Thursday, February 24, 2011

New Beginnings

Hello everyone!

I know it's been a while since you've heard from me - it's been a VERY busy year.   A lot to talk about... and I feel like talkin' about it!

Just a heads up, I've started writing at a new WordPress blog, Operation Inscape.   I felt a need for a fresh start, though all content and comments on this blog have been imported over.

I hope you find it interesting, and would love to hear some feedback!


Aaron Fraser

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Sun-Induced Laziness And Jeff Buckley

Well, I feel a little bad as I haven't had anything constructive or interesting to write about in a while...

That's not necessarily true, but finding the TIME for it has been killer!  With the return of the sun, I have been out and about all day and recuperating in the evenings.  I make no apologies - I'm a total sun worshiper and I simply cannot resist!

One activity I have taken to is playing my guitar out and about in public.  I find it a fantastic way to practice, get some "fresh" air (as fresh as city air can get), sunshine and meet people.   I've discovered that you run into some interesting and sometimes fantastic situations when you walk around town with a guitar in your hand.

People stop, they listen, they talk to you... whereas normally they would walk on by with nary a thought to poor little insignificant you, or maybe not to anyone else.   Music is healing, and I think it's one of the few, and powerful, ways we have of easily connecting with each other, especially in this divide and conquer society in which we live, doing its best to keep us isolated from each other.  Making these connections through song the past few days has really risen my spirits and given me some hope about community building and connecting.

It leads me to wonder what kind of world we would live in if EVERYONE would just go out from time to time and sing...

Anyway, I'll leave you with something nice - the current song I'm working on perfecting.  It's going pretty well, I think. (And don't worry, it's the real artist, not my half-assed attempt :) )

Have a great day, guys. Enjoy the sun, enjoy each other, and think about bringing a little music into yours or someone else's life.

Photo by: snowriderguy

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Finally - A Good Use For Exercise Balls

Today has been quite a long day.  I've spent almost all of it participating in a workshop on Transition Towns, which was rather amazing.  Unfortunately it was a very big emotional, mental and temporal commitment, and I am going to need some time to gather my thoughts on this movement and how happy and excited that it's found its way to Pittsburgh;  hopefully it will be a successful model for a large city, and it can spread its way through the United States.  This has left me feeling quite happy.

So, in the meantime, I leave you with this:  an amazing Primal workout.

You have it all:  sprinting, proprioception, a jumping/power generation component.  Even develops pain tolerance, landing skills (never know when you're going to slip/trip/fall-through-rickety-old-stairs)... Hell, it's even a group exercise with a healthy dose of competition!

I would say I'd feel "don't try this at home" was appropriate, but that would be lying.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Vibram Fivefingers Are Awesome

This post should be a bit more lighthearted than the last;  I have something to celebrate!

Finally, after almost 6 months of waiting...

I finally got my Vibram Five Fingers!  And boy are they comfy...

The above picture are my actual feet wearing actual VFF Sprints.  The colors are... not typical for me. I really wanted black KSOs, but this was all that was available.  I don't regret it; it's forcing me to add a little color, and some bombast, to my wardrobe.

Another benefit to the (in my fashion-sense, or what there is of it) outlandish colors is that people -really- notice it.  I've been approached by several people in the past few days asking, "What... what ARE those?"  Genuinely interested, especially after I explained to them what they are and why I'm wearing 'em.  Actually

Why AM I Wearing These?

Other than the fact that they're extremely stylish?  Do I NEED another reason?  Well, actually, yes I do.  As a rather frugal minimalist, I am hesitant to spend $2 let alone drop $80 on footwear when I have some perfectly acceptable (falling apart) Chuck Taylors at home.

Well, I do enjoy how they look, but it's really about how they FEEL. 

Almost like second feet.  I will admit, I am quite aware of them - they're a bit snug - but it's.. different.  These are more akin to foot-gloves than actual shoes (though the bottoms are quite rugged - I can step on broken glass and wouldn't sweat it).  Though their presence is definitely felt on mah feets, its nowhere near the toe-crushing invasiveness of traditional shoes.

I am 'plagued' by having wide feet, and conventional footwear confounds my tired old dogs sorely. I walk or bike quite a lot, and a fair portion of my workday is spent on my feet.  Usually by the end of the day, my foot are sore, my back hurts, yadda yadda yadda...  not so much with the Vibram's!

Much more studious and eloquent men than I (Mark Sisson for example) have already commented on and collated a lot of information on the benefits of going barefoot over being shod (or working with a reasonable facsimile), so I'm not going to get too much into it, other than to conclude I think they're pretty awesome.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Man vs World: A Manifesto

Looking back, I realize I've been a little all over the place.  A little about meditation and mindfulness, a little (lot) of bit about food and food-related social issues and diseases, some recipes (more food), even some techie stuff!  Am I scatter-brained or what?  Perhaps a little, but I promise you that there is a method to this madness.

All of these things have a common thread:  they are about how the world is trying to get you.  Do I sound paranoid?  What did you expect - this blog is called Man vs World for a reason.  It took me quite a while to decide on this name, and it wasn't just because it's pretty damn catchy (at least I think it is.)

The world I speak of isn't necessarily the WORLD - as in the planet, nature, Gaia.  Yes, nature will kill you, but it's not out to get you; in fact, the pressures of the natural world drive us toward success.  In the natural setting for homo sapiens, which we can see today in the few hunter gatherers that remain - a people that remain much healthier than us in the modern world, in general, despite being forced to the fringes of their habitat as the best of the land is gobbled up by the locust swarm that is civilization - the need to hunt and gather their own food, continuously provide or seek shelter from the elements, and sometimes the need to migrate with the seasons keep these people in tip-top shape, and provide for a rich if at times difficult life.  Do not mistake me - the world outside of our apartments and paved streets is dangerous.  It can kill you just as easily as a mugger in Central Park or a drunk driver.  There is no utopia to be had, but there are myriad living Hells we can create for ourselves.

On the contrary, I speak specifically of the world in which WE live - you reading this blog, me writing it from the comfort of a coffee shop, all of our brethren in the industrialized world and the unfortunate societies that we hold under our sway.  This is an artificial world; a world that we have been lead to believe stands apart from the natural world, even ABOVE it; a world that can only exist as long as it represses those within it.  Keeps us from being our natural selves and giving our all toward its success.

It is a parasitic, nay, a vampiric system.

When I say Man vs World, I mean Man vs the society that tells us that the Gross National Product is the most determining factor of our collective success
, rather than the ability for us to feed ourselves, or love each other.  A society that has measures wealth in a fabricated measure of power that we call 'money', instead of the leisure time we have to spend with our loved ones, our community.

I mean Man vs the system that has destroyed almost all concept of family, that has produced generations of people raised by television and video games, communities that lock themselves up behind walls and never know their neighbors, a society out of touch with itself and the people around it.

I mean Man vs the corporate interests that do everything in their power to keep us from our food.  The Cargills and Monsantos of the world that attack the small farmer, make it a nightmare for them to continue to provide REAL food to the communities around them and nigh impossible for anyone to start a new farm, making us more and more dependant on factory farms and grain shipped from halfway across the world.

I mean Man vs The Big (insert business/commerce system here) that our government views as people - people exempt from their atrocious crimes of subjugation and pollution; sociopathic entities that may do as they wish and hold Washington in thrall with their blood-tinged dollars, money earned by the blood of bondage slaves overseas and the mindless devotion of wage slaves here in the US.

I am railing not against Mother Nature - I embrace the struggles She puts before me as I wander the beauty of the world around me, or what beauty is left within this concrete jungle that I dwell.  Every breath of air I take under these blue, skyscraper crowded skies is tinged with the oily smell of pollution, the stench of disease.  It's the culture that poisons our water with fluoride and chlorine, that promotes bad science for the sake of profit and feeds us garbage, our children industrially processed corn-syrup that fattens their livers like a 40-year-old alcoholic's.  The culture that has monetized the pollutants that, along with the very profitable food-based health epidemic, will ensure that my generation will die younger than its parents.

One of the most valuable war tactics is to divide and conquer.  That is exactly what has happened to us:  separated from real community and the means to our own food, the majority of us live entirely dependant on the system.  Many of us cannot even dream of a life without it.

Why is this dangerous?

Beyond the obvious?  Beyond the fact that we have little more than the illusion of control in our lives, are completely at the mercy of people that do not have our best interests at heart? 

If the ubiquitous bogeymen, "The Terrorists", decided to poison our food, do you realize how easy it would be?
  In the factory farms and industrial agriculture model we use, it takes only a few diseased cows to contaminate millions of pounds of meat.  Think to the massive E. Coli recalls.  Think to the recent E. Coli recalls on SPINACH.  Spinach?  This is insane.

What if, for whatever reason, the government decided to lock down these massive food processing plants. 
Stop the flow of wheat from the granaries, so to speak.  Stop the pipeline to the grocery store.  What would you do?  Have you ever thought of this possibility?  Keep in mind that as every decade passes, the number of small and local farmers dwindles, crushed by bureaucrats and Big Agra.

What happens when we run out of oil?  Make no mistake - it's going to happen - this quite a finite resource.  Oil is needed to artificially fertilize the soil, process, transport and preserve the majority of the food that not only the United States, but now the world, eats.  When the price of corn skyrockets and grocery stores start shutting down... where will you get your food?

This is the World I speak of.  An imaginary World that has somehow made itself all too real; for, make no mistake, we created this world, this society, and all of the problems and issues it brings with it.  And now its up to us to own it and do something about it.

This blog is my rallying cry.  My clarion call against the Machine.

I believe that the real issues that affect our lives are issues of food and issues of self.  I feel in my heart of hearts that the society we have created is essentially the same as taking a wild animal and sticking it in a zoo.  Have you ever seen a captive killer whale, it's dorsal fin strangely collapsed from its prolonged imprisonment,  driven slowly insane from its isolation from its family, its community.  No wonder they go batshit crazy and kill their handlers.

I'm not asking you to believe everything I say.  I don't know how right I am, and what I write is merely my musing.  I claim to know nothing.  What I hope is  that what I write inspires you to think deeply about the world around you.  Question the things in life you may be taking for granted.  Look deep into your soul and see the self that may be hiding beneath society's conditioning and expectations.

That's all I can really ask for.

As my friend Mandy says, "Love yourself and be awake today, tomorrow, always".

Friday, February 26, 2010

Eating Seasonally: Winter Squash

I've been having a spat of writer's block lately; unfortunately, the books I have been reading have been so engaging that I am driven to finish them rather than write about them, which is what I had planned on doing.  It happens.  To keep the juices flowing, I decided instead to post a little recipe on one of my favorite foods - winter squash!

First, I just have to mention that 'squash' is a pretty fun word to say.  Almost as great as it is to eat.

There are several varieties of this rugged little guys (I say 'little' when some of them can grow to weigh almost a ton). You may know them as...
  • Acorn Squash
  • Kabocha Squash
  • Turban Squash
  • Spaghetti Squash
  • Butternut Squash
  • Hubbard Squash
  • Various types of Pumpkin
  • Many, many more
Winter squash is a pretty significant fruit.  Originally cultivated in Central America from wild squashes about 10,000 years ago, winter squashes spread to the north and south over time, and were a staple in Native American diet - so much so that, in some tribes, the dead were buried with squash to provide them with sustenance in their afterlife journeys (similar to the Egyptians!)

Though they grow mainly in the summer, their tough rind and general hardiness allow them to be stored easily throughout the winter months - hence the name.  This proved invaluable to indigenous peoples, as they did not have access to the modern conveniences of refrigeration or canning techniques.

Another draw is that they're very nutritious!  Winter squash comes chock full of all sorts of goodies: beta-carotene, B-complex vitamins, a load of Vitamin C, Omega-3 fatty acids... too many to list, so check out this link for a full analysis.

Plus, they're tasty.  Like, way tasty.

So yeah, that's enough of the history/science lesson on friggen squash.  How about a recipe?

Roasted Balsamic Butternut Squash

I modified a recipe from Epicurious to more suit my insatiable desire for butter and feta cheese ^_^

You will need...
  • 1 1/2 - 2 lbs. of butternut squash
  • sea salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 1/4 - 1/3 cup of balsamic vinegar
  • 2 oz organic feta cheese
  • as much pastured butter as humanly possible (I prefer Kerrygold)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Line cookie sheet with foil.  Cut squash in half, the remove the seed and pulpy fibers - you can save the seeds for bakin' later if you like!

Now, you can either leave the squash halves as is, or cut them into smaller pieces.  Up to you.  Once they're cut (or not), place 'em evenly spread on your cookie sheet.

Melt butter in a pan and then drizzle onto squash - cover those suckers!  Add salt + pepper to taste.

Bake for 45 minutes, or until browned and soft to the touch (use a fork or knife - 400 degrees is hot).

Remove from oven and douse evenly in the balsamic.  Let cool to room temperature, top with feta cheese and then greedily devour.

Hope you like it as much as I did!

This piece has been submitted to Food Renegade's Fight Back Friday - check it out!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Make Your Computer a Little More Primal with F.lux

I have been experience problems getting to sleep lately.

I'll come home from a long day of work/exercise/running-around-like-a-crazy-person, get settled and feel nice and sleepy.. then I get this sudden urge to check my Twitter, Google Reader, e-mail and all that.  And like magic, I am no longer tired.  

Well, that's not true - I'm still exhausted -  but that feeling you get right before you drift off into La La Land is obliterated.  One reason for this, I believe, is that it gets your brain working a little faster than it would like to in the late evening, essentially waking it up ("oh, that's interesting" "oooh, I can blog about that later" "WHAT?! Somebody's WRONG on the INTERNET?!!")  Another definite problem is that the bright, glaring lights of the computer screen, especially in contrast to the darkness around it, can disrupt your body's melatonin levels, as researchers discovered years ago.  Melatonin is necessary for achieving high quality sleep.

Sleep is incredibly important - not only to us Paleo diet enthusiasts or Primal life lovers, but to EVERYONE.  A fair bit of us here in America are getting less than 6 hours of sleep, which is simply not enough to let the body do all the things it needs to do during this mandatory downtime.  
"Stage Four: Though everything has slowed, this deep sleep marks an increase in activity. The body's blood pressure drops and muscles relax, though blood flow to muscles increases. Dreams continue and sleepwalking is most likely, caused when there is a disruption of the brain's command to paralyze muscles so that people do not act out their dreams. This is the most restorative sleep, releasing hormones for growth and development, repairing tissue and refreshing energy.  Awakening in deep sleep is difficult; a person would remain groggy and disoriented for a few minutes." - E.L. Miller
Hopefully it is clear that sleep is very important for us in our busy, active lives - especially moreso if you are engaged in physical activity.

Thankfully, I found something to help make my computer a little more Primal, alleviating some of my computer-related sleep problems.  But first a little background on the 'why' and the 'how' of digital-age insomnia.

What Is Melatonin?

The pineal gland generates melatonin - interestingly, it is light sensitive. There is a very complicated hookup between the pineal gland and your eyes - essentially it knows when daylight (or artificial daylight from blue-light heavy screens like cell phones, computer monitors and televisions) is hitting your eyes, and then melatonin synthesis is suppressed; conversely, when lower spectrum "red" light (think sunsets!) starts hitting your eyes, or the absence of light altogether, it tells the pineal gland to get movin'!

Quite a useful chemical, melatonin is made all over the body, mostly in the skin (where it serves other and varied functions) and the pineal gland, located in the brain, where it serves as a sleep regulator.  Melatonin is manufactured from the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is created by the amino acid tryptophan.

Melatonin doesn't necessarily make you fall asleep, but works more as a "time cue", essentially telling your brain, "Now is probably a good time to take a break, yanno?"  This makes it a very important element in our Circadian Rhythm, or our biological clock.   When we start screwing with our biological clock, bad things start to happen.

Computer, Phone and Television Screens - Oh my!

As mentioned above, blue light suppresses melatonin production. It is emitted by some lamps, UV lights, computer monitors, television screens and hand-held devices... actually, most artificial light sources, as can be easily seen in the picture in the beginning of this article.   Not only does this contribute to insomnia via late-night computing or TV viewing, but it has several deleterious effects on our vision, to boot.

The obvious solution to this problem?  When it starts getting dark, turn off the lights, turn off the TV, turn off the computer and the cell phone, light up a couple of candles or or soft-light lamps - or better yet, a roaring fireplace. Mmmm.  Spend the rest of the evening conversing with your friends and loved ones or reading a book by firelight.

Unfortunately, this is not going to be a feasible option for many.  We either do not have the resources to do this (candles don't create THAT much light, and I sadly do not have a fireplace in my apartment) or are too caught up in the cycles of the modern world to comfortably do things like that.  I am definitely guilty of this - still working on limiting my compulsive e-mail and social networking compulsions.

So what am I to do?

Try F.lux for Mitigation!

Thankfully a Stereopsis has addressed this problem with a piece of software calle F.lux.  F.lux takes your location information (via zipcode or latitude/longitude) and determines what phases in the night-day cycle you are (adjusting for seasons and daylight savings time and all that).  It then adjusts your computer's display settings to either mimic daylight or, using settings you can specify, mimic the quality of your indoor lighting.   

I set mine to be nice and "halogeny", similar to the picture to the left.  You should be able to see the difference between a computer with F.lux (top monitor) and a one without (laptop).  

My brother brought this program to my attention the other day - he called me over and told me to "look at this";  there wasn't anything on the monitor, but it was weirdly colored.. and it honestly made me feel sleepy just looking at it!

I installed it immediately, and am very glad I did.   It takes a little adjustment, but you get used to it after a little while; it also comes with an option to easily disable it, just in case you have some color-sensitive work to do.

My favorite part?  It's completely free and runs on Windows, Mac OS AND Linux.  Woot!

I hope you at least give this program a try - the mitigation of eye strain and prevention of sleep deprivation this can provide are potentially priceless.  May not work for everyone, but like I said - it's free and a way to make your everyday life a touch more Primal!

ZA5UG8X82GJT - for TechnoRati

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Man vs World by Aaron M Fraser is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.