Archive for October, 2010

Wallpaper: Mario Star

Posted in Design, Games, Pictures on October 29, 2010 by Jim St Ruth

Click on the above image to open in a new window/tab – full image 1680×1050


Using the Gym: Breathing Exercises for Anxiety Sufferers

Posted in Fitness, General, Personal Development on October 27, 2010 by Jim St Ruth

One of the purposes of my blog was to try and log some of my progress in trying to lose some body fat, get fit and gain some muscle (I’m 5ft 5 with a pretty small frame and, once I’ve got my body fat down to where I want it, I don’t want to be as skinny as I once was).

Once of the hardest things, though, is using the gym. We’re pretty broke at the moment, so earlier in the year we bought a home gym to same some money over a couple of year’s worth of gym memberships. I can manage cycling ok, but I’m an anxiety sufferer and when I try to use the gym (or run, for that matter) my anxiety kicks in and I experience a pretty heavy amount of voice trouble and other physical symptoms.

All the voices are aimed at myself and being sworn at and criticised by supposedly dismbodied entities is not a good thing when you’re trying to do something to improve your health. It just feeds right back into itself and makes it all worse. Being unhappy with my body image, suffering from anxiety and voice trouble is a nasty cycle but one which I’m trying to break.

I’ve heard from reputable sources that the percent of people who suffer some form of voice trouble at some point in their lives could be as high as 30%… that’s a lot of people. Hence me blogging this. If it helps just one other person out then that’s a great thing to happen.

Back to exercising, then.

The reason my progress has been slower than I want is that on most occasions I’ve had to stop my workouts halfway through, or if I’m running I’ve had to prematurely cut the running segment of my interval training short. If my partner’s not around to just come sit with me, I just couldn’t progress and I’ve had to stop. Cue feedback loop and nasty, externalised self-criticism.

I’ve had a lot of good advice, over the past few years in particular. It’s still surprising, though, when someone (usually my partner) says something that’s really great, and I always come away thinking that’s so obvious, why didn’t I try that!

His idea is really simple and it works: just a simple breathing exercise.

Start with your warm up and then, before you go any further, close your eyes, relax and take ten relaxing, deep breaths. Don’t rush them, it’s just like doing reps – steady and focused. Then start your routine, but pause after each set, close your eyes and repeat the ten-deep-breaths.

It’s been really useful: keeping my anxiety levels at a manageable level and, important too, it’s allowed me to keep a much better focus on my form during each set of exercises. I can do each exercise more slowly and in a more controlled and aware manner… and I don’t have to call Paul through to sit with me. He doesn’t get dragged away from what he’s doing, and I get to me more confident, independant and focused on something that’s become very important to me: managing my own health.

Meal Idea: Jerk Cod and Prawns

Posted in Cooking on October 27, 2010 by Jim St Ruth

No photo, I’m afraid… will try better next time!

I’ve undertaken most of the cooking at home, as I’m not working it gives my partner more time to do his own thing whilst I’m cooking. I’m approaching 35 and both of us have been trying to look after ourselves much more; but exercise is obviously only part of the equation. Since we started eating more healthily, I’ve noticed a definate improvement in my health – more energy, better sleeping habits and a much better resistance to colds.

Here’s the general meal plan for the week, which on top of the exercise helps to ensure plenty of fruit and veg, protein, and it keeps our saturated fat under control.

  1. 2 x chicken meals
  2. 3 x fish meals
  3. 1 x red meat meal
  4. 1 x meat free meal

I plan our meals a month or two in advance, which helps keep the cost of shopping under control – and helps plan frozen leftovers into our diet for those days when I really can’t be bothered to cook. One of the hardest, yet most fun parts of the meal plan is finding a diverse range of meals that we like, and where we can use the main ingredients for other things. Again, helping on cost and helping to stop our main meals from getting too repetetive.

Living right next to Rusholme and Fallowfield helps – there are plenty of cheaper supermarkets to buy most of the shopping at, with a great range of herbs and spices to go with them… and a bigger supermarket for a few of the things that the smaller supermarkets in Rusholme don’t stock.

So, here’s one of the fish meals that we’re both fond of :

Jerk cod and prawns with carrots and mashed sweet potato.

  1. Take a couple of sweet potatoes, peel them and chop into about 3cm chunks – just small enough so that you don’t have to boil the sweet potatoes for too long.
  2. Start boiling the chopped sweet potatoes – they’ll take around ten minutes to soften.
  3. Chop a large carrot, place in a microwaveable tub (those tubs from chinese takeaways are ideal). Add a little water and get ready to microwave them as soon as you start frying the cod – they take 7 minutes to get soft, but not squishy.
  4. Frozen prawns – cheaper and larger prawns can me found at smaller supermarkets. These don’t need too long to defrost, just 10 – 15 minutes in in a bowl of cold water should do the trick.
  5. Cod stakes – 1 each. Tesco do some great frozen cod steaks in their Low GI range, they’re pretty cheap too. Cook them from frozen, so that by the time they’re cooked they’re flaky but don’t fall apart in the pan.
  6. Find some jerk spices – you can get these at larger supermarkets – and put approx 1 x desert spoon per cod steak in a little oil in the pan.
  7. Fry the cod on a high heat and turn regularly, using a fork to tell when the insides are unfrozen.
  8. While the cod is frying, drain the sweet potatoes and mash them with some butter or spread, adding ground pepper to taste.
  9. Take the cod steaks out and add the prawns to the pan. There should still be a little oil and some already fried jerk spices in the bottom of the pan. Don’t be afraid to add more if you need to, but the spices tend to be hot and a lot of flavour will have been picked up by the oil and the fish.
  10. Wait until the prawns are pink on one side and then turn them over. Because prawns are pretty small, once the whole surface is pink, they’re done – they don’t need very long at all, and it’s very easy to over cook them.
  11. Everything should be ready now, and because the prawns take only a minute, the cod should still be hot.
  12. Serve!

In writing this, I was concious that a lot of people know how to cook, so you’ll know a lot of the information above. When I started cooking, though, I didn’t have much of a clue and, although I’m more confident than I was, I still appreciate thinking through a simple step-by-step plan before I start. Cooking’s generally not hard, and the above idea certainly isn’t, but that extra detail might help those of you who, like me, want to try different ideas whilst building up a bit more confidence.

Responding to Richard Dawkins’ Speech About the Pope’s Visit to the UK

Posted in General on October 15, 2010 by Jim St Ruth

I’m an agnostic by nature – and by reason.

I hold no religious beliefs, I have spiritual beliefs though and I respect those that do and don’t hold religious and/or spiritual beliefs. Richard Dawkins annoys me because he insults people with and without faith by seeming to assume aethism is the only rational belief, and that it should take no process of reasoning to be an aetheist.

He also seems to believe that the questions around being and spirituality that many learned and not so learned men and women have explored for thousands of years are pointless, and not to be respected. He also assumes that everyone should hold the same ideas as he, when those beliefs seem far from the rational and liberal beliefs that he thinks they are.

My partner’s just published a thorough and thought provoking response to Richard Dawkins’ speech on the Pope’s visit to the UK on his blog. It’s well worth a read.

ZBrush Shuttle Sculpt

Posted in 3D, Design, General, Pictures, scifi, Stories, zbrush on October 6, 2010 by Jim St Ruth

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An hour’s sculpt while eating dinner… between FF14 and working on my next short story. The story is starting to make sense now. Dreams don’t always make good stories, even if the ideas are good ones. I was torn between writing Camel Lilies as the dream I had or as a ‘proper’ story, but I plumped for the story in the end. Translating it into something with a fuller narrative is taking more work than I thought, but when it’s done I think it will be worth the while.

It has nothing to do with the shuttle sculpt; or at least, the shuttle probably won’t feature in the story…

Final Fantasy 14 – Second Day, Third Character

Posted in Games on October 6, 2010 by Jim St Ruth

The first cold of the autumn seems to finally be over and I can finally get back to using the gym. I’m picking up the pace with my writing course and about to write another short story. My novel is out for some last thoughts with a few friends and the fish tank needs cleaning. We’re shopping locally, to save money, eat more fresh food and to get some exercise. All in all, life is kind of busy at the moment and I’m being fairly focused on my projects… but for a couple of hours a day, I’ve got a new escape.

Final Fantasy 14.

I’ve never played an MMORPG before, I’ve always been nervous about being around other players after a few bad experiences playing online shooters. I’ve always been worried that other players are far more skilled and levelled up than I am, so when Final Fantasy 14 was released last week I wasn’t sure about making the investment of my time and sparse cash on this kind of game.

I love Final Fantasy games in general, though, and because the game was just out I decided to go for it. I even sold my Grandma’s old crockery and some other odds and ends from our latest round of the Great Flat Clearout to pay for a new graphics card. Some fiddling under my desk, a failed new graphics card, a desperate bike ride to a PC component store for another card, and some more fiddling later, the game was installed and up… but not quite running. Square Enix want you to download game updates before you can actually play and, whilst I think that’s a great idea, I think that they should have plumped for a system that offered me a better general download speed than 5KB/s.

… So, the next day I could actually play the game and I have to say, after fifteen hours of fiddling with my PC and waiting for game updates, I wasn’t in the best of moods. To compound my bad mood, FF14 doesn’t really come with any instructions. You’re just dumped in the middle of a location and left to fend for yourself, with only minimal guides to battle, quests, or even what the small number of stats attached to your character actually mean. I spend four hours dying repeatedly because my character wasn’t strong enough to beat any quests, and the requirement to run long distances to get to them, only to die once again, was really putting a dampner on my fun.

This morning, however, I decided to start again; a spur of the moment decision to check that the other character classes weren’t much better than my cute human gladiator… He was actually pretty good and, initially annoyed that I’d just wasted four hoursĀ  that I’d have to repeat, I discovered that I could recreate the character and start from scratch…

It was the best decision I’d made.

Right from the word go, this time, everything made sense. I realised that I didn’t have to just go on quests, I could just level up from killing little marmoset and mushroom creatures, as long as no one else was trying to kill them at the time. I realised that if I put my sword away between battles, my health regenerated. I understood that for a non-magic user, the skill points I was earning were best spent on Strength, Dexterity and Vitality because they were the points that related to melee fighters.

Suddenly, running through the forest was fun. In an hour, I’d levelled up to a point higher than my first try, and completed four quests. I’d cheered a few other players who were fighting around me and, thanks to the kindess of an anonymous magic user that was passing by, I was stunning enemies whilst I fought them. I realised that it was fine if other players were at a higher level and that a lot of them were really nice people.

A tip for starting out though: In your initial landing location at a city, there will be an NPC that offers to take you to a local bar. This will get you into the game proper – but when you want to start accepting quests, there’s someone in that bar who will hand them out to you. You then have to go to a nearby camp/crystal to start the quest. This took me an hour to figure out! I guess I felt rushed into wanting to play after all the problems with my PC.

So, I can highly recommend the game and, if you’ve got a PS3, the game’s heading there next spring. Don’t be afraid to look around and don’t feel rushed into starting quests. If you level up a bit first, the game will be more fun and you’ll understand some of the things that Square Enix should have told you about at the start.

It is gorgeous too. In a sunlit glade, between fights, I had my character dance a little before sitting down for a well earned rest while I checked my email. As the sun went down, the sounds of birdsong andĀ  a breeze gently shaking the leaves of the huge trees around me dampened the arrival of my credit card statement, and left me serene enough to tackle the washing.