Category Archives: Heros

opposite of a wanker

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.

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.

Teashop Takeaway Part II

Here’s the second part of my excerpts from the teashop video about “Life Management.” The primary speakers are Leo Babauta and Tim Ferriss.

You can check Friday’s post Teashop Takeaway (by scrolling below this post) for a longer introduction to them.

I’ve read many of their blogs over the years and a couple of their books as well. Neither of these guys was well know even three years ago. As they became successful writers, more people wanted slices of their pies. A pie really doesn’t get much bigger, you just have to cut thinner slices. So I’ve seen their ideas about life management evolve and morph with their circumstances. The foundations remained, but tweaks were made as they scraped the barnacles from the hull.

-Distractions – Simplify your life so you don’t have so many distractions. Try to eliminate as many distractions as you can. Then you need to become comfortable with letting small things go by the way. Let little bad things (say incurring a late fee) happen. Accept the small losses that allow you to focus on the one or two predetermined most important items.

-Time – There’ll always be more requests for your time than the time you have.

-Meetings – Avoid having meetings and conference calls. If you must have them, then set the agenda beforehand along with a start and end time and stick to it. Also, send out an email before the meeting to the participants sharing your goals and everyone can come in prepared.

-Slowness – Don’t fear slowness. Try building slow periods into your schedule. Really work to have dinners with three or more friends at least once a week. Doing this can help you appreciate things in real-time.

-Multiple Interests – Identity diversification is vital so you don’t become too attached to your work or any one thing. Find at least three things you can identify yourself with and try to set goals within each area.

-Deferring – Don’t defer things. Instead do or use things and appreciate them now. Cultivate an awareness of what’s important. By not deferring things, you’ll put yourself into the position of feeling that you’re living well.

-Gratitude – Try to express gratitude for what you think is good in your life. Once a week (or more) jot down three things in your life you’re grateful for. Appreciation is often a casualty of our modern quest for action.

-Introductions – When meeting someone new, try asking them, “What do you do when you aren’t working?” And see where the conversation goes.  It’ll be a more interesting start for you both than the common “What do you do?” This also touches on the identity diversification idea I was just talking about.

The ideas Leo and Tim share in the video cover lots of the broad categories they deal with in their writings. (Tim is actually trying to transition away from only being recognized as a life management writer, to become more associated with tweaking the human body’s performance).

If you want to get the gist of what Leo and Tim are about, you could watch the video and read my excerpts in under two hours saving yourself time and maybe money. I’m not saying to not read their stuff, I do and like it.

It’s Not All About The Wave

Here’s a photo of my friend, Brian, and me returning from surfing at a favorite spot of mine. The way in and out is via a verdant jungle path.

I really love surfing and the things that come along with it, like using this path. It’s a beautiful little trail, so even if the surfing on a particular day isn’t good the journey to and from the beach will be a little trek through a beautiful tropical landscape.

Besides actually riding a wave, there’re other aspects of surfing that are fun. For example, if your board is short enough, you’ll be able to pass under (duckdive) under approaching waves when you’re paddling out to surf. To duckdive, just shove the nose of the board down as deep as possible and then step down hard on the tail. You’ll pop out of the back of the wave ready to keep paddling out.  The whole wave will have simply passed over you. When done right, it’s a very smooth and tranquil sensation. Somehow it feels like magic, slipping smoothly under a wave that moments before was going to crash on top of you.

Normally, surfers don’t talk about duckdiving a wave. It’s something that’s done to get out to where you want to be. For me, it’s an underappreciated part of surfing, and is a nice prelude to  hopefully catching a wave when you get out to the break.

If you want to see what surfing is like, the surfing portions of “Blue Crush” capture the feeling of surfing on film pretty well. Story line aside, in “Blue Crush” the surfing sequences feel very real. Even most of the waves they ride are normal Hawaii waves. The majority of surfers, including me, will never surf the giant waves that creep into the public news landscape. So the waves, even the bigger ones, shown in “Blue Crush” are within the range an average surfer might encounter. Plus surfing in Hawaii is tops, on any size wave.

If you broke it down, the actual time most surfers spend riding on waves is counted in seconds for most rides. A normal ride would usually be under a minute! Accumulating a total of more than several minutes riding time during a day would be counted as a rare and special day. Surfing is quite a bit like fishing; most of a fisherman’s time is spent fishing not catching.

All of the activities associated with surfing like getting to the break, chatting with your friends, duckdiving, studying the ocean’s vast horizon, and just being out there make surfing the attraction it is for those of us who enjoy surfing.

P.S. A side note. Saturday, Kelly Slater, secured his Tenth World Surfing Championship! His point lead now is that far ahead of his competitors; and the season is still not over. Slater is largely unheralded in the general press even though this is like Micheal Jordan winning ten NBA titles or Lance Armstrong winning the Tour de France ten times.

An Atheist In The Foxhole

Christopher Hitchens has cancer. He thinks he won’t win and the cancer will take him.

Too bad. Of course it’s always too bad when someone dies from cancer. He’s been an enthusiastic, lifelong smoker and drinker and would no doubt say that he enjoyed the ride.

He’s a hero of mine. Not because of his lifestyle but because of his stances and defense of what he thinks is the way things are. A long time ago William Blake wrote “… create a system or be enslaved by another man’s.” Good advice, I think. Hitchens has never been shy about pointing out the enslavement foisted upon most humans by religions large and small.

Hitchens is an atheist. And now that he’s dying and thinks he won’t make it, he’s still unrepentant.  He’s only 61. With esophageal cancer that’s spread to his lymph nodes and lungs, he says he’ll be very lucky to live for five more years.

He’s an atheist in a foxhole; and he plans on staying one. Hitchens has gone on record about this now, while he has all of his faculties. If he is said to have had a last-minute conversion while he lie dying,  it’ll be due to him having lost his ability to think due to the cancer or its treatment.  Any claims of sudden conversion at the end will be due to having a diminished mind and not a sudden switching of sides because he sees the light. Because he’d say that religion is darkness.

As a controversial figure because of his views and  his wide exposure from his prolific writings and speaking, Hitchens has been engaged in conflicts most of his life. The title of his 2007 book is “God Is Not Great,” that’s a pretty good way to draw fire. It’s a good book too.

Hitchens has lots of experience in holding his own against what he considers bad ideas. I hope he can keep it up.