Sunday, January 19, 2014

What I Learned About Fitness From Watching My Dog

I have an English Bulldog and I enjoy watching him do his dog stuff. After getting more interested in ancestral (aka primal, paleo, etc.) health, I started to watch him for more than enjoyment. I noticed some lessons I can learn from him regarding exercise.

First, bulldogs are solid muscle. They are not naturally fat. A fat bulldog is a sign of an over-indulgent owner, and that's bad for the dog. But I digress. Bulldogs of all types are solid muscle, naturally. But they don't lift weights or do cardio on machines. They just do dog stuff. Oh, by the way, bulldogs do need a fair bit of exercise. The laziness is a myth. No, they aren't crazy runners like labs or border collies, but they do need a couple miles of walkies every day.

Now, if you take a dog to a big field, or you live on an acreage, you can leave them off the leash and observe their instinctual behavior. My dog likes to patrol. He walks the perimeter rather slowly. Every now and then, he sprints like crazy. Way faster than I can. Apparently bulldogs are natural sprinters. Now, given their weight, bulldogs really only need that walking/sprinting to maintain muscle tone. But they also like to play. He's big on tug-of-war and chewing, both of which are great for his neck and jaw muscles. So all of their activity is 'working out' in a way, because it's exercise, but ultimately it's just play.

So the first lesson I learned: make exercise more like play. Second lesson: walk a lot, but slowly. Spring occasionally. The third lesson comes from watching him jump his weighty butt onto a couch. And that is to lift heavy things occasionally. It's all about functional fitness, because he wasn't doing anything to look good. He's already pretty :).

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Unemployment insurance, but for how long?

If you were the parent of an unemployed child (not referring to age here), how many weeks of unemployment benefits would you continue to dole out to your kid before you realized that those cash payments were becoming a disincentive to work?  At what point do you say enough is enough?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Whole Foods Love

A new Whole Foods opened up on my walking route between work and home. I can only say they are going to get a large portion of my paycheck. I was wandering through there today, picked up some nice beef bones for stock (I prefer a good butcher for this, but good butchers are longer than walking distance for me), and a beautiful chuck roast. I also found some Larabars, which are great paleo/primal-friendly snack bars. The main ingredient is chopped dates instead of cereal, so while they have a fair amount of natural sugar, I think they're fine in moderation.

The new find, which I really enjoyed, was an Epic beef bar. It's made from grass-fed beef, with dried cherries and habanero. It was quite delicious and gave me a lot of energy during my trudge (lots of snow overnight) home. Definitely will be stocking up on those bad boys! I love the paleo/primal food movement - it has led to some really excellent developments in all aspects of the food supply chain.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Living off the Grid - An Exercise in Logic

I admit to being attracted to the notion of living off the grid - separated from the utility networks, living off the land (sort of), and being more secluded than typical city dwellers. Personally I like seclusion, so that's the biggest draw for me. But as I've looked into it, I've noticed a few arguments for living off the grid that sound good at first, but after some thinking may not be altogether accurate.

The first argument is that it is more environmentally friendly to live off the grid. If you are not on the power 'net, then of course the power generation goes down by whatever you consumed. But is the reduction in power usage due to one household going to make an appreciable difference? Frankly I doubt it, especially if the power plant is designed to provide power to, say, 50,000 households. In fact, the power plant will not reduce the amount of energy it produces. What will happen is, if the plant makes more than is needed, the power will be sold to other companies that don't produce enough power (I'm looking at you, California). So the marginal change in power usage is very small. But not zero, and the amount of reduction would become quite meaningful if, say, 1,000 households left the greed. I'll come back to that point in a minute.

Now, what about generating your own power off the grid? This is done through a combination of wind and solar power, neither of which generate carbon as part of the energy generation process. However, the rigs to transfer energy from solar panels & windmills to batteries look pretty complex, and those have to be manufactured. So certainly there is some pollution resulting from the manufacturing of these products. Furthermore, such power generating rigs take up more space per household than do commercial power plants.

So I would argue the environmental impact per household is small, but I don't know in which direction it goes. That would take a fair bit of research and would be based on individual households power usage & how it is supplied. I'm just raising the point that it's not a clear-cut reduction. It could go either way on an individual basis.

On a large-scale basis, I think the story changes and it's because of efficiency & space arguments. If thousands of households go off the grid, they are all going to need individual power stations which will take up space. This is very inefficient, and producing all these power rigs may well generate more pollution than the marginal reduction in power generation, although it would be more concentrated rather than spread out over time.

In this post, I simply wanted to raise a concern about the environmental impact of living off the grid. In my next post, I'll be thinking about off-grid living on a large-scale basis especially as it impacts the amount of space required per person. I plan to show, logically, that off-grid living for a large number of people would necessitate a significant reduction in population. That is to say, the only way the world can support 7+ billion people is through technological efficiency, i.e. on-grid living.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Living on 24 Hours per Day

This post is inspired by Arnold Bennett's 1910 book "How to Live on 24 Hours a Day." You can get the book for free online. It's a very short book, taking less than an hour to read. While it's short, it offers a very interesting structure for 'living' as opposed to 'vegetating.' In saying 'living' Bennett means mental development and involvement in the world, with a goal of happiness in one's own life. In this post, I'm going to break down Bennett's program into a simple plan and add in some of my own thoughts on the plan.

Bennett's general program is to take 30 minutes every morning, six days per week, and 90 minutes every other evening, and use that time to read (evening) and reflect (morning). The trick is to make the reading something mentally straining, that requires some exercise of the mental faculty. Bennett discusses several different categories that one might read, but leaves the subject open to the individual pursuing the program of reading & reflection. Bennett acknowledges sequestering 7.5 hours per week involves sacrifice, but also claims it is necessary and worthwhile to live an engaged life.

The steps as I see them (arranged to balance ease & importance).

1) Find 30 minutes in the morning to reflect.

     Reflection means concentrating the mind on a topic and thinking deeply and carefully about the topic. Concentration is quite difficult, and if one is not accustomed to it then it will take time to build this skill. To assist in developing the skill, I would suggest mindfulness meditation (as opposed to mediation for relaxation).

     I understand it may be difficult to find this time. If you work at a day job, morning is often a hectic mess to fly out the door to get to work on time. I suggest trying to rework your morning so that it's calmer. At any rate, public transportation can be an ideal time for reflection. One turns inward, and ignores surroundings, during a period of reflection. Personally I walk to work, so that's not ideal for reflection. But if one takes the train, for example, or a commuter coach, I can think of no better time for reflection.

     If the ride to work is not a good time for reflection, then you have to carve some time out of your morning routine. This might involve getting up 30 minutes earlier than is currently the case, or sacrificing something you are doing in the morning. This is important, because without the period of reflection, you will gain little benefit from the all the reading you will do, and your mind will not grow. The result? You'll be stuck right where you find yourself, without moving closer to a happy, fulfilled life.

2) Find 90 minutes every other night to read.

     Bennett recommends sequestering more than 90 minutes, because if one will read something difficult for a total of 90 minutes, one has to allow for potential distractions. As mentioned earlier, one should chose something that stretches the mind, but it should also be an area of one's interest. Being a specialist in an area is a source of great joy.

     When just starting on the program, one shouldn't set too ambitious of a goal. If you are interested in philosophy, for example, don't try to tackle Kant straight off. Start with some introductory reviews, and then get to the more complex material once you've laid a foundation. Otherwise, you may find the reading too onerous and give up.

     As one is reading, one should be tuned in for anything that gives some indication of cause and effect relationships in the world. The ability to discern cause and effect in the world will go a long way to help alleviate the view that the world is somehow capricious or simply a series of accidents. In Bennett's words, understanding cause and effect will lead one to become "large headed and large hearted."

These first two steps are sufficient for the first three months. As time progresses, more time may be spent reading, or more days. Also, the difficulty of reading may be increased as one's mind becomes more trained. The next steps are really just advanced versions of these two basic steps.

3) Reflect on happiness, the direction of your life, what life is giving you, and the relationship between principles & conduct.

     Bennett asserts that happiness comes from development of reason and the adjustment of conduct to principles. Just what those principles are may come from reflection, or one's own background, or what have you. At any rate, use the reflecting time to dwell on your principles and determine whether or not your conduct is consistent with your principles. As time passes, use your reason to align your conduct with your principles, and you will find happiness. This is much more desirable than letting instinct guide actions, which is far more common.

     One may also expand the reflecting period beyond just the morning time to the evening, on the way home from work. This seems to me a good time to think about one's conduct during the day.

4) Suggested reading topics.

      If you are not sure what to read, Bennett offers some suggestions. His primary suggestion is poetry. From my own experience with poetry, I agree with Bennett. I especially like Kipling, Whitman, Frost, and Service. But poetry is taxing to the brain, and takes a fair bit of thought to understand what the poet is trying to say, which makes is more desirable for the task of expanding one's mind than prose.

     I personally suggest all people to obtain some understanding of economics. Begin with Hazlitt's "Economics in One Lesson" and then move on to Rothbard & Mises. This, in my view, is an excellent method of understanding the cause & effect of the world. Bennett also recommends Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus. But this, in the final reckoning, is the reader's choice.

The idea behind this program is to live a happier, more fulfilled life. One that is more thoughtful, more deliberate, than the one you might be living. But of course, if you are already happy and fulfilled and aren't doing something like this program, then please let us know your secret in the comments section!