Monthly Archives: May 2013

Bad Brains

thoughts1Our air conditioner’s brain has gone bad.

It’s really a chip, but that’s our unit’s brain. We only use a/c during summer months while we’re sleeping. The rest of the year, it just sits idly by waiting to be fired up.

But it can’t wait any longer. About a month ago, our idle a/c unit began turning itself on and off. It comes on randomly and it also politely, but randomly, turns itself off. At first I thought the remote was to blame. But that wasn’t it.

The only thing I can think of is that our a/c unit has a bad brain.

Living in a small town in Mexico I haven’t found a service person yet who knows how to deal with this problem. So after weeks of trying various strategies, randomly of course, I did the only thing left. I turned off the electricity supplying its brain.


How light can you get your backpack and still be safe and comfortable? Pretty light is the answer. It can be pared down to well under ten pounds for everything other than your food and water.

Lately I’m more of an armchair backpacker. But when I’ve backpacked in the past I always tried to take as little as possible.

Now longtime backcountry guide and cartoonist Mike Clelland, has written and illustrated a cool little book called “Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips.” It’s full of interesting ideas for getting your gear weight down to an almost unnoticeable load.

By adopting an anti-hoarding mentality and using a (postal type) scale you can go a long way to lightening your load because every once or gram left at home will make you more comfortable on the trail. Probably more than anything, using a scale and noting weights just creates an awareness and removes guessing.

After the weigh-in, start separating your wants and needs. That fancy knife, for example, will rarely be used. Clelland takes along a cheap single-edged razor blade in a cardboard sheath made from a piece of cereal box.

What about the cost of going ultralight? Lighter is often cheaper. He has lots of tips like the razor blade instead of a knife such as a reused water bottle instead of a heavier more expensive nalgene bottle, a tarp instead of a high-tech tent, or a reading clipped articles instead of a book.

Test drive your new kit in the backyard or on a quick trip first to know it all works for you. It does work. Mike Clelland is part of the lineage of ultralight backpacking pros who (in my mind) started with Ray Jardine. As a side note, Jardine is one of the most accomplished outdoors person, not just in backpacking, I know of. I’ll tell you about Ray another time.

If you’re in the least bit fascinated by minimalism, comfort, or being able to more fully enjoy the backcountry without a pack animal, or being one yourself, get Mike’s book. You’ll be entertained and come away smarter. And that’s not all! His illustrations are part of the Robert Crumb lineage of drawing, which is a compliment too.




Strange words

Buddha camUsing jargon and words from another language mainly causes confusion. For most people  words they don’t know become barriers to understanding or acceptance of ideas. Strange words mostly reduce the transmission and influence the ideas could have if explained in plain English (or whichever language you use).

What made me think about this lately is reading about Buddhist meditation. Probably all of the of the non-English words used could have be substituted with plain, easy-to-follow English. There’re heaps of Buddhism books around for the folks who want to dig deeper into ornamental, arcane, or historical words and ideas.

Even the word Buddhism could be removed. Most English readers have a deity in mind when they hear the word Buddha, whereas Buddhist meditation isn’t about the Buddha, it’s more a mental training or psychology passed on by the Buddha with refinements and guidance added over the eons by advanced practitioners.

After 2,500 years, it seems like there should be lots more people using and benefiting from  the training presented by Buddhist meditation. Practicing meditation is the thing. Reading about Buddhism is just entertainment. And that’s ok, but who knows, maybe using more plain language to present meditation might lead to more happiness and less suffering in the world?



What you need

wasp on the surfaceWhat do things like an EpiPen, a tourniquet, some bear repellent spray, or a tornado shelter have in common? When you need one them, you really do need it. And there’s probably nothing else that can do what it does.  Normally, not having one of these things goes unnoticed.

It’s all about probability. If you’re hiking in Alaska, as long as you don’t come across a grizzly bear you wouldn’t need to carry bear repellent spray. But there’s a high probability of coming across a bear in certain parts of Alaska. If you do have a bear encounter that gets hairy you’ll really want some bear spray.

What has a high probability of happening and is easy to prepare for? A shark attack is low probability and tough to prepare for. But something like a car wreck or a deadly reaction to a sting or food you’re allergic to? What about a tornado shelter if you live in a tornado prone area?

It’s something that’s good to figure out ahead of time and prepare for. You won’t make whatever it is happen by preparing for it. But you’ll be really glad if you need something and have it.

slow tech

live slowI saw an article about a trend among some techies of stepping back from using so much technology. Maybe “live fast die young” is morphing into “live slow die whenever.”

These techies aren’t abandoning technologies. They’re just trying to reign in technology’s intrusion into their lives – like buying a cell phone for phone calls only, instead of buying a smart phone.

A bartender friend said it’s very common for patrons to sit at his bar, pull out their smart phone, and start scrolling around and there’s person next to them doing the same thing. Often my friend will try to get them to put their phones up and have a chat with their bar mate.

Some strategies are clever and put some skin into the game. When dining out, for example, some folks will pile all the cell phones on the table and the first person to use their  phone before the meal ends has to pick up the tab.

There’re some pricier options too. Consider the “black hole” resorts where techies with some dough can pay a couple of grand a night for a luxurious  stay where there’s no computer or phone access.

I’m not against technology. It’s not lost on me that I read some articles online and of course, wrote and published this on my laptop. I do think it’s good to control technology’s impact on our lives though.

Immediacy and satisfaction

Hour glassjpegThere’s an aspect of a workout I forget about sometimes. When you show up to workout – you’ll always get in a workout – unlike what can happen with other activities that can eat up a lot of time in not doing what you set out to do.

Surfing, for example, is often frustrating when there aren’t waves or if there’re waves, they aren’t very good both after spending time on “the search” as it’s called. Or if you show up to practice some other sport and your partner who you need doesn’t make it.

Or if you’re a student studying an advanced and hard to understand subject, you can wind up frustrated if the material isn’t sinking in after hours of studying. Or in business you might be trying to close a deal and be undercut by a competitor at the last moment.

I’m not saying there’s no value in failure and trying, but it can lack in satisfaction.

When you lift weights there’s the immediate satisfaction of completing the movement along with a sense of accomplishment. And if you’re doing the lift correctly and safely you’re also getting stronger. And as someone once said when talking about why in a nutshell it’s good to be strong: strong people are just more useful and are harder to kill. You could also add that strong people are more satisfied too.


Jerry and Coffee

cupI like coffee, a lot.

But I didn’t start drinking coffee until about ten years ago.

Last week NPR ran a series on coffee and coffee culture. At one point they interviewed Jerry Seinfeld about coffee.

Jerry said that whenever he had a cup of coffee in front of him on his show it was just as a prop and he didn’t drink it because he didn’t start drinking coffee until about ten years ago too. I’m adding the “too,” he actually didn’t mention me in his coffee timeline.

As you might imagine, Jerry had some interesting observations on coffee.

Talking about meeting for a coffee, Jerry had this to say, “I got married and I had a family and my entire day was not free for social interaction. And eating is annoying and difficult to arrange, [and it’s] hard to choose places. And meeting someone for coffee suddenly seemed like a wonderful, compact, accessible and portable social interaction.”

“You don’t even really need a place. But you feel like you’re doing something. That’s what coffee is. And that’s one of the geniuses of the new coffee culture.”

When the interviewer quizzed Jerry about where he thinks the best place for coffee is, he said, “I don’t give a damn. That’s the beauty of it. It doesn’t matter. What’s the nearest place. I’ll meet you there. And you know what? Coffee’s all good. It’s all good. As long as it’s fresh, it’s good. And it’s always fresh in New York. … I think we’re a more productive society as a result.”

Finally Jerry reflected on why he thinks coffee is so important in American culture, “I think the answer is we all need a little help, and the coffee’s a little help with everything – social, energy, don’t know what to do next, don’t know how to start my day, don’t know how to get through this afternoon, don’t know how to stay alert. We want to do a lot of stuff; we’re not in great shape. We didn’t get a good night’s sleep. We’re a little depressed. Coffee solves all these problems in one delightful little cup.”

Where’re all the others?

orchid-mantisWhere’re all the other intelligent life forms in the universe?

One possible reason we haven’t come across any off earth civilizations is because we’re among the first, or maybe even the first, to reach the point of looking for life elsewhere.

In case you’re wondering, the creature above is an orchid mantis and while it may not be as highly evolved and complex as we are, it is highly specialized.

A couple of scientists recently reverse engineered the time needed for the most basic parts of a gene to evolve into present day humans. They figured out the time frame is about ten billion years.

But the earth is less than five billion years old. Life began before the earth was formed?

That’s a pretty big discrepancy. Of course some aspects of evolution aren’t understood yet. Like maybe at times complexity was favored and evolution sped up. Or maybe simple precursors to life developed elsewhere and serendipitously arrived to jump-start life on earth.

Don’t forget, our universe is less than 14 billion years old. If these scientists are right about the process really needing ten-ish billion years to get from the most basic building blocks of life to how complex we humans are today, it could be why we don’t see anyone else out there, and may not for a while.


Weird cat stuff

tattoo catsI’m a dog person, but I don’t have anything against cats. Their purring is soothing and it’s doing more than you might think.

I recently found information about purring that I thought I’d heard somewhere before – but it seemed too weird to be true so I’d never brought it up.

It turns out that a cat’s purrs are made up of vibrations they make 25 to 150 times a second. Research shows bones and tissues heal more quickly when exposed to those frequencies. So cats are actually taking care of themselves when they purr.

Most of us imagine cats purr to show contentment. But cats purr when they’re happy, hurt, or dying. Purring isn’t used to communicate how a cat is feeling, it’s working on healing and strengthening.

Cats heal faster than dogs. And cats also have a very good chance of recovering from falls out of high rises. The “nine lives” expression probably came from people noticing that cats often recovered from injuries when it didn’t seem possible.

Dogs chase cars, balls, and bikes. Cats just mostly chill out and purr. Who knows, maybe soon there’ll be beds and chairs that “purr” at just the right frequency to help people stay healthy.