Monday, March 3, 2008

The 7 Essential Habits Of A Successful Fitness Routine

I’m hoping that I’m not the only human being with a seemingly insatiable appetite for self-improvement. For every issue of Maxim sitting on my shelf, I have many more books on how to get rich, talk to women, get fit, lose weight, get ripped six-pack abs, win fights, or learn a new language. I am a self-confessed junkie for personal improvement and growth.

The problem with this pathological obsession for being richer, tougher, smarter, sexier and fitter is that I don’t think any of these self-help books have done me any good. And here’s why. There is no shortcut to success.

The reality is that it will take us our entire lives to become the men we want to be. It’s kind of like Groundhog Day when Bill Murray has to go through despair, compassion, hedonism, love and even death before he can achieve that sense of grace. The writer of the script said he envisioned his character being reborn every day for 10 years. The director thought more. 10,000 years he reckons it took for the character to find contentment.

I’d always felt distinctly average in everything I have done until recently. I’ve found what I consider to be my winning formula to get myself fitter, stronger, and healthier than I have ever been before. In just two short months I’ve lost 20lbs of fat while increasing my muscle mass, bench pressing 180lbs and squatting 270lbs. Now I know these aren’t ground breaking figures, but for me they are. The best thing is that I’m improving every day. It’s not just my fitness that has seen the benefit. I’ve got improved clarity and am able to think more clearly about my goals and how I want to achieve them, and I feel happy all the time. A major improvement on the back end of last year.

So how did I do it? Well, here are the seven habits that I have adopted religiously in my pursuit of physical success.

Habit #7 - Motivation

For me, the hardest part in my pursuit of fitness was giving myself a reason to go to the gym. I’d quite often find myself making excuses for not going. It got so bad that I actually stopped making excuses and just didn’t go at all. After seeing myself in the mirror one evening after a shower, something inside me clicked and I made the decision there and then that I was going to get my fitness back.

The best way to motivate yourself in order to get out of the kind of slump I was in is to make a goal and focus on it 100%. My first goal was to lose fat, improve my cardiovascular fitness and look good in the mirror. Whenever I think about quitting (which is very rarely) I think back to how I looked in the mirror that evening and it keeps me going. You need to find whatever trigger you need to motivate you. It could be how you look, how someone you admire looks or how your girlfriend feels about your body.

Another great way to keep yourself motivated is setting short term goals. When you achieve them, it feels great and keeps you pushing on to achieve more. It could be that you want to increase your squatting by 20% or something as simple as doing 5×100m sprints on the rowing machines with 100m slow rowing between them in 5 minutes. Create achievable short term goals and make them more difficult each week.

Habit #6 - Desire

This habit directly relates to your motivation and can be a motivating trigger itself. For me, I used my desire and passion for self-help to continually strive for improvement. Part of being that man we want to be is having the desire to do something out of the ordinary and this craving is what keeps us going.

I like to think that my desire is strongest when I’m in the gym lifting weights. When I’m struggling to finish that 5th rep of 270lbs on the squat rack, there is nothing I want more in the entire world at that very moment than to complete my set. I purposely block out everything in my life for those few moments and focus all of my desire and energy on squeezing out one last rep.

Your desire comes back to what motivates you to workout in the first place. Whether you want to lose weight or build strength, it’s quite simply a case of how badly you want it. I’m quite lucky in that I’m very much an all-or-nothing kind of guy and so I give 110% and never give up until I complete the goals I set myself at the beginning of the workout. You need to man up and be strong. Not just physically, but when your body is tired and you feel like finishing 1 rep shy of the set you need the mental strength to force another one out.

Habit #5 - Reflection

This is a very powerful habit that is often overlooked and sometimes even laughed at but when used correctly, it can fuel both your desire and your motivation to succeed. It involves reflection throughout the day on the workout you’ve done. If you dominated on the deadlift and set a new record for yourself, you should hold on to that for the rest of the day. How could you improve on it? Was your technique flawless? Not only will it help you to better yourself next time you perform the lift, but thinking about a good working makes you feel great. The endorphins are still flowing and you’re naturally on a high. There’s no bigger incentive to head back to the gym than when it makes you feel good. Arnold Schwarzenegger famously once compared working out to ‘coming’ and let’s face it, if we all felt like that after a workout maybe we’d get a physique like he had!

Another source of reflection is the mirror. The mirror doesn’t lie and is a terrific way of judging your progress. Being able to see a slight hint of six-pack after years of a beer belly can be extremely motivating to force you to burn off that stubborn bit of remaining fat. I like to use the mirror as a way of determining my goals too. Once I’d cut my body fat and could see my abs, I noticed my shoulders were underdeveloped and immediately began to focus on body dips and standing shoulder press exercises. The mirror is a weapon in your arsenal, so use it.

Habit #4 - Resting

Rest is essential to allow our muscles to repair and grow, and it gives you time to focus on your state of mind too. One of the biggest mistakes I made in earlier years was not giving my muscles time to recover before working out again. The result was that I was unable to lift to the maximum of my ability in the gym because my muscles were still sore and weak. This obviously resulted in a strength plateau which, at the time, I assumed was down to my routine and simply switched the exercises. Needless to say that didn’t work and I have now come to embrace rest as a very valuable part of a successful fitness routine.

Resting doesn’t mean just sitting around doing nothing though. I like to use rest time to challenge my mind through creative writing or memory exercises. In addition to that, I use visualisation to focus on my muscles development. Actually meditating on the muscles and tissues themselves and visualise them healing and growing. It works really well, especially when done during a deep tissue massage. You may need to smooth-talk your girlfriend into that though!

Habit #3 - Eating

When I was a teenager, I was extremely active and I could eat whatever I wanted without putting on a single pound. These days, however, it’s a whole different ball game and I do watch what I eat. I’ve never been a big advocate of calorie counting because preparing food is a big enough chore without having to get all mathematically as well! Instead, I try to focus on eating natural, healthy foods such as fish, chicken, eggs, wholemeal bread/rice/pasta. In fact, I’d say that 90% of my meals consist of at least one of those foods.

Now, I’m fairly lucky because I don’t really need much variety in my food to keep me satisfied. I only eat to provide my body with the necessary fuel to repair and build my muscles. This suits me fine because I hate planning ahead anyway. However, if you do need variety then I suggest setting up a weekly meal plan. It’s a bit of a pain to plan out your food consumption in this way but in the long term you’ll benefit exponentially from it.

One thing I always know about with each meal however is the amount of protein I’m consuming. I try to get in about 30-40g per meal x 5-6 meals each day. It’s the only thing I obsess over when preparing food and I can be a bloody nightmare about it! As a general rule of thumb, you should be aiming to consume 1g of protein per lb of body weight. Therefore, if you weigh 200lbs, you would try to get 200g of protein each day. Personally, I try to get it through all natural sources such as egg, chicken, tuna, beef because protein powders cost a fortune when you think how many tins of tuna you could get for the same price (there is approx. 30g of protein per 130g drained tuna).

Habit #2 - Progression

I got into a nasty habit early in my fitness routines in which I’d bench and squat the exact same amount of weight for weeks and sometimes even months. Initially, my muscles got sore and I had to recover before working out again but over time, my body adapted and the weight just wasn’t challenging my muscles anymore which meant they never got bigger or stronger.

I never made the correlation between the lack of growth and lifting the same weight week-in and week-out. It’s actually blindingly obvious that if you want to get bigger and stronger, your workouts need to progress. This is one of the most useful habits I have ever adopted because my body is now in a constant state of change. I add weight to my workouts session to session and have seen a massive improvement in strength and size as a direct result. It also makes it more difficult for my muscles to plateau because I am constantly stressing them with an increased load.

Just like anything in life, you need to progress to achieve more and this is no exception. If you wanted to earn more money at work, you’d progress to a higher position with more responsibility. If you want to lose weight or build muscle you need to progress to more challenging cardio workouts or heavier weights. If you’re looking to lose fat and build muscle then you need to head on over to Strong Lifts for more information on how strength training can improve your fitness.

Habit #1 - Consistency

This is the single most important habit of any workout routine and one that many people struggle to form. At this time of year, hundreds of thousands of people have probably quit, or just about to quit, their fitness routine. It starts as a new years resolution but never really becomes a habit, and so they quit.

The best way to remain consistent is to just go to the gym. Don’t waste time thinking about reasons to go or not to go, just go! And when you get there, focus all of your energy on your goals. I am so engrossed in my gym habit now that if I am unable to make it, it consumes me with guilt and stress. Yesterday I lost my gym card to get in and, because I was in the habit of going at 10.30 every day, I became agitated, frustrated and annoyed that I couldn’t go. In the end I went anyway and talked my way in by blaming my girlfriend for losing it! The point is, if you go to the gym (or workout at home) consistently at the same time every day for a long enough period of time it will become a habit. You won’t even need to think about it anymore and that’s the point.

Of course being consistent doesn’t just apply to going to the gym. You need to be consistent with all your other habits if you hope to succeed. For me, being consistent in cutting out junk food, working out at the same time 4-5x per week, progressing my workouts, motivating myself, resting and reflecting has fueled my desire and I could never go back to the sedentary lifestyle.

If you’re serious about getting fit and healthy, losing weight and building muscle then you need to form long-term habits today if you want to be successful.

If you’ve formed any habits not mentioned here, drop us a comment and let us know what it is and how it has improved your fitness routine.

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The Virtuous Life: Temperance

This is the first in a series of posts about living the virtuous life like Benjamin Franklin.

Is there a less sexy idea today than temperance? Yet when Benjamin Franklin began his pursuit of the virtuous life, it was this virtue he chose to concentrate on first. The way in which Ben ordered his 13 virtues was deliberate. He selected temperance to kick off his self-improvement program because:

…it tends to procure that coolness and clearness of head, which is so necessary where constant vigilance was to be kept up, and guard maintained against the unremitting attraction of ancient habits, and the force of perpetual temptations.

In other words, first attaining self-discipline in the area of food and drink would make adherence to all of the other virtues easier.

Why is this? Hunger and thirst are some of the most primal of urges, and thus are some of the hardest to control. Therefore, when seeking to gain self-discipline, one must start with the most basic appetites and work up from there. A man must first harness his inward urges, before tackling the more external virtues. A clear mind and a healthy body are prerequisites to the pursuit of the virtuous life.

Eat Not to Dullness

The glutton is much more than an animal and much less than a man. ~ Honore de Balzac

Have you ever noticed that the first few bites of a delicious food are the best? After chowing down on something for awhile, the vibrant tastes become significantly dulled.

Today many people shovel food into their mouths so fast that their palate never has a chance to register this transition. Yet the shift is one of the ways your stomach tries to tell you that it is full and to stop eating. Unfortunately, people ignore this signal and continue to eat far past it. The consequence is not only a far less enjoyable eating experience, but an ever expanding gut.

Many people have noticed the paradox that gourmet cooks who spend their whole day around food are often in good shape. But it is really no mystery at all. These chefs eat only the best, most delicious foods, and when they dine, they really savor each bite.

There are a million diet books out there, but the only thing a person needs to know to maintain a decent waistline is this: eat when hungry, stop when full. Don’t eat in front of the TV or on the go. Sit down for a proper meal. Savor each mouthful, and think about the flavors you are experiencing. Put your fork down in between bites. When the flavors become less vibrant, and your stomach starts to feel full, stop eating.

Drink Not to Elevation

Drinking makes such fools of people, and people are such fools to begin with, that it’s compounding a felony. ~ Robert Benchley

Many a manly man in history has enjoyed a drink or two. Yet somewhere along the way men began to think it was manly to guzzle their spirits through a funnel attached to their mouth. Yet there are truly few things less virtuous than getting tanked and passing out.

Does this guy look manly? No. He looks like a douchebag.

Men should not seek to numb themselves in the pursuit of a good time. For surely there is something to be said about being fully present in every moment. At the heart of manliness is the belief in personal responsibility. But excess drinking and personal responsibility are at odds. When drunk, a person cannot be said to be 100% in control of their choices. So if something goes wrong, they often blame the alcohol. A true man is in control of himself in every situation

Men should also seek to rid themselves of any kind of dependencies. Alcohol can cause several, the most obvious one being outright alcoholism. But frequent boozing can also make a man dependent on liquor for confidence and for a good time. It becomes a crutch. True men will be confident enough to not need liquid courage and dynamic enough to create their own good time through their personality and charm.

Temperance in the life of Robert E. Lee


I like whiskey. I always did, and that is why I never drink it. ~ Robert E. Lee

The Robert E. Lee, general of the Confederate army during the American Civil War, lived the virtue of temperance. Lee was a masterful military tactician. He graduated second in his class at West Point and received no demerits while there. He led a rag tag Confederate army in outmatched battles against the Union and won several of them.

Part of Lee’s success as a military leader can be attributed to the clear thinking that came with abstaining from alcohol. Speaking to man about the need to avoid alcohol, Lee said:

Did it ever occur to you that when you reach middle life, you may need a stimulant, and if you have accustomed yourself to taking stimulants in your early life it will require so much more to have the desired effect at a time when you may need it? How much better it would be if the young man would leave intoxicants in his student days.

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As Britain's spending on cosmetic surgery soars, Fiona MacDonald Smith suggests it's time that we chopped and changed our diet instead
The latest anti-ageing food? Pigs' trotters. That's right, you heard it here first. In New York, the most talked-about new opening of the past couple of months has been a Japanese restaurant called Hakata Tonton, where 33 out of the 39 dishes contain pigs' feet.

The reason for this, according to its owner, Himi Okajima, is that they are rich in collagen, the protein responsible for skin and muscle tone, more recognisable to beauty addicts in the form of face creams and fillers.

"Collagen helps your body retain moisture," says Okajima, who has introduced a chain of restaurants specialising in collagen cuisine in Japan. "Your hair and skin will look better, but it's not just for looking beautiful now. If you begin eating collagen in your thirties, you will look younger in your forties."

Maybe this sounds a little improbable ("It's news to me," sniffs Lisa Miles of the British Nutrition Foundation. "I've certainly never heard of eating collagen") but Okajima believes he is on to something. Figures published last month show that British spending on cosmetic surgery is the highest in Europe, hitting nearly £500 million in 2006, four times more than in 2001.

Isn't there a cheaper solution? Couldn't eating the right foods, in the right way, be a simpler, and ultimately more long-term way to stay looking and feeling younger? "You are what you eat," says nutritional therapist Ian Marber, aka The Food Doctor.

"You can't turn the clock back but you can slow things down. Every cell replicates from RNA and DNA. In order to keep the DNA in good condition, you want to protect cells from harmful free radicals. And for this you need to eat fruit and vegetables, which contain vital anti-oxidants like vitamins A, C, E and zinc.

"It doesn't have to be expensive," he adds. "I know people go on about so-called 'superfoods' which have a greater concentration of anti-oxidants, but two apples a day will give you plenty of vitamins and fibre. You just need to ensure a varied diet."

"The key is to remember we're omnivorous," agrees nutritionist Christian Lee, who is the national trainer for the Dr Nicholas Perricone cosmetics and nutrition empire. "Have you ever noticed how women age more rapidly than men?

That's because they don't eat enough protein. The days you don't eat protein are the days you age. The body can't store protein, but it needs it for cellular production and function.

"At each meal you should be able to hold up three fingers and say 'I've got a good source of protein (lean fish or poultry, nuts, seeds or tofu); an essential fatty acid (Omega 3 or 6, so that's coldwater oily fish, flaxseeds, linseeds) and a low glycaemic carbohydrate (fruit, vegetables, and wholegrains like quinoa, buckwheat and oatmeal)'. If you can say that, you're on the right road."

Perricone, a dermatologist, became America's most famous anti-ageing specialist with his "Three-Day Nutritional Face Lift", which extolled the virtues of eating wild Alaskan salmon twice a day, claiming its essential fatty acids would banish puffiness and tighten the skin. Uma Thurman, Heidi Klum and J-Lo are all fans.

In his new book Ageless Face, Ageless Mind, which has yet to reach the UK, Dr Perricone's team assert that up to 40 per cent of wrinkles are caused by dietary sugar.

"When you eat high glycaemic carbohydrates like bread, cakes and pasta, they turn into sugar in the blood so fast that the pancreas can't respond with enough insulin and the blood becomes saturated with sugar," argues Christian Lee. "The sugar needs to go somewhere so it attaches itself to the cell membranes.

When it does this to collagen molecules in the skin, it causes the collagen to become stiff and immobile and that's the birth of the wrinkle. The bad news is that it doesn't end there - the sugar then pumps out free radicals, causing a double whammy of damage.

The good news is you can prevent it - either by cutting out sugar or by taking a supplement of alpha lipoic acid, which is 400 times stronger than vitamin C and E combined."

So ditch the sugar, but don't forget the pigs' trotters.

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Genetic Cancer Link Between Humans And Dogs Discovered

Studying the similarities and genetic links between canine and human cancers gives University of Minnesota veterinarian Jaime Modiano insights to help fight the disease. (Credit: University of Minnesota, Academic Health Center)

ScienceDaily (Mar. 2, 2008) — Cancer researchers at the University of Minnesota and North Carolina State University have found that humans and dogs share more than friendship and companionship -- they also share the same genetic basis for certain types of cancer. Furthermore, the researchers say that because of the way the genomes have evolved, getting cancer may be inevitable for some humans and dogs.

Jaime Modiano, V.M.D., Ph.D., University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine and Cancer Center, and Matthew Breen, Ph.D., North Carolina State University's Center for Comparative Medicine and Translational Research, collaborated on this research study. Their findings are published in the journal Chromosome Research, in a special edition on comparative cytogenetics and genomics research.

Genomes are divided into chromosomes, which act as nature's biological filing cabinets with genes located in specific places.

"Many forms of human cancer are associated with specific alterations to the number or structure of chromosomes and the genes they contain," Breen said. "We have developed reagents to show that the same applies to dog cancers, and that the specific genome reorganization which occurs in comparable human and canine cancers shares a common basis."

More specifically, Breen and Modiano found that the genetic changes that occur in dogs diagnosed with certain cancers of the blood and bone marrow, including chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), Burkitt's lymphoma (BL), and chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), are virtually identical to genetic abnormalities in humans diagnosed with the same cancers.

"We believe the implication of this finding is that cancer may be the consequence of generations of genetic evolution that has occurred similarly in dogs and humans," Modiano said. "This means that to some degree, cancer may be inevitable in some humans and dogs just because of the way our genomes have developed since the separation from a common ancestor."

"Since we know now that dogs and humans seem to share a common pathogenetic basis for some cancers, we believe that studying dog cancers may allow us to identify cancer-associated genes more easily in dog populations than in human populations. Once identified, we may be able to translate these findings to human cancers as we seek to provide a greater level of insight into cancer risk, diagnosis, and prognosis," said Modiano.

According to Breen and Modiano, dogs are good research subjects because they develop the disease spontaneously, and many of the modern breeds have developed over the past few hundred years using restricted gene pools. This selective breeding has preserved the genetics of a breed. It has also made some breeds more susceptible to certain cancers. These factors, coupled with the high degree of similarity between the genomes of dogs and humans, provided the researchers with an opportunity to compare the genomes and study the evolutionary genetic changes associated with cancer.

The human genome has 46 chromosomes and the dog genome contains 78 chromosomes. Sometimes, in the normal duplication process of cells, chromosomes can become rearranged or relocated. This rearrangement or relocation is called translocation. It can lead to a cell losing its normal function, becoming abnormal, and possibly developing into cancer.

"Interestingly, we found that the same translocation of chromosomes happens in dogs as in humans for the three blood and bone marrow cancers we studied," Modiano said.

Breen and Modiano conclude that despite millions of years of divergence, the evolving genomes of dogs and humans seem to have retained the mechanism associated with cancer, and that the conserved changes in the genomes have similar consequences in dogs and humans.

"Like ourselves, our pet dogs suffer from a wide range of spontaneous cancers. For thousands of years humans and dogs have shared a unique bond. In the 21st century this relationship is now strengthened to one with a solid biomedical basis; the genome of the dog may hold the keys to unlocking some of nature's most intriguing puzzles about cancer," Breen said.

The next step for Breen and Modiano is to use grants received from the National Cancer Institute to start pinpointing risk factors for cancer in various breeds of dogs.

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The Zen of Tech: 12 Powerful Ways to Keep Your Online Life Simple and Peaceful

“Zen does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes.” - Alan Watts

I’m a tiny bit geek, I admit. Not hugely so, but enough that I do everything on the computer and use technology to do everything from communication to tracking to publishing to writing to networking to finances and more.

And still, it’s important to me that I keep things minimalist and peaceful.

I think that’s the true challenge of technology: how to get the most out of it without letting it overwhelm us. How to keep things simple but powerful. How to master technology without letting it become our master (to paraphrase Stephen Covey).

I’ve had a number of readers ask me how I do this, and so today I thought I’d bring together some concept I’ve written about before.

A Word on My Setup
My setup won’t work for everyone, or even a majority of you. It’s simply what works for me, but I thought you might find it useful nonetheless.

First of all, almost everything I do is online. Now that I quit my day job (with the horror of its fax machine), I no longer keep paper files. I can access all of my information and documents online, so I can work from anywhere, from any computer. And there’s no longer any time spent on organizing, as I use Gmail’s philosophy of archiving instead of filing.

I use an iMac, first of all, just because it’s so beautiful and nice to use and aesthetically minimalist. I have an iMac on my desk (really, it’s just a table) and nothing else. No drawers for filing or papers. No desktop tower or fax machine or scanner or anything. I’ve ordered a printer, but that’s more for my wife.

Software I use include Gmail for email and IM, WordPress for blogging, Firefox for everything, Google Docs and Spreadsheets for all my document needs (although I do use TextEdit, WriteRoom, NeoOffice and a few others), Google Reader for feeds (yes, I’m a Google fanboy, but only because their programs do what I want the best). I favor Open Source software if possible.

Now on to the tips.

  1. Focus on the essential. It’s important to take some time to think about what’s essential to your tech work (and play). What do you really need? What gives you the most benefit for your time? What’s not so essential? What takes up a lot of time without making much of an impact? What gives you the most enjoyment? If you can identify the activities, sites and software that is most essential to you, you can eliminate or at least reduce the non-essential. And from then on, focus almost exclusively on what’s essential. This applies to your work tasks as well - what tasks are extremely essential? Focus on doing those each day.
  2. Do one thing at a time. I know. This is super hard when it comes to tech. Browser’s on, a dozen tabs open at once, switching between reading and email and work and IM and Twitter … we live in a multitasking world. But it doesn’t have to be this way. While there’s nothing wrong with having multiple tabs open, it can be very helpful to focus on one task at a time. Have 10 tabs open, but do one tab until you’re done, then close it and move on to the next, and so on. If you’re going to do IM, just do IM. If you’re going to do email, just do email. Sure, you can do more than that at once, but it adds to the stress of your day and decreases your effectiveness because of all the switching. Practice doing one thing at a time and you’ll find your work to be much more peaceful.
  3. Have periods of disconnectedness. While I do most of my work online, I find it extremely useful (and calming) to close my browser and just work offline for awhile. This post, for example, is being written in a text program, and when I’m done writing I’ll go and post it in WordPress. This really allows you to get much more done, because there’s no temptation to go check something just for a sec.
  4. Don’t live in your inbox. I’ve done this, and if you do it you know who you are. Email is everything to many people. It’s communication, it’s a task list, it’s where you do your work, it’s your organization system. But if you work from your inbox, you are constantly being interrupted by new messages. Get your task list out of your inbox. Do email only at pre-appointed times. Do your work with your email closed.
  5. Schedule your IM time. Same thing applies to IM. I’m not a huge fan of IM, especially if you have your IM program open all the time. That’s because it encourages people to interrupt you whenever they want, instead of you valuing your time. If IM is important to your work, then schedule IM meetings, or have certain times of the day when you’re available for IM and tell your colleagues and friends about it. And have it for a limited amount of time and then end it.
  6. Turn off notifications. Again, email and IM and other notifications encourage interruptions and multitasking. Instead, turn everything off so that you check your email when you choose, not when others decide to send you something.
  7. Set limits on what you do. For example, check email just twice a day. Write emails of only 5 sentences or less. Only check Twitter once a day. Only respond to 4 messages on your favorite forum. Or whatever works for you. Limits force you to choose the essential, instead of trying to do everything.
  8. Create a morning routine. I’m a fan of morning routines in general, and the same concepts apply to tech. The Morning Coffee extension for Firefox is a great way to set up your routine with a single click. It opens all your essential sites in tabs, so that you can work through this routine one thing at a time and be sure that everything is finished.
  9. Create a weekly routine. With Morning Coffee, you can also set up routines for different days of the week. This allows you to check a certain site or inbox once a week, for example, instead of every single day.
  10. Clear out your inbox. I’ve written about this before, but clearing out your inbox is a very calming thing. It also prevents the overwhelming feeling of having hundreds of emails in your inbox — some read and some not.
  11. Pare down your feeds. I used to have well over a hundred RSS feeds to read in a day. The need to go through them all, every day, was very stressful to me. So I eventually cut them down, one stage at a time, until I got down to 10 essential feeds. Now it takes just a few minutes each day to scan through my feeds, pick out a few articles I’d like to read, and mark the rest as read. Much simpler.
  12. Simplified filing. As I mentioned above, I use Gmail’s philosophy of archiving instead of filing. I used to be a compulsive filer, as I like things to be organized. I had folders and subfolders, and I’d spent a bit of time each day filing every single email. What an effort! Instead, I archive everything and just search for what I need (I don’t even use tags or labels anymore). It takes seconds to find something. Seriously, there has never been a time when I couldn’t find something through search. I do this not only with email but with all my documents (through Google Docs and Spreadsheets).

“Zen is not some kind of excitement, but concentration on our usual everyday routine.” - Shunryu Suzuki

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Chrysler’s Jim Press says every car will be offered as a hybrid

Speaking to reporters in a talk sponsored by the Levin Institute, Chrysler’s Vice Chairman said that the every model will be offered as a hybrid. In a previous interview with The Detroit News, Press said that Chrysler “absolutely” expects to provide a hybrid or diesel variants of all their models.

Press said that every vehicle that Chrysler makes would be powered by a hybrid system. While Press did not offer a schedule for when this will take place, he did say that Chrysler will work hard to meet the government’s mandate to increase fuel economy by 40 percent by 2020. According to PopularMechanics Press’s statement was the first by an auto executive that talks of hybrid technology being implemented across-the board for all vehicles in a company lineup.

Chrysler last year announced a new engineering division called ENVI that will focus on designing and building electric and hybrid vehicles. Next year Chrysler will add the Aspen and Dodge Durango hybrids which are said to have a 40 percent increase in fuel-efficiency in the city and a 20 percent increase on the highway.

Press also said that the U.S. auto market is likely to remain weak into the first quarter of 2009 but Chrysler’s turnaround plan is progressing as planned.

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5 Works of Art That Can Probably Kill You

Most Fine Arts majors will tell you, while serving your Double-Tall Latte, that all true artwork is dangerous. What they will not tell you, however, is that in some cases it could also win a war single-handedly.

The definition of what constitutes art now apparently contains giant roving robots, terrifying autonomous skeletons and flaming metal snakes. These five pieces of art may sound awesome, until they're killing you and everyone you love.

The Fire Shower

The Fire Shower is one of the many interactive exhibits that combine audience participation, home-brew technology, and intense bodily harm by the San Francisco art collective known as SEEMEN. The Fire Shower is a small, enclosed cage whose bars are equipped with high velocity rotors that spew flame at increasingly insane speeds until the volunteer is engulfed in a miniature fire tornado aimed solely at their exposed flesh. Why, you might ask? Because art is awesome. That's why.

The artist claims:
Kal Spelitech, the creator of the fire shower explains, "Working with fire is like playing with a wild animal. It is quite mesmerizing, but at any second it can turn on us. Using fire as an art medium always has a certain unpredictability and risk involved. On the highest level, my artwork involves pushing the envelope between terror and play and seeing how much I can involve audiences with a medium that may kill them ... I began to think about my work and what I could do there that would bring people closer to fire as an art or existential/transcendent experience ... Fear of death has always been a major cause of social change, and challenging people's fear of fire is always interesting."

Our explanation:
We have to admit, Kal is pretty plain in what he's trying to do here: Light people on fire. He even admits freely that burning is a hilarious game to him, and that he really enjoys people's fear of death. Nobody can blame Kal for misleading us about exactly what his horrifying machines do. Indeed, it seems as if he's actually trying to warn you away. Instead, blame the art crowd for interpreting these statements as the main thesis points of a revolutionary performance piece and not, more accurately, as a sociopath's description of a "flamethrower prison for the innocent."

Danger level:
The Fire shower is built to a set specification. If you aren't grown to the exact proportions it was intended to hold, there are no safety precautions. If you're too fat, hey, no problem! It'll burn those unsightly pounds right off of you in a frighteningly literal fashion.

That may seem like a joke, but seriously, burns are not actually that uncommon. People frequently emerge from the shower "missing hair and smoking." Although to be fair, the Fire Shower does rely solely on volunteers--you have to actually walk up to it and step inside, even after it's explained to you that it is a walk-in barbecue for fat people. It's not exactly going to sneak into your home and replace your normal bathing station with its desperate, fiery embrace. Well, not that's been proven anyway.

The Running Machine

Artist Mark Pauline has been making machines of destruction with his group, the ironically named Survival Research Labs, for nearly twenty years. All the more impressive is his dedication and mechanical aptitude when you consider the fact that one day, while building an absurdly deadly robot, he blew off most of his hand.

A normal man might have run screaming into the streets, attempting to warn any that would listen that the robots have finally gotten a taste for human blood, but Mark didn't even call it a day. Instead, he had his toes sawn off and stitched to his hand in place of fingers, then continued building machines of devastation for a couple more decades. The Running Machine is simply that, a machine that runs. It is the fastest and farthest reaching leg driven machine in history, able to maneuver even amidst difficult terrain. Mark didn't think that was scary enough, though, so he gave it a hunting knife. Obviously!

The artist claims:
"Since its inception SRL has operated as an organization of creative technicians dedicated to re-directing the techniques, tools, and tenets of industry, science, and the military away from their typical manifestations in practicality, product or warfare. Since 1979, SRL has staged over 45 mechanized presentations in the United States and Europe. Each performance consists of a unique set of ritualized interactions between machines, robots, and special effects devices, employed in developing themes of socio-political satire. Humans are present only as audience or operators."

Our explanation:
SRL builds machines like the Flame Whistle, the Bombloader and of course, The New Mr. Satan—a giant metal bust of the devil that shoots flames from every orifice. All of these things had one weakness in common, and that is their distinct lack of range. Should you attend a show by SRL and, upon seeing the face of an enormous robot devil hurling flames at you, decide that you could use a bit of a jog and maybe a nice cry, the machines couldn't really stop you. Thus enters the Running Machine.

These displays are stationary exhibits, so really, is there call for a machine that can run marathons if not to chase down stragglers? Is there call for this machine to have a hunting knife if not to ... no, you know what? There is no cause for this machine to have a hunting knife. Just not at all.

Danger level:
Just in case you think we're overreacting here, and suppose that maybe the Running Machine has no actual audience interaction, we'd like to point you towards this image that SRL aptly captioned "Running Machine with knife stabbing at audience area."

Art can pose some pretty tough questions. It can make you question who you are as an individual, what role your society really plays in making the world a better place, or just what exactly love means. The Running Machine poses some much tougher questions, like: "how fast can you run, really?" and "could you keep it up for forty miles?" then finally, "do you like hunting?"

The Running Machine knows its answers. In order they are:
"Six to eight miles an hour."
"Oh my, yes, a thousand times yes!"


Theo Jansen, a Dutch "kinetic sculptor," uses genetic algorithms to model virtual life forms with only one purpose: To survive at all costs. To some readers, that may sound like the intro to a B-grade horror movie, to other, slightly more psychotic readers, it's art. Theo takes the soundest of these hypothetical creatures and breeds the strongest together until they are at their evolutionary pinnacle, then builds them at full scale out of whatever supplies are available, and sets them loose on the local beaches. They are powered solely by the wind and are designed to walk at random the hard sand of the local beaches forever.

The artist claims:
From his website, "Since about ten years Theo Jansen is occupied with the making of a new nature. Not pollen or seeds but plastic yellow tubes are used as the basic material of this new nature. He makes skeletons which are able to walk on the wind. Eventually he wants to put these animals out in herds on the beaches, so they will live their own lives."

Our explanation:
Clearly, the Dutch have legalized psychedelic drugs. As an unforeseen consequence of this they have unleashed gargantuan, baroque, autonomous beach monsters that wander--with no clear purpose or direction, but plenty of whirling, spiky appendages--throughout various public places in the name of cultural improvement. The text does not mention whether they have evolved cavernous maws and a dark, endless hunger, so we are forced to assume they have.

Although to be fair to Mr. Jansen, we do consider the line "he makes skeletons which are able to walk on the wind," to be a relatively clear and concise description of his work, despite sounding like it's spoken by a Native American Shaman while prophesying the end times.

Danger level:
Watch to about fifteen seconds into that video, and then answer us a question: What would you do if, out enjoying a peaceful beach getaway with your loving wife and adoring children, you saw that thing charging towards you, charging on its thousand scuttling legs?

Was your first answer "kill my sweet family immediately, in order to spare them the horrors of the beasts that come?" Because ours was. If art is about the invocation of sheer emotion, no matter what that emotion may be, we believe the terror of the beach monster just succeeds on a level that the gentle calm of Monet's "Water Lilies" is not willing to go to. If art is about improving life, however, perhaps Jansen is more on the line of a critic. That is, his work does not enliven, so much as it dissects.

The Gallery Shooting Gallery

Experimental Interaction Unit sounds like the name of a particularly douched-up team of German techno DJs but is, in reality, a terminally psychotic and thoroughly kickass art collective. They are responsible for this particular exhibit in which something called a Shockwave Vortex Gun is placed in an otherwise empty room in a gallery. The control of the gun is then given over to internet users who can remotely target and fire the weapon at will at the museum attendees. The Shockwave Vortex Gun is, essentially, an air cannon that fires whirling eddies of focused wind. It was designed originally by, no shit, mad Nazi scientists in World War II to fire giant, targeted whirlwinds that would bring down Allied aircraft en masse.

The crazy thing? It worked. The crazier thing? These guys in San Francisco built a working one. The fucking craziest thing? Anybody that wants to can now use it to gun down hipster museum attendees from across the country, and completely legally. That's it, art is now officially a man's sport, ranking right up there with Rugby and Ultimate Fighting.

The artist claims:
From the website: "Decades of psychological and anthropological research have formulated the concept of proxemics. Proxemics is the study of the nature, degree, and effect of the spatial separation individuals naturally maintain. It defines regions around people and the acceptable social behaviors in those zones. As the distance between two people decreases the degree of intimacy is increased, culminating in physical contact and/or penetration. Gallery Shooting Gallery provides human exploration of both of these extremes of intimacy as well as a platform to study intense online interactions, their usability, and consequences."

Our explanation:
This is a particularly heinous use of art-world buzz words and lofty concepts in order to justify, let's be honest here, logging onto the internet and hurting people that have art degrees. You had the internet at ‘hurting people.' There's just no need to talk it up like that. Particularly ridiculous is the assertion that the Gallery Shooting Gallery represents a way to decrease the distance between two people "culminating in physical contact and/or penetration." Perhaps we've been doing it entirely wrong these long, mostly celibate years, but we're pretty sure shooting people in the face with a Nazi Superweapon is not akin to fucking.

Danger level:
The power of the Shockwave Vortex Cannon has been greatly diminished for use in this exhibit, and the artists equate it to the force inflicted by a strike from a "strong pillow." This makes it sound all cuddly and lovely, until you stop and wonder just what the hell a "strong pillow strike," feels like. The cruel genius of children that helped to create such playground menaces as the "ice-packed snow ball," and the "squirt gun fulla' pee," was also responsible for what we liked to call the "Brick Pillow." Whereby one would fold their pillow in half, stuff it as hard as possible into the bottom of the pillowcase, then twist the rest of the case closed until you effectively had a deadly Pillow Mace that could knock your younger brother unconscious without leaving a bruise.

This is what we imagine "a strong pillow strike," to be. When you couple that force with the unbelievable vicious streak that the anonymity of the internet brings out in people (See Cracked comment section below for prime examples) you can bet every exhibition of the Gallery Shooting Gallery ends with a small pile of unconscious Metrosexuals stacked haphazardly in a corner - their limp bodies being repeatedly and endlessly blasted by tiny hurricane after tiny hurricane until Emergency Services are called.

The Serpent Mother

The Serpent Mother is an interactive sculpture, originally designed by The Lotus Girls for the Burning Man Festival which, for those of you who don't know it, is essentially a bunch of filthy hippies getting burnt off of their asses, stripping naked, and then welding monstrous devices out of scrap metal in order to dance around them. Kind of like combining a Phish concert with the A-Team, if that helps.

The Serpent Mother is 168 feet long, 20 feet high, includes 41 separate flamethrowers, and a hydraulic head and jaw. The sculpture is fully interactive. All flamethrowers and crushing jaws are controlled by the audience that, up until this point, has mostly been made up of 'shroomed out hippies who would sooner eat a steak than harm a fellow human being. It is now, however, attempting to go on a tour which promises to look a whole lot like the biblical apocalypse.

The artist claims:
From the website: "There has never been a sculpture like the Serpent Mother. The warmth of her fire and her circular design create an experience in which over 1000 people come together--drawn in by her embrace ... She prompts her audience not only to interact with the art, but also with one another. Wherever she exists, she creates new communities ... The Serpent Mother challenges the traditional art perspective by creating an interactive experience which is the opposite of passive viewing. Unlike an unapproachable painting in a prestigious museum which invites only an intellectual admiration, the Serpent Mother invites viewers to physically engage in her art."

Our explanation:
The above explanation could be considered fairly accurate. It's just that it ends that last sentence a tad bit early. It really should read "the Serpent Mother invites viewers to physically engage in her art, by lighting them on fire and devouring them, so that they might be consumed amongst the ravaged steel of her burning guts."

The audience control over The Serpent Mother extends not only to the flamethrowers that run along her spine, but also to the hydraulics of the head and jaws--all fully operational. They also control the blue flame jets that burn from her teeth, as well as the directed bursts of steam she shoots from her nostrils. Watching this video of The Serpent Mother in action should make you more fully aware of the size and scale of the thing.

It is truly, awe-inspiringly massive. Also, it will serve as incontrovertible proof that the devil exists, as only he could finally combine three of the greatest fears of man throughout time--fire, giant snakes, and deadly robots--into one enormous monstrosity. Word is that the artists, in an attempt to more completely expose your darkest, most secret fears, are currently upgrading The Serpent Mother to make it shoot thousands of poisonous spiders that tell everybody about your impotence and how you cried that one time while watching The Little Mermaid.

Danger level:
The real danger of The Serpent Mother comes from its audience participation. As the video makes clear, there are no safety measures around it. Anybody can and does crowd around. It can be walked in, crawled through and climbed on with nobody there to warn you when the flamethrowers kick on. Who would be stupid enough to climb on it? Well, drugged out hippies for one.

For two, its head is mobile--controlled by a joystick in the audience. This joystick also works the jaws, flaming teeth, and jets of burning steam that we mentioned earlier. Thus far it has only been controlled by peace loving flower children, but we remind you once again that it's going on tour and if there's anything that Bruce Willis has taught us, it's that organized terrorist cells are waiting literally everywhere to take over anything that could be used as a weapon.

The fact that you made it a snake--Jesus, you might as well just send a fucking handwritten invitation to Cobra Commander. And, you know, good luck handling C.O.B.R.A with your crack team of barefoot vegetarians, Burning Man.

Original here