Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Value of Being Uncomfortable, revisited

Not long ago, I made some hand-waving, decidedly unscientific comments on the value of acute discomfort.

Yesterday, on Tim Ferriss' very popular blog, there is a post discussing the science of sauna exposure and improved health and performance. Among the highlights of that post:
One study demonstrated that a 30-minute sauna session two times a week for three weeks POST-workout increased the time that it took for study participants to run until exhaustion by 32% compared to baseline.
and...
two 15-minute sauna sessions at 100°C (212°F) dry heat separated by a 30-minute cooling period resulted in a five-fold increase in growth hormone.
Fifteen minutes in a 100°C sauna is pretty rough, but the point is that the exposure has to be difficult or prolonged enough to be uncomfortable. It's supposed to be difficult. And so it goes with exercise, fasting, or any other kind of physical stressor. Suffer, endure, recover.

What I found most interesting was that there is actually a "discomfort chemical" produced in the body, dynorphin:
Beta-endorphins are endogenous (natural) opioids that are a part of the body’s natural painkiller system, known as the mu opioid system, which block pain messages from spreading from the body to the brain in a process called antinociception. What is lesser known is that the body also produces a peptide known as dynorphin (a “kappa opioid”), which is generally responsible for the sensation of dysphoria. The discomfort experienced during intense exercise, exposure to extreme heat (such as in a sauna), or eating spicy food (capsaicin) is due to the release of dynorphin. The release of dynorphin causes an upregulation and sensitization of mu opioid receptors, which interact with beta-endorphin.46 This process is what underlies the “runner’s high” and is directly precipitated by the discomfort of physical exercise. 
Anyway, it's certainly not a scientific be-all and end-all on the matter, but it's an interesting read and potentially one more point in favour of acute discomfort.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Bigger, Faster, Stronger - why I no longer believe in banning steroids in sport

Over the weekend, I watched and quite enjoyed the 2008 documentary  Bigger Stronger Faster* on Netflix. I found it an honest assessment and good treatment regarding the controversy of steroids in professional and amateur sports, and enjoyed the combination of the director's personal anecdotes and paneling of relevant experts. I recommend watching it regardless of what side of the steroid debate you are on.

My own opinion on steroids in sport has changed significantly in the last couple of years. Not long ago, I was staunchly against steroid users. I thought all users were cheaters, that enforcement needed to be stepped up, and punishment needed to be harsher. I read the book Numbers Rule Your World, which included a chapter on how it was probable that the vast majority of steroid users are not caught, because Type 1 errors (false positives) are far more rare than Type 2 errors (false negatives). In a nutshell, the author argued that almost no one claiming innocence after testing positive is actually innocent, and that there are numerous athletes who are not testing positive but really are on the juice.

At some point, I started to change my mind on the issue. My position just didn't continue to make logical sense to me. It is definitely clear that steroid usage is in fact "cheating" in the sense that it is against the rules. But it's clear that not all forms of cheating are treated the same by sports fans. A basketball player who pushes the bounds of contact with his opponent but doesn't get whistled for a foul is not considered a cheater, he's considered a good defensive player. We have a culture of "it ain't cheating if you don't get caught", especially if you happen to be a fan of the individual committing the foul. And so it is with steroids. The most successful steroid users are those who are able to cycle off steroids in time, so that they don't get caught. What effectively is happening at this point with respect to steroids is that only the dumb, poor, or overly aggressive users are getting caught.

Difficulty in catching steroid users is not itself sufficient to argue that steroids should be legal, of course. Just because something is difficult to enforce does not mean you stop enforcing it, if it is deemed beneficial to do so.

The problem is that I no longer believe that it is beneficial to continue to try to ban steroids. The argument against steroids usually goes something like this:
  • Steroids create an unfair playing field between users and non-users.
  • As such, non-users would feel at a disadvantage; everyone would have to use, or risk being at a competitive disadvantage.
  • Steroids are dangerous/have dangerous side effects. If athletes feel compelled to use steroids, then you are encouraging these athletes to harm themselves.
  • Legalization would encourage children/teens to use them, since their idols would be known to use them.

The Unfair Playing Field

This argument is probably the most common, but the easiest to take apart. The playing field is not fair. Never has been, never will be. Some people were born with better genetics. Some people were born into a better socioeconomic path to athletic stardom. We like to think that with hard work, anyone can become a world champion in any sport, but the hard truth is it's bullshit. If you're not from a village in Kenya or Ethiopia, you're probably not going to be the best long distance runner in the world. Conversely if you *are* from a poor village in Africa, I don't much care for your chances of winning the America's Cup or the PGA Championship.

I find it hard to believe that there are still reasonable people who think that it's totally fair if you're genetically predisposed to having higher testosterone, red blood cell count, bone density, better body composition, and so on, but arbitrarily draw an ethical line at using technology to improve any of the above.

Additionally, I think it's worthwhile to explore the effects of non-steroid enhancement. No one thinks laser vision correction, or surgery to repair injured body parts is cheating.  Nick Diaz, an MMA fighter known for great striking but also famous for always getting cut (a marked disadvantage in a sport where a doctor can stop a fight if he thinks the cut is dangerous), had surgery to shave down some of his facial bones, making it less likely for him to get cut in the future. Absolutely no one in the MMA community thinks this is cheating, at least certainly not on the level that anabolic steroid usage is considered to be.

Even if we're just worried about hormone levels, there are many different ways to increase testosterone. Getting more sleep increases testosterone. Lifting weights increases testosterone. Having sex increases testosterone. Supplementing with Vitamin D increases testosterone. Same with creatine, zinc, and anecdotally, taking cold showers. And some people have genetics that lead to them having higher testosterone. You can't realistically ban these things, and you also can't provide universal access to these things.

It's Dangerous, So It's Unethical To Make People Feel Like They Have To Do It

I think this is the stronger argument. The side effects of anabolic steroid abuse are pretty well known, and they are real. What I find unfortunate about steroid education are the exaggerations and misinformation spread about it. I've never done steroids (nor even been tempted to), but from everything I understand, it's not like users immediately grow hair everywhere, get massive roid rage, grow breasts and have their testicles shrink. I think it's far more likely that if used under proper supervision from a qualified and ethical endocrinologist, steroids probably enhance performance with a small, but significant, amount of side effects.

Like we've seen with criminalization of other drugs like marijuana, exaggerating effects and providing misinformation about steroids inhibits what society really needs -- an open dialogue about the matter. "Bigger, Stronger, Faster" draws a parallel to "Reefer Madness", an absurd 1930s propaganda film which claimed that marijuana would turn users into violent sociopaths (as opposed to useless, lazy stoners). While there is likely more truth in claims of steroid damage, the point remains that providing exaggerations and misinformation prevents a useful dialogue.

Suppose that a given person has decided that he or she will use steroids, and you cannot talk him or her out of it. This person is committed to being the best football player, track and field competitor, powerlifter, bodybuilder, fighter, golfer, or whatever. This person rejects the idea that he cannot be the best, and is willing to go to whatever means necessary to do this. While we wouldn't want our son or daughter to be this person, what is the best situation for this person? The status quo, where this person orders a bunch of steroids over the internet, or perhaps makes a trip to Mexico to get it from a veterinarian? Or one where he or she can have an open dialogue with someone qualified to dispense the steroid; someone who can provide good, honest, ethical advice?

Elite Level Sports Performance Itself Is (Probably) Inherently Unhealthy

To get to an elite level in professional sports, you have to be willing to sacrifice your health. I think this statement comes as a surprise to people, because there is often an association between health and fitness. These two are not the same thing, even though they are so often used together. Elite level professional athletes are almost always very fit. They are stronger, faster, more flexible, and have better endurance than most people. But that does not mean they are healthy.

Elite professional athletes play through pain, injury, and illness. Those are bad things to do. The training required to reach the elite level in most pro sports is unhealthy, or at the very least, it is far from optimizing health. Optimal health for humans probably looks something like: walk a few miles every day, get some more intense exercise 3-4 times a week, and eat regularly while fasting intermittently. But elite level athletes train at a high intensity 5-6 days a week, often two or three times a day. They constantly eat a tremendous amount of calories to fuel that training, and when they are not training they are most likely sleeping, because they are exhausted. The level of fatigue and strain accumulated on an elite level athlete is hard for the average person to fathom, and it likely goes well beyond what is actually healthy in most circumstances. When you think of that way, it's very little wonder why so many athletes die prematurely.

The Maude Flanders Argument


 (I'll take any excuse to use this image.)

Even if it's not expressly stated, a lot of people feel that it's important to villify steroid users because if we don't, we are implicitly saying to children that it's okay to use them. We want our kids to eat their vegetables, so Popeye gulps down a canful of spinach; he doesn't jab a needleful of Winstrol in his ass.

And no, I don't think kids should be using steroids for athletic performance enhancement. But here again, I think it's far better to be able to have a healthy dialogue about steroids than it is to misrepresent and scare children and teenagers. Kids aren't stupid. If you treat them like intelligent, autonomous beings capable of making reasonable decisions, they're actually less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. I see no reason that steroids wouldn't be different.

In "Bigger, Stronger, Faster", one of the protagonists is a steroid user as well as a high school football coach. The coach has clearly lied to his teenaged students about the fact that he uses. You're left to wonder what those kids are supposed to think if they ever get their hands on the documentary that they appear in.

If Steroids Are So Great, Why Don't You Do Them?

Well, quite simply, I don't want to.

I don't want to use steroids simply because of the cost-benefit analysis. From a legal perspective, I'm unwilling to get arrested or otherwise get in trouble with the law to get the performance gains that steroids could potentially provide me.  From a health perspective, I'm not sufficiently knowledgeable about them to feel like I can use them correctly without screwing up my health. I also feel there is a lack of long-term evidence that anabolic steroids can be used safely without significant negative consequences. I'd like to have kids one day, and have no desire to risk infertility. In summary, I don't care so much about being elite that I'm willing to risk the associated health and legal issues.

Every serious athlete has to, at some point, make a choice about how far they are willing to go. Usually, the ones who make it to the top 0.001% of their sport are the ones that are willing to risk everything. They risk concussions, spinal cord injuries, knee surgeries, heart attacks, and more. That elite level athletes are willing to do damage to their bodies is nothing new to sports, but while we lionize the athlete who risks his brain, neck, back, or knees for his sport, we demonize the athlete who risks his endocrine system. This is not logically consistent.

The fact is, I'll never be an elite level athlete in my chosen sport. But I like watching sports, and I'll continue to watch elite level athletes do amazing things. I'll know the lengths they have gone to do these amazing things. They will have likely trained since a very young age, possibly being pressured or even abused by a parent or coach. They will likely have sacrificed academic pursuits in favour of time in the gym or on the field. They will sacrifice time with friends, staying out late, or their favourite foods. They will have pushed their bodies to the limit of failure in both training and competition. They will train and compete through cuts, bruises, aches, sprains, broken bones, and concussions. And I realize that quite possibly, they will have used exogenous hormones to get through all of these things.

Would it be cooler if I knew for certain that those athletes were able to do these things solely through their genetically-granted gifts and their hard work and discipline? Perhaps. To be sure, I think as long as steroids continue to be against the rules, sports organizations should continue to seek out and punish those who use them. But as a society, it grows increasingly hypocritical to demand that our athletes sacrifice their brains, bones, and joints while simultaneously demanding that they keep off the steroids that so many of their rivals are using.

Monday, March 31, 2014

one week post cataract surgery

Six days after my first cataract surgery and ... wow. I'm really surprised by how much better I can see out of my right eye already. There are still some weird halos, flickering lights, shimmering, and other annoyances but at virtually every distance other than extremely close, my vision has improved dramatically. It's accentuated by the fact that my left eye is still uncorrected, so I often do things like cover up my right eye just to remind myself of how absolutely awful the left eye is. I joked yesterday that I wish I could screenshot what I'm seeing so the typical non-affected person would know. I found this picture online which kinda sorta gives you an idea, but in truth it's much worse:



Another way of illustrating the difference between my left uncorrected eye and my right eye, six days after treatment, is to show you the level of zoom I would have to use with each one.


Level of zoom on my monitor needed last week:


Level of zoom on my monitor needed today:



My intermediate (1-5 feet) vision has improved dramatically, but my distance vision is amazing. I have a nice Strip view from my apartment and I'm now reading signs that I wasn't even aware existed, much less could read.

Of course, it's driving me insane that I'm not allowed to have any exercise at all this week (nor do anything at all that potentially pushes blood to my head). I feel cooped up, like I'm under home (or office) arrest. And as masochistic as this sounds, I won't be totally happy until I take a few hard punches or kicks to the face without suffering any ill effects to the eye. But sadly, that's a long ways away.

I have a weekly check-in with my ophthalmologist (still can't spell that without auto-correct) tomorrow. If all goes well I'll get the left eye done a week from tomorrow. And then the countdown to my comeback begins...

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Cataract surgery, day 1

I'm currently 16 hours post-op on my right eye. The procedure itself was quite painless. A very lengthy period of waiting, some rather anxious moments as they literally taped my eyelids open and stuck pieces of paper under them to prevent me from blinking, but a relatively quick and well-sedated procedure.

This morning my right eye is a bit of a paradox. The vision in that eye is at times exceptionally sharp. I'll look at an object in the right light, at the right angle and think "wow,it's been years since I saw an image that sharp". But then I'll look at my phone and won't be able to make anything out at all (if you know me personally, don't bother texting me today - just call). My guess is that my brain is still adjusting to the new lens and it will take some time to figure out how to deal with an artificial lens that simply doesn't adjust as well as the one nature gave me.

There are also certain things that catch the light just right seem to have a halo or shadow. It's almost like using a really really low-dose of a psychedelic drug. It's kind of a novelty right now, but definitely hoping that goes away with time.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The eyes have it -- my early-age, rapid-onset cataracts

In my most recent blog post, I wrote about my disdain for my aging body, after a routine grappling session resulted in a nasty ankle sprain (which still has me limping slightly, three weeks later). Little would i know that only two days later, I would be lamenting the failure of something all the way at the complete opposite end of my body -- my eyes.

For reasons not totally clear to me, I have developed cataracts, in both eyes, very quickly, over the last 6 months. I only started noticing that things were getting a bit blurry around November of last year, so I went in for an eye exam. I was told I had cataracts, but that they weren't terrible. It's extremely uncommon for such a healthy, non-diabetic person in his 30s to get cataracts, and especially uncommon for them to get very worse very quickly. So I was given a prescription for a small amount of astigmatism and hyperopia and told to come back in six months for a follow-up.

I was a bit disappointed that the glasses didn't help much. My very first night with the glasses, I was asked by Ultimate Poker to host the UFC Hall of Fame Poker Game. I was MCing the event, giving away tickets, making jokes for the crowd, but most obviously, calling the action. I had the best seat in the house -- standing right behind the dealer -- but even with my brand-new glasses, I was having trouble seeing the bet sizes and reading the board.

If that was bad, I was totally unprepared for the next 4 months. My vision is getting worse on almost a week-to-week basis. It might be a rare, 3-sigma bad beat that my eyes were getting this bad, this fast, and for no apparent reason, but that didn't change the reality that it was happening to me.

The last straw came a couple weeks ago when I misread the board and made a huge mistake in a 50k pot during the LA Poker Classic. I was nearly inconsolable after that. My ankle had already taken kickboxing, grappling and MMA away from me; and now my eyes were taking the rest of my life.

I immediately called up the ophthalmologist office for an appointment. They confirmed that my vision had gotten substantially worse since my appointment just four months earlier. I would definitely need the surgery; the only question was when. The one thing holding me back was that I was told it would be 3-6 months after the surgery before I could resume training and taking strikes to the face. I hated the idea of conceivably not being able to train or fight until November. I thought about postponing the surgery and fighting in May, then having the surgery, but with the status of my ankle unknown, I finally relented and committed to getting the surgery done now.

So that's the situation. Next Tuesday, I'm scheduled to go under the knife for the first operation, with the other eye scheduled for two weeks after that. I'll be able to return to work and inactive activities the next day, regular-people exercise a week after the second surgery, grappling by mid-May, and kickboxing/boxing/MMA 3-6 months later, as mentioned. That means that in all likelihood, 2014 will mark a second consecutive year of absence from the MMA cage. I was really hoping to break my inactive streak by fighting for the TuffNUff organization on April 11, but I would consider myself fortunate now if I can even get back in action on November 11.

On the bright side, my quality of life should dramatically improve right away, I won't be a risk to myself or the other drivers on the roads of Las Vegas. I'll be able to participate in the WSOP without pissing money away, I'll no longer trip over random things that I completely didn't see, I'll be able to recognize faces from more than 20 feet away, and I won't have to blow documents up to 200-300% of their original size to be able to read them (yes, I actually have to do that, even with glasses).

I suppose that's worth not being able to be on the mats or in the rings for six months. I hope so, anyway. But it won't make it any easier.



Thursday, February 27, 2014

Injured - a fighter's lament

Injuries happen. Anyone who participates in any sport -- forget fighting -- realizes it. Everyone has teammates, and knows how those teammates feel when they get injured. But all that experience doesn't make it any easier when it happens.

Before last night, I'd gone over a full year without a serious injury. I'll define a serious injury as one that keeps me off the mats for more than a month. I considered myself very lucky, but I also attributed my relative durability to some lifestyle changes: 1) focusing more on conditioning while trading off live sparring; 2) resting or doing lower-intensity training when sore or fatigued; 3) better nutrition (eating cartilage, marrow, bone broth, etc).

For most of the last year I've also been tied up with Ultimate Poker/Ultimate Casino stuff, so I've also been to fewer MMA, BJJ and boxing classes in the last year than I had previously. I kept up my conditioning though, and the last month or so as things slowed down a bit at work, I've started to get back in a decent groove and had plans on making a comeback for the Vegas-based TuffNUff organization in April.

Unfortunately that balloon was popped along with each audible pop of my ankle last night. The accident itself was pretty freakish. No one was trying to attack my limbs. I was caught in what grapplers know as a de la Riva position, a bit like this:


I was the guy on top, but my legs were stretched wider. As I started to lose my balance, my body rotated but my foot got stuck on the mat, so my body turned independent of my foot, which blew up my ankle. It was a freak accident, just "one of those things".

I yelled in pain, and I knew immediately it was going to be bad. Ten minutes later I was calling for my roommate Chris to take me to the ER. X-rays confirmed no bone break, but they did send me home in a cast, crutches, and lots of painkillers.

As mentioned, the timing is awful. I finally started to get a decent handle on my work schedule, the WSOP is still a few months away, and I was finally starting to put in some good work lacing up the boxing gloves and MMA shorts on a regular basis. I mentioned to Chris that I would happily pay very good money to instead have this injury the day before the WSOP instead of 6 weeks from a (albeit still theoretical) fight.

So, I'm depressed -- at 33, I'm no spring chicken any more, and while I know these things are only more likely to happen and taken even longer to recover from, the competitive fire in me is still burning. It's not that I won't get to fight in April, it's that after that will be WSOP, then who knows how busy work will get. Months continue to fly off the calendar as I struggle to keep this body healthy like a poor college student tries to keep a run-down vehicle road-worthy.

All I want to do is sit at home, eat chocolate, and mope. What I will actually probably do is work from home, elevate my foot, and eat some high-collagen, high-gelatin bone broth. I may be getting older, but I'm getting smarter too.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Product Review: Beddit sleep tracker

I admit it: I'm a sucker for wellness apps. I'm an athlete, but I'm also a geek. So anything that intersects physical performance and numbers is right up my alley.

I also think that more than diet, more than exercise, sleep is probably the single most important major lifestyle determinant in wellness and human performance. How much and how well people sleep seems to have massive effects on body fat, cancer rate, athletic performance, cognitive performance, and more. Additionally, I find sleep results harder to modify and optimize than either diet or exercise. While diet and exercise are largely an issue of good decision making, commitment, and time management, I find that I often do all the "right things" when it comes to sleep and not get a great result. I try to go to bed shortly after sunset, sleep in a nearly pitch-black room, avoid late afternoon caffeine, do relaxation exercises, and basically everything that is thought to achieve a good sleep result, but my results are still inconsistent.

Enter the Beddit (www.beddit.com), which promises to "automatically tracks your sleeping patterns, heart rate, breathing, snoring, movements and environment. In the morning, Beddit tells you how you slept and how to do it better."

After hearing that pitch, this was me:



The Beddit consists mostly of a strap containing a sensor that goes underneath your bedsheet. It connects via Bluetooth to your smartphone and gives you results that look like this:




There's even more data promised in future versions.

This is the kind of shit that I love. The only small problem? It doesn't work.

To date, the Beddit is largely giving me garbage data. According to the Beddit, I haven't slept over 5 hours a single night that I've gotten it, and most nights it's said I've only slept 2-3 hours. I will be the first to admit that I don't get enough sleep, but after one night of just 2-3 hours I'm usually useless, and after a week of it I'd probably be approaching death. The Beddit is recording large gaps in my sleep during hours that I know I was definitely asleep.

Part of the problem may be the length of the Beddit strap. I have a queen-sized bed, and the strap covers less than half of my bed. That means if I roll over on to a part of the bed that the strap isn't sensing, then I'm not getting tracked for that sleep. On one particular night, the Beddit told me that I got up from bed 7 times, when I actually got up from bed once or twice, at most. I think increasing the strap length will help, but I do not think that is the only source of the Beddit's problems at this point, since even when I sleep through the night and wake up on the same side of the bed, my sleep is being dramatically underreported.

I've contacted Beddit support, and they've been fairly slow to respond. This is not too surprising considering that they're an indie company who probably weren't ready to handle the amount of business that they got. I'm happy to be an early adopter of this item and in spite of the fact that the product is currently unsatisfactory, I'll be happy that they got my money as long as that money goes towards product improvements. I want to support a company that comes up with good ideas like this, and I hope they are able to deliver on it. As someone who works in a startup that simultaneously seems to "get it", also desperately needs some major product improvements, I think I'm more sympathetic to this idea than anyone.

I'm continuing correspondence with Beddit support and will update this review if information changes (it's possible I just got a lemon, for example). But the bottom line is this: I think at this point unless you also want the good karma of supporting a sleep app, you should probably pass on the Beddit for now. 

But like some might say about my company, I'll be cheering for them.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Value of Being Uncomfortable - And How You Can Start

So we're two weeks into the new year. By now, some people have already quit their 2014 resolutions, and some are going strong. Of late, it seems more en vogue and hip to haughtily and cynically eschew the New Year's resolution for some reason or another.

Very specific resolutions can be of limited value, especially those which prioritize an outcome over a process. I'd like to propose a non-specific resolution to you, the reader. It's not nearly as specific as "lose 20 pounds", "go to the gym four times a week", "stop eating junk food", "stop biting my nails" or anything of that nature. The resolution I propose is as follows:

Be uncomfortable.

Comfort is generally something we think of as a good thing. We want comfortable shoes, comfortable beds, comfortable sofas. We want the air to be at a comfortable temperature. When stressed, we seek comfort food.

But little attention is paid to the value of discomfort. Discomfort is tremendously important, just as important as comfort.

Exercise is the most obvious example of a beneficial discomfort. Living organisms generally want to conserve energy. Sometimes they are forced to expend energy (to survive a predatory attack, to kill prey themselves, to reproduce, to migrate, or a number of reasons). Since most 21st century humans don't actually have to exert physical energy avoiding predators, killing prey, attracting mates or moving countries, we use exercise as a substitute.

Exercise is necessarily discomfort. Like all organisms, we desire to conserve energy, so the expenditure of energy is necessarily uncomfortable.

Here's the thing, everyone understands that some amount of exercise is good for people. But if this type of discomfort is good for you, aren't there other discomforts that are good for you?

I have a roommate who strongly dislikes the cold. As soon as the room becomes too cold for his liking, he immediately turns up the heat up to a desired comfort level. Similarly when it's too hot for his liking, he'll turn on the air conditioning. And to be honest, I don't much like being too cold or too hot either. But humans are actually pretty well-adapted to being a little too hot or a little too cold. I'm not advocating that you go out in a t-shirt in Siberia or try to jog in a sweatsuit during a Vegas summer. And I'm not saying you should never use climate controls. But it is my contention that we should make an effort to be uncomfortable, with enough regularity that it creates a decent hormetic effect. If nothing else, think of the maxim that what won't kill you, makes you stronger.

I went through a phase for a while in November and December where I jumped in the freezing cold (not literally, but damn cold) outdoor swimming pool for a couple minutes a day. It fucking sucked, and I cannot know for sure that it provided any real health benefit (the research on cold water therapy actually seems pretty inconclusive), but I thought it was important to be consistent with the idea of being uncomfortable.

Another good example of discomfort is fasting. Sometimes people say that fasting is bad, that you'll waste away and lose valuable muscle mass and screw up your metabolism and so on, but I think the medical literature is decently clear that some amount of fasting is good. The incredible 24/7 availability of food to satiate any and all hunger pangs, as soon as you get them (or much sooner), is surely a contributing factor to the obesity epidemic. So, once in a while, when you're hungry -- just keep going hungry! Don't make that sandwich or order that pizza. Just suck it up, princess, and learn to embrace the hunger. Better yet, if you're hungry: go run a few miles, or lift some heavy shit, and then eat something. You'll get some improved insulin sensitivity out of it and hell, food just tastes better when you've earned it.

Fasting is something that I had never tried until fairly recently, but once I did it, I found out it wasn't really that hard. And now I reap the benefits. I used to be a cranky, ornery, son-of-a-bitch when I was hungry. How, I've learned to embrace the hunger and I'm better off both mentally and physically for it.

Discomfort does not need to be only physical, as well. Doing brain teasers, studying a new language, public speaking, and other cerebrally difficult or stressful things also qualify as discomfort. But most people (especially those who read blogs written by former professional poker players) are pretty good at practicing mental discomfort. Anyone who has ever made a big bluff in a cash game or late in a big tournament certainly experiences discomfort, and most poker pros have done this many times.

Important point: Too much discomfort is a bad thing.

It's pretty obvious how too much fasting would be a bad thing. At some point, excessive fasting becomes anorexia, or starvation. It's a bit less obvious, but too much exercise is a bad thing too. Too much exercise can leave one chronically stressed and cause serious health and injury problems. And obviously staying for a long time in extreme conditions of heat or cold without taking adequate mitigating measures is a bad idea. On the mental side, a professional poker player who grinds 10 hours a day, 10 tables at a time, 300+ days a year, is just asking for mental burnout (the cure for which cannot be purchased in the FPP store, by the way).

Nevertheless, I'd suppose most people reading this are leaning towards the "too comfortable" side of the balance. Are you reading this blog post in your comfy computer chair? Do you have a nice, just-right beverage sitting next to you? If you get hungry by the end of it, are you immediately going to the fridge to satisfy it?  My advice to you: get more uncomfortable. Turn off the heat or the a/c for a few hours. Take a cold, or at least a somewhat-too-cold, shower. Skip breakfast once in a while, or dinner, if you prefer. Or both. Learn a difficult language or a musical instrument. Gamble a little too big for your bankroll.

You shouldn't do it all the time -- you'll end up either chronically stressed, dying of heatstroke or hypothermia, mentally drained, or broke -- but you should at least do it with some regular frequency. So the next time you're faced with something that will cause you physical, mental, or emotional discomfort, don't look for a way out of it. Face it head on, and dive in. I think you'll be a better person for it.

All the best in 2014!

Friday, December 13, 2013

my Ultimate birthday

I've never really been a big birthday person at all. Like anyone else I certainly appreciate a day where everyone is nice to me, but I've generally thought of it as pretty much just another day of the week. My birthday was this past Sunday, and rather than celebrate with some event, I scheduled a building move the day after, meaning that my birthday was mostly spent packing boxes and getting ready for the move.

I had scheduled Monday off for the move, and it took longer than expected so I ended up not going to the office that day at all. I was utterly shocked at what I saw when I came into my office!



The pictures doesn't really do it justice - but that's "HAPPY BIRTHDAY TERRENCE" spelled out on my wall, aa hand-written note there from virtually everyone in the office, decorations, cards and gifts. As soon as I opened my office door on Tuesday, half the office heard me exclaim "holy shit!".

I was impressed and touched by that, but there was another surprise waiting. I'm known around the office for my unholy love for BBQ ribs, and I opened up the fridge to find a gigantic platter of ribs with my name on it!


It was a simple thing, but a very touching and well-appreciated gesture from my excellent Ultimate Gaming co-workers.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Crosspost: Going From Poker Pro To Poker Industry Pro

This is a crosspost from content I originally wrote as a two-parter for Ultimate Poker's content page, "The Rail".

Online poker had a tremendous effect on the lives of a number of young people throughout the 2000s. Prior to the last decade, to earn a high-income living as a young person, you needed to be a brilliant inventor or entrepreneur, an extremely talented and famous actor or singer, or maybe a professional athlete in a major sport. Obviously, this represented only a tiny percentage of the population of all young people.
But in the 2000s, with the first online poker boom, a great number of young people were suddenly able to earn high incomes playing online poker. Many intelligent young people put their university and college educations on hold or skipped them entirely because the allure of making far more money than any newly-minted graduate at an entry level position would make – and all by playing a game they loved.
Many of these young people would go on to become tremendously successful poker players and stars of the game. However, not everyone made it in the long run. Some players “burned out”, tiring of the online poker grind. Others saw the games they were playing in getting tougher and tougher as their opponents grew more educated, resulting in a major drop in income.
These players on the margins were now in a tough spot. The former pros found themselves in their mid or late 20s looking for work, but lacking both formal education and any significant traditional job experience.
The good news, if you’re one of these people, is that your experience playing hours of online poker, participating in forums, and generally being involved in the poker industry, makes you a valuable asset to online poker sites, including Ultimate Poker. At Ultimate Poker, we employ dozens of poker players in customer service, game room operations, product management, marketing and technology – all the way from entry level to senior executive.
Whether your poker industry experience ends up being as valuable as that engineering or law degree your parents wanted you to get will be a function of your own talent, skills, and attitude – but the point remains that you do offer relevant experience to companies like Ultimate Poker who are headquartered locally. 
Now I’d like to talk about how to get that job. The key thing to remember when entering the workforce is that despite your job or education gap, you bring value to poker companies! You provide skills and experience. The problem is, so do hundreds or even thousands of other poker pros who find themselves in a similar spot. How do you stand out from the crowd?

SOME DOS WHEN APPLYING FOR AN ONLINE POKER POSITION
Do include a cover letter, always. A customized cover letter is how the person reading your application (hiring manager or HR manager) knows that you spent the time to apply for position with this company and that you didn’t just spam the same resume to dozens of companies. It also should show you communicate effectively.
Do brag about what you know about poker. The cover letter is a good place for this. If you’ve played 2 million hands of poker on 10 different sites, you’re familiar with MTTs, SNGs, and cash games in hold’em, Omaha, stud and draw, brag about it here. While the hiring manager is probably not interested in how many final tables you made or what your lifetime BB/100 is, they certainly are interested in the breadth of your poker and gaming knowledge.
Do demonstrate your knowledge of the company. You should know a lot about the company that you’re applying for, whether it is low-level things like promotions and game features, or high-level items like jurisdictions and relationships with partners.
Do mention why you want to work for the company. A phrase that I absolutely love to see in a cover letter is “dream job”. More than any phrase on any cover letter, this makes me more likely to give a person an initial phone interview. Enthusiasm counts. Of course, you’ll have to be able to follow this up in both the phone and live interview, or you’ll be a big disappointment.
Do be specific about what job you want. “I’m really knowledgeable about poker in general, and I think I could fill a variety of roles in your organization.” I’ve seen this one many times, and honestly, I’d bet that it’s true most of the time. But you also have to realize that even in a new startup like Ultimate Gaming, applications are likely to be siphoned through a more traditional HR manager with a lot of corporate experience in more traditional brick-and-mortar based companies. So, even though you think you would be good at everything, you should indicate exactly what position you would like to have within the company. Gaming companies need people with all kinds of skills, from IT infrastructure to accounting to software development to customer service to marketing. While people with great general knowledge can bring value to any gaming or poker company, it’s the specialists who get noticed by HR.
And obviously, be realistic. If you are willing to work in an entry-level position but you say you’d be well suited as a Senior VP, well, it’s not very likely that the HR manager will consider you for that entry-level position.

AND NOW, THE DO NOTS.
Do not be quiet and demure in your interview. A lot of good poker players are real introverts. And while they are often intelligent, thoughtful and would make tremendous assets to any organization, it simply doesn’t come out in the interview. Your interviewer is not Phil Ivey staring you down for tells, so you shouldn’t be staring blankly, talking softly, and avoiding eye contact. Be engaging and demonstrate that you’re an individual with a personality, the kind of person that people want to have as a co-worker.
Do not hide any skeletons in your closet. In both Nevada and New Jersey, employees have been required to undergo background checks to work for Ultimate Gaming. While it is not always an absolute dealbreaker to have been previously convicted of a crime, it most likely is a dealbreaker if you aren’t immediately upfront about it. Additionally, the more senior the position in the company, the more likely that your background will be thoroughly investigated, so if you harbor hopes of one day being a senior executive in a gaming company, you’ll want to be honest from the get-go.
Do not misspell the name of the person you’re applying to. Seriously, this happens with alarming frequency. It’s not that I’m so egotistical I can’t handle having my name spelled incorrectly, but if I see it that way — after I’ve already corresponded with you — I’m going to be think that you’re not a detail-oriented person, and if you can get something like this wrong, you’ll probably get other things wrong too. I definitely don’t think that poor spelling is necessarily an indicator of lack of intelligence, but when there are potentially dozens or hundreds of people all applying for the same job, why stick out for all the wrong reasons?
There are plenty more dos and don’ts I could mention, but that would start to stray from the topic of how to go from poker player to poker industry into being a general “how to get a job” essay. But if you keep these points in mind, you’ll find yourself a lot more likely to land your desired position in your preferred company.
Until next time, best of luck – regardless of which side of the virtual felt you find yourself on.

Friday, November 1, 2013

No-gi World Championships tomorrow!

It's been a long while since I've posted about anything other than work, because like most people working here, work is most of what I do these days. The last month and a half though I've been actually getting back in a good training routine, enough that I signed up for the World No-Gi Championships tomorrow in Long Beach, California.

The toughest part for me was deciding whether I wanted to register for the Masters (over 30) division or the regular Adult (18+). Masters has just 7 people in it; Adult has 26. Obviously the path to winning the Masters division is much easier not just because of the numbers but because people over 30 are a little less physical, might have jobs/families/commitments and contain the 22-year-old kids who live in their parents' basements and train 4 times a day. But I decided to take the harder road because fuck it, it'll be more rewarding in the end. I think when I'm over 40 I'll do the old-man division but for now, why not get more fights in for any given trip? At the end of the day it's not like there's any prize money or real reward; the competition itself is the reward.

Well, I might have regretted this decision (if only for an instant) once the brackets were announced yesterday. I Googled my first round opponent and found this video of him. Even though that fight is mostly on the feet, he seems like he has some good wrestling and ground game. But my potential second round opponent is a really tall (figurative, of course) task. It's 17-4 MMA fighter Danny Martinez. Martinez has been a pro fighter since before I even took up jiujitsu (and a college wrestler before that). Three of Martinez' pro losses have come to guys in the UFC and all were by decision; he has never been submitted as a pro and he has fought two different guys who were previously the #1 flyweight in the world. I think it'll be tremendously tough, but if I can somehow win, it'd be a huge feather in my cap. I'm looking forward to the experience, if I get past my first opponent (which is no small feat itself!).

Beyond that I'll still have 3 more fights. I have decided not to psych myself out any further by looking to see who else I might face if I advance further...

In any case, I'm quite excited to get back into a major competition. In the absence of being able to do 2-a-days 6 days a week, I've trained intelligently on both technique and conditioning, and hopefully I'll get to use that. The weight cut has been smooth (as weight cuts go), so that's nice too. So no excuses, let's find out if it's all paid off!

(As for sweating: I will try to live-tweet the results. There might be a live stream, but it is very unclear from that website whether my mat (Mat #1) will actually be showing at the time of my matches.)

UTG+1 with Ultimate Gaming CMO/COO Joe Versaci

I did another UTG+1 podcast for Ultimate Poker. I'm up to five total, which you can view here. This most recent one is probably my favourite because I've been trying to have my boss and company CMO/COO Joe Versaci on the show forever and he has consistently ducked me. This is despite the fact that I've always thought he'd be a great interview due to his epic Dana White-esque rants around the office. Well, he didn't quite go off Dana-style (even if I tried to goad him into it), but it's still a great interview and should provide the outsider with a good idea of what things are like working here at Ultimate Gaming: