Writing

Writing

I didn’t start appreciating quality writing until well after the conclusion of my formal education. I met most of my required reading through school with zero enthusiasm. Someone could put exquisitely creative language in front of me and I would respond with little more than recognition of its existence. Typically, if there was any interest at all, it was centered around the plot – and even my plot awareness was shallow. I remember thinking that the Great Gatsby was a fun book about a really happy guy who liked parties.

I’m not sure when this changed, but my current respect for language couldn’t be more opposite from what it once was. I am extremely envious of those skilled persons who can craft the perfect combination of words to perfectly describe anything: emotion, experience, action, inaction.

Recently, I was exposed to David Foster Wallace’s “This is Water” commencement speech. Shortly thereafter I came across this Rolling Stones article telling of his life and last days. It talks about the origin of some of his brilliant phrasing skills. The Rolling Stones article linked me to his Cruise Ship Piece which communicates so cleanly David Foster Wallace’s absolutely refreshing perspective. And this article is just that: An article! I have to try my hand at Wallace’s books. I can only imagine the vibrancy captured in their pages.

I know there’s more amazing word craft out there. I need to find more time to read beautiful language. It inspires.

The Fast and the Laborious

The Fast and the Laborious

Timeline of my second 70 hour fast attempt:

Wednesday 8/5/2020
8:30pm: Dinner ended around 6:30, but my last food occured at 8:30pm: One serving of almonds as dessert. Let’s get this party started.

Thursday 8/6/2020
7:00am: Breakfast? Nah. No need. Had some water. Feeling good.

11:21am: My first twang of hunger has come across not as a growling stomach or as an ache for food but instead as a quiet thought of “oooh, it’s almost lunch time.”

1:45pm: I smell some coffee. It smells delicious

2:41pm: My second twang of hunger. I’d enjoy a snack. This urge will pass.

4:30pm: I feel a little weak. Not, like, crazy weak just mildly fatigued. If you outta nowhere invited me to attend a Crossfit class I’d probably opt out.

6:30pm: My stomach growls for the first time but I’m still feeling pretty good.

9:00pm: bedtime.

Friday 8/7/2020
2:45am: I fell asleep without any issues, but here I am now awake. This poor quality sleep is very similar to last time and is expected. If I can make it through today I’m curious if tonight will be just as bad (or worse) or if I’ll get some quality back as a recovery night.

7:00am: I didn’t get back to sleep, but my morning is going better than last time. My meditation session was okay. I opted for some small body weight exercise instead of attempting weights. We’ll see how the morning goes.

8:27am: I did better at reducing caffeine before this fast. I started 3 days prior and reduced it as follows: Sunday: 2oz espresso (my normal dose), Monday: 1oz espresso, Tuesday: .5oz espresso, Wednesday .25oz espresso. The had an afternoon of irritation Monday but otherwise was okay. Next time I’ll add an extra day at 1.5oz. No caffeine headaches at all this time around.

10:00am: I’m feeling good! But I think mentally I might be operating a few sandwiches short of a picnic, if you know what I’m saying. I’m sure it’s not coincidence that the first analogy that popped to mind was a food one.

1:30pm: Feeling a little lightheaded when I stand up after sitting for awhile. Bizarrely, I’m not hungry. The idea of food appeals to me greatly, but I’m not hangry. This is surprising to me.

6:00pm: I just had a pang of hunger, but I wonder if it was habit driven again. It passed. Anytime I feel hungry I push some water. I’m drinking about 100oz of water a day. Occasionally I’ll add a pinch of salt to the water to help my electrolytes, though this is anecdotal and highly unscientific.

Saturday 8/8/20
6:45am: Another bad night of sleep. After a fitful night, I ended up waking up at 5, but I fell back asleep for a few minutes before waking up again at 6:15. I am extremely confident that I will make it through the day. Other than the tiredness, I feel totally fine.

10:45am: We completed a hike. Me carrying Ava in a backpack. Other than maybe a general slowness of operation, I feel completely normal. This is great.

12:30pm: After thinking this over a bit, I think I’m going to stop my fast at 68 hours. Coming back into a state of sustenance is suppose to be slow elongated process. I want to start back in with hourly eating. Waiting too late will limit the number of small eating events before bed.

1:45pm: I’m definitely irritable. My patience is limited and I’m finding myself mildly lashing out at minor infractions. Nothing crazy, but it’s noticeable. 4:30pm is right around the corner. I look at my watch every 15 minutes.

4:30pm: I did it! I did it! Woooooooo! Time to celebrate with some delicious bone broth and a serving of almonds! We’re also are making pizza tonight. I’ll have a tiny piece of pizza at 5:30. Then an egg. Then some blueberries.

5:45pm: Okay. The pizza was a terrible idea – kind of. It was the most delicious pizza I’ve ever made (and not just because of the fast! I’ve been experimenting with my grilled pizza technique and I think I’ve greatly improved the quality). The size slice I had was smaller than a deck of cards but DANG. It feels like a bowling ball in my stomach. As I looked into this more it seems complex carbs are a bad idea after an extended fast. Next time it’s not just going to be the size of meal that I control after a fast but the type of food. I’ll keep it to veggies, proteins, and simple grains.

10:30pm: I opted to stay up later tonight to try and increase my sleep pressure to get a better quality sleep.

Sunday 8/9/20
5:40am: Okay, that didn’t work. My sleep was horrendous. I was hot and uncomfortable. I wonder if this relates to the pizza.

General Sunday update: Felt good for most of the day. Had some stomach discomfort, but kept things simple and light for the most part. My dinner Sunday night was TOO big. I find it interesting that I had an easier time controlling the fast than I did controlling the reintroduction of food. I’m very confident that I could do this better.

Monday 8/10/20
General Monday update: Another HORRIFIC sleep. This time I woke up sweating with panic. I don’t know if it related to my overly large dinner last night (comparatively) or some other external factor. But… no bueno. Again, I must reiterate: I need a stronger discipline in my eating ramp next time around.

Curiously: I had a much more significant weight loss than I expected. I am already quite lean and I expected maybe a 2-3 pound dip. At the start I was 132.5lbs and at my conclusion I was 127. That’s 5.5 pounds: Geeeeeze. Also curiously, this low point was the day AFTER my fast conclusion. I can’t explain this. Perhaps it was because even with some food introduction I was still in a calorically reduced state.

Tuesday 8/11/20
FINALLY: a great night of sleep. As of Tuesday morning I came back up to 129.5lbs. Presumably some of my weight loss was nothing more than a lack of food going through the digestive system but it’s interesting nonetheless. I’m not trying to lose weight, in fact I’m trying to gain weight. I’m curious to see how quickly I can get back to my previous weight. In order to grow mass I need to push consumption.

So far, Tuesday has felt completely normal. That means I need to plan for two FULL days of recovery time for a three day fast. Interesting. Next month we try again!

A FASTcinating Experiment

A FASTcinating Experiment

In a previous post I mentioned that I was interested in attempting a 72 hour water only autophagy fast. A few months back I completed a 24 hour fast without any issue and wanted to push it to three days. Ultimately, my goal is a 72 hour fast once a month. The plan would be to start each fast on or around the first of each month. I decided to make July 1st my first attempt. My last meal was dinner on June 30th. Did I succeed with 72 hours? No. I stopped at 45 hours. Here’s how it all went down.

Preparation: in advance to the fast my only specific goal was to reduce caffeine reduction so that I wouldn’t have to deal with headaches on top of the stomach woes. I cut my caffeine two days prior by half, and then half again. I think this worked pretty well though next time around I’ll extend the caffeine draw down by an extra two days.

I opted to take the three days off from work. I didn’t want to be driving in a weakened state and since this was my first attempt I thought it prudent to be as cautious as possible. In retrospect, this was probably a bad idea. I think in the future I’ll schedule it so that I always start my fast on a Thursday. That way I have the distraction of work to keep me from getting as hungry for the first and second day. At least, I think that’s how I will approach my next attempt. There was a constant behavioral draw to go get a snack. “Oh! I’m home and it’s afternoon, snack time!” that sort of thing. If I can avoid that through situational control that would be preferred.

My last meal on June 30th was simple and basic: seasoned chicken breast, couscous, roasted veggies and some plain yogurt with berries for dessert. I didn’t eat huge quantities, just simple and standard.

Day 1:
Day 1 was straightforward and not particularly challenging. I was hungry at times but not in great discomfort. With my fasting commitment established I had no issue avoiding the urge to eat. Anytime I got hungry I drank some water and felt fine. I had a LITTLE caffeine headache, but it definitely wasn’t as bad as it would have been if I’d cut coffee completely at the same time as cutting food.

Sleep: Sleep, however, was rough. My stomach felt like a deflated balloon. I wasn’t feeling hunger, just discomfort. The discomfort was mild, certainly less than a stomach ache. I would describe it as a sustained feeling of ugh. I woke up around 11:30 feeling very hot and couldn’t get back to sleep until 2:00ish.

Day 2:
Hard, but not impossible. Again, I was not hungry, though the discomfort remained and over the course of the day it was joined by weakness and sluggishness. I started the day as I always do: with meditation and exercise. You’re not suppose to stop exercising through a fast, but whoa nelly: My exercising was terrible. Actually, so too was the meditation. I was extremely distracted, felt overly hot, and couldn’t concentrate.

The second morning I felt weak and was worried about dizziness though it never really came about. We went on a small hike and I felt okay through that. By noontime I was thinking it wouldn’t be too tough to make it through the night into day 3.

But… then I got a sore throat. Suddenly drinking water tasted like drinking daggers. It was bizarre. It felt like strep and my mind immediately went to strep or covid.

A lot of things change when your body is in ketosis. One of these changes is that your immune system reduces in effectiveness during the fast. Your body consumes some of its white blood cells for energy, so you have fewer fighting in your corner in case you’re sick. Curiously, AFTER a longer fast, research tends to suggest that your immune system gets a reboot. But given that I knew I’d be entering into the lowest immune period of the fast, I got spooked with the sore throat and opted to stop.

Stopping: You’re not suppose to come off a fast with a buffet. You take it slow with small meals spread out over time. At 5:00pm on Wednesday I started with a 1/2 Cup of bone broth. An hour later I had half a hardboiled egg. An hour after that, a 1/3 of a chicken breast and a 1/3 of a cup of couscous, and then after that the remaining half of the hardboiled egg and a few almonds. This was a perfect eating restart schedule and I’ll repeat it.

Sleep: My sleep was again poor. But I’m not surprised, the sum of the fast breaking “meals” was only 450 calories, so my stomach still wasn’t back to normal. I woke up at 3:00, unable to get back to sleep.

Recovery day: The following day I continued spreading out meals. Breakfast took place over four hours and consisted of a cup of coffee, 6 almonds, two hardboiled eggs, 1 serving of plain oatmeal, and a 1/2 cup of cooked spinach. At 10, I had some BadaBeanBadaBooms (delicious nutricious) and an hour later a banana and two servings of peanuts.

When you spread that list of food out over the course of 4 hours it doesn’t sound like a lot, but the banana&peanuts crushed my stomach. Next time I’ll split that last snack in two and extend it out over additional hours. For lunch I had more small portions and was back to full meal volume that night. NOTE: My nutritionist recommended keeping meals trim and frequent for TWO days, not one. Next time I’ll try to be more careful. I think I was a little reckless with my dinner on July 3rd. (it was bbq burgers and they were soooo delicious)

Conclusion:

Interesting. Educational. Hard, but not impossible. The bizarre sore throat went away within 24 hours of restarting food. I wonder if it might have been some sort of heightened reaction to seasonal allergies due to lack of food? I don’t know. I’m curious to see if I get the same horrific sore throat next time. If so, I’ll likely cut the fast short again – I acknowledge being cautious as I start down this path is prudent.

Also, maybe it seems semantic, but moving forward I’ll refer to these attempts for what they are: 70 hour fasts. I ended my food at 7:00pm on June 30th with the intent of starting back up at 5:00pm on July 3rd. I plan to keep that same goal moving forward.

Introduction to the Board/Piece Value

Introduction to the Board/Piece Value

This may seem massively elementary, but taking some time to better understand the chess board has merit.

The chess board is a simple 8×8 board with two alternating color complexes: light and dark.

Columns are called Files, Rows are called Ranks

How to rotationally orient the board? Remember: “lower right should be light”

The files are identified with letters a-h and the ranks are numbered 1-8. In notation, files and ranks are absolute though, curiously, ranks are occasionally referred to in a relative sense when talking about generic strategy.

Examples:
The ‘a’ File is the leftmost column when you’re white and the rightmost column when you’re black
The 1st rank is the row that the white king starts on. The 8th rank is the row the black king starts on.
Occasionally when talking strategy, users will say something like “Get your rooks to the 7th rank!”. In this case, the rank is considered relative.

Tangent: Chess Notation!

Chess moves are recorded with a standard nomenclature using these identifiers:

King = K
Queen = Q
Bishop = B
Knight = N *ooooh phonetic
Pawn = none

So, Nf6 means white has moved their knight to f6
e4 means that white has moved their pawn to e4

If two pieces can move to the same location the notation prefaces the destination with the departure file like this: Nbd2 this would mean the knight on the b file is moving to d2.

Sometimes if the file of the pieces is the same they will use rank. And in rare cases where the board is whacko (extra promoted pieces everyhwere) they will use both.

Extra fun notation:

x means capture: Bxe4 (bishop is capturing the piece on e4)
0-0 means castling king-side
0-0-0 means castling queen-side
+ means check
# means checkmate
= pawn promotion, like this: e8=Q. This means the pawn moved to e8 and was promoted to Queen

In this manner a chess game can be written out like this:

  1. e4 e5
  2. Nf3 Nc6
  3. Bb5 a6
    etc…

To derive the greatest understanding from board exploration, it helps to understand the value of the individual pieces. Let’s take a look:

Note: the King is undefined because if you lose your king, you’ve lost the game. So it’s kinda infinite?

What does “value” mean? Value helps you understand typically how helpful a piece is on the board. Simply speaking if you had an option to exchange a rook for a bishop and a knight you could do some quick math: 3+3 > 5. So yeah, that’s a good deal go for it. But… it doesn’t always work perfectly because piece position matters. Think about it, if you have a pawn about to promote to queen it’s definitely worth more than 1 point. We’ll save in depth positional analysis for the future, but now we can head back to the board itself to see how position affects value in a broad sense.

Sometimes people describe the board as a pyramid where the strongest squares are in the middle with power waning as you move to the edges. This is true for the most part. Think about it geometrically. A bishop in one of the center four squares can move to 13 other squares. A bishop on the edge can only move to 7 squares. The same is even more true for a knight. A knight in the center covers 8 squares. A knight in the corner? Only 2. The power of a piece has a lot to do with its position and the resulting influence it carries over the rest of the board.

The general positional advantage of the center. This is also specific for square dominance for the Bishop (and the queen)
The positional value of a Knight.
NOTE: the b2, b7, f2 & f7 squares I rate as “horrible” even though they have a slightly higher positional value compared to their outward neighbors because of specific disadvantages of the square as described in Jesus de la Villa’s 100 Endgames You Must Know

This is where we come up with the general rule of thumb: fight for the center. If you can navigate more of your pieces into the center they will be more effective and have more offensive/defensive capabilities.
Fun fact – another rule of thumb that relates to this: A knight on the rim is dim

Understanding the board and the value of the pieces helps us understand how to move our pieces. It is my understanding that this is how chess computers calculate the best move. They evaluate positions, rate them on a scale, and then calculate which moves improve the evaluation. Most simple chess engines rate a position down to the centipawn – that is, 1/100th of a pawn i.e. Position A is 36 centipawns better than Position B. CRAZY!

There are a few other unique facets of the bishop and knight beyond what we’ve already discussed. Let’s take a look

Knight

  1. Since Knight’s can jump, they tend to do better when the board is congested and locked up with pawns everywhere with no room for other pieces to move around. The Knight’s value increases when the board is cramped. There are specific pawn structures which we’ll look at later that are considered “closed” or “open”. Knights do best in closed cramped positions.

Bishop

  1. Because each bishop is confined to a single color complex, they work better together. For this reason if one of your bishop’s has been captured you may be at risk for a weakness that covers one color complex. For example if you lose your light squared bishop early in the game your opponent can place their pieces on light squares and have virtual immunity from your remaining dark square bishop
  2. Bishops can be easily stifled when other pieces (pawns in particular) get in their way. For this reason they operate in an opposite manner to knights: they do best in open uncramped positions
  3. Put those two together? As the game approaches its end, having the bishop pair in an open position is SUPER POWERFUL. I’m not sure if it’s still true, but some computers used to rate bishops as 3.4 points each at the start of the game for this reason. In some end games, a bishop pair can be so brutally oppressive that they carry more useful value than the rooks

We’ve spent a lot of time on the knight and bishop. What are the positional advantages of the other pieces? Here are a few more generalities:

Rooks

  1. Rooks are most valuable on open files, that is: files that don’t have any pawns on them. This means they tend to get more power and utility as the game progresses.
  2. Rooks are more valuable when they are connected (protecting each other) than when they are lone rogues
  3. Rooks tend to be powerhouses of destruction if they can both get to the 7th rank (relative)

Pawns

  1. Pawns are more valuable on the center files than the fringe files. The pawn in front of your queen is more likely to play an active role in the game than the pawn in front of your rook. This is where another rule of thumb arises: When you have the choice of which pawn to use when capturing an enemy pawn, capture TOWARDS the center.
  2. Pawns like to be near their friends. An isolated pawn (one that has no peers on the adjacent files) was long seen as a weakness, though I believe there’s some counter theory these days. Connected pawns, those that are protected by their peers, are much stronger. A string of connected pawns is called a pawn chain.
  3. A backwards pawn (I hate that name) is the last pawn in a pawn chain, the anchor so to speak, and is often a target of attack. I’m not sure if there’s much to be said about value here, just a hint to protect your backwards pawns and target your opponent’s backwards pawns
  4. A passed pawn is a pawn that can no longer be blocked or attacked by an opposing pawn (no opposing pawn in front of it, or in either adjacent file). A passed pawn is like an infection in your opponent’s wound. It will grow in power and impose graver and graver risk to your opponent as it gets closer to promotion on the 8th rank.
  5. Stacked pawns are two pawns on the same file. This occurs when one pawn moves diagonally in front of, or behind, its peer to capture a piece. Stacked pawns are generally seen as a weakness, though as with any generalization: it depends.

Queen

  1. Queens are powerful but fragile. They have the most influence in the center, but they are too delicate to get out early. Keep them back in the early part of the game and bring out their fury as you enter the middle game

King

  1. Kings are best tucked away in a corner via castling early in the game. But by the end of the game (once some/all of the major/minor pieces have been captured), get them active and get them to the center. A game can easily be won or lost with an active king in the endgame.

Where does all this lead us? The combination of the board, piece motion, and piece value provides a nice foundation for strategy. It provides a simple introduction on what’s a good piece vs a bad piece and how to tell the difference. Hopefully you’ve found it interesting. If you have any articles or books you’d recommend related to this topic, I welcome you to comment. Enjoy your games!