Monthly Archives: November 2014

Building a faster Kenyan

coffee-500x750Cycling can be a seductive subculture. Especially European bike racing with riders  from different countries on the same team, performing incredible feats of endurance, and the race settings are stunning, to name a few attributes.

And there’s money. Lots of money and prestige at stake at the highest levels of pro cycling. So most of the riders look for an edge. Once enough competitors find the same edge the others have to use the same edge or get dropped. The underbelly of cycling gets pretty dirty.

What goes on in a developing country like Kenya?

The long distance runners of Kenya are probably considered the gold standard of their sport. Kenyan racers hold a special spot for spectators. In the minds of non-Africans, Kenyans run to get from place to place, whereas in the industrialized world we run for sport and health, so the Kenyans seem more authentic somehow. The big marathon races take on a David versus Goliath feel when Kenyan runners show up with their utilitarian rural skills to challenge, and often defeat, the industrialized sportsmen.

If you are a runner in Kenya what lengths would you go to excel?

Frank Shorter was the American marathon star in the 70’s. When asked who’d win the next major marathon he gave the same answer. He’d say the winner would be from a country without a totally independent, audited antidoping agency. And that the winner would be from a country far enough away that there’s not much international scrutiny.

It’s now a widely known secret that professional cycling in Europe is fostered and lifted to ever higher levels of effort through  sophisticated doping regimes. Lance Armstrong’s personal medical and training advisor was an Italian doctor.  In the 1980s, when Kenyan runners began to use their Italian doctors as agents, that should have been a clue that there might be some doping going on.

Some top Kenyan runners have failed performance enhancing drug tests lately.

I’m sure they train long and hard along with being gifted athletes, the same is true for Lance. But if you’re a pro and the other top competitors are doping, you have to as well or not be able to compete against the dopers.

If you’re a poor, but talented Kenyan runner, taking home a $100,000 winner’s check makes it worth trying to get an edge.


Cultural Differences

inverse culturesWhat drives cultural differences? I saw a couple of stories about countries that explain their underlying psyches in broad strokes.

In one story involving 14 countries, the US ranked second worst (only Italy was worse) in a recent survey about citizens’ knowledge of their respective countries. Citizens were asked what they thought the numbers were for things like teenage birth rates, unemployment rates, and immigration. Check out some of the answers:

Americans guessed that the unemployment rate is 32%, actually it’s 6%.

Americans guessed 15% US population identifies as Muslim when it’s only 1%.

70% of Americans guessed the US murder rate was rising, but it’s less than half of what it was in 1992.

Americans guessed almost 24% of girls aged 15-19 give birth each year. Hold on, it’s 3.1%.

Truthfully, I wouldn’t know the exact percentages either, but I think I’d have been a lot closer to the mark. But the responses seem to indicate that Americans have a heightened level of fear and worry that’s probably driven by unwarranted fears. We think most things are much worse than they are, and act accordingly. Look at all the regressive US politicians promising a return to the good ol’ days preying on scared, misinformed voters.

The drumbeat of unemployment, Muslims, immigration, murder, and teen pregnancy on the news doesn’t give Americans a good idea of what’s happening. And they’re so busy trying to get along in the system, they become too tired and uninterested to pay attention.

Which leads me to the next story, about Scandinavia. Why do Scandinavians put up with high taxes that would drive most Americans to revolt?

Scandinavian countries spend big on providing and subsidizing things that  complement working, like care for children and the elderly, healthcare, and transportation, basically the tiresome bullshit that wears Americans down. Scandinavian policies  subsidize the costs of market work, encouraging a labor supply. And they spend heavily on education, which is complementary to long-term labor supply. All this offsets some resentment toward high taxes.

Does the amount of tiresome bullshit Americans endure become inversely proportional to the amount of control they feel over their lives? Control is built and felt through a combination of skills, an optimistic attitude, money, and of course time and energy to consider what’s really going on in their world.

When the tiresome bullshit level is too high, people can’t pay attention to what’s really going on around them, they feel like a crab in a bucket full of crabs, and tend to make the safe choice of assuming everything around them is worse than it is.

The last laugh

monkeyrodeoCan a joke be so funny that the person  hearing it  dies from laughing?

Stories coming out of Detroit point toward a killer joke as the cause of death in four recent deaths, something to do with internal organs crushed by contracting abs and suffocation from an inability to breath correctly while laughing. Witnesses saw a funny looking man was seen leaving the scene of each death.

Witnesses who didn’t get the joke remember it starting with a story about two people and ending with a punchline about “the condition of your gums!” How does a joke like this get any traction if understanding it probably kills you.

If you don’t get the joke, can you still tell it? Could an elderly Jew go into a German nursing home seeking revenge armed with this joke? What happens when a socially crippled young white guy on antidepressants goes into a school to tell this joke? When Jihadists start telling this joke to infidels on Youtube will other Jihadists survive while the native English speakers watching it convulse to death?

A killer joke will be like a killer virus that kills it’s host and so it’s chances of going on.

This is my 400th post, so I decided to share this story with you now instead of waiting  ’til April 1st. Thanks for reading!

Love me Tinder

scratched out headsAs a married person I’m off the dating game board. But for some reason, probably because I’m curious about how people navigate life, I’m fascinated by the particulars of dating sites.

When I’m with single friends who’ve used the older services , like Match and OkCupid, I’ll ask them about their experiences, what worked, and what didn’t. I have friends who married their online dates and people who just couldn’t stick with the online thing.

I’ve heard about the new kid on the block, Tinder, but haven’t chatted with anyone about it. Maybe it’s used more for quick late night hookups making users a little reluctant to talk about using it.

From what I know it’s quick and easy. Log on through Facebook on your phone and look at pictures of your potential dates. To “like” a pic swipe to the right, swipe to the left to “reject.”

I considered using a “selfie” of a cute woman for this post’s picture. But I didn’t want to take the obvious and probably most reader grabbing, route. I wanted to weed out any superficial readers. So I settled for Mr. Right and Mr. Wrong pictures.

A NYT article dug deeper into Tinder and relationship research. I took away a few (chopped and changed for clarity) impressions I thought were interesting.

All that really matters, at least in the beginning of relationship, is how someone looks.

Tinder use is staggering, on average, people log into the app 11 times a day.

Women spend as much as 8.5 minutes swiping during a single session; men spend 7.2 minutes. All of this can add up to 90 minutes each day.

It isn’t what Tinder is doing correctly, but rather what earlier dating sites have done wrong. The older services have proclaimed that their proprietary algorithms could calculate true love.

Researchers tried to find if these algorithm-based dating services could match people, as they claim to do. They pored through more than 80 years of scientific research about dating and attraction, and couldn’t prove that computers can indeed match people.

“When was the last time you walked into a bar and someone said, ‘Excuse me, can you fill out this form and we’ll match you up with people here?’ That’s not how we think about meeting new people in real life.”

“There isn’t a consensus about who is attractive and who isn’t. Someone that you think is especially attractive might not be to me.”

The most attractive people aren’t the only ones who find true love. Experts for Tinder say, “… when people are evaluating photos of others, they’re accessing compatibility on not just a physical level, but a social level. Asking, ‘Do I have things in common with this person?’ ”

“Everyone is able to pick up thousands of signals in these photos. A photo of a guy at a bar with friends sends a very different message than a photo of a guy with a dog on the beach.”

When women were asked to look at photos of handsome male models. In almost every instance, they rejected the men with chiseled faces. They said the men looked too full of themselves or unkind.

Men also judge attractiveness on factors beyond just anatomy, though in general, men are nearly three times as likely to swipe “like” (46%) than woman (14%).

Dating sites are starting to acknowledge that the only thing that matters when matching lovers is someone’s picture.

What’s “enough?”

long bikeWhen taking medicine, there’s a “minimum effective dose.” You don’t want to receive too much (or too little) medicine, you want enough, just the MED.

What about applying this idea to other fields, switching “amount” for “dose,”  making it the MEA?

For example, instead of asking how much money is “enough,” try asking what’s the “minimum effective amount” to generate the money you need to live on. It’s a different amount for everyone.

But how do you know what the MEA is for you? Some clever people figured it out.

First, determine how much you spend in a month. It’s not as hard as it sounds. Set up a chart that includes all the stuff you buy and then just plug the numbers in as you spend. It doesn’t need to be fancy, just easy.

After six months, or longer if you want, you’ll figure out what you spend per year. There’s a bonus here too. You’ll likely find things that you don’t want or need and can eliminate them, lowering your MEA.

Here’s what the clever people figured out. Your yearly MEA multiplied by 25 is how much you need to be finically independent.  If your money is in a low-cost stock index (like the S&P 500) mutual fund you can take out up to 4% a year (forever) to match your MEA.

Twenty five times is the MEA. You could use 26 times or more if you want to go beyond your MEA.

It’s a little bit like exercise. What’s the minimum amount of exercise you need to do to be healthy? No one  really knows for sure.

Increasing exercise to the point where you look like a bodybuilder is way beyond the MEA, and more than most people want to do. At least with a financial MEA you can have a baseline for your financial health. Then if for some reason you want to go beyond “enough” and be a financial bodybuilder you  can pursue that too.

Does more money equal less time?

sitting man in suitThe whole civilization thing can be perplexing.

Maybe we’d be better off as hunter/gatherers. But since we live in this complex, technical world, you need money, it’s the single most important and effective tool in navigating it.

During a podcast I was listening to, a guest mentioned an upcoming weeklong  conference. He said it’d be a great event, and it’d be attended by a few billionaires. But he added, the billionaires couldn’t stay for the whole week. The implication was they’re so busy that a few days was as much as any of them could possibly carve out of their schedules.

Just the night before, a friend was talking about a ten day retreat she’d recently attended. She really enjoyed it, it was the second one she’d been on. And it took place in a beautiful setting. The land surrounding the retreat center had been bought up and donated by a super wealthy guy. He’d had a great experience too, although he only stayed for four of the ten days. My friend guessed that was the most time this guy could get away with.

I was left wondering about the privileges of billionaires. How great are the privileges if these guys don’t have time to do more of what they’d like to do. They work at getting more money and wind up with less free time than some regular people.

Living in a cash economy, if you create a cash flow covering your living expenses you can be financially independent from work, should you want to be. It can be very simple once you have enough dough. But after that “enough” point, your gains in “quality of life” increase in very small increments (even though your “standard of living” can really expand).

It’s a universal paradox, you’re free to choose what you do but you’re not free from the consequences of your choice.

My guess is that it’s tough to stop chasing money if you’re good at getting it, even after you don’t “need” any more. The problem is that you can’t get more time. It comes down to your perspective. For example, the French say that breakfast in Germany is the beginning of a laborious day, while in France it’s the end of a wonderful night.

It’s possible to always make more money, but you can never make more time.

Cool Tools

UnknownIf you loved the “Whole Earth Catalog” (WEC) you’ll love “Cool Tools,” a book curated by Kevin Kelly. The subtitle is “A Catalog of Possibilities.” It’s a book you can get lost in. Over and over.

It’s an actual book, coffee table sized, with 462 pages in color, printed on glossy stock, presenting a collection of more than 1,500 tools. The word “Tool” is broadly used to include items and ideas that really work, are well priced, easily found and are reviewed by people who’ve actually used them.

If you didn’t love the WEC, you should stop reading because this is about how much this book is liked. Or you should stop so you can go out and buy a copy of “Cool Tools,” if you loved the WEC.

You don’t need to know anything about the WEC, Kevin Kelly, the cool tools blog , or the story behind it to be captivated by some of the stuff and ideas inside this book.

Here’re some snippets from the reviews at Amazon that’ll give you an idea what other people think about it:


“my favorite book to come out in 2013.”

“a conversation-starter”

“a completely different experience from reading the same material online”

“Kelly and his crew have put together the most exhaustive, inventive and mind bending selection of stuff I’ve ever seen.”

“…in addition to hand jacks that can raise 7000 lbs., the Teeny Turner (a pocket-sized driver), portable band saws, and laser measuring tools, you can find the best source on how to buy a car cheaply, make a low-budget movie, brew your own beer, rear an optimistic child, design a logo, win a fight, soak in feral (!) hot springs, learn to swim efficiently, prepare for a natural disaster, vagabond the world, do something dangerous (and live to tell about it), …”

“Open it at random and you experience something like being six again, with a child’s sense of delight and wonder at how clever people can be and what abundance this world holds.”


“for people who love learning-and doing.”

“it’s a wish book and a daydream book and a down and dirty reality book. Nothing since the WEC has been as continually fascinating and educational.”

“This is the most exciting book I’ve seen in years.”

I’ve been dog-earing the pages that have things I like and noticed the other day there’re probably as many dog-eared pages as plain ones.