Friday, December 31, 2010

babies are awesome

alternate title: babies are exhausting.

He's beautiful, and perfect, and he has already shat and peed his way through what we thought would be two week's worth of diapers, clothes, and bedding.

People ask: "How's he sleeping?"

To which, the honest answer is: "He sleeps like a champ!"

Seriously, maybe 20 or so hours a day this little guy is completely zonked out, and he's adorable.  You just want to sit and watch him sleep.  These little twitches in his face, the way he waves his arm around when he wiggles it out of the swaddling, the slight baby-bird chirps he makes...it's movie worthy (if you are riding the swell of female, birth induced hormonal waves, it's apparently the BEST MOVIE YOU HAVE EVER SEEN).  For Dad, it's pretty sweet.

It's those other 4 hours of the day that sneak up on you, pants you, spin you around, give you that "8 whiskey + 2 Jaeger shot" feeling without the fun parts...when Baby Boy deploys 15 minutes of his awake time when Mom and Dad are about to enter REM* sleep themselves you get disoriented and cranky parents.


One wonders (I=One in this case, for sure) how other cultures manage the first days/weeks with a baby.  I think about the "it takes a village" idea, and suspect that some less "sophisticated" cultures benefit from the proximity of extended family and other experienced moms...


Last thought for now, and advice for new parents:  if people offer you their hand-me-downs, and you have room to store them, take them all!  We had so many offers of "family" bassinets that we turned down; now I wish I had somewhere relatively safe to lay him in every room...


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*is there U2 sleep?  INXS sleep? UB40?  and why do bands not use these sorts of names now?  See what sleep deprivation can do to your brain?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

lose the fat

As I mentioned in my review of 4-Hour Body, I'm trying out a diet to cut my body fat percentage; the diet is based at least in part on some recommendations from that book.

First, the rationale for cutting the fat:  I've never been especially concerned with carrying around a few extra pounds (maybe a key advantage of not being: a woman, "metro", non-bear gay...), and although my self-image is not really much changed, I have crossed another one of those "getting old" milestones, and I have had a couple of slightly high blood pressure readings, and and and...I want to see if I can lose some fat.

(editor's note: this post ended up getting pretty long and I didn't want it to dominate the front page, so I'm putting the rest under the fold)

on self experimentation

alternate title: reviewing 4-Hour Body.

OK, so I read the book.  It did take me longer than I thought; the book is long, and as I told a friend it's a sort of "kitchen sink" approach that is probably better suited to a blog environment than a standalone book.

This is going to be a long and winding post, so I'll offer a micro-review up here, above the fold, and talk more about the details and my plan to incorporate some of the ideas from the book in my own quest for self-improvement below the fold.

The book is a masterpiece of marketing.  The author, Timothy Ferriss (wealthy and famous from his previous book 4-Hour Workweek) leveraged a lot of "new media" and some other clever (or annoying; it's subjective) mechanisms to get the book a great deal of exposure.

The book addresses a handful of topics of interest to most people: how to lose weight (body fat); how to build muscle; how to improve your sex life (the experience itself, not necessarily the quest for partners); how to sleep better.

His contention is that there are some basic "hacks" that people can employ to get more out of what they have already, one example being that while people have to eat, we do not have to eat refined carbohydrates (anything white, per the book).

So the short review conclusion is that I got value from the reading, and can recommend portions of the book to others for reference, but I found the style lacking and most of the real content highly derivative of other well known sources from recent years.

For more, and for my personal application, click on through.

and...we're back!

Wow, a lot has happened since we left off here eight days ago.

I finished the 4-Hour Body, and started a diet program based in large part on the book's recommendations, and I'm already seeing some measurable differences.

We hosted a Christmas holiday dinner.

And there was something else, can't put my finger on it right now, um...oh yeah:

WE HAD A BABY!

He came a little early, but in the "full term" range of weeks, and everything is awesome except for the 8 whiskey + 2 Jaeger shot feeling one has in their head after labor+delivery+3 nights of little sleep.

So, we're back, and I hope to ramp up the posting again right away.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

holiday break

I have a lot of ideas to share, and much writing to practice, but I keep getting 2/3 of the way into a post and realizing that I have holiday related cleaning, cooking, socializing, and laying about to do...so please think of me in a week or so and check back then.

Here's a preview of attractions coming soon:

  • review of Tim Ferriss's 4-Hour Body and my plans to act on some of that book's ideas
  • a discussion of the socialization of risk in our country and what that means
  • next steps for the No Two Things Are the Same theory and how it has practical applications in our daily lives
So, until then, Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dooce, on flatulence

I'm guessing she was inspired by one of my lower-brow posts:

Farts aren't supposed to be funny, except they are. They're hysterical, especially when your dog does it while everyone is eating a meal and it sounds like a note from an opera
http://dooce.com/2010/12/20/just-time-christmas

Awesome.

embrace the Goog

I've been wanting to write this post for some time, and I've also been nervous to wear my fealty on my (blog) sleeve, but some conversation at a dinner party last night has motivated me to act.

I heard a complaint yesterday evening that struck me as very "2005", but I have to remind myself that I'm partly to blame for any lingering ignorance out there in the world about SPAM...that's right, I'm talking email here, and I'm looking at you LJB.

It may be that email and the internet were not what William Blake had in mind when he wrote about "innocence and experience", but I can say without reservation that my life was markedly different before and after gMail.

Oh, I had a Hotmail account.  I had an iName account.  I had a Yahoo! account, and prior to gMail I thought Yahoo! was the bomb...but on or about September 22, 2004, I went "live" on gMail and since then, well:

  • i haven't worried about storage for my email.  
    • "You are currently using 1730 MB (22%) of your 7532 MB."
    • I have 10828 messages in my inbox (messages that I want to keep)
    • and they are all easily and instantly searchable
      • i didn't "index" or "tag" or "sort" any of them, but i can find messages about anything, from anybody, in seconds
  • i haven't worried about SPAM in years
    • gMail automatically screens out the vast majority of SPAM messages
    • their built in screeners have improved year after year
    • when i create an account that requires i share an email address with some web merchant, i add a "filter" that sends their marketing past my inbox to a folder labeled "subscribed SPAM" - I never see it unless I want to
  • gMail serves as the core of a full suite of complementary services that i use all the time
    • calendar (as many separate calendars as I like; one to share with my wife, on for work, etc)
    • docs - a full suite of productivity software (all web based) including a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation slides, drawing...again, all shareable across the web, allowing multiple users to see and/or edit IN REAL TIME
      • all of these productivity tools were in "the cloud" before people were even talking about the cloud.  I can access my documents/calendars/etc anywhere with internet access, on any machine (my mom's laptop, my phone, internet cafes, etc)
    • voice - a new phone number (it will rule them all, and in the darkness bind them)
      • free text messaging (from your mobile phone OR PC)
      • "visual" voicemail and transcriptions
      • VOIP calls over your internet connection, from your mobile or PC
    • the chat function in gMail is awesome, and the system automatically saves transcripts from chats for the same "searchable anytime" functionality
  • i use Blogger for this very blog...
What are the down sides?  Well, Google could shut it off.  They could turn out to be "evil".  They could use my information to market to me more effectively.  I recommend as safeguards against these bad case scenarios is the occasional offline back-up of important data saved to Google Docs.  That's about it.

 Don't believe that all web-based email services are the same.  Embrace the Goog. 


Monday, December 20, 2010

statistics = ignorance?

This post on BoingBoing today provides a good opportunity to explore a pet peeve subject for me: statistics are a problem.

It's a common joke to say "90% of statistics are made up" - common, but funny.  It's also common to claim that "correlation does not imply causation", which seems to be the main message of the BoingBoing post.

My primary beef with statistics is that humans do not seem to possess an innate ability to intuit statistical truth; we almost seem predisposed to "short cut" to conclusions, regardless of what the statistical evidence is trying to tell us.  My secondary beef with statistics is that is almost absurdly easy to game the system; whether you are studying biological systems, economics, sports...in every case you can create a statistical set of data that seems to support almost any contention.

Unfortunately, we exist in this space where one of our best tools for understanding and analysis is a deeply flawed tool.  The example from the BoingBoing post is perhaps a little simplistic, where a skeptical reader of data can apply some "common sense" to sniff out the next level of macro data hiding behind the surface level, but many studies of sufficiently complex systems are challenged by the inability to "step back" and see the subject in a wider context.

So what to do?  We have a flawed tool and a problem with confidence in the outcomes of using that tool...

and as XKCD suggests, sometimes correlation doesn't necessarily mean causation, but rightly does suggest the possibility of a relationship.

The upshot from me is that one needs to take statistics with a grain of salt, and just as in other areas discussed in this blog, one needs to be aware of the bias built in, both in the statistics and in the mind of the audience.

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update: After I posted this I wondered if more examples of faulty statistical reasoning would be helpful...so would they?

equality in the military? Do tell!

This is a little off topic for me and for the general scope of this blog, but in recognition of the Senate's vote to repeal the policy known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", I thought I would take a shot at placing the change in a broader context.

I was inspired to comment mostly because in the last few years, and particularly during the last round of presidential primaries, the repeal of "DADT" became a big deal, and in the popular consciousness DADT became a sort of shorthand for "closed minded" or "oppressive" policy; the more nuanced reality is that DADT came into being as a compromise in an era of more oppressive policies directed at LGBT people.

President Clinton had his good points and his flaws (that man wore his flaws on the outside like a tweed jacket), but he also knew how to compromise in pursuit of making an untenable and awful situation into one slightly less awful.

The repeal of DADT is a step closer to the utopia of all men/women being equal in the eyes of the law.

My hope is that at some point we all realize that we're in the same boat together.

Friday, December 17, 2010

the mysteries of maternal medicine

alternative title: "The obscurity of obstetrics".

I may have been enjoined not to write much here about our personal experience with the baby doc industrial complex, at least until ours is born, but I can share other people's thoughts.  This post on BoingBoing by a guest blogger captures some of my frustrations (I'm quoting a choice bit, but read the whole post for his context)
Our child birthing class teacher: "Oh only 5% of babies are actually born on their due dates."
Me: So are half born before, half after?
Teacher: "Oh you can't know when the baby is going to come."
Me: I get it. I just want to know the statistics.
Teacher: "The baby will come when it is ready."
I asked on obstetrician.
Doctor: "The due date is just an estimate. There is no way of knowing when the baby will come."
Me: But of your patients, what fraction delivers before and what fraction deliver after the due date?
Doctor: "I try not to think of it that way."

Right.  And so it goes. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

elasticity of truth

this post could have also been entitled "How print journalism keeps reloading the gun to shoot themselves in the foot"

The New Yorker has an article out discussing a troubling trend in the reversal of previously verified results of a "scientific method".  The abstract I've linked to here is fascinating in itself; I would love to read the whole article, but I can't figure out how to buy it in a reasonable manner (more on this below).

Here's a great quote from the abstract:
The most likely explanation for the decline is an obvious one: regression to the mean. 
Yet the effect’s ubiquity seems to violate the laws of statistics.

I know what "regression to the mean mean's, but I'm trying to apply it to this idea of rigorous testing of the effect of a drug, etc, and how those "results" can deteriorate over time.

Argh.  Science!?!


Anyway, the New Yorker helpfully has the following options to get access to the full article:
  • pay $5.99 for the whole (digital) issue containing the desired article; this access expires after 1 year
  • subscribe to the the digital editions for $40/year (47 issues), which subscription also includes access to the full archives
  • Amazon offers a Kindle subscription to the magazine for $2.99/month ($35.88/year?) but which presumably does not include access to the archives
So why am I grumpy about this?  Why not offer an option to buy the given article for $0.25 or $1 or something similar?  I don't want the other content in this issue (maybe) or I can read much of the other content on the NewYorker.com for free, or IRL I could go stand by the magazine rack at the Borders and read what I like from the paper issue for free...My point is, I'm willing to pay for some content, if it's a reasonable cost vs the other options out there.  As it stands, I'm just likely to read this abstract and move on with my life, and under this circumstance the New Yorker doesn't get my money OR my eyeballs on their ad banners.

no apologies

I wonder when the word "apology" in the modern, English usage changed from the Greek apologia meaning (basically a defense).

We have this word "apologist" that we use to describe a person who writes or speaks in defense of an idea: CS Lewis is a great example of a popular culture Christian apologist.

But our noun "apology" or verb "to apologize" is a different bird.

I've known people in my life that apologize all the time, for everything...I find myself saying "I don't want you to be sorry...I don't want you to say "sorry"..."

And I've known people that cannot seem to say their sorry, even when they kick the dog (metaphorically).




What I don't get is why there isn't any sort of standard understanding of what it means to apologize, how it works, how one is supposed to respond to an apology...

I dated a young woman who suggested that I should apologize if her feelings were hurt, whether such hurt was my intention or not...it was a powerful suggestion and I have incorporated it into my life in the years since.  It sometimes leads to an apology like this:

I'm sorry that you are upset.  It was not my intention to
hurt you, and I'm trying to understand what happened
in this case so that I can avoid that in the future.

Some people resent this sort of apology; to them it may sound to similar to the non-apology that goes "I'm sorry, but...".  The "but" is the problem.

A lesson that took me a long time to learn was that relationships are hard.  We all hurt each other all the time, generally in unintentional and unaware ways.  This isn't cynicism or "darkness" in my perspective; it's a realization that proceeds from something like the NTTATS theory...we experience life in nuanced ways that differ from those around us.  We hear things in "the tone" of people speaking to us that they may not be aware of; we perceive slights and social awkwardness in a way particular to our lifelong collected conditioning.





So what to do?  My therapist (it's been a few years since I sat on the couch) suggested that in my own life I needed to find the "sensitivity dial" and roll it back a few levels.  Apparently mine "goes to 11" and to function in the outside world you need to be set around 5...too much higher and you are a bundle of perceived hurts; too much lower and you are a sociopath.

In honor of the holiday season and all that it brings, I'm going to tweak my dial and shoot for these two goals:

  1. have my apology engine cranked up and ready to go
  2. lower my expectations for apologies from everybody else

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it may be obvious but I'm experimenting with embedded videos!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

4 hours to everything you want...

...I guess.  I just got the Kindle version of Tim Ferriss's follow-up to the 4-Hour Workweek; this one is called The 4-Hour Body and I will gladly review the book and some key concepts just as soon as I get it read.

Of course, this will push the fantasy novel recommended by one of my work buddies down the list...or I'll have to read them in parallel...or maybe I'll just read the Kay book in a hurry.

our little joey...

(that means baby kangaroo!)

The NY Times ran an article this week on "kangaroo care", and it's encouraging and sweet and in some ways so obvious...

Again, I appreciate the medical community and their tools and their science and their drugs, and when those types of interventions are necessary, I welcome and advocate their use.  But I see so many instances where the intervention becomes the norm, and it stresses me out.

How does the saying go?  To the man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail?

what DO kids need?

via Kottke, this post on the Magical Childhood blog offers some valuable insights that may challenge people's (mine, maybe not yours) instincts.

I'm on this carousel of perspective about being a parent (still no baby here...counting down the days); I go from thinking "I'm gonna be a great dad and the wife is going to be a great mom" to thinking "I'm going to screw this up seven different ways a day."  It's occurring to me now that those two positions may not be mutually exclusive.

I joked with some friends at a recent dinner party (all of them experienced parents already) that our plan was to not try to be good parents, since that's what most people do; we're just going to go another way.  It was a joke, but I wonder if there may not be some value in not trying too hard.  My bias is going to be a helicopter parent, a neurotic micro-manager, an overly protective bubble-boy sort of dad, and I know that I have to work against that bias.

So let's just put it out there, now, in writing, that my goal is going to be:

  • feed him
  • clothe him
  • protect him from wild animals
  • read to him regularly
  • ....?

and now, apropos of nothing (unless they are "wild animals"):

well, it ain't no use

We've been watching Mad Men on DVD, and just finished season one. Its a good show, but with period pieces you wonder if the writers and directors get to cheat a little; there are built in emotional responses from the audience for certain things. In the show, for example, modern viewers (moderately informed modern viewers) will be aware of the outcome of the Kennedy-Nixon election, just as we know about the success of the Kodak slide projector carousel (my parents had slideshows...did yours?) - this irony is not as easily accessible for contemporary shows.

Another crutch built into shows set in the past is the relevance of cherry-picked music...with the advantage of hindsight, the soundtrack for a show like Mad Men can feature only high quality songs, and the can all be perfect (the "Forrest Gump" effect?).

The song that closed the season one finale was Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright".

Of course, shows don't have to be set in the past to leverage tried-and-true music to shortcut the way to an emotional response.  I remember trying out a show on Netflix Instant, "the Riches", a show about a "gypsy" family in contemporary America, trying to get by...and wouldn't you know the song that rolled at the credits for the premier episode was another one by Bob Dylan, in this case "Shelter From the Storm".

And now that I'm thinking about it, it seems like Duchovny's "Californication" used some Dylan to strong effect as well (that show's soundtrack also introduced me to this amazing cover of ELO's "Do Ya")


Well it ain't no use sittin' and wonderin' why, babe - Bob Dylan

be your own doctor?

this post is shot from the hip...i'm basically making it up as a i go along, but there can be value in that (for me, anyway; for you guys? we'll see)

When we go to the doctor for a check-up (a so-called "well" visit) and when we go to complain of some ailment, generally the first care we get is from a nurse or CNA who weighs us, takes our temp, measures our blood pressure.  When the doc comes in, she may ask a few questions but will generally also be looking at a couple of things: color of the "whites" of our eyes, color and condition of our throats, maybe a quick peak in our ears.

I'm no doctor; I have no medical training beyond lifeguard CPR.  But I am educated, and inquisitive, and have access to the internet, and I'm just skeptical enough of the medical technocracy to think a little about self-diagnosis and treatment.

quick hit: hints, tips, and explanations

I use Blogger to host my blog because I'm a Google junkie and it's easy to use and free.

Most of the images that I use that do not belong to me were found using Google's image search with the additional qualifier that the image is "labeled for reuse".

I link a lot to Wikipedia for definitions and such because Wikipedia is awesome in a human way: it's dynamic, and flawed; it learns and grows...it's like a very learned uncle who always answers his phone.

Likewise, I link to a lot of product descriptions on Amazon; this company is, in many ways, starting to look like a public resource, like a national park or the Smithsonian.  Amazon is out to make a profit (and good for them) but if you linger there for a while, and peak a little below the surface, you'll find community message boards where people swap wisdom; you'll find serendipitous poetry in product reviews; and for almost ANY product you will find a description page and a handful of reviews, even if Amazon doesn't offer that product for sale from their own inventory.

Friday, December 10, 2010

uh-oh, Anthropology no longer a "science"

I'm a big fan of critical thinking and the scientific method, even if I don't always believe that the method produces future robust conclusions; I'm a little bummed by this article in the Times today, even though it did feature a great quote:

 “Even if the board goes back to the old wording, the cat’s out
of the bag and is running around clawing up the furniture,” he said.

And so now I'm wondering if I need to tweak my labels on my posts...I've been using "anthropology" pretty often, but now I might need to qualify it, since most of my anthro-posts are anecdotal and navel gazing, not truly scientific.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

on price transparency in health care

Are you concerned with the cost of "health care"?  I think everyone in the States is concerned, but there appear to be a few critical disconnects and troubling social phenomena around the topic.

A few thoughts, in no order:
  1. health insurance =/= health care.
  2. a lot of people know what they pay for insurance, but a lot of people have no idea what they pay for health services
  3. "people" hate the idea of "socialized" medicine, except (apparently)
    1. when they qualify for medicare
    2. when they are on a group plan through work
    3. when they live in the States
  4. there exists a deeply entrenched, "selfish actor" hypocrisy in the rhetoric around health care

The next time you go to the doctor or the pharmacy, ask them for a price list for their services/products; take note of their reaction.

If you want to take it to the next level, ask if there are different price lists for different payers (insured, medicare, cash, etc) and ask what they expect to actually get in final payment from those various payers.

It's my opinion that there exist some rational and fairly straightforward "fixes" to the health care cost explosion, but that most people don't actually want to change the system.

and I ran

3.18 miles in a little under 30 minutes and in 30 degree weather...and it felt great.

This should be an unqualified positive, but when you are neurotic like I am, you end up asking some annoying questions:


  • IF I enjoy it and it's good for me, why do i go long periods without running?
  • what changed in me from when I was NOT A RUNNER to when I suddenly was?
  • why are people resistant to the idea of running barefoot or minimalist?
  • how does conventional wisdom become conventional?
  • how does common sense become common?
  • once wisdom is conventional or sense is common, is it possible to lose that status?
(The last three are not necessarily related to running)

The Wife* asked me last night to confirm our decision to circumcise our new baby boy (he's still not here, for those of you keeping track) and I said "Well, we should, um..." and my brain ran into the wall.

See, we had already made this decision, complete with hand wringing and deep thinking, and in the end it more or less came down to "he's going to look like Daddy"  (TMI?).  We both like to think that we are open minded, culturally aware, progressive, and appropriately sensitive, and both of us (one of us more than the other, but still) are resistant to doing things just because "that's what's done".


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Boy, do I ever need to go for a run!

I miss it.  It's cold outside.  And my neighborhood is only ~ 2 miles around.

But I miss it.  So maybe I'll bundle up and get out there today.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

ad hominem

I've been thinking about this post for a while, and have sort of written it a few times over in my head...the concept here is not a cognitive bias in the same sense as the others discussed before, but for me the idea of ad hominem arguments fall under the same broad category of "things people do without thinking them through".

In brief, an ad hominem argument doesn't argue for or against an idea but for or against a given proponent of an idea.  So, for example, you want to argue against the Bush administration's tax cuts and do so by claiming that Bush is self-interested because his family is wealthy.  Or you argue against the Obama admin's plan for health care reform by pointing out that Obama's father is Kenyan (one thing about ad hominem attacks is that they don't necessarily have to make sense to be effective.)

This tactic in arguing a point must be innate; it seems like kids just learning to play together resort to this sort of thing in the sandbox.  And there is a sort of human logic to the ad hominem...say if there is something obvious that we don't like about somebody, it's easy to point that flaw out rather than consider the merits of their argument:

The news in the last few weeks has been replete with stories about Julian Assange and Wikileaks...one of the themes that has developed over the last week has been about calls for Assange's arrest (and more troubling, calls for his assassination (which is a more literal sort of ad hominem attack than I mean to address here).  Some of the rhetoric around whether he ought to be arrested or not, or the general legality of what he is doing has devolved into attacks on his character (as of this writing, Mr. Assange has been arrested in London on charges of rape...a charge completely unrelated to his part in airing sensitive and secret political communications.

This blog will not be the first to question the timing of the rape charges and subsequent arrest (I do wish to clarify that I have no opinion on the legitimacy of the rape charges - if he's guilty of that crime he needs to be held to account) but I do wish to make the point that that quality of Assange's moral character or his alignment with the law is not relevant in the discussion of whether or not people have the right to know the intent and content of their government's actions.

So, for the sake of argument, let's assume that attacks on Julian Assange's character are classic ad hominem tactics, and are meant to distract from the core ideas in the debate.  Who is served by that?  If there are legitimate and rationale reasons to oppose the "leaks", let us focus on those in the debate.

The contra is also true; if Assange was the Mother Theresa of this early millenium, the positive attributes of his character ought not factor in the consideration of Wikileaks.

Maybe all the thinking on this concept wasn't quite enough to bang out a coherent post...but in the rough-draft-is-final-draft typing tonight it has occurred to be that the reflex to use the ad hominem is a bias - it is a reflection of one's basic bias against another, and allowing that bias to preclude a fair and honest hearing on the merits of an idea.

everything is relative. everything is related.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

cooking for kids

I fancy myself a cook, and I've made some pretty cool stuff in the last few years, but the challenge ahead is going to call for a different set of skills in the kitchen.  Fortunately, I think I have stumbled onto some wisdom that will help out:

Kids eat like college aged boys.

Minus the booze, it seems that kids like all the same stuff that my buddies and I lived on in college.  Chicken fingers?  check.  Pizza?  check.  Frozen stuff?  check.  Mac and Cheese?  double check.

I'm not suggesting that I'm going to feed my child as though he's a freshman at the U, but I am saying that at least in a pinch I'm going to have some options to fall back on.  So here, in this space, I hope to catalog a few ideas for kiddie cooking, and then hopefully get back to thinking about, creating, and eating some grown-up nosh as well.

So, my first recommendation is for a piece of equipment that will serve you well, and a couple of things it is great for:

Friday, December 3, 2010

your kids are wise prisoners?

Over at Marginal Revolution, Alex posts about trying to teach his kids some principles of economics and game theory, where he ends up learning some stuff too.

It's good stuff for me to read, especially since I don't know yet if I'll come in as a parent in the sub-, hyper-, or just plain "competent" category.

Isn't it wonderful and scary to think about how different parenting is in the age of the 'net?  We were at some friends' house recently, to visit their newborn; they recounted how the baby had made an off colored poop and 30 seconds and one google search later, they had evidence from hundreds of posts that this sort of poop is common at their baby's age!  No calls to the doctor, no worried hours wondering what the next delivery might look like, and what it all may portend...there are definitely downsides to having all this information at hand, but there are upsides as well!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

extending the theory into the FOURTH DIMENSION!!!

I wish there was a font to convey that wavery science fictioney voice...

The latest evolution of the GUT (for me at least) is that it applies not only to distinct items at a given point in time, but also to a given item at two different points in time.

So to recap and say the same thing in a different way:  no two things are the same.  Also, no one thing is the same at any other time.

This revelation came to me while showering yesterday and thinking about the comments from Mr. Anonymous on the "narrative" post...he's not actually anonymous to me and from past conversations/debates I was trying to infer where the discussion of narrative bias might go with him from here.  It led me back to my central premise that No Two Things Are the Same and also non-starter problems in debate I discussed here before.

His comment on the narrative post he stated "truth is truth", which points to a particularly contentious debate among those who like to talk philosophy; whether or not there is an objective "truth" has been debated to death among we quasi-intellectual coffee house navel gazers.

But back to my shower (and how it connects back to this desultory post): I was wondering how two separate people (who cannot be the "same" given NTTATS) could ever come to an agreement on the question of objective reality (or truth), and then - BAM - it hit me that even in a given person's experience it is possible to hold two conflicting opinions on a given subject.

The best example of this that comes to my mind is the difference between a teenage person's perception and the "adult" perceptions of the same person 10 or 20 years later.  It may appear to a 14 year old boy that the objective truth is that the girl in his social studies class is the girl for him for all time.

Or, say you are at a party in March 2006...the well dressed young man drinking Maker's Mark over ice suggests that you consider getting out of the rental racket and buy some property.  "You see," he explains, "when you rent you are just throwing your money away every month...if you bought a condo, instead, you would be investing.  Buying real estate is the biggest no-brainer investment out there" he might add, or something similar.  So you give it some thought, do some research, and find that EVERYONE else in your circle of friends and coworkers has been making serious jack in the condo market.

superfluous paragraph break for aesthetic purposes


So you do some more research and find that real estate prices have been rising steadily for quite some time, and that, on top of that promising trend, the government and the major banks are working together to push borrowing rates for people just like you to ALL TIME LOWS.  So you bite the bullet and buy a condo [let me, the blog author for this here post, interject that I'm not suggesting that this action was either rational or irrational...I'm just trying to create a scenario to make another point].  Given all of the evidence at hand you felt confident that buying a condo was the right thing to do.

Two years later you feel that buying a condo was the wrong thing to do, when "price corrections" lowered the value of your condo significantly below the associated debt load to buy the condo, which further reduced  your ability to source credit to make other investments, hindered your mobility, and raised your leverage ratio.  Let's examine this made up scenario (this example is obviously not drawn from any real world examples, right?) for just a minute...none of the original premises turned out to be exactly false

  • real estate prices were rising steadily
  • interest rates were at all time lows
  • renting truly did not provide an opportunity to build equity in real estate, while
  • buying a condo actually did provide the opportunity to build equity (even if the certainty of that eventuality was mis-measured)
And yet, under this scenario, there existed a point in time where a given person in possession of a bunch of basically true "facts" came to a conclusion about the nature of a given reality, only to come to the opposite conclusion when presented with another set of "facts".

It's possible this is a flawed example, stilted by the blogger's bias.

Let's try another one:

(it's hard...I'm pretty cynical about objective reality, so I'm struggling to come up with reasonable examples)

I was surprised at some point in my education to find that weights and measures are basically defined by agreement...I mean, I didn't think that there was something in nature that everyone could look at and say "that's a foot - it's exactly 12 inches long."  But I also didn't expect that there was a place you could go to check your ruler against a "standard"...but that's the case.  As it is the case that you can go see the reference kilogram.

It made sense to me after I read it, but was one of those things that I was unprepared to learn.  But it's relevant here: the only way we can collectively make use of something useful like the concept of a given weight is by consensus...there is no objective, Platonic "kilogram" out there in space, only a chunk of material we have agreed to call a kilogram.

And - to tie it all back in to this idea of non-sameness along the timeline - the reference kilogram is not the same weight from moment to moment.  (Admittedly small) variations in pressure, temperature, composition of the air in the room, intensity of the lights (this is getting goofy) will affect measured weight.

Trash Day!

video
I love this.  Every time.  Maybe next time I'll try to film in "landscape" or figure out how to rotate the video...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Not now, but soon, the baby will be here

and I'm excited / anxious / curious / nervous.

Just so you know.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

tell me a story

Thinking more about cognitive bias today and how our brains run in some directions time and again.  Earlier, I touched on the survivor bias and on confirmation bias; today I want to talk about the way people's minds seem to like a good story.  Taleb calls it the "narrative fallacy".  Terry Pratchett makes use of a similar idea in his Discworld novels.  The basic idea here is that people* like for sequences of events to "fit", to "make sense", and to conform to a clean line of causality.  When trying to explain how something happened, we look back at the available data and essentially pick those bits that fit into a story.  Taleb mainly focuses on our attempts to apply a causal trail to explain unexpected "Black Swan"-style events, but it applies more generally as well.  I'm going to suggest that this bias has it's root in humanity's basic need for cosmology.

For example, say you are tasked with writing an essay explaining the causes of the US Civil War (or WW2, or the migration of the Irish in the early 1900s, or anything else).  If you are starting with zero preconceptions about the answer, you might read some other people's explanations (this can lead to clustering, a phenomenon I'll address in a later post), but at some point you will look at the mountain of data available and start picking some. In the Civil War example, it's likely that slavery, economics, taxes, and regional differences in the evolution of industrial capacity will come to play a role in your explanation.  The effect of the bias towards a narrative will influence your essay to come to conclusions that fit together nicely; the run is that reality as experienced in forward progressing real-time rarely follows a clean narrative.  "Some people kept slaves; other people felt that slavery was incompatible with a basic view of human rights; the two parties fought over the issue."  All of the steps in the preceding are true enough in their own right, and in some sort of macro view of one part of the bundle of issues present in the years preceding the US Civil War these data points create a compelling narrative.  The problem is that the story may be the one true explanation of the cause of the Civil War; it may be a true piece of the portfolio of causes; or it may not have figured in the actual sequence of events in any straightforward way at all.  Life, lived in real time and in forward progression, is often more nuanced (and conversely, sometimes much less nuanced!) and more "random" than any narrative we are able to construct afterwards.

Back to Pratchett - several of his books refer to the tendency for people to respond strongly to known stories.  For example, in the book Witches Abroad, the protagonists are fighting against the power of fairy tale stories that are sweeping events along per the fairy tale pattern (princess meets prince, events conspire against their joyful union, prince and princess overcome obstacles and live happily ever after).  The "story" resonates with people and overrides their ability to be critical or skeptical; "everyone knows" that the witch in the story is an evil hag from the woods and will be overcome; "everyone knows" that kissing the frog results in the princess having a handsome prince on hand to marry.

The power of the story and our desire for an apparent narrative also plays into creation of conspiracy theorists.  For some people, when looking back at the events of September 11, 2001, it just seemed to "make sense" that the US government had to have prior knowledge, that our president and Congress must have played some role.  Adding the government's involvement to the events around 9/11 helps to "make sense" of it all, for some people, by filling in some gaps in "the story."

As with other instances of innate bias in our thinking, half the battle is just being aware of the existence of the bias.  Conclusions derived under the influence of a bias are not necessarily wrong or flawed, but have to be evaluated with consideration given to that influence.


____________________________________________________________________________________
*I always hesitate when writing something general like this, expecting that some in the audience will challenge me to explain who "people" are (or "they" or "most of us", etc).  I hope in the space of this blog to keep generalities to a minimum and to only use them when it seems safe to do so.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The essence of the theory is essentially theoretical

So getting back to this post from earlier in November...

The premise that lays the foundation for my grand unifying theory is that: No Two Things Are The Same.

I'm working on a catchier set of words that capture the basic idea (you know, for the book title!) but NTTATS more or less communicates the idea.

(used with permission)
People say snowflakes are unique...I'm suggesting that everything is unique.

I also suspect that this idea will resonate with some people as common sense and will strike others as silly.  Isn't that how it's supposed to go with philosophy?

Consider these examples:

Friday, November 26, 2010

pregnancy is a gas

something they don't tell you to expect - when a woman is pregnant and...taut?...laughing apparently hurts. unfortunately, farts are funny to all people, pregnant or not.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

the domain of the competent

a few days ago I referenced the Ribbon Farm blog post about workplace actors and these basic categories: sociopaths, losers, and clueless. A very brief as I understand the categories(read the Ribbon Farm for full explication) :
  • the sociopaths typically embody a drive and vision to succeed, and will manipulate others in order to achieve a set of goals
  • losers exhibit little workplace ambition beyond "keeping their head down" and retaining employment with the least amount of effort
  • the clueless are the "team players" who believe in the mission and goodwill of the company and see these things as ends in themselves; perpetual "middle managers" tend to be among the clueless.
There are many things about this framework that I appreciate and can recognize from my exposure to the professional world, but I found it difficult to derive practical applications should one wish to construct or evolve a better functioning office.  With that in mind, I've been formulating my own take on the types of workplace actors and the dynamics among them.

a tale of customer service

After much research on safety and aesthetics (and a worthwhile detour into exploring a possible custom built option), the wife chose a crib from Land of Nod for our coming bundle of baby-boy joy.

So it got here yesterday, delivered by a private courier since we are now out of reach for Land Of Nod's "local" delivery.
The crib is made by El Greco (I personally think this will bias our boy towards a taste for ouzo as an adult).  The build seems very nice, and the assembly was pretty straightforward.  The fit and finish where the pieces join are clean and the tolerances are pretty tight.  Of course, all of this factored in to the original suggestion of safety (the wife did her homework!), but it was nice to see it come together as expected.
But then...there were no bolts in the kit to attach the bed spring frame to the crib itself.  And this is where the story could have turned very sour...but it didn't!  A call to LoN's customer service number was answered by a PERSON!  One option selected got us a PERSON!  (press one for orders, two for customer service..."hello, thanks for calling Land of Nod").  The rep immediately recognized the issue, noted that the standard policy is to send out an entirely new crib, but that didn't make sense to her...so they would just expedite us the needed bolts.  Now, none of the above should seem strange or out of the ordinary, but if you have ever had to call customer service anywhere about anything then the odds are high that you had an experience that defied all common sense, any measure of logic, and probably left you feeling "serviced" in an entirely unpleasurable way.
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All of this to say that both Land of Nod (a Crate and Barrel company) and El Greco (who we also called on to inquire about crib parts) showed an exceptional level of positive customer service, at least per my current standards.

And now I guess I have to say that we are in no way compensated directly by the retailer or manufacturer for this post.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Knights in White Satin

This is how I heard the Moody Blues song when I was a kid - a kid obsessed with all things "medieval" and spent my nights in Star Wars print cotton, reading about knights and dragons and fair ladies waiting to be courted.

It's pretty much a non-sequitur for you guys, but a friend asked me to write about "moods and productivity".  I guess the inspiration for the request comes from the fact that he (and I!) can both be moody bastards and tend to bounce from periods of excited insight and desire to produce to somewhat more subdued periods when we are convinced that our labors are for naught and our ideas are unworthy.


In my experience, the environment strongly affects my productivity.  The scene above was the site of a frenetic writing spell I went through over a course of 2 days when I hand wrote a couple of chapters of a lovely story in the tradition of Carl Hiassen or Christopher Moore...the relative ability to not think about anything more pressing than when I was going to get my next Balashi somehow freed me up to think about interesting characters involved in a whacky plot.  Of course, I didn't finish that novel, which may be fodder for a future blog post dealing with unfinished projects...

But back to moodiness and productivity!  I also have anecdotal evidence to offer that a nice walk (alone or in company) or a long run often sets my mind onto tracks of Ideas, and Plans, and Lists of Things to Do.  But a funny thing about (my) human nature is that tiny little setbacks to the implementation of the Ideas/Plans/LoTtD can absolutely blow me up.  Why is it, in that moment of setback (just prior to the blowing up) is it so hard to remember that original inspiration, that feeling of possibility that infused the moment of inspiration...and why is it so hard to remember to go for a walk when you're feeling down?

I have a heuristic I apply to my friends that seem stymied or "down" but that I often fail to apply to myself.  I ask:

Have you had enough water today?
Have you done any stretching /yoga?
When did you last eat and/or have a poop?
Have you tried going for a walk?

It's amazing how often this works and I don't have to resort to next level heuristics (which involve standing on a chair, lying in the floor, and possible doing a handstand.

Monday, November 22, 2010

If it keeps on rainin', levee's gonna break

I had the opportunity to air out the 5F this weekend for a 5 mile run along the South Chickamauga Creek Greenway, which lies along the top of the levee:


View Larger Map

The trail is paved, with narrow strips of gravel to either side and flat expanses of grass beyond those, so a runner has a choice of surface.  This was my first 5 mile run in a few weeks, and it felt pretty nice.

I passed a few solitary fellow travelers, including two separate folks who apparently found the top of the levee the best place to have extended cell phone conversations and a Jane Goodall looking lady with a camera snapping pics of the marshy areas to the west.

It was a beautiful day and a nice run, and the best part is that after running among the green and the glimpses of water, you are greeted by a Fed Ex depot at one end and a super WalMart at the other!

hello darkness my old friend

Kottke brings to our attention a recent BBC aired performance of John Cage's 4'33"

The reviews on this Amazon.com listing for an $18 import version of the song are a fine example of internet-awesome.

Tuscany

I've been told I need to add some visual interest to my fledgling blog. We'll just see about that!


This is a shot I snapped in Tuscany a year or so ago. Go ahead and marvel over the composition, balance, and texture with my blessings.
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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Words Words Words

Intellectual honesty is rare, and is difficult both to achieve and to maintain.  Or so I was told by somebody who had been there and gotten the T-Shirt.

If you care about ideas, and want to share ideas with others and learn about new things from others, you will invariably come on a situation where word choice, and word meanings become crucial.  I've often wished that any discussion that is flirting with transitioning into an argument or debate could have a break to Establish Premise, Define Terms, and Agree to Rules of Procedure.  Of course, this is where most debates of anything contentious would go off the rails.

Defining Terms is a thoroughly scary proposition in itself for anyone on the hunt for intellectual honesty and discovery.  Pick a contentious debate:  abortion?  existence of god?  Republican or Democrat?

If you don't take the time to agree on a basic set of terms, the debate quickly becomes meaningless; for two or more intellectual curious people, the debate on setting the terms can be more contentious than the subject of the "main" debate...

Here's an example, and whether you find this annoying or interesting is probably a good indication as to whether you are reading the right blog or not:

Are natural foods (or a natural diet) better for you?  Discuss and Debate.
So if I'm party to this debate, this is how I imagine this goes (we'll use a hypothetical fellow debater named John):
me -  what do you mean by "natural"?

John - oh, you know, not man made or synthetic

me - so, like, "corn" for example?

John - exactly!  corn is natural; corn chips are not

me - uh oh...i meant corn as an example of something man made, since what corn eat now is arguably                                                                 the first genetically modified crop in the history of man...it wouldn't exist if man had not interfered with the "natural" precursors blah blah blah

John -  you are a pretentious wannabe-Socratic ass!

But, still, I maintain that one of the shortcomings of our language (and therefore our language based human brain operating system) is the lack of precision in words.  And precisely because of that failing of language, intellectual dishonesty is easier to cultivate; when called out or held to account for something we have said, one of the easiest defenses is to claim "that's not what I meant when I said "_____"".


POLONIUS:  ...What do you read, my lord?
HAMLET:  Words, words, words.

performance review

Have you read the Ribbon Farm blog, in particular the explication of the categories of actors in the workplace, using the sitcom "The Office" as a reference?  Check it out, and get comfortable with the specialized meanings of "sociopaths, losers, and the clueless".  It's really very interesting stuff, whether you buy in wholesale or not.

I was reminded of this blog post (really a series of posts if you dig in) when considering my annual performance review.  On the off chance my reviewer reads my blog (hi there!) let me here carefully and sincerely qualify that I don't consider him a sociopath, loser, or clueless in any pejorative sense (believe me, there are non-pejorative ways to be called a loser - read the other blog!)

Allowing for the possibility that other, non-American, cultures may differ from us in this regard, I suspect that one of the least comfortable experiences of the modern office place is the performance review.  I'm going out on a generalizing limb, but people do not enjoy being judged.  And for all but the most boneheaded and/or ego-maniacal folks, being the judge is tough too.

I have strong memories of the first few reviews I had in my first real "professional" job, and how I felt like a jumble of anxious, emotional, volatile, and contradictory reactions were all jostling for the opportunity to be expressed.  Going into the review knowing that I had checked off all the boxes, had acquitted myself well against any reasonable set of expectations, etc did nothing to quell that feeling that I was somehow going to be called out...and the managerial masochism that informs how a review must go always snuck up on me and pulled the carpet from under my feet.

If you've been there, on either side of the desk, you know what I mean.  If the scale is 1 - 5 or 1 - 10, or A - F the rule is the same:  managers can't give out 5/5 scores (or can't give out many).  The rationale goes something like this:  Nobody's perfect, and if an employee gets too many ratings of "strongly exceeds expectations" then one of two things will happen, and both of them are bad.  1. the employee doesn't think there's room for improvement; or 2. the employee will ask for a raise


The trap for most managers is that there is no room for secret choice number 3: some employees really are competent, self-motivated, conscientious, and will not take all 5s as an allowance to coast for a while, but will take it as a challenge to figure out what lies on the other side of a 5.

And this segues to a future post (coming soon to a small screen near you!): my version of the Ribbon Farm study, slightly different in its calibration, and based on a scale of relative competencies.

Barefoot Bible, Chapter 1, verse 1

For my barefoot running buddy, who sometimes needs a little inspiration:


In the beginning was the foot, and it was good.  In fact, there were two
and they were where Runner met the road.


And behold!  the road stretched away from Runner
and down that road lay all the wonder the exploding universe could hold.


Runner looked along the road, looked within himself, and began.
Falling forward in space: light! quick! smooth! the feet fell in rhythm


Runner flowed forward, like the water over the riverbed stone;
the road did not push back, but carried Runner forward.


And so, Runner loved the road, and the road loved Runner,
each step a caress, and the wonders of the distance drew near.





(see, poetry doesn't have to be embarrassing! or kooky!  OK OK, I promise no more poetry.  Until my son is born...and then there may some lyrical gushing that would make Creed look like Bob Dylan.)

Friday, November 19, 2010

tell me I'm right

Another quick hit on the cognitive bias topic; let's talk "confirmation bias", because it's everywhere.

But first, this deck of slides was an early (and robust!) source of inspiration and education for me about cognitive biases.  Be warned, it is a wide and deep resource, and can be a major timesuck for the curious.

So, "confirmation bias".  The wife says that its like the opposite of "buyer's remorse" (if you are unfamiliar with buyer's remorse, go find a few of your friends that spent $500+ on an iPad and ask them how they feel about it now).

The thumbnail is that people commonly seek out "confirmation" of a thesis they hold.  The thesis could be that buying something was a good idea (and so the opposite of buyer's remorse, per my wife), or the thesis could be an idea: "Coldplay is the bestest band EVER".  The way this proceeds, for example:


  1. person hears "Yellow", a single from Coldplay's first album Parachutes
  2. person is overwhelmed by the awesomeness of a ringing D chord
  3. person calls their buddy: "have you heard "Yellow"?  It's awesome, you have to hear it"
  4. if the buddy agrees, everyone relaxes in a warm glow of "Yellow" together
  5. if the buddy doesn't agree, person likely calls a second buddy: "hey, have you heard..."
Confirmation bias afflicts people in every profession and in so many different kinds of situations that once you become aware of the risk of this bias, you will start to see it everywhere.  You may even try to get other people to confirm the presence of this bias...  =)

Don't try to fit the data to the thesis.  If you care about the data, let it say what it says.

Defense wins championships - I know it!  And I can prove it:
just look at the '85 Bears, or the Steelers in the 70s!
What?  The '99 Rams?  The '06 Colts?  Um...exceptions that prove the rule?

the way your thinker leans

I've become increasingly interested in the way that people think.  One of my friends back in college, RD, wrote a capstone paper on the epistemology of thought and it freaked me out.  Since then, I've occasionally sought out, and occasionally been sneaked up on by, reminders that the way people think and the reasons they think that way is complicated and interesting and freaky.

So I hope to explore, over time and in this space, several different kinds of "cognitive bias"; for me talking through things, trying to explain them in plain language, or just describing them again and again but with different words is helpful in my own understanding.

So let's start with "survivor bias".  The basic idea here is that when studying something, anything, you have to pick a data set to work with; choosing your data set from too slim a portion can strongly bias the outcome of the study.

Real world example?  Say a high school is concerned with their success with the AP History test; they want more students to score 4s and 5s (is that still the scale?  sorry of this example is dated!) in order to get the college credits for the class and raise the high school's status relative to its peer group.  So they start a study: when the scores come in for a given year's test, the find that there were 10 students (out of a group of 40 taking the test) that scored a 4 or better - pretty decent results!  So they complete an in-depth of these 10 kids, learning about their diets, study habits, elementary school grades, the marital status of their parents...  Ultimately the school comes up with a lot of data, but they want to be careful before coming to conclusions, so they decide to do the same study the next year, and so get a second set of data from the high scorers (this time, 12 of 39 students scored 4 or better!).  So let's say the school continues this pattern until they have a pretty large sample of students to study, maybe 100+ over 8 or so years.

With all this data in hand, the school runs the numbers and comes up with some insights on "what kinds of students" score 4s and 5s.  What's the problem with the study at this point?  What if the qualities observed in the "winner" group are also present in a significant number of the "losers" as well?  The data set was too narrow and biased to the "survivors" of the process being studied.

Much shorter example: say you want to discover the average time it takes a male aged 22-26 to finish the NY Marathon in 2010.  The race organizers provide you with raw data of finish times and start times for all the guys of that age range.  Simple, right?  But what about those guys that start but never finish?  Pulled hamstring, stopped to chat up a cutie at the water station, decided that running is for cheetahs...whatever the reason, some guys just don't finish the race.  If the data of all starters of the appropriate age range are not considered, there is a "survivor bias" in the results of the study.

At this point, I feel it's important to point out that a study can intend to study only survivor's; so long as the study presents the findings as biased towards the survivors, there's nothing inherently wrong with studying a subset of the available data.  But a persistent problem with statistics and sound bite "findings" of studies is that people tend to misunderstand and/or abuse the findings.

Through careful analysis it has been found that 100% of the survivor's of the Titanic's sinking had urinated at least once during the 24 hours preceding the iceberg incident...if only those poor drowning bastards had thought to go pee!

runners

my 5F, version 1.1
These are the shoes I bought in ~ July 2009.  Just a couple of months ago I took some kitchen shears to the shoes (the wife had bought me a new pair for my birthday, so I had a safety net!).  I've put a few hundred miles on these shoes, and they are hanging in there fine.  Removing the cinch cord and notching the uppers there at my achilles has made them more comfortable, for me.  Your mileage may vary.

Check them out on the manufacturer's website, or at Amazon.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

These Two Things Are Not The Same

It's egomaniacal , bombastic, and most likely misguided, but I think I'm on the trail of an actual Grand Unifying Theory.  If I get much closer, it may turn into a book.  In fact, I think I'll write a book anyway, exploring the relationships between knowledge, risk, wisdom, common sense, experience, randomness...and I'm sure that 3 or 4 people will actually read (most) of it and enjoy it!

And if it turns out to all be bunk, I'm sure we will all be better off for finding out yet another thing that does not work as a Grand Unifying Theory!

CFA Level 2

I'm a candidate for level 2, scheduled to take the test in June 2011.  It's been so long since I passed the level 1 exam that I would have to think on it for a while to recall exactly when that was.  I intend to chart some of my progress through the studying process; as of now I'm limiting my study material to the official readings provided by the CFA Institute: 6 workbooks covering the various topics that inform the exam questions.

My blog is in no way related to the CFA Institute beyond the fact that I am a candidate to sit for the level 2 exam.

Run Like A [insert awesome reference of your own choosing]

I'm no athlete.  I wish I could say that I make up for that with other socially valuable qualities, but I'm not always sure about those either.

Don't get me wrong - I can throw a football in a tight spiral, I can hit a decent free throw percentage, and I started water skiing when I was barely old enough to walk - but I was never one of those kids that people wanted on their ball team.  One of my chief struggles was with a skill so central to sport that a relative lack of ability is a huge obstacle to enjoying sport; in a nutshell, I couldn't run.

In high school there was this program or challenge to get the Presidential Physical Fitness award, and to qualify you had to hit so many targets: some number of pull-ups, a jump rope challenge, etc.  One of the targets was to run a mile, maybe in 9 minutes?  What I remember for sure was that I completely flubbed the mile, and it was the only category that was keeping me from the award...I ultimately ran for it again and just barely made the mark.  I wasn't overweight, I was a reasonably active kid, but something just did not work for me in the running department.

Fast forward 15 or so years, and I was still no runner.  The wife and I would bike for miles, I could swim a half mile in the pool, but when I laced up the sneakers and went for a run it always felt TERRIBLE.  I don't recall why, in this context, I thought reading a book about running would be interesting, but I bought a copy of McDougall's Born to Run and absolutely fell for it.

Read it for yourself, if you like, but the thumbnail summary from me to you: people evolved to run, and to run with the equipment god gave us.  I started over, learning to run in a "minimalist"s style and I haven't looked back.

The first weeks of my adult running life I got up to a couple of miles without a walk break; a year later I ran an unofficial half marathon along Chicago's lake front.  Running is now my primary form of weight control and physical conditioning.

At this point in my life I have decided to leave evangelism behind, so I won't be knocking on anyone's door to spread the love of barefoot running, but if you want to chat about it and ask some questions, feel free to comment on this post.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Daddy Prep

The first child is going to be here in January, and I'm supposed to be prepared, or at least preparing...

The wife and I took a class at the birthing center of our choice this week, and in brief I would like to say that the state of modern maternity medicine in the United States leaves much to be desired.

I will likely be posting more about the experience of being pregnant (well, the daddy's experience) as well as the challenging choices facing parents in the birth plan process.

This is the blog you were looking for

you were here before, and you liked it, and then there was a long, long break.  But brace yourself - we're back together and things are about to get very interesting.  Or so I've convinced myself.