Monthly Archives: March 2013

Hiking at Sylvan Glen

IMG_0911Spring is in the air! I had a fantastic time hiking at the Sylvan Glen preserve yesterday. This interesting little preserve is in Westchester county near the Putnam county border. It’s close to Yorktown. I hiked about 4 miles with the hiking group I was with, which didn’t include any joggling since I did that earlier in the day and I didn’t want to distract anyone.

IMG_0941You can get fantastic views in some spots within the park, but be careful. The trails in this park can get very steep in some spots, so you need to be in good shape to make your way through.

IMG_0942The area near the gorge was once an important quarry. It has been abandoned for several decades, but there are still big piles of rock all over the place.

IMG_0961Sylvan Glen also has one of the oldest trees for miles around. This tree is several centuries old. It is probably a white oak, judging by the leaf litter around the tree. It’s been said by some arborists that oaks specialize in not specializing – hence, they grow almost everywhere. I hope this tree survives for another thousand years.

IMG_0974You know its spring when skunk cabbage(Symplocarpus foetidus) starts peaking through the ground. In the north-eastern U.S, it is very often the first green you will see in early spring/late winter. And yes, the plant does live up to its name.

It is an amazing plant due to its ability to produce a lot of heat. According to Craig Holdrege at the Nature Institute:

A couple of times I’ve been lucky enough to see spathes growing up through a thin layer of ice, the ice melted around the spathe in a circular form. This is an indication of skunk cabbage’s remarkable capacity to produce heat when flowering. If you catch the right time, you can put your finger into the cavity formed by the spathe and when you touch the flower head, your finger tip warms up noticeably. Biologist Roger Knutson found that skunk cabbage flowers produce warmth over a period of 12-14 days, remaining on average 20° C (36° F) above the outside air temperature, whether during the day or night. During this time they regulate their warmth, as a warm-blooded animal might!

Skunk cabbage is at best marginally edible if you boil it in 10 changes of water and leave it to dry for a few days. In other words, don’t bother. Native Americans would only eat it when nothing else was available.

If you try to eat it raw or with only a little cooking, the oxalic acid(partially responsible for the plant’s smell) crystals in the leaves will make you feel like you are having holes burned in your tongue.

What is oxalic acid? Oxalic acid is a powerful anti-nutrient that can block the absorption of calcium, iron and other important minerals. Although spinach(and some other vegetables) doesn’t have as much oxalic acid as skunk cabbage, it still has a significant amount. This is one of the reasons I don’t eat much spinach(I prefer kale and cabbage), and strongly advice others to avoid juicing spinach. Cooking spinach can reduce its oxalic acid content, but it won’t eliminate it.

IMG_0955The hike ended just after sunset. I had a great time with some very fun people, although we didn’t get to see much wildlife.

Joggling with the Devil

2204157216_e6f55f2050_zHere we have yet another lonely, ghostly abandoned building sitting alongside the Croton Aqueduct Trail, in Yonkers, New York. It is one of my favorite running trails, so it’s difficult for me to keep it a secret.

(I am not responsible for the Satanic graffiti in any of these photos, I was just a visitor.)

This building has been abandoned for so long, the surrounding forest has nearly swallowed it up. I do not know the history of this place or what it was for. While I have blogged about the old Croton Aqueduct trail before, at 26.2 miles, it deserves more than one post due to all the unique sites that punctuate its great length. From the many stately historical mansions overlooking the Hudson river, to spooky abandoned buildings, this trail has a lot to offer. My longest runs ever have been on this trail. Its a great place to have an adventure close to the city.

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These ruins are in the northern part of Yonkers, just down the hill from Untermeyer Park(on route 9), which resembles the gardens of a Roman villa(lots of people take wedding photos there). This requires a separate post.

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Is anyone else playing the 1978 Van Halen song “Runnin’ with the Devil”, but switching “runnin'” with “joggling” in their mind?

Just so you know, I didn’t make a deal with the Devil so I could joggle. And I didn’t meet any Satanists at this location.

The unreasonable man

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

George Bernard Shaw

Can beet juice improve athletic performance?

Like a lot of athletes, I am always on the look out for something to give me an edge. Unfortunately, it is often very difficult to sort out fact from fiction when it comes to fitness aids. However, if something repeatedly survives intense scientific scrutiny, especially double blind, placebo controlled studies, they are likely to be beneficial.

Whatever the truth may be, you can’t go wrong by consuming more beets, although their sugar content is kind of high compared to most other vegetables. The phytochemicals that give it its distinctive dark reddish-purplish color may have some important health benefits, but besides this, beet juice may also give your athletic performance a boost. This boost seems to be due to the nitrates in beets, not the phytochemicals. According to Department of Human Movement Sciences, Maastricht University Medical Centre, Maastricht, The Netherlands:

Six days of dietary nitrate supplementation in the form of beetroot juice (~0.5 L/d) has been reported to reduce pulmonary oxygen uptake (VO₂) during submaximal exercise and increase tolerance of high-intensity work rates, suggesting that nitrate can be a potent ergogenic aid. Limited data are available regarding the effect of nitrate ingestion on athletic performance, and no study has investigated the potential ergogenic effects of a small-volume, concentrated dose of beetroot juice. The authors tested the hypothesis that 6 d of nitrate ingestion would improve time-trial performance in trained cyclists. Using a double-blind, repeated-measures crossover design, 12 male cyclists (31±3 yr, VO2peak=58±2 ml·kg⁻¹·min⁻¹, maximal power [Wmax]=342±10 W) ingested 140 ml/d of concentrated beetroot (~8 mmol/d nitrate) juice (BEET) or a placebo (nitrate-depleted beetroot juice; PLAC) for 6 d, separated by a 14-d washout. After supplementation on Day 6, subjects performed 60 min of submaximal cycling (2×30 min at 45% and 65% Wmax, respectively), followed by a 10-km time trial. Time-trial performance (953±18 vs. 965±18 s, p<.005) and power output (294±12 vs. 288±12 W, p<.05) improved after BEET compared with PLAC supplementation. Submaximal VO₂ was lower after BEET (45% Wmax=1.92±0.06 vs. 2.02±0.09 L/min, 65% Wmax 2.94±0.12 vs. 3.11±0.12 L/min) than with PLAC (main effect, p<.05). Whole-body fuel selection and plasma lactate, glucose, and insulin concentrations did not differ between treatments. Six days of nitrate supplementation reduced VO₂ during submaximal exercise and improved time-trial performance in trained cyclists.

This is neat. So the beet juice improved performance. I think this is due to nitrates being powerful vasodilators(it opens up the blood vessels). I am going to get some beets next time I go shopping.

Is joggling multitasking?

Does joggling, which is juggling while running, count as multitasking? One of the most common compliments I receive when I joggle is “that’s great multitasking!”.

So I often ask myself if joggling counts as multitasking, and if being a competent joggler means I am a good multitasker(for the record, I am not).

It helps to have a good understanding of what multitasking is – Human multitasking

Truth be told, when we “multitask”, one or both of the tasks we are doing is compromised by doing the other. In reality, we are not really multitasking, at least not in the same way a computer with multiple processors multitasks. You will get a lot more done if you focus on one activity, rather than 2 or more.

You can’t study and watch a movie at the same time. Or rather, you sort of can, but do this before an important exam and see how well you do. Talking on the phone while working, or driving are also said to count as multitasking. Since humans are notoriously bad at multitasking, many states have laws against talking or texting on your smart-phone while driving.

As far as I am concerned, joggling strictly speaking isn’t really multitasking. It may be difficult to learn, but this does not necessarily make it multitasking. Running is mostly a mindless activity, especially if you do it on flat, familiar ground free of obstacles. And as you become good at juggling, it becomes similarly mindless, unless you’re doing all sorts of crazy tricks. While joggling, it is much more difficult to do juggling tricks, so juggling ability is very compromised. You will also very likely run more slowly while joggling.

Joggling looks more difficult than it really is. The juggling part is mostly automatic, similar to the running. I really do not have to concentrate that closely on it, which is why I am aware of my surroundings and can avoid people and obstacles in my path. All the while, I’m thinking about various work projects, errands I have to do, or humming along to the music in my head.

I could even add a third or fourth task to it and still joggle with little difficulty. I could chew gum or listen to music while joggling. I almost always joggle alone, but I occasionally have short conversations with people who drive up alongside me in their car or bicycle.

So no, I do not believe joggling counts as multitasking. In reality, no one is actually capable of multitasking without compromising what they are doing.

Caffeine free living

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Caffeine-free living isn’t very common in the western world, so a lot of people are surprised to learn I never drink coffee or any caffeinated beverages. Some people claim they can’t function without it – the very definition of addiction. In fact, caffeine addiction is the only socially approved chemical addiction throughout the world, with the exception of nicotine in increasingly fewer places. Several cups of coffee throughout the day is considered de rigueur at many jobs.

One of the reasons I don’t consume caffeine is because I do not like the idea of becoming addicted to any chemicals, even if caffeine isn’t all that dangerous at normal doses. Another reason is that instead of relying on caffeine to help stimulate me in the morning, I’d rather make sure I get enough sleep. Caffeine may help you overcome morning grogginess, but it can’t undo the damage caused by lack of sleep.

Instead of caffeine, I put a lot of red pepper on my breakfast, or I take it by the spoon. And/or I do some quick exercises while listening to music. Red pepper can be very stimulating, but unlike caffeine it isn’t addictive and doesn’t lead to withdrawal. Simply drinking water to rehydrate after so many hours of sleep also helps. Eating healthy, regular exercise, and getting enough sleep are all you need for optimal energy.

As much as I don’t like caffeine, I won’t deny that it appears to be beneficial for some forms of exercise. According to the Laboratory of Pharmacology, Faculty of medicine, University of Sfax, Tunisia that did a study on the Effects of morning caffeine’ ingestion on mood States, simple reaction time, and short-term maximal performance on elite judoists.:

In conclusion, the results of this study suggest that morning caffeine ingestion has ergogenic properties with the potential to benefit performance, increase anxiety and vigor, and decrease the simple reaction time.

I still wouldn’t want to use it after reading this. There are many other studies out there showing how caffeine is beneficial for exercise.

One of the biggest negatives of caffeine consumption is that it appears to promote fibrocystic breasts in women. The J Natl Cancer Inst., in the study, Caffeine consumption and fibrocystic breast disease: a case-control epidemiologic study.:

In a hospital-based case-control study that included 634 women with fibrocystic breast disease and 1,066 comparison women in Connecticut, the occurrence of fibrocystic breast disease was positively associated with average daily consumption of caffeine. Women who consumed 31-250 mg of caffeine/day had a 1.5-fold increase in the odds of disease, whereas women who drank over 500 mg/day had a 2.3-fold increase in the odds. The association with caffeine consumption was especially high among women with atypical lobular hyperplasia and with sclerosing adenosis with concomitant papillomatosis or papillary hyperplasia, both of which have been associated with an increased breast cancer risk. The association was specific to fibrocystic breast disease in that there was no association of caffeine consumption with fibroadenoma or other forms of benign breast disease.

According to the Mayo Clinic, fibrocysts in the breasts don’t increase the risk of cancer, but they do make it harder to detect cancer.

I posted the above studies on caffeine just to see what the science says about caffeine use. They are not a recommendation to take up coffee drinking or caffeine use if you are not already doing it. While it does improve athletic performance in many people, this doesn’t mean you absolutely must use it to become a better athlete. Even amphetamines improve athletic performance, but would you want to run the risk of amphetamine addiction, or suffer side effects, just so you can run a little faster or longer?

So while I am aware of the science of caffeine and its potential benefits, I choose not to use it. I am not being “ridiculous” or “foolish” for abstaining from caffeine. And for the record, I am not a Mormon or a member of a religious sect that forbids coffee or caffeine consumption.

Caffeine may not be a hard drug, but it isn’t harmless either.

First signs of spring

2205320946_731b3bca75_z A brave flower emerges from the ground outside the Bartow Pell Mansion in Pelham Bay Park in very late winter. One of the first signs of spring. This was one of the loneliest flowers I have ever seen.

Life is a ball

On this blog, I have restricted myself to saying how wonderful, and life-affirming juggling is, until now. It is now time to discuss the dark side of juggling. Perhaps the biggest negative is that when you are a juggler, you run the risk of developing a mental illness called “sphairaphilia”. What is “sphairaphilia”? It is an obsession with balls and spherical objects. I coined the term myself(I even Googled it first to see if it was already being used), from the Greek words “sphaira” for “ball” or “sphere” and “philia”, for “love”.

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People with this obsession generally want to either play or juggle any round objects they encounter. I admit I have this condition. Everywhere I go, balls call out to me – “Juggle me!”, “Juggle me!”. Of course this isn’t always possible or appropriate.

As tempting as it is, I don’t juggle those expensive ornamental type balls I see at antique stores or Pier 1(or rather I do it very rarely). Maybe if I was Bill Gates or Warren Buffett I would, since I could break a million of them and it really wouldn’t matter how much they cost. I do, however, often juggle fruit at grocery stores and supermarkets, and have so far managed to not get myself into trouble.

Another symptom of this illness is sadness over the inability to juggle certain really big balls. The earth, for instance, is a giant spherical object – a really big ball! Although I live on it, I unfortunately cannot juggle it. Or any other planet, for that matter. Archimedes, the ancient Greek mathematician and engineer once said “Give me a firm spot on which to stand, and I shall move the earth.”

Perhaps I am a bit more ambitious than Archimedes, but I love to think that: “Give me but a firm spot on which to stand, and I shall juggle the earth, and mars and venus”. Maybe we are related, I am of Greek origins after all.

From my usual vantage point, I can’t see that the earth is a giant sphere, but there is another giant ball I often see(through dark sunglasses) while I joggle outside – the sun. How I wish I could reach out and grab it and juggle it. But it is 93 million miles away. And it’s a big ball of fiery gas, a giant nuclear fusion reaction – billions of tons of hydrogen getting converted to billions of tons of helium every minute and in the process, releasing so much heat and light that we can feel it across the solar system. There wouldn’t be any life at all on the ball called earth without the ball of gas we call the sun.

The sun itself is just one of countless stars in the entire universe. There are between 10^22 and 10^24 stars (between 10 sextillion and 1 septillion stars) in the entire universe. That is an incredibly huge number! And yet I will never be able to juggle any of them, not even any dwarf stars.

God, or the universe or whatever you want to call it gets to juggle all these stars, and planets and meteors. How I envy this! And manages to do so entirely within the laws of physics, as far as we can tell. Even the planet we are currently living on is getting juggled, it is revolving around the sun and the sun itself is moving through the universe within our galaxy.

The same laws of physics that I work with while juggling are the same rules that apply to all the stars, planets, and other objects getting juggled throughout the universe. The balls I use may be plastic, but it’s all part of the same glorious game. The elements in the plastic, the carbon and everything else were once inside of giant stars billions of years ago;  so was the matter that is now the planet earth and all life. It really is true that we are all made of stardust. So I am juggling parts of stars after all.

There is no cure for sphairophilia. Even though you will be super-obsessed with balls, and stars, you will more than make up for this by being super-fit, and being super-coordinated. You will also realize just how small we are, in the grand scheme of things.

If you want to get fit and stay fit, it helps to have a well-rounded fitness routine. Have a ball!

Creativity and androgyny

Every now and then, something many of us suspect does turn out to have some scientific validity, even if only preliminary. Indeed, it almost feels refreshing to have science on your side for once, since so many of our beliefs don’t stand up to scientific scrutiny. I’ve had countless ideas of mine destroyed by science.

When it comes to artistic talent or creativity, there is a stereotype of the male artist as being “effeminate” or “androgynous”. When a man is described as “androgynous” this means he isn’t particularly masculine. An androgynous woman on the other hand is more masculine, on average. I am in no way implying there is anything even remotely wrong with being either effeminate or androgynous or for women to be masculine. If anything, since creativity is considered a good thing, being androgynous, which is linked with creativity, should then also be considered good.

Interestingly enough, some scientists decided to put this to the test, to see if androgyny is in fact linked with creativity and artistic talent. According to the University of Tübingen, Department of Clinical and Physiological Psychology, which did a study on Testosterone and artistic talents:

Musical composers, instrumentalists, and painters were compared with nonmusicians from a student and from an nonstudent population on testosterone levels in saliva. This steroid served as a marker for physiological androgyny. The ANOVA showed a significant group by sex interaction. Male composers attained significantly lower mean testosterone values than male instrumentalists and male nonmusicians; female composers had significantly higher mean testosterone values than female instrumentalists and female nonmusicians. Painters of both sexes did not differ significantly from controls. Spatial ability was assessed in the five groups. Significant differences on spatial test performance were not reflected in differences on salivary testosterone. Our results showed that musical composers of both sexes were physiologically highly androgynous. Creative musical behavior was associated with testosterone levels that minimized sex differences.

So both male and female composers are more androgynous than instrumentalists and painters? Interesting. Since this is just one small study, it is very difficult to come to any firm conclusions about how this applies to the “big picture”. Also, this is just co-relational study, it doesn’t mean that higher testosterone in women or lower testosterone in men causes them to be more creative when it comes to music.

But, assuming this is not just co-relational, but that testosterone is a causal mechanism, does it imply that if a man wants to be more creative, he should inject himself with estrogen or lower his testosterone levels? I am so totally not recommending such a thing. Not only is it ridiculous, but potentially very dangerous.

I’m always on the lookout to boost my creativity, and to find its correlates, so I naturally stumble upon strange studies like this. As for me, I am not messing with my testosterone levels.

Walking through little Brazil

The “Little Brazil” of Westchester county, in Mount Vernon. There is so much cultural diversity in New York! This diversity makes joggling around the New York area even more fun and enriching. This neighborhood in Mount Vernon has one of the largest Brazilian-American communities in the north-east U.S.

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