Monthly Archives: October 2015

Movies and Real Life

more traffic thru a wet windshiedDo the details in your stories that you tell your family and close friends create stronger bonds?

Movies tell their stories by leaving out the boring parts. Editing makes for tight storytelling in movies. But in real life all the little and often uninteresting minutia are part of the creation process of closeness.

Having a  close-knit family or circle friends means having stories told in their entirety, the cool stuff along with some boring details. There’s isn’t much editing of the stories we share with our closest people.

Real life is messy, often with details that are just part of the stories that get shared. Sometimes it’s about driving home in the rain when it’s hard to see the traffic. Movies are slick, editing out rain on the windshield unless it’s critical to the storyline.

It’s the small stuff too that’s important in long relationships.

Taxi drivers

NYC shiftedI like talking with taxi drivers.

Over the years, I’ve found most to be interesting, or at least entertaining. They’re short stories from the concrete jungle.

Comedians joke about the immigrant taxi drivers. But immigrants usually have interesting stories or takes on the world.

Just in the US, I’ve chatted with Pakistani, Ethiopian, Irish, Guatemalan, Russian, Bangladeshi drivers, and others who aren’t coming to mind. Most were happy to have been engaged and getting to tell some of their story to an interested stranger.

You can’t judge a trail just by looking at its entrance.

One time a taxi driver in San Francisco told his story of being an uneducated teenaged father in Guatemala with a sick daughter whose head “bent over like a chicken’s neck.” He didn’t understand what the ailment was. Sneaking to the US and working as a construction laborer, he paid for his daughter’s treatment. She’s now in medical school in the States. And he and his family became citizens.

Occasionally they’re very up to date on what’s going on in the world. One Irish taxi driver made money by betting on the outcomes of political situations all over the world, he had a degree in economics and a keen insight on people.

Talking doesn’t automatically include the right to be taken seriously. One Russian taxi driver carried on about how great Putin is, and why Russians need an iron-fisted ruler. OK, whatever, no need to believe him, but he was passionate about it.

Occasionally a taxi driver can be professorial. On a long drive to the NYC airport, an Indian driver broke down the differences between Shite and Sunni Muslims. We had asked him about it. He was like an interesting college professor. Maybe he was.

Striking up a conversation may take you to new place, while you’re on the way to a new place in a taxi.


Who invented the wheel?

bmw-r7Have you had an MRI? The MRI machine is unpleasant to be inside of, I just had an MRI of a shoulder injury. The machine is impressive, and what it is able to produce would be unimaginable to our grandparents.

Here’s an interesting thing. It’s not possible to implement an idea until the tools to make it becomes available.

Think about the wheel. From the bottom of your luggage or your car, wheels are everywhere in our world. Most people assume wheels have always been around.

I heard someone talking about the evolution of bikes who mentioned that the earliest record of the wheel was around 3,500 BC, but the first bike didn’t show up until 1817.

What would the first wheels (and axles) be made of? Most likely wood. Until our ancestors had metal tools that were harder than wood, it wasn’t possible to shape a wheel. Around 4,000 BC cast bronze tools started showing up. The oldest wheel and axle discovered by scientists are from around 3,500 BC.

The oldest wheel evidence comes from present day Poland and no one knows who made the first one. After the first wheels were made they seem to have caught on and spread so far, it’s hard to pinpoint the exact origin.

Just like information, any technology has to build upon the technologies that precede it and make it possible.

In the future, if I need another look inside my body, I hope  technology will make lying still for 45 minutes in a tight tube obsolete.

Skellig Michael Island

SkelligAn hour by boat off the Western coast of Ireland is Skellig Michael Island. It’s tall, isolated, and surrounded by the cold dark Atlantic ocean.

The island is exotic enough that StarWars has filmed sequences there twice. It’s also a UNESCO world heritage site.

Human history of the island isn’t clear. Probably around the 6th century, some intrepid Christian monks started creating a small monastic community of less than a dozen monks just below the top.

All of the monastery, from the foundation to the beehive shaped quarters, was built by dry stacking stones. Before the monastery, Skellig Michael was uninhabited. The monastery was continuously occupied until it was abandoned in the late 12th century when the climate got too cold and stormy.

It’s impressive that a few guys in the 6th century could have even gotten to the island, gotten out of their boat in the pitching sea. Building their small community high up on the side of Skellig Michael must have taken a very long time to complete.skellig stairs

Visiting a place like Skellig Michael lets you see how different life was and wonder about what makes the big differences.

The people then were the same as we are. The difference between now and older times is the technology, the civilization and the infrastructure in place.

When and where you’re born affects your future because of what kind of infrastructure is available at that time and place. The farther apart people are means fewer ideas get exchanged. And fewer people probably means fewer new ideas initially.

And ideas don’t always flourish or they do in reverse. For example, before the printing press, very few people could read so pursuing the printing press when it was developed seems counterintuitive. The people who could read were mostly religious and had a vested interest in keeping new ideas tamped down.

Anyway, it’s fascinating to see what was able to be done and how life must have been more than a 1000 years ago.

Why are models really skinny?

beach bound
Models are really skinny so they won’t be sexually attractive. Otherwise, they’d distract attention from a designer’s clothes.

Designers may not consciously be aware of it, but that’s how it seems to me. Here’s why.

Across cultures, whether status comes from being slim or big, the “hourglass” shape is the preferred sexually attractive form for women. If a model is hyper thin and sticklike she’s eliminating any focus on her and keeps the focus on the clothes she’s wearing.

When glancing at this woman on her way to the beach, you probably didn’t initially take in that she’s wearing a polka dot white bikini and an orange swimsuit cover-up.

Visual stimulation is key. We’re aroused by arousal. It’s complicated.

Here’s an example from one part of the sexual spectrum, heterosexual men. Most of the time, straight men watch porn featuring men and women. Men seem to be aroused by seeing another man on screen who’s aroused by the woman he’s with. Sort of, a non gay, penis appreciation. If this wasn’t the case then straight men would generally prefer to only watch lesbian porn, with no men in sight. It’s complicated, right? But the visual component wherever it falls on an attractiveness spectrum is always there.

Because skinny models remove sexual interest from the models and puts the focus on the outfit, designers fuel the market for skinnier models. That’s probably oversimplifying the situation, but I think it’s a big part of why models are really skinny.

How’d you do against a pro?

benard hinotI used to run a lot. I’ve also biked a lot, both on the road and off-road.

Some friends and I went to see the Tour de France in 2004. We brought our bikes and rode many of the big climbs that are featured in the race.

We didn’t watch every stage but the ones we watched were inspiring. You’re able to get close enough to the racers as the go by that you could reach out and touch them. So you really get an appreciation of how fast they go.

I saw this short pondering by Malcolm Gladwell about what he calls the “Kipsang Number.” It’s an idea my friends and I have considered too, but we didn’t make it as concrete as Gladwell and his friends did. Get ready for a beat down. Have a look:


I watched the marathon and was struck (as I always am watching marathons) by the same dumb, obvious point: they are fast. It’s worth dwelling on this a moment. Back when Wilson Kipsang set the world record (which was then promptly broken), my running friends and I came up with the “Kipsang number,” which represented how long could you keep up with Wilson Kipsang while he was running twenty-six miles. I am a devoted runner and my Kipsang number is less than a mile. If I’m lucky, fourteen-hundred metres. You are a really good runner, and I’m guessing your Kipsang number is two miles. The average, healthy, athletic, American, twenty-two-year old varsity athlete in a sport other than track probably has a Kipsang number of between 400 and 800 metres. To recap: you could keep up with him for a quarter of a mile, then you would collapse in exhaustion. He would keep running at the same pace for another twenty-six miles.

The author of the article on the Kipsang Number related the idea to cycling too:

My cycling friends and I often ponder a similar number when out on group rides: on a flat road, how long can you bike at the speed that professional cyclists ride at in the flats in the peloton? Or how long can you hold the average speed of a professional climbing expert like Nairo Quintana on a cycling climb?

This would be a fun charity event, either on the track or in cycling, to invite average Joes to try to keep up with Kipsang or a strong pro cyclist for as long as possible, and soon as you fell behind, you’d be eliminated. 

You wouldn’t last long.

The pros aren’t training for health reasons. It’s their job. They’re humans with special abilities that have been selected for, by racing. Once they’re at the pro level their abilities, training, and often chemical enhancements make them unapproachable by regular people who train for fun and health.

It’s a public health problem


from The GuardianThis chart is part of a bigger chart from The Guardian showing mass shootings in the US.

If you have a look, you’ll see that a mass shooting,  defined as four or more people shot in one incident, happens every few days in the US. What about about shootings in the US that aren’t mass shootings? They claim an average of 36 lives a day.

The bloodbath last week was the 142nd(!) shooting at a school since December 2012. That’s the date of the children being killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Last week’s shooting also marked the 45th shooting on a school campus this year.

They can happen anywhere. It’s a public health problem that won’t go away.

Wine whine

grapesI’ve been exposed to the wine mystique quite a bit because I worked in fine dining. I never thought high- priced wines tasted better than moderately priced ones, and often no better than cheaper wines either. But you’re encouraged to praise the pricey stuff, like the king with no clothes kids’ story.

I felt vindicated when I read this about wine in “Gulp” by Mary Roach.

Because it’s hard for people to gauge quality by flavor, they tend to gauge by price. That’s a mistake. Langstaff (a taste expert) has evaluated wine professionally for twenty years. In her opinion, the difference between a $300 bottle of wine and one that costs $30 is largely hype. ‘Wineries selling their wines for $500 a bottle have the same problems as wineries selling their wine for $10 a bottle. You can’t make the statement that if it’s low-cost it’s not well made.’

Most of the time, people don’t even prefer the expensive wine – provided they can’t see the label. (There’s) a top wine judge who plays a game with his wine-marketing classes at Napa Valley College. The students. most of whom have several years of experience in the industry, are asked to rank six wines, their labels hidden by brown paper bags. All are wines that the expert enjoys himself. At least one is under $10 and two are over $40. ‘ Over the past 18 years, every time, the least expensive wine averages the highest ranking, and the most expensive two finish the bottom.’

It’s safe to say that wine is mainly sold on Christian countries. Isn’t this Christianity’s biggest idea: treating others in the same way that you’d want them to treat you? Combine that with New Testament stories in which mention wine a lot and it seems ironic that the wine industry uses marketing hype and mysterious jargon to sell wine. This trickery creates an environment that’s more “buyer beware” than the “golden rule.” I know he can make his own, but what sort of wine would Jesus drink?