The extra cookie

I ran across this interesting metaphorical story on Kottke.org that uses a cookie to illustrate the connection between luck and privilege. I’ve shortened it a little:

In 2012, Michael Lewis gave the commencement speech at Princeton, his alma mater. Near the end of his speech, Lewis, who wrote Moneyball and The Big Short, addressed luck’s role in rationalizing success. He told the graduates, who’re already winners in so many of life’s lotteries, that they “owe a debt to the unlucky.” 

A few years ago, a psychology department staged an experiment using students. They broke the students into teams, segregated by sex. Three men, or three women, per team. Then they put these teams into a room, arbitrarily assigned one of the three to act as leader and gave them some complicated moral problem to solve: say what should be done about academic cheating, or how to regulate drinking on campus.

Exactly 30 minutes into the problem-solving the researchers interrupted each group bearing a plate of cookies. Four cookies. Every team member obviously got one cookie, but that left a fourth cookie, just sitting there.

It should’ve been awkward. But it wasn’t. With incredible consistency the arbitrarily appointed leader of the group grabbed the fourth cookie, and ate it. Not only ate it, but ate it with gusto: lips smacking, mouth open, drool at the corners of their mouths.

This leader had performed no special task. He had no special virtue. He’d been chosen at random, 30 minutes earlier. His status was nothing but luck. But it still left him with the sense that the cookie should be his.

This experiment helps to explain Wall Street bonuses and CEO pay, and I’m sure lots of other human behavior. But it also is relevant to new graduates of Princeton. In a general sort of way you have been appointed the leader of the group.

Your appointment may not be entirely arbitrary. But you must sense its arbitrary aspect: you are the lucky few. Lucky in your parents, lucky in your country, lucky that a place like Princeton exists that can take in lucky people, introduce them to other lucky people, and increase their chances of becoming even luckier. Lucky that you live in the richest society the world has ever seen, in a time when no one actually expects you to sacrifice your interests to anything.

All of you have been faced with the extra cookie. All of you will be faced with many more of them. In time you will find it easy to assume that you deserve the extra cookie. For all I know, you may. But you’ll be happier, and the world will be better off, if you at least pretend that you don’t.

The rise of cold drip coffee

A recent NYT article proclaimed that the United States is becoming a cold brew nation. I’m from New Orleans where it’s long been popular and I probably make a batch about every week and a half. So of course I’ve talked about cold drip coffee before.

The article provides a little history about cold drip coffee and its recent rise in popularity across the US. the focus of the article is about the retail business but If you like cold drip coffee and are curious, the device I use is a Toddy home brew model. Below, I’ve edited the article for length and clarity. (Cold drip is just another name for cold brew coffee.)

What’s cold brew? Essentially, it’s the method of preparation. You steep coffee grounds in room-temperature water (which isn’t “cold,” strictly speaking) for six to 20 hours (depending on the recipe) to make a concentrate that can be diluted with water and served over ice. By giving up heat, you have to add time.

What was once a regional curiosity largely limited to New Orleans and the South is now found throughout the country. The shift started about 10 years ago, when cold brew was adopted by innovative coffee shops like Blue Bottle.

Cold brew was a niche market until 2015, when Starbucks introduced the drink in a number of stores; it is now available at all of their shops. It’s a coffee with both mass-market appeal and indie credibility. Today, you can find cold brew at a coffee shop where everything is meticulously crafted by hand, and at a Dunkin’ Donuts.

The drink’s range is expanding even more rapidly when you count “ready-to-drink” canned, bottled and packaged coffees. You can get that New Orleans-style iced coffee in a school-lunch-size milk carton, or that nitro cold brew in what looks like a beer can. Ready-to-drink is now appearing everywhere. As of last month, you could find bottles of Slingshot Coffee, a small-batch company in Raleigh, N.C., at nearly 250 Target stores in the South.

Cold brew is more than a slowed-down version of hot coffee; it’s a noticeably different product. Hot water will bring out the acids in coffee, a characteristic that professional tasters call “brightness.” Cold water doesn’t but still gets the full range of mouthfeel and sweetness.

And it can be served more quickly. As one shop owner said, ” From a logistical standpoint, we can get cold brew out the door in 10 seconds,If you want a coffee and you want it quick, cold brew is the answer.” Provided she made enough the night before.

How do shrinks think?

I’m curious about why people sometimes behave the way they do. Combine a psychologist and an MD and you’ve got a good start at figuring out people’s behaviors. But what insights into the human condition do shrinks have? And what enables them to help people who’re suffering from different forms of mental anguish? Do they know something most of us non-mental health folks aren’t tuned into?

Dereck Sivers jotted down some observations of psychiatrist G. Livingston as Sivers read Livingston’s book. These observations were gleaned over his life as a therapist. I’ve paraphrased and listed some of his ideas but in no special order.

I don’t have a clear idea of what people need to do to make themselves better. I am, however, able to sit with them while they figure it out. My job is to hold them to the task, point out connections I think I see between past and present, wonder about underlying motives.

The vast majority of your life’s results come from small behaviors, repeated thousands of times over the decades. Sure, habits are notoriously hard to change and some of us are compulsively self-destructive. But knowing is much more powerful than not knowing.

A staggering proportion of human activity is motivated by the desire to feel safe and secure.

Nothing outside your own mind can properly be described as negative or positive at all. What actually causes suffering are the beliefs you hold about those things. If your map doesn’t agree with the terrain, then the map is wrong, but It’s difficult to remove an idea with logic that wasn’t put there by logic.

There’re few solutions to life’s problems, only trade-offs.

The three components of happiness are: something to do, someone to love, and something to look forward to. Get plenty of psychological sunshine. Circulate in new groups. Discover new and stimulating things to do.

Most people know what is good for them and what will make them feel better: exercise, hobbies, time with those they care about. They don’t avoid these things because of ignorance of their value, but because they’re no longer “motivated” to do them. They’re waiting until they feel better. Frequently, it’s a long wait.

Only bad things happen quickly. All the happiness-producing processes in our lives take time, usually a long time: learning new things, changing old behaviors, building satisfying relationships, raising children. This is why patience and determination are among life’s primary virtues.

We are responsible for most of what happens to us.

In judging other people, pay attention to how they behave – not to what they promise. Past behavior is the most reliable predictor of future behavior.

The statute of limitations has expired on most of our childhood traumas. Memory is not an accurate transcription of past experience. Rather it’s a story we tell ourselves about the past, full of distortions, wishful thinking, and unfulfilled dreams.

My favorite therapeutic question is “What’s next?” which bypasses the self-pity implied in clinging to past traumas.

Any relationship is under the control of the person who cares the least.

Life’s two most important questions are “Why?” and “Why not?” The trick is knowing which one to ask.

When confronted with a suicidal person I seldom try to talk them out of it. Instead I ask them to examine what it is that has so far dissuaded them from killing themselves. People in despair are intensely self-absorbed. Suicide is the ultimate expression of this preoccupation with self.

When people fall in love, no justification for their attachment is necessary. When people fall out of love, the demands for an explanation are insistent: What happened? Who’s at fault? Why couldn’t you work it out? “We didn’t love each other anymore” is not, in most cases, a sufficient response.

Nobody likes to be told what to do.

It’s possible to live without criticizing and directing everyone around us. I ask people in conflict to withhold that criticism to see if this changes the atmosphere. It’s amazing how radical this suggestion seems.

Awfulizing is the idea that any relaxation in standards or vigilance is the first step toward failure, degradation, and the collapse of civilization as we know it.

The ability to laugh is the most therapeutic.

Our feelings (anger, shame, delight) appear almost instantly, and, left alone, they don’t last very long. But inventing a narrative around an event or a person keeps the feeling going for a very long time.” If you’re not happy with the feeling, try dropping the narrative. It’s your narrative, the story you have to keep telling yourself again and again, that’s causing the feeling to return.

Parents have a limited ability to shape their children’s behavior, except for the worse. Our primary task as parents is to convey to our kids a sense of the world as an imperfect place in which it is possible, nevertheless, to be happy. Do this by example. Demonstrate qualities of commitment, determination, and optimism.

Parents can try to teach the values and behaviors that they’ve found to be important, but it’s the way we live as adults that conveys the real message to our kids about what we believe in. Whether they choose to integrate these values into their own lives is up to them. Kids have a keen nose for hypocrisy.

Behavior that’s reinforced will continue; behavior that’s not will extinguish.

Children raised in homes where parental control is severe turn out to have a poor set of internalized limits because they have experienced only rigid external rules. Conversely, in families where there are few constraints children do not have a way to learn those guidelines necessary to live comfortably with others.

“What can I do to make sure this kid turns out well?” Not much, but maybe cutting down on the fights and not trying to control your child’s every decision might help.

Enjoy life even as we are surrounded by evidence of its brevity and potential for disaster. Mental health is a function of choice. The more choices we are able to exercise, the happier we are likely to be.

Forgiveness is not something we do for others; it is a gift to ourselves.

If every misfortune can be blamed on someone else, we’re relieved of the difficult task of examining our own contributory behavior or just accepting the reality that life is full of adversity. Most of all, by placing responsibility outside ourselves we miss out on the healing knowledge that what happens to us is not nearly as important as the attitude we adopt in response.

Training notes

Ryan Flaherty is a speed coach. He tunes up future NFL players before they participate in the NFL combine. There’s a lot of money riding on the combine outcomes. It’s serious business so he’s paid well for helping these athletes improve their numbers.

Flaherty claims speed is a skill, something you can learn, train, and get better at. He says, “Speed has everything to do with how much force you create. The two main factors in speed are stride frequency and stride length, and both are products of how much force your body creates with the ground. So if I can improve the amount of force an athlete creates on every step, I’m going to greatly affect his or her speed.”

Step counts, Flaherty thinks, are an incredibly reliable indicator of race results. After adjusting for height, the athlete taking the fewest steps during any race will win. Longer strides indicate the athlete is generating more force per step than his competitors.

Extra distance per stride compounds. In a 100-meter sprint it means a step or two less. In a marathon, with about 20,000 strides, an extra three inches added to the stride puts a runner a mile ahead of his previous (shorter stride) pace.

Flaherty uses the “Force Number” to accurately predict an athlete’s speed. The Force Number is the peak force applied to the ground decided by his body weight.

His go-to exercises are the trap bar deadlift and box squat, one performed early in the week and the other done later in the week.

Other than the trap bar deadlift and box squat, Flaherty says every lower-body move you do should be done on one leg.  The coach’s favorite exercises include Dumbbell Bulgarian Split-Squats, Barbell Reverse Lunges and Single-Leg Bounding.

He also likes “push-up starts”  – Lie on the ground and hands on the ground next to your chest push-up style. Explosively push yourself up and immediately sprint forward maintaining a forward lean; don’t stand straight up.

Art Devaney who’s a very fit 70 something backs a 15-8-4 sequence for his workouts, 15 reps with a light weight, 8 with medium weight, and 4 at your max weight. All done with no rests in between, and never going to failure.

Negatives (also called eccentrics) are when you lower a weight that you don’t have the strength to lift (yet). You just do the negative part of the movement. Devany likes negatives because you can work with a lot more weight, about 40% more.

He also sprints up a nearby hill. Sprint up and walk down several times, and then switch it up and sprint down to train to go faster.

Someone else pointed out that your 3RM should be about 90% of your 1RM. Once you have that 3RM, you can just use it for all your subsequent percentages.

And finally, A quick workout is the side plank on your palm. The palm support and a straight arm benefit shoulder health by keeping the shoulders down and latissimus tight with the body ramrod straight. Hold one side for 30 seconds, then the other, back again for 20, 15, 10, and 5 seconds, alternating sides. You can do it daily.

The intruding guitar

Here’s the thing, you can do anything, but you can’t do everything.

I’m practicing the guitar and slowly getting better but I’m slowly blogging less frequently.

When I started learning the guitar last year I began practicing a little bit every day, so something had to make room for that practice time. That thing has been my blogging. My blog is a place where I can make notes to myself which means that not blogging as much doesn’t really impact anyone else.

Industrialized communication

I don’t generally use social media because there’s just not much that’s interesting enough to make scrolling through worth the bother. But I do realize  most people like it.

What happens when you take a break from it? Here’s what a heavy user found after taking a break from social media for a week. “Not a single person noticed that I had stopped using social media. (Not enough to tell me anyway.) Perhaps if it had been two weeks? For me, this reinforced that social media is actually not a good way to “stay connected with friends”. Social media aggregates interactions between loved ones so that you get industrialized communication rather than personal connection. No one really notices if a particular person goes missing because they’re just one interchangeable node in a network.”

One-on-one communication is degraded a bit using electronics because some context and so many subtle physical cues become unavailable. Most effective communications happen best in person, then by phone, and finally via email.

When an author was asked how he was able to gather so much material for his book, he said his secret was, “The lesson I’ve learned again and again is this: when you see folks in person, they’re motivated to look for and pull out old things, and that doesn’t happen when you simply call them on the phone.”

When you can do it, personal communication trumps industrialized communication. Here’s a good talk on conversation with NPR host Celeste Headlee.

Whitehouse woes

Have you heard of the Dunning-Kruger effect? It’s the phenomenon in which an incompetent person is too incompetent to understand his own incompetence. Looking at the situation in the Whitehouse from the outside and without all the data, President Trump looks like the poster boy for the Dunning-Kruger effect.

So is Trump the orange tapeworm of American politics or a victim of an enormous witch hunt?  It seems like we’re getting ready to find out.

If he is a problem, I hope the medicine required to expel him isn’t too disruptive to the system. Maybe he’ll step down to save face, which will be the least disruptive medicine.

A generational shift

How many people under 30 use a wristwatch? Not many. They grew up using a cellphone for a time piece. These snippets of info about US golf courses shutting down might be another interesting generational shift:

”Playing golf was once a celebrated pastime. But today, many of the country’s golf courses are on the brink of shutting down or have already closed. Over 800 golf courses have shuttered across the US in the past decade, and data from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association has shown that millennials between the ages of 18 and 30 lack interest in playing the game.”

Do the closures reflect changing preferences for leisure activities? Since 2003, participation in golf is down 20% according to the National Golf Foundation. Plus, Nike and Adidas have stopped making golf clubs. I haven’t met many young people who play golf, most golfer I know are well past fifty.

What happens to the real estate occupied by those shuttered 800 golf courses? Maybe there’s a higher or better use for land than as golf courses. Some have donated golf course land to nature trusts and local parks, taking a tax break in return for preserving the open space. That also alleviates the fertilizers and pesticides that are needed to maintain a golf course.

The golf industry went through a building boom in the 1990s and early 2000s, driven by developers using the golf courses to help sell homes. Many shuttered courses were built on land that’s protected from redevelopment either by local zoning codes seeking to preserve open space, or by deed restrictions intended to protect homeowners who paid a premium to live near a golf course. What will they do?

I’m not for or against playing golf, but I’m curious to see how this will unfold.

Plants reaching out

We can’t perceive changes in plants because any position changes they make are too slow to be notable in realtime.

By using time-lapsed photography, some plant “movement” can be sped up. I don’t know the best descriptive word to use, but there seems to be some intention, plan, or drive behind some plant movements.

Check out Michael Pollan discussing how time-lapse photography reveals the hidden life of plants, pretty interesting.

 

Squatting article

After leaving childhood, our ability to get into a deep squat gradually disappears, at least for most of us in the Western world. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Here’re a couple of points, and a workout, from a New Yorker article by Jamie Lauren Keiles that will help reclaim your squat.

Trainer and author Mark Rippetoe writes, “A weak man is not as happy as that same man would be if he were strong. This reality is offensive to some people who would like the intellectual or spiritual to take precedence.”

The (workout) app was designed by the Belgian fitness expert Mehdi Hadim, based on a classic five-by-five routine—five sets of five reps for each of the lifts, increasing the weight with each successive workout.

On Workout A days, I row, bench press, and squat. On Workout B days, I deadlift, do overhead presses, and squat again.