Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Need answers?

I try to offer good information here, most of it stuff I've just learned myself. But what if you have questions that I don't have answers to? First of all, I'll try to answer them if I can. I love learning new knowledge. I mean, how else would I have spit out three posts about beans after someone idly asked me how to use them?

But there will be cases where the question just isn't appropriate for this space. Where do you go then? Well I'll tell you. You visit my renter. Let me tell ya, if Useless Advice from Useless Men can't answer it for you, no one can!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Exercise with a twist

One of my coworkers was sharing with me a bit of advice that a personal trainer friend of his was saying. It seems to make sense, so I'm going to share with you all. He was saying that the folks who have nicely defined abs and obliques spend such huge quantities of time exercising, that it really isn't practical for the rest of the human race. Each muscle group needs to be worked individually, so you'd have to perform many different exercises for sustained periods of time. There's just not enough time in a day for most of us to keep up.

According to this guy, the solution to keeping your midsection fit in the least amount of time is to work a twist into your running or walking. When we run or walk, we usually keep our bodies fairly straight as we propel ourselves forward. Try twisting your upper body with each step you take.

I gave it a try and found it wasn't difficult to incorporate a little twist into my walk. The hardest part was remembering to do it. I would often get to thinking and revert to my normal walk. After walking my usual distance, I found myself breathing slightly harder than when I walked without twisting. More muscles being worked means more oxygen is required. This is great, because it took no extra time than if I were to walk normally. You should give it a try.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Vegetarianism can be tricky

Being a vegetarian, whatever your reasons are, isn't easy. Protein is an incredibly important nutrient you get from meat, and when you cut out the meat, you have to actively seek out vegetable sources of protein to replace that.

I once knew a girl who was not only vegetarian, she was vegan. She was vegan and overweight. I watched the food choices she made... lots of potatoes, rice, french fries, and peanutbutter sandwiches. The peanutbutter was probably the best thing she ever ate. The rest was so loaded with carbs and trans fats, it was no wonder she was overweight.

Carbs aren't evil, but eaten in great quantities without enough protein to balance it out, it makes your pancreas pump out the insulin in spikes, causing your body to store more of the glucose into fat than it normally would.

The biggest challenge any vegetarian has is to get enough protein into their diet. Beans are an excellent source. So are nuts and soy products (like tofu). If you're including dairy, milk and yogurt are great sources as well. Whole grains are also good choices to make. The vegan I told you about tended to eat a lot of processed foods, so most of the nutrition had been processed right out of it. You'll find more protein in whole grain bread than white bread.

The other important thing to do when restricting your diet is to vary the foods you eat. Each food item has different nutritional properties to it. Eating the same thing every day is a sure way to become deficient in something, so change it up as often as you can. This is true for everyone, not just vegetarians. A varied diet is healthier than any fad diet where you eat nothing but grapefruits in the morning or nothing but cabbage for dinner. There are a lot of weird ones out there. You don't want to get bored with what you eat either, right?

So, bottom line, include some source of protein in your diet to balance out your carbs. Choose unprocessed foods whenever possible. Vary the foods you eat to maintain balanced nutrition and interest. Eating healthy doesn't have to be a chore.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


I sometimes wonder if I would be better off on a vegetarian diet. I might be able to swing it if I could still eat eggs. But I don't think I could handle being a vegan. There's a lot of restrictions and discipline involved. Anything that comes from an animal, you can't eat. But some people do it. If you're interested or even mildly curious, perhaps you should check out my renter, The Vegan Diet. Chock full of recipes and useful information!

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Sometimes a change of equipment is all you need

Have you found that the shoulder of the arm you mouse with is often tight, painful or sore? A few years ago I starting noticing this. The muscles in my right shoulder blade would be constantly tight and sore. One night it got to the point where I woke up with an extremely sharp pain in my upper back. It seriously felt like someone had stuck a knife in my back. Certain movements would cause the pain to shoot up one side of my back, all the way to my neck. I could scarely move. I couldn't turn my head in one direction. It was really bad.

So I started mousing with my left hand. I'm not exactly ambidextrous, but mousing is pretty easy. Pretty soon my left shoulder started to hurt too, so I started switching hands periodically over the course of a day. This would prolong the time I had before the pain started again, but inevitably it would come back.

The problem lay in the fact that I had to lift my arm up to use the mouse. Lowering the height of the mousing surface did help since I didn't have to lift my arm as much, but that didn't help a much as changing the equipment I was using. I found an ergonomic keyboard that also had a touchpad in the center. This eliminated the need for lifting my arm up to use the mouse. I just need to shift my hand a little and I could move the cursor around no problem.

The keyboard I use at work is by Adesso. It's sloped like Microsoft's ergonomic keyboard and has a sensitive touchpad that's easy to use. Since switching to using this my shoulder blade pains have eased quite a bit. I still get stiff muscles a lot, but it's not as bad as it used to be. I still have a mouse for when I need to do intricate mousing, like with images and stuff, but the majority of my mousing is done with the touchpad. The keyboard is a lot more expensive than your standard one, but it's totally worth it. Pain will eventually lead to injury, and you want to avoid that whenever possible.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

furniture article

I was reading this article about how furniture mimics the cultural advances through the decades. I think this is partially true. Recliners came about from our need to lounge for hours at a time in front of the TV. However I'm sure if they had recliner technology in the Bronze age they would have welcomed it completely. As much lounging as some of those fat Romans did? Heck yeah, they'd love to have a roomful of recliners to spread their lazy asses upon.

I think furniture follows the technology of the time. I mean, everything else does, right? Those vibrating massage chairs would've come in handy for farmers 6000 years ago after a hard day's work, but the technology just wasn't there yet. It's obvious, isn't it? Yeah, this was a silly article. What the heck are banquet chairs? I don't know, chairs used in a banquet? Wouldn't you just rent those instead of buying them? Oh well, this is a silly post anyway.

No wonder car insurance keeps going up

I read today that California has six of the top 10 cities with the highest rates of auto theft. I'm sure I live in one of them. Yippee. This same article goes on with a list of things you can do to prevent your car from being stolen. Like locking your car. No, really? I was wondering what those weird little buttons in each door were for. Don't leave your keys in your car. WTF? Are that many people so stupid that they need to produce an article like this?

It's not until halfway down the list that we get to something interesting, called the "bump-n-rob". Some car thieves will rear-end you lightly, then carjack you when you pull over to check for damage. Sneaky assholes. It also recommends not leaving your car registration or title in the car. Okay, title I understand. But hello, cops always ask for license and registration! Why would I not leave the damn thing in the car? The thief is gonna take the car regardless of whether or not it has registration with it. Like they're gonna care.

No wonder insurance in California is so expensive. I'm always looking for a cheap car insurance quote to top the one I have. It's annoying. *sigh*

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Get it straight

The primary purpose of wrist rests on keyboards and mousepads is to straighten your wrists while you're working. If you're using one of these things and you're feeling pain anyway, it's possible you're not using them right. While in mousing or typing position, look at the position of your hand relative to your arm. Are they angled to the left or right? Are they slightly bent up or down? If so, then they aren't straight. (They're gay! HAHAHAA! Okay, I couldn't resist the lame joke.) Prolonged activity with gay bent wrists will lead to inflamation, soreness and pain. You don't want that.

In my last post I mentioned wearing wrist supports to sleep. I thought I'd share which ones I use. They're called SmartGloves. I like them because the material is soft, stretchy, washable, and best of all, flexible. These aren't designed to prevent you from bending your wrists, they're more of a guide. It's uncomfortable to bend your wrists with these on, so you'll notice when you're doing it. But they aren't so restrictive as to be annoying. Sometimes I've woken up to find a hand has fallen asleep because of the position I put it in. But for the most part they are fairly comfortable, and they never chafe.

I've found that angling the keyboad helps me type with straight wrists. Most keyboards, for some insane reason, come with optional lifts to angle the keyboard toward you. This is backwards ergonomics. You need the keyboard angled away from you in order to achieve natural positioning for your hands. Experiment a little by putting a rolled up towel under one side and see what works best for you. We're all built a little differently.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Blogging shouldn't be painful

As a web developer by day and a blog addict in my spare time, I spend vast quantities of time in front of a computer. Non-addicts look at me and wonder, "Don't you get tired of it?" Hell no! I love this stuff!

However our bodies were not designed to spend so many hours typing, mousing and staring at a monitor. With the computer age came repetitive stress injuries, also known as RSI. Anyone who doesn't take the proper precautions will eventually succumb to some form of injury.

One of the most common RSIs involves the wrist. Carpal tunnel syndrome is just one of the things you can get. There's also trigger finger, nerve spasms, and in extreme cases, permanent nerve damage. When your hands perform the same action over and over, such as typing for hours, the tendons involved start to get inflamed. Your wrist is basically a collection of small bones that protect your finger's tendons and nerves. This soft tissue passes through a tunnel in this collection of bones. Repetitive tasks irritate the soft tissue and they start to swell. This compresses the nerves that also share the space, and they start to become irritated as well.

This nerve compression and irritation would account for any numbness, tingling, or shooting pain you might be feeling in your hands and forearms. Continued abuse can result in tissue damage. Pushing yourself this hard weakens your hands' strength and mobility. In essence you'll be disabling yourself.

I myself am skating dangerously close to several RSIs. My wrists are often sore if I don't remember to take care of them. There are several things you can do.
  • Take frequent breaks - every 20 minutes, pause for a bit and stretch.
  • Do wrist stretches. Some good ones that I do can be found here.
  • Keep your wrists straight - this is key. Bent wrists reduces the size of the tunnel in your wrists and compresses everything inside.

That last item is one of the most important things in preventing RSI in your wrists. This means trying to keep your wrists straight no matter what task you are doing -- typing, chopping onions, sleeping. Yes, even sleeping. Perhaps especially sleeping.

I bought a pair of wrist supports and wore them at work. It was a little cumbersome and not that comfortable either. However I found that if I wore them to sleep I didn't need to wear them at work. The soreness went away. When you're asleep you have no idea what odd position your wrists might be in. You could be compressing your nerves all night long and not know it. By wearing wrist supports to keep your wrists straight when you sleep, you not only avoid the hours of compression, you give the inflamed tissue hours of true healing rest. It might be the simplest solution to your wrist problems.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Breathe Deep

Most of us are shallow breathers. I know I am when I'm not paying attention. And really, how many of us actually pay attention to our breathing? Does it matter? Many people seem to think so.

What difference does it make if you're a deep or shallow breather? Isn't breathing still breathing? Deep breathing is important because it makes your lymphatic system more effective. (How is it more effective? You can find the technical details here.) This system is responsible for cleansing the toxins from your system. Lymph nodes produce substances that fight off bacteria, viruses and cancer.

From an Eastern medical perspective, breathing incorrectly can produce tension, exhaustion, vocal strain, interfere with athletic activity and encourage aches and illnesses. In contrast, deep breathing raises levels of blood oxygen, promoting health in many ways — from stimulating the digestive process to improving fitness and mental performance.

If you're wondering whether or not you're breathing incorrectly, here's how to find out: Put your palms against your lower abdomen and blow out all the air. Now, take a big breath. If your abdomen expands when you inhale and air seems to flow in deeply to the pit of your stomach, you're on the right track. Shallow breathers tend to take a breath and pull in their stomach, which pushes the diaphragm up so the air has nowhere to go. What happens next is that the shoulders go up to make room. This causes extra tension in the shoulders over the course of the day.

For proper deep breathing, lower the diaphragm muscle by expanding the abdomen. When this happens, the lungs elongate and draw in air. You don't breathe into the abdomen; you allow it to expand comfortably all around its circumference — back, sides and front. It's not quite the rigid, lady-like, stomach-in posture we've been been taught since childhood. We're not statues. We need to fight the urge to constantly suck in our stomachs when we breathe. Try it out. You might start feeling more alert and energetic, and who doesn't need that?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Safe groceries AND good prices?

Where can we shop where we'll be safe from so many horrible ingredients? You go to the health food aisle in your average grocery store and most of those products have replaced sugar and fat with chemicals and more chemicals. You're seriously better off with sugar and fat!

I'm lucky in that I a few Trader Joe's locations near me. If you've never heard of them, they're smaller than supermarkets, but bigger than convenience stores. I don't know how they do it, but they have fantastic products at prices that are often cheaper than you could find in a supermarket.

I still find some items with trans fats in them (like a lot of the frozen desserts), but you find less of those things here. Nearly all the cereal they have is safe, and they have a nice variety to choose from, including kids' cereals. They also have many organic grocery items to choose from.

I don't work for Trader Joe's, I just adore them. They have several locations across the nation, so you really should see if there's one in your area. Use their store locator to find out.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Label Reading 101

The FDA requires the food industry to list all ingredients on the labels of pre-packaged food. Labels are your friends, read them carefully.

The first trick that the industry likes to use is to woo you with the fancy packaging. You see all sorts of proclamations on the front... "50% less fat" or "natural ingredients". My favorite is when they put "No carbs!" on a package of meat. It's frickin meat. There are no naturally occuring carbs in it.

Probably the worst offender is when they put "No trans fats" on the front cover. The FDA allows a certain percentage of trans fats to be in the food while still allowing them to print such claims on the front. It's bullshit, but it's allowed. I see it on margarine containers and chip bags.

Your best defense against these misleading claims is to read the ingredients. It's harder to lie there. On a container of "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter" it proudly states, "No Trans Fats!" But if you look at the ingredients, you'll see "Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil" in there. Don't be fooled. There may be less of it in there, but it's still there.

The items listed in the ingredients panel are listed in order of predominance. In other words, if "sugar" is listed first, then there is more sugar in that product than any other ingredient listed. The same with dog food. I look for bags that list some kind of meat product first. The cheapy brands list corn meal first.

Now that you know to look past the fancy proclamations at the front and to skip to the ingredients in the back, what should you avoid? There are so many things to look out for, but here's what I generally try to avoid:
  • Partially Hydrogenated oil
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup
  • Mono-diglycerides
  • Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
  • (in fish) Color added

I'll go into more detail about these "should avoid" ingredients in later posts.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Why everyone should be drinking green tea

You've likely heard that green tea was good for you, but how? And what makes it different from other types of tea? Can it help prolong your life? It just might.

Green tea has been used as a medicine in China for at least 4,000 years, to treat everything from headaches to depression. Researchers have found that it contains a compound that inhibits the growth of cancer cells. (Click here for a more technical explanation of the compound.) This compound can also help alleviate other medical conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, high cholesterol levels, cariovascular disease, infection, and impaired immune function.

Researchers have also recently found that green tea can even help dieters! In one study, men who were given a combination of caffeine and green tea extract burned more calories than those given only caffeine or a placebo. Why not kickstart your metabolism while protecting yourself against cancer by adding green tea to your diet?

What makes green tea different from the rest? Even though it's made from the same plant as black tea, the leaves are steamed instead of fermented. This prevents the special health-giving compound from being oxidized and transformed into something else.

In other research that studied life spans, they found that among the groups who lived the longest were those with diets high in vegetables and low in fat. However some of the oldest people in the world were teachers of the Japanese tea ceremony. These women drank more green tea than the average population and not only lived long, healthy lives, they remained active to the very end.

Well, I'm a believer. I'm off to brew myself a cuppa green tea!

Friday, May 05, 2006

Did you know this about white bread?

One slice of white bread gets converted by the body into more than that slice's equal weight in sugar. In other words, if you were to eat a 4-ounce slice of white bread, your body would digest it and convert it into more sugar than if you were to consume 4 ounces of sugar itself!

When grains are formed, plants take sugar and store it in compact form. Digestion "uncompacts" this storage and releases the concentrated sugars. When you process the grains into white flour, you are basically stripping away all the fiber from it. All the goodness is gone. Fiber slows down and evens out the process of breaking down carbs into sugar. Take that away and you might as well shoot syrup into your veins.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Beans - Which do I choose?

There are so many different kinds, which have higher nutrition? Which tastes better? When do you use which bean? I had trouble finding an all-inclusive chart that compared the nutritional values and properties of all the different types of beans, so I had to go the extra mile and research them one by one. You can thank me with cookies and ice cream. Oh wait, this is a health blog, um, nevermind.

What I found was that most beans are extremely similar in nutritional value such as protein, fiber, iron, etc. The biggest difference is likely in the levels of antioxidants found in various beans. When researchers analyzed different types of beans, they found that, the darker the bean’s seed coat, the higher its level of antioxidant activity. Gram for gram, black beans were found to have the most antioxidant activity, followed in descending order by red, brown, yellow, and white beans.

Various Uses
Besides soup, what can you do with beans? I've tossed garbanzo and black beans into my salad. When mixed with other salad fixings like cheese, corn and olives, it tastes really good. The more variety is in the salad, the tastier it is. You can make an entire, well-balanced meal out of it.

Pinto and black beans can be blended and seasoned into a dip.

Garbanzo beans can be blended into a paste and seasoned into hummus (another type of dip).

Black and red beans can be blended into a paste, sweetened, and wrapped into pastries.

Crumbled red kidney beans give a meaty flavor and texture to lasagna.

For a huge collection of bean recipes, check out I like this site because users rate the recipes and you can see which ones are better than others. Commenters also leave suggestions on altering or improving the recipes. Great place to try new things.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Beans - Whaddaya do with 'em? - Part 2

Now that you know how to prepare the beans for cooking, how do you do that? First, some general bean-cooking guidelines from our friends at WaltonFeed again...

Cooking: After soaking, most people cover the beans with water then boil them. This can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the bean. You should check them for softness every 15-30 minutes then pull them off the heat when they've reached their desired softness. But you can also throw them in a crock pot in the morning and let them go until the evening. And beans can be ground into a flour cook up almost instantly into a soup or paste, depending on how much water you use.

If you've boiled your beans for several hours and they still haven't softened, it's probably because they are old. Old, air stored beans 5 or more years old get 'hardened' and may never soften up. There are two ways of getting around this. You can put them in a pressure cooker for 45-60 minutes and this should do the trick, or you can grind them. Incidentally, normal beans that aren't 'hard' cook in about 20 minutes is a pressure cooker. Hardened beans still contain much of their nutrition.

After your beans are cooked, add your flavorings, meat, vegetables or whatever you are adding to make the bean dish you are preparing. Don't add these ingredients while the beans are cooking as there are many ingredients that will increase the beans' cooking time before they become soft. This includes the acidic foods which include tomatoes, lemon juice, vinegar and similar ingredients. Adding a bit of cooking oil, butter or margarine to the cooking beans will help to keep the foaming down as they cook. Consider cooking a double batch and freezing the beans not used immediately. Beans soaked for 12 hours or more often have a more uniform shape than quick soaked beans. Cooked beans will store nicely in your refrigerator for a week and they freeze nicely for a minimum of 6 months.

Probably the easiest dish to create from beans is a soup. My dad used to love pinto beans. We'd boil the beans with some onions, add some seasoning, and he'd suck the bowl dry. Beans and cornbread, those were his favorite combination. You could make a soup out of practically any bean. Just boil the beans and start adding stuff in like you would a vegetable soup. Nothing complicated about it.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Beans - Whaddaya do with 'em? - Part 1

Eating beans does not mean you'll automatically get gassy. One way is to build up a sort of tolerance for it. You start with eating a little and work your way to more and more. But an even better solution is just to soak them before cooking.

The following excerpts were borrowed from

Soaking: This step isn't completely necessary, however, there are some real advantages. A shorter cooking time is probably the biggest advantage. Figure about an extra hour of cooking time for beans that are not pre-soaked. Beans should be soaked for at least 6 hours. During this time, the beans will absorb water until they have increased in volume and weight about 3 times. You should add 5 times as much water as dry beans.

Soaking also leaches some of the gas producing properties out of the bean. But for this to work, you need to discard the soaking water and replenish it with fresh water before cooking. The longer you soak them the less gassy beans will be.

You can also drain the water after 12 hours, then rinse and re-drain them every 12 hours for 2 to 3 days until the sprouts are as long as the bean. This not only dramatically increases the vitamins in the beans but also removes some of the gas producing qualities. After you have sprouted them as described above, cook them like regular soaked beans. You can also quick-soak beans by boiling them for 10 minutes first, then setting them aside for two hours. As with a cold soak, you should discard the soaking water and replace with it fresh water before cooking them. Boiling the beans kills the seeds so don't expect them to sprout after you've heated them.

One pound of dry beans = 2 cups dry = 6 cups cooked beans