Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Story About an April

My daughter was born last week.  Her name is April.  It wasn't in our minds when we chose her name, but I rediscovered this short piece which I wrote a long time ago.  The main character is a girl named April, though April also refers to Autumn in New Zealand

An Autumn Scene

Falling leaves and a carpet, of yesterday's offerings from the trees, underfoot. Picture a scene of a long suburban street with trees lining the side of the road and a small grass strip between gutters and the footpath. Black iron fences on the other side of each footpath from the road.

April came and went. Nobody really cared because they didn't like her that much. This was sad. They didn't know her. April was a person inside a person. Outwardly she was quiet, antisocial, and reclusive. Inside this shell April observed the world she passed by in great detail. While the kids in her classes stood on the street corner and watched her pass with little interest and a lot of disdain, April was noticing things.

She saw a crisp red-brown leaf from a maple tree. Within that leaf was a network of white veins that had carried the life of a tree to the extremities of the leaf-tips. Between those veins were smaller veins that created borders between hills and valleys and flakes of dead skin. The intricate crackle as she stepped on that leaf and killed it again. The sound of white noise and harsh material rubbing. The sensation of a fragile, thin surface being harshly folded by a thick plastic heel, and muted by that same thick sole. The thought of the tree that this disowned and destroyed leaf used to belong to. Does the tree feel the parting of the sibling? Does the independent leaf have sensation of falling, drying out gradually, and being crushed?

And then it was gone, along with the unnoticed misunderstanding of the cool kids from school who lived in a skin deep world.

11th November 2003

April and Doughnut - Oh so cute!
This piece also appears in my free e-book.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Kony 2012 - Truth or Conspiracy? Making sense of the backlash?

This article contains:
- My experiences with being scammed
- Two sides to human nature described (to help you know if you are being scammed)

There is no doubt that those who donate to causes are well intentioned.  You've probably done so yourself.  But how do you know if you are being scammed?  Nobody wants to be scammed into giving to a false cause.

My experiences
When I was younger, a university student and not on a regular income, I challenged myself to be more giving because it seemed to count more to give when I couldn't afford it.  In one instance I was asked for some petrol money by a guy who wanted to get back to his family in another town.  I gave him ten bucks and kept the five dollar note to last me until who knows when.  Later, I had the embarrassment of being told that this guy was a druggy who regularly asked for cash using a sob story.  This was my first encounter with scammers and has unfortunately hardened me to people asking for help.  It has also made me reluctant to ask for help, but that is another story.

So in relation to Kony 2012, I say again, Nobody wants to be scammed into giving to a false cause.

I don't know what the truth of the Kony situation is, but my intention here is to illustrate two sides to human nature to help you decide for yourself if someone is trying to scam you.  If you want to watch a series of videos to get the entire Kony 2012 picture, I've linked or embedded the vids at the end of this post (so that you don't fail to read the important stuff)

Two sides to human nature
One side of human nature that we have to battle with is evil.  Everyone has a dark side which they mostly work hard against to avoid being too bad.  Keeping this short and to the point, with Kony 2012, it is entirely conceivable that the whole thing is a big scam to get a hold of the natural resources of Uganda.

Looking even bigger, to Africa as a whole, there are some parts that are more stable than others, but the centres of power and influence seem to be full of corruption and mess.  It's crazy to think that the international agencies are positive about Africa when there are so many refugees coming out.  My country takes 750 refugees each year, which doesn't seem like much, but when you consider that the (large) families then follow.  Also, there are many voluntary refugees who are getting out while they still can.  Huge numbers of white South Africans are being persecuted and having their land violently taken from them as reverse racism takes over.  There are many such voluntary refugees in my country (I even married one!).

Even on this larger scale than mere Uganda, it seems conceivable that countries (who seek a foot in the door to negotiate about the rich supply of natural resources in other countries) would support instability so that they can then "help" overcome in order to be better able to claim a share of the oil (or whatever).

The other side of human nature
On the other hand, it also seems conceivable that people are just dumb and make bad decisions constantly.  This causes mess on a grand scale and leads to the sort of social and political climate which supports dictators and evil opportunists.  People also like to try and help, which often leads to more mess because everyone has an opinion about how to put this help into action.

So which seems more obvious for Kony 2012?
I'm not sure, and I don't think there can be any surety unless you have personal interaction with the people involved.  To make these sorts of decisions of support it is not enough to have transparent accounts any more (which are just numbers on a document that anyone could fudge).  There needs to be real and direct personal contact with every contributor for them to feel confident enough that their contribution is being fairly used by people who care.  Even then, the regulations they have to operate under can hijack the process despite everyone's best intentions.

My advice, if you're moved to give to the Invisible Children then take a close look first.  Don't give blindly, and if you can you should give in other ways than pure cash.  And never give anyone money for petrol... take them to the petrol station and put the petrol in for them!

The videos to watch to get the whole story: - Invisible Children CEO Ben Keesey responding to critics

Your comments are welcome below

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Endurance Training

Being more than a little excited from viewing the Taupo Ironman event over the weekend, I decided to write up a short but fairly comprehensive training guide for endurance athletes to get them started.  This was meant as a starting place for some students at my school who are interested in endurance training.  I also thought there was enough value to share this here.  
If you want to download a pdf of this info (2 pages) you can download the file here.  

Endurance Training
The focus of good endurance training is on forming a lifestyle which develops:
  1. Your aerobic energy system
  2. Fat burning capabilities (fat is a primary aerobic fuel),and 
  3. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle to ensure over-training does not occur

Think of nutrition as more about taking in the right drugs/nutrients which control your hormones the best (and less as just fuel).  Your hormones control fat burning, energy levels, growth, and much more.  The right mix gets your body functioning best which is essential for physical and mental performance.

For best performance: eat the right balance of protein, low GI (slow release) carbohydrates, and fat (about ⅓ of your energy from each) + a good mix of vitamins and minerals (rainbow of veges).  Unprocessed foods, as close to natural as possible, is the best source of quality nutrients.  Sugar, including most fruits, is to be avoided.  Processed dairy is also to be avoided (runny whipping cream + unprocessed cheese is okay).

Find your maximum heart rate to train at and spend your training session at the intensity which keeps your heart rate within about 10 beats of this.  If age 16 or less, use 165 as your max.  Otherwise 180 minus your age and modify if needed:

If you don’t have a heart rate monitor, a rough guide is training at an intensity low enough that you can breathe comfortably through your nose.  A cheap heart-rate monitor is worth investing in (less than $50 on TradeMe sometimes or cheaper and with free shipping from

Spend 15 minutes warming up and 15 minutes cooling down at about 20 to 30 beats below your max, e.g. for me for a 1hr training: 15 minutes at about 120 beats per minute + 30 minutes between 139-149 + 15 minutes at about 120.

Training this way encourages development of slow-twitch (aerobic) muscle fibres, development of mitochondria (which convert fuel to energy in your muscle cells), and development of capillarisation (provides nutrients + fuel to muscles).  As you develop, this means you go faster at the same heart rate and your recovery improves.

Effective training includes enough rest to allow recovery from effort and adaptation of your body (to better cope with your training load).  Life is full of more stresses and physically draining activities than merely training.  Because of this you need to consider the rest of your life when allowing for rest.  

A busy social life, work, study, sports, etc. all contribute to stresses on your body.  Ensuring plenty of sleep and appropriately scheduled days off is essential to performance gains.

Two quick ways to know if something in your training plan is amiss (too much training, too intense training, poor nutrition):

  1. It will become increasingly difficult to motivate yourself to train.  Training should be pleasurable and you should end a training session “energised”
  2. Your performance will decrease according to a standard test (which you should try to perform monthly)
How to test your progress
Improvement will show when you can maintain a faster pace at the same heart rate.  This means your body is working more efficiently.  To test your fitness, warm up properly and then record your time every kilometer for 5 or 6 km while staying in your aerobic range (10 beats below your max).  You should notice improvement from month to month, even if it is small.  If you see no improvement over 2 or 3 successive tests then it is time to reassess your nutrition, training plan, or stresses.  You might be ready for some higher intensity anaerobic training, e.g. sprint interval training.

Sample training journal
The length of the training session includes your warm up and cool down period.  If you only have a half an hour just warm up and cool down - it’s still worth it.
DateLength of Session (min)Notes
(how I felt before, during, after - technique ideas - etc)

Further resources: (20 time Ironman finisher) (Coach of legendary Ironman athlete Mark Allen) (Peter Attia - endurance swimmer)