A blog for dum ideas that are too long to fit on my Facebook status

Archive for January, 2012

Recover Quicker by Listening to Music! Or just walk 500 steps…

When I was a senior in college, I was looking for an easy class to take that would also be fun.  So, I signed up for “Sports Psychology” because hell, I loved sports, was a psych minor, and it seemed like a really interesting pairing.  And it was really easy.  But I did come away with a lot of cool information and even got to sit next to D.C. United‘s Ben Olsen (he missed a few classes when he was off winning the MLS Cup that year).  A few things that I took away were the power of pre-game and pre-sport rituals.

One of the most important things you can do is visualize.  It prepares your mind and body for the upcoming activity.  The more vivid and realistic the imagery, the better it will help you prepare.  For example, before a soccer game I’ll visualize scoring goals, making good passes, and making solid defensive tackles.  I’ll also remember moments from past games as vividly as possible.  If I’m going running, I’ll visualize myself charging up hills or getting into a really good stride.  Again, I’ll look back on moments from the past to serve as the visual cues.  These really help get me motivated and get into the mindset of having a good performance.

Another thing that comes up a lot is the idea of listening to motivating music.  Obviously, you can’t do this while playing soccer, but I listen to a lot of music before games and it really helps get me excited and it tells my mind/body that I’m about to do something intense that I need to get my adrenaline pumping for.  Running, is a different story.  When I run indoors on the treadmill, I need music.  I listen to a lot of loud rock, with fast time signatures, that seem to be in cadence with my running stride.  But when I run outside, and when I run races, I have no music at all.  Part of it is that I don’t use an Ipod shuffle, so I’m sort of uncomfortable with the large/bulky armbands that can hold your regular Ipod.  Another reason is that I like the sensory stimulation of running outside, and I find that when I’m racing, the adrenaline of the race, the sights and sounds around me, and my internal goals of catching up to and passing people are enough to make me run well  I’m not advocating either way really, but that’s what works for me.

What inspired this post was an article that I read on Runner’s World about the power of motivational music post-workout.   The Runner’s World article basically sums it up by saying, “Listening to music during recovery was associated with greater decreases in blood lactate and a reduction in perceived exertion.”

While this is true, if you click on the link to the abstract that they provide, you can easily come to a simpler conclusion that doesn’t have much to do with music.  The researchers measured outcome variables like heart race, perceived exertion, lactic acid build up, and the number of steps they took while recovering.  And yes, those who listened to music had significantly less lactic acid build up and less perceived exertion than those who did not.  Easy conclusion to jump to: listening to music somehow decreases lactic acid buildup and speeds recovery.  But the key to all of this is the fact that those who listened to music had an increased number of steps during the recovery process than those who didn’t.  Basically, if you listened to motivational music, you walked around more, which helped you recover by easing the lactic acid in your blood.  So, conclusion, listen to motivational music or don’t during recovery, it doesn’t matter.  Just make sure you increase your amount of voluntary activity by walking around A LOT (those who listened to music took around 499 steps on average).


Beer #7 – Smuttynose Old Brown Dog Ale

I’ve been to New Hampshire a number of times, but those trips were all as a kid and subsequently, I didn’t get to taste any beer.  What I do remember were bike trips through forests and along nice back roads, with beautiful fall foliage.  So even if you aren’t going there to drink, there is plenty to enjoy.  However, if you are going to drink, you’ll find a number of brewpubs and quality breweries like Smuttynose and Redhook, as well as the awesomely named brew club, Brew Free or Die.  My local beer shop carries a number of these, so last time I was in there I decided to pick up a Smuttynose staple, the Old Brown Dog Ale.  It’s an award winner and so, deserves a review.  Here it is for you to enjoy.

Old Brown Dog Ale, Smuttynose Brewing Company
New Hampshire, United States of A
American Brown Ale, 6.50 % ABV

Aroma: Toasty malts, a hint of sweetness and earth.

Appearance: Brown/deep red in color, small head, almost no lacing.

Flavor: Light malt flavor up front, then a nice lingering tartness and hops at the end.

Mouthfeel: Light but with a pretty good amount of carbonation, makes it a little less smooth.

Overall: Nice brown ale, good hop character.  I almost felt like it was a tad over carbonated and wanted more lacing (could’ve been my glass), but this is a good example of an American brown with a nice dose of hops.

Oscar Nominations and Quick Thoughts

Alright, the nominees for the 2012 Oscars are in.  I’ll admit that I have a love/hate relationship with these awards.  They are way too long, the musical numbers are sort of boring to me, and I really hate how the academy chooses sometimes.  But, I do enjoy movies, I like watching the reactions of winners/losers, and I like rooting for movies I love (The Hurt Locker‘s and Kathryn Bigelow‘s triumph were probably my favorite moments of recent memory).  I’ll do a more in-depth Oscar post closer to the awards, but here are the nominees with some very quick thoughts that I’ll probably regret later.

Best Picture

  • “War Horse”
  • “The Artist”
  • “Moneyball”
  • “The Descendants”
  • “The Tree of Life”
  • “Midnight in Paris”
  • “The Help”
  • “Hugo”
  • “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”

A few surprises here.  Everyone had basically written off “War Horse” after it got snubbed from the other awards, but it makes an appearance here, though I don’t see it winning.  No nomination for “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” but I think that’s for the best as frankly, I’m just sick of that movie (although, I could see how some people might have wanted it after Fincher and company got totally robbed with “The Social Network”).  Not sure where “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” came from, although it stars a few Academy favorites.  I haven’t seen it, but making a movie about 9/11 is such an endeavor that I wonder if that will hurt or help its chances.  My frontrunner now is “The Artist” with “The Descendants” in second, with “Hugo” in third, but we’ll see what happens.

Best Actor

  • Demián Bichir, “A Better Life”
  • Brad Pitt, “Moneyball”

Personally, I’d go with Jean Dujardin in this one, but George Clooney has had a good year, so he may have a chance.  Very nice to see Gary Oldman getting a nomination as he is a tireless worker who is often overlooked because of the character bits he plays.  Again, I feel like Jean Dujardin has the momentum, but Clooney could make a run as well.  No Michael Fassbender here for “Shame”, I’m guessing NC-17 is a little too edgy for an award nom these days.

Best Actress

  • Glenn Close, “Albert Nobbs”
  • Rooney Mara, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”
  • Michelle Williams, “My Week with Marilyn”

So it’s here that Rooney Mara gets the only big nomination for her film.  Big names here with Glenn Close and Meryl Streep.  I’m sort of sick of Meryl Streep getting nominated and I was sort of glad to see critics go after “The Iron Lady”.  She is definitely a great actress, but for some reason I am starting to view all of her performances as Meryl being Meryl, and nothing else.  I think Michelle Williams actually might pick this one up, but that’s just a first thought.

Best Supporting Actor

  • Kenneth Branagh, “My Week With Marilyn”
  • Jonah Hill, “Moneyball”
  • Christopher Plummer, “Beginners”
  • Max von Sydow “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”

First off, I really liked “Warrior” so I’m glad to see Nick Nolte get a nomination.  I don’t think he’ll win though, the same goes for Jonah Hill.  There are too many legends in this category to root against them this time.  Someone with grey hair will take this one.

Best Supporting Actress

  • Bérénice Bejo, “The Artist”
  • Jessica Chastain, “The Help”
  • Janet McTeer, “Albert Nobbs”
  • Octavia Spencer, “The Help”

Here’s where “The Help” might pick up a win, as I don’t really see it winning any other of its categories (though I may be wrong since audiences seemed to love it).  Since Viola Davis probably won’t win best actress, would the Academy then vote for Octavia Spencer instead?  I feel Jessica Chastain gets the nomination here because of her other work this year.  Berenice Bejo really became her character, but Melissa McCarthy could take this one as a semi-dark horse.

Best Director

  • Michel Hazanavicius, “The Artist”
  • Alexander Payne, “The Descendants”
  • Woody Allen, “Midnight in Paris”
  • Terrence Malick, “The Tree of Life”
  • Martin Scorsese, “Hugo”

No Fincher nomination, or Spielberg for that matter.  The latter probably doesn’t deserve it, but I think a few people might think Fincher does, especially because he should have won for “The Social Network”.  If “The Artist” gets sweep momentum then it could win this, but Malick has a shot here as “The Tree of Life” got great reviews and probably won’t win much else.  This one will be good.

I’m skipping animated feature because I think it’s a stupid category and it basically shuts out Pixar from ever winning an Oscar for Best Picture, which is a shame because they make amazing films.

I’ll save the rest of the nominees for a predictions post, but really quickly a few thoughts.  No standout for Original Screenplay, unlike the year Diablo Cody won for “Juno” or Cameron Crowe picked it up for “Almost Famous.”  Could Harry Win for Art Direction?  I dunno, but I liked the darkness of the film.  I feel like Cinematography is the one chance for “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, except maybe editing as well.  Few nominations for “Drive” even though it was loved by everyone.  Nice to see “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory” nominated.  I wonder if the buzz about “West of Memphis” will help or hurt its chances.  Anyway, those are my thoughts, they’re probably wrong, but we’ll see won’t we?

Wednesday’s What You Should Watch – The Chaser

For this week’s edition, we’ve got another film from South Korea.  Considering watching “The Chaser“.  It’s an incredibly violent, gritty, and intense film about a former cop-turned pimp who tried to track down the killer of one of his prostitutes.  Mark my words when I say it is VIOLENT.  I’ve watched a lot of movies and some scenes in this had me turning away.  But if you can stand it, the film is one of the finest crafted thrillers you will ever see.  It’s no surprise that Warner Brothers has already picked the rights for an American remake with Leonardo DiCaprio possibly attached.

A movie like this requires a good villain.  In this film, Ha Jeong-woo, plays a serial killer who personifies evil.  He is cold, calculating, and incredibly brutal.  By showing him in action from very early on, the movie allows us to hate him, fear him, and care about his victims.  We want to see him get his due.  Chasing him is a pimp, who was formerly a somewhat unstable cop.  It’s not that we like him, so much as we dislike the bad guy and want to see him get caught.  But our hero knows how to run an investigation and begins to conduct one himself when his girls start to disappear after they go to see a certain client.  They meet face to face in a freak turn of events that involves the use of a cell phone to ascertain an identity.  It leads to a foot chase through narrow alleys and eventually to one of those great moments which builds audience frustration because we know and the hero knows just what is going on, but the authorities can’t be convinced.  Meanwhile, an innocent life is at stake and the clock is ticking.

The climax of the film epitomizes the thriller genre.  It toys with our emotions, uses the information that we know, that characters don’t know, to tweak our anticipation, to force us to watch events unfold.  It creates true suspense, because like Hitchcock said, we know there’s a bomb under the table and we’re just waiting for it go off.  Again, this is a brutal film, on par with the darkness of “Se7en” but for fans of the genre, it’s incredibly rewarding.

Beer #6 – Samuel Adams Black Lager

Before I dive into this post, let me just say a few things.  Beer geeks/fan/snobs can be real jerks and are among the most pretentious people in the world.  I include myself in that group, so I will admit to being snobby on occasion.  I have my preferences, they influence the beer I taste and the beers that I review here.  However, what I will not admit to ever doing is buying into the fad of viewing breweries as “overrated” simply because of their size.  A bit of a feud has erupted in the beer community over what craft breweries are “overrated” and whether Samuel Adams is an overrated beer company.  You can read a response by Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head here, and you can read Jim Koch’s take here.  My last post of Samuel Adams lager may have made it sound like I was one of the crowd that thought Samuel Adams is an overrated brewery.  Let me just state for the record that I have tremendous respect for the Boston Beer Company and my views on their beer are not related to their size, just my preferences.  Sure, I think Boston Beer has played it safer in terms of beer for a while, but they are delving back into different series and types of beer, and that’s great because a lot of them are really good.  So before I review this beer, let me just say that although I may sound snobby, my views on Samuel Adams or any beer I drink are based only on style and my preferences, not on size, or what anyone on Beer Advocate thinks.

That said, here’s a review of another Boston Beer Brewmaster’s Collection staple, the Black Lager.  I’ll say up front that I really enjoy this type of beer because of its malt character and I think it’s a perfect style for winter drinking.

Samuel Adams Black Lager, Boston Beer Company
Massachusetts, United States of A
Schwarzbier, 4.90 % ABV

Aroma: Some coffee malt scents with some sweet chocolate lingering.

Appearance: Nice head, thick pour, dark brown/black.

Flavor: Great balance of semi-sweet malt and subtle toasty coffee bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Medium body, very nice carbonation.

Overall: A pretty good dark lager.  I was hoping for more aromatics but it has a nice balanced flavor and good mouthfeel.  A very nice example of the style, quality beer here, great for cold weather.

An Ode to Mahar’s

The beer periodical Draft Magazine just released its 100 best beer bars for 2012.  The bars are organized by region: west, midwest, northeast, and south.  Looking at the list, I have been to three of these locations, Toronado in San Francisco, The Flying Saucer in Houston, and the Bier Baron/Brickskeller in Washington, DC.  They’re pretty great beer bars, that’s for sure.  But one thing sort of bothered me about the list.  Almost all of its bars were from big cities, heavy on tourists, known for their culture.  It struck me that there had to be some places from smaller cities (not even smaller though, as the Fuel and Fuddle in Pittsburgh is a great beer bar) that would be deserving of a place on the list.  Now, I’m not really surprised that Albany’s own Mahar’s did not make the list.  But not seeing it on there really got me thinking about what makes a great beer bar (and everyone has an opinion on that) and what makes Mahar’s so great.  So I thought I’d honor the bar that brought me to Albany by describing in a little post here.

To begin with, Mahar’s is seriously the bar that brought me to Albany.  I was here for a visiting weekend in March of 2008 and a bunch of current students in the program decided to take us out there on a Friday night.  Having a good local watering hole is key to surviving graduate school, so this immediately put Albany at the top of my list.  Since then, it’s become a favorite among students in our department and bringing prospective students there is somewhat of a tradition.  Sure, there are a lot of other great beer places in Albany, but really, Mahar’s is all you need.

Why is that?  Well, the easiest thing to do would be to check out their website.  In fact, you could just go there and skip this entire post.  But, in the off chance that you don’t, here’s the skinny.

Atmosphere: This can really be thought of as atmosphere, AND the lack thereof.  Oxymoron perhaps?  Not really, as we shall see.  Mahar’s creates a great atmosphere by ignoring most of the staples of the bars around here.  There are no TVs.  No one goes here to watch any sort of game.  If there were TVs, they’d probably be showing scenario paintball.  There is no jukebox.  The awesomeness of this cannot be overstated.  You will hear no music, you will not get angry at anyone for their music choices.  There will be no lines formed near the jukebox.  You will not scream in order to be heard by your friend standing next to you.  There is no food.  Well, that’s sort of a lie.  There are sandwiches that you get get cooked in a press, there are bags of chips that you can order, but I’ve rarely seen anyone buy any of these things.  There’s no menu, no servers, no kitchen.  Starting to get the picture?  Mahar’s isn’t about music, watching the game, or eating good food.  It’s about…

Beer: Mahar’s is a public bar for people who appreciate beer.  On only one occasion have I seen anyone drinking a Corona/Miller, something of that nature.  People go to Mahar’s because they appreciate beer.  Their draft selection is strong, changing on a routine basis, and they have 4-5 cask lines, which are VERY hard to find around in many bars.  If you haven’t had a cask beer, you owe it to yourself to try it.  Their bottle selection is pretty nice as well, but you’re best served by going in and drinking from the tap.  In case it’s not obvious, just look around the walls at the hundreds of taps that they have as decorations.  Drink draft beer.

Customer Appreciation: A lot of people make a stink about the customer service at Mahar’s.  They complain that the guys are rude, snobby, or whatever.  That’s really untrue.  The behavior that will get you good service at any bar, will get you good service at Mahar’s.  The behavior that will piss off bartenders at Hollywood Cafe, will piss off the bartenders at Mahar’s.  The game is simple.  Make up your mind as to what you want to order.  Get the bartender’s attention.  Say “please” and tell them what you’d like.  Have your money ready (the prices are listed next to the beers so there’s no excuse), say “thank you” and tip them.  Then, if you’re at the serving area where other people are trying to order, step away from the bar so people have room.

But really, these guys love their customers.  Why do I say that?  Because they know that without their customers, they wouldn’t exist.  They know their customers could care less about TV, music, or food.  They know their customers just want a place that they can enjoy good beer with their friends.  If you’re looking for something else, they don’t want you and you don’t want to be there.  It’s that simple.  If they didn’t love their customers, they wouldn’t reward them with t-shirts, mugs, and cases of beer.  Be polite, be friendly, make conversation when the time is right.  Don’t stumble in hammered, when you go there, don’t let the whole bar know you’re getting hammered.

The Bottom Line: Once you know what to expect, Mahar’s is the best place on earth to have a good beer.  You’re going to be able to find something you like, you’re going to be able to enjoy it without crazy college crowds, without blaring music, and without guys in jerseys coming in to watch the game and going crazy.  Sure, sometimes you want the atmosphere of a sports bar, or you want to mingle with drunk strangers.  But for me, at 28, I know what I like and what I want in a bar experience.  I had a theory that the only question you needed to ask someone when you got to know them was, “Do you wear a bike helmet?”  But, asking them if they go to Mahar’s is just as good.

Beer #5 – Shipyard Blue Fin Stout

It’s winter time here in Albany and since it gets mighty cold around here, I’m focusing on winter beers.  Winter beers are usually more full bodied, with some spice or sweetness in their character.  Stouts and porters make for great beers to sip by the fire or with dessert after a heart meal of soup or stew.  These styles are great nightcaps for the winter.  Tonight’s beer comes from Portland, Maine, another semi-local brew from the Shipyard Brewing Company.

Blue Fin Stout, Shipyard Brewing Company
Maine, United States of A
Irish Dry Stout, 4.7% ABV

Aroma: Great nose of chocolate and coffee, well balanced between both.

Appearance: Poured thick with a very small head.  Dark brown/black.

Flavor: Nice coffee bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Full bodied, coats the mouth well, almost a residual coffee graininess after you swallow (but this isn’t a bad thing, it’s like eating chocolate).  Less creamy than other stouts (again, not a bad thing).

Overall: A really nice stout, good flavor and aroma.  I love the mouthfeel, it makes you realize you are drinking something with substantial character and ingredients.  Very different from a Guinness, although they are both technically the same style.  A good winter beer, would pair very nicely with a chocolate cake or cookies.