Monthly Archives: October 2011


Why do you think,when you see a well-groomed man, you sometimes see two-inch-long chest hairs spilling over his t-shirt neckline?

So, why is it ok to cut, trim, and shave a man’s hair only from the neck up? Is there a biological electric fence an inch below a man’s Adam’s apple to prevent any clipping lower than that point?

As people age in industrial countries, there’s a constant effort to look younger than they are. They do this for lots of reasons, vanity, to stay competitive in the dating world, or to be more relevant in the workplace. Most people don’t want to appear old, and especially older than they actually are. And there’s a multibillion dollar cosmetic/fashion/medical/publishing complex built to provide you with solutions to your perceived problems. It seems like a cheap and easy thing that men can do themselves is some manscaping.

If a guy thinks “Is the two-inch long freak flag on my chest too long?” it probably is. If he mows it down a  bit, say shorter than the hairs of his sideburns, it won’t make him gay but it will make him look younger than using an elliptical machine at a gym.

Here’s a practical example. When I was a kid, before dentists wore surgical gloves, my dentist had big hairy hands. Of course there was nothing he could about the size of his hands; but he sure could have gotten rid of some of the hair. No one would have thought about it, but I’m sure other patients also thought about him not doing it.

So what’s the deal with some men and their fear and reluctance about doing any below the neck manscaping?

What Are Your Emergency Essentials?

Suppose you needed to abandon your home because of something like a tornado or a hurricane. What would you take?

Earlier this month we had two potential hurricanes that where approaching our coast of Mexico. It turned out to be a non event; we just got some light rains.

But I still prepared for it. There is a lot of stuff you could do and most people won’t. But there are some emergency essentials that are easy to get together and to keep stashed out-of-the-way until you need them.

Like most people I don’t keep extra gasoline around, so I made sure the car had a full tank of gas. Why not avoid long lines and save time if an evacuation is called for? It’s the same thing for water so I bought some extra jugs of water.

Here’re the emergency essentials I keep handy inside a plastic pail with a watertight lid:

A radio/flashlight unit that runs on batteries or can be hand cranked and some fresh batteries – duck tape – a lighter – a small pot with a lid – half liter water bottle – small first aid kit with booklet – a box of disposable syringes w/ needles – a bar of soap – iodine drops – and a leatherman multi-tool.

Pretty self-explanatory except maybe for: the syringes – in case a medical team is out and I need a shot and iodine drops – for disinfecting water.

These are only the low hanging fruit of emergency essentials. If you assemble this stuff once ahead of time, and without any pressure of impending doom, it’s easy and maybe even a fun project. And then you can forget about it and hope you never need it.

Back Burner Mysteries

Albert Einstein said “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” Me too. This week must be mystery week for me, in my previous post I wanted to know how many enlightened people there are nowadays.

I know there’re more important mysteries out there that need answering but I have two more on the back burners waiting for explanations. The oldest one of the two I’ll call the German toilet mystery. A more recent mystery is the pop rivet mystery. Neither one is particularly important to the big picture but I don’t have answers to them so they leave me curious.

I’ll start with the one that’s been on the back burner the longest – the German toilet. I first noticed them in Germany years ago. They look like a regular toilet on the outside. But when you look in there’s a platform for anything that comes out of you to land on. This is a dry platform in the toilet bowl, the normal water part is in the back part of the bowl. When you flush, whatever’s on that little platform is whisked off, down, and away just like a normal toilet.

When I was in Germany these toilets seemed pretty common. I thought they were weird and I asked lots of people there about them. But the people who were used to using them didn’t understand my confusion. And the people who shared my confusion had no idea. I still don’t know, maybe there’s something fascinating to the Germanic psyche about excrement or at least to the designers of these types of toilets. They seem to have designed something that resonated with Germans and the German market found them compelling enough to buy.

The next mystery is one that is newer for me. I read a comment on another blog about a mystery the commenter was trying to figure out.

He noticed a strange performance phenomenon when using a pop riveter (basically big pliers that need two hands) on a project.

He had to squeeze the pop riveter really hard to put in each rivet and got to the point where he could put one in about every 15 seconds. He noticed that after about 10 to 15 minutes squeezing the handles of the pop riveter became suddenly easier, while the force needed to squeeze the tool didn’t change. The rest of the rivets he put in during that session all felt easy. The same thing happened during each session working with the pop riveter. So he decided to experiment at the gym.

He knew he could lift 405 pounds off of the floor once. So he’d try lifting and then dropping 255 pounds off of the ground every 15 seconds for 15 minutes or until he noticed the same thing he had while pop riveting. At 12 and a half minutes the lifting suddenly became easier! The change was so sudden and profound that he started adding weight every 2-4 pulls and spent minutes 17, 18, and 19 lifting 365 pounds every 15 seconds.

He talked one of his weight lifting friends into trying it with him the next week. At 12 minutes and 15 seconds, the pop riveter’s lifts suddenly got easier, but he didn’t say anything. At 13 and a half minutes his friend was shocked; the lifting suddenly felt easier to him too. They continued to 15 minutes and both agreed the perceived effort during the final minutes was less than all the lifts leading up to the sudden change point.

The pop riveter continued experimenting in the gym with other types of lifts and found that they consistently got easier 10 to 12 minutes into each session.

Is strength a skill? Maybe there’s an undocumented phenomenon that could be useful to know about? Is it only a perception change? How long-lasting is the change? He’s not sure what to make of it and it’s a mystery to me too. But it’s interesting.




Letter to the Dalai Lama

To the Dalai Lama,

I hope this finds you doing well. I have an idea that might be interesting to you. It concerns the results of meditation. I’m not a Buddhist so I don’t know if the idea has been addressed already within your organization.

I enjoy meditating and once went a year without missing a single day. That’s not a normal year for me though, I fall somewhere between a non-meditator and a monk who’s devoted to it. It helps calm my mind and bring my focus to the present moment.

I’m not enlightened. That’s OK, but it leads into my question. Roughly, how many people are enlightened? I know it’s a tough question and that it’s probably not tracked. Plus there’re non-Buddhists who also attain enlightenment.

As the head of an organization strongly associated with the practice and having a long history with meditation, it would be interesting to me to know how effective it is. Many of the intermediate benefits of meditation are tough or impossible to assess but the ultimate result, enlightenment, would be easier to identify and quantify.

I know the journey is as important as the goal and striving for the goal is antithetical to the practice. But some folks do attain enlightenment. It seems more and more people are meditating and that there are also more people on earth than ever before. So are there more people who are enlightened now?

While this question can’t be answered with accuracy, getting a handle on a number would be useful and illuminating in general and in particular it could shed some light on the most effective practices. And, the answer might generate more interest in meditation.

You have a history of being interested in modern science and it’s advances. Looking at the most tangible result of meditation, enlightenment, would be well, enlightening. You’re in the unique position to attempt to answer this question and I hope you try.

Thank you, Stocker Cary

Swimming with Sharks

Lately I’ve been hooked on a TV legal thriller called “Damages.” I first heard about it during an interview with Robert McKee, a writing teacher and author of “Story.” He singled it out as a TV series he likes.

The story and the characters are engaging and the acting is superb. The lead character, played by Glen Close, is a top NYC litigator. Each season revolves around only one case told from many points of view in a nonlinear narrative with lots of plot twists. I’m sure the quality of the series is the attraction for the list top actors, from William Hurt to Ted Danson, who appear as major characters.

Because McKee had mentioned it, I thought it’d be worth checking out. I’d never heard of the show; but then I don’t have a TV and I live in Mexico. I was able to find it online. The series first aired in 2007 and is still running. Now, I’ve gone from having never heard of “Damages” to not being able to limit myself to just one episode at a time. It’s a slippery slope.

Don’t Beat Around The Bush

Why do some groups use special words that make understanding difficult for people outside the group?

Members of the group using jargon seem to like it. Maybe jargon provides a feeling of belonging, or of being able to exclude the “others,” or job security, or all of those things.

I remember going to Catholic mass every Sunday as a kid and not following a single word of the Latin that the priest used. In the sixties the church finally got away from using Latin during mass and you could finally understand what they said.

I can understand the need for precision in some professions. Medicine and science need some specialized words to be clear about what they’re saying.

Writers avoid using longer words when simpler ones will do. That’s the opposite of unnecessary jargon. Why beat around the bush or be confusing if you can avoid it?

These days I hear jargon in yoga and capoeira classes. The needless use of Sanskrit and Portuguese names for movements and ideas is only confusing to me, especially when names in the local language could be used.

Here are a couple of examples in English. In a yoga class for non-Indians, why use “chaturanga” when calling out a pose when you could more clearly say “crocodile?” Or in a capoeira class for non-Brazilians, why use “rasteira” when “scythe” (the tool the grim reaper carries) will do. And be understood.

If students want to pursue the history of an activity that’s a good thing. Or, if practitioners rise to a more advanced level and need to interact in other countries, the original names become useful.

Unnecessary jargon is confusing and elitist. For me authenticity and mystery are poor substitutes for clarity.

Is It True, Helpful, or Good?

Every day, we interact with each other in conversation, by phone, or by email, to mention just a few ways. But how well are we communicating when we do?

Our brains are set up to pay more attention to minimizing dangers than to maximizing rewards. So, this evaluation process going on in our minds causes us to mull over something negative said to us for a much longer time (than on a compliment that’s paid to us). Brain scans show our brains lighting up more when viewing an angry face than when viewing a happy face. In other words, more brain cycles are used on processing negative inputs than on processing positive inputs.

This understanding of how our brains work points to why negative inputs are generally more unproductive than positive ones. Won’t you be better off asking “What could be done differently the next time,”  because your relationship with that person will be more productive by using that question in place of a “You’re wrong” statement.

Before you interact with someone ask yourself if what you’ll say can be described by at least two of these three words: true, helpful or good. Two out of three’s not too hard. If what you wanted to say can’t pass the two out of three test, then change how you were going to say it or maybe don’t even say it at all.

I have a friend who’s the most positive person I know. All our mutual friends think so too. He seems to magically get along with most people and all of his friends somehow think they’re his best friend. If I apply the “true, helpful, or good” test to what he says, it seems to be what he does. I don’t think he consciously applies a test to what he says, it’s just his nature. But, I think he’d probably agree this could be how he works.

I think I’m onto his secret.

The Small Gestures

A year ago I wrote my first post. It was called “Small Gestures” and centered around the idea that what most people reflect on from their pasts are not the big events but instead are the small gestures that make us human.

Here’s another story about small gestures. I teach a free English class for six students in the small Mexican town where I live. Depending on the season, the class is held in either a student’s patio on my street or a classroom several blocks away. Each Monday and Wednesday afternoon I have an easy stroll to class.

Jeffry, a retired teacher who lives about half an hour away, asked if he could teach a third class. We both thought the more exposure to English the better, so I offered it to my class for a vote. They were keen for another class and, in April, Jeffry started teaching a third class on Tuesday afternoons.

I don’t see Jeffry often; so it was good to catch up with him during a party he had. At some point, we started talking about our class. He and I don’t confer about what each other is teaching because we have different styles, which we both agree is actually better for keeping the students’ interest level up.

Our little discussion soon turned to student attendance. It’s pretty good, especially for Mexico where such things are looser. We also talked about the diverse backgrounds of our students, teens to middle-aged, housekeeper to dentist, and which students always come to class.

Then Jeffry told me, “You know what really makes teaching this class rewarding for me? After every class Mati comes to me and says she knows I drive over from the neighboring town just to teach the class and she really appreciates my effort. That’s what makes it worthwhile to me.”

It’s usually the small human gestures that make memories.