Monthly Archives: June 2011

Observation from NYC

This is one thing I really noticed on our trip to New York City. Gold jewelry doesn’t look good on white men. And tattoos don’t look good on black men.

I think I started noticing this around the time of Micheal Jordan’s heyday, when he was sporting a gold earring. It looked very cool. Gold jewelry looks good against dark skin whereas gold jewelry doen’t contrast much against light-colored skin, sorry.

Tattoos, once mainly worn by sailors and prisoners to mark a passage or an event, have gone mainstream in the past couple of decades. Now they’re on soccer moms and high school seniors. There are lots of black guys with tattoos suffering from the opposite of the gold jewelry on a white guy effect. There’s not enough contrast between dark skin and a dark tattoo to make the tattoo pop. This seems especially true for tattoos of script usually done in monochromatic dark ink. If a tattoo is prominent placement it’s probably intended to be read, but dark ink on a dark canvas doesn’t lend itself to easy reading.

You can see these two fashion problems a lot in NYC which is why I’m mentioning it now. A free fashion memo, just in case it’s not too late. If you’re Hispanic, congratulations! You’ve got the best of both worlds.

Decision Checklist

Pilots have been using checklists for years to avoid mistakes and forgetting things. Living by a code is important. Before making big decisions, I try to use a checklist to make the best decision. Live with a good question rather than a bad answer.

Here’s my checklist:

> Do you know where you are and where you want to go? If a map is to get you where you want to go, you need to see the world as it is.

> Are you looking at reality? Don’t fantasize about how people should be.

> Can you retain the ability to walk away from a situation that feels unmanageable or if you find yourself digging a hole, will you be able to stop digging?

> Are you following your own system, or are you becoming enslaved by someone else’s?

> Can you still live simply and pay as you go?

> Are you making this decision when you’re angry?

> Are you making a promise when you’re happy?

> Are you doing the right thing or just what you have the right to do?

> If simplicity is the ultimate sophistication, can it be kept simple?

> You’ll miss 100% of the shots you never take. Are you letting the perfect get in the way of the good?

> Are there extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary evidence?

> Will you be busy doing nothing? Because doing nothing is better.

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

> If you feel fear, acknowledge it, and then proceed.

> Remember that most of the things people worry about never happen.

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



Just Busy

Of course, there are also people who are just mean. But most people aren’t intentionally mean. I’m coming to realize that some people are not mean but just busy.

When you’re busy, you have to engage in calculated neglect. The stuff that gets neglected seems to be on the receiving end of mean when in fact it’s only a lack time that is leaving something ignored.

Also, dealing with people is usually more complicated  than dealing with things. So, a busy person will be more likely to ignore a person first when presented with a choice between the two because it’s less work.

We’re in New York city for a visit. There are lots of people and things here. Most of the people here we’ve dealt with are very pleasant to when the situation arises. The one on one interactions are not mean. Sometimes they are efficient interactions, like with a cop giving me directions, but not mean. Everyone is very busy though and that comes across as mean when you aren’t dealing directly with people. Everyone is just busy.


Iron Wisdom

There’re really only two things I miss living in a Mexican village. One is riding a bike around – the roads are cobbled with stones. And the other thing is a gym – there isn’t one.

Working out in a gym,  you get used to hearing a certain type of banter, at least between guys. This probably happens in big franchise gyms too, once you’re a regular.

Mark Rippetoe is a well-known strength coach with a good system and a few books. Here’re some of his barbs and wisdom that I like and you might too if you’ve spent much time in a gym. I distilled these from a longer list if you want more. If you’re politically correct or hyper-sensitive stop here, otherwise enjoy:

Strong people are harder to kill than weak people, and more useful in general.

You can’t make people smarter. You can expose them to information, but your responsibility stops there.

Does a bigger motor slow the car down? No. But a bunch of junk in the trunk does.

People at the Division One and pro level rarely know what the hell they are doing, their athletes are pre-sorted. They are already strong or they would not be on the Dallas Cowboys.

If you can’t train and work in a warehouse at the same time, you probably have ovarian cancer. Consult your gynecologist.

There is simply no other exercise, and certainly no machine, that produces the level of central nervous system activity, improved balance and coordination, skeletal loading and bone density enhancement, muscular stimulation and growth, connective tissue stress and strength, psychological demand and toughness, and overall systemic conditioning than the correctly performed full squat.

Ask Old Santa for a squat rack. Preferably one that won’t fit down the chimney. You can’t do the program without it, and that would leave you forever an elf.

… when brain surgery, or string theory, or the NFL draft, or women’s dress sizes, or white wine is being discussed, I remain quiet, odd though that may seem. But seldom is this the case when orthopedic surgeons, athletic trainers, physical therapists, or nurses are asked about full squats.

A guy asks if hack squat is useful since his college does not have any squat racks only squat machines  “I recommend that you change colleges.”

During the last few reps of a true 20RM squat, just do what Jesus tells you. Trust me, if you do an honest 20 rep program, at some point Jesus will talk to you. On the last day of the program, he asked if he could work in.

Your muscles cannot get “longer” without some rather radical orthopedic surgery.

The vast majority of women cannot get large, masculine muscles from barbell training. If it were that easy, I would have them.

Muscles don’t get leaner—you do.

There is no such thing as “firming and toning.” There is only stronger and weaker.

Women who do look like men have taken some rather drastic steps in that direction that have little to do with their exercise program.

I don’t read around the web much, because I’m old and busy, and just haven’t got time. If I’m on the Internet, I’d rather be looking at porn.

We don’t wear singlets because A…one…they’re gay.

Baby mammals drink milk, and you sir, are a baby mammal.

I’m not interested in what’s been done in the past. I’m interested in what should be done.

The sooner everybody—both halves of the population—accepts the fact that effective exercise is more like training for athletics and less like lying around on the floor, more about performance and less about appearance, the sooner it will be understood that women really don’t need their own figure salon.

Any idiot can get on a treadmill and watch TV and then take great pride in the fact they’ve “exercised.”

A 2 pound weight gain doesn’t count, since it is the size of an average turd.

If you want to look like a bodybuilder, that’s fine with me. That is a matter for you to discuss with your God and your psychologist.

There are few things graven in stone, except that you have to squat or you’re a pussy.

To a bicyclist saying that riding was similar to squats since they both made your legs hurt: Yes they both hurt, but so do burning your hand and burying your bulldog. The differences are actually quite significant.

Milk is quite literally better than steroids for a novice lifter to grow on, and no supplement produces the same effect.

Soy milk is essentially Coffee-Mate laced with estrogen, and is best left to vegans and other socialist vegetarian types that can’t bring themselves to eat the completely natural-for-humans flesh of our friends the Animals but who have no trouble with slaughtering trillions of our other friends the Plants and processing — in gigantic factories run by multinational corporations with shareholders that eat meat themselves…

Pierre, if you are eating 5500 calories a day, then I am a female kangaroo with a Sonic Drive-In franchise and a heroin habit.

In response to a guy complaining that his leg curl weight hasn’t increased since he started dead lifting: “That’s like bitching about masturbation not being fun anymore since you started dating a porn star”

On a respectable number of pull-ups: Well, I can do 16, and I’m 51 and I weigh 210. So you have to beat me or you’re a pussy. And if you do beat me, you’re probably using drugs.

Never ask a question that you may not be prepared to have answered.

Like it or not, we are the product of a very long process of adaptation to a harsh physical existence, and the past couple centuries of comparative ease and plenty are not enough time to change our genome. We humans are at our best when our existence mirrors, or at least simulates, the one we are still genetically adapted to live. And that is the purpose of exercise.

The deadlift is more functional in that it’s very hard to imagine a more useful application of strength than picking heavy shit up off the ground.

There are no shortcuts. The fact that a shortcut is important to you means that you are a pussy. Let me be clear here: if you’d rather take steroids than do your squats heavy and drink enough milk, then you are a fucking Pussy. I have no time or patience for fucking Pussies. Please tell everyone you know that I said this.

I recommend against a wooden squat rack, for much the same reason that I recommend against a wooden car.

It is important to always stay within your comfort zone. This prevents having to subject oneself to the inconvenience of learning something new and potentially useful.

If you insist on wearing gloves, make sure they match your purse.

Bodybuilding is men on a stage in their underwear wearing brown paint showing other men their muscles. It is training for appearance only, and at the contest level requires a degree of vanity, narcissism, and self-absorption that I find distasteful and odd.

The full squat is a perfectly natural position for the leg to occupy. That’s why there’s a joint in the middle of it, and why humans have been occupying this position, both unloaded and loaded, for millions of years. Much longer, in fact, than quasi-intellectual morons have been telling us that it’s “bad” for the knees.

There is no substitute for milk. Sorry.

Rip: You need to drink one gallon of full fat milk everyday. It’s almost mandatory. Somebody from audience: I’m lactose intolerant, could I substitute yogurt for milk?     Rip: Gallon of yogurt.

On drinking not 1, but 2 gallons of milk/day: But you would be shitting primarily cheese. Are you ready for this?

In response to someone who hit himself in the testicles when deadlifting: “You either have very short arms or very long nuts.”

“Thanks for the kind words, but if “Starting Strength” is the most interesting book you’ve ever read, you must have just started reading a couple of weeks ago.”


Another View of Mexico

Mexico can be safe. We just returned from a long weekend trip to Guanajuato, a once flourishing colonial mining town that’s now a flourishing university and tourist town. It’s in the center of Mexico, about two hundred miles away from Mexico City. My girlfriend’s aunt and uncle are in Guanajuato for a month because her aunt is taking international law classes at the law school there.

We all had a great time. Guanajuato is like a town in Southern Europe; it has small and large plazas sprinkled across the town. Even on weekday nights, the plazas we walked through were full of people visiting with each other, dining, and enjoying music. We walked all over the city during the day and night and felt very safe. It’s a very tranquil place.

Everything we enjoyed was in stark contrast to what’s in the collective American imagination when thinking of Mexico. The US media has hammered home the horrific violence of the drug cartels that’s mostly between cartels or some government employees. To be sure it’s a problem; but it certainly isn’t in most places an American visitor might go in Mexico.

To illustrate the effect the media has in the States, look at the Canadians. In my experience lately, Canadian visitors to Mexico far outnumber the US visitors. Maybe the Canadian economy is a bit better but I suspect it’s the impact of the media in each country. The US population is over 300 million while Canada’s is about 35 million so you might think there’d be more American than Canadian visitors to a country to the South with easy access. I’ve asked a few Canadians about the number disparity I’ve noticed and they agree that what’s presented on the news in Canada is less alarmist than what they happen to see in US media.

Anyway, don’t be overly concerned about traveling to Mexico. If you want to get away from your countrymen for a bit, there’re good places to visit in Mexico with not a lot of gringos.

Old Fish

I want to introduce you to the coelacanth (pronounced sea-la-kanth).

The coelacanth is an amazing fish. Amongst animals with backbones, the coelacanth is ancient. It’s been around for about 400 million years. To put that in perspective, dinosaurs were around for less than 200 million years and died out around 65 million years ago. Until 1938 coelacanths were thought to have been extinct for about 65 million years. But in 1938 someone realized the fishermen on the Comoros Islands near Madagascar were catching them!

The coelacanth has not really changed much during its 400 million year run. What’s the secret of this successful life form? One big factor is their very slow metabolism. A tuna needs 100 times more oxygen (per kilogram per hour) than a coelacanth. And, a coelacanth  can get by on 12 grams of food a day, a portion of food lighter than three US nickel coins.

Because coelacanths possess the slowest metabolic rate of any vertebrate; they can live in parts of the ocean where more active fish can’t. So coelacanths can be found flourishing on the barren undersea lava fields in the Indian Ocean which are unlike the food rich coral reefs favored by faster fish. There’s not a lot of competition for food nor is there lots of food where they live.

Coelacanths look a little bit different. They sport heavy, armor-like scales and a few more fins than most fish. Growing to almost 2 meters long, older coelacanths can tip the scales at 90 kilos. Because they have more fins than most other fish coelacanths have a unique and usually slow swimming style.

I’ve known about coelacanths for years and recently I saw a video clip of one by a German explorer, Hans Fricke. It’s hypnotizing, and I wanted to share it. Check out this short     (51 sec) video of a coelacanth just hanging out. It’s mesmerizing.


The Wine Whine

Over the years, I’ve worked at some very nice restaurants that have expensive wine lists. I’ve sold lots of bottles costing hundreds of dollars, even a bottle of wine for $1,500.

I thought a $1,500 bottle couldn’t possibly be 100 times better than some wines selling for $15 a bottle; or could a $150 bottle be even ten times better? Wine prices seem to be driven higher mostly by scarcity.

Expensive wines tend to be from smaller vineyards and over time there’re fewer and fewer bottles for sale as they’re consumed or squirreled away. Then the mystique increases around certain wines driven by reputation as well as the expectation of goodness that comes with a price that high.

Over the years I’ve attended lots of wine seminars, some were informative and others a lot of foolishness. But the situation with wine often becomes one like the king that has no clothes. Everyone has to go along with the highest status person’s opinion in the room.

I’ve been listening to the Freakonomics Radio audio podcast. It’s really good. If you enjoy “This American Life,” you’ll like this show, the hosts even sound the same. Anyway, each show digs into a different subject attempting to shine the light of reason on that subject’s often unexplored nooks.

One show asked “Do More Expensive Wines Taste Better?” The short answer is just what I’ve always thought, no. And most of the “experts” don’t have much more sophisticated taste buds than the rest of us. Sure, they’re up on region and varietal names, know who’s who, and how to describe what a particular wine tastes like. But, when it comes to choosing which wine is which in blind tastings they don’t do too well. Have a listen.

Some of the best advice I’ve heard about wine is to drink what you enjoy and to try branching out and try different types of wine.

And who buys a $1,500 bottle of wine? No idea who he was, but he just drank a couple of cocktails, not the wine, and seemed to thoroughly enjoy them.

Edited Imitation

Occasionally, when I read something I like, I’ll try to put it in my own voice by editing and rewriting it. It’s not to change the writing for the better. I’m really just experimenting, trying to say the same thing a little differently and shorter, a writing exercise. Imitation is the highest form of flattery, right? I think it’s a good way to improve my writing… by pretending to be an editor.

Here’s an example. This is my revision of a Seth Godin post I like (his original is below mine):

———————————————-Price and Value—————————————–

For decisions about things, we consider price:

“How was your hotel room?” Compared to the Ritz-Carlton? Not so good. But compared to Holiday Inn, it was great.

For decisions about content we don’t usually consider price:

After a bargain matinée, moviegoers won’t cut the movie slack just because it was half price. Finding an old movie for ninety-nine cents doesn’t matter if we hate the movie.

It seems that regardless of price, if we’re going to spend our time, the experience better be perfect, the best ever.

A quick analysis of the top 100 titles on Amazon (movies, books, music, doesn’t matter what) shows zero correlation between the price and the reviews. Try to imagine a similar disconnect if you were talking about things like cars, computers, or clothes instead of content. When it comes to content, we rarely compare the experience with other content that has a similar price. We compare it to perfect.

A low price might increase negative feedback; because the work will be exposed to people who might not be raving fans.

Free is a valid marketing strategy because it’s almost impossible for an idea to have mass impact without some sort of free (TV, radio, webpages, online videos). But, it’s not clear that cheaper content outperforms expensive content in many areas. As the marginal cost of delivering content drops to zero (all digital content meets this definition), there’re valid marketing reasons for doing the opposite of what economists expect.

Price can be a signalling mechanism, especially in the area of content. Free enables your idea to spread. But price sends a signal, and can put your idea in the right place.

Mass shouldn’t always be the goal. Impact may matter more.


Here’s Seth Godin’s original version:

Compared to perfect: the price/value mismatch in content

“How’s the wine?”

You really can’t answer that question out of context. Compared to what? Compared to a hundred-dollar bottle? Not so good. Compared to any other $12 bottle… great!

“How was the hotel?”

“How’s the service at the post office?”

In just about all the decisions we make, we consider the price. A shipper doesn’t expect the same level of service quality from a first class letter delivery than it does from an overnight international courier service. Of course not.

And yet…

A quick analysis of the top 100 titles on Amazon (movies, books, music, doesn’t matter what) shows zero correlation between the price and the reviews. (I didn’t do the math, but you’re welcome to… might be a good science fair entry). Try to imagine a similar disconnect if the subject was cars or clothing…

For any other good or service, the value of a free alternative that was any good would be infinite–free airplane tickets, free dinners at the cafe… When it comes to content, though, we rarely compare the experience with other content at a similar price. We compare it to perfect.

People walking out of the afternoon bargain matinée at the movies don’t cut the film any slack because it was half price. Critics piling on to a music video on YouTube never mention the fact that HEY IT WAS FREE. There is no thrift store for content. Sure, we can get an old movie for ninety-nine cents, but if we hate it, it doesn’t matter how cheap it was. If we’re going to spend time, apparently, it better be perfect, the best there ever was, regardless of price.

This isn’t true for cars, potato chips, air travel, worker’s comp insurance…

Consider people walking out of a concert where tickets might be being scalped for as much as $1,000. That’s $40 or more for each song played–are they considering the price when they’re evaluating the experience? There’s a lot of nuance here… I’m certainly not arguing that expensive is always better.

In fact, I do think it’s probably true that a low price increases the negative feedback. That’s because a low price exposes the work to individuals that might not be raving fans.

Free is a valid marketing strategy. In fact it’s almost impossible for an idea to have mass impact without some sort of free (TV, radio, webpages, online videos… they’re all free). At the same time, it’s not clear to me that cheaper content outperforms expensive in many areas. As the marginal cost of delivering content drops to zero (all digital content meets this definition), I think there are valid marketing reasons to do the opposite of what economists expect.

Free gets you mass. Free, though, isn’t always the price that will help you achieve your goals.

Price is often a signalling mechanism, and perhaps nowhere more than in the area of content. Free enables your idea to spread, price, on the other hand, signals individuals and often ends up putting your idea in the right place. Mass shouldn’t always be the goal. Impact may matter more.