Month: February 2019

Long Term Goals

Most of my recent health goals have been centred around eating, or at least my weight. But those are not the only health goals that I have, so I wanted to write a little bit about them.

Wait, Weight?

I should address my weight goals first, though.

I’ve been at or below my goal weight for over three months now, despite Thanksgiving, Christmas, and many other opportunities to launch myself off the wagon in that period.

I am getting used to how I feel.

I have also been weighing daily during that time so that I can get a clear sense of how my weight fluctuates during a week. There can easily be a two pound swing from one of the week to the next, and lots of factors affect it on any given day but those factors mostly lag pretty heavily. Obviously eating a lot of food the previous day makes a difference, but I haven’t seen that weight sticking — it mostly seems to be the weight of the food itself, rather than fat that that food turns into.

The biggest thing is just getting used to new eating routines. I am maintaining now rather than trying to shed, so Weight Watchers gives me more points. They also encourage you to adjust your points allowance if there is a change in weight, and I landed on a pretty effective daily budget within a few weeks. You also get weekly points, although I rarely dip into those — I prefer to have my fit points instead.

Getting Credit

Even the first time I was using a WW programme, fit points were my silver bullet.

My requirement for exercise has always been that it be vigorous and intense. “Going for a walk” rarely feels like exercise, although hiking certainly can if the route is hilly enough or far enough.

With this iteration of WW, I have connected my fitness tracker to my WW account so that WW can pull in my step counts without my even having to type them in. It’s great, and for most of the trundling around I do it captures my activity pretty accurately.

However, when we started doing a spin class it became apparent that the steps I got from my tracker (which is tucked into my sock when I ride) didn’t match the amount of effort I was putting in*. Similarly, for the kind of push running I do I wasn’t getting full credit, which matters a lot when you want to go and get a bun to satisfy your bone hungriness.

Putting in the activity double counts my steps, though: I don’t want 20 points for an hour of spinning as well as 7 points for my spin steps; that’s cheating!

So I pro rate the activity time to discount it by the steps. For spinning and running, this comes down to about two thirds of the time. This way I get credit for the intense exercise, but I also don’t have to abandon my step counter while I’m doing it.

Being Fit

Stephen Fry once wrote that he was fit: fit for the life that he led of cerebral contemplation and creative work.

My criteria for being fit are a bit more specific. I have had these fitness goals for a solid fifteen years, all of these being things I would like to be able to do with regularity and without thinking about it too much before hand:

  1. run an eight minute mile
  2. run ten miles
  3. cycle fifty miles

The one I hit first was the ten mile run: I had this down for about six months at one time, when I was planning a maintenance schedule which included a regular ten. I am not there yet this time around, though: I ran ten today, but it took special effort and it was a particular strain.

The goal I expected to take longest was the eight minute mile, but that is actually the one I have in hand now. I am regularly posting runs in the 8:05-8:15 range on a variety of terrains, and I have had a couple of sub-8 runs. Even on longer and tougher runs my times are coming in much lower: only the most challenging hill runs are posting over nine minutes a mile, and today’s ten — the longest run I have done in some years — came in at 8:52 a mile. That wasn’t flat, either.

Which just leaves the fifty mile bike ride. This seems more than plausible at this point.

I hope you are engaging with your health goals. It’s better to confront them than to ignore them, and I am glad I have finally done so over the last year.

[*] in fairness, I had been suspicious of the mismatch between step count and perceived effort while cycling for some time, but when eating was on the line it suddenly seemed more urgent.

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A Commander Toolkit

Most of the Magic I play is Commander, originally known as EDH: Elder Dragon Highlander. The concept is simple — you build a 100 card deck made up single copies of cards, one of which is a legendary creature called the commander. The first commanders were the original Elder Dragons, and there can only be one of each card*. The cards must be in the same colour identity as the commander, that is any mana symbols on the cards must also appear on the commander. The commander is an always-available creature to cast, and often hints at the theme for the deck.

Maybe it’s not that simple.

What I like about Commander is that anything can happen, and you only need one copy of each card. This comes back to my need to clear out cards: if I only need to keep one of each card, then there is no need to hang on to twenty copies of that draft chaff common from five sets ago.

But if I only need one copy of any one card, how come I still don’t have enough Sol Rings?

Build It Now

The answer to that question is that I have kept too many decks built at once.

In my years of playing Commander I have collected a large pile of decks with different themes. Then there are the preconstructed decks (which truly are one of the best products that Wizards of the Coast sells, even after the disappointing 2018 set) which I have tended to hang onto in their original form.

My current choice of which deck to play in my group is in the form of a farewell tour: I have been giving decks I no longer want to keep intact one last outing before I dismantle them. I am retaining the deck lists, but my intention henceforth is to keep decks together for a lot less time and to keep things more fluid.

The decks I am releasing cards from are either boring (too good, like my life gain deck, or not good enough, like the modified cat deck) or no longer funny (because sometimes I build decks for a thematic joke; the Hammer of Purphoros deck falls into that unfortunate group, but Djinn Palace is another one that wasn’t half as funny as I hoped it would be). There are several decks I plan to maintain in good order, because they are strong but not boring, or continue to be funny.

Build It Later

As I pull apart decks, the cards will either go back into my sorted collection or be put into a toolkit that I can use as the basis of commander decks of the future.

Commander is a singleton format, but the trick with it is to build redundancy into the deck by including multiple cards with similar effects. There are many spells that search your deck for land, or counter an opponent’s spell, or destroy a single target creature. I want to build a toolkit which gathers cards for a particular function and sorts them by colour. The categories I am going to start with are:

  • ramp: mana rocks and land ramp. Also, discount effects
  • card draw
  • removal: destroy a single thing
  • board wipe: destroy everything
  • recursion: bringing things back from the graveyard
  • counter spell
  • tutor: general or specific card search
  • lands: utility lands, multicolour lands, land tutors
  • tribal: things that support decks built around a common creature type

Other categories exist, of course, and if I am building a particular kind of deck then I will collect cards that fill those: life gain payoffs, for example, or stealing other people’s things, or chaotic effects. Those are much more specific and ephemeral classifications though, so they will just live in the collection. These toolkit categories will be used in many different decks so collecting them centrally makes a lot more sense.

End Game

As I said above, I am aiming for a single copy** of most cards in my collection. The commander staples in the toolkit categories will be duplicated more freely, and there are some things I want to keep playsets of for specific purposes, but I am expecting to be getting rid of some thousands of cards.

There will be more room in the storage boxes, at least.

[*] apart from basic lands, and cards which explicitly say you can have as many as you want in the deck.

[**] or at least a single copy of each art for a card.

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February Things, 2019

I don’t like burnout. The worst thing about it is that I don’t see it coming: I am diagnosing January’s burnout in retrospect. In the moment it just felt like I was overwhelmed and tired, but in hindsight it is pretty obvious that I had taken on too much and wasn’t getting any of it done.

So this is not going to be a positive Things post, as should be obvious from the way I am not getting it done until two thirds of the way into the month.

Let’s lift up the rock and see what’s underneath.

Three Things for January

With the understanding that I basically didn’t do anything, what did I complete?

  1. Cinnamon Harmonies — no work. I will come back to this later in the year, April at the soonest. The trick here is going to be closing it out. No points this time though.
  2. Song fourth draft — I need to develop a revision plan, but I didn’t do that. This is probably the second most important thing I need to do this quarter. Marking this incomplete.
  3. blog — obviously not, although I have done more blogging than anything else. Half a point.
  4. workshop application — I have done some work on this, with thoughts on the cover letter and the sample I want to send. Calling this half done, although that might be generous.

What I have done this last few weeks is some wildly overdue card sorting. The Konmari spirit is upon me still, and clearing out cards to make space for other things is still pretty important to me.

Still overall, I am going to rate that two halves out of four, or 1/4 once the fractions are simplified.

Three Things for 2019

This is not the vigorous start to 2019 that I had hoped for, but this has not been vigorous month so that’s just where I am.

  1. query A Turquoise Song — a goal in three sequential parts:
    1. prepare a fourth draft — incorporate feedback, make it good. Target is to have this done by the middle of the year. No progress on this first part yet.
    2. prepare query letter — obviously the initial targets are the agents I talked to at the conference in 2017, but I also want to prepare for querying other agents.
    3. query — get the book out there.
  2. short stories — I am finding my relationship to short stories becoming much less contentious, even fruitful!
    1. several stories to write for Boundary Shock Quarterly — I have started in on the first of these.
    2. write and submit four stories to other markets. So that’s one a quarter, and I will mark it as such.
  3. engage with the writing community — this is a nebulous label for a group of related goals that don’t warrant a top level item to themselves.
    1. workshop application — I’m going to apply for an intensive workshop. More on that once it’s in hand, which it really isn’t yet.
    2. podcast — one of the things that came out of the inconclusive work on producing Livia as an audiobook was a desire to launch a podcast of some kind. This would be audio-only initially, although I am still searching for a good format. No work this month beyond some sorting to make space.
    3. cons & confs — I need to be getting out there more. I just do. No progress on  doing so, however.

As I say, not a great start but I still think this is going to be a good year.

Three Things for February

Not that there’s much left of February, at this point, but…

These month goals are predicated on the truncated amount of time remaining in the month. That necessarily reduces the volume of work which can be completed, as well as the scope.

Still, there are real tasks that can still be accomplished towards my goals for the year.

  1. Song fourth draft — I’m expecting to receive more feedback on the 3rd draft from my crit group, so I need to prep some questions to help provide prompts for discussion.
  2. short stories — two things:
    1. finish draft of next BSQ story
    2. plan story for submission this quarter
  3. workshop application — write draft of cover letter.

Note that I am not putting in work on Cinnamon Harmonies this month. I plan to come back to that in April.

Alright*, let’s get back to it.

[*] US English convention is “all right” but I grew up with “alright”. For some reason I have suppressed that British usage for most of the time I have been writing seriously, even while I use other British usages without compunction or mercy: armoured trousers are are my speciality, for example.

I am reclaiming this part of my upbringing.

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Burnout or Laziness?

A few weeks ago I wrote that I was taking a break from writing to let myself spend time working on clutter.

And that time has been successful in that I have done no writing at all. I have worked on some Magic decks, and sorted cards, but basically I have taken a break from anything. In truth, I have been feeling creatively drained — I have taken time to actually read a whole book rather than vomitting out words.

I needed this break, just like I needed the break over Christmas.

However it was beginning to feel like laziness.

Then on Monday I got up at my usual time and had my usual breakfast and I mooched around as I usually do — it always takes me a while to wake up, so the mooching is necessary. But even after a cup of tea and all the other routines I found that I was still basically asleep.

So I went back to bed, and slept for another six hours.

I am feeling better now, I’m glad to say. It seems to have been a minor fever based on how other members of my family have suffered the same way, but I am still pretty flattened. I would usually run from the office but I deliberately left my gear at home.

More significant is that I can feel the flickering flames of the creative urge. The burnout was real, but it was not just laziness that led to my not writing.

Time to get back on the horse. Probably just a trot, just yet. Let’s keep the cantering in all directions for when the flames are burning hotter.

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