Who am I?

I’m an Agilist, a former software engineer, a gamer, an improviser, a podcaster emeritus, and a wine lover. Learn more.

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Paul Tevis

Entries in things i do (25)


Moving to the Music

I said I wasn’t going to write about writing for a while, so I guess I’ll write about fitness instead.

There are certain things that I like a lot of structure around; exercising is one of them. I mentioned yesterday that I have a deck of Strength and Toning cards. Gwen gave these to me for Christmas a few years ago, and I’ve gotten good use out of them. Each card has single exercise or stretch on it. The front side has illustration of a person performing the exercise, and the back has instructions. The design works really well. The first time or two I tried a new exercise, I looked at the back to figure out how to do it. After that, I just looked at the front to spur my memory. The illustration was the key part, as just reading the name wouldn’t have worked as well.

The idea with these cards is that you assemble them into a set of exercises and stretches for a workout. The included booklet has a few different suggested sets, depending on how long you have or what you want to focus on. I’ve built a few of my own, and I’m happy with my current one, in no small part because of the soundtrack.

I really enjoying working out to music. It helps put me in the right frame of mind for whatever it is I’m doing. Last summer I was putting together playlist for the 5K races I was doing, based in part on where on the course I expected to be at a given time. My running workouts aren’t nearly so structured; I have a large playlist of songs with the right rhythmic structures that put on shuffle.1

For my card-based workouts, I have synchronization points, where each song on the playlist should start and stop. This ensures that I don’t go to slowly or quickly through the set, and it lends and overall structure to the workout. What’s it like? Have a look (and listen):

Don’t Stop the Pop
by DJ Earworm [5:10]

  • Calf raises (x12 each side, 10 lbs.)
  • Toe raises (x12 each side)
  • Standing calf stretch (10-15 sec each side)
  • Standing quad stretch (10-15 sec each side)
  • Lunges (x12 each side, 10 lbs. x2)

Just Stop Believing (Lady Gaga vs. Journey) by DJ Tripp[4:37]

  • Seated leg extensions (x12 each side, 10 lbs.)
  • Foot presses (10-15 sec each side, 5 sets)
  • Push-ups (x12)

Black Sabotage (Led Zeppelin vs. The Beastie Boys) by DJ Moule [2:32]

  • Chest flies (x12, 10 lbs. x2)
  • Bicep curls (x12 each side, 10 lbs.)
  • Upright rows (x12, 10 lbs. x2)

The Humpty Dance by Digital Underground2 [6:31]

  • Lateral raises (x12, 10 lbs. x2)
  • Outer-thigh Leg Lifts (x12 each side)
  • Inner-thigh Leg Lifts (x12 each side)
  • Leg-press bridges (x12)
  • Foot turns (10-15 sec each way, 3 sets)
  • Crunches (x24)
  • Oblique crunches (x12 each side)

Dynamite Pressure (Taio Cruz vs. Queen and David Bowie) by DJ Tripp [4:11]

  • Heel dips (x12 each side, alternating)
  • Plank (60 sec)
  • Back extensions (x12)
  • Lying hamstring stretch (15-20 sec each side)
  • Lying inner-thigh stretch (15-20 sec each side)

Fireflies by Owl City [3:48]

  • Lying outer-thigh stretch (15-20 sec each side)
  • Full-length torso stretch (15-20 sec each side + both)
  • Deep buttocks stretch (15-20 sec each side)
  • Lying knee-hug stretch (15-20 sec each side)

All together that gives me about half an hour of a good mix of upper-body, lower-body, and core exercises. Plus it’s got a good beat.




Fitness: Ran 2.25 miles
Writing: 264 words

1 The rhythm is important. Think about trying to run to Take Five.

2 By rule, this must be included in every workout playlist I make.


I Am

Every so often I am struck by the profound notion that I am someone.

I mean this in a very Cartesian sense: There is a me doing some thinking. From time to time I come face to face with this realization, that I am living my life, that I am a being sitting behind my eyeballs looking out, that I — quite simply — am. This doesn’t hit me very often. When it does, it just snaps into place, and suddenly my whole outlook is different.

That momentary change of perspective is a deeply re-orienting experience. It wakes me up to the notion that life isn’t just happening; it’s happening to me. It makes me remember that life doesn’t occur in the abstract; it’s a concrete thing that I’m doing. It takes me out of the sometimes mindless flow of everyday life and grounds me in the now.

It repositions me in time. The present moment is the only one I truly ever have. What has gone before is gone, leaving fragmentary memories in its wake. The future is always ahead of me, bleeding slowly into the ever-unfolding present. I can only work on one moment at a time. I might as well make the most of it.

And it reminds me of my mortality. This “I” that is doing the doing will one day die. What will that be like? Will I just… end? If there’s no more me to experience things… I literally cannot conceive of what that would be like, because there’s nothing for it to be like.

Profound is the only word that can capture the feeling I get in those moments. And then, they’re gone.


Though I Should Stick to Tea

Coffee shops make more sense to me know.

Last fall I started taking a portion of my lunch time to write, or to read, or to work on some other project I had pressing. I liked to do this on the picnic benches in front of my office, in part because they were a beautiful spot to work and in part because I could still get on the corporate wireless network. Then winter came.

Now, let me be clear: This isn’t real winter I’m talking about. I grew up with real winter in the Midwest, where it could snow any given day between Halloween and Easter, where I by the time I walked from parents’ car to the door of my high school my shower-damp hair would freeze, where my senior year it didn’t get above zero for 23 days straight. We don’t get that in Santa Barbara. What we do get is a slight chill and some rain. That — in particular the rain — was still enough in December to force me to seek some other place to write. A coffee shop was a logical alternative.

Before this, I thought that this business of “working in a coffee shop” was a little strange. I’ve got a perfectly good office at home, so if it was closer, I probably would have used that. But I’ve started to appreciate the isolation that working elsewhere gives me. I don’t need long — thirty to sixty minutes — to do what I need to. I just need to be away from potential distractions. And for me, a coffee shop does exactly that. I get my drink, fire up WriteMonkey, set my timer for a Pomodoro, and go heads down. I don’t need to work like this all day. I just need a cup’s worth of time to be alone in public.

It’s done more than that, of course. As an inveterate people-watching, I’m drawn to any place that’s rich with interaction. One of my regular places has also given me insights into building a team and teaching them how to delight customers, as I’ve watched the manager hire and train new employees. It’s funny to think that spending time in a coffee shop would help me learn how to do my job better, but there it is.

So, you legion of coffee-shop-working folks: I get it now. Sorry I doubted you.


Logging Myself

I wrote yesterday about how my attitudes towards food and exercise had changed in the last nine months. Today, I’m going to take a more details look at how I gathered and visualized the data that nudged me towards those attitudinal changes.

As I said, the first step I took was logging what I ate. I don’t do anything fancy here. Every morning, I take a few minutes to write down everything I ate the previous day.1 Here’s what that looks like:

After a few weeks of doing this, I started paying more attention to what ate, knowing that if I ate it, I’d have to write it down. Nudge.

After a month or two, I made some concrete decisions about what I wanted to be eating what I wanted to be avoiding. So now, my second step each morning is looking at what I ate the previous day and seeing where I get to put an “X” on the checklist.


This gets me thinking about what I’m going to eat that day. Nudge again.

By now, I can hold the daily list in my head, so it’s easy for me to make mealtime choices based on where I do and don’t have Xs that day or week.2

The last thing I do is enter my weight. I weigh myself every morning when I’m at home. By and large, I ignore the reading. What I care about is the trend.


And that’s it. It takes me five minutes each day. Every so often, usually at the end of every month, I look at how I did. I can see easily what my eating habits were and what effect that had on my weight.3 Nudge, nudge, nudge.

1 I used to do this in a Google Spreadsheet, but I find it much easier to work with as an Excel document kept in my Dropbox.

2 It’s so uncommon that I want to eat the “no more than 1x monthly” foods that they almost don’t need to be there.

3 In prior months I looked at running mileage too, but since I’m not running much right now, I’m leaving that out.


How Big Is That Book?

Rob’s comment on yesterday’s post made me realize I should explain a little more about how books get into my reading queue. There are any number of ways that I might become interested in a book, and the best way for a book to sustain that interest is if there’s a Kindle version available. I’ve fallen in love with the “Send sample now” feature of the Kindle store; it’s exposed me to a ton of books that I wouldn’t have otherwise picked up. More importantly, it’s given me a chance to dig into both the style and substance of a book to see if it’s really what I think it is.1 If the sample intrigues me, it goes on the “potentially buy” list, along with a subject heading and a rating within that category.

Once a book crosses a particular interest threshold2, I’ll estimate it. This means I need to own a copy or be able to get it from the library.3 I’ll spend five minutes reading the table of contents and skimming the book to get a sense of structure and presentation. Then I’ll open the book to a random chapter and spend ten minutes reading. At the end of ten minutes, I’ll count how many pages I’ve read and do some simple math to determine roughly how long it will take to read the whole thing. I’ll use this calculation, plus a rough guess of how long I’ll need to take notes on it4 to determine how many points the book is.

That’s the system. It’s simple, and it works well, even for electronic books.5 Of the twenty-five books I used the system on in 2011, it gave me correct number of points for all of them.6

1 Also, a curse upon (mostly academic) publishers whose Kindle samples consist solely of the table of contents, acknowledgments, and a forward by someone who isn’t the author of the book. This tells me nothing.

2 Usually meaning it’s in my top ten, but not always.

3 And yes, I do have a well-worn library card.

4 Assuming it’s the kind of book I’ll take notes on, i.e. most professional books.

5 The Kindle’s percentage system works perfectly well in place of page count.

6 Because of course I track estimated versus actual.