Monthly Archives: March 2013

When did we start making stuff?

what time is it?When did people start making stuff beyond the bare necessities?

It turns out that we started making more stuff as more of us started making it past early adulthood, around 30,000 years ago.

Here’re some ideas from a NYT article about our perceptions of life expectancy.

Life expectancy is just an average that fluctuates with the risks we face and it changes throughout our lifetimes, making it a frequently misunderstood concept.

For example, more dying infants bring down the life expectancy number a lot. This often leads to the false conclusion that most humans died quite young in the distant and not-so-distant past. 

 But actually by just surviving childhood you’d have a good shot at old age.

Now scientists have concluded we started living longer more frequently starting around 30,000 years ago in the Upper Paleolithic, part of the era called the Stone Age. And studying present day “primitive” tribes shows those surviving childhood live into their 50s and beyond. 

The life spans of ancient humans, their ancestors, and close relatives were studied by examining teeth from 768 fossils representing three million years of primate evolution.

By looking at wear and other signs of aging in the teeth, the fossils were split into groups of old and young adults, researchers found that between 100,000 and 30,000 years ago, there were about four old adults for every 10 young adults, but then around 30,000 years ago there were 20 old adults for every 10 young adults.

So starting about 30,000 years ago there were more people living past 30, and human culture began flourishing.

More people living longer coincided with a big jump in making stuff not directly needed for day-to-day existence – clay figurines, carvings from bone, wood and stone, cave art, jewelry making, and complex burial practices. Longer human lives seem to have made this flourishing possible.

More time alive seems to allow us to progress and make more stuff.


Croc-EyeThe fear of missing out, or FOMO, is that right now somewhere there’s someone  having a better time, life, job, vacation, or whatever you think of – than you are. Seth Godin wrote a post about it that I liked and abridged below.

FOMO seems to be baked in. For example, as freshmen we knew that some cool kid was at some party that we weren’t at. Now, someone else making more money, doing something more important, with better friends, and with a happier ending, than you are. 

In other words you feel like you’re missing out. Something in your universe isn’t right. There’s something happening that might affect you, annoy you, making things not “all right.” Some looming crisis is out there.

It turns out that joy is hard to find, even with all the leverage, assets and privileges we’ve amassed. We’ve set ourselves up to avoid it at every turn. Electronic media profits from connecting us, mostly it stirs up our feelings.

Smart phones can amplify our choices of social media, making FOMO harder to avoid wherever you are, it’s just a vibration away.

Meanwhile, your lizard brain works to make everything okay. The lizard brain won’t rest until it knows that everyone likes you, you’re offending no one, and all the gauges are indicating a brighter future. But of course, the future (and the present) isn’t perfect. It can’t be.

The lizard brain mixed with being increasingly exposed to what others are doing increases our unease. The combo works to make us distracted, unhappy and desiring to be somewhere else.

FOMO isn’t the dissatisfaction of you challenging yourself to be a better you because that’s an internal discussion not measured against the instant updates from everyone else.

The only place joy can be found is right here and right now. Everyone who’s selling you dissatisfaction is working for their own selfish ends.


What’s the latest in health?

ride your bike

What are the current best practices for health and wellness?

Gretchen Reynolds covers the health beat for her NYT column  “Phys Ed.” Her new book is called “The First 20 Minutes,”  offering health tips and insights from the latest research. Some popularly held health and fitness myths break down under scientific scrutiny but some practical tips and information take their place.

The book is clearly written but rambles a bit. I liked it, but a few of my friends who’ve started reading it didn’t finish. The rambling and sometimes nerdy material is there  providing credibility and the background for information she’s providing.

Here’re some takeaway ideas I liked:

Be active. Many negative health outcomes previously thought to stem from aging actually come from being a couch potato, one of the biggest threats to your health.

Fitness isn’t always healthy. Being fit doesn’t always mean being healthy. Fitness is more about performance than health. If you can run 26.2 miles, it doesn’t mean you’re not “skinny fat,” without a heart problem, or more susceptible to colds for example.

To lose weight, exercise before (a protein) breakfast.

The first 20 minutes are the most important. You’ll get the biggest health benefit (different from fitness) during the first 20 minutes of exercise. Use the minimum effective dose (MED), do what’s needed – not as much as you can. Shoot for 150 minutes a week of walking or light exercise split up however you prefer.

Don’t stretch. Stretching before exercising is actually counterproductive.

Increase the load. To improve fitness performance you need to overload, causing an adaptive response in your body. Overload by increasing the weight, intensity, or frequency from workout to workout.

Stand more. Just standing more (than sitting) can contribute to your daily energy expenditure without setting off the mechanism that tries to compensate for calories burned.

Lift weights. Strength training slows the health declines from aging. If you want to keep it really simple, just do squats.

Drink when you’re thirsty. Our bodies use thirst to let us know when they need more water. Over hydration isn’t good.

You don’t need special foods. If you’re exercising less than 90 minutes water is best. Real foods can work when you need to eat during long sessions. And the best recovery drink is… low-fat chocolate milk.

Vitamins and antioxidant supplements are not helpful.

Don’t stop with my takeaways. There’s more information in the book which might be more important or useful for you.


Switching Lines

phone swapCan you guess who said the following? Here’s a hint for those Americans who’re convinced Obama is a socialist – it’s not him.

Life, he said, is increasingly more difficult for those who aren’t born with built-in advantages, throwing cold water in the face of those who espouse a strict up-by-the-bootstraps doctrine of individual responsibility and who ascribe failure only to personal failure. 

“…we can only point to the increasingly rare individual who overcomes adversity and succeeds in America. Here’s reality: if you’re fortunate enough to count yourself among the privileged, much of the rest of the nation is drowning.

“In our country today, if you’re born poor, if your parents didn’t go to college, if you don’t know your father, if English isn’t spoken at home, then the odds are stacked against you. You are more likely to stay poor today than at any other time since World War II.”

It’s probably not who you might guess. It’s abridged from an article about the content of Jeb Bush’s speech to his fellow Republicans. He was imploring them to change their message and embrace more people by breaking the widely held perception that the Republican party is the “anti” everything party.

Jeb’s right. But he needs a lot of luck. I hope he really believes what he’s saying and isn’t just trying to get attention and better positioning for the next election.

There’s A New Pope In Town

hitchThere’s a new pope in town, I saw the white smoke rise above the vatican.

I saw a picture of the newest pope, Francis. Based on that picture I like him, so far.

The reason I like him is that he was smiling and it seemed to be a genuine smile at a time when many people in power don’t smile enough or present “courtesy” smiles for cameras. Francis comes off as a real person because of his real smile.

But really, most people, other than devout catholics, and lots of non devout catholics don’t have a deeper interest in the pope or most religious things other than a surface curiosity. The interest lately in the pope’s selection comes from our fascination with an ancient institution rather than what the institution represents.

The catholic church is in decline, has little relevance for for most people, and continually promotes inappropriate, wrongheaded policies. So the latest problem for the catholic church is that Francis sounds like he’s more of the same except he’s from the new world and with a new name. If thats true how much longer will the catholic church be around?

The missing phone booth

x2013.505.343_01_B01Do you ever wish people still had to use a phone booth to make calls in public?

Seeing this picture made me wish for the return of the public phone booth.

Hearing only half of a stranger’s conversation is distracting. You’re usually drawn in, wasting brain cycles trying to figure out a conversation that you’re just hearing half of and you don’t care about. Hearing one half of a conversation causes your mind to become curious, so focusing on whatever it was you were thinking about before the cell phone conversation came into your personal space suddenly becomes harder.

Maybe the situation will be affected by a trickling down of ideas. Looking at the world of cars, automotive technology trickles down from the advances in technology from big-ticket auto racing to eventually innovate mass-produced cars for regular people. Similarly, there’s a trend in some expensive resort hotels to become “black hole resorts” allowing their guests to get away from electronic intrusions into their lives while they’re on holiday. So just like innovation trickles down to mass-produced cars from expensive race cars, maybe there’ll be a trickle down idea from rich people to the masses for an appreciation of breaks from our constant electronic intrusions.

Probably not. But you can always hope it’ll happen, because there’s more to life than increasing its speed.

What is Commuting Time’s Value?

day off to a bad startLife in the suburbs isn’t always as rosy as it’s made out to be.

For example, how valuable is the time you spend every day commuting to work?

Turns out, it’s worth a lot. Let’s say you’re making a somewhat normal salary, around $55,000 a year, then reducing your daily driving commute can be valued as getting a $40,000 raise – by just removing the hourlong, each way, commute from your life.

This is one of the things Dan Buettner found when researching the keys to happiness for his book, “Thrive.” He’s a National Geographic Fellow who spent five years investigating the shared characteristics accounting for happiness in places like Denmark, Singapore, Mexico, and California. It wasn’t wealth, beauty, youth, or intelligence that made the happiest groups happy. What Buettner found was that a better quality of life had a bigger impact on people’s happiness.

The number one and two hated daily activities for Americans were housework and commuting. By moving closer to work and cutting out two hours a day of commuting in a car, an American would feel like the recipient of a $40,000 raise in terms of happiness.

I wonder what the value of being able to walk to work is?



School Time

dead hummingbirdI’m trying to teach science to two young teenagers. They’re normal young teens, a boy and a girl, and most of the time they’re pretty attentive and interested. But at this point in their lives they aren’t inflamed by science, or much else academically. So I have to make what I’m teaching them as appealing as possible.

They like short videos. And the ones they like the most are on the “SciShow.”  It’s probably because show’s hosts are (at least made out to be) teens, a boy and a girl, and kinda nerdy but cool. If you’re interested, here’s a good episode to watch, it’s only about 11 minutes long and involves some guessing, mysterious skeletons, and a strange lizard,  so it’s perfect for teens of all ages, right?

It’s hard getting into the head of teens. These two I’m teaching are being home schooled by different teachers for each subject they study, so they’re exposed to different teachers and styles of teaching. Good storytelling is important. I can’t be sure, but my impression is they relate to the presenters on the SciShow, which is good because the messenger is often as important as the message.

Painting and Flowing

Furniture blue chest of drawersLast week when I was painting five rooms, I noticed a couple of things, and I’m guessing my abilities to perceive our world are probably the same as everyone else’s. So the things I noticed are probably pretty universal, here’s what I noticed.

The time needed for prepping an area for painting – like removing switch plates, scraping, and masking areas that don’t need paint takes about as much time as actually applying the paint and requires a good bit of internal narrative.

But when the actual painting starts, everything tends to be easier and you sometimes enter a state of “flow,” the narration in your mind gets replaced by experiencing. We do one or the other, but not narrating and experiencing at the same time. And usually whether we’re doing a painting project, eating a bagel, or listening to someone talk we spend the bulk of our time narrating and being somewhere else.

Our minds seem more like time machines, taking us forward into our future or back into our past. We’re rarely in the present moment because we’re narrating and telling ourselves stories, instead of experiencing what’s going on at the moment.