Sunday, August 15, 2010

Monday, June 07, 2010

Stirring tea (and stirring and stirring...)

What's the worst thing about getting iced tea at a restarurant? I'd say it's getting the sugar to dissolve when you want it sweet and they don't have it already sweetened. @Mtnbikgirl and I were having lunch at the Mustard Seed Bistro a week or so ago, and while she was stirring their delicious tea (trying to get the sugar to dissolve), she said something about wishing that there was a liquid sweetener available at restaurants, something like simple syrup. We talked about it and came up with the idea of putting simple syrup into single serving packets for restaurants to have available for their customers. Why hadn't anybody thought of this? Was this something that we could put together and get out there to save tea drinkers countless hours of futile tea stirring?

I started looking into whether anybody else was already providing a product like this, and I searched for packaging companies that would produce single serving packets. I started asking a few people what for their thoughts on the idea, and everybody thought it was a good one. Basically, I started brainstorming the idea, and then, this morning, I tried a new search. This time, instead of searching for something along the lines of "single serving simple syrup", I searched for "liquid sugar packets". Come to find out, liquid sugar is regularly provided in Japan, and there's already some available here in the US called Kelly's Delight. I think I'm gonna put in an order for some Kelly's Delight to try it out, and I'll keep my fingers crossed for restaurants to start making it, or something like it, available at their tables. Sweet tea Nirvana, here we come.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Everything happens for a reason.

That's right, everything happens for a reason. The reason that a thing happens is that the circumstances leading up to said thing cause said thing to be inevitable. There is a reason that a car crashes through a guard rail and plummets to the bottom of the canyon, killing everyone inside. The reason is that the driver was going too fast!

We may be good at seeing patterns whether they are there or not, and it may help some people deal with life more successfully when they think that their lives are part of a grand, future focused plan, but this seems to be wishful thinking. I think we're better off accepting that shit happens, and attempting to make the best of whatever situations cause and effect have put us in, rather than looking for and embracing some, ultimately positive, "reason" that we went through the shit.  Both approaches may result in similar outcomes, but at least we're basing our decisions on reality when we stop imagining ourselves to be part of some cosmic plan.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Minimalist Running and My Uncooperative Knee

I tried to take up running, and still hope to add it back into my morning routine, but each time I try, it's not long before my left knee shuts me down. I've had no official diagnosis, but from what I've read, my issue seems to be Iliotibial Band Syndrome.

Running was the last thing I ever expected to find myself doing on a regular basis, but I started coming to the conclusion that I needed to initiate some kind of regular fitness routine, and running seemed to be one possible piece of that routine. What pushed me into finally taking the first step and trying the running thing out, was my search into foot protection for my surf trip to El Salvador. I eventually came across Vibram FiveFingers, which show up in a lot of writing about barefoot/minimalist footwear running. The arguments for this type of running seemed to make a lot of sense to me (still hoping to get around to reading Born To Run one of these days), so I decided to try it out with my new, funny looking toe shoes.

I surprised myself by liking my new morning run routine. I didn't like the actual running itself (though it wasn't as bad as I expected), but the extra energy and forward momentum that it added to my day was great. My morning shower time was probably cut in half because I was no longer using the shower for the purpose of waking myself up. I built up to to the point where I was running the 5 km that it takes to get to the beach and back, and then my knee struck.

Whenever I try to get going again, after allowing my knee to stop bothering me, the problem shows up again, usually by mile 1. My current thought is that I might need to work on changing my running form some. I'm thinking about trying to adopt the POSE Method to see if that fixes my problem and allows me to avoid taking up swimming or bicycling instead.

Any thoughts? Do I need to give up the minimalist running idea altogether, and get special shoes to control the shape an position of my feet? It seems like it should be such a simple thing to do, just go out and keep putting one foot in front of the other at a decent pace.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

How should land ownership/use work?

I've brought up the subject of who owns the air, and I don't think it's too controversial an idea that it is a communal property, though the questions of how we're going to treat it, and who gets to decide how we treat it, might be harder to find agreement on. But what about land? Property ownership is a sacred right, isn't it? "Life, liberty, and property", and all that, or maybe that's supposed to be "... and the pursuit of happiness."

Should we be able to do whatever we want with our property? It's my property, so  I should be able to build what I want on it, destroy or sell the plants, and get rid of whatever critters happen to live there. I'm not affecting anybody else, and if you don't like the way it looks, put up a fence. If I hurt the future value of my property, that's something that I, or my descendent's, will have to deal with. Does this all make sense?

If we go back to talking about the air, we have to take into account that the plants on my land are a part of the oxygen-carbon dioxide cycle, therefore what I do with my property can impact the air that you breathe. Should I be allowed to affect the future of the air that you breathe if I own a large plot of forest land, and I want to chop down the trees and set up an amusement park? Ok, maybe I shouldn't be able to do whatever I want with my property.

Like the air, there is only a limited amount of land in existence that has to provide for all the people on earth (yeah, I know, oceans too, but that is even more like the air situation). What I do with my land isn't able to affect your land as easily as the way my treatment of air affects all air, but there are other factors to keep in mind regarding how we treat land ownership. If people get to own land free and clear, in perpetuity, doesn't this put the owners and their descendants in a position of extreme power over the landless, especially as the population builds and there is less land available per person? If it were possible, would we be ok with people buying up the air, and doling it out as they see fit? The people/families/corporations with the most money would have total control over those who couldn't afford to buy up some air for themselves. Is this a valid comparison to make? Maybe the smart, rich people deserve to have more power and control over the dumb, poor people, what do you think?

I don't know what the best way to approach land use is, and I'm not sure that I've been clear about some of the thoughts I have on the subject. I just think it's an interesting subject to think on, and one that, a few years ago, I probably would have declared unequivocally in favor of land owners having absolute power over their land, with property taxes being a serious infringement on the owners' rights. I no longer believe that some of these questions are as black and white as I once did.

 An interesting paper I came across while writing this: Who Owns America

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Who owns the air?

Does the air in your lungs belong to you? How about the air inside your house, or above whatever land you own? Should you be able to do anything you want with that air? Maybe you should, if you keep that air, and you don't get to use any of the air that belongs to the rest of the population. But, in reality, the air is communal property. I use the air today that you used yesterday, or a couple years ago, and vice versa. So how much freedom should I or you have when it comes to putting harmful substances into the air? Who is going to determine how much of each poisonous substance each person is allowed to spew into the air that I will be breathing for the next who knows how many years? Will it be regulated by individuals, local communities, state/regional governments, national governments, or maybe a worldwide environmental governing body?

Should a person be allowed to smoke cigarettes, and how many per day? How many miles should someone be allowed to drive per year, and should the amount and quality of exhaust the vehicle produces be a factor in determining this? How should we decide how much a factory in Mexico is allowed to pollute the air that someone in the US breathes, and vice versa? Maybe I'll do a post about cap and trade and how ridiculous I think it is that corporations would get carbon allowances rather than the allowances going to the individual humans who populate this planet.

Eh, don't worry about it. It's a big planet, and us little humans can't be making that big a difference. If we are really making that much of a difference, and things get bad enough that it starts severely affecting our lives, we can let the free market fix things up for us. When it gets bad enough that people are willing to pay to have breathable air, there will be demand for industrious entrepreneurs to develop more efficient air cleaning equipment. Sure, the poor saps who can't afford to buy air won't live long, but that will cut down on the population and thus help fix the pollution problem. Yeah, let's do that. We wouldn't want to undermine anybody's freedoms just to avoid the planet becoming uninhabitable for the majority of the population. It's always a lot easier to fix things after their broken than to prevent breaking them in the first place, isn't it?

Next up, "Who owns the land?" Whoa, wait a minute, what?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

How should I deal with denialism or radical claims?

Back in December I came across this post on The Economist (via Tony's shared items), and I especially liked this paragraph:
So, after hours of research, I can dismiss Mr Eschenbach. But what am I supposed to do the next time I wake up and someone whose name I don't know has produced another plausible-seeming account of bias in the climate-change science? Am I supposed to invest another couple of hours in it? Do I have to waste the time of the readers of this blog with yet another long post on the subject? Why? Why do these people keep bugging us like this? Does the spirit of scientific scepticism really require that I remain forever open-minded to denialist humbug until it's shown to be wrong? At what point am I allowed to simply say, look, I've seen these kind of claims before, they always turns out to be wrong, and it's not worth my time to look into it?
I know that I need to be open enough to question my preconceived notions and be willing to change my mind on things that have been fairly conclusively proven to me if new evidence compels the change, but the entirety of my free time could be wasted trying to verify or debunk all the claims that people put out there. Where do I draw the line?

How much trust do I need to put in the expertise of the experts when they are working with data that is outside of my current understanding? But if I trust the established experts, I'll be lagging along with everybody else and disregarding those rare game changing thinkers when they happen to come up with something that truly revolutionizes our understanding of the world contrary to the established knowledge.

Do the ideas of the technological singularity and radical life extension, possibly during my lifetime, actually have merit even though they're outside of the mainstream understanding of the world, or do I give those ideas more weight than other radical ideas simply because I find them fascinating and appealing? I also find the idea of free energy appealing, but I no longer pay much attention to claims about it, so it can't be just about those things that I like.

Maybe I'm doing an ok job of weeding out the lousy ideas from the decent ones. I hope so, but I've got to remember to keep myself open to the possibility that I could be sorely mistaken in broad swaths of my knowledge, while also trying to avoid wasting too much time investigating frivolous claims.

Monday, January 25, 2010

You're doing precisely what you want to do.

I will probably go to work tomorrow. While I may say that I don't want to be at work, or "if I had the choice, I'd be doing something else," it's not true. It will be something I have chosen to do in favor of innumerable other choices available to me. There is no justification for saying "I have no choice, I have to do this." Of course I have a choice, and this is the choice I've made. I've made this choice based on many factors, some of which are under my control (e.g., how much money I want to spend) and some of which aren't (e.g., I haven't inherited millions of dollars). I want to have money available to me in the future, in order to continue with and improve my lifestyle. There are lifestyles that I could choose that would require less money to support, which might result in me choosing to work less. On the other hand, if I choose to stop working tomorrow, I might find that the number of lifestyle choices available to me will reduced dramatically in short order.

I want to go to work tomorrow, whether I enjoy it or not. I'm glad this is a choice that is currently available to me. This mindset is not always foremost in my thoughts, but it becomes more established the more frequently I think about it. This mindset reestablishes a sense of control over my life that may sometimes slip from my consciousness, and it reveals the abundant potential directions in which I can point my life.

What will you choose to do tomorrow, and will you embrace the fact that it is precisely what you want to do? If it's not what you wanted to do, you'd be doing something else.

(Ok, maybe "precisely what you want," if taken literally, isn't entirely true. You may really want to run a 3 minute mile, but you're not going to whether you choose to or not.)