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A few thoughts on caffeine and skepticism

March 26, 2014

Fellow tweeter Grant Fritchey favored us with a link to a NY Post article: Society’s favorite drug affects us more than we think, which makes several points: that caffeine is the only drug we’re proud to be addicted to, for one. And that it has more effect on us than we think.

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect. – Mark Twain

I spend maybe more than my fair share of time thinking about the assumptions we take for granted (and really, aren’t all assumptions taken for granted? Otherwise they’d be conclusions).  Assumptions about gender differences, about what’s safe and what’s healthy, assumptions about relationships.  My major conclusion is that common consensus needs to be heavily tempered with observation, and vice versa.  Also a good dollop of skepticism.

The big example that leaps to mind is cancer. THESE things cause cancer, THESE things could, and THESE things are safe, right? Guys, tons of things cause cancer. I find it best to avoid and/or reduce the things known to cause cancer, and wait and see for everything else.  I don’t think I’m going to get brain cancer from my cel phone, but I also don’t spend a lot of time with it strapped to my head.  On the flip side, whenever I hear that a technology (or a drug, new food additive, or whatever) is safe, I think about radium dial watches (see Wikipedia) and shoe store X-ray machines (see Wikipedia, Gizmodo). So sure, backscatter x-ray machines may well be safe, but I’ll take the traditional bullshit pat-down for me and my kids EVERY SINGLE TIME I fly. If it’s still safe in 30 years, then maybe I’ll concede.

But back to caffeine…

In my case, I found that caffeine – especially coupled when I’m not sleeping enough – make my anxiety level spike, even first thing in the morning. So I’ve switched entirely to decaf, and almost entirely to caffeine free soda. It’s made a huge difference.  And by the way, that huge effect for me (and women like me) may be in part due to this:

Coffee consumption has fallen in tandem with smoking rates — and with reason. Smokers, because they activate a liver enzyme that digests coffee at double the rate of non-smokers, need to drink twice the amount of coffee to get the same kick.

Women who are on birth control inhibit these same enzymes, which means they need half the amount of coffee to get their high.

(And no, I’m not a smoker.)

So yes, I agree with the article on this: caffeine can have a big impact. And seriously, who knows what kind of long term effect high doses of caffeine could have? We don’t KNOW why some people live a long-ass time on a diet of whiskey and potato chips. We don’t know why others die of heart attacks at 37. Doctors and scientists are smart, and they’ve got good evidence that (A) is better for you and (B) is far worse for you and OH MY GOD WHY ARE YOU EATING IT, but I suspect most of them would agree: moderation and skepticism are part of a balanced diet.

That’s all.

Cosmos…Creationists …Crackers

March 24, 2014

StepTo, previously of Microsoft Xbox banhammer fame, tweeted this today:

He continues:

I’d like to sincerely (and I really do mean sincerely) thank Stepto for his commentary on this, and I’d like to add to it.

Get your own damn show

Get your own damn show. You want airtime? Get an idea, get a proposal, get it approved, get your stupid selves on the air.  You have the right to freedom of speech, not Freedom of Equal Airtime on Network Shows I Disagree With.  Tyson et al went through the trouble of thinking up, making, getting approved, planning and executing their own damn show.

Want to be on a show? Get your own damn show.

Do you see ANYONE ELSE in the (presumptively 6k year old) universe that just gets to waltz onto somebody else’s show / podcast / book / speech just because they disagree? That’s a big NOPE.

So again, get your own damn show. Or just keep on using the outlets currently available to you, like the rest of us.


Running, imprecisely

March 20, 2014

I was just asked, “Last week you ran a mile, now you’re doing four. How could you improve that much in so little time?”  My answer:

I’m tracking everything with Runkeeper, so I have actual numbers here…

  • I was only sorta out of shape this time around – my health overall is, I think, better than 3 years ago.
  • I’ve run or walked 8 days of the last 10 (wow, really?), with a total of 16 miles overall.
  • First few runs were between 1-1.5 miles; one Monday was 2.27 miles.
  • So, jumping to 4.5 miles was a big deal, in that I’m excited about it, but not a huge a leap as one might think.

And as I understand it*, you don’t necessarily have to WORK up to a big milestone, exactly. You have to work toward it, build up health/endurance, but lots of runners will run 2 miles a day during the week (I think), then do 10 on the weekend. I’ve been building up my endurance with these shorter runs, and finding that I’m not hurting or exhausted or way out of breath. So today, I just went for a much longer run, keeping the same (more or less) reasonable pace.

I’m having to (finally) learn the difference between “I can’t do this” (because of injury or exhaustion), and “I don’t feel like it” (because I’m goddamn lazy and any tiny bit of work makes me want to self-congratulate and sit down).

 Most importantly, I don’t have any injuries – no bad back or bad feet or bad knee. So, I was good to go.

I was really surprised, looking back, not at the miles I’ve done, but at the number of days I’ve walked/run in these two week. I’m going to hurt my arm patting myself on the back.


*I’m an amateur runner, people. Talk to someone who knows stuff before you make decisions about your own running, kay?

Films: Joueuse (Queen to Play)

March 16, 2014

Went looking for French films last night on Amazon Prime, and found Joueuse (RottenTomatoes rating 71%), starring Kevin Kline and Sandrine Bonnaire.  The story is mostly about finding passion for something in an otherwise unsatisfying life – in this case, a passion for chess.

Not a great film, but not a bad way to spend an hour and half. And, you know, Kevin Kline speaking French, right?

So there’s my mild recommend.

Best for people who like: French, Kevin, chess, films about inspiration.

Language Learning References

March 14, 2014

Notes for myself, and anyone else interested in learning a language in short order.

A great idea

February 26, 2014

Hey, I’ve got this great idea! If a person wants to do a thing that doesn’t hurt anybody, let’s just let them go about their business!

Weird, trampy tattoo? Piercings? Blue, half shaved hair? It’s no skin off your nose, even if it was a little off of his or hers! Quit being so damn judgy!

That guy dresses up in Civil War garb and acts out major battles? That girl does the same, but with bodice dresses and magic spells? Again, there’s no infringement on your day, not really.

That guy loves another guy? STFU. The worth and quality of their relationship is no more your business than the worth and quality of my hetero marriage.

Nobody’s hurting you with their fashion, their hobbies, or their relationships. Direct all that rage, that vitriol, that bias and willingness to ostracize another human being toward the ones that are hurting: the murderers, oppressors, rapists, abusers, and so on.

Have a nice day. Have it however you like. After all, you’re not hurting anybody, right?


This blog post courtesy of the random dude on the internet, snottily commenting on somebody’s “tramp stamp”.

On Learning: An open letter to my children

February 21, 2014

Hey guys,

I’ve been thinking about learning and education pretty much my whole life. First, I was subject to it. Then I chose to continue it. Now I continue learning – on purpose! - both because it helps my job, and because it interests me.

I figured out early that the downside of organized schooling is that “learning” quickly becomes a swear word to children. Having finally achieved a place in my life where there is far more to learning – more fun and more interest and far more value – I’d like to do what I can to combat the side effects of what we consider normal education.

Not to say that school is worthless, because it certainly isn’t. A great deal of the formal education you pick up at school is very worthwhile, as is the set of life skills that goes along with it: for example, putting up with what seemed to be ridiculous orders, and grunt work, and the society of people you wouldn’t ordinarily choose to hang around.  And of course the organizational and other non-obvious skills that go along with years of taking orders and following instructions and writing things down.

But as I say, a rigorous and long-term curriculum of formalized education can really suck the fun out of learning anything new. I should know, having gone through it myself and also having watched three of my own children go through the same system (to varying stages and ages, at this point).

I learned a few things, I want you to know them too. I want each other very well.

Knowledge is fluid: First, knowledge is not as concrete as one would expect. Authorities are only kind of authorities. Teachers, publishers, authors, and even on-the-ground historians get things wrong. They get things wrong very badly sometimes, and consistently over decades and centuries. While I wouldn’t want you to get in the habit of thinking that everything that everyone says is complete bullshit, it’s a good idea to develop a healthy skepticism for everything you hear, read, and absorb through societal assumptions.  Columbus wasn’t a hero; he was a (rather literally) cutthroat businessman. We know far less about Shakespeare than high school English would have you believe. Women and minorities are badly overlooked in history classes…throughout history in general as a matter of fact. As a result of all this, it’s a good idea to keep that helped us get a sense of skepticism, and to read out from multiple sources. You’re really interested in the topic, look into primary source material. For history that would be journals notebooks and letters, for science I suppose it would be talking to scientists and peers, or reviewing their publications.

Yes of course this sounds like a lot of work. I’m not saying you should spend your life triple checking everything that’s taught to you. But if you have the real understanding that knowledge is not concrete, it will go along way toward curing you of hero worship, ignorance, and mental laziness.

Stuff is way more interesting than it sounds: Second, I have found that school tends to suck the richness and texture out of almost any given topic, most of the time. I doubt that’s on purpose…it’s a result of a number of factors, including but not limited to the resistance of students, the oversight of school boards, the amount of knowledge one has to cram into kids heads for standardized testing, and so forth. Not to mention the expectations of parents, colleges, and future employers.

But the dry topics you’re looking into really aren’t that dry. Science is the study of how reality works, and reality is phenomenally, astoundingly, thrillingly fucked up. Similarly, history is the study of why shit went down. The books I had (through all of school and college) all made it sound like shit went down because it was fated, or something. There were never any real reasons attached to events and dates. “World War I started because this guy was assassinated.” That kind of bland summary sucks all the interest out of a real actual murder.  These days, people make action movies out of that sort of thing. Why does the murder of an Archduke have to be to be so boring? Somebody wanted this guy dead, for reasons of greed, or lust, jealousy, or religious hatred, or I don’t even know what, because they never taught me.

Getting the inside scoop from some other source that doesn’t come from school can make things a lot more interesting. Watch a movie about this stuff. Or a documentary, or a Bill Bryson book. Yes, it sounds like more work. But this is really in the interests of not only making your education more entertaining, but make it stick with you better and actually making it mean something. Education can be useful…who knew?

Maybe you don’t like reading. There’s only so much I can help you with that, but my best advice is to find something to do like, even if it’s Calvin and Hobbes comics, and read that. Reading exercises your brain and expands your vocabulary in ways that will make high school and college especially far easier.

If you don’t like what your classes reading right now, again, your best bet is to get extra material on it. Studying Shakespeare? Watch the modern-day production of Othello (or whatever you’re reading). If nothing else, it would give you  people to picture and a context for what the story is sort of about, while you’re reading the stuff in class and picking apart every little syllable for meaning.

Check out real life: Finally – and this never occurred to me when I was in school - talk to people. If you don’t understand the math, talk to the teacher, a mathy, or find a video on Khan Academy or YouTube. If geography is boring as hell, get on Reddit or Twitter and find somebody from Poland to talk to you about what life is really like there. Hit up the zoo for the animal handlers that take care of the critters are studying biology. When you connect education to real life, it becomes real, and actually interesting.

Basically, school eventually becomes a process of “do this”, followed by “Do I have to?”  I get that, and I get that you don’t want to do more on top of it. I really encourage you to find the stuff that might interest you at all: the movies, the dirt on people centuries dead, that kind of thing.  If you get two pages into a book you picked up and find it dry as hell, put it back down!

The joy of self-education is, you get to pick and choose what you spend your time on.

Love you guys.


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