Category Archives: People

Shattering barriers

messnerUntil it was done, most people believed no one could run a mile in under four minutes or climb Mt Everest without bottled oxygen.

Nowadays, neither feat gets much attention because Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile in 1954 and Reinhold Messner summited Everest without supplemental oxygen in 1978. Achievements seem to go through three stages. First, they’re ridiculed as being impossible, second, they’re strongly opposed as foolhardy to even attempt, and third, they become accepted as self-evident and not note-worthy.

But Messner did something more. He shattered another barrier by climbing the tallest mountains in the world without a team, using a fast and light “alpine style” to get up mountains. This style was the opposite of the “siege style” of the day that used expedition sized assaults on the tallest peaks. Messner climbed not only without oxygen, but also without Sherpas, fixed ropes, or crevasse ladders and usually getting to the top in just a handful of days, instead the usual month plus for the siege style climbers.

I just wanted to tell you about an innovator and game changer. Messner’s still around and has continued and succeeded at other adventures. He’s 68 and doing well, living in northern Italy where he grew up and got his taste for the mountains. His accomplishments are extensive and impressive, if you’re curious google him and see for yourself.

Ed Viesturs, one of the top mountaineers today, put it this way, “After Messner, the mystery of possibility was gone; there remained only the mystery of whether you could do it.”

Success and Failure

This picture pops into my mind when I hear the name Michael Jordan; it’s a spectacular, dominating dunk on his opponents.

By the time someone who doesn’t follow a particular sport knows about that sport’s star player, certain assumptions about the star are made.

The biggest assumption is, the star’s talents are so special that there were mostly successes on the rise to fame and dominance.

But, it looks like most stars have lots of failures throughout their careers. Here’s the great Michael Jordan talking about his failures in a 30 second Nike ad.

He says he has 9,000 missed shots, 300 losses, and 26 misses at game winning shots, wow! I’d never have guessed his stats on failures would be that high. Not just talent, but the drive to keep trying and learning through failures is behind success and greatness.

Hitch is Dead

Christopher Hitchens is Dead. He died yesterday at age 62 from complications due to  cancer. I’m saddened by the news.

If you know who he is you’re either a fan or think he was a thorn in the side of small-minded and religious folk. Maybe both.

If you don’t know who he is and want to learn more about him; there’s a lot out there written by him and also a lot written about him. I don’t think there’s much more I can add  in the 300ish words I usually write.

Besides his writing, Hitchens was a well known and enthusiastic debater and he seemed especially fond of taking on religious speakers. Most videos of his debates or panel discussions are at the least entertaining.

As far as I know, he held on to atheism throughout his fight with cancer and to the end as well. Good for him. I’ll miss him.


I’d like to point something out that seems to be under the mainstream media’s radar. It’s tough to win one world championship; but Kelly Slater just won his 11th(!) world surfing championship. I know, if you’re not a surfer, so what? I’m the same way about baseball. Winning one world championship is an incredible achievement in any sport. Eleven world championships is unheard of.

He was the youngest world surfing champion when he was 20 and is also the oldest at 39.

From 1994 – 1998 he won five consecutive titles.

Unlike the American Football or Argentinian Tango World championships, the surfing world championship really is worldwide, with surfers from all over the globe trying to win the title. Kelly’s an American born in Coco Beach, Florida from a humble background. His heritage is Irish and Syrian for what that’s worth.

Surfing is a sport that sees subtle and difficult style and technique changes every five years or so when a newer generation moves onto the stage. But Slater’s been able to go from being one of the young guns to an old hand. And one who’s able to master the new styles as well as the challengers showing them off.

If you’re curious, here’s a short, three-minute, video recap of Kelly’s highlights this year on his way to sealing his 11th world championship (before the contest year is even over).

He’s also a golfer with a two stroke handicap which seems pretty good for a guy who surfs a lot.




Taking pictures of regular people who have special style can be pretty cool.

Lots of things separate us from other forms of life. Extensive tool use, self-awareness, and smoking to name a few. The primary differences we have from other animals are big brains, complex thoughts, and language. No other creatures other than people are reading like you are right now.

And there’s another difference – a sense of style. I don’t think other creatures have it, I think they do the best they can with what they have and that’s it. With people though, style is important, whether people admit it or not, and some people have a much more highly developed interest in it. You may not like someone’s style, but it’s another person’s self-expression.

I’m not talking about fashion which comes and goes, plus, is a top down structure. Style is firstly personal; and it’s influence on others is bottom up, lateral and top down too.

One of the things I like about going to NYC is the people watching. It’s a great place to see many different styles on lots of different people. And being the social animals we are, there’s the monkey see monkey do effect in action when you notice common threads, like younger hipsters sporting ironic moustaches and distressed wingtip  business shoes.

I just have a passing interest in this, so I don’t follow it too closely. There’s a website called The Sartorialist that I look at once in a blue moon. It was started by Scott Schuman who comes from the fashion world and started photographing people on NYC streets if the person had a style or look he liked. He started in 2005 and it’s taken off so that’s all he does now, and also does it in whichever city he happens to travel to.

I ran across an interview with Scott on bigthink. It’s about a half hour-long, with good questions and is just him speaking into the camera. I thought it was interesting and many of his ideas apply to pursuing interests in general and blog ideas. (Does anyone else think Scott looks like Lance Armstrong? They’d be good candidates for a “separated at birth” piece.)



The Lost Shepherd

I’ll say at the outset that I’m not religious. So maybe this isn’t news to you, but it was to me when I heard about it a few days ago. Apparently, some Christians think the world is going to end on May 21st, 2011. That’s right, in eleven days!

I first heard a story about it on NPR; so it’s a big enough story to even get some traction in the mainstream media.

It seems that a broadcaster with a religious radio program is the main figure behind the story. His name is Harold Camping and his station with 150 outlets reaches lots of listeners. By making some arcane calculations based on timetables provided in the bible he and his supporters are convinced the end is at hand. Camping isn’t an ignorant hillbilly, he has a civil engineering degree from UC Berkeley, but he mustn’t have paid very close attention in school.

There are billboards, bus caravans, and of course the radio station out there spreading the news that the judgement day will happen on May 21st and then on October 21st the world will be destroyed.

Religion is darkness. And this sort of thing is particularly dark since the believers are quitting jobs, leaving families, or spending their savings, and why not I suppose, if you think it’s true that the world is ending. But the sheep that just want an answer, even if it’s wrong, are hard to feel sorry for. I’m sure some overlooked chunk of time from the pages of the bible will reveal itself after the morning of May 22nd dawns. Get in line Harold Camping. The line isn’t going to heaven; it’s the line of other end-of-the-world dates have previously been predicted and  gone unfulfilled.

At first I thought it would be interesting to post this blog on Friday the 20th just for effect. But the whole thing is silly enough that if you haven’t already heard of it, you might want to so you can throw an end of the world party on the 20th . I’m sure I’ll be talking to you on Tuesday the 24th.

Faded Genes

I used to surf with a  Peruvian guy, here in Mexico. We got along well and had some fun surf sessions. Eventually, he had to leave Mexico and return to Peru. I never knew his last name, and now I wish that I knew it.

There’s been some upwelling of family information due to the recent death of an aunt.

It seems that a few generations ago a Peruvian man named Senor Paredes moved to the US and settled in New Orleans. As sometimes happens with immigrants wishing to blend in, he changed his name to Mr. Walls, which is what Senor Paredes means in English.

The newly minted Mr. Walls married and had a girl they named Beulah.

Beulah Walls married a man named Rene Stocker and had a son named Clyde.

Clyde Stocker married a woman named Gayle Jaubert and together they had three girls. One of those girls had me. And she named me Stocker Cary, giving me Stocker as a first name because she had no brothers to carry the Stocker name forward.

When I was a kid I can remember my Dad teasing my Mom about being from South America and I thought it was because she had black hair. I never had an idea my great-great grandfather was from Peru. But I like it. Especially as I now live in a Latin country.

The other day I was telling this story to a Mexican woman I know and she made a surprised face – her last name is Paredes. Small world.

Now I just wish I knew the last name of my surf friend from Peru. He may be family too.

I Didn’t Know Jack

Lately I’ve read lots of interesting stuff about Jack LaLanne.  Probably because he died at 96 and was often referred to as “the godfather of fitness.” He was a 20th century American success story.

As an unhealthy teen he made a decision to change who he was and how the world saw him. Then he did it. And he lived it. He’d celebrate his birthdays by performing demanding physical feats. For instance, on his 60th birthday he swam from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco in handcuffs and shackles while towing a 1000 pound boat.

Jack was a pioneer, creating his own brand around the Jack LaLanne name. Beginning by opening the first of what was to become the modern “health club” in 1936. Then he starred in a morning show on TV starting in 1951 that continued for 30 years. He used TV to reach his audience and build trust. Eventually he owned hundreds of health clubs that he later sold to Bally Fitness. And he was smart enough to keep the rights to the show.

Before hippies, Jack was juicing carrots and asking “Would you give your dog a cigarette and a doughnut for breakfast? … and (people) wonder why they don’t feel good.” He got lots of Americans (especially housewives watching his show in the morning) exercising by cheerfully promoting activity and cleverly, at the time, not really calling it exercise. He had the trust of his audience because they saw that he wasn’t asking them to do anything he didn’t do. And he did it for life.

The Word Bag

Writing twice a week got me thinking about the possibility of running out of ideas. Then I remembered a PBS NOVA episode I saw in the 80’s about Richard Feynman (I think it was originally from a 1981 BBC Horizon interview). He was an interesting and colorful character as well as an outstanding physicist of the twentieth century. Feynman won a Nobel Prize and was the youngest physicist working on the Manhattan Project to name just a couple of accomplishments amongst his many.

From what I can remember now, Feynman chatted about his life in general and how his career in physics developed from a young man to an elder statesman in Physics. I found the show so interesting that I ordered the transcript of the show – the only time I’d ever done that.

One of the stories he told was about how kids think about things. When his son was young and learning to speak, he asked Feynman about running out of words. His son was concerned the “word bag” could run out of words and then he wouldn’t be able to continue talking due to a lack of available words.

Feynman tried to relate the word bag question to a similar question his Dad had about where light came from. The next two paragraphs are my paraphrasing of what Feynman said:

Whenever light is seen, it’s coming from a photon. An atom’s electrons send out a photon when it needs to release a bit of energy. There’s no more of a word bag than there is a photon bag. Is the photon in the atom ahead of the time that it comes out, or is there no photon in it so start with? There’s no photon in there, it’s just that when the electron makes a move, a photon comes out. Well, where does it come from then, how does it come out? The view is that photons are just created by the motion of the electron.

When my little boy started to talk, he said that he could no longer say a certain word – the word was “cat” – because his word bag had run out of the word “cat.” There’s not a word bag that you have inside that you use up as the words come out, you just make them as you go along.

And in the same sense that there’s no photon bag in an atom, there’s no word bag inside us to exhaust. When the photons are emitted, they don’t actually “come from somewhere.” The photons come out when they’re needed like words come out when you need them.

The PaperNet

With the new year I started thinking about influences on my life. Here’s one of them.

B.F. Skinner once said “education is what remains after what you’ve learned has been forgotten.” This is an homage to the “The Whole Earth Catalog” (WEC) because exploring the world of ideas both big and small in the WEC was a huge part of my education.

When I was a young teen I stumbled across the WEC and it became my portal to a parallel universe. I grew up in a somewhat restrictive environment in the deep South. If you accepted and followed the status quo things were easy, if not, there weren’t alternatives that were presented or encouraged. At that time the WEC presented so many different ideas and access to those ideas that for me it was incredible. It was a paper version of the internet.

The WEC was a very large format paperback printed on coarse, unbleached paper which added to the experience of immersion into a big world of possibilities. There were tools, resources for independent study, and things that weren’t already common knowledge. If something was inexpensive, or high quality, and was readily available by mail, then there was a good chance it would show up in the WEC. It really was an immersive experience for me. You could follow threads of related information all over the catalog, for example hopping  from house design to info on owner built houses to the best tools to use and why they were preferred. Also accompanying each item were excerpts from submitters, staff reviewers and if it was a book, quotes. Plus the WEC was a book about other people doing other things.

From the first edition in 1968 to last incarnation of the Whole Earth Quarterly in 1998 updated editions came out every couple of years with more ideas and information. Now with the instant availability of info and links on the internet it’s hard to recall what a breath of fresh air the WEC was. Just looking through it you were sure to be waylaid by something new to investigate.

Of course with the internet there’s no real place for the WEC anymore. It almost seems quaint now up against the internet, the way a Farmer’s Almanac compares to the weather report on TV. But before there was an internet the WEC was where I was educated.