Monthly Archives: January 2012

Pivoting

In the high-tech world pivoting means failing gracefully. If an enterprise you start doesn’t flourish as you’d  hoped it would, and you decide to scrap it, then take it in another direction, you’re pivoting. It’s possibly embarrassing but if it’s a small endeavor it can be easy to do. Pivoting is a popular verb in the tech world.

After a year of taking Capoeira, I’ve decided to pivot. I’m trying out Brazilian Jui Jitsu (BJJ). In a nutshell, Capoeira is a standing, rhythmic martial art developed in Brazil and BJJ is derived from Japanese Judo but was refined in Brazil and is similar to collegiate wrestling.

My idea last January was to try Capoeira for a year and then evaluate it. As it turns out, Capoeira depends too much on qualities I don’t have like flexibility, musicality, and an inability to absorb instruction presented in Spanish/Portuguese. Plus, and maybe the biggest issue, the class is held at sunset which is my favorite time of day to surf. On the plus side, I enjoyed the comradery between the students, listening to the music, and the impressive visual displays.

The qualities I do have, a good power-to-weight ratio and curiosity, weren’t really called on much in Capoiera; but so far, they seem to be good for BJJ.

BJJ has less emphasis on flexibility and more on power, the instructor is bilingual so I can ask as many question as I need and questions are encouraged. And from a practical standpoint BJJ is more useful and effective in real life situations much sooner. Capoeira takes years of study before it could be used outside of class with any effectiveness.

It’s surprising that two teachers who’re both extremely accomplished in their sports chose to live here. I’m thankful that these options are here in a small village on the Pacific coast of Mexico.

The Modern Hunter-gatherer

Grafting allows us to optimize a plant by combining an older rootstock with a new plant above ground to produce what we want.  Our modern life, with its many easy-to-access options of labor reduction and easy calories, has been grafted onto our ancient rootstock that’s accustomed much simpler inputs.

The resulting combination isn’t flourishing. Our obesity rate is so high that fat now seems normal in many parts of the first world and the diseases of civilization (high blood pressure, heart disease, senility…) are accepted as an inevitible part of life. It doesn’t need to be that way.

Start by considering the time frames. Our rootstock, wild, were hunters-gatherers in small groups for about 2.5 million years. Then the first graft, farming – we started our agricultural timeline just about 10 thousand years ago. And our second graft, our modern industrial phase, started say 150 years ago. So we’ve been farming about .04% of our existence and pushing buttons for about .ooo6% of it. Our rootstock is ancient by comparison and not yet adapted to how some folks live now.

Anyway that’s a short introduction to an interesting TED talk from a doctor who had MS and followed all the best traditional approaches to her illness. When she was at the point of having to sit in what looks like a dentist’s chair most of the time she began to look into her way of eating and… I’ll let you watch the TED talk and see if you’re interested. Don’t worry, she’s not going around reenacting a hunter-gatherer life with a sharpened stick. But she figured out how to take the best of both periods of human existence.

 

What You Get

Maybe you’ve picked up on this too. You notice a site that you like is using thinly veiled sales and marketing just below the surface while trying to present it as interesting information or a story from a trusted tribe member. Sometimes what you see isn’t what you get.

It might even be a mostly interesting story or information. But the issue here is the site’s lack of disclosure and  transparency about  trotting something out without saying what’s going on. The reader can’t know what’s going on behind the scenes unless he’s told.

Maybe it’s just a little digital backscratching, each writer is talking up the other one on their sites. That’s normal. I think we’re wired for reciprocity. It’s been baked-in over countless generations as a trust generating mechanism while living in small groups and is still with us.

But when there’s no disclosure, and you get a whiff of it, your trust in that site (or person really) is lessened. You wonder if the writer is being paid outright. Or is he being compensated in some other fashion for promoting something, doing it in the guise of telling you a story?

Monetizing a site isn’t a bad thing. But it needs to be explained or be obvious. If a story is told as just a story but it’s actually a paid-for story, the motive for telling that story changes.

The situation feels like the super PACs in politics. They’re trotted out as being separate from candidates when in practice they’re each connected to a candidate, but with lots of winks and crossed fingers behind backs, saying they’re not connected.

 

 

If Your Luck Runs Out

Maybe this is medical week, my last post was about “hands only” CPR. But it made me think about what happens if your luck runs out. For me that would be the case of being trapped in an unresponsive body, being in a  vegetative state or anything requiring prolonged heroic efforts to keep me alive for a long time.

Have you seen the movie “The Diving Bell And The Butterfly” or read the book? It’s about a lively and successful big-time magazine editor who suffers a massive stroke and revives with a clear mind but only being able to use and control his left eyelid. It’s a great movie and a good story, but it seemed horrible. And then it turns out he dies less than two years later.

I started wondering if there’s an easy, clear “Do Not Resuscitate” medal or tattoo that medical personnel look for and would honor. I checked with a doctor I trust and here’s the answer I got “Leave a letter with your internist, plus a bracelet, with a statement of no prolonged life-sustaining treatment. And a note on your driver’s licence for organ donation is worthwhile too.” That makes sense,  saying “no prolonged treatment,” because you do want doctors to try, just not to prolong their efforts.

There’s also a connection to the blog I wrote last month about “The Secret Lives of Doctors.” It seems many doctors choose not pursue extraordinary measures to extend their own lives, opting for quality of life over quantity of life at the end of life. That’s good enough for me too.

 

 

Hands Only

Did you like the movies “Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch?” Probably. If so, watch this two- minute video featuring one of the tough guys from those movies explaining how to do “hands only” CPR. This video from the British  Heart Foundation is informative, entertaining and useful.

I’ve wanted to mention the American Heart Association’s change to recommending “hands only” CPR  for a while after they announced it a couple of years ago. They found it to be as effective as the traditional compression and mouth to mouth style of CPR. And this video is a good reason to mention it.

Refresher courses were always needed in the past. After months or years of not thinking about CPR, most people were left wondering “what’s the right number of breaths or was it two breaths and 15 compressions or the other way?”

But the “hands only” technique is both easy to remember and less intimate, without the “mouth to mouth” part (eliminating any yuck factor). Hopefully people will be more likely to use it. And who knows, you might just save someone’s life.

The Thread

How’d I change from a fat-fearing, carb-loving American into an avoider of most industrial food?

A short history…by twenty, I’d been a vegetarian for three years, but going to college and living in the South made it too challenging and alienating. So I started eating meat again and found myself feeling better. In college I ate a fairly common American diet of cafeteria food. After college, I pretty successfully switched to the low-fat, high-carb style of eating promoted by the American Heart Association and most other institutions.

I’ve always been active and interested in health; and about ten years ago I started hearing a few voices in the wilderness warning about the standard American diet that I’d embraced. Here’s an abbreviated thread about how the change happened in my thinking concerning how we should eat.

About eight years ago I read “The Fat Fallacy” which was written by a PhD who moved with his family to France for his advanced neuroscience study. While living in France for a couple of years, they ate the way the French traditionally have eaten, basically lots more fat and fewer processed foods. When they returned to the States they were thinner and healthier.

Then several years ago I read a book about paleolithic style eating and athletes. It was really intriguing but not compelling enough to get me to abandon the standard eating recommendations.

What really convinced me about four years ago was an interview I heard on the radio with Gary Taubes and reading his NYT article “What if It’s all Been a Big Fat Lie?” and then his book “Good Calories, Bad Calories.” It’s so thorough and well researched it’s sometimes like reading a text-book; it was a tough slog but worth it.

The reason I’m thinking about this is because I just read an interview with Gary Taubes over at the Browser.  The interview covers most of what he details in GCBC but in a more boiled down version easy to follow form. I think you’ll find it interesting, at the least.

It’s a good way to start a new way of thinking for a new year, or any time.

The Big Daisy Chain

Before civilization, life alone was hard, probably impossible. You were safer being part of a group, not only was it easier to “go along to get along,” it was necessary for survival.

A group looks for signals that you’re a reliable member of their group and can be trusted. Think of a politician wearing a hard hat and a cheap, shiny nylon AFL-CIO windbreaker while touring a factory, or Lance Armstrong with a crucifix swinging like a metronome from his neck while he pedaled up alpine passes in the Tour de France. The politician has probably never done physical labor and Lance isn’t religious, but both are sending signals to the groups they want to be part of – that they’re reliable members.

Religion does a good job of using our need, to belong to a tribe, to their advantage by using  rituals and symbols. If you see someone who’s at church every Sunday, or who wears a yarmulke most days, or who dances for rain when there’s no rain you begin to feel like that other person shares some fundamental beliefs with you. You’ll be willing to help them out and they’ll likely help you out too.

We believe in lots of things for which there’s no evidence. For example, a yoga instructor says that a certain pose “wrings out” the kidneys, does it really? The instructor probably just heard it from her instructor, who heard it from his instructor…

Religion becomes attractive because faith is easier than critical thinking. Being skeptical just takes more brain cycles, more effort. So there’re more religious folk than nonreligious folk. The rituals and symbols in religion take the place of evidence. And people want to belong. So it became a big daisy chain. But I think it’s starting to unravel a bit.

Three Good Reads

Here’re my three favorite books from the last year or so, in alphabetical order. I don’t seek out books on “human desire” it just happens that there are two really good ones that showed up.

“A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World’s Largest Experiment Reveals about Human Desire” by Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam, is an amazing book by two neuroscientists who arrived at insights into male and female desire by tracking down millions of computer searches for sexual related material. Online searches and click- throughs provided the authors with information unfiltered by the inhibitions inherent in interviews, because the data were generated in the privacy of homes and workplaces. The vast number and borderless nature of internet searches studied provided a more real picture of what people are looking for. Although it sounds academic, the book is entertaining and informative.

“Linchpin” by Seth Godin is another favorite. It’s about many aspects of modern living and decision-making disguised as a marketing and business book. Here’s a more detailed review I did earlier this year about it. Seth writes about the unique opportunies available to individuals now as business models are shifting away from favoring the factory model to favoring you if you’re ready.

I also recommended “Sex At Dawn” by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha about a year ago here, if you want a more detailed review. It’s still a favorite of mine.”Sex At Dawn” explores the permanent shadow cast across our current civilized models of sex. That shadow is cast by how the authors contend that we’ve evolved, sexually, over millions of years and how different it is compared to how we’ve been behaving in the last 10,000 years or so as we started living in larger groups.

Each of these books offers fascinating insights into how we are, aren’t, or could be.

New Hires

Over the holidays, I called one of my brothers. He has a business and is also in school, on the weekends, working on a doctorate in business, and he has a family. I’m surprised he has time for casual phone chats.

Thinking about him pursuing his doctorate in business made me wonder “How relevant is business education these days?” Specifically, I’m curious just how important a certain degree from a certain place is to being hired in 2012.

The internet now facilitates the outsourcing of many jobs, even some white-collar jobs like answering routine medical and legal questions.

China’s low manufacturing costs seem to impact most businesses, not in a good way unless you enjoy a race to the bottom price-wise.

And computing just gets stronger and cheaper each year, allowing computers to tirelessly and more efficiently do more and more jobs.

Dan Pink published a book about this called “A Whole New Mind” and the ideas in his book are becoming more true, not less so, as we go into 2012.

Based on what the new business landscape looks like, a few ideas on the best person to hire these days become clearer to me: young generalists, who can write well, and are reliable.

Unless a job has very special needs, a young generalist has a more open mind and exposure to different information. And he’s probably easier to train in the specifics of a new job.

If someone isn’t reliable he’s not an asset. The trend now is that an employee needs to produce a result when he says he will, rather than just showing up when he says he will.

Hire the best writer. More than ever, it’s important to be able to tell a story well. Humans evolved transmitting information to each other through stories for tens of thousands of years. Until a last few hundred years, writing wasn’t widely available. A story resonates and has a better chance of getting traction than just information.

And, to paraphrase something Seth Godin said, if you have a good blog, you probably don’t need a resume anymore. You just need to deliver a cover letter and a link to your blog.