Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Campground

Most people would say that it’s better to leave a campground better than you found it. But, people will lean toward being either takers or givers, hoarders or sharers.

Say you’re in a park, you come across a group of breakdancers, get sucked in and watch for ten minutes. But just as it’s winding down, you can either stroll away before the hat is passed, or you can stay, applaud, and drop a buck in the hat.

That breakdancing show could be watched for free after all, so walk on. On the other hand, it was an exhibition of acrobatic skill you enjoyed watching and you might want to encourage and show appreciation for their art with a tip.

You’re the only one who’ll really know what you did. Ethics is what someone does when no one’s there to witness what’s being done. The takers will see a chance to get something for nothing and givers will see a chance to offer support for sharing. Making communities bigger or smaller.

Takers tend to do what they have the right to do with less concern about what’s the right thing to do. Maybe takers are looking for opportunities to hoard some more stuff. More what? Depends. If it’s a large number of cats, then you’re that crazy cat person. If it’s extreme wealth, you’re called successful.

Look at Warren Buffett. He thinks much of his success is due to being born in the United States at a certain time during the 20th century into a stable, hardworking and encouraging family. Though he’s polite enough not to mention it, also being caucasian and Christian probably added to the beneficial confluence of contributing factors because that was the dominant culture during that time.

He’s made sure his family is comfortable. But the bulk of his extreme wealth is being plowed back into the system that helped him achieve so much. Warren Buffett is trying to leave the campground better than he found it.

Happy people aren’t just happy in themselves but are the cause of happiness in others. “Us and them” isn’t a way to build and maintain a community. A strong and happy community makes more people happy, whether they’re givers or takers but the givers seem happier to me.

Fading Units

The accepted international language for aviation is English. But what if a couple of countries refused to buy into this standard? It would be, at the least, irritating and confusing.

The USA, Liberia, and Myanmar are the only countries not officially using the metric system. Even through I have training in science using the metric system, as an American I don’t think in metric terms without some struggle.

There’s even a name for switching over to the metric system, metrication. I’m going to start trying, by using baby steps.

Everyone talks about the weather; so I’m starting out with temperatures. In most countries in the world someone might say, “Wow, it’s 23 degrees today, this feels great!” To which I think, “It feels good, but what number did you just say?”

So here’s my idea. I’m starting with just three easy metric temperatures.

10, 20, and 30.

Think: fleece weather, long pants weather, and short pants weather.

Or more exactly: 10C = 50F, 20C = 68F, and 30 = 86F.

As you can see in the picture, I’ve put tabs on the thermometer I normally use giving me visual help in associating Celsius (metric) with the corresponding temperatures in Fahrenheit (imperial) that I feel.

A couple of times a day I try to look at the thermometer and figure out what the temperature is and what it feels like.

It is hard to teach an old dog new tricks, but I’m trying, one degree at a time.


I think saying crouching sounds better than squatting. But since most people say squatting I’ll stick with that.

Most adults in the first world rarely, if ever, crouch or squat down with their bums close to their heels and their feet flat on the ground. You can see little kids squatting down all the time instead of standing or sitting and sometime just to get lower. After their first few years, most kids in the West become sitters too.

It’s still a common way to sit in many parts of the world. We were squatters for a long time before we became chronic sitters. It turns out that squatting is good for many parts of our bodies. Squatting increases the range of motion for your hips, knees, and ankles. Kelly Starrett is a well thought of and entertaining Doctor of physical therapy who insists on a 10 minute squat test every month.

Learning to squat isn’t a paleolithic reenactment for its own sake. Squatting lets us take back what chairs and sofas have robbed us of, namely a stronger core and more flexible hips, by crouching down until the thighs rest against the calves while the feet are flat on the floor.

I’ve been doing it a little bit every day for a couple of years and have gotten a better range of motion in lots of joints. It’s helped my surfing and Brazilian jiu  jitsu by enabling me to  bring my knees up to my chest in some situations more easily than before I started squatting down.

Be careful though, after you start squatting, the next thing you know is that you may have urges to go barefoot sometimes too.

Unloved Bikes

When in NYC, you’ll soon notice all the abandoned bikes or more commonly, what’s left of them chained with oversized chains to immoveable objects.

The oversized chains and locks work. But when some of a bike’s parts aren’t locked they seem to get picked off. That often starts the abandonment process.

These stripped and rusting bicycle leftovers are probably just an accepted part of big city life these days. But I’m sure many of the home or business owners on the other side of the sidewalk from these eyesores would pay to be rid of them.

So here’s a business idea for a friend who’s living in NYC. He’s young, active, personable, and likes to use his bike to get around town. After arriving in the city, his bike was stolen because he was using an old style U-lock that the big city bike thieves knew how to open using only a Bic pen (you can see how on youtube).

Maybe call the business or something like that. Then get stickers with that name and apply them to the wrecks and tell the person living nearby, if you could find them, about the service.

Charge $49 to remove the first abandoned bike. And $29 for each additional one they have nearby.

The abandoned bike would have to be removed, preventing people from paying you to liberate someone’s bike that they want.

After cutting the lock, the still serviceable chains or cables could be sold to bike shops to resell, ditto for any “vintage” but still useable parts. The rest could trashed or sold as scrap.

The business could be run online and billed via paypal or something similar. Equipment needs would be minimal, a small cutting torch and a heat-resistant blanket (to protect the immovable object). Everything could be easily transported by bike to the job site.

Of course, you’d also need a lock and chain – so no one steals your bike while you’re working.

Cig Pack Pics

I don’t smoke and don’t like being around it. But a few people I know smoke so I’m around it sometimes.

What do I notice most about being around it? I’m always pulled in, and repulsed, by the gruesome photos on the cigarette packages depicting the unglamorous, ugly side of smoking. The packages present colorful themes like mouth cancer, dead lab rats, and smoke ravaged lungs to name a few.

I get the message, but I don’t need it and don’t need to see it.

The pictures are meant to gross out smokers. But the graphic pictures seem to just be reenforcing a “don’t smoke” message mainly to the people who don’t smoke. The pics don’t seem to affect the smokers I know; they’re too busy smoking and not looking at the package.

Currently, there’s a court battle going on between the government and tobacco companies. Tobacco companies argue that if their products need graphic warnings, then cars should be required to have “speed kills” pictures on cars, fast food should have “health danger” warnings, and so on for other dangerous products.

Of  course, the tobacco companies don’t mention that those other products aren’t addictive which is the core issue.

What would be more effective than the current cigarette pack layout? Maybe the graphics space should be reversed, with the pictures taking up most of the space on the pack and only the lid being used for the brand name.

Bigger pictures and smaller branding would be even grosser to me but it might catch more smokers’ eyes when they’re reaching for another cig. Maybe that’d just cause a resurgence of those long coin purse type cigarette cases I used to see older ladies using… before they died.


So you’re a househusband?

What was Mr. Thatcher’s first name? Or, what’s the first name of Oprah’s boyfriend?

I don’t know their first names nor do most people. Those guys are pretty much known to outsiders only by association to the famous women they’re with.

For Americans at least, the most common question asked of new acquaintances is “So what do you do?”

I have an online business, I write this blog, and I teach English as a second language in Mexico. It’s work, but not a regular job; I don’t get a paycheck.

My girlfriend gets a paycheck, so I usually get categorized as a sort of househusband. That’s ok. When the “What do you do?” question arises, I haven’t actually said “Oh, I’m a househusband.” But maybe I’ll start saying it and see what happens.

People, it seems, just want to hear a simple category they know like doctor, lawyer, or Indian chief, so they can file it away and continue on.

It’s almost like asking “How’re you doing?” People expect to hear “I’m well, thanks.” Are they actually interested in hearing about the thing the dermatologist froze on the side of your head this morning?

I was chatting with an education administrator from Berkley who was here visiting. Her son is getting ready to go off to college and she was explaining the advice she gives her son and his friends. It boils down to this: these days, most people entering the workforce will have many jobs rather than careers, and probably many will be freelancers. Is freelancer another name for househusband?

The days of easily categorizing people are changing because the workplace and work itself are changing.


Time to Update email?

Doesn’t email often seem like someone else’s agenda for your time? What’s the fix for emails you may not want to get? I think maybe some sort of disincentive, probably money, could work.

Of course “snail mail” also can be someone else’s demand on your time. But, the person sending you an actual letter has the disincentive of having to pay for stationary, an envelope, and postage.

Maybe email senders should have to pay something for sending you an email. It might create a business opportunity too.

Your email service provider could implement a system. They’d get a percentage from charging unsolicited emailers, but you’d get most of the fee. Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo could start charging, say, 50 cents to senders for emails sent to your inbox, you’d get 45 cents and they’d pocket 5 cents for their trouble.

Don’t worry, there’d be a friends and family “no charge” list. But emailers who aren’t on that list would be charged to send any unsolicited emails to your inbox. If you got an email from an unrecognized sender that you actually were glad to get, you could waive the fee.

Having to pay would even save the senders money and time too because they wouldn’t be wasting their time composing and sending out frivolous emails.

I think something like this might work, and everyone would come out ahead.


What I Didn’t Know

Are there things you assume you know? Probably lots of stuff.

I emailed a doctor I know about a lower back problem my Mom has, describing it as the spinal cord being impinged around the lumbar spine at vertebra L4 or L5.

Here’s part of the doctor’s response, “… actually there’s no spinal cord at that level. The cord usually ends around T12 or L1 (occasionally down to L2). Below this point are just the nerve roots that travel down to their respective exiting foramina. So it’s just a bunch of nerve roots hanging down and this is called the “caudal equina” or horse tail…”

Up until reading this I’d envisioned a spinal cord traveling down the entire length of the spinal column from the brain down to the tailbone with nerves exiting at various points from each vertebra where needed. Wrong, it ends in a horse tail configuration; it’s not just a gradually tapering cord down ending in the tail bone.

You don’t know what you don’t know. And it’s sometimes interesting to find out new or better information that clears up a blind spot you didn’t know was there.