Monthly Archives: November 2010

EVERYTHING I KNOW I LEARNED IN PRISON

That’s what it said on a bumper sticker on the car in front of me. I’ve never been in prison and hope I can always say that. But it’s a funny sticker.

I’m sure there’re some clever people locked up, and they have lots of time to kill. And prisons seem like they have a “survival of the fittest” thing going, right?

If you were in a restricted space with no access to a gym, eventually the best exercise for those circumstances bubbles up to the surface. The knowledge would be passed along from prisoner to prisoner and refined along the way. So workouts would have been through many iterations of lots of different exercises to arrive at something that’s the most effective. I can’t be sure it’s true; but there’s an exercise that supposedly comes out of the prison experience.

The exercise is called a Burpee pushup. It’s an exercise I do and like. With Burpee pushups you’ll really get the most bang for your buck. It’s an especially effective exercise to do if (unlike a prisoner) you don’t have much time or (like a prisoner) have a limited space. Say you’re traveling, staying in a hotel room and don’t have much time before a meeting. Do some Burpee pushups in your room, take a shower, and scoot off to your meeting, all in a very short time. Of course, they’re great to do at home too.

Here’s how they’re done. Drop down into the starting position for a pushup. Do a pushup. At the top of the pushup when your arms are straightening, jump your feet forward so your knees are at your chest and you’re in a crouching position. Then leap up, reaching for the ceiling with you hands. As you land, bend over, put your hands on the floor and pop your feet back so you’re in the starting  position for a pushup again. That’s one rep.

If you’d like, you can find videos of Burpee pushups on YouTube. Here’s one I like.

How many to do? Well, this is what I’d recommend and how many I do. Usually twenty one. But not all at once. I do only one at first; then I wait one minute; and then I do two; wait one minute then do three … and follow this pattern. I usually stop after the sixth minute/sixth set, which would at this point, have me doing six Burpee pushups during the last set. Adding up all six sets we have: 1+2+3+4+5+6=21. Twenty one reps of a hard exercise in six minutes and I’m done!

The other nice thing about doing it this way is you get a warm-up in there too. Sure, you can do more than one, but start with just one and go through adding a rep to each set.

This pattern of the rep number equaling the set number is called a “ladder.”  You can scale it up or down to suit your situation; and you can use it for other exercises too.

I have a feel for the time now but I usually use a cool little interval timer called the Gym Boss. It’s cheap, $20, easy to use, and keeps you honest. Of course you can use a watch or maybe a kitchen timer. The GymBoss is just easy and you can set any interval time you wish to use. Plus, it counts the number of intervals for you too. Just do your workout and listen for the beeps (it has a vibrate mode too in case you’re stealthy or in a loud area). Side note: An interval timer is handy for other exercises too because you can work out for timed sets, which is a more effective method.

At first, start out doing a couple of minutes worth and work up to six (or more) minutes. Don’t over do it and you’ll keep it up. Burpee pushups are a really good, quick, and surprisingly effective exercise.

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?

Thanksgiving is over and hopefully you had a nice celebration with your family.

But now after recovering from Thanksgiving, who’d you invite to dinner if you could invite any five people you wanted?  Narrowing it down, let’s say they have to be alive too. Here in this part of Mexico the weather is getting nicer by the day. The evenings are a pleasant blend of dry and cool, perfect for eating dinner outside on a patio with friends.

So, if you were going to have five living people over for dinner who would they be? I know who I’d invite. Here’s the list, in no particular order, I’d like to meet them for dinner separately or in a group setting: Christoper Hitchens, Michelle Obama, Elizabeth Gilbert, Alain de Botton, and Seth Godin. There’re other people I’d like to invite too, but for now these are for the first dinner party.

Why these particular people? Well, I’ve heard all of them speak publicly and enjoyed listening to what they had to say. Most have written interesting books and are keen observers of people.

Christopher Hitchens Christopher Hitchens is one of the top intellectuals and debaters trodding the planet. I’ve written about him here. He has cancer and may not make it another five years (but I’d have included him on my list anyway).

Michelle Obama Michelle is the invitee I know the least about. But I’ve seen her speak and her background and current situation are fascinating. She attended Princeton and Harvard Law and practiced law afterwards. Then of course there’s that whole White House thing. Plus since she’s not a politician, she can be unguarded and open.

Elizabeth Gilbert Honestly, at first I’d dismissed Elizabeth a few years ago; ignorantly thinking her popular “Eat,Pray, Love” was a chick lit book. Then I saw her speak on TED and in a PBS series and I changed my mind. Then I read the book too and liked it.

Alain de Botton Alain is a sharp observer of modern life. Last year he was invited to spend a week at a desk watching, chatting with and writing about passengers in London’s Heathrow airport. His observations were even turned into a book so if he can convert a week in an airport into a book he’s got to be pretty clever.

Seth Godin Seth is an entrepreneur and blogger,  blogging about marketing and the way ideas spread. He’s blogged daily for years and it’s still interesting and current. It’s one of the blogs I never miss. He also has 12 best sellers that have been translated into 33 languages. Here’s a talk he gave last year at TED.

Next, what sort of food would I serve? I don’t know. I’d check with everyone to find what they each preferred and figure out something delicious everyone would like. I guess I’d have to feed the secret service guys too.

But really I’m most interested in the conversations that would happen.

You’re Welcome

If you’re able to, you should probably should use Andy Rooney’s voice in your head as you read this. It’s not because I’m writing about Andy Rooney but because this seems like the sort of thing he’d talk (complain) about.

No one seems to say “You’re Welcome” anymore. What’s happened to “You’re Welcome?” Why has it drifted away as the regular response to “Thank you?”

These days when one person says “Thank you” they get a “thank you ” as a response. As in “Thanks Andy for being in my post.” to which you’ll usually hear something along the lines of  “Thank you!” Now, a thank you seems to most often receive another thank you in response.

Over the past few years I’ve noticed a response shift with “thank you” replacing “you’re welcome.” Once I noticed the shift, I heard it all the time. Just like if your friend buys a Ford F-150 truck, you suddenly notice them everywhere. You’d never before realized how many of that type of Ford truck were out there on the street.

Of course, it’s really not a big deal to answer “thank you” with “thank you,” but it’s odd when you think about it.

I know English is constantly changing: adding, dropping, and modifying words. For example, we now use Google as a verb, interesting, since it’s only been on the scene a little over ten years.

So maybe with this “thank you” substitution we’re witnessing is the morphing of an expression and the current conditions, I guess, must be favorable to this mutation. Still, I’m not used to it. When I hear a radio interviewer thank the guest for appearing and the guest shoots back a “thank you” in response I feel like I’ve just heard a song I know being played but ending with the wrong chord.

Thanks for listening.

A Manly Thing

An axe is a manly thing.

Axes have been used by homesteaders, loggers, folks living with fireplaces or wood burning stoves, and even executioners. The axe has been around for a long time, starting with our early ancestors chipping pieces of flint and fastening an axe head onto a sturdy stick.

Now guess what? There’s a more recent trend of selling axes to (usually, it seems) urban hipsters. I’d kind of noticed the trend on the internet awhile back out of the corner of my eye and was transported back in time. I felt like I did when I was eleven and saw an ad in the back of Esquire magazine for latex dresses. I wondered, “Umm that’s weird… I think… oh, I don’t know what I’m looking at or why someone wants to buy those.” I turned the page. Years later, I realized there were fetishes and latex clothing is one of those, I didn’t really get the “why” of latex, but I could see there’s a market for those people in need.

Several months ago, I was in New York City on vacation and came across a surf shop in SoHo. Being a surfer I went in to see what the big city guys surfed on. I knew there was surfing to be  had around New York City on occasion. There’s sometimes surf out at Far Rockaway near Coney Island and at Montauk on the tip of Long Island.

What I saw in the shop were some nice surfboards with strong nostalgic designs. And the prices were surprisingly good too.

I went a bit deeper into the surf shop and there they were: a whole rack of axes! They were colorfully painted and expensive.

Axes in a surf shop who’d have thunk? So now they were definitely on my radar. Sort of the latex dresses of the tool world. As I’ve said before, I’m always fascinated by subcultures. What was this about? And how did it start?

Here’s something similar. Several years ago big city hipsters started riding fixies (track bikes without brakes). Fixies have been ridden by bike messengers for years and so that type of bike was part of the big city environment. Fixes have street cred. But it’s hard for me to get a handle on the big city genesis of an ax fad.

I recently wrote about people striving for a minimal list of 100 or less personal items in A Jockstrap And A Bowie Knife. Someone with a designer axe probably is not a minimalist. Not that minimalism is the standard, but this represents a step in the other direction, towards extravagance. Fetishizing an actual tool.

I’m still not sure how the hipster axe trend began. They’re available at Best Made Company if you’re keen to check them out. Their site is where the photo above comes from. There’s even an elaborate sling for carrying an axe around on your back, if you’re so inclined.

Why this started is a guess too. Is this an overcompensation for some one who lives in a large city and is removed from a rural existence that’s out of reach? I don’t know. Could be that an outlier on the coolness spectrum bought one. And then since an axe is an unusual thing to own in a city and scarce, axes became cool.

Maybe in the ensuing years it’ll become more apparent to me, like the latex folks’ kink. Or maybe you’ll be able to buy a $200 axe at an aging hipster’s garage sale for under $5.

Teashop Takeaway Part II

Here’s the second part of my excerpts from the teashop video about “Life Management.” The primary speakers are Leo Babauta and Tim Ferriss.

You can check Friday’s post Teashop Takeaway (by scrolling below this post) for a longer introduction to them.

I’ve read many of their blogs over the years and a couple of their books as well. Neither of these guys was well know even three years ago. As they became successful writers, more people wanted slices of their pies. A pie really doesn’t get much bigger, you just have to cut thinner slices. So I’ve seen their ideas about life management evolve and morph with their circumstances. The foundations remained, but tweaks were made as they scraped the barnacles from the hull.

-Distractions – Simplify your life so you don’t have so many distractions. Try to eliminate as many distractions as you can. Then you need to become comfortable with letting small things go by the way. Let little bad things (say incurring a late fee) happen. Accept the small losses that allow you to focus on the one or two predetermined most important items.

-Time – There’ll always be more requests for your time than the time you have.

-Meetings – Avoid having meetings and conference calls. If you must have them, then set the agenda beforehand along with a start and end time and stick to it. Also, send out an email before the meeting to the participants sharing your goals and everyone can come in prepared.

-Slowness – Don’t fear slowness. Try building slow periods into your schedule. Really work to have dinners with three or more friends at least once a week. Doing this can help you appreciate things in real-time.

-Multiple Interests – Identity diversification is vital so you don’t become too attached to your work or any one thing. Find at least three things you can identify yourself with and try to set goals within each area.

-Deferring – Don’t defer things. Instead do or use things and appreciate them now. Cultivate an awareness of what’s important. By not deferring things, you’ll put yourself into the position of feeling that you’re living well.

-Gratitude – Try to express gratitude for what you think is good in your life. Once a week (or more) jot down three things in your life you’re grateful for. Appreciation is often a casualty of our modern quest for action.

-Introductions – When meeting someone new, try asking them, “What do you do when you aren’t working?” And see where the conversation goes.  It’ll be a more interesting start for you both than the common “What do you do?” This also touches on the identity diversification idea I was just talking about.

The ideas Leo and Tim share in the video cover lots of the broad categories they deal with in their writings. (Tim is actually trying to transition away from only being recognized as a life management writer, to become more associated with tweaking the human body’s performance).

If you want to get the gist of what Leo and Tim are about, you could watch the video and read my excerpts in under two hours saving yourself time and maybe money. I’m not saying to not read their stuff, I do and like it.

Teashop Takeaway

Recently, I watched a video of a panel disscussion that was shot in a San Francisco teashop. It was a public talk about “life management” featuring the shop owner and three guest speakers. Two of the guest speakers were Leo Babauta and Tim Ferriss and they provided the bulk of the interesting ideas.

Both of these guys have very popular blogs, generally addressing how to optimize your life, although each has a different presentation style. Looked at from a high school yearbook voting perspective, Leo would’ve been voted most likely to become a writer; and Tim would’ve been pigeonholed as most likely to succeed. You could imagine one is a tea drinker and the other a coffee drinker.

With success, they’ve risen in prominence and demands on their time have increased forcing them to more tightly focus on what works best to enable them to be productive while living non-harried lives.

Leo recently moved to San Francisco from Guam with his wife and six kids. Tim is a single San Franciscan and self-described as hyperactive in many endeavors with a penchant for traveling. They manage very different lives, plus each has to control their time eaters.

The video is an hour and a half long and most people won’t geek out for that long; so I’ll present what I think are some of their top takeaway ideas for making their lives better.

-Low Info Diet – To confront information overload, Tim deals with info on a “just in time” (only when info directly affects him) basis. This is in contrast to a  “just in case” style (taking in as much info as possible). Most situations covered by  high info consumption rarely arise. He says he “tries to get to the bottom of things, not stay on top of things.” If they miss something that’s important,  it’ll be brought to your attention as it bubbles to the surface in conversation.

– Keeping Up – The need to keep up with everything and everyone is self-created. If the expectation from other people is that you probably won’t get back to them generally they will not harass you unless it’s important.

-Single-tasking – You will have a saner and calmer life if you single-task. Do one thing end to end.

-Prioritizing – On getting things done, they both single-task, concentrating on getting the one, most important thing for that day done before doing anything else on their to-do-list. What is the most important thing to do? Probably the most uncomfortable one. Another test for importance is: if that one thing is the only thing you get done, you’ll feel your day’s still a success.

-Worrying – Worrying is not the same as preparing. The things most people worry about don’t usually even happen.

-Control – Everything is always changing, so try to give up trying to control things and be flexible instead.

-Slowness – Build-in or schedule slowness into your week and have those blocks of time become fixed, with other activities coming second. For example, Tim will not change a hike or dinner date if there are three or more friends getting together. These built-in times also act as a bracket, creating an ending point for the day.

-Big Shots – With success, Tim found he’s been welcomed into rarefied business circles,  there he’s been surprised how most of the hyper-successful individuals are relaxed and casual in most of their life dealings, able to concentrate on “the one most important” task in a day and accomplish it. These people weren’t the frazzled people you might imagine; being overwhelmed doesn’t fix anything, you need to have clear priorities.

-Routines – Develop routines, rituals, and routines to simplify your life. Routines will save your limited decision-making time since you won’t have those routine decisions to make.

-Habits – You’ll need to do something new at least five times before it will set in  as a habit, and stop just being an experiment. People generally respond to a better habit.

-Motivation – Rather than having to depend on discipline, motivation works as a better incentive. If you know your friend is waiting for you to go for a walk, you’re more likely to do it.

-Focus – Focus on your breathing to help you see what’s going on right now since your breathing is a constant and an easy thing to latch onto to bring yourself back to the present.

Lots of good stuff here I think. Too much for one post, so Tuesday I’ll post the second half.  If you like the ideas so far, give the video a look in case I missed some points that might mean more to you.


It’s Not All About The Wave

Here’s a photo of my friend, Brian, and me returning from surfing at a favorite spot of mine. The way in and out is via a verdant jungle path.

I really love surfing and the things that come along with it, like using this path. It’s a beautiful little trail, so even if the surfing on a particular day isn’t good the journey to and from the beach will be a little trek through a beautiful tropical landscape.

Besides actually riding a wave, there’re other aspects of surfing that are fun. For example, if your board is short enough, you’ll be able to pass under (duckdive) under approaching waves when you’re paddling out to surf. To duckdive, just shove the nose of the board down as deep as possible and then step down hard on the tail. You’ll pop out of the back of the wave ready to keep paddling out.  The whole wave will have simply passed over you. When done right, it’s a very smooth and tranquil sensation. Somehow it feels like magic, slipping smoothly under a wave that moments before was going to crash on top of you.

Normally, surfers don’t talk about duckdiving a wave. It’s something that’s done to get out to where you want to be. For me, it’s an underappreciated part of surfing, and is a nice prelude to  hopefully catching a wave when you get out to the break.

If you want to see what surfing is like, the surfing portions of “Blue Crush” capture the feeling of surfing on film pretty well. Story line aside, in “Blue Crush” the surfing sequences feel very real. Even most of the waves they ride are normal Hawaii waves. The majority of surfers, including me, will never surf the giant waves that creep into the public news landscape. So the waves, even the bigger ones, shown in “Blue Crush” are within the range an average surfer might encounter. Plus surfing in Hawaii is tops, on any size wave.

If you broke it down, the actual time most surfers spend riding on waves is counted in seconds for most rides. A normal ride would usually be under a minute! Accumulating a total of more than several minutes riding time during a day would be counted as a rare and special day. Surfing is quite a bit like fishing; most of a fisherman’s time is spent fishing not catching.

All of the activities associated with surfing like getting to the break, chatting with your friends, duckdiving, studying the ocean’s vast horizon, and just being out there make surfing the attraction it is for those of us who enjoy surfing.

P.S. A side note. Saturday, Kelly Slater, secured his Tenth World Surfing Championship! His point lead now is that far ahead of his competitors; and the season is still not over. Slater is largely unheralded in the general press even though this is like Micheal Jordan winning ten NBA titles or Lance Armstrong winning the Tour de France ten times.

An Atheist In The Foxhole

Christopher Hitchens has cancer. He thinks he won’t win and the cancer will take him.

Too bad. Of course it’s always too bad when someone dies from cancer. He’s been an enthusiastic, lifelong smoker and drinker and would no doubt say that he enjoyed the ride.

He’s a hero of mine. Not because of his lifestyle but because of his stances and defense of what he thinks is the way things are. A long time ago William Blake wrote “… create a system or be enslaved by another man’s.” Good advice, I think. Hitchens has never been shy about pointing out the enslavement foisted upon most humans by religions large and small.

Hitchens is an atheist. And now that he’s dying and thinks he won’t make it, he’s still unrepentant.  He’s only 61. With esophageal cancer that’s spread to his lymph nodes and lungs, he says he’ll be very lucky to live for five more years.

He’s an atheist in a foxhole; and he plans on staying one. Hitchens has gone on record about this now, while he has all of his faculties. If he is said to have had a last-minute conversion while he lie dying,  it’ll be due to him having lost his ability to think due to the cancer or its treatment.  Any claims of sudden conversion at the end will be due to having a diminished mind and not a sudden switching of sides because he sees the light. Because he’d say that religion is darkness.

As a controversial figure because of his views and  his wide exposure from his prolific writings and speaking, Hitchens has been engaged in conflicts most of his life. The title of his 2007 book is “God Is Not Great,” that’s a pretty good way to draw fire. It’s a good book too.

Hitchens has lots of experience in holding his own against what he considers bad ideas. I hope he can keep it up.

A Jockstrap and a Bowie Knife

A lot has been written in the last couple of years about simplifying your life. I try to live a simple life and pay as I go. I feel a kinship with the advocates of simplicity like Leonardo da Vinci who thought that “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

Over the past year or so I’ve noticed a trend amongst the simplicty bloggers. Some people are trying to pare down to 100 items or less. Some of the writers have more realistically clarified their lists as  “Personal items,” a list of stuff only they own and use, like three pairs of shoes or 10 pairs of underwear and so on.

It seems to me that the more important “attitude towards stuff” is lost when the focus becomes reducing stuff to an arbitrary number of things. It can become a competition, a sort of race to the bottom. If you’re able to reduce your personal items to just a jockstrap and a bowie knife, and you don’t live alone in the remote bush, you’re likely using more items than you think.

Say you decide to forego owning a car and own a bike instead. Can a bike be counted as one item? I don’t know any cyclists, who along with their bicycle, don’t also have a few simple, minimalist tools for taking care of their bike. If you ride daily, you need a pump, oil, and a couple of tools. To paraphrase Mark Twain, everything is hitched to everything else.

It’s great to reduce the amount of stuff you have. However, why get rid of something you don’t strictly need if it increases your quality of life? If you like to play the guitar and do play it, don’t delete it. If you have a guitar and don’t play it get rid of it. Even with the mundane, I don’t need both a toothbrush and an electric toothbrush, but together my teeth are healthier and so my quality of life is increased.

It’s like tracking your spending to find where you spend money since most people don’t really know where their money goes. After tracking, you might find you’re spending $60 a month on cappuccinos. That’d be a great place to save money every month. But after thinking about it, you feel you get more than $60 worth of satisfaction from your daily ritual. You should keep doing it if you can afford it.

Paring down is good because there’s less to store, maintain, think about, and pay for. But if something brings more to your life than you have to incur to keep it, don’t nix it to reach an arbitrary number.

It’s ironic that I need 445 words to write about 100 things.