Pushing Past a Plateau

I’ve been plateauing on how many push-ups I can do for the last 1-2 months, and I think I’m finally pushing past it. The real telltale was that I was tired but not particularly sore/stiff after my workouts, and not necessarily that the number of push-ups wasn’t increasing.

For this post, I’m assuming that you can confidently do knee pushups with good form, but are hovering at a pretty low number (<10) of push-ups per set. Incidentally, when I started being able to do ~15 knee-pushups per set without feeling tired, I skipped directly to push-ups despite the recommendation to do 3 x 30 AND do half-push-ups before advancing to push-ups. So I knew that I skipped some steps.

I think everyone on the Internet is basically correct that you should check your form. It’s pretty easy to not have the correct form. My issue with Internet advice is that they tend to comment on only the most common mistakes (especially buttTooHigh), and often the advice for correcting form isn’t very actionable. You can also ask a friend to watch for you, but I’m too chicken to do this, so I recorded myself ~10 times before realizing that my neck was arching in a way that didn’t look correct.

If you notice your form is off, this is probably because some other muscle group is too weak, and it’s often not obvious what is too weak. For example, at my plateau, it constantly felt like my triceps were the ones giving way but it turns out that some part of my upper shoulder was not really doing any work. So use bad form as a signal that something needs correcting, and keep in mind that form isn’t that easy to correct directly.

General advice for correction is to back off and make the exercise easier, which also seems mostly correct, but I’d like to add some detail to this. There are many ways to make an exercise easier: lower weight, fewer reps, fewer sets, or any combination of these. For bodyweight exercises, you don’t get a lot of granular control over the weight, but there are other tactics you can use: longer rests between sets, brief pauses between each push-up. The important thing is to do something that gives you room to do your exercises more slowly + with more control and focus on holding good form. The answer for me came from this video, which loosened the exercise by forcing me to rest at the bottom of my push-ups in lieu of squeezing my shoulder blades more.

My model for gains is that it’s proportional to the number of reps you do (with good form) after feeling sufficiently tired. So in a set of 10 push-ups, I see the first 6 push-ups as an upfront cost to let me reap the gains of the remaining 4 push-ups. During the first 6 push-ups, my energy level hovers around 1, and during the last 4 push-ups, my energy level tends to decrease ~linearly to 0. One signature of bad form I noticed was that I would be able to do the first 6 push-ups, but as soon as I hit #7, my energy level immediately drops off to 0. This was very sad because even if I knew how to fix my form, I didn’t have the capacity to push those changes.

What ultimately got me past the plateau was to hybridize the exercise. Knee push-ups were easy, but full push-ups were hard. So I did push-ups until I broke, and then transitioned into knee push-ups for additional gains. In retrospect, this is pretty similar to what I’ve been doing to build up to pull-ups: Do as many pull-ups as I can, and then fill in remaining reps with negatives.

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Columbus Day

Columbus Day seems to be a half-holiday in the sense that it’s kind of federally recognized but not really. As such, I’ve been a bit baffled about why MIT (and potentially other schools?) celebrate it.

Today, I realized that a “real” reason might be that Columbus Day in the U.S. happens to coincide with Canada’s Thanksgiving. In this way, MIT is being “fair” towards its American and Canadian students by giving both parties 4-day weekends to spend time with their respective families.

Pacing Oneself

I started running sometime in May when finals were finishing. I overheard a friend (VX) talking about how one of the most common mistakes for aspiring runners is that they try to sprint in the beginning. This results in (a) lower energy and potentially slower pace for the last 80% of the run and (b) more discomfort and a higher rate of ragequitting because of how unpleasant the last 80% is.

Turns out this piece of advice was pretty game-changing for me. Since the start of summer, I’ve been running the minimum amount to satisfy my self-imposed “health requirement”, which exists because I was a lazy potato during the semester. In high school, I hated running partially because I felt like I couldn’t think about anything except how I was constantly short of breath and the regular rhythm of my breathing. This summer, I’ve been able to actually think and enjoy the nature while running (and also not have cramps, but not sure if this is related), which is pretty incredible to me.

In June, I timed myself once and had a 7:50 mile, which was roughly my time when starting 9th grade. I retimed myself today and got 7:30 by forcing myself to run at a constant speed for the entire mile. (Actually, this isn’t entirely true; my first lap was slower than my average over 4 laps.)

Diversity in STEM

In my freshman or sophomore year of college, I received some dormspam asking for mentors for one of the several “teach girls to code” efforts. Not having put much consideration in movements surrounding diversity and underrepresentation in the past, I was pretty curious and wanted to lend a hand to support the effort. And since this program didn’t bar guys in CS from volunteering as a mentor, I signed up to spend my next few Sunday afternoons helping some elementary or middle school girls with web development.

You might be able to guess what the first class was like. Despite being open to mentors of both genders, I was the only guy in a room of 40-50 other girls. Although the mentoring process wasn’t too out of the ordinary, whenever we convened as one class, I stood out like a sore thumb and it was an immensely awkward experience. I ended up opting out of the remaining sessions.

This might have been my firsthand taste of what it’s like to be a minority at a STEM-related event, and I can now empathize a little better with the initiatives to bring more women into the field. Unfortunately, I don’t think that the current women in STEM efforts are enough to close the percentages of men vs. women in the field, which should hopefully make women feel like they stand out less. However, changing the numbers will not be enough to change the treatment and perceived status differences, and arguably a workplace with 50% women where they’re seen as even lower status is no better than one with 25% women.

In the current situation, many men (like me) cooperate and support these movements, but we’re rarely the ones actively pushing the envelope. Having men’s faces represented in these movements is imperative for signalling to our young female mentees that this is a bilateral concern, and not just ones of a minority group.

If any other guys reading this have interest in helping out with future diversity/inclusion initiatives, feel free to ask to drag me along. :)

Homeless Advice

A couple weeks ago, I spent an afternoon reading through all of the posts on homelessadvice.com. I just wanted to share some notable or surprising things:

  • “There’s lots of people out there who may judge a homeless person for being in the situation they’re in, but most of the people who do that usually have someone along the line that helped them when they needed it. “
  • “When I was out on the streets I couldn’t help but to separate most of the people around me into two groups; those who were lazy and those who weren’t.”
  • “One of the most unfortunate things about being homeless, especially for women, is that they’re more vulnerable to sexual predators and violent or abusive people. This includes predators who are homeless themselves and those who are not. One common scenario that I’ve seen is where a woman is homeless and is worried about being raped or killed while she sleeps alone outside. So she’ll stay with a man in his vehicle or tent and he may abuse her or act cruel to her. She’ll stick around because she might be worried about what might happen to her on the streets alone. She tolerates the mistreatment from the man in exchange for his protection and male presence, because she might feel that her only other option is to sleep alone on the streets and risk a fate that’s even worse.”
  • “In Las Vegas, Nevada, many homeless people stay in an underground sewer system that has many dry areas, which runs beneath the entire city. Had I not done an internet search while in Vegas, I never would have known that, which is why you should always learn your city well before picking a permanent or long-term spot to sleep.”
  • “Sometimes, business owners will even allow homeless people to sleep in their shops or outside in exchange for doing some type of work around the place, such as sweeping and mopping or even acting as a night time security guard and keeping an eye on the place. The best way to find the types of people who would let you do these types of things would be to post ads on Craigslist or find ads already posted by those who are looking to rent out rooms. “
  • “Pablo was not allowed to panhandle with these people because he was strictly an alcoholic and they were junkies and so what he wanted to do with his money didn’t benefit them and their interests. So they would not allow him to panhandle on their end of the store, which was near the exit door. So he was near the entrance door and panhandled people as they were walking in, while the group of four panhandlers would beg for money from people who were walking out of the store. “
  • “A homeless person’s biggest obstacle when looking for a job is probably keeping in contact with potential employers and interviewers and allowing a line of communication to be there. When you apply for a job and fill out an application or send in a resume, the employer will usually want you to list a way for them to contact you. They will often ask for your phone number, your email, or both. In this case it can be very difficult for some people to get a phone and keep it connected. In this case, some people who have family members or friends can have them relay messages somehow. Some shelters will even take messages, but this should not be used for potential employers because if they call a homeless person’s contact number and find out they stay at a shelter then this will often make them think the applicant has some type of mental problems or other problems that can affect their ability to work a job and stay on the job without causing problems.”
  • “A study conducted at the University of Southern California that appeared in the Journal of Urban Health found that 62% of homeless teens owned cell phones, and 40% of them currently had the cell phones in service and working when the study was conducted. “
  • “For example, in cities like Los Angeles, there’s only some areas where you can sleep in your car while other areas or blocks are completely off-limits at night due to local businesses complaining about people sleeping outside their shops at night.”
  • “I myself am not a religious person, but when I was homeless on the streets, one of the people I hung around each day was a man who recently was released from prison and had converted to Mormonism. He told me that he had converted to the Mormon religion because their churches were known for helping out their followers, and as it turned out, he was correct.”
  • “These types of organizations often give different reasons as to why they charge their guests, but the most common reason given is that they do this to teach homeless people how to be self-sufficient in order to get back on their feet eventually and pay rent to someone else when possible.”
  • “For lots of homeless people, the schedules of most shelters are too much of an inconvenience for some. The vast majority of shelters require that people check in early enough so that everybody can be accounted for and everything can run more smoothly for the staff there. So lots of these places require that everybody is there at a certain time long before it’s actually time to go to sleep. In addition to this, there’s usually lines outside that can be rather long at some places.
  • So let’s say a person is living on the streets but working side jobs every now and then. If the shelters in their area require that people check in by 6pm, this may not be possible for them. If they have to take a bus from work to the shelter, and if they get off work at 5pm, this may not leave enough time for them to make it. This is of course assuming that they would be working normal hours.
  • Homeless people sometimes take the jobs nobody else wants to do, so a lot of these jobs involve working odd hours that variate regularly. There’s even some things they may do at night on their own, such as collecting cans and bottles to avoid the hot sun before the garbage trucks come out in the morning.”
  • “One of the main reasons that I chose not to say inside shelters was because they wouldn’t allow me to bring my bag to bed with me. They made us hand over our belongings to an employee who would lock them up in a storage room. “
  • “In order to sleep at most of them, you have to take a shower with no privacy before being allowed into the room with beds. To avoid this, I learned to sleep outside and took my showers during daytime hours when less people were using them or at shelters that had private stalls when I was located near any of them during the day.”
  • “For most places, they’ll let someone stay for free for a few days or maybe even up to a month. … In my situation, I didn’t want to use up all my free nights because I knew I might need them for nights when the weather would be bad. So I slept outside even though I still had many free passes left, as well as enough money to afford to sleep inside the shelter each month if I had to. There are many people like me out there who prefer to save their resources and prepare for times when they may need to use their free days or money when it’s absolutely necessary.”
  • “In addition to this, many people living on the streets will simply steal their tents from local stores such as Walmart and Sears. One specific Target store at the Metreon shopping plaza in San Francisco has to keep their tents locked behind glass the way many stores do with their guns to prevent theft.”
  • “One of the best ways to make money when you’re struggling and homeless is by donating plasma. Millions of people donate plasma for cash every year and some homeless people have even slowly saved up the money they’ve made over time and used it to get back on their feet. “
  • “I’m sure you’ve heard people say this before, but in countries like the USA where there’s many social services available, the chances of a homeless person being unable to get a meal are slim to none, at least for those who live in or near large cities.”
  • “Homeless people also deal with a lot of people around them who have mental issues and constantly have to watch their backs to stay safe. So for all these reasons, they may be hesitant to accept food from a stranger that isn’t in it’s original sealed packaging due to the fear of being poisoned by a stranger….I personally wouldn’t trust a warm meal such as a hamburger from a stranger on the street. So while many would prefer a hot meal, especially one from a restaurant, some may throw it away after you leave if you do give them one.”
  • “One thing that you could give a homeless person that they would really be able to use is necessary items and supplies to survive the streets, such as blankets, jackets, backpacks, and tents.”
  • “For those who are nervous about having a homeless person in their home, you could even offer to let one sleep in your vehicle at night or in a tent in your backyard. I would have paid to sleep in someone’s vehicle or yard the first few months that I became homeless.”
  • “Although this scenario is rare, it does happen when homeless people have nowhere else to go. I spent one of my homeless nights in a hospital all night because it was cold and raining outside. I didn’t look homeless to the security that was there and I made it appear that I was waiting to see a doctor in the emergency room lobby.”

Sente First

In go, the term “sente” refers to moves that should elicit a forcing move from your opponent i.e. they have to respond.

Aaron (4k?) vs. Andrea (4k): W+15.5?

Okay, rip, this one doesn’t have any life lesson to really learn from. I messed up this game because I kept forgetting to think about move order and didn’t play my sente moves first.

Figure 1: (b) and/or (c) need to happen first before (a) in order to get life.
Figure 2: (b) needs to happen first so that the group is safe in the corner (hopefully in sente) so I don’t have to make the slow gote move F12.
Figure 3: Ack (c) was so fucking important for staying alive. (a) was gote. White lived in my big area :(
Figure 4: (a) needs to take place before (b) so that I can live or reduce in sente. But I lived in gote. :(

But this was the first game in a while that I enjoyed quite a bit, as opposed to being really nervous while killing.

Strategy

Me (4k) vs. Shawn (1d): W+5.5?

go_shawn

Played my first game in Boston yesterday, with Mr. Cho watching for more than half of it. I ended up losing by ~5.5 points, which is a little bit sad because until the last 10 moves, the score estimator put me at winning by 5.5 points.

Mr. Cho’s main comments for me:

  • “Your moves were very beautiful, but I couldn’t see any strategy”. Ugh. I think it’s very true that I’m just acting locally. I’m starting too many cool-sounding projects without giving much thought about how they fit together on a bigger picture or what I’m really trying to do. I guess I tell people that I want to go to grad school, but I can’t tell if I’m just lying to myself. Like I guess learning X, Y, and Z all seem like pretty good things to know, but maybe I should try to do this with some kind of intent in mind.

    In my games, I’ve been doing pretty well at attacking for profit, but I trip up whenever it comes to killing because it takes a lot of resolve to do that.

  • I need to count more. If I don’t count, I don’t know how many points I need to make up for or I can afford to lose, so it’s pretty important to know where I am to have better plans. The analogue is not really doing a whole lot of reflection about how my life is.
  • I was too afraid of getting cut in some “push-or-hane” contests. Sometimes I didn’t even consider the hane because I was too scared to read out how the cut would work. I guess I’ve been avoiding some confrontations in my life because I know there’s some chance it might lead to hurt.