by hypersomnia, and adjustment to a lifelong illness.

This episode was, in some ways, the worst I've had for nearly a decade, and it was very self reinforcing. It was a feedback cycle - I didn't do things, felt I should, felt worse, so I didn't do things. That's a pretty strong cycle, and the generated feelings did leave me pretty much comatose or zombielike, and in any case were rather effective at preventing me from doing anything much.

But the cycle was clear. That, in the past, has frequently not been the case. To get out of this all I had to do was break the cycle. Amongst other things, this would return me to my normal sleep patterns, which would also tend to enable me to do my normal activities.

I used anger. Not the whiny, useless, energy-draining spinlock frustration I'd been engaging in, but full-blown raging anger at the universe. I said a giant "FUCK THIS!" to myself.

That's really all it took for me to start the process of getting rid of the backlog of tasks and associated guilt. I was too angry to be guilty, and I was energised by that reckless anger.

Of course, the anger wore off. But by then I'd accomplished enough and set up enough frameworks to keep accomplishing things that it didn't matter. I was free from the black cloud for the first time in nearly a year.

The somewhat daily posts are part of this framework. That's where I tell myself that I am doing things; I can do things; I have done things - things which matter to me. Doing a load of laundry or restacking the dishwasher doesn't sound like much, until you realise that those chores are things I've been unable to do regularly for the better part of the last 3 years. Mundane in the grand scheme, yes, but a vital part of helping me feel like I'm an able person.

Another element is addressing my physical fitness, and setting up support frameworks to ease the personal load on my mind. I know that my lack of fitness is limiting my physical energy greatly, so becoming more fit is a really cracking good idea. I find it easier to keep appointments than to just make myself go to the gym. And I find it easier to achieve goals if I set small, measurable goals, and if I have encouragement from peers and friends. Rejoining the Nerd Fitness community is a part of that.

Creativity is also rather important to me. To a limit, the more creative activities I do, the more I can do - similar to physical fitness, I suppose. On the other hand, having deadlines (such as the daily deadlines imposed by the 365 project I attempted) doesn't work for me at all, mostly because of my physical limitations. I therefore set myself this goal: for six weeks, I will write at least one blog post a week that wasn't the daily update. The weekly post could be a ramble, a photography post, a cooking post, a book review, or whatever seemed good at the time. I'd say, judging by my archives, that this goal is doing what it's supposed to be doing. It's giving me sufficient motivation to write, photograph, and cook, without loading me with stress. So instead of a single post a week, I'm doing significantly more than that - and not only that, I'm creating elsewhere.

A broad theme I've been thinking along, which is implied by all the ways I've addressed my situation, is self-acceptance. Learning to work within my limitations. Before, those limits distressed me greatly, which shrunk the limits hugely. The goals I've set have a great deal of flexibility built in, even though they are highly specific and time-driven. Some days I'm not going to be able to do much more than lie on the couch and read. Some days I will be able to take photographs for six hours. I can't predict when in advance which day will be which, but I can take advantage of the good ones, and not stress about the bad ones.

This has the effect of greatly expanding my limits. I have fewer bad days when I'm generally positive about the direction of my life.

I have a very long way to go in certain areas to get back to something resembling what I once was, yet I have significantly more confidence in my ability to get there eventually.

It's looking up.

15, for great justice

Okay, so the 'for great justice' part is utterly random. On to the dailyish installment!
  • Finished uploading all my Kew Gardens photos. All 441 of them.
  • Put my picks of the pics into a blog post. I was restrained, there's only about 70 photos in there. 
  • Redid my website design very slightly so that photos are nicer in photo posts. Especially when there are many of them. Totally coincidence I did this today. Really. 
  • Took a photo of my street.
  • Wrote a post about my lens dilemma, which included looking up a lot of prices and reviews and thinking and all that fun stuff.
  • Then it was midday, and I relaxed. Seriously, I've done a lot yesterday, today, and this past week in general. So ... relaxation. Including a long hot bath and Portal 2.
  • Pondered my photography future, tweeted about it. May actually blog about it soon. 
  • Read more of "The Way of Kings" by Brandon Sanderson. Man, I hate new series. So long before the next book!
  • Got my laundry done.
  • Had a good nights' sleep.

Sunday 13 May 2012

My First Lens Upgrade Project

I've had my Canon 450D for about a year now, and my lens array almost as long. At present, my kit contains:
  • EF 50mm f/1.8 II aka 'nifty fifty'. The only lens I'm happy with.
  • EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6. This lens is okay, but annoys me sometimes.
  • EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM. This lens is increasingly really annoying.
Also, I've got some big events coming up (trips to Seattle and Florence, also the Olympic fencing), and I really don't want to miss out on those shots of a lifetime. 

Considerations are that I would like to stick with the Canon system - yes, the grips etc are too big, but no current full frame cameras are meant for children-size hands anyhow. I'd like to upgrade in future to something like the Canon 5D mk III. Not this year, probably not next year ... but sometime. This, however, means that I need to primarily consider EF mount lenses, rather than the cheaper EF-S mount, unless I feel like replacing glass when I upgrade.

So why am I finding my current kit irritating and limiting?

Well, between tiny hands, not so awesome muscles, and various other things, there's quite a lot of shake when I try and take pictures at 100+mm, or in low light conditions. This means I seriously need to consider image stabilisation in my lenses. I lose a lot of otherwise awesome shots because I simply can't hold the camera still enough. Yes, a tripod would help with this. I do need a monopod or full size tripod one day. At this point, however, I think a new lens or two is probably cheaper and more flexible, although I am researching tripods on the side, as it were.

The upshot is I've been reading a lot of bewildering information about various lenses available for my camera. And it truly is bewildering - between poor site design, ambiguous google results, and my profound lack of knowledge, I've been feeling a little overwhelmed.

Most advice articles say something like "when upgrading, consider what you use lenses for" with the goal of pinning down which focal range you use most. Looking at my photos, I tend to take pictures of very small things and things very far away. I would like a macro lens, but that would be in addition to the current range of things I can do. Talking to another member of the London Photography Meetup Group on our Kew Gardens walk, he said "Well, you're kind of between a rock and a hard place then, aren't you?" which I believe is an accurate summation of my dilemma.

I use pretty much everything in my current range from 18mm through to 200mm, and keep wanting more at both ends. Oh, and smaller f-stop numbers. And a pony while I'm at it.

Ponies aside, I can't afford L lenses (Canon's pro lens range), so I'm going to have to compromise somewhere.

I've been using dpreview to read up on lenses, suggested to me by ... someone. It's got a nice interface for presenting only the lenses I'm interested in.

Thinking about my current issues (and budget limitations) I think it's more important for me to upgrade the telephoto lens than the zoom lens. I walk around with the zoom lens more, and take more shots with it ... but that's partially because my success rate is significantly higher. With this in mind, I've narrowed down on a few candidate lenses. Prices are from a google search, price included as a baseline retail price.

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM. This is one chunky lens. Someone had one at the Kew Gardens walk, and let me play with it a bit. It's really quite nice to use, and I think the extra range would be something I'd very quickly become addicted to. However, it is large. And heavy. £300 or so, £420 from amazon.

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 DO IS USM. Those two extra letters mean that it's a lot lighter, smaller, and more expensive. Also reviews seem to indicate it sucks.  £840 and up, £1103 from amazon.

Tamron SP 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD. This lens gets good reviews, and has lots of technical acronyms in the name. From what I can tell, it's basically equivalent to the Canon, perhaps with better build quality. On the other hand, I haven't heard of this brand before, not that I'm overly educated in the field. £225 and up, £319.27 from amazon.

Sigma 70-300mm F4-5.6 DG OS. No reviews on my chosen review site, but a bit further afield gets me a couple of articles. It seems to be an okay lens, nothing special, but annoying if you want to use polarised filters. Affordable at £176, and £286 from amazon.

Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM. Again, very good reviews, and lots of fancy letters. The major problem with this lens is the gap in range it leaves me, as explained below. But ... that f value is really, really, really shiny. And HUGE. And horrifically expensive. £1441, £1991 on amazon. Although there seems to be another model at £999 ish. Still too expensive.

All these lenses have something in common: they leave me without the zoom range from 55mm to 70mm (or 120mm in the case of the expensive Sigma). 55-70mm isn't too large a gap, and isn't a range I use much anyway. On the other hand, 55-120mm is quite a large gap, which covers quite a lot of range I do use. It's a wishlist lens anyway.

I know I need to get myself to a brick-and-mortar and play around with the various lenses to see what I can do with them, and whether I actually like the way they go. Still, it looks as though I'll be shelling out around £200-350, depending on which lens I go for and from whom I purchase. Of course, these are also all new lens prices; I've yet to investigate secondhand prices, which is of course the next step. Along with finding reputable sellers in the UK. Then again, I'm really tempted by having a lens with a warranty. Also, I probably need to get a UV filter and hood for whatever it is I get.

Is there anything I haven't considered? Have I missed a really good candidate? Got tips for where to buy (and try) any of these in London?

Kew Gardens - EPIC photography post

I belong to the London Photographic Meetup Group, and they organised an outing to Kew Gardens today. It was bright and sunny pretty much all day - lovely weather for shooting.

I spent 6 hours there, for a total of 500 photos (some of which sucked and were deleted). The full gallery is here. I used all my lenses, a lot. I didn't use my tripod. Also, thank you crumpler for making super-awesome-comfy neck straps. And super-awesome bags. I got many complements.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugSince I took so many photos, I'm only going to put the small versions of the better ones here, with a little commentary. Click go to larger versions. The full gallery is here. As always, feedback, critique and criticism is welcome.

Starting off near Temperate House, some ducks investigated us:

And then a peacock!
 Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug  Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

He eventually ran away, and we moved on to the Japanese Garden.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

And then we found some Art. By a bloke called David Nash - apparently he goes around finding dead trees, then carves and chars them into artwork.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Then we strolled up to the Bluebell Wood, where I found pretty flowers and shadows to play with.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

And then there were bees!
Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

And then I found the monochrome setting on my camera again, and also some nice branches against the sky.
Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

And then more bees! ... with forgetting that my camera was set to monochrome.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

At this point, we went for a restorative cup of tea. It was 1pm, and the meetup had started at 10am, so it was definitely time. After tea was had, we trooped off to Temperate House, where I found flowers.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Of course, being a very old glasshouse (one of the oldest in the world, I was told) there was some interesting architecture.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

It was 5pm, my phone was flat, I'd lost all the people I'd started with ... so I went home. It was a great day out, and I only saw a fraction of the gardens. I'm planning on a repeat visit very soon, once my feet forgive me.

Overall, I'm pleased with the quality of my photography, especially considering how long it's been since I've done a proper photo walk.