Keep it simple

Try to keep things simple. For example, find out what you aren’t good at and don’t do that. Or, from Warren Buffett, “Rule #1: Never lose money. Rule #2: Never forget rule #1.”

It boils down to trying to see the situation clearly and not making mistakes.

Believing that people use reasoning when making important decisions sometimes leads to disappointment. Here’s situation I read somewhere:

“If you play a slot machine long enough, eventually you’ll…what?” The whole group yelled out “WIN!” Well actually, everyone’s a loser in the long run, except for the casino.

They confused the benefits of persistence with the actual odds of succeeding.

It’s the same thing for folks playing the lottery, it’s a loser’s game made for people who’re bad at math.

Try to figure out if the game is rigged, and if you’re good, or not, at playing that game.

Less Stuff

People who have a lot of stuff at home are usually surprised at how much less stuff we have in our house.

Our house’s sparseness isn’t by necessity or due to lack of money. We’re not really minimalists or cheap.

In our case, it’s the result of a system rather than the goal of being minimalists. By just optimizing our lives for happiness rather than maximum consumption we just wound up with less stuff.

There’s less to worry about, clean, or have to make room for. Having less stuff is an easier and simpler way to go through life. End of story.

1.5x

The pace of life gets faster. Sometimes I’ll listen to things online at a faster than normal speed. It works best when I’m already familiar with the speaker.

Most platforms let you speed things up. On YouTube, for example, just click on the gear icon in the lower right and select “speed.” The other side of this coin is being able to slow down videos – really handy when you’re learning a new song for the guitar.

There’s a subculture of “fastcast” listeners who generally listen to all their  podcasts at faster speeds so they can keep up with the long list of podcasts they follow. Here’re a couple of interesting points from an article on these fastcasters

A Princeton neuroscientist has pointed out that even at normal speed, most people don’t catch every single word. “If you make it one-third faster, it’s almost perfect — they don’t lose a lot,” he said.

Because recordings played at higher speeds are at a higher pitch, they’re actually easier to hear. Low-frequency noises, like street noise, vacuum cleaners, or airplanes, get in the way of our understanding of people talking. Playing podcasts at a higher speed, the listener is creating a greater acoustic differentiation between the words and lower-frequency background noises.

The brain is able to easily adapt to different speaking speeds. “Your brain responses become slower when I speak slowly, and brain responses become faster when I speak faster.” But, he cautioned, comprehension starts to break down around 2x.

Longer Douglas Coupland quotes

Earth was not built for six billion people all running around and being passionate about things. The world was built for about two million people foraging for roots and grubs.

After you’re dead and buried and floating around whatever place we go to, what’s going to be your best memory of earth? What one moment for you defines what it’s like to be alive on this planet. What’s your takeaway? Fake yuppie experiences that you had to spend money on, like white water rafting or elephant rides in Thailand don’t count. I want to hear some small moment from your life that proves you’re really alive.

When someone tells you they’ve just bought a house, they might as well tell you they no longer have a personality. You can immediately assume so many things: that they’re locked into jobs they hate; that they’re broke; that they spend every night watching videos; that they’re fifteen pounds overweight; that they no longer listen to new ideas. It’s profoundly depressing.

Clique Maintenance: The need of one generation to see the generation following it as deficient so as to bolster its own collective ego: Kids today do nothing. They’re so apathetic. We used to go out and protest. All they do is shop and complain.

But I guess the nice thing about driving a car is that the physical act of driving itself occupies a good chunk of brain cells that otherwise would be giving you trouble overloading your thinking. New scenery continually erases what came before; memory is lost, shuffled, relabeled and forgotten. Gum is chewed; buttons are pushed; windows are lowered and opened. A fast moving car is the only place where you’re legally allowed to not deal with your problems. It’s enforced meditation and this is good.

Short Douglas Coupland quotes

There’s a lot to be said for having a small manageable dream.

Figure out what it is in life you don’t do well, and then don’t do it.

You can’t get mad at weather because weather’s not about you. Apply that lesson to most other aspects of life.

Life need not be a story, but it does need to be an adventure.

Nothing very very good and nothing very very bad lasts for very very long.

Q: If you could be an animal, what kind of animal would you be? A: You already are an animal.

Most of us have only two or three genuinely interesting moments in our lives; the rest is filler.

Healthy people are bad for capitalism.

Bleeding Ponytail: An elderly sold out baby boomer who pines for hippie or pre-sellout days.

Their god was called Gun

Maybe you’ve heard this little story about aliens visiting us. Aliens, on first observing humans, might think we serve dogs. As soon a dog poops, their attending human quickly recovers the precious gift from the dog in a special bag.

Maybe future historians, after reviewing the actions of modern Americans, might assume the American religion was built around a god called Gun. They’d see the records of mass killings using guns occurring fairly regularly, daily self sacrifices using guns, and the constant settling of disputes (usually with someone close to the shooter) with guns. Future historians would even discover there’re more pre-schoolers shot dead in America (about 75) than police officers are in a typical year.

These future historians might speculate that mental illness, criminal activity, or racial issues were the root of the problem before coming to the conclusion current researchers have come to. Namely that American violence comes down to the vast number of guns in America. These findings could lead future historians to theorize that the  US culture’s predominate god is named Gun.

They’re a couple of good articles about in the NYT , here and here, about gun violence and possible solutions. Here’re a few takeaways from the articles. The bottom line is this: The only variable explaining the high rate of mass shootings in America is its astronomical number of guns.

Worldwide, a country’s rate of gun ownership correlated with the odds it would experience a mass shooting. This relationship held even when excluding the US, indicating that it couldn’t be explained by some other factor particular. And it held when controlled for homicide rates, suggesting that mass shootings were better explained by a society’s access to guns than by its baseline level of violence. 

Americans make up about 4.4% of the global population but own 42% of the world’s guns. Only in the U.S. do we lose one person every 15 minutes to gun violence.

While there’s crime in other countries, American crime is simply more lethal. A New Yorker is just as likely to be robbed as a Londoner, but the New Yorker is 54 times more likely to be killed in the process.

While mass shootings can happen anywhere, they are only a matter of routine in the US.

In 2013, American gun-related deaths included 21,175 suicides, 11,208 homicides and 505 deaths from accidental discharge. That same year in Japan, a country with one-third America’s population, guns were involved in only 13 deaths. America’s gun ownership rate is 150 times higher than Japan’s.

The US is one of only three countries, along with Mexico and Guatemala, that begin with the assumption that people have an inherent right to own guns. But the US has determined that relatively unregulated gun ownership is worth the cost to society.

Gun safety or reducing gun violence should be framed as a public health issue using auto safety as a model with its constant efforts to make the products safer and limiting access by people who are most likely to misuse them.

We don’t ban cars, but we work hard to regulate them – and limit access to them – so as to reduce the death toll they cause. This has been spectacularly successful, reducing the death rate per 100 million miles driven by 95% since 1921.

States where guns are more regulated tend to have lower gun death rates.

But the problem is that lax laws too often make it easy not only for good guys to get guns, but also for bad guys to get guns. The evidence is overwhelming that overall more guns and more relaxed gun laws lead to more violent deaths and injuries. One study found that a gun in the house was associated with an increased risk of a gun death, particularly by suicide but also by homicide.

Although it’s mass shootings that get our attention, they’re not the main cause of loss of life. Much more typical is a friend who shoots another, a husband who kills his wife – or, most common of all, a man who kills himself.

Skeptics will say that if people want to kill themselves, there’s nothing we can do. In fact, it turns out that if you make suicide more difficult, suicide rates drop.

After tightening gun laws, firearm homicide rates dropped 40 percent in Connecticut. And after Missouri eased gun laws, gun homicide rates rose 25 percent.

Our laws have often focused more on weapons themselves (such as the assault weapons ban) rather than on access. In many places, there is more rigorous screening of people who want to adopt dogs than of people who want to purchase firearms. A car or gun is usually safe in the hands of a 45-year-old woman with no criminal record, but may be dangerous when used by a 19-year-old felon with a history of alcohol offenses or domestic violence protection orders.

Sunday’s horror at a church in Texas was 100% predictable. After each such incident, we mourn the deaths and sympathize with the victims, but we do nothing fundamental to reduce our vulnerability. The question isn’t whether we’ll restrict firearms, but where to draw the line. The real impetus for change will come because the public favors it.

Black helicopters in Finland

“Black helicopters are part of a conspiracy theory claiming special silent running “black” helicopters are used by secret agents of the New World Order… in short, any farfetched theory concerning any government or other conspiracy…” from the Urban dictionary.

About six weeks ago, my wife and I happened to chat briefly with a Finnish guy in restaurant. He lives a couple of hundred kilometers north of Helsinki, in the middle of nowhere.

We were in Estonia, a small country across the Baltic sea from Sweden. It didn’t take long for him to figure out we were Americans and he said he wanted to ask us something. He wanted to know if the 9/11 attacks in the US actually happened. We assured him it was true. And that the moon landings in the late sixties happened too.

For a guy living in the middle of nowhere from the standpoint of US culture, he was pretty up to date on conspiracy theories, ones predating “fake news.” With the internet, conspiracy theories are like a mutant pollen drifting across continents. And apparently there’re minds receptive to mutant pollen all over the world.

Sleeping

Here’s some highlights on the importance of sleep from an article in The Guardian.

  • After being awake for 19 hours, you’re as cognitively impaired as someone who is drunk.
  • Two-thirds of adults in developed nations fail to obtain eight hours of sleep.
  • If you drive having had only four hours of sleep, you’re 11.5 times more likely to be involved in an accident.
  • To successfully initiate sleep, your core temperature needs to drop about 1C.
  • A hot bath aids sleep because your dilated blood vessels radiate inner heat, and your core body temperature drops.
  • The time taken to reach physical exhaustion by athletes who obtain less than eight hours of sleep, and especially less than six hours, drops by 10-30%.
  • It’s a myth that older adults need less sleep.
  • Morning types, who prefer to awake around dawn, make up about 40% of the population. Evening types, who prefer to go to bed late and wake up late, account for about 30%. The remaining 30% lie somewhere in between.

Matthew Walker is the director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at UC, Berkeley and was formerly a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Walker has written “Why We Sleep,”  examining the powerful links between sleep loss and Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity and poor mental health. “No aspect of our biology is left unscathed by sleep deprivation,” he says.

“First, we electrified the night,” Walker says. “Second, our work: not only the porous borders between start and finish, but longer commuter times, too. No one wants to give up time with their family or entertainment, so they give up sleep instead. And anxiety plays a part. We’re a lonelier, more depressed society.”

But Walker also says that in the developed world, sleep is strongly associated with weakness, even shame, “We have stigmatised sleep with the label of laziness.”

More than 20 large scale epidemiological studies all report the clear relationship: the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life. To take just one example, adults aged 45 years or older who sleep less than six hours a night are 200% more likely to have a heart attack or stroke in their lifetime.

By looking at the brainwave patterns of people with different forms of dementia, sleep could be a new early diagnostic litmus test for different subtypes of dementia.

A lack of sleep also appears to hijack the body’s effective control of blood sugar, the cells become less responsive to insulin causing a prediabetic state of hyperglycaemia. When your sleep becomes short you’re susceptible to weight gain. Among the reasons for this are the fact that inadequate sleep decreases levels of the satiety-signalling hormone, leptin, and increases levels of the hunger-signalling hormone, ghrelin. “I’m not going to say that the obesity crisis is caused by the sleep-loss epidemic alone. It’s not. However, processed food and sedentary lifestyles don’t adequately explain its rise. Something’s missing. It’s now clear that sleep is that third ingredient.”

Getting too little sleep across the adult lifespan will significantly raise your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. In essence it has to do with amyloid deposits (a toxin protein) accumulating in the brains of those suffering from the disease, killing the surrounding cells. During deep sleep, such deposits are effectively cleaned from the brain. Without sufficient sleep, these plaques build up, especially in the brain’s deep-sleep-generating regions, attacking and degrading them. The loss of deep sleep caused by this assault therefore lessens our ability to remove them from the brain at night. More amyloid, less deep sleep; less deep sleep, more amyloid, and so on.

Sleep aids our ability to make new memories, and restores our capacity for learning.

A lack of sleep also affects our mood more generally. Brain scans carried out by Walker revealed a 60% amplification in the reactivity of the amygdala – a key spot for triggering anger and rage – in those who were sleep-deprived.

We sleep in 90-minute cycles, and it’s only towards the end of each one of these that we go into deep sleep. Each cycle comprises two kinds of sleep. First, there is NREM sleep (non-rapid eye movement sleep); this is then followed by REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.

“During NREM sleep, your brain goes into this incredible synchronised pattern of rhythmic chanting,” he says. “There’s a remarkable unity across the surface of the brain, like a deep, slow mantra. Vast amounts of memory processing is going on. To produce these brainwaves, hundreds of thousands of cells all sing together, and then go silent, and on and on. Meanwhile, your body settles into this lovely low state of energy, the best blood-pressure medicine you could ever hope for. REM sleep, on the other hand, is sometimes known as paradoxical sleep, because the brain patterns are identical to when you’re awake. It’s an incredibly active brain state. Your heart and nervous system go through spurts of activity: we’re still not exactly sure why.”

Does the 90-minute cycle mean that so-called power naps are worthless? “They can take the edge off basic sleepiness. But you need 90 minutes to get to deep sleep, and one cycle isn’t enough to do all the work. You need four or five cycles to get all the benefit.”

Walker says, “I give myself a non-negotiable eight-hour sleep opportunity every night, and I keep very regular hours. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. I take my sleep incredibly seriously because I have seen the evidence.”

How is it possible to tell if a person is sleep-deprived? Walker thinks we should trust our instincts. Those who would sleep on if their alarm clock was turned off are simply not getting enough. Ditto those who need caffeine in the afternoon to stay awake. “I see it all the time,” he says. “I get on a flight at 10am when people should be at peak alert, and I look around, and half of the plane has immediately fallen asleep.”

Life’s great pleasures

“I know you’re not married, but if you were, can you imagine paying somebody to screw your wife?”

“No…” I said slowly, unsure what he was getting at. But before I could relax my eyebrows, he answered for me, “Of course not,” pausing before making his point, “It’d be the same thing as paying someone to walk your dog, why would you? It’s one of life’s great pleasures.”

Should I blame it on the fumes, I wondered?

We were hanging in a yoga studio out after working late installing a new floor. The new flooring was interlocking blue foam squares, which arrived bound together in stacks of fifteen.

After unstacking the squares and interlocking them like puzzle pieces, the off-gassing of petro chemical fumes was in high gear. The place smelled like a flip flop factory, a sickening sweet new car smell times twenty.

Then he started in about his college wrestling days as being one of his life’s great pleasures. Maybe he was breathing too many fumes because next he began trying to crush me into the new mat with wrestling moves. Kinda disrespectful, fighting in a yoga place right?

People don’t really care I guess. I remember seeing a church converted to a restaurant. And the restaurant was called “Christians.” That struck me as disrespectful somehow. But maybe it’s just no different than what cell phones and bottled water did to pay phones and drinking fountains.

 

The mystery skull

I saw an exhibit of Irving Penn’s photos covering several subjects with one part featuring pictures of animal skulls.

For most of skulls, I could  match the animal it belonged to. But the coolest looking skull stumped me. It’s here on the right.

I thought maybe it was from an extinct cave bear. It wasn’t. It was the skull of a spotted hyena.

Even knowing they have an incredibly powerful bite and they’re good scavengers and hunters, how could such a gnarly looking skull be inside of a spotted hyena’s head?

The skull was sleek and compact compared to the other skulls Penn photographed. The teeth fit so neatly together, even the really broad one the side.

Looking at those teeth it’s hard to image surviving a bite from them. I doubt any live animal survives if a hyena gets a good bite in place. And as a scavenger, a hyena can probably make off quickly with a nice meal.

Don’t judge a book by it’s cover. There’s an elegant looking skull inside an animal that looks a bit awkward on the outside.