Monthly Archives: August 2012

Break out the slackline

On a surf trip, only a few hours, at most, are spent in the water.

The rest of the day is spent making and eating meals while telling tall (wave) tales.

There’s some resting and napping that goes on too, but it’s fun to have other daytime activities. So it’s a good time to break out the slackline.

Slacklining was developed by rock climbers in the 70’s to train their balance skills, and for fun. You just stretch a length of strong nylon webbing between two stationary anchors, usually trees, and then (try to) walk across it.

It’s kinda like tightrope walking, but a slackline isn’t as tightly tensioned as a tightrope and the webbing, 1 to 2 inches wide, keeps your foot from rolling.

It’s hard to do at first. Your legs will shake with small tremors while your nervous system figures out how to fire correctly to walk on an unstable surface. Then as your muscles learn, you can take a couple of tentative steps, lose your balance and try again.

Besides being fun and good for your balance, slacklining is a good icebreaker. People are drawn in when they see it. The people who’ve done it before want to have a go and people who’re seeing it for the first time want to try it out.

I’ve set up a slackline on the last couple of surf trips to La Ticla, a surf spot that attracts Mexican and international surfers.

The slackline always helps in meeting and befriending other people who stop by to give it a try. Not just surfers either, there was even a passing hammock vendor giving it a try on this trip.

Kraut

Like lots of foodies, we’ve been making and eating sauerkraut. And it’s great.

The new popularity of fermented foods is a good thing. They’re good for you and are generally easy to make.

All you really need for sauerkraut is a head of cabbage, a tablespoon of salt, and  a large jar and mixing bowl.

First, we clean the jar and bowl with boiling water for that clean fresh feeling.

Then finely slice or cuisinart the cabbage. Layer it into the bowl with salt sprinkled between layers. Next, massage it all firmly for a few minutes to mix in the salt and break down cabbage cell walls releasing sugars and water.

By the handful, pack the now wet mix into your jar, pressing each handful down hard as you go. Make a little salt and water mix,if needed, to be sure the top is just covered because the lactic acid brine deters any bad microorganisms.

Then loosely close the jar and leave it out on the kitchen counter, letting the fermentation happen. After five to seven days and your sauerkraut hits the level of tanginess you like, pop the jar into your fridge to slow the fermentation.

It’s fun and you can experiment by adding in ginger, peppercorns, apple, carraway seeds, dill seeds, juniper berries, or beets. But you don’t have to stop with this list. We haven’t made one experiment yet we didn’t like.

We always hope the five-day fermentation time between batches flies by so we can start in on the latest batch of kraut.

Built to last

Brooks bike saddles will last for decades. That’s good, especially because they sell for over $100. But smart cyclists know quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten. It must be true here because the company seems built to last too.

Since 1880, cyclists have been straddling the Brooks brand of bike seats, or saddles. By 1882, Mr. Brooks was applying for his first patent.

The spot on a bike you can do the most about comfort-wise is the saddle. Brooks saddles are built for comfort and built to last. There’re enough different styles to suit any rider. The saddles are leather and take some breaking in, but once that’s done you have a customized seat just for your bum.

Bike enthusiasts have kept this company going for a longtime. In our modern world of cheaper, faster, and disposable it’s cool to see a company that has been around for a long time producing a beautiful and useful product people embrace. These bike seats aren’t for everyone, but for the people who like them there’s no other bike saddle.

I think a good slogan for Brooks might be: The race to the bottom (yours) has been won.

 

 

 

Guns

I like guns. I’ve owned some. I’ve hunted before. I’m more attracted to than repelled by guns, they’re ingenious devices.

But handguns and assault weapons have been, and are still, a public health issue and shouldn’t be owned by the general public.

I know there’s a second amendment. But it’s out of date. Owning muzzle loaders isn’t a threat to the nation’s public health; but now owning handguns and assault weapons is.

The size of our population (there’re over 300 million of us) coupled with our stress inducing economic system generates enough deranged individuals to worry about. This situation ensures a random but steady supply of a deadly mixture of guns and untreated mental illness.

It hasn’t been that long since the deadly movie theater shootings in Denver, but there’s no more public interest in it. What happened? The issue of guns and public health doesn’t seem to be on the public’s radar.

I guess in country where a black woman becoming a member of a golf club is still big news, in 2012, we still may not be ready to talk about our gun problem. But we can do it.

We consider cigarettes and second-hand smoke as a public health issue; and we’re doing a pretty good job of getting away from smoking. It’ll probably be a similar situation with guns.

 

What’s that word?

Yesterday, I was chatting with a friend about the poor water quality we both noticed at our beach. We were discussing potential exposure to bacteria in the water and how gross it seems.

But, there’s also the possibility that a low-level exposure might produce a more robust immune system. I couldn’t think of the word for this phenomenon while we were talking. Of course later, when I stopped trying to remember it, the word came to me, hormesis.

It’s said that “the poison is in the dose.” Hormesis is the word for what happens when a low level of exposure to something (that’s toxic at higher levels) produces a positive adaptation. The system in question gets stronger and more robust.

Hormesis occurs in many situations. Stay in the sun for fifteen minutes, the next day you’ll have created some vitamin D and the start of a tan. Stay in the sun for hours and you’ll be burned, possibly causing long-term skin damage. It’s about the dose.

But not knowing what the dose is, or which bacteria is thriving in our break, I stayed out of the water today and stayed in the sun for fifteen minutes.

 

Minimizing Doubt

Doubt is a common human thought process.

Sometimes doubt a good thing and leads to critical thinking. At other times doubt serves as a stand-in for the truth.

Doubt is what conspiracy theorists offer in lieu of proof. If the truth’s uncomfortable then doubt can creep in more easily. Using doubt it’s easy to get people believing what they want to, instead of what’s real.

And when one doubt is resolved it’s easy to bring up another doubt and then another to keep avoiding the truth. Just keep going farther out and asking “What if …?”

With all the Olympic coverage lately, I started thinking about the medal winners minimizing self-doubt. “Can you do it?” is a question people ask themselves all the time. The winning top athletes have to minimize or eliminate the question.

At the highest level of competition, most of the “also ran” competitors probably worked on getting rid of self-doubt too, but just not quite well enough.

 

The Hidden Side

The hidden side of things are often really interesting. And one of them may be whale poop.

Some biologists are beginning to consider how important whale poop might be to the vibrancy of ocean life where whales live.

Whales are so big and once so numerous that their presence can be a big factor for the ocean’s wildlife. Prior to commercial whaling, the blue whale population was estimated at more than 275,000. Today there’re only about 8,000 blue whales worldwide.

Generally eating in deeper waters and pooping near the surface, apparently whales are basically fertilizing the surface waters of the ocean with each trail of scat they release. It floats. The rare aerial photo accompanying the Wired article on this subject shows the (plankton colored) scat trailing the culprit, a blue whale, and that scat trail is large!

Other mammals and birds ply the ocean surface with their scat too, but their contributions are small compared to the whales’. One adult blue whale might weigh in at over 200 tons (or 180,000 kilos). For comparison sake, the largest known dinosaur probably “only” weighed 99 tons (or 90,000 kilos). And a common seagull weighs less than a kilo.  As whales slowly make a comeback, their beneficial fertilizing will be on the uptick too.

Sure on the surface, whales are big and majestic. But maybe their more interesting feature is their hidden side, as a major reconstituter and redistributor off ocean nutrients.

What’s Mescal?

We just returned from Oaxaca City in southern Mexico. Coincidentally, a friend is living there while he’s starting a mescal export business. We visited with him a few times and learned a bit about mescal.

Mescal is a broad category for liquors distilled from the agave plant. The mescal most people know is tequila, but there’re lots more mescals throughout Mexico.

Because I live in Mexico, I’d been thinking about writing a post about my favorite tequila. But mescal is a more interesting story than my favorite tequila (I buy Centenario Repasado most often which, I guess, makes it my favorite).

Different types of agave plants are found pretty much all over Mexico. Agaves have been used as a beverage base for thousands of years here. Probably the original agave drink was pulque, sort of like an agave beer.

After the Spanish showed up and introduced distillation, various local Peoples began producing a drink called mescal using agave plants.

The world of mescal shares some similarities with the wine world. The agave plant comes in many forms and grows in many different soils and climate with each combination providing different taste characteristics for the mescal.

Just as champagne can only be made from certain grapes and only in the Champagne region of France, tequila can only be made from a certain agave plant and only in the Tequila region of Mexico.

Like wine, mescals can can be consumed when they’re young or they can be aged. Young clear mescal, called joven, seems to be considered the way to go.

The agave plants can also be harvested in the wild where they grow naturally, or they can be cultivated and harvested more easily. Each style of the resulting mescal has it’s following.

Again like wine, the pricing is often based on scarcity. And mescal drinkers use similar adjectives for describing the, often subtle, taste differences between different mescals.

There’s even some overlap with scotches; the most common adjective I heard for describing a mescal’s taste was “smokey.”

There’s a thriving mescal subculture, especially in Oaxaca, that’s worth investigating if you’re even slightly interested in it.

 

Another reason to walk more

This is a snippet from a NYT article titled  Friends of a Certain Age, by Alex Williams:

As external conditions change, it becomes tougher to meet the three conditions that sociologists since the 1950s have considered crucial to making close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other, said Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology and gerontology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This is why so many people meet their lifelong friends in college, she added.

There’re lots of situations that might lead to fulfilling the three conditions for close friendship formation. But one thing I’ve noticed about living in a small town, where most errands and trips are done on foot, is that walking tends to help.

I think the walking part is more important than the size of the town. I’ve lived in small communities where there was more driving than walking and close friendships were harder to form.

Walking is probably a big part of people forming their lifelong friends during college (at least in the US). College students walk around more and usually don’t have a car yet either.

We derive a big part of our happiness from close bonds with other people and walking more seems to increase the likelihood of forming new friendships. Friendship is another reason to walk more.