Monthly Archives: April 2013

Filtered or unfiltered?

killer cig packFrom a public health viewpoint, few things seem to be as agreed upon as the idea that smoking cigarettes is bad for you. Before fixing your diet or jumping into an exercise program, if you haven’t stopped smoking it’s like taking a step forward but still taking two steps backward.

What about filtered vs unfiltered cigarettes? They can both can kill you. Just like guns or bombs, once you’re dead does it matter which one killed you?

That’s what seemed to happen in Boston last week when the bombers struck. The city and those responsible went into high alert and rightly so.

Americans seem to be more upset about killing people with bombs than killing them with guns. Whether you’re killed with a bomb or a gun you’re still dead. Luckily, the terrorists detonated bombs instead of using semiautomatic guns, because they’d have probably been able to kill a lot more people.

Guns are responsible for killing thousands(!) more people than bombs do in America, but Americans won’t look at guns as public health and safety issues. Gun violence somehow gets a pass. It’d be like giving filtered cigarettes a pass even though filtered and unfiltered cigarettes are both public health problems.

There seemed to finally be some momentum toward gun control laws after the school children were slaughtered in Connecticut, but with the country’s attention pulled away by the Boston bombings, the lawmakers chickened out.

A portable door jamb?

story-tapeOur family owned the same house for more than thirty years. We used the vertical part of closet doors, the door jambs, for charting how tall we all were getting. Probably twice a year, using a book and a pencil, our Dad would officiate the measurement using a dash mark, our name, and the date.

Nowadays, the population in the States is more likely to grow up in a few different homes. Here’re a couple of options that work as portable door jambs.

One is a tape measure that’s blank, without anything written on the tape part. So periodically put the blank tape against a permanent door jamb and put a dash, the kid’s name, and the date straight onto the tape with a sharpie. When you move you have a memory device that can easily move with you. It’s called a story tape and costs about six bucks. The outside of the case is blank too so you can label it.

Another option is a six-foot wooden measuring stick that’s made for recording kids’ growth. It’s a low tech version of the blank tape measure but a little harder to move to a new house because it’s basically a six-foot long ruler. And it seems expensive at $78. It’s called a growth chart ruler.

Whether you use the old-fashioned door jamb, a story tape, or a growth chart ruler kids and parents can still marvel at kids growing when it’s often hard to tell day-to-day.

Doug Coupland Quotes

zzz beam me up

Here’re some quotes from artist and fiction author Doug Coupland. They’re in no particular order or necessarily related to each other but they’re all clever.

Earth was not built for six billion people all running around and being passionate about things. The world was built for about two million people foraging for roots and grubs.

Before machines the only form of entertainment people really had was relationships.

Blame is just a lazy person’s way of making sense of chaos.

Everybody past a certain age, regardless of how they look on the outside, pretty much constantly dreams of being able to escape from their lives.

Figure out what it is in life you don’t do well, and then don’t do it.

I don’t want any vegetables, thank you. I paid for the cow to eat them for me.

If nothing else, we simply get used to being alive.

If you don’t have a spiritual practice in place when times are good, you can’t expect to suddenly develop one during a moment of crisis.

It’s weird when people start sentences with ‘frankly’ – as if their other sentences don’t count.

Only losers make decisions when things are bad. The time to rejig your life is the time when it’s seemingly smooth.

The modern economy isn’t about the redistribution of wealth, it’s about the redistribution of time.

Too much free time is certainly a monkey’s paw in disguise. Most people can’t handle a structureless life.

When we constantly ask for miracles, we’re unraveling the fabric of the world. A world of continuous miracles would not be a world, it would be a cartoon.

When you crop the photo, you tell a lie.

You can’t get mad at weather because weather’s not about you. Apply that lesson to most other aspects of life.

You spend a much larger part of your life being old, not young.

How expert do you need to be?

lenticular clouds and churchYou probably like music, art, and food – all without being a musician, an artist, or a chef. If you are one or more of those things, great!

But, you don’t need to be an expert to appreciate listening to music, taking in art, or eating a great meal, right?

Most people feel science is only for scientists – but it’s not. That’s what I explain to a couple of teens I’m teaching science to. My underlying idea is you don’t have to be, or want to be, a scientist to appreciate science. Nonscientists can be captured by, and understand, most of the key concepts from science without needing numbers and formulas.

Look at this old church in a vineyard with a weird looking cloud above it. It’s cool.

If you know a bit about genetics you’ll have a greater appreciation of how the grape vines were developed and also you might recognize the weird cloud isn’t a UFO but a “lenticular” cloud that forms in the right conditions of moist air and shearing wind. Now the scene is cooler.

Understanding science even a little bit just adds another layer of appreciation and wonder to things and activities people enjoy, like music or a shooting star. And this is true for things and activities people don’t enjoy, like mosquitos or the flu.

Write it down

Getting ideas out of your head and onto paper is a good thing to do.

cool esThere’re a couple of reasons for doing it. One is about timing. You always think you’ll remember an idea that pops up, but mostly you’ll forget it as another idea displaces it. It’s often a matter of seconds before an idea dissipates, so jotting down an idea before it fades away helps you outsmart yourself.

The next reason for getting an idea onto paper, is that it frees your mind and your memory for tackling other thoughts.

Why keep trying to remember stuff that’s more easily remembered in ink or electronically? An idea you’ve written down won’t fade or distort like ideas can do when they’re just kept in your memory.

Using a pen and paper is always handy. There’re also a couple of convenient ways to do this on your computer. You can use your email account or blog as a place to put your ideas, park them in the draft folder and come back later. I also use a clipboard extender program called Jumpcut to cut and save lots of clippings from the computer instead of only one cut and paste operation at a time. It’s super easy to get and use. And it’s free.

But acting quickly is the hardest part of this, although the reality of writing down an idea is easy when you do get in the habit of doing it.




think small


Do you like ideas that can show our world in a different way compared to our day to day experience of it?

Ok, think small, really small. Physicist Brian Greene recently tweeted:

Remove all the space within the atoms making up the human body, and every person that’s ever lived would fit inside a baseball.

You’ve probably heard that stuff is mostly space. Stuff is just atoms, and they’re mostly space, lots of space.

Sticking with the baseball analogy, think of an atom’s nucleus as being the size of a baseball. Each electron would then be the size of the period at the end of this sentence and over a mile away from their baseball sized nucleus. So, imagine a period in a two and a half mile orbit around a baseball, atoms are mostly space.


Hidden Advice

hidden messageWe’re presented with hidden advice all the time. Whether we take it usually depends what’s at stake.

Sometimes it’s not clear.

Walking into a doctor’s office and seeing an overweight doctor works as hidden advice from the doctor. Patients will trust his recommendations less and are more likely to switch to another, healthier looking, doctor. The patient’s health is at stake so why take health advice from someone who’s not taking it themselves, even if  the doctor’s recommendations are spot on. We tend to hear what we see.

Sometimes there’s no choice.

“Does this dress make me look fat?” is usually hidden advice that a complement or, at the least, some reassurance is in order. The continuation of a smooth relationship is at stake. By coming up with a good compliment about the dress, you’ll be truthful because if she does look fat, it’s probably not the dress’ fault.

Sometimes it’s easy.

In certain situations people will be diplomatic when offering hidden advice through other channels. So if someone offers you a breath mint, take it.

Don’t vs Can’t

Bruce  Lee kickingSaying “I don’t drink (or eat sweets, or whatever) is easier than saying “I can’t drink (or eat sweets, or whatever).”

When it comes to sticking with avoiding something “I don’t…” is a better way of framing it than “I can’t…”

When there’s something you don’t do, it’s just that you don’t do it as opposed to can’t which implies it’s forbidden to do and so maybe it’s desirable and you need self-control.

For example here’s a simple way of eating to stay healthy with only three rules, and one exception.

Don’t eat sweets, snacks, or seconds – except, occasionally, on days starting with “S” (Saturday, Sunday, or Special holidays). Lots of words starting with “s.”

If you just say “I don’t eat sweets,” it’s easier to follow through with than saying “I can’t eat sweets.” It’s that you don’t eat sweets, not because you’re not allowed to eat them or because it’s forbidden.

I can’t sounds like it’s taboo. Being a taboo makes something more attractive in a way, mainly just because it is taboo.

Saying I don’t becomes something I don’t do, I could do it, but I don’t. I don’t drive without a seatbelt on, I don’t go shopping on Black Friday, and I don’t zumba.

What’s the next iteration?

bottle openerAround 30,000 years ago we started making lots more stuff. And we’ve been at it ever since.

Back then, the big jump in making stuff consisted of cave painting, jewelry, burial ceremonies, and the like. Nowadays we’re up to making jets and computers.

Most things humans make are iterations of stuff that came before, like the bottle opener pictured here. There’s a magnet to hold it to your fridge door and another magnet to capture the cap. It’s clever and different looking, but ultimately it’s another iteration of a thing that open bottles.

I happened upon this story lately while thinking about the stuff humans make.

Bill and Melinda Gates, through their foundation, are offering a reward for making a better condom! That’s right, better condoms.

They mean making a better condom in the sense that it’ll feel better to users so people will begin using them more.

When your sink is overflowing onto the floor, instead of starting to mop up the mess, it’s smarter to get to the root of the problem by shutting off the water. If more people used condoms, disease and population increases would both be prevented greatly, reducing the potential cost of both. Get at the source of the problem.

Condoms in some form have been in use for many hundreds of years and have been in their current form for decades. Almost everything humans make continually builds on earlier iterations. Maybe it’s time for the next generation of condom.

There’s $100,000 of grant money available to back a prototype “that significantly preserves or enhances pleasure…” This is to overturn the commonly held perception that condoms decrease pleasure, even though it’s common for people to not realize when a condom breaks in the middle of the act – so it really is only a misconception that condoms reduce sensation, but that misperception is there unfortunately.

But that’s not all. There’s also $1 million more available for the next phase if the first prototypes meet the criteria for a better condom.

Hopefully someone is able to get rich on the next iteration.