12 tones to say awesome

July 8th, 2013

For years I’ve been fascinated by the 12 tone and atonal music of composers such as Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky (among others) yet often struggled to explain to others what I see in it! The structures are so different and, to most ears, difficult. I admit that they’re difficult to me, but that was part of what fascinated me at first. Where music formerly had been so rigid, here was music that to some extent defied that term. Later in life, that love of the difficult led to a deep appreciation for the more avant garde Jazz compositions of Charles Mingus and Charlie Bird. I also found a lot to enjoy in some of the more extreme forms of progressive rock and metal (The Mars Volta, Opeth, Yes, Gentle Giant and so on).

It’s always a pleasure to find others who share my interest, but I rarely expect others to like the sort of music that I listen too – indeed, I often have to be in a particular mood to listen to it myself! Anyway, as I mentioned earlier, it’s so hard to define why I like it, that I’d largely given up trying to explain it to people – often it’s just frustrating to be told it sounds awful! (And, yes, sometimes it does, but that’s kind of the point – why should sound be a nice cliche?) Today, a friend shared a video with me which is just awesome in its explanation of how twelve-tone music is important and how it can be understood more clearly in the context of music we are already familiar with. It’s long, but if you can stick with it, it’s worth it. She links in scientific concepts, math and randomness with funny reflections on meaning and copyright, and the effect is just wonderful! It’s also beautifully animated and pretty funny – who can fail to love a laser-bat?

The pattern singing at the end is just magical – well, at least to me, but then, I already like this stuff…so your mileage may vary!

A ray of light in a dark sky: Why I still have faith in humanity

April 19th, 2013

There are few words that can describe how I feel about the tragic events in Boston last week. As a runner but more importantly as a human, I just found the emotion overwhelming. I hope that the police will quickly end the situation that continues to unfold even as I write. So much has been said that I don’t want to add to the noise too much. I’m glad of what #RunChat has been doing via their page and a group of us will be wearing race shirts and going for a group run on Monday to show solidarity. We must not let fear conquer love.

On that note, this was also a week where I saw many of the most moving and inspiring displays of spontaneous humanity – from first responders and bystanders rushing in to help to so many opening up their homes to stranded runners. But, one other thing happened this week that moved me tremendously – New Zealand passed their Marriage Equality law, and what happened next is truly beautiful.

Watch this amazing video – on hearing the vote response the gallery spontaneously bursts into the most beautiful rendition of a traditional Mauri Maori love song.

It is these things that we should cling to in times like these. It is all too easy to despair and to believe that things are getting worse and that we’re all doomed, but it’s just not true. There is still great beauty in the world and people are still capable of incredibly acts of self-sacrifice, of love and of understanding.

I hope that our reaction to the tragedies will not be based on fear, but on the determination to make this world better for all of its inhabitants.

PaleoBarefoots Snow running video in Mammoth Lakes

April 8th, 2013

Recently I took a trip (actually two trips) to beautiful Mammoth Lakes in California and did some running in the snow. I had heard from a friend in Iceland that the PaleoBarefoots I’ve mentioned before are great for running in snow/icy conditions. I thought I’d try it out, and I’ve made a video about it here. It might seem strange that the first half of the video concentrates on planning and safety – but it’s too important to ignore. Running in any extreme conditions can be dangerous or life threatening – not only for you, but for those who might have to rescue you. Tragically, not enough people pay attention to these aspects and they get themselves (and others) into trouble. What starts as a fun adventure can quickly end in tragedy. Always be prepared and stay safe out there!

 

I hope you enjoy the video

Injuries are meant to happen when you’re doing something useful!

March 23rd, 2013

Twice in the last 2 months I’ve injured myself – 1 broken toe on my left foot, and now a badly bruised big toe on my right foot (don’t think it’s broken, but is very bruised). Both of these injuries have been the result of my terrible clumsiness, rather than anything exercise related. This is incredibly frustrating to  me, as I can’t bear not being able to run these days. I changed my whole style of running so that I wouldn’t get injured while doing it, and now I just seem to be constantly out of action because of unrelated injuries!

I’ve also been having ongoing issues with my back (ironically, largely caused by breaking my foot in 2009 which caused my gait to change – yes, that was clumsiness too), which causes a lot of pain. I’m working out in the gym quite a lot to improve core strength, but it’s amazing how involved your feet and legs are in any sort of exercise. Well, I guess I shouldn’t complain, I live in a beautiful part of the world, I am generally healthy and I have good friends around me. I can’t wait until I’m fit again though. Meanwhile, maybe I should really just stay in bed – it’s dangerous out there!

A world in Living Colour

March 19th, 2013

I’m quite excited, the funk/metal crossover band Living Colour are touring again, and performing the complete Vivid album. Although it’s 25 years since the album came out, it still sounds fresh today, and it’s hard to overstate how influential that album was when it came out. They were true pioneers of the funk metal sound along with Faith No More and Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Even cooler, one of my heroes of the bass guitar, Doug Wimbish, is playing with LC on this tour. Although he didn’t join LC until their third album “Stain” (another great album), Doug’s playing has graced many classic albums, and his wild virtuoso playing is a real pleasure to behold! Doug is also a really nice guy, I recently had the opportunity of meeting him when he was demonstrating a new product at MacWorld recently – and I got to play with his bass.

He plays Spector basses – a brand I bassed (‘scuse the pun) my own custom bass guitar on.

Doug Wimbish of Living Colour

Doug Wimbish demonstrating Eventide Pedals at MacWorld 2013

I’m going to be able to see them twice on this tour, the first time is tonight, so I’m looking forward to that. If you get the chance, check them out!

 

Carlsbad Half Marathon

February 20th, 2013

I completed my second half marathon recently, in the lovely California town of Carlsbad. I enjoyed the run immensely, despite the physical challenge – it’s  hillier than I am used to – but I made a decent time. Having done this, I’ve decided to go for the triple crown  – so the next 1/2 Marathon run is the La Jolla half
(http://www.lajollahalfmarathon.com/events/events5e3a.htm). It’s a really challenging course – incredibly hilly (going downhill is often harder for me than going up) and I’m really looking forward to it! Unfortunately, I broke my small toe while running recently – caught on a large stone – but I’m hoping that it won’t be too disabling in terms of training. I’m still having a really good experience using the Merrel Road Gloves, though that fateful run was in five-fingers. It’s hard to imagine that just under a year ago I could barely run a mile – now I’m seriously contemplating a marathon in the later part of the year. Just shows what you can do if you put your mind (and body) to it. I’ve also been seriously looking at my diet, I still don’t eat well enough, and my weight fluctuates a lot despite the running. I’ve been hearing a lot about the Paleo diet, so that’s something I’ll be investigating.

I’m also still experimenting with the GoSt-Barefoots that I blogged about recently – although these really are not for road-running, there are a great many applications where they really shine (including swimming – where sharp rocky beaches suddenly are not a problem), and I’m pleased with the fact that they seem to be catching on in the media. Check them out if you’re curious! There are some new things coming from them soon, and once the weather warms up a bit, I’m hoping to get out there and make a few more videos!

 

GoSt PaleoBarefoots: A round up of questions on chain mail running sleeves

January 8th, 2013

The PaleoBarefoots® from GoSt that I mentioned in my last post have recently been generating quite a lot of comment around the web – with my little test video even reaching as far as China!

Here are just a few of the links that have discussed (some more positively than others) the PaleoBarefoots.

http://www.dudeiwantthat.com/style/shoes/chainmail-shoes.asp

http://www.humanosphere.info/2013/01/les-chaussures-en-cotte-de-mailles-ont-la-cote/ (In French)

http://fashionablygeek.com/shoes/chainmail-sneakers-are-perfect-for-knights-on-casual-fridays/ (I’ll be taking this advice and wearing them for casual Friday!)

http://apocalypseequipped.blogspot.com/2013/01/wish-lust-gost-paleobarefoot-chainmail.html?spref=fb (Australia)

http://www.likecool.com/Gost_Barefoots_chainmail_barefoot_shoes–Shoe–Style.html

http://gizmodo.com/5972550/can-chainmail-sneakers-possibly-be-comfy

http://www.gizmag.com/barefoot-shoes-metal-chain-mail-socks/25615/

My responses

What a lot of these reviews have in common, apart from the “Whoa! Chainmail!” type reaction, are a number of misconceptions about the PaleoBarefoots, particularly around their comfort and usefulness. So I thought I’d try to address some of these here.

Firstly – comfort. Let’s get this out of the way, anything you read about barefoot running in general also applies to PaleoBarefoots. If you think you’ll just slip them on and run a marathon on the roads without ever having run barefoot since you rocked around the house as a 2 yr old, you are deluded. Changing to barefoot (and even minimalist) running is a process, it takes time, effort and care. There are no prizes for being macho. Running in shoes made of metal are no different – however, I have never had a blister from running in them – if I run for longer distance, I run with the provided ‘ankle savers’ – as the only place likely to rub is the instep or around the ankle where the PaleoBarefoots are secured. Blisters form because of friction between surfaces – often because shoes are too tight or because you have bad running form – in this case, between your skin and whatever shoe you are wearing. One interesting thing with the PaleoBarefoots is that when I run, my feet don’t sweat as much. If you sweat in a traditional running shoe, even with socks, the chances of getting a blister increase with the dampness. This doesn’t happen in PaleoBarefoots. So, yes, it’s metal, but as I point out in my video, once you get used to it, it’s actually quite a nice sensation – the mesh is extremely smooth, and it moves very naturally. You will need a little time to get used to wearing them, it is a different sensation, but they reward patience.

Secondly – saftey. If you run completely barefoot, and you land on a reasonably sized sharp stone on a hard surface like concrete, you will likely cut your foot, and even more likely get a painful bruise. If you do the same with PaleoBarefoots, guess what – you’ll likely get a nasty bruise, but you probably won’t get the cut. Bruises are a function of impact against your body, cuts are the action of sharp/penetrating objects against your skin. The PaleoBarefoots are for the explicit purpose of ensuring that you can run safely and not get cut. Is it possible to run safely totally barefoot on almost any surface? Yes, probably, if you’ve spent your life without shoes, running on those surfaces. As a forty+ guy who spent his life mostly in shoes, not so much. The saftey the PaleoBarefoots afford means that you can pretty much forget about getting cut up, and you can just run. But don’t go leaping onto any sharp stones with your full body weight – they’re not airbags – you can still get bruised.

Thirdly – grip. This is a counter intuitive one. You’d think that metal would be slippery – well, guess what, it isn’t. If you go and run on a polished tiled/marbled floor, you might find that there’s not much grip – but get on to packed sand, mud, dusty trails, ice (yes, ICE), snow and yes, even concrete or asphalt* and you’ll find that the grip is not only fine, in many cases, it’s much better than any sneaker or your bare foot. If you’ve ever run in slushy ice**, or mud with your bare feet, you’ll find that the PaleoBarefoots are way more grippy.

Fourthly – price & durability. They are made of metal. Wash them in clean water (or the dishwasher occasionally) so that salt or acidic soil types won’t lead to corrosion, and store them in a cool and dry place and you will find they last FOREVER. For comparison, I’ve run around 400 miles in my current Merrell RoadGloves, and they’re just about worn down (and lose grip in the rain). At around $90 each pair, I’m looking at 2-3 pairs per year – a minimum of $180. So to pay the price of, perhaps, 3 pairs of those for PaleoBarefoots doesn’t seem so crazy. In ten years time, I might have had to replace a few pairs of the laces, but the Paleos themselves will still be fine.

Fifthly – Internet Snarkiness. It’s amazing how many ‘experts’ pop up out of the deep recesses of the ‘net, ready to scoff at any new idea. All I would say is, you cannot judge until you have tried, as a fully qualified Internet Snark (TM), I might have agreed with you before I actually went and tried the PaleoBarefoots. Your intuition might tell you that PaleoBarefoots are silly, overpriced, sure to be uncomfortable, pointless, and all sorts of other negative things, but your intuition is denied by my direct experience, and the direct experience of many other testers all over the world.

Well, this was quite a long post, so I’ll leave it there. Feel free to leave me a comment, I would love to hear from you!

*GoSt explicitly states that the best environment for PaleoBarefoots is natural surfaces, they’re not really for road warriors – though personally I have used them on concrete with no problem.

**If you run on ice, please do be careful about temperature, you MUST wear at least a 0.5mm neoprene full sock, and listen to your body. I have a friend who runs in these every day in Iceland (on ice/snow), and he reports that the grip is amazing.

Some thoughts on Barefoot running

January 5th, 2013

On one of the forums that I am a member of, someone posted this link about  how to do barefoot running all wrong. It contains some really salient advice about understanding your body, the ambient conditions and the way the two interact!

I do like running barefoot on concrete – it’s always nice and warm here in California, but I am not at the point where I would run in the cold, nor would I try to race barefoot.

In a race there’s simply too much else to think about – there, the point isn’t so much to enjoy the sensation, but to achieve some separate goal from that. For me, running barefoot is just one aspect of all of the running that I do. I like to run hard and push myself, but for that I need at least a minimalist shoe. I’ll probably make a new post sometime about all the different types of shoes I’ve tried, including GoSt Barefoots, which I have made a video review of here (I apologize for the sound quality – it was my first time and my head cam was banging against my sunglasses!).

Ultimately, I think my friend Jörg’s advice in this recent article* is the right one – you need to find the correct combination of shoe and surface. Some surfaces are always great barefoot, some surfaces are not. Knowing the difference will keep you running injury free and enjoying it more.

There’s no badge of honour to be had for running across a mountain with bare feet simply to prove how manly you are – particularly if you come back with injury and then can’t run for weeks. Listen ONLY to your own body’s signals, not to what you think you can do, what someone else pressures you to do, or what you think is trendy.

*any fault in this article is entirely due to the fact that I translated it from the German and may well have messed up the meaning!

Run for Fun: Pt 2

October 23rd, 2012

In my last run for fun post, I got to the point where I’d finished the Bay Bridge run.

Although I’d finished the race and I was happy that I’d beaten my target time, I did feel that I’d let myself down a bit. I was particularly disappointed that I’d gone out so fast on the first mile – a rookie mistake that had cost me a better time.

Not willing to give up, I decided to sign up for another race – this time, an 8 mile race (double the distance I’d ever run before) that would be run on the low tide mark on sand. I was finding that the compression sleeves and the insoles combined with my new shoes were helping, but I really was struggling to build back up to longer runs without pain in either my knees, shins or sometimes my back. However, I was running regularly and starting to really enjoy the benefits of being fitter. More energy, more strength in my legs and more lung capacity – running didn’t leave me gasping for breath anymore! The 8 mile went ok – I couldn’t run all of it – ran the first 4.5 miles, walked for 1/2 mile and then finished the rest running. I was pretty happy with the performance – it took its toll on my shins – but I had the bug. I got home and signed up for another 8.3 mile race – this time around the beautiful Balboa Park in San Diego – 50% of the course was on trails, and there were some big hills in there too. This time, I managed to finish with only a very short walk on the steepest hill (mile 7!). The problem was that it hurt. It hurt really badly – my hips ached, my knees hurt and I felt like hell, but I’d finished and I was happy that I had made it.

Being a geeky kind of a guy, I started to research running in a more serious way. I started with simple searches on things like ‘running shin pain’ etc. Lots of different advice turned up, but one consistent theme that kept popping out was the idea of barefoot running. The more I read, the more it seemed like less of a crazy idea, and more like something I should try.

My first attempt resulted in large and painful blisters on the soles of both feet and several toes. Oops. I bought some rubbing alcohol in Rite-Aid and nursed my wounds for a few days, going back to running in my normal shoes.

I did more research – and  decided to buy some books on the subject. First I read “The Barefoot Running Book” by Jason Robillard, which helped me to understand that I needed to transition more slowly, and also that I would need to change how I run.

I decided, at first that I would keep running in my ‘normal’ shoes, but that I’d also try to get some minimalist shoes to try out – rather than going directly to barefoot (against the advice of the book!). So another trip to my favorite running store resulted in a new pair of Vibram FiveFingers. For about 2 weeks I ran in my regular shoes, but was running in Vibrams part of the time to get used to them. Pretty soon I discovered that going back to the ‘normal’ running shoes was just awful; my feet felt imprisoned, I hated the way they bounced me around and I felt awkward and unstable in them. After gradually increasing my distances, I went out and did a serious run in the five fingers – and did my fastest 5km time ever – but the best thing – no shin pains afterwards. Less than a month later, I discarded the compression sleeves – Bingo!

Around that time, I read the book ‘Born to Run’ by Christopher McDougall, which really inspired me to think differently about running, I started to run for the sheer joy of it. My initial aims of losing weight (it worked – I dropped 18lb and two pants sizes in 6 months) and feeling fitter were supplanted by the desire to run further and to see where it would lead.

This was just the start of my new running adventures, and I’ll share a few more things as time goes on.

Here’re a few links to the books and shoes I mentioned in this post.

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

The Barefoot Running Book: The Art and Science of Barefoot and Minimalist Shoe Running

Vibram Mens SeeYa Running Shoe Black / Dayglow Size 42

Run for fun!

October 10th, 2012

So, it’s been a very long time since my last post, but there’s a reason. I started running. Over the next few posts, I’ll share my journey from couch to runner with you.

In February of this year, I decided that, since I wasn’t getting any younger, those dreams of one day doing a marathon would fade fast, unless I got off my butt and did something about it. Having drifted into middle age and a sedentary lifestyle, I’d almost resigned myself to buying new pants every couple of years as my waistline grew, and to being less able as more and more of my body parts gave out on me.

A visit to the doctor for a physical (yes, that one), and a poor showing on my cholesterol levels convinced me that if I didn’t want to add taking statins to the list of ‘stuff that you have to do as you get older’, and staring at 200lb  (90 kg) on the scales I knew it was time. So I started to run – it was the only thing I could think of that would really work, and I’d always had that dream of doing a marathon.

So, I did the typical geek thing – bought some apps for my iPhone, bought some hi-tech shoes and a bunch of running gear, got some sport headphones, and got myself down to the treadmill. I nearly died. I couldn’t run for a minute at a time. The app I chose seemed incredibly optimistic – with wildly outrageous schedules, but I stuck to it. Within a few weeks my endurance improved, and I signed up for a run (the Bay Bridge Navy run in San Diego) – 4 miles of nightmare with a mile of steep uphill in the middle. I’d done the same run the year before, with literally no training, and barely made it – walking most of the way on the hills, and barely jogging the rest of it.

The problem was, my shins hurt. Badly. So badly, that I sometimes couldn’t walk afterwards. Three weeks before the bridge run, I was out. I simply couldn’t run anymore. No way I could train. I took almost 10 days off while my shins recovered. I bought new shoes with custom fitted insoles with extra arch support, as apparently my feet were ‘over pronating’ and compression sleeves for my calves.

A week out from the race, I was worried whether I’d even be able to complete it. I avoided the treadmills (one of humanity’s most boring inventions) and hit the roads, running gently in the beautiful city of San-Diego. I managed a 3 mile training run, just.

The shin pain was better with the new shoes and compression sleeves, but still not great – I did the run, but didn’t achieve the time I wanted. I went out too fast (a symptom of rarely running on the roads and not being experienced with setting my pace) and was winded after the first mile – just before the bridge climb. I had to walk most of the way to the summit, then managed to run the last 2 miles – encouraging a straggling colleague on the way. I sighted the finish line, but had nothing left in the tank for a final push, so just kept going and jogged across. I’d beaten my previous year’s time by around 3 minutes. But, I’d finished, and I knew I could do better.

I went back to basics, and I learnt a lot – the next race would be better – but that’s for the next post!

The app I used to get to 5km.
http://heavydutyapps.com/5k-runner/

A little about the Coronado Bay bridge:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Diego-Coronado_Bridge