The Summer of Fitness

For the last four years, I have been on a roller-coaster fitness track, attempting to lower my weight, improve my fitness, and stave off the genetically predisposed obesity diseases that run in my family (i.e., diabetes mainly). While chatting with my wife over lunch the other day, I realized that the highs and lows in this experience fall neatly into stages, which I’ve decided to name like movies…hence, welcome to the Fuck Fat series.

Stage One, which I’m now calling “Fuck Fat I: Portion Control, Dumbass!” started in August 2007 and lasted until August 2008. Counting calories, trying to eat out less, and cutting down on processed foods, I went from a starting weight of 285 lbs to 241 lbs, which works out to roughly 3.67 lbs per month during that stretch. For most of that, I was not engaging in any sustained exercise; it as all about the eating. Some time in April 2008, I started going to the gym regularly, but without much purpose behind what I was doing while there. Nevertheless, it allowed me to establish an equilibrium weight in the 240s.

After Fuck Fat I ended, my attention to portion control and calorie counting waned but exercise remained less haphazard. I was freeway flying for a Visiting Assistant Professorship (VAP) at Western Michigan University, commuting two hours and fifteen minutes one way a couple of times a week. This made it more difficult to keep losing weight, but at least I wasn’t gaining too much either. By July 2009, I was weighing in at 250 lbs.

Stage Two, which I’m now calling “Fuck Fat II: Feel the Burn” lasted from July-November 2009. Using fitday.com to better track my food intake and a more structured weight lifting program designed by Emanuele Solito, a fitness trainer then at CMU’s Student Activity Center (SAC), I went from a starting weight of 250 lbs to 223 lbs at the beginning of November, which works out to roughly 1.67 lbs a week for sixteen weeks. In addition, my body was in much better shape than it had ever been, with less fat and more muscle packed onto my frame. I almost actually had abs! Between Fuck Fat I and II, I had shed 62 lbs. Not bad at all.

Since then, my discipline has slowly eroded, resulting inevitably in weight gain. While I was fairly consistent with the weight lifting program through 2010, my eating habits grew steadily worse. Freeway flying for a VAP at Grand Valley State University these last two years hasn’t helped much in this regard. Since December 2009, I have gone from my low of 223 lbs to today’s weight of 251.6 lbs, which works out to almost 30 lbs in a year and a half. Some of this has been muscle from weight lifting, but not enough of it. This last semester (Jan-April 2011), I have packed on nearly 9 lbs alone. Clearly this cannot continue…

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What I have been going through the last four years is nothing new. I have never been the most fit dude in my life. I have always oscillated wildly between extremes for my weight, fitness level, and eating habits on a regular basis.

As a young child (4-7) I was fairly skinny (bag a bones really, or so I’ve been told). As a tweener (8-12) I started to plump out more (thanks to Grandma’s cooking and Mello Yello). And as a teenager I was fairly hefty (thank the gods I was tall and could distribute the weight more evenly), reaching 273 lbs by the time I started college at Central Michigan University in the fall of 1993.

In college, I had my first major swing in weight level, losing 78 lbs in roughly four months between my freshman and sophomore years, mainly due to illness and working a twelve-and-a-half hour a day factory job for the summer in bum-fuck Ohio. For the rest of my undergraduate years, I largely maintained a consistent weight around 210 lbs or so (for the ladies and any gay crushes obviously; hey, college is about rutting, or so I’ve been told).

However, in graduate school my weight began to climb again. This is because grad school makes you fat, a fact which most of them do not advertise in their brochures and should. By the time I graduated with my PhD in May 2007, I had exceeded my previous high of 273 lbs, ballooning up to 285 lbs and producing pictures like this:

Dr. Andrew D. Devenney, receiving his PhD diploma in a ceremony at Central Michigan University on 5 May 2007.

 

In fact, it was this picture of Whale Devenney that made me finally decide to do something about my grad school bloat, thus launching the posthumously labeled Fuck Fat series.

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So, as Lenin might ask, What Is To Be Done? My answer is what I am now calling “Fuck Fat III: The Summer of Fitness.” This summer, with a slightly relaxed teaching schedule and, frankly, less cash on hand to blow on stupid shit, I have an opportunity to focus intently on my health and fitness this summer, and that’s what I’m going to do. I plan to rededicate myself to the weight lifting program I left by the wayside this past semester and be rigorous about my eating habits.

The difference this time is that I plan to document more fully my experiences in the Fuck Fat series here on my blog. Every Monday, I will make a post about my weigh-in, evaluate my progress (or lack thereof), and discuss whatever I want about the whole experience.

The goal is fairly straightforward. From May to August 2011, I want to lose 30 lbs. I have clearly done this before; thus I damn well can do it again. Publicly talking about this endeavor on my blog should add an extra layer of motivation/public shame/whatever (but hopefully not blubber). I also plan to document the changes (if any) with pictures, which I may or may not post as well (thus adding a whole new variable of shame/embarrassment to the equation).

Today’s starting weight baseline is 251.6 lbs. By the end of August 2011, I hope to be 221.6 lbs. See you in a week.

Coders and Girl Geeks and Luddites, Oh My: Great Lakes THATCamp 2011

Yesterday, I attended the first day session of Great Lakes THATCamp 2011, a regional unconference hosted at Michigan State University. Originally spun off from the Mother Ship THATCamp (aka Prime) first organized by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University in 2008, this user-generated unconference brings together humanists and technologists for chatting, kvetching, and plotting about digital humanities and the intersection of teaching, research, and technology. It was my first experience with an academic meeting of this type, and I want to pass along a few observations I have and some resources I discovered while in attendance.

First off, I have to say that I find the whole structure and style of the gathering refreshing on a number of levels. The unconference is largely user-generated with scheduling done collaboratively as a group during the first session (a wheeling, chaotic scrum that I thought at one point was going to become Academic Thunderdome) and new sessions popping up as participants saw fit to add them. The whole ambiance and organization of traditional academic conferences comes across as stultifying and inorganic to me, dominated by a series of one-way discourses for preening academics to give papers that no one has read beforehand and largely won’t read afterward. I personally get more out of listening to and participating in academic confabs than passively hearing someone read a paper, so this format was rather appealing to me. I can, however, understand how some might find this messy and unorganized, with organically developed sessions morphing and shifting into something not entirely useful because of their unstructured nature (for example, see this post published by a GL camper during today’s activities). One has to be willing to go with the flow when it comes to a THAT Camp apparently.

I attended a number of interesting and not-so-interesting sessions. The most useful to me were the sessions on Digital Pedagogy and what became called Digivangelism. During the Digital Pedagogy session, campers showed off a number of nifty ideas they used in integrating digital tools into their online and bricks-and-mortar classes. This included the use of a collaborative class Twitter account in a course on contemporary Ireland (@IRST30109); the use of Flickr and geotagging in an ecology course; and a healthy dose of Blackboard hate. The following was also a nice, salient point regarding the weaknesses of Blackboard vis-à-vis a long-term course blog:

Awesome point by Paul Martin: Blackboard has no continuity, whereas a course blog can go for years. http://bit.ly/kyWgli
@amandafrench
Amanda French

Another really cool idea floated was the following:

Using Jing to comment on student papers and then the students see the screen cast. I can dig it. #digped #GLThatCamp #THATCamp
@trentmkays
Trent M Kays

A brief round-up of the session, including more links to some of the web resources displayed can be found on the main Great Lakes THATCamp website here.

In the Digivangelism session, the discussion centered around brainstorming ways to encourage non-digitally savvy academic colleagues to embrace the use of digital tools in their academic lives (a topic I’m keenly interested in lately). The notes for the session, compiled by Amanda French, can be found here. Nominally the topic I came to the camp prepared to discuss, I amusingly enough found people constantly making many of my points right before I planned to say them; good to know I’m on the same wavelength when it comes to Digivangelism then.

Ironically, the best session I participated in was not a formal session at all, but rather a lunch discussion on games, gamification, and the drama of Dungeons and Dragons with a couple of campers I randomly sat down to eat with (props to Sean O’Brien, Nathan Kelber, and Shawn Graham for the great lunchtime talk).

All in all, I found my experience yesterday stimulating and fruitful, but also a bit exhausting (particularly when technical discussions transcended my capacity to focus and interpret). The camp continues later today on Sunday, but I will most likely not be attending (a combination of end-of-semester grading hell and a exhaustion-induced headache that won’t go away has eroded my desire to drive back down to East Lansing tomorrow morning, which is a shame because the session on “Money, Morality, Technology, Education” sounds intriguing). I’m already looking forward to next year’s camp. Kudos to everyone involved!

Edumacation Plan of Action

Per usual, as a school year winds down, I find myself thinking way too much about what changes I want to make to my classes, my classroom pedagogy, or whatever for next year. This is a problem because I should really take some time to decompress and ignore school for a little while (this particular school year has been trying on a number of levels, but I’m teaching summer courses, so I’m largely fucked when it comes to vacation).

So below are a number of changes I’m thinking of making for the next school year, some of which will debut in my summer course. I’m putting this here in the hopes that disgorging it from my head will allow me to focus on other shizz…we shall see, I guess.

First Day of Class in a Computer Lab: The next time someone comes up to me and says that Millennial students are digital natives I’m going to punch them in the fucking face. It’s not true in the slightest. Messing around on iPods or smartphones to play games and inject social media ooze into their brains does not mean these students have any idea how to navigate the web or use digital tools and resources to work effectively. This became glaringly obvious to me as I have evaluated the student response to my Devenney Teaching Hub website. I am most assuredly biased in this, but the site architecture for the Teaching Hub is so simple and straightforward as to be utterly boring, and yet some students were still unable to navigate it effectively. Part of my solution to this (aside from some design tweaks I am also doing) is to start the first day of all my classes in a computer lab in order to introduce the digital components in a more structured manner while walking them through the particulars of registering for the course website, signing up for Twitter, or whatever.

Ironically enough, we move from that digital humanities-esque enlightened perspective to…

Banning all Electronic Devices in Classroom: In the past, I have never cared much either way whether students texted in class or played on laptops or whatnot, provided they were not disturbing their classmates who did give a shit about their learning. I always viewed this as the electronic equivalent of doodling on your paper and moved on. However, this relaxed attitude on my part has become more and more abused in my classes lately. The final straw I think was seeing students in my upper level course this last semester plugging away at laptops while the class was working through group discussion activities. The typical student answer to this is to claim they can multitask just fine, but more and more research continues to appear demonstrating that this is not true and that student multitaskers actually decrease their cognitive and scholarly aptitude (i.e. they learn less and not as well). As such, let the banning began! That said, I think I will be somewhat flexible about this as I am not particularly keen on punishing those students who do use their tech resources responsibly during class. I am going to ban phones/smartphones, but allow laptops and e-book readers. However, during class group activities and discussion, laptops must be closed. And this will all be enforced with a progressive punishment system of some sort. Whether this will work or merely be a finger in a collapsing dike is another question.

I have a few other ideas mulling about in my head, mostly to do with changing the topic structure of some of my courses for next year, but I’ll save that for another post. I’ll simply finish by noting that in some way, shape, or form, I will work this video clip into the first day of my classes as well. Enjoy:

Link of the Day for April 29th: High School vs. College

This is what you should be looking at today:

Link of the Day for April 24th: Nuclear Architecture

This is what you should be looking at today:

  • Nuclear waste: Keep out – for 100,000 years | The Guardian — “We like to think of our architectural treasures as milestones of human progress. The Egyptian pyramids, say, or the Eiffel Tower. Perhaps we imagine a Planet of the Apes-like scenario where our ruined monuments will stand as testament to our civilisation long after we’re gone. But what will most probably outlive anything else we have ever built will be our nuclear legacy. Whatever its pros and cons as an energy source, one thing that’s non-negotiable about nuclear power is the construction it necessitates. Less than a century after we first split the atom, we’re now coming to appreciate the vast technological, engineering, financial and political resources nuclear technology demands. In terms of scale, complexity and longevity, much of this stuff makes Dubai’s Burj Khalifa look like a sandcastle.”

Link of the Day for April 13th: Cornell Note-Taking Method

This is what you should be looking at today (despite its age), particularly if you are one of my students:

  • Geek to Live: Take study-worthy lecture notes — “Copying class notes after the fact is a time-consuming way to study for an exam, but it was the only thing that truly worked for me back in college. But next week I’ll be in a classroom again for the first time in 8 years, pen poised over notebook, and this time I’m going to perfect a strategy that gets my notes right the first time: the Cornell Note-taking method.”

Where do I put this on my CV?

Taken from a series of tweets showcasing Twitterstorians for people to follow on Twitter:

Of course, you know the blue-eyed history ninja himself, @adevenney (sorry ladies, he's married) #twitterstorians
@katrinagulliver
Katrina Gulliver

Nerd Talk, March 2011

Earlier today, I gave a presentation to the GVSU History Department faculty colloquium dealing with my groping attempts the last few years to integrate digital humanities methods and thinking into my academic life. The title of the talk is, tongue firmly in cheek, “Cake or Death?: A Personal Look at Embracing the Academic Digital Life.” For anyone interested in what kind of amused ramblings I can make about a topic I kinda sorta understand, you can find a PDF of my remarks below, along with a list of pertinent links (i.e. websites I used for and in the talk). Comments, criticisms, suggestions, and compliments are welcome.

PDF: Cake or Death?: A Personal Look at Embracing the Academic Digital Life

Relevant Links

Death By Chocolate Cake Photo Credit

Chris Forster, “I’m Chris, Where Am I Wrong?” from HASTAC.org

Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0

Wikipedia, “Social Media”

Brad King, “What is Social Media?”

Eddie Izzard YouTube clip, “Cake or Death?”

Kyle Munkittrick, “The First Decade of the Future is Behind Us” from Science Not Fiction.

Twitter

Warren Ellis, “Twitter: A Drainage Gully for Mental Slurry”

GVSU World History Round-Up

Devenney Teaching Hub