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July 11, 2012

Mostly Notes

Exercise: Lots of the regular exercisers like the Free Step on Wii Fit Plus, which provides a pulse on the Wii remote so that you can step while watching tv. I watched QI, and this worked pretty well; best for a rest day or as additional exercise because the Wii Fit is not a very high step and the rate feels quite slow (I raised the pace and would like to raise it more). I plan to do this while watching the Dallas reboot or other junky TV: if it becomes a regular thing I will buy a riser for the balance board.

Culture: Many of my home-based friends swear by Woman's Hour so I am giving it a go. The original plan was to do cardio to it, but the timing probably doesn't work out. I suppose there's Listen Again. Today we've had a rather worthy segment on Melinda Gates and global contraception, and a rage-inducing segment on young men's attitudes to women. Now it's the Cultural Olympiad, which I'm benefitting from without seriously paying much attention to. Yesterday I picked up free tickets to one of the Olympic events-in-other-parks -- so we'll be in Victoria Park on 3 August. Those events are free, and there are some interesting bands playing and other events, so they're well worth checking out. That week is becoming our Olympic week; we have archery tickets, olympic park tickets and Victoria park tickets. After that we're mostly ignoring the fooferol, though we are worried that transport will be blocked all over London.

I do very much want to see Sacrilege, which is coming very close to here but we'll need to organise our life very carefully to do it.

Food: The pea and bacon pasta was really good. We adapted this recipe with 500g not 400g of pasta, additional mushrooms and fennel, and much less parmesan (perhaps 30g instead of 150!). I also used chervil instead of mint. But I think adding a stock cube to the pasta water is quite a good hack, and this ended up serving 4 people plus 3 lunch portions. So probably 6 dinner portions. Tonight: stretchy mince. With turnips probably.

Study: I am still very very stuck on convolution in Signals and Systems, and the software testing course is boring me -- the first Udacity course that hasn't consistently engaged me. I press on though.

Posted by Alison Scott at 10:23 AM | Comments (0)

July 09, 2012

30 Minutes of Exercise

A month, or so, ago, I said I'd like to re-structure my days so they included 30 minutes of exercise. It took me a bit longer than that to get properly started, and buy some relevant toys, but it feels like it's embedded now, so I thought I'd write a bit about it. If you'd like a blow-by-blow account in rather more detail, I am user 'BohemianCoast' on My Fitness Pal.

By '30 minutes of exercise', I mean '30 minutes of cardio'. I'm being pretty relaxed about what the minimum for that is; a 30 minute stroll is fine. I'm also just beginning (as of today) to do strength training; probably about 10-15 minutes three times a week.

I sorted the living room out so that there was room to play physical wii games again, and fished out the Balance Board.

I resolved that I didn't mind putting some cash into this. Exercise gear isn't that easy if you're a big size; a lot of stuff that's supposedly 'active wear' in larger sizes is completely useless. Particularly trousers if you don't want sweatpants. Sweatpants are far too hot; they also tend to be about 6" too long for me.

I found some nice things at Sainsburys, of all places. They don't go up all that far in size (up to 22), but the clothes are reasonably generously cut, well-priced and stretchy.

Although I'm doing some stuff outside the house, the constant rain doesn't inspire. So I 'refreshed' my Wii games with a new dance mat game, mat-free dancing games, and a walking game. I also fished out some older dance mat games and Wii Fit Plus.

Wii Fit is still as maddening as ever; although they have put more longer routines into WF+, the strength exercises range from pointless to impossible, with very little in the way of recommendations, and require more room than there is in my living room to do them. The cardio is fun but doesn't always work as well as you'd like, and it's still far too easy to find large gaps between games. The kids like it a lot though. Best for: kids.

The 'Just Dance' style games have rather taken over from Dance Mat and I thought I should give them a go. Abba: You Can Dance uses the 'Just Dance engine. But although it's fun dancing to these tunes, I like proper metrics in my exercise games, and the scoring method is just too arbitrary for me. In particular, you don't really need to move your feet to get points, which is a bit of a problem. There are karaoke modes and you can plug in a microphone. When I was ten or so, my friends and I spent hours singing Abba songs into our hairbrushes. This game would have been the *best thing ever*. Best for: parties, girls' nights in, too much Lambrusco.

Dance Dance Revolution is as fun as it's always been, and it's now possible to play the full game while also on workout mode and play full-length songs. They've also adjusted the difficulty calibration so that dances are ranked out of 20 instead of 10. This is brilliant for working out because it makes it very easy to set up dances that are pitched at exactly the right level, interspersed with some that are just a bit too hard, and some to warm up/cool down. In theory it also allows you to play double (the best mode for both fun and exercise, with one person dancing across two mats) on the Wii. Irritatingly, this feature only works with Konami mats, not after market dance mats. That would be fine if the Konami mats were as well-made and padded as my FutureMax pads. But they're not. I do have two of the Konami-style mats, and I think it will be ok if I turn jumps off. Best for: getting a proper workout on the Wii. Have water handy.

That same restriction applies to using dance mats with Step to the Beat (Walk it Out), but in this case the game is walking (and light jogging) only, so it's ok. This is a bit hard to find, but has a passionate user community. It's sort of like a more extensive and structured version of the jogging section in Wii Fit. You walk around an island to the beat of J-Pop songs, and use your step count to unlock a wide variety of things (houses, trees, zodiac signs, events, bridges, music, people) on the island. The tunes vary in intensity so sometimes you have to walk quite hard or even jog for a few minutes before returning to a gentler pace. It's fun to do with family or friends because you can chat while you're walking and the time just slips by. It's not very strenuous (and has options to make it easier), so I think this would be absolutely brilliant for people who are limited in what they can do through age or infirmity. I use it on rest days. It's no longer distributed in the UK but there's the odd copy around. Due to its rarity some people are selling it for very large amounts of money. Best for: 45 minutes non-stop, relaxation, elderly people.

Outside, the main newish thing I'm doing is playing badminton with the family. Steven bought me a fancy racket for my birthday, and we got a cheap racket for Jonathan so that he stopped complaining about using Steven's 30 year old ones, but otherwise the only serious expense here is the courts, which cost about £10/hour. We've been doing this for a couple of months; if we carry on then after the summer one of us will need to get a gym membership that includes court booking privileges because we're currently spending a fortune.

Food notes: Thai Peanut Turkey Burgers are very nice, and something you can do with turkey mince that doesn't make you wish you were using beef mince. We had homemade pizzas on Saturday night (healthy ones with less cheese and mostly veg toppings), and an actual ready meal yesterday (we don't do this much); an Asda Chinese feast for 2 and half a crispy duck. The duck was great and everything else was sort of ok, so next time we might just get two ducks. Tonight we are having some kind of bacon and veg based pasta sauce; perhaps this one.

Study notes: I'm (just) keeping up with Udacity CS258: Software Testing, which I'm finding a bit serious and worthy. Udacity ST101: Intro to Stats is still easy, though the week 2 programming exercise was harder. I'm slightly behind my self-imposed week-ahead schedule on 6003z, because I got a bit stuck on convolution and have to do some more worked examples. And I haven't picked up any of the self-timed stuff for a week, so hopefully I'll get back on track this week.

Posted by Alison Scott at 01:24 PM | Comments (0)

July 03, 2012

Pizza Toasts

I'm explaining to the kids that they'll need to be able to cook for themselves one day. Plus I'm only feeding two of us tonight. Pizza Toasts are a gift under these circumstances. This is a classic student dish, but it's still completely delicious.

Lightly toast sliced bread. Top it with proper tomato sauce if you have it, or passata, or tomato ketchup in a pinch. Add grated cheese. Top with toppings (in this case red onion, red pepper, chorizo), whack under the grill till it looks cooked. 2 slices of toast for a main meal, one for a light meal. I've just counted these up on My Fitness Pal and they come to about 350 cals per toast. Obviously you could use less cheese, or thinner toast, or have one and a half instead of two.

I think onion is essential if you're going to do this without pre-making tomato sauce (and you are, let's face it). But otherwise just about anything that you'd put on a pizza goes, and it generates about 80% of the joy of pizza for about 5% of the work. Though you probably wouldn't serve it to guests.

Posted by Alison Scott at 07:49 PM | Comments (0)