Monthly Archives: April 2015

The Danish bikers

danish bikerThere are a lot of cyclists in Denmark. Most of those cyclists seem to use their bikes for utilitarian purposes like shopping, going to work, or going out.

I’ve visited Copenhagen and I don’t remember seeing one cyclist wearing biking specialized clothes or shoes. The Danes I saw just rode around wearing whatever it was they needed to wear for work or play without regard for biking.

Generally, the bikes in Denmark are comfortable, they’re built to be ridden in a position similar to sitting in a chair. Most of the bikes have fenders, and their chains are completely enclosed in the chain guard which cuts out most of the mess cyclist incur. Bike lanes are common and well laid out. Basically, the “perceived effort” of riding a bike is so low that everyone does it.

What about the “bikeconomics?” There’s lots of research demonstrating the social, economic, environmental, and health benefits of urban cycling. Danish studies claim that for every kilometer cycled, society enjoys a net profit of 23 cents, whereas for every kilometer driven there’s a net loss of 16 cents.

Last year, 2014, Danes peddled about 3.5 billion kilometers, almost 10% more than the year before. All those kilometers work out to 8,000 trips to the moon.

Many of the cyclists I saw in Copenhagen looked like they might be on their way to an appointment at a modeling agency. Maybe it’s their genes or the high quality of Danish life but some it is also due to riding their bikes everywhere.

Perceived effort

Alex Honnold climbing Seperate Reality, a difficult over hanging roof crack, Yosemite, CA
Alex Honnold climbing Seperate Reality

Your “perceived effort” to perform an activity can be changed. If you can change the effort you feel you’re exerting, you can change how you feel about doing that activity.

For example in surfing when you perceive that you’re paddling less hard to catch a wave, you’ll enjoy surfing more. The amount of effort you need to paddle for a wave pretty much stays constant. But, your perceived effort to catch a wave can be changed if you get a little bit stronger.

The other day, I asked a surfer I’ve been weight training with for a few weeks if he felt stronger. He thought for a couple of seconds before saying that paddling for waves now seems easier. He didn’t feel noticeably stronger, but his “perceived effort” when surfing had dropped enough that he noticed a change there.

I asked another guy I train if he felt stronger. He paused too before responding that the 40 or so stairs he climbs to go to work used to leave him winded, but now he’s noticed that he no longer thinks about going up those same stairs.

I hadn’t thought about strength in terms of perceived effort before. Now it’s my new gauge of progress and effectiveness of a training program.

Pot and popsicles

hidden dangerThere were four kids in our house when I was growing up. Because our Mom tried to avoid sweets but our Dad didn’t, when it came to packages of six popsicles, there was always one unclaimed popsicle that our Mom wasn’t going to eat.

That unclaimed popsicle became a sought after treat for us kids. The first kid to get home on a shopping day would lay claim to the orphan popsicle. The usual method was to open up the extra popsicle and give it a lick. This was the accepted technique amongst the kids for marking the extra popsicle as yours. It boiled down to controlling your scarce resource by repulsion.

What made me think of this was strolling past some vendors the other day. When I moved to Mexico years ago, the handicraft vendors seemed to be hawking pipes with stems that bore a strong resemblance to a human penis. What was that about? I imagined a few theories about this.

One idea was that tourists bought enough of these pipes as a novelty item that a demand was created. Or maybe Mexican potheads just had a cultural preference for that style of pipe. Another was that maybe this style of pipe was so weird that traveling potheads felt little attachment to it and so wouldn’t be tempted to smuggle it back home.

So back to the other day. I noticed there weren’t many penis pipes for sale by the street vendors. I’m not a pothead so maybe I just never noticed the decline until now. When I mentioned it to my friends I also told them my theories for the penis pipe. Then one friend who is a pot smoker mentioned his theory.

He thinks that the popularity of the style was probably due to its innate ability to control your scarce resource, because by using a penis pipe to smoke pot, and then offering it to someone else they’re more likely to decline if that’s how they have to smoke it. So you’re effectively managing your scarce resource.

Who knows really? But if that’s true, it’s not unlike keeping your popsicle yours by grossing out other people who want your scarce resource.



How much exercise is best?

baseballNo one’s getting out of here alive. But most of us want to live full lives for as long as possible. One big component of good health is movement, but how much exercise is best? We don’t really know for sure. But we’re getting some good ideas from the records of big groups of people.

Here’re excerpts I found informative from a NYT article, The Right Dose of Exercise for a Longer Life. It’s about the results of two analyses of two large databases. I wrote this post to have a place I can quickly access the gist of the article, which is this:

…researchers with the National Cancer Institute, Harvard, and other institutions pooled data about people’s exercise habits for more than 661,000 adults, most of them middle-aged…they compared 14 years’ worth of death records for the group.

…exercise doesn’t come with dosing instructions. Is there a safe upper limit on exercise, beyond which its effects become potentially dangerous? Are some intensities of exercise more effective than others at prolonging lives?

Current guidelines call for 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. But whether that amount of exercise represents the ideal amount has not been certain.

… But, the people who did not exercise at all were at the highest risk of early death.

…those who exercised a little, not meeting the recommendations but doing something, lowered their risk of premature death by 20 percent.

Those completing 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise, enjoyed greater longevity benefits and 31 percent less risk of dying during the 14-year period compared with those who never exercised.

The sweet spot for exercise benefits came among those who tripled the recommended level of exercise, working out moderately, mostly by walking, for a little more than an hour per day. Those people were 39 percent less likely to die prematurely than people who never exercised.

And a larger dose… doesn’t seem to be unsafe. The benefits plateaued, but never significantly declined. They didn’t gain significantly more health. But they also didn’t increase their risk of dying young. 

…these studies can’t prove that any exercise dose caused changes in mortality risk, only that exercise and death risks were associated.

Anyone, who’s physically capable, should try to “reach at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week and have around 20 to 30 minutes of that be vigorous activity.”


Do we need quicker notifications?

ring my bellIt’s really early days for the Apple Watch, so who knows whether it’ll catch on or not.

My guess is that it probably will. The Apple Watch allows you to interact with your iPhone less by creating a bottleneck that gives you brief easy to comprehend info on your wrist, plus the time of course.

People using the Apple Watch won’t be pulling out their phones very often like they do now. At least that’s how I understand Apple’s pitch. To me it sounds like a shorter leash, but a cooler leash maybe.

We’re being connected more and more. I love the internet and some aspects of cell phones but I don’t want to be connected all the time (that I’d have a watch on at least).

While I was thinking about the Apple Watch’s implications I happened to read something I wish I’d written. I saw it at McSweeny’s. Niree Noel wrote it and called it “Are you working in a Start-up or are you in jail?” Check it out:

Do you need security clearance to enter and exit the facility?

Are you surrounded by windows that don’t open?

Are you dressed the same as everyone else? Using the same stuff as everyone else? At about the same time?

Regardless of compliance, are you immediately made part of a specific tribe full of others like you? Say, Team BackEnd or Team Marketing, Team West Coast or Team Least Coast. Is it awkward or even dangerous if you have to interact with people from other tribes?

Do you keep quiet all day, only to socialize for a few minutes around 9 am, noon, and 6 pm, coincidentally when the food magically appears?

Are you surrounded by people who cultivate odd hobbies like unicycling?

At 3 pm every day, is there a brief respite from the routine, a complete exodus for a few moments of outside time?

Is there a dedicated space for a gym that doubles as a dedicated space for crafts that triples as a dedicated space for weekly book club that quadruples as a dedicated space for formulaic birthday celebrations?

Do you never leave? Of your own volition?

If you get an Apple Watch, how often do you think you’ll wear it? More than you think you will, and your leash will have just gotten shorter. If the world is telling you how you’re going to be treated, you’re in trouble.

Human history

statue cartoonIf you imagine the history of life on earth as the Empire State Building, all of recorded human history is only a dime on top. Human history is astonishingly short and our nation’s history is too; you’re no more than three lifetimes away from a world before the US existed.

It’s only five lifespans to Shakespeare. Two more and the only Europeans to see America sailed from Greenland. You’re ten lifetimes from the fifth crusade. Twenty from the Visigoth sack of Rome. Make it forty, and the Olmecs are building the first cities in Mexico, while the New Kingdom collapses in Egypt.

Sixty life times ago, or about 4,100 years ago, Abraham shows up in the Bible. A few lifetimes before that, and you’ve come out the bottom of that dime.

All this was excerpted from an earlier post about how short history seems when following a chain linking the death of one long life to a birth of another person who also lives a long time.

I came across more interesting examples of time perceptions we don’t normally think about. Think about these:

Most Americans will now live to around 80. But it took only 66 years to go from the Wright brothers first flight, in 1903, to men landing on the moon.

The first moon landing was in 1969.

The great pyramid was built around 2560 BC.

Cleopatra died around 30 BC.

That means Cleopatra lived closer in time to us than to the Egyptians who built the great pyramid.

Things in the far past get so compressed in our imagination it seems that everything happened close together in time. But consider this: the great pyramid was as old to the Romans as the Romans are to us.

And speaking of us, John Tyler, the President of the United States in 1841, has a grandson living today. When John Tyler was 63 he had a son, Lyon. And at 75, Lyon had a son named Harrison Tyler who’s alive today.

The Catholic Apostate

approachableSaying that you’re an atheist can come off sounding sort of sterile. I don’t really like how atheist sounds.

Instead, what about saying you’re a Catholic apostate? It sounds vaguely religious. It also sounds less confrontational, even though an apostate is someone who’s abandoned their religion. You’re offering the possibility of a shared history. Declaring that you’re an atheist to someone who isn’t is dropping a turd in the punchbowl of conversation.

There’s a cultural component to saying “I’m a Catholic apostate.” You’re letting the other person know you’re connected culturally to other Catholics through similar experiences. You might not be in the tribe anymore, but you still remember stuff like the secret Catholic handshake and harrowing encounters with nuns.

It could be my imagination, but lots of atheists love to argue. There’s not much to argue about. You’re either on the bus or off the bus. Hopefully by switching Catholic apostate for atheist you’ll signal you’re not spoiling for an argument, and might be looking for common ground.

Too bad that the next time you’re filling out a form and need to declare your religion there won’t be a box to check for Catholic (or whatever religion you’ve left) apostate.