Monthly Archives: January 2011

I Didn’t Know Jack

Lately I’ve read lots of interesting stuff about Jack LaLanne.  Probably because he died at 96 and was often referred to as “the godfather of fitness.” He was a 20th century American success story.

As an unhealthy teen he made a decision to change who he was and how the world saw him. Then he did it. And he lived it. He’d celebrate his birthdays by performing demanding physical feats. For instance, on his 60th birthday he swam from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco in handcuffs and shackles while towing a 1000 pound boat.

Jack was a pioneer, creating his own brand around the Jack LaLanne name. Beginning by opening the first of what was to become the modern “health club” in 1936. Then he starred in a morning show on TV starting in 1951 that continued for 30 years. He used TV to reach his audience and build trust. Eventually he owned hundreds of health clubs that he later sold to Bally Fitness. And he was smart enough to keep the rights to the show.

Before hippies, Jack was juicing carrots and asking “Would you give your dog a cigarette and a doughnut for breakfast? … and (people) wonder why they don’t feel good.” He got lots of Americans (especially housewives watching his show in the morning) exercising by cheerfully promoting activity and cleverly, at the time, not really calling it exercise. He had the trust of his audience because they saw that he wasn’t asking them to do anything he didn’t do. And he did it for life.

The Testosterone Effect

Testosterone is present in both men and women. But men produce a lot more of it, about ten time more than women do. And it’s found in all vertebrates. Even fish and insects have it (in a slightly different form), suggesting that testosterone has a long history.

Testosterone is the hormone driving two activities for guys. What are those two activities? Kids, please go to your rooms for a bit… OK, fucking and fighting are driven by testosterone. When one activity is held down the other one compensates by taking on a bigger role. Like the old “whack a mole” game – when you whack one down, up pops the other one.

Who has lots of testosterone? Young men. Not too many 60-year-old guys are getting in bar fights or blowing themselves up. We’ll never know, but I’ll bet that most suicide bombers don’t have (and maybe never have had) girlfriends. Sort of like I’ll bet most conspiracy theorists probably haven’t gone to college. Too bad for those around them.

In “Sex at Dawn” the authors contend that “… of all Earth’s creatures, none is as urgently, creatively and constantly sexual as Homo Sapiens.” Sounds about right.

Most fundamental religious groups throughout the world demonize sex and make every effort to repress any sexual release, sometimes even innocent contact with women. When a young guy is prepared to do violence and thinks it’s driven by righteousness, it’s actually fueled by a testosterone and frustration cocktail. I wonder how much sex that guy is having who shoots an abortion doctor or blows up a bus full of innocent people. Not much, especially with someone else.

Sure there are cultural norms and peer recognition at work, but those young guys are being driven by the basest of urges and wind up in situations following unquestioned authorities who dangle a lustful and peaceful afterlife that includes most of what they’re being denied now in this life.

I’ll make one more bet. Not many young guys would slip into a bomb vest if they were slipping into their lover’s bed the night before.

The Word Bag

Writing twice a week got me thinking about the possibility of running out of ideas. Then I remembered a PBS NOVA episode I saw in the 80’s about Richard Feynman (I think it was originally from a 1981 BBC Horizon interview). He was an interesting and colorful character as well as an outstanding physicist of the twentieth century. Feynman won a Nobel Prize and was the youngest physicist working on the Manhattan Project to name just a couple of accomplishments amongst his many.

From what I can remember now, Feynman chatted about his life in general and how his career in physics developed from a young man to an elder statesman in Physics. I found the show so interesting that I ordered the transcript of the show – the only time I’d ever done that.

One of the stories he told was about how kids think about things. When his son was young and learning to speak, he asked Feynman about running out of words. His son was concerned the “word bag” could run out of words and then he wouldn’t be able to continue talking due to a lack of available words.

Feynman tried to relate the word bag question to a similar question his Dad had about where light came from. The next two paragraphs are my paraphrasing of what Feynman said:

Whenever light is seen, it’s coming from a photon. An atom’s electrons send out a photon when it needs to release a bit of energy. There’s no more of a word bag than there is a photon bag. Is the photon in the atom ahead of the time that it comes out, or is there no photon in it so start with? There’s no photon in there, it’s just that when the electron makes a move, a photon comes out. Well, where does it come from then, how does it come out? The view is that photons are just created by the motion of the electron.

When my little boy started to talk, he said that he could no longer say a certain word – the word was “cat” – because his word bag had run out of the word “cat.” There’s not a word bag that you have inside that you use up as the words come out, you just make them as you go along.

And in the same sense that there’s no photon bag in an atom, there’s no word bag inside us to exhaust. When the photons are emitted, they don’t actually “come from somewhere.” The photons come out when they’re needed like words come out when you need them.

Zero to One Hundred

We humans can make better decisions more often when looking at a situation from the right perspective and with a little thought.

Here’s an idea I’m working on. I think it’s more productive to react to a number value than to have an instantaneous, unconsidered reaction. Why not use a numerical scale when you’re assigning values to problems in life so you can determine the appropriate response? In the grocery store you don’t just grab the easiest to reach item when you’re shopping. You assign a sort of yummyness value to each item before selecting the one that’s most appealing to you.

Zero to one hundred is the span of the scale I’m thinking about. On the low-end, a zero, would be something like holding a puppy in your lap. And at the top, a one hundred, would be those rare happenings like the death of a family member. Using a 100 point scale allows you some wiggle room. You could use ranges, say 40 to 55, if you’re unable to come to an exact value, but you’d still be in the ball park. Once you arrive at a value range for a particular situation, it’ll be easier to react appropriately to that event. Being stuck in a car waiting for a herd of cattle to pass is really a 5, at most, when you think about it.

Say your oven is broken and the repairman is scheduled to fix it on Monday but doesn’t show until Wednesday. It’s inconvenient and you’re pissed off. What’s it really worth though? Probably somewhere between 25 and 30, closer to 25 (unless you’re running a bakery). In five years if you looked back, you’ll probably judge it less than a 25. That seems better than treating not having an oven for two days than as you might react to a career ending injury if you were an athlete.

Too bad groups don’t usually do this.

Remember when a Danish cartoonist was killed for depicting Allah in a cartoon? Really, that should have been about a 4! Even if you’re an Islamic fundamentalist, how could it rank more than a 40? And that’s being generous.

And on this side of the pond, more recently in Tucson, people were killed at random with a handgun. Even a young girl, a bystander, was shot to death. If this event doesn’t rank near a 100, what does? Most people seem to rate it close to 100. But sadly, what’ll be done about in terms of controlling handguns as a public safety issue will probably be around a 4.

Healing Speed

My girlfriend and I just went to an introductory Capoiera class on Tuesday night. It turned out to be interesting and fun; and we’ll probably go again. Because it was the first class after the holiday season, all of the levels were mixed together, I guess it was meant as a “get back into it” class. That mix of skill levels together with a blend of Spanish, bits of Portuguese and African made for an exotic and at times confusing class.

The class was attended by 15 people in a large old warehouse a with rough concrete floor. Capoiera has music and singing involved that keeps the action flowing. Everyone is barefoot and there’s lots of hand clapping to the beats too. So the whole experience was absorbing. I didn’t notice the roughness of the floor because I go around barefoot much of the time and the bottoms of my feet are fairly tough. My girlfriend doesn’t share my interest in barefoot locomotion and wound up with two big blood blisters on the soles of her feet.

That’s what got me thinking about injuries. A doctor once told me that maybe 80% of patients he saw would (did) get better on their own without his help. Of course, he’s able to assess the problem for them and help them to manage it; but if they hadn’t seen him they’d still get better most of time.

With that in mind, here’s something I’ve eventually figured out: don’t continually test your ailment. You know what I mean; you keep checking it out by bending a sore joint, picking at a scab, or poking at a sore muscle. You’re probably just slowing down the healing process.

We always want to return to the way we were before an injury. But don’t keep testing the situation. It’ll get better faster without your interference. It’s just my observation. I’m not talking about health problems that do need outside attention. But probably those too.

After class when we returned home and tidied up her wounds. They were scrubbed clean and had Neosporin applied before putting socks on both her feet.

It’s tempting to keep checking on the progress. But if we stop testing her broken blisters and she can wear shoes for a few classes, she’ll be back to barefoot Capoiera soon.

The Kindle Has Landed

The Kindle has landed in Mexico! Mine has at least. It’s a late Christmas present from my girlfriend. She probably got tired of me talking about planning to get one. Some recent visitors from the States brought it down; a nice surprise. And it works really well here. I thought I should cover this now that I’m using it and before we get too far from Christmas.

Now I can read any book that’s available in a Kindle version as soon as I’d like to. Before my Kindle showed up, acquiring a new book was a slow process, depending on friends and luck. I had three choices. I might, by luck, stumble across something I was interested in that someone else was finished with, ask a visitor to bring it down, or look for a book myself in the States when I happened to go up there. But a fourth and best option arrived just after Christmas. I can connect to any wireless network here in Mexico and buy a book in about a minute.

There’s another feature that’s useful too. I can read the first couple of chapters for free from any book that’s available to a Kindle. This saves time and money for me. Currently, I’m reading two books that I bought after previewing five book’s first chapters. This is a nice feature to have when there isn’t a bookstore anywhere in my area.

I know you can read books on iPads and computers, but I think the Kindle has a couple of advantages. One is the size, the Kindle is small and very light making it easier to deal with (easier than a printed book too). The other advantage of the kindle is sort of counterintuitive and that is that the Kindle is only a reader. So when you’re using a Kindle you don’t have the distraction option of email and web surfing. Sort of less is more.

Speaking of less, I don’t like to have lots of stuff. So I generally give books away after I’ve read them. With the Kindle there’s a reduction in the number of books laying around and those books I want to keep are in one tidy package. On the next trip I take, I’ll be able to take all of my books with me too.

And that’s not all. I also received a cover that protects the Kindle. Plus the cover comes equipped with a cool little retractable LED light, built-in, so I can give my headlamp a rest.

The 2011 NEN List

NEN stands for “no elaboration needed.”

This is a list of ideas that stand on their own – ideas that have been boiled down to their essence.

Clicking on the highlighted word(s) will take you to a link about the speaker. I think it’s better to just take in the idea without knowing who said it; later if you become curious, the name is there after a click.

I’ll update the NEN list at the start of each year. Here’s what on this year’s list:

> If you find yourself digging a hole, stop digging.

> Retain the ability to walk away from a situation that feels unmanageable.

> There’s probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.

> Live simply and pay as you go.

> It’s not productive to fantasize about the way people should be, look at reality.

> Don’t make decisions when you’re angry. Don’t make promises when you’re happy.

> It’s the dose that makes the poison.

> Who looks outside dreams; who looks inside awakes.

> Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

> Don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good.

> You miss 100% of the shots you never take.

> Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

> If you’re not happy; you’re wasting your time.

> Doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing.

> I’d rather live with a good question than a bad answer.

> Write down interesting things you hear.

> A whole person feels the fear, acknowledges it , then proceeds.

> Most of the things you worry about never happen.

> Don’t ask for permission you don’t need.

Stay calm and carry on.

> Try to do the right thing instead of what you have the right to do.

The PaperNet

With the new year I started thinking about influences on my life. Here’s one of them.

B.F. Skinner once said “education is what remains after what you’ve learned has been forgotten.” This is an homage to the “The Whole Earth Catalog” (WEC) because exploring the world of ideas both big and small in the WEC was a huge part of my education.

When I was a young teen I stumbled across the WEC and it became my portal to a parallel universe. I grew up in a somewhat restrictive environment in the deep South. If you accepted and followed the status quo things were easy, if not, there weren’t alternatives that were presented or encouraged. At that time the WEC presented so many different ideas and access to those ideas that for me it was incredible. It was a paper version of the internet.

The WEC was a very large format paperback printed on coarse, unbleached paper which added to the experience of immersion into a big world of possibilities. There were tools, resources for independent study, and things that weren’t already common knowledge. If something was inexpensive, or high quality, and was readily available by mail, then there was a good chance it would show up in the WEC. It really was an immersive experience for me. You could follow threads of related information all over the catalog, for example hopping  from house design to info on owner built houses to the best tools to use and why they were preferred. Also accompanying each item were excerpts from submitters, staff reviewers and if it was a book, quotes. Plus the WEC was a book about other people doing other things.

From the first edition in 1968 to last incarnation of the Whole Earth Quarterly in 1998 updated editions came out every couple of years with more ideas and information. Now with the instant availability of info and links on the internet it’s hard to recall what a breath of fresh air the WEC was. Just looking through it you were sure to be waylaid by something new to investigate.

Of course with the internet there’s no real place for the WEC anymore. It almost seems quaint now up against the internet, the way a Farmer’s Almanac compares to the weather report on TV. But before there was an internet the WEC was where I was educated.