Grant Muller

RPM 2012: Year Of King Richard

2188404253-1Occasionally, between the software, traveling, work and more work, I get a rare opportunity to play the drums. The call usually comes at the end of January, and has become the most welcome distraction in February in years.

It’s The RPM Challenge

In February 2011, Tim Alexander asked me to "play on a few tracks" for his Letter Seventeen album. I hadn’t had a chance to record in over a year, so I eagerly accepted and contributed a few tracks. It was fun as hell.

This year, when Tim again asked me to "play on a few tracks", I unknowingly agreed to play on almost all of them. With an additional wrinkle, I would only be here half the month. It would turn into a whirlwind two weeks as I raced to record drums for eight of the ten songs (nine if you count the one I failed on), prepare to leave the country and grow another year older. Cutting it a little close for comfort, I uploaded the last of the tracks from my lodgings in Quito over a frustratingly slow internet connection.

Two weeks later Tim mailed the final cut of The Year of King Richard to Portsmouth, NH and another RPM challenge was complete.

Let’s Talk about the tracks:

YOKR opens with So Social, the signature track of the album and easily the most tiring to play. Sprinting in with a 16th note roll and an easy to spot homage to "The Knack", the energy of this song was an exciting way to kick things off. I’d obviously taken a year off from the drums as I approached the end of this song out of breath, and it goes without saying that it took more than one take.

With the warm up out of the way, we move into Dancing Machine, a post-disco inspired open-hat affair. It’s tragic that most drummers, rythm aside, can’t dance to save their lives. Throwing a tom roll into the middle of the chorus was wacky at first, but turned out great in retrospect. Keep your ears open for the 16th note open-hat beat in the bridge; that machine-gun hat pattern once peppered the entire song but proved to be too distracting.

Tired from dancing, Tim takes a step back with Time Bomb. "Think R.E.M." Tim told me when he first introduced the song. I went back and listened to some Dead Letter Office and gave him my spin on it. As usual, I took things too far and played the heavily syncopated beat you hear at the end throughout the entire song. Tim reeled me in though, and the album is better for it.

Year of King Richard, the title track, would be the song that got away. After hearing it once I was desperate to play on it, and after several takes of what I thought was a good beat, I simply couldn’t get the sound I was looking for. After turning in a few disappointing scratch tracks to Tim, I had to admit the song did not need me. I made a few suggestions and took a back seat on this one. Still, it’s my favorite song on the album.

YOKR behind us, Tim sidesteps any notion of being locked into a genre or era and we find ourselves back in the 80’s. Law of Motion is another open-hat dance number, this time with a significant synthesizer presence. The arpeggiated line in the bridge is classic. I almost never do splices, preferring to do one or two takes of a track all the way through and just get it right. I was made to play Laws of Motion it seems, as I did exactly one take of the song.

Next is Deep Hole, a song that any project manager I know can relate to, and certainly anyone who’s ever "bitten off more than they can chew" will understand. At first, the drum track on this song was a busy double-time beat that seemed a bit too cheery. I miced my toms and took the song into a deeper hole, preferring the ominous half-time gloom to set the mood. That and I really wanted to play my 16" tom like a hi-hat.

If you want me to go is primarily Tim and his guitar. At first I intended to play on it, but Tim looked at me like I had an elbow growing from my face when I mentioned it, so I went off and did some more failed takes of Year of King Richard.

"Can you play a Motown beat?", Tim asked me when he introduced Number Q. "Sure," I answered while googling "Motown beat" to figure out what it was. What came out was somewhere between Beast of Burden and swamp rock. So I didn’t exactly nail the Detroit thing, but Number Q did turn out to be one of my favorites on the album. You’ll wanna come out and see this one live when I can talk Tim out of the safety of the studio.

On Summer Nights I couldn’t help myself. I had to throw a rolling tom beat into this easy going, California pop number. I intentionally dropped in and out of the song to draw the listener into the simple strumming of the guitar and de-emphasize the presence of the drums. Did I mention the toms?

"Just go listen to Tomorrow Never Dies on Revolver." Tim told me after a few failed attempts at the last song on the album, Lavender Haze. After the Beatles’ refresher, I approached this song with a bit more freedom, a lot more ride, and enough ghost notes to fill a haunted house. Of, um, snare drums. The addition of Amit Chabukswar’s tabla rhythms and Gary’s sitar really made the point. It was an open end.

So that’s the album. It still amazes me how much you can accomplish in less than a month. Someday we’ll be as good as Beck and record it all in 48 hours. So go buy Year of King Richard on iTunes, CD Baby, or download it from bandcamp. Oh, and visit the Letter Seventeen site and tell us what you thought, or like Letter Seventeen on Facebook.

Another Southern Odyssey

Exhausted, sore, and half-asleep, I stare into the read-view mirror of our van. While I wait for Jeremy to appear on the horizon behind me, I strike up a conversation with a much younger version of myself.

“We enjoy this?”

“Hell yes!”

The young me grins from ear to ear, gripping a roll of quarters at an all-night arcade lockin. A bearded, haggard, and much older me smiles back before I run off into a maze of video game consoles. Probably to play Tekken.

Jeremy’s head pops up over the ridge, and I’m back in the van. I rub my eyes and hop out into the dewy morning grass, stomping around to warm up. Jeremy is moving slow. Part of me wants to urge him on rather than take his place, but he’s already picked up almost six miles of the eight mile run, he needs a break. In a few minutes, a slap bracelet wraps around my wrist and I’m off again; the two mile run ahead of me will be the shortest and most difficult.

A year ago, I ran the Southern Odyssey, my first 24+ hour relay race with a group of friends from High School. It was a tiresome saga full of ups and downs, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. When John sent out the APB to get the team back together I was all in. We paid our way into the race and had what looked to be a full team. We all looked forward to a milder, less intense Southern Odyssey in 2011.

A year later as I hobbled down a country road toward my next pit stop, I recalled how we still managed to end up with eight runners. There were dropouts related to injuries just weeks before the race. John, initially the organizer of the team, had moved to Malibu several months prior and couldn’t make the trip out to Atlanta to join the team. Then we had injuries along the way. Drew, one of our strongest runners, struggled to get by with a taped up calf. Aaron, himself a sub for a runner we lost to injuries before the race, was run off the road during his third leg. He rolled his ankle so badly it looked like a grapefruit was growing from his leg. We divided up the extra mileage and persisted.

As I rounded a curve on what seemed to be a neverending hill, I heard a long low note. The vuvuzela.

Jeremy, perhaps the most upbeat person I’ve ever met, had brought a host of toys along for the ride. One was a vuvuzela. By the end of the race this $.60 plastic horn would become the sound of mercy on the horizon for our team as we approached a pit stop. You can hear it bellow a half mile away, and the sound means one thing. You’re getting close.

The vuvuzela urged me on. I woke from whatever half-dream state I was in and found new energy to continue. It was a reminder that weariness and exhaustion can easily be overcome with the right stimulation. In my case, the sound of a $.60 plastic horn.

And so it was another Southern Odyssey. Many of the trials and tribulations are the same from year to year, but to truly understand you must experience it yourself. I always come away from it feeling deeply satisfied. Perhaps its the binge eating afterwards. Whatever the case, I can offer this advice:

Buy a vuvuzela. Buy six of them and leave them around the house. Leave one in your car. Leave one in the bathroom. Take it to your kid’s basketball game. Take it to your next board meeting. Use it to annouce the birth of your daughter to the rest of the maternity ward. No matter what the occasion, the vuvuzela is the most appropriate way to celebrate it.

Is it Avant Jazz Industrial Noise? No, It’s STFUnity.

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Its not jazz. It’s not fusion. It’s not electronic. It’s not industrial. I don’t have a word to describe what happened when musicians of very different backgrounds got together virtually to create music.

I can only call it STFUnity.

Finished while I was on holiday in India, STFUnity is what happens when an anarchist saxophonist blasts over the work of a precision drum programmer. Its what happens when an algorithmic composer high-fives his drum kit, then asks for someone to play a solo over it. Its what happens when a keyboardist demands that the entire album be mixed into one of the tracks…indeterminately. Its alternately gentle and violent instrumental frosting spread over an electronic layer cake that got up and triple-lindyed off a countertop.

I haven’t listened to many of the the tracks since their early completion some time ago, and I find myself remembering fondly the process of creating them as much as the result. Built almost entirely over the web, the project was initiated by Bill Graham and Jason Blain early in 2010. My contributions came primarily in the form of sound design and algorithmic control, though a few tracks I laid the base for, leaving Jason and Bill to render further. You can read about that here and here.

One track I haven’t mentioned is BitBlit. Written in 25/8 time, I played the drums live, then sliced what can liberally be called a “pattern” into constituent parts varying in length between 8th and half notes. Then, using GOLSequencer I changed the entry point and various effects, mangling the once straightforward 4/4, 5/8, 7/8, 5/8 sequence into something unrecognizable.

That ‘straightforward’ part is supposed to be a joke.

It’s worthwhile to listen to a before and after, so you can see how much different the tracks are once other members of the group get a hold of them. Notice how BitBlit as I rendered it graduates to full-fledged song from cheesy video game interstitial.

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BitBlit Before

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BitBlit After

So, what are you waiting for? Download it. It’ll crush your bones at no cost (that means it’s free). Click here.

In Defense of Shoes

Go to your favorite hiking trail. Walk down the path, then sit down for a moment and take off your shoes and socks. Keep walking.

Notice where your eyes go.

If you’re anything like me, or the people I’ve watched perform this same exercise, your eyes go directly to the path in front of you. Sharp rocks wait to slice your foot open, introducing hookworms or bacteria into your bloodstream. Tree roots have grown across the path plotting a stubbed toe for every passerby. Acorns roll onto the trail from a nearby oak, lying in wait to do some damage to those tender arches. The path, no matter how well-trod, is rife with danger. So you keep your eyes peeled to avoid even the tiniest obstacles.

But think about where your eyes aren’t.

No longer are you surveying the landscape for a hidden predator. No longer are you keeping your eyes peeled for a blackberry patch or a rabbit, frozen by the appearance of a potential enemy. No longer are you thinking of how beautiful it is to see the blooms of a wild cherry tree as the wind rustles their tiny petals. No, you must keep your eyes on the road ahead.

You can put your shoes back on now, and enjoy those cherry trees.

Shoes have gotten a bad rap lately. Blamed for everything from knee problems to spinal injury, walking shod is starting to look like less of a boon than a liability. But as the exercise above illustrates there are distinct advantages, especially to our hunter-gatherer ancestors, to sporting something on your soles.

Shoes are a tool. Like most human inventions, it gave us a distinct advantage over our competitors and the environment, allowing us to perform a simple act:

Looking around.

The ability to become less concerned with the path under our feet, and concentrate on the road ahead is too tremendous to describe.

To draw a nerd parallel, computer programs often have "watchdog" routines built into them. These watchdogs prevent the program from crashing by performing constant checks to make sure that everything is moving smoothly. These watchdog routines take time. They consume processing ability. They take up space. If you could remove these watchdogs, you’d have capacity for other things. If you can become less concerned with what you’re walking on, you can become more concerned with the beauty of the mountain pass you’re walking through.

Shoes are important. No matter how much our modern minds would like to demonize what walking shod has done to us, its important to remember what walking shod has done for us. Is it clear that poorly designed shoes can cause detriment to our gait and posture? Absolutely, and our modern ability to examine this can in some small way be traced to that fact that we at some point decided that we were tired of training our eyes 3 feet in front of us, and instead began to look miles ahead.

I go barefoot often. I have been running and walking in goofy toe shoes for years. But I respect ancient man’s decision to wear shoes, no matter how poorly we’ve designed them in recent years. The same goes for the agricultural revolution, which has received some poor press in modern times. I may not eat wheat, but that doesn’t diminish it’s importance to our ancestors.

It’s imperative to recognize that human civilization is built with a scaffolding. That scaffolding at times is found to be dangerous, and alternatives are sought and implemented. Bamboo is replaced with pine. Pine is replaced with steel. Then you find that there was nothing wrong with the bamboo and you return to it. It’s just scaffolding, the civilization is what you’re building.

That’s ok.

You live in the times that you live in and you climb the scaffolding that you’re given thinking its the safest place to be.

So respect shoes, even if you don’t wear them all the time. Who knows how much of our modern world depended on that simple innovation.

Image courtesy of matthetube. Article first published as In Defense of Shoes on Blogcritics.

The RPM Challenge and The Power of Constrained Creativity

rpm_11_tshirt_webIt seems like there is a time-boxed challenge for everything out there on the internet. For writers there is NaNoWriMo, for moustache growers there is Movember. Game programmers have Dream.Build.Play. If you do it, there is a challenge for it, and if there isn’t, you can create one. I’ve always wanted to get involved with one of these little challenges, but find myself unwilling (or unable) to commit the time. It’s either work, running, or remodeling a kitchen that gets in the way. When Tim Alexander asked me to play drums for a few tracks on the RPM Challenge this February, I jumped at the chance.

After that I asked him what the RPM challenge was, and what kind of music he was writing.

The RPM Challenge

The RPM Challenge gives the recording artist a month (in this case the shortest month) to record an entire album start to finish. 10 Songs or 30 minutes. Go. No recording before February 1, recordings must be submitted February 28. Or 29 in a leap year I guess.

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Tim described his music to me as “Big, dumb pop songs”, but that doesn’t really do them justice. Sure, they’re pop, but in the hilarious way that They Might Be Giants are considered pop. The songs are catchy and original, and the subject matter is usually off the wall. This is Tim’s second year with the RPM Challenge, he successfully recorded Backstage Stories in 2010.

The music sounded like a lot of fun, but I had a secret motive for wanting to get involved. Besides the desire to get into one of these creative challenges for the first time, I hadn’t played my drums in damn near a year. I had let my brand new Peavey Radial Pro 1000’s languish due to life’s little setbacks for months. This was the motivation I needed to get my new kit record-ready and my butt back behind the set. I slapped some new heads on the kit, rearranged things a bit, and by the end of January I was miced up and ready to go.

The challenge was a breeze, but of course, I was only committed to playing a few songs. Tim would put the files I needed in a shared Dropbox folder, I would load them up in my DAW of choice, bang out a couple of takes, then send the wavs back to Tim for inclusion in his mixes. Toward the end we had worked out a system that involved me providing a stereo reference mix plus all the unmixed tracks that Tim could use to really dial in the sound he was looking for. It went great, and I got the chance to live a creative challenge vicariously through Tim. Not to mention play my new drums. You can hear the results on the Letter Seventeen Bandcamp site.

Embrace Creative Constraints

I see a lot of potential in these time-boxed challenges. First, they absolutely require focus. I know in my daily routine I bounce back and forth between working, coding, writing, training, reading, and in general not focusing on any one thing day in and day out. For people like me, these challenges are the creative constraint we need to force us to focus on one thing for a short period of time, whether it be a day, a week or a month, and let the other stuff wait for a while. This allows the unfocused among us to continue “unfocusing” most of the time, then really apply our energies at intervals in a concentrated effort to finish just one thing. To borrow an analogy, “Reading is the inhale, writing is the exhale”. The same can be said of listening and writing music. If I consider all of my unfocused time as inhaling, gathering information, listening and really forming ideas, I can focus all the data I’ve gathered into one concentrated exhale. Then maybe breathe normally for a while. It’s a bit like Agile software development, you set yourself up to sprint for a very short period of time, concentrate on that and that alone, and come out the other end with something complete.

These challenges also force you to organize your brainstorms into something finished. Sure, with some of the challenges like NaNoWriMo there is a premium on getting as many words on the page as possible, but at the end of the day those words have to mean something for them to be worthwhile to you. You could go all month, typing a dictionary into your word processor, or stringing together 500 disparate riffs into 10 songs and calling it a finished piece, but you wouldn’t really be doing yourself justice. The point is to have a finished work that you can show off at the end. You’ll be proud for having finished, but you’ll be prouder for having finished something worthwhile.

Lastly, there is an emphasis on “shipping” with these challenges. I’m reminded of a quote attributed to Steve Job’s, “Real artists ship”, and these challenges have a built-in way of separating the “real artists” from the twiddlers: a deadline. Much has been said about artificial deadlines, but the presence of a community around you, working toward the same goal, in many ways competing with one another to be “real artists” creates some kind of unique motivational magic. From Tim’s RPM page:

2578047960-1I wrote 5 songs in 25 years. Thanks to RPM 2010, I wrote 13 more in 15 days and used 11 of them for my album. My wife had heard me sing maybe 3 times in 17 years. Then I released an album. So I basically went from zero to 60 in a month.

Powerful stuff.

You can check out the fruits of Tim’s labors, Snowbound, at the Letter Seventeen Bancamp site.

GOLSequencer, HarmonicTable, and MidiReference on GitHub

With just a little trepidation I have checked in the code for all of my free software goodies into GitHub. I was getting several requests to provide access to the source for several of my old projects, so rather than emailing code around on a case by case basis, I have simply checked everything in to GitHub for posterity. Who knows, maybe someone will jump in there and fix all the bugs.

I have written some other tools for my personal use that I will likely check in there as well, so check back if you’re interested in that kind of thing.

HarmonicTable

GOLSequencer

MidiReference

Growing a Moustache May Cure Prostate Cancer

mo_iconIndirectly of course. During the month of November men across the world will be embracing the practice of doing ridiculous things to raise money and awareness for a cause. Breast Cancer has Barbells for Boobs and pink ribbons, Prostate Cancer has Movember, which is kind of like wearing a pink ribbon, only it’s the same color as the hair on your head and you wear it on you lip. In the founder’s own words:

Movember challenges men to change their appearance and the face of men’s health by growing a moustache. The rules are simple, start Movember 1st  clean-shaven and then grow a moustache for the entire month.  The moustache becomes the ribbon for men’s health, the means by which awareness and funds are raised for cancers that affect men.  Much like the commitment to run or walk for charity, the men of Movember commit to growing a moustache for 30 days.

Simple. Grow a moustache, pushbroom, crumb-catcher, or fu manchu for 30 days just like your manly counterparts from the gilded or Reagan ages, raise money and awareness for prostate and other man-centric cancers. You can keep your moustache when it’s over.

So I’m committed to growing a moustache for 30 days for the Art of Manliness team. Beginning Movember 1st my lip won’t see a razor for 30 days. I’ve never had a moustache, or any other facial hair for that matter (with the exception of my most excellent sideburns), so this ought to be interesting. Do I need some wax? I’ll do a weekly update to show off my cookie-duster, and you can show your support by going to my Mo’ Space and donating, joining my team, or growing a ‘stache of your own.

See you in Movember. With a moustache.

An Evolving Experiment in Fitness

33509_151121254902481_134920633189210_454964_590541_nMy lungs are raw from gasping for 7 minutes solid. My vision has only now returned from the blurry and wild eyed stupor I was in just a few hours ago, when I crashed on the gym mat in an effort to get my heart rate down to a safe level. I still haven’t fully recovered from tonight’s workout as I write this and reflect; slightly sick and slightly satisfied feelings mingle with one another and I cannot predict if I will wake up with an upper respiratory infection or the desire to push myself to this upper limit again. Probably both.

Its been almost a year since I first wrote about my experiment in fitness. I had to some extent forgotten about it until Labor Day of this year, when I ran the 10K Classic in Marietta GA. Before the race I realized that I hadn’t really spent much time running in the past few months. Since July maybe? I got to thinking that I might not run well given my lack of preparation. “Oh well”, I thought, and pushed my way through the herd to the front of the starting line. “Why not go for a PR”.

I finished the race well, with a time that put me in the top 200. Afterwards I began to ask myself “If I haven’t been running and I still finished well, what the hell have I been doing?”. I certainly haven’t been running long distance; that goal in the original experiment was almost entirely forgotten (though I will be running the Southern Odyssey 200 mile relay race in early October). I got out on the bike several times over the Summer, and I’ve only seen the pool a handful of times, but I know I’ve been training…where have I been?

I guess I keep a training log for a reason, time to check it out.

Winter – Spring 2010: Staying the Course

In my previous post, I mentioned that I would execute the following:

Workout 8-12 times per week. Select 5-6 workouts from one of the sources listed below:

Crossfit Optimum Performance Training MEBB Catalyst Athletics My brother, James. Make something up (keeping HILV in mind)

Perform 1-3 workouts each on the bike, swim, or run using the the same HILV methodology (Crossfit Endurance was my main source for these latter workouts, sometimes substituting old sprint and time trial workouts).

Based on my logs, I continued to work this way throughout most of Winter and Spring of 2010. I slipped from time to time, but I got out around 8-12 times a week, usually focusing on running but throwing in a ride or a swim from time to time to make sure I had the triathlon covered. A look at my personal records during this time doesn’t yield any change from the PR’s covered in the previous post. I stayed the course, making no gains but experiencing no losses. I was fine with this. Then in the middle of July, I made a change.

Summer 2010: CFK

My brother had been asking me to check out a new gym that a friend of a friend had opened up near Kennesaw Mountain called Crossfit Kennesaw. I was obviously  familiar with Crossfit, but had never been able to get over and check out one of the gyms. Either the workout times were inconvenient, or the gyms weren’t anywhere close, or I had already planned my training for the night. Finally I had an opening on a Thursday evening and headed over to check it out.

CFK is your standard warehouse gym: no machines, no nonsense. The gear you need, none of the stuff you don’t. There is a workout on the board. There is an alternate workout. These are simple workouts, much like the ones I was following with my earlier prescription, and I picked right up on the philosophy. It’s greenhouse hot in the Summer, and without a doubt it will feel like a fridge in the Winter. You’re going to be extremely uncomfortable when you start the workout anyway, would the AC really make you feel better?

The workout the evening I came in was a creation of Chris, the proprietor of CFK. 4 rounds: 15 Thrusters and a 400m run. There were 5 of us in the gym that night, 3 of us brothers, so naturally it turned into a friendly competition. I won. “Will you be open tomorrow?” I asked before leaving.

Looking through my logs I have been training at CFK almost exclusively since then. I’ve gone from 8-12 tough workouts a week to 5-6 brutal ones. I spend about 6 hours a week training, give or take, down from the almost 10 I was committing, which is leaving more time open for other things (namely work). I intend to continue training like this, throwing in the occasional 5K, 10K, day on the bike, or swim as I feel like it.

The Results

On the Run
5K time 10K Time
Pre 10/10/09 21:01 44:03
Post 02/15/10 20:36
Post 09/06/10 45:52

This is where the results become hard to decipher. My 5K time improved early in the year, when I was on my old prescription, but not by much. My 10K time is slower, but the results are deceiving. The course between the two times are much different, and I find my time on the recent September run much more respectable.

Other Indicators
Old Max Current Max
Deadlift 335 lbs 355 lbs
Bench Press 205 lbs 225 lbs
Squat 215 lbs 225 lbs
Shoulder Press 135 lbs 155 lbs

Again, not impressive numbers, but still an improvement as I’ve moved through the year. That is the only goal I’ve set. I’ve learned a lot about the squat since joining the crew at CFK, and hopefully the empowerment of my posterior chain will begin to show in the upcoming months.

Also, I can do a proper muscle-up. On the rings. Good enough for me.

Now What?

Here we go with another year. My workout time is down significantly, my performance results are the same if not better. My weight has not changed, my strength to body mass ratio has improved. I will continue to monitor my results.

New goals? I will set them in the future, right now I intend to continue training like I am to prepare my body for…whatever. Next challenge: The Southern Odyssey 200 Mile relay. We have 9 runners right now. If we get up to 10 I only have to run 20 miles. I hope we have 12 team mates…

Inside The Korg DW-8000: Don’t Put Solder on a Battery

DW-8000-1 Recently a friend asked how hard it was to replace the CMOS battery in Korg DW-8000 keyboard. I assumed it couldn’t be that hard, looked up what kind of battery it accepted (CR2032) and said “yeah, 5 minute job”. I failed to take into account early 80s circuit construction. Sure, its no Maestro PS-1B, but I certainly discovered some “opportunities” upon cracking open the case…

Getting it open is easy enough. As with any device built before the iPod age there are far too many screws… 2 in each corner, several straight up the middle, a bunch to hold the rather flimsy keyboard tray in place. etc. NOTE: To open this thing, you need to turn it upside down, make sure you support the bottom right corner so the joystick doesn’t get smashed.

Once open, you’re probably presented with a ton of dust and 3 filthy circuit boards populated with far-from-RoHS compliant components. Dead center in the 2nd board is the battery…

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which is soldered to the board.

 

 

 

 

DW-8000-7 This probably only sounds ridiculous to me, but really, who solders a consumable part directly to the board. Honestly, this kind of thing calls into question the entire circuit design. I got the dead little bastard freed from its pinholes and went to grab another battery holder. I was pretty certain I wouldn’t be able to find a holder with the same pin out, so I opted to get whatever CR2032 battery holder I could find and shoehorn it in there.

 

I found some suggestions on the internet for doing this, one involved adding some extra wires to the pins of the holder and running them under the new holder. After examining the board I decided a more stable replacement would be to drill another hole inline with the positive lead circuit trace. This is better explained with pictures:

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Grab the tools you need. The battery holder (RS #270-009), a couple of reamers, and a tiny drill bit. You can go with just the drill bit, but if you need to widen any holes I like these little reamers.

 

 

 

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Look for a spot around the battery circle that is still sitting on the positive lead on the reverse side of the board. Its easy to see through the board to spot the lead, and for me the hole was right next to the T in “BATT”. In this picture the hole has already been drilled.

 

 

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Start drilling on the reverse side, at least enough so that the lead won’t tear when you drill through on the other side.

 

 

 

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Mount and solder the battery holder (making sure that the polarity is correct), then insert the battery. Done.

 

 

 

No sweat, but certainly not a 5 minute job. The moral of this story? If you’re designing a circuit with a replaceable part (like a battery), please don’t solder it directly to the board. The amateur that has to repair it in 25 years will never thank you, but they’ll still appreciate it.

An Experiment in Fitness

Poor Bastard Let me start by saying that this article shouldn’t be considered an endorsement of a training methodology. First of all I don’t have the expertise to endorse or recommend anything. Also there is a reason that the word ‘personal’ often appears before training, it’s different for everyone and you need to make your own decisions about what is right for you. These are just the records of my observations and experiences over the course of the last few years and more specifically, last few months. I’ll periodically update this record as I guinea-pig different training methods on myself, and document any successes or failures.

 

In other words, this is what is working for me at the moment; your mileage may vary.

Introduction

During the winter of 2008 I began training for marathon season the way I always had. Run a lot. My typical schedule included something like 10-12 hours of running a week, around 1/4 to 1/3 of that volume occurring on one day. When you pass other marathoners on the trail on these days, you nod and acknowledge that you’re both on your “long day”. These are almost invariably Sundays. On these days you put in 14-20 miles at a snail’s pace to make sure you are physiologically capable of running a full marathon. On other days you mix in interval sets, 10K’s, 5Ks, but nothing too hard…wouldn’t want to weaken your long day performance. These long runs are great if you have a stockpile of audio books to listen to, but they weren’t helping me get any faster or stronger, and they were eating up lots of my time.

This was my predicament: after spending years training like this for every event (including triathlons), I wasn’t any faster than I had been in the first year. A glance at my 5k, 10k and marathon times from 2004 to 2008 will show almost no progress. Four years without progress in areas you dedicate a lot of your spare time to is enough to frustrate anyone. I was weaker than I had been before starting any endurance training. Compound this with a knee injury at the start of 2009, and I was pretty unmotivated to run any marathons. I pushed through the Sedona Marathon (which was worth it) and took a break until I could figure out what to do next.

A little history

I wasn’t much of an athlete growing up. I played some team sports, baseball mostly, but by High School had pretty much settled on playing the drums and video games. I got out of shape, and didn’t really care much. College was much the same; working and going to school fulltime didn’t really lend itself to staying in shape (though I know better now).

After graduating college and entering the workforce, I discovered something magical: leisure time. What do I do with all this leisure time? I decided to try out a triathlon. That turned out to be a lot of fun so I did a few more. After a while it became clear that running was my favorite of the tri sports, so I took it to the next level and gave the marathon a shot. At no point was I ever a competitor in these events, in most cases I was just racing to finish. On a good day I finished middle of the pack. It didn’t matter though, I was in better shape than I had been my entire life, and I felt good most of the time (barring any long runs).

Fast forward 4 years.

Low Volume High Intensity

I credit my brother with turning me on to low volume high-intensity training. Somewhere toward the end of 2008 we both found ourselves at a loss with our typical training methods, so he started suggesting something new. Here is an example:

  • Run a punching bag up a set of bleachers 5 sets at a time, as fast as you can now.
  • Pull another punching bag 20 yards, run to the other end of the rope, do it again.
  • Throw 10lb medicine ball as far as you can. Run to it. Throw it back.
  • Do all that again 8-10 times
  • Roll up in fetal position

Since I was fine with giving up on the marathoning, this training was a welcome reprieve. I had my workouts wrapped up in the span of a half an hour, and only felt terrible as long as it took me to recuperate (which at first was a lot). I began to equate it this way:

My heart beats the same number of times as it would on a long run, I just compacted it all into 20 minutes.

Not very scientific.

We continued to train this way a few days a week, usually getting together on Sundays and the occasional weekdays, all the while I kept up my normal training with long slow distance runs, rides, and swims (here after referred to as LSD training). At some point my brother mentioned his friends were doing something called Crossfit. I had never heard of it, so I checked it out online.

The Crossfit “prescription” is “constantly varied, high-intensity functional movement”. This is the first time a training methodology has ever “clicked” with me. I am not a specialist in life. At some point I will go into a lengthy article about how I learned not to be a specialist, but for now suffice it to say that finding a training methodology that gave me the freedom to synergize and NOT specialize was exactly what I had been looking for. For a detailed account of their methodology and general physical preparedness, I suggest checking out the site linked above, FAQs, and the “What is Fitness” article.

I began doing the workouts of the day on a semi regular basis in the Spring of 2009 as an experiment while still performing my typical LSD training in the triathlon sports. Having done this on my own now, I would suggest anyone moving to a program of this sort build up a moderate fitness base before jumping in (though you can scale any workout). From dabbling I discovered the following:

  • The increase in strength was having a significant positive impact on an existing knee injury (Runner’s knee). This may also be attributed to running barefoot or in Vibram Five Fingers almost entirely (that’s a topic for a different post).
  • The anaerobic output during the short high-intensity workouts was translating to an increased aerobic base.
  • My energy levels were off the charts.

The latter was enough to make me do a significant amount of research, and dedicate the Summer of 2009 to:

The Experiment

In June of 2009 I threw out my training log and started over intending to answer the following question:

Can I supplant my LSD training regiment with high-intensity, low volume, constantly varied training while still participating in endurance sports at the same level?

The criteria for success is very simple. Measure times for swim, bike, and run sports at a designated level at periodic intervals, while training with high-intensity, low volume (hereafter HILV) workouts. I chose the following test distances:

  • Run – 5k, 10K
  • Swim – 3 x 300m (to get 100m average)
  • Bike – 12 Mile

These distances were intentionally kept somewhat short. For one, testing each once a month at “marathon” levels would not be feasible. Secondly, each is a representation of the leg length of a Sprint Triathlon. Last, Each of these times can usually be translated into longer distances. I’m not suggesting that the act of running a 5k is physiologically the same as running a marathon, I’m just suggesting that as a unit of measure for my experiment, it seemed the most appropriate. A different experiment will test even longer distances (Winter 2010).

If my times for these tests do increase, than the experiment is technically a success. If they get better than its a huge success.

Execution

Workout 8-12 times per week.

Select 5-6 workouts from one of the sources listed below:

Perform 1-3 workouts each on the bike, swim, or run using the the same HILV methodology (Crossfit Endurance was my main source for these latter workouts, sometimes substituting old sprint and time trial workouts).

This sounds like a lot of training time, but its really not bad. Consider that these workouts usually take no more than a half-hour, doing one in the morning  and another in the afternoon on days where there are two scheduled is not as bad as it sounds. This typically totals out to a MAXIMUM of 8-10 training hours per week, but is usually more like 5 to 7.

In practice I ended up spending more time on the run (3 times a week) than the bike and swim portions (usually once maybe twice a week). I followed another “unspoken” rule of going hard for 2-3 weeks, than going soft for 1 week. I would do this regardless of my training platform.

I didn’t modify my diet or sleeping patterns in anyway in an attempt to control the experiment to some minimal degree.

 

The Results

On the Run
  5K time 10K Time
Pre 5/14/09 24:28 49:40
Post 10/10/09 21:01 44:03

This is massive overhaul of my 5K and 10K times. In the past I almost always ran an 8 minute per mile, 24 minute 5K without fail. To see this time reduced this drastically is a huge success. Over the 5 month period in the experiment, I tested 3 times, each time shaving almost a minute from my previous personal record.

In the Water
  300m AVG 100m
Pre 5/14/09 5:26 1:48
Post 10/10/09 4:48 1:36

I tested 3 times over the period, and most of my cuts were made early in the experiment (July). Some periodization may be necessary to get much faster than this, but I’m questioning the need. I’m happy with these times, and if I can eke out a few more seconds I’ll be thrilled.

On the Bike

I have yet to perform the final 12 mile test on the bike, and it’s already getting chilly out there. Look for an update on this later. As far as my training rides go, I know for certain I am moving much faster.

Other Indicators

I always dabbled with weight lifting, even during my long slow distance days. I concentrated on a few core lifts (deadlift, squat, bench press) and very rarely made strength gains. Using HILV training I made the following modifications to my lift maxes:

  Old Max Current Max
Deadlift 265 lbs 335 lbs
Bench Press 175 lbs 205 lbs
Squat 165 lbs 215 lbs

These are by no means impressive numbers, but they do show an significant increase in strength over the 5 month period, which isn’t bad for someone with an endurance focus. It goes without saying that in any area where I lifted frequently I improved.

Conclusion

These are preliminary results in what will be a long experiment. If I were to call this phase one then I would call this phase a success. I was able to adopt a training program that’s flexible, not overly time consuming, and that doesn’t bore the hell out of me while bettering my times in core endurance sports and increasing my strength. Will training like this make me a world-class runner, rider, swimmer or lifter? Probably not, but let’s face it, I wasn’t any of those things to begin with not did I have any intention of being.

What would I do differently?

I would change my diet slightly. I would increase my protein intake significantly. I like to get all of my nutrition from actual food, and avoid taking vitamins, supplements, or anything in “scoop” form, but have since broken down and starting incorporating a whey protein shake after workouts in an effort to recover more quickly.

I would scale the workouts more effectively to my size. At the beginning of this experiment I would do whatever the recommended weight for the workout was, and my results would always be to slog through it. About halfway through I realized that I needed to reduce the weights for timed workouts to something appropriate for my frame. I only weight 165 lbs, so a 225 lbs deadlift 21, 15, and 9 times would not be an appropriate value for a beginner/intermediate lifter.

Next Phase

I had thought about giving up marathoning early this year. I simply didn’t have the time or motivation to train like a marathoner anymore. Given that there are several people who have already applied the training methods I’m using to long distance running (up to and exceeding 100 miles), the next phase in this experiment will be an attempt to run a marathon with the training methods I’ve adopted. Stay tuned for the results.

I started using Evernote as my training log in the middle of the Summer. If you want to see what my typical schedule was, and my ongoing progress, look here:

Training Log