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A shortlist of items I use to work, stay focused, and keep my immune system firing on all cylinders while doing some professional-vagabonding

Professional Vagabonding

August 2, 2020

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The Short Story

A shortlist of ultra-portable items I use to work, stay calm, focused, and keep my immune system firing on all cylinders while riding camels and whatnot.
 
Work: Bluetooth keyboard and iPhone strap to type anything, anywhere, under any amount of rain, snow, or sand—fingers willing!
Mind: One heavy-duty resistance band and one jumping rope, to keep the body hard and the mind focused!
Soul: A small massage ball that packs the biggest of punches. It’s so underrated; I can’t even believe it.
Body: High doses of vitamin C, vitamin D, and zinc to keep the immune system strong and resilient!

The Long Story

“Life is either a daring adventure, or it’s nothing at all.”
―Helen Keller
In Marco’s Email Wrap-up—June 2020 (subscriber exclusive, subscribe here) I mentioned having typed that long, long update – I should start calling these things digests – on a Logitech Keys-To-Go keyboard on my lap while sitting on the back of the longest taxi ride of my life, from Kyiv to Kryvyi Rih’s, Ukraine.
 
It was a long ride, indeed. It also gave me the idea to make a list of ultra-portable travel essentials I always keep with me. You might find this useful for your adventures. The items are split into productivity, mind, soul, and body.

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THE TRAVELLING SCRIBE’S REED BRUSH AND PAPYRUS

“If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine, it’s lethal.”
―Paulo Coelho

You guessed it; my feather of choice is the Logitech Keys-To-Go. It is my favorite keyboard, as I mentioned in the monthly Wrap-Up. It’s extra light, extra flat, super sturdy, and the battery lasts longer than the sun. I mostly like to write in crowded places with a lot of noise of the like of cafes and restaurants. Besides, according to my mother, my lifelong mission is never to have a meal at home. Both things align quite nicely.
 
It works great on planes, too. I’m not comfortable with putting my laptop on my lap—nor my phone, for that matter as there’s enough research pointing out to adverse effects of computers and phones near the testicular region in men, notably a study published in Fertility And Sterility [1]. I’m quite confident, even if I were to damage my testicular integrity with cellular waves or heat, as indicated by the science, I could still fix it by throwing as much stem cells, and platelet-rich therapy (PRT) at it as needed, but one ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as they say.
 
As for the traveling scribe’s papyrus: I often find myself on the back of a great many taxi rides. Sometimes, they’re as long as a day without bread – or as long as my monthly emails – be it because of traffic or because of distance. I always have this little gadget Wired Magazine referred to as the most pointless gadget of the day back in 2019. I think Wired Magazine is excellent, but in this particular case, the limiting factor was the author’s imagination. May be because they don’t take MAXIMUM MIND, yet. I don’t use the ThiPhone strap to fix my iPhone to my thigh, as it is intended. I don’t want my phone anywhere close to me. I want my phone as far away from me as possible. There was this article published in Fertil Steril that moved the needle for me, for instance [2].
 
What I do with the strap is a bit different: I use the ThiPhone strap to fix my phone to the back of the passenger’s seat, giving me de facto a seat screen, which is actually my phone and has all the stuff I use on it, e.g., Scrivener, iCloud, Evernote, and so on. I use Scrivener for writing, not because it’s more organized and practical than Microsoft Word, but just because it is more beautiful, and looking at beauty is good for the mind and the soul!
 
The strap is heavy duty and sticks to the seat like soft caramel on teeth. I was quite surprised that it held so well. Even on the bumpiest, most despicable of post-soviet onion field roads, it held, which all and of itself is an excellent testament to the quality of the product.
 
This little trick paired with the Bluetooth keyboard from above gives me the lightest, most portable work setup I can imagine, for now.

 

The wandering Buddha’s Toolbox

“Not all those who wander are lost.”
―J.R.R. Tolkien

Back when we had just finished school, one of my best friends and roommates had started a new, quite stressful job at a logistics company in Sweden. I still remember how he was describing the stress building up, the all too familiar tingling sensation around his fingertips, the cocktail of emotions ensuing, and the cold sweats. He also mentioned how he coped with stress: he simply snacked on a Snickers or any other chocolate candy available until the sugar rush made him feel better.
 
Back then, I thought: “that’s no way to go about those things.” And then, one year later, surely enough, I was in the same position, although in a different location and industry, munching on candy in frustration as my stress levels decreased and my waist increased. It still was no way to deal with stress or lack of focus. What I do now to calm and refocus the mind is almost constant exercise—kaizen much? Aside from what exercise does to your brain, i.e., increased brain processing speed and mental clarity – we don’t need to worry about that for now – there are tremendous benefits to stress reduction and stress prevention. In a groundbreaking paper published in The American Journal of Cardiology, researchers could pinpoint the exact minimum amount of exercise needed to reap most of the cardiovascular benefits from exercising [3]. This paper could show for the first time that short bouts of exercise multiple times a day were as effective as a long, acute session on predictors of heart health. This opened the gate for other researchers to look into possible benefits of multiple short bouts of exercise on other health factors.
 
When it comes to me, aside from building makeshift standing desks out of everything—putting a chair on any table and then your laptop on that chair is a quite simple way to make a temporary standing desk, I also always have a Rogue Monster Band and a Rogue Jumping Rope everywhere I go. They weigh close to nothing, i.e., 600 grams, and fit in every bag. I use the green resistance band, with around 25 kilograms of resistance, but it doesn’t matter. Any of those will do the trick: with lighter, you can do more reps, with heavier, fewer reps. Also, neither the resistance band nor the jumping rope needs to be these exact ones. I just like the Rogue brand because I got used to it from CrossFit (these links are not affiliated), and it also reminds me of those times when we used to play World of Warcraft with my roommates back in school. Who would have guessed that I’m this sentimental? But, I digress.
 
I like CrossFit because it brings camaraderie, accountability, and competitive spirits to otherwise quite fastidious workouts. It also puts meaning and a zest of heroism into these otherwise mundane things. For instance, you might have noticed that the Marathon is not called the 42.2 kilometers run, it’s called the Marathon. It has a name with a meaning. It’s not just about running whatever distance. The name comes from the legend of Philippides, a Greek soldier. After he fought the Persians and won in the battle of Marathon, in his euphoria, he graciously ran the distance of 42.2 kilometers separating the battlefield from Athens. He ran without stopping or slowing down, as the legend goes, to then collapse and die of exhaustion in front of the Athenian assembly after bursting a last and memorable “we have won!” He died to bring a beacon of light into the darkness of a long war. It has more meaning than running 42.2 kilometers. At CrossFit, we don’t just put heavy body armor on, run one mile, do 100 pullups, 200 pushups, 300 squats, and then run the same mile back for the great fuck of it. We call it Murph, in honor of Lieutenant Michael Murphy who was killed in Afghanistan while doing what he wanted to do most: protect his country and loved ones. Now, we can argue about the protect-your-country part and the ethics of war. It’s not the debate I’m after. I’m not American nor have any reason to particularly like or dislike the US. I’m not talking about the geopolitics of war, either. I’m just talking about heroic people who believe in something; people who believe their countrymen are at risk and lose everything to protect them. Heroism is universal—universally inspiring! I have nothing but deep respect and admiration for those heroes—whatever side they might be on. Anyway, all this to say: CrossFit brings unity and meaning to workouts that would otherwise just be routinely tedious. It’s good for the body and the soul.
 
Let’s get back to the topic at hand, shall we? With both the rope and band, I do ten minutes of jumping rope followed by three rounds of 50 air squats, 25 pushups, 25 chest pulls. The resistance band is just for the chest pulls. Let’s also take a second to appreciate that chest pulls are so niche—you’d be hard-pressed to find anything mainstream on Marco’s Grounds anyway, I had to dig out the only video on all of the whole worldwide web that accurately illustrates the movement. It’s a massively underrated exercise that quickly activates all the upper-back musculature. To quote the fine gentleman showing us the movement: “it brings music into the muscles!”
 
The whole thing, i.e., rope plus three rounds of squats, pushups, and chest pulls, takes about fifteen to sixteen minutes and does wonders to stress and focus levels. This quick and light equipment workout activates the whole body and quickly refreshes and refocuses the mind.
 
When I’m writing or otherwise dealing with business, I do it anywhere from two to four times a day. It’s short enough that it doesn’t interfere with my day. It’s long enough that it gets the heart pumping and the blood flowing. It’s light enough that it doesn’t tear muscle tissue, which would prevent me from fully dabbling in other joyful activities, of the likes of Jiu-Jitsu, CrossFit, or serious weightlifting. Most people are familiar with the soothing and focusing effect movement has on the mind. They just don’t have clear, real-world, relatable examples of it. That’s what I’m for. For example, when you’re on the phone, you tend to get up and start walking back and forth as the conversation requires increased focus and brain processing power. This is nothing but the effect of physical activity on the mind. It sharpens otherwise dull thoughts and intensifies focus. Ernest Hemingway, for instance, whom I can’t seem to quote enough, always wrote standing at his desk by the window, as he believed it heightened his creativity. Well, we know now that it does.
Let me give you the little scientific cherry on top of this beautiful, highly practical cake! There’s this protein we judiciously decided to call GLUT-4, which stands for glucose transporter 4. I know, we pumped so much creativity into naming this one—at least as much as in naming GLUT-1-3.
 
Anyway, that protein regulates, you guessed it, glucose transportation. Now, there’s this thing about ever so slightly activating muscle tissue: it brings GLUT4 to the surface of the muscle cells, as has been shown by research published in The Journal of Applied Physiology [4].
 
If we put all of it together, performing light exercise before a meal raises GLUT4 to the surface of the cells and increases ever so slightly the chance of what you just ate to get into muscle tissue rather than fat tissue. Bodybuilders call this the pump and have post-workout meals—the pump is not only GLUT4; it’s other things too, but we needn’t worry about those for now.
We know, due to research published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, that it only takes 280 seconds of exercise to increase GLUT-4 concentration by 83% in the activated muscle tissue. For instance, it has been shown to take six hours of training to increase GLUT-4 to about 92% concentration [5]. What do I always tell you about the 80/20 principle? I rest my case.
doing-exercises-with-stress-ball-with-professional-vagabonding-at-MARCO'S-GROUNDS-1920X1080-web

The Moneyball

“Why do people say:”grow some balls”? Balls are weak and sensitive. If you want to be tough, grow a vagina. Those things can take a pounding.”
―Sheng Wang

This one little travel trick of mine is massively underrated: I always have a Rubz Massage Ball with me. It’s a tiny ball, a bit bigger and softer than a golf ball that fits anywhere and costs less than $5. I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t tried, but rubbing your feet on it at the end of the day is just so calming and peaceful. It doesn’t even make sense. Some people swear it alleviates back pain, restless leg syndrome, lower neck pain, and other ailments. I don’t have any of those things, so I can’t tell you first-hand. What I know is that it’s as soothing as listening to a tranquil ocean at sunset.
woman-holding-capsules-with-professional-vagabonding-at-MARCO'S-GROUNDS-1920X1080-web

The Modern Perseus Shield

“Prepare for the worst and pray for the best.”
―Ronald A. Martin, Jr.

Traveling is notoriously stressful and taxing on the immune system. Eventually, amid the Coronavirus worldwide health and economic crisis, it is as good a time as any to have a quick look at ultra-effective ways to motivate those little antibodies of ours to go and fight the good fight.
 
Aside from getting plenty of sleep, exercise – both body and mind, and nutritious food, some things can be done to increase one’s immunity dramatically. I don’t know about you, but I’m not one to cower in fear and wait for things to happen. When there is trouble on the horizon, I try and quickly figure out the situation and draft a plan of action to mitigate risk, while still doing what needs to be done.
 
For instance, what I do, is one week before traveling, I start taking heavy-duty doses of vitamin C, vitamin D, and zinc. I know some people are skeptical about supplementation. Some people think they don’t work. Well, what I know about those people is that they have no concept of dosage, timing, and blood concentration levels.
Let’s take an easily understandable example; most vitamin C supplements contain anywhere between 50 and 200 milligrams of ascorbic acid – the fancy, Saturday-evening-dinner name for vitamin C. We know that to have any measurable increase in blood concentration of ascorbic acid, at least one to three grams of vitamin C needs to be taken daily. To put things into perspective, we’re talking about doses 15 to 60 times higher than mainstream supplements would have. Of course, if you’re taking such a supplement, it’s not going to do anything. It’s not going to move the needle. It’s like trying to boil a huge pot of water with one match. To boil water, you need it to get to 100°C; it’s not boiled at 90°C, it’s not boiled at 99°C, it’s not more boiled at 200°C: boiled is boiled. The same applies to vitamins, minerals, supplements, et cetera. Supplementing with high doses of vitamin C seems to be safe, according to a study published in The Annals of The New York Academy of Sciences [6]. Further, a study published in The Journal of The American College of Nutrition could not find any evidence of adverse health effects related to consumption of 10g of vitamin C a day in healthy subjects for three years. However, the researchers documented that higher doses of vitamin C have been associated with several indices of lowered cardiovascular disease risk, including increases in HDL and decreases in LDL oxidation, blood pressure, and cardiovascular mortality [7].
 
Also, let’s note that people who smoke—commonly referred to as smokers, consume alcohol—referred to as fun people, or have specific medical conditions often have higher vitamin C needs than healthy people. A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition demonstrated that smoking increases oxidative stress, which increases antioxidant requirements [8]. Alcohol consumption has been shown to increase urinary vitamin C losses by nearly 50 percent in a study published in Alcohol and Alcoholism, suggesting that higher intake might be required to prevent deficiency in regular or heavy drinkers [9]. There are minimum doses that produce an effect; there are does that are too low to trigger anything, and there are doses that are over the top and are at best wasted or, at worse, produce side effects. Doses, timing, and blood concentrations matter.
 
Besides, blood concentration is easily measurable. You don’t have to rely on voodoo witchcraft. Any walk-in laboratory is happy to take a bit of your blood and run tests. Testing for blood concentrations of vitamin C, D, and zinc, where I live, in Zurich, Switzerland, costs around $100 a pop. It’s not the most expensive thing in the world. But it does add up. A cheap, yet less precise alternative would be a saliva test, that would run at around $70 a pop for all three elements.
 
hand-spilling-pills-out-bottle-with-professional-vagabonding-at-MARCO'S-GROUNDS-1920X1080-web
Let’s get back to the minimum effective dose to put all our chips on the immune system side. What I take is 3 grams of vitamin C split into three doses, 30 milligrams of zinc also divided into three doses, and 10’000 IU (International Units) of vitamin D split into two doses. I start one week before traveling to give time to the active ingredients to supercharge my bloodstream; then, I continue throughout the traveling period. That’s it, really. Those three supplements together have been shown to increase immune system function drastically. A mechanistic study published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation found that mild zinc deficiency can decrease T-lymphocyte (T-cell) numbers [10]. Now, I’m not a doctor, as you know, but I understand the concept of fewer T-cells. That seems quite clear.
 
Further, a study published in The Journal of Applied Physiology has found that 1-2g a day of vitamin C alone results in increased immune cell function and oxidative capacity to protect against immune dysfunction [11]. Finally, doses of 5’000 IU vitamin D have been shown to increase T-cell function in a paper published in Current Opinion in Pharmacology [12]. Almost like vitamin D is putting those antibodies on steroids, which is funny to me, since vitamin D is technically a steroid. It’s just that most people think about anabolic steroids when they hear the term. There’s a bit more to it, though.
 
Some people seem to believe supplements are useless, and food alone would do the trick. Yet, those same people would be hard-pressed to tell you what foods contain high concentrations of zinc or vitamin C for that matter—aside from oranges for vitamin C. Also, those people are going to have fun traveling with an orange tree in their pocket because that’s quite literally the volume and mass of oranges they’d consume to reach those concentration levels. Besides, who has even time to chew that much?
 
In my usual day-to-day, I just take 1-2 grams of vitamin C, 15 milligrams of zinc, and about one pill of vitamin D, i.e., 5000 IU, I think it’s more sustainable. I’m not telling you to jump to conclusions, though; I’m just showing you where I’ve landed after I’ve jumped myself.
 
That’s it for now! Those are my quick tips to stay productive, healthy, happy, and focused while nonchalantly and jovially vagabonding throughout this immense and hauntingly beautiful world of ours. I wanted to make this shorter, and yet we’re running at 3’000 words. I hope someday I’ll master the craft enough to express more with less.
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Literature

  1. Avendano, C., Mata, A., Sarmiento, C. A. S., & Doncel, G. F. (2012). Use of laptop computers connected to internet through Wi-Fi decreases human sperm motility and increases sperm DNA fragmentation. Fertility and Sterility, 97(1), 39-45.
  2. Yan, J. G., Agresti, M., Bruce, T., Yan, Y. H., Granlund, A., & Matloub, H. S. (2007). Effects of cellular phone emissions on sperm motility in rats. Fertility and sterility, 88(4), 957–964.
  3. DeBusk, R. F., Stenestrand, U., Sheehan, M., & Haskell, W. L. (1990). Training effects of long versus short bouts of exercise in healthy subjects. The American journal of cardiology, 65(15), 1010-1013.
  4. Kawanaka, K., Tabata, I., Tanaka, A., & Higuchi, M. (1998). Effects of high-intensity intermittent swimming on glucose transport in rat epitrochlearis muscle. Journal of Applied Physiology, 84(6), 1852-1857.
  5. Ebeling, P., Bourey, R., Koranyi, L., Tuominen, J. A., Groop, L. C., Henriksson, J., … & Koivisto, V. A. (1993). Mechanism of enhanced insulin sensitivity in athletes. Increased blood flow, muscle glucose transport protein (GLUT-4) concentration, and glycogen synthase activity. The Journal of clinical investigation, 92(4), 1623-1631.
  6. Levine, M., Conry-Cantilena, C., Wang, Y., Welch, R. W., Washko, P. W., Dhariwal, K. R., … & Cantilena, L. R. (1996). Vitamin C pharmacokinetics in healthy volunteers: evidence for a recommended dietary allowance. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 93(8), 3704-3709.
  7. Bendich, A., & Langseth, L. (1995). The health effects of vitamin C supplementation: a review. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 14(2), 124-136.
  8. Schectman, G., Byrd, J. C., & Hoffmann, R. (1991). Ascorbic acid requirements for smokers: analysis of a population survey. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 53(6), 1466-1470.
  9. Faizallah, R., Morris, A. I., Krasner, N., & Walker, R. J. (1986). Alcohol enhances vitamin C excretion in the urine. Alcohol and Alcoholism, 21(1), 81-84.
  10. Prasad, A. S., Meftah, S., Abdallah, J., Kaplan, J., Brewer, G. J., Bach, J. F., & Dardenne, M. (1988). Serum thymulin in human zinc deficiency. The Journal of clinical investigation, 82(4), 1202-1210.
  11. Nieman, D. C., Henson, D. A., McAnulty, S. R., McAnulty, L., Swick, N. S., Utter, A. C., … & Morrow, J. D. (2002). Influence of vitamin C supplementation on oxidative and immune changes after an ultramarathon. Journal of applied physiology, 92(5), 1970-1977.
  12. Baeke, F., Takiishi, T., Korf, H., Gysemans, C., & Mathieu, C. (2010). Vitamin D: modulator of the immune system. Current opinion in pharmacology, 10(4), 482-496.

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