Monthly Archives: March 2015

The New Psychedelic Research

man's head in a soap bubbleTimes have changed. Consider this, there was a long essay by Michael Pollan last month in The New Yorker magazine about the resurgence of research using psychedelic medicines in treating mental health issues, as well as for enhancing mental wellness.

And this month the popular Tim Ferriss podcast featured a long interview with James Fadiman who’s an authority on psychedelics and their use for spiritual, therapeutic, and problem solving purposes.

Psychedelic research was shut down and demonized as the war on drugs ramped up in the late sixties. At the time, the recreational use of psychedelics was perceived as a threat to the status quo and was thought to have little use as medicine – especially because the studies at that time were poorly designed. Now with better experimental protocols, and (wisely) pursued at the best universities (like Johns Hopkins and NYU), researchers are looking at an area of research that’s been untouched for 40 years.

It’s said that in the time since being criminalized, 25 million Americans have taken LSD, and more than 100 million have tried cannabis. Many of those people are in the educated class who’re now in positions of influence, and they’re opening the door for legitimate research. Compared to the hundreds of thousands of deaths a year attributed to alcohol and tobacco, psychedelics don’t seem so dangerous and may be beneficial in some situations.

A few of those situations are, end-of-life anxiety, addiction, and PTSD. There’s also some interest in using psychedelics for the vaguely described “betterment of well people,” which encompasses their spiritual wellbeing, which can now be studied with brain scans and imaging . From the sound of it, using screened participants, controlled experiments, and researched settings are showing positive results for the participants and the scientists.

Now that this sort of research isn’t off-limits or academically risky, maybe we’ll see some interesting and useful findings trickling down to help ordinary Americans in more useful ways than the recreational use of psychedelics .

Toddy Coffee

Espresso makerThis is a picture from a coffee shop. Most of the coffee here is brewed with hot water.

But good coffee can be brewed without using hot water. It just takes longer to make.

“Toddy coffee” is what most people call cold brewed coffee. Toddy coffee is cold brewed coffee made using a Toddy coffee maker. It’s easy to do, I’ve been brewing yummy rich flavored coffee this way for years.

I have two Toddy makers so I can brew two batches at once, which will last for about two weeks. Once made, the coffee is always ready in the fridge, add some cream and have it cold or heat it up if I’m in the mood. It’s easy and tastes great.

What made me think about this is that Starbucks will start selling cold brewed coffee at 2,800 stores, and I started wondering if it catches on, will people realize it’s easy to make and how convenient it is to drink?

What is cold brewed coffee exactly? Here’s how the NYT described it:

“Cold brew coffee has a milder, smoother and often sweeter taste than iced coffee that was first made with hot water. It can be up to 67 percent less acidic than hot coffee (or the iced coffee that comes from it)… Infuse coarsely ground coffee overnight in cold water, about 5 cups for every 1/2-pound of coffee, then press or filter the brew from the grounds.”

Although I’m guessing Starbucks won’t use the Toddy device because of the volume they’ll need, the NYT article described the Toddy maker since that’s what is most commonly used by home cold brew coffee makers like me, “(it) is a plastic container with a thick feltlike pad that fits over a stoppered hole in its bottom. When the stopper is removed, the liquid drains through the mass of grounds and the pad, which filter out tiny coffee particles, letting a dark yet clear coffee concentrate drain into a pitcher. The concentrate can be diluted with either cold or hot water for a quick drink.”

A “quick drink” that also is delicious and easy to make might cause Starbucks to lose some business as some clever customers figure out how to do it at home, saving themselves a daily wait in a line.


Warren Buffet Excerpts

kid on a diving boardThere’re always interesting tidbits of wisdom in Warren Buffet’s letters to his shareholders. I wish I could say I’m a shareholder in his company but luckily his letters are available to the public. Some of the stuff might be considered kind of homey, except that coming from one of the most successful investors they take on a feel of good advice. These are some things he wrote that I like.

“Don’t ask the barber whether you need a haircut.”

“If horses had controlled investment decisions, there would have been no auto industry.”

This is what he’s told by his partner, Charlie Munger, when they disagree “think it over and you’ll agree with me because you’re smart and I’m right.”

He seems pretty bullish about the US economy when he says, “Late in 2009, amidst the gloom of the Great Recession, we agreed to buy , the largest purchase in Berkshire’s history. At the time, I called the transaction an “all-in wager on the economic future of the United States.” That kind of commitment was nothing new for us. We’ve been making similar wagers ever since 1965. For good reason, too: Charlie and I have always considered a “bet” on ever-rising U.S. prosperity to be very close to a sure thing. Indeed, who has ever benefited during the past 238 years by betting against America? If you compare our country’s present condition to that existing in 1776, you have to rub your eyes in wonder. In my lifetime alone, real per-capita U.S. output has sextupled. …The dynamism embedded in our market economy will continue to work its magic. Gains won’t come in a smooth or uninterrupted manner; they never have. And we will regularly grumble about our government. But, most assuredly, America’s best days lie ahead.”

Quilting and writing

quilt IIEven though I’ve never made a quilt there seem to be similarities between sewing together a quilt and writing a blog post.

Long before I started blogging, I was collecting ideas and images ( mostly photos from magazines, books, and the internet). Those ideas and images are often the big drivers behind my blogging, they’re like the stash of  different fabrics quilters collect.

The writing is fun but so is pulling ideas together, thinking about them, and distilling the mashup. Here’s something I collected from a quilter who was  writing about quilting:

“Pulling fabric for a new quilt is one of my top treats in the quilt making process. I’ve been known to pull fabric just because. A little shopping in my stash to create a random pile of fabric itching to become a quilt. Sometimes all its dreams are fulfilled. I find just the right inspiration, block, pattern, or concept and the quilt comes into being… Having a large stash makes this all possible… but I think it is safe to say that if I were to never buy fabric again and quilt for another 30 years I’d likely still have fabric left over.”

That sounds right, just substitute writing, blogs, and ideas for quilting, quilts, and fabric.

Lifting, moving and eating

cupcakeHere’s what I’ve noticed over the years of lifting, moving and eating.

Because muscle is muscle and fat is fat, if you’re interested in losing weight, focus on what you eat more than exercise. Exercising is good, but if you just want to lose weight, just cut way back on carbohydrates and you’ll lose weight without any extra exercising. Exercising is good but it’s not required if you only want to lose weight.

You can both watch your carbs and exercise too. Our bodies make every effort to conserve energy, so if you want to build muscle you’ll need to give your body a good reason to do it, and that’s through stressing it by lifting heavy things and moving more. Then allow time between the stress sessions for your body to rest and adapt to the loading you’ve put it through.

I’ve noticed that people either worry about getting too muscular from exercising or not getting as muscular as they’d like to be through exercise. People get their unrealistic expectations from examples they’re exposed to that focus on exceptional specimens. We aren’t shown the wrecking yard full of the people, without exceptional genetics and/or an exercise history, who’re hurt, worn out, or just frustrated. Instead, work at being the best you possible without concerning yourself much about what the exceptional specimen is able to do.

That’s about it in a  nutshell.

When one twin exercises

french twins“One Twin Exercises, the Other Doesn’t” is the descriptive title of a fascinating NYT article. Here’s the gist of it:

Identical twins in Finland who shared the same sports and other physical activities as youngsters but different exercise habits as adults soon developed quite different bodies and brains.

To prove that exercise directly causes a change in people’s bodies, scientists must mount randomized controlled trials, during which one group of people works out while a control group does not. But these experiments are complicated and costly and, even in the best circumstances, cannot control for volunteers’ genetics and backgrounds…genetics and upbringing matter when it comes to exercise. 

All of this makes identical twins so valuable. So researchers turned to that country’s extensive FinnTwin16 database, which contained twins’ answers to questionnaires about their health and medical conditions, beginning at 16 and repeated every few years afterward.

Most of the pairs had maintained remarkably similar exercise routines, despite living apart. But eventually the researchers homed in on 10 pairs of male identical twins, one of whom regularly exercised, while the other did not…

The sedentary twins had lower endurance capacities, higher body fat percentages, and signs of insulin resistance, signaling the onset of metabolic problems. Interestingly, the twins tended to have very similar diets, whatever their workout routines.

The active twins had significantly more grey matter than the sedentary twins, especially in areas of the brain involved in motor control and coordination.

Presumably, all of these differences in the young men’s bodies and brains had developed during their few, brief years of divergent workouts, underscoring how rapidly and robustly exercising… the results strongly imply that the differences in the twin’s exercise habits caused the differences in their bodies.

…the findings also point out that genetics and environment “do not have to be” destiny when it comes to exercise habits…

It’s a very small study, but I would bet you’ll benefit from exercise and movement more than you might think you will.

Seven things learned in seven years

notebook-1Maria Popova is the person behind the “Brain Pickings’ website. She started it as an experiment  for friends, delivering five stimulating things to learn about each week. Well it grew, eventually blowing up to the point that it’s now in the Library of Congress digital archive of “materials of historical importance” and is read by millions of people.

Maria compiled a list of seven things she learned over seven years of working on her project. Here’s the full article, and below is my briefer version of her list. Enjoy.

1) Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind. We often form our “opinions” based on superficial impressions or borrowed ideas, without investing the time and thought that cultivating true conviction necessitates. We then go around asserting these donned opinions and clinging to them as anchors for our own reality. It’s enormously disorienting to simply say, “I don’t know.” But it’s more rewarding to understand than to be right — even if that means changing your mind about a topic, an ideology, or, above all, yourself.
2) Do nothing for prestige or status or money or approval alone. “Prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like.” Those extrinsic motivators are fine and can feel life-affirming in the moment, but they ultimately don’t make it thrilling to get up in the morning and gratifying to go to sleep at night, often distracting and detracting from the things that do offer those deeper rewards.
3) Be generous. Be generous with your time and your resources and with giving credit. It’s so much easier to be a critic than a celebrator. Remember there’s a human being on the other end of every exchange and behind every cultural artifact being critiqued. To understand and be understood, those are among life’s greatest gifts, and every interaction is an opportunity to exchange them.
4) Build pockets of stillness into your life. Meditate. Go for walks. Ride your bike going nowhere in particular. There is a creative purpose to daydreaming, even to boredom. The best ideas come to us when we stop actively trying to coax the muse into manifesting, instead try letting the fragments of experience float around your unconscious mind in order to click into new combinations. Without this essential stage of unconscious processing, the entire flow of the creative process is broken.
Get enough sleep. It’s a creative aphrodisiac, affects our every waking moment, and even mediates our negative moods. We tend to wear our ability to get by on little sleep as some sort of badge of honor that validates our work ethic. But that’s a profound failure of priorities. What could possibly be more important than your health and your sanity.

5) When people tell you who they are, believe them, however, when people try to tell you who you are, don’t believe them. You are the custodian of your own integrity, and the assumptions made by those who misunderstand you reveal a great deal about them and absolutely nothing about you.
6) Presence is far more intricate and rewarding an art than productivity. Our culture measures our worth by our efficiency, our earnings, and our ability to perform this or that. The cult of productivity has its place, but it can rob us of the capacity for joy and wonder that makes life worth living — because “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
7) Expect anything worthwhile to take a long time. is something fundamental yet impatiently overlooked in our culture of immediacy. The myth of the overnight success is just that — a myth. The flower doesn’t go from bud to blossom in one spritely burst and yet, as a culture, we’re disinterested in the tedium of the blossoming. But that’s where all the real magic unfolds in the making of one’s character and destiny.