A Sub-Two-Hour Marathon In 2038?

Everyone's talking about this Runner's World article about the prospects of a sub-two-hour marathon. I first saw the article on Facebook, via my Open Borders compatriot, John Lee. A few days later, Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution reposted it with some mostly uninteresting discussion unfolding in the comments section.

I checked the comments section again this morning, and discovered a link to a rather fascinating (and short) blog post predicting that the sub-two-hour marathon will happen some time around the year 2038.
Inspired by Patrick Makau Musyoki's new marathon record in Berlin yesterday, I looked for trends in the marathon world records for each decade going back a century. I only included the fastest time in each decade. I expected a plateau like this, but I didn't expect it to be so neatly logarithmic....
Followed by:
A whole crop of articles commented over the last year onstatistically improbable sprinter Usain Bolt, who is ahead-of-trend by thirty years. In the same vein, looking at the marathon plot, we shouldn't expect a male human to break two hours in the marathon until 2038. And it's reasonably assumed that the incremental improvements we see in these times is a result of (decreasing marginal) improvements in training, nutrition, and running equipment.


The Heuristic-Heuristic

No Single Standard

This morning, I pulled up the news headlines, and saw the following:

I can see how not having a set of therapeutic guidelines or recommendations based on science and experience would be a serious problem when it comes to controlling outbreaks of potentially fatal illnesses. But, according to the article, an absence of guidelines is not the problem:
Murphy says some of the issues in Texas stem from a "system problem" in the way public health care is managed in the USA. The Centers for Disease Control provides only guidance for infection prevention and management. "What they do in Texas, what they do in Illinois, it's up to the state," he says. 
"The question is, who's in charge?" Murphy says. "The states can follow all the guidelines and take the advice, which they usually do, but they don't have to. It's not a legal requirement. So there really is no one entity that's controlling things."
Do you see the problem now? It's not that medical science is failing us, it's that there is no central authority manipulating things from above.

Homo Heuristicus

Admit it: When you woke up this morning, you weren't particularly worried about whether or not there was one single, standardized way to deal with Ebola. Even if you were worried about Ebola, chances are, you were worried about catching Ebola, not about Ebola governance. Having read this morning's headlines, though, you are far more susceptible to forming an opinion on how "we as a nation" "should" "respond" to "Ebola." Scare quotes intended.

There is probably a propaganda mechanism at work here. Doctors are always angling for new ways to nudge us into complying with therapeutic standards. If they can find a way to force us into a single disaster response pattern, they probably will. That's because clinical and health care data is notoriously subject to variation. The more factors that can be controlled, the closer medical scientists can come to understanding a problem, and then healing it. Society is not a laboratory, however, and it shouldn't be subjected to stringent controls for the benefit of experts.

Well, that's all little more than philosophical bloviating. Human beings are paradigmatic thinkers. We yearn to rid ourselves of life's problems and inherent complexity by applying rules of thumb. To the extent that some problems actually can be solved by applying heuristics, this makes us a powerful tribe of apes indeed. 

But to the extent that standardized rules obliterate our ability to perceive nuance, undermine our dynamism and innovation, and allow for individualized experiences, they are more bane than boon.

The Heuristic-Heuristic

This brings me to the heuristic-heuristic, something that I've begun to perceive as a real threat to anyone who seeks any measure of authenticity whatsoever.

For people actively engaged in solving new problems, heuristics provide an important means by which to find viable solutions. And by "heuristics," I mean mostly the scientific method. Deductive reasoning is a powerful force for good, and we are indebted to those people who solve society's urgent problems.

You and I, on the other hand, do not solve these problems, but rather solve our own individual problems by consuming the products produced by the problem solvers. So, while Jonas Salk invented the polio vaccine, all we do is buy the polio vaccine. While auto makers are actively engaged in producing faster, safer, and more fuel-efficient vehicles, all we do is buy one. 

The point is that, while problem-solvers deploy a heuristic called "the scientific method" to innovate, we deploy a much cruder and far more useless heuristic called "find the product that solves our problem, and buy it." 

In the case of polio vaccines and cars, this heuristic serves us well. But in the case of our daily lives, this is a major source of our existential problems. We complain that the schmoozers get the job promotions, we complain that things just aren't like they were when we were kids, we complain that nobody knows the true meaning of Christmas, we complain that Senior Prom has become too big a deal. We wonder why there isn't a "single standard" Ebola response, but when we get to the hospital, we want doctors to give us personal, individualized attention with good bedside manner. 

The crude heuristic doesn't work for us. We commodify every aspect of our lives and gradually come to wonder why our lives seem to "lack something." 

The Cheaters

Via Facebook, I was pointed to this Slate.com article about why people in happy marriages cheat. Here's an excerpt:
Slate: So what are people looking for?

Perel: What’s changed is, we expect a lot more from our relationships. We expect to be happy. We brought happiness down from the afterlife, first to be an option and then a mandate. So we don’t divorce—or have affairs—because we are unhappy but because we could be happier. And all that is part of the feminist deliberation. I deserve this, I am entitled to this, I can have this! It allows people to finally pursue a desire to feel alive.

Slate: Alive?

Perel: That’s the one word I hear, worldwide—alive! That’s why an affair is such an erotic experience. It’s not about sex, it’s about desire, about attention, about reconnecting with parts of oneself you lost or you never knew existed. It’s about longing and loss. But the American discourse is framed entirely around betrayal and trauma.
Perel makes a lot of points in the interview - some good, some bad. She talks a lot about our expectations of a marriage, and she talks a lot about finding something about ourselves that we've lost. It's not that our partners aren't fulfilling us, it's that we ourselves are lacking what we need to be as happy as we might be.

Perel makes the mistake of suggesting more open marriage arrangements. This is a mistake because it doesn't solve the core, underlying problem. The question goes from "What's wrong with my life and my marriage?" to "What's wrong with my life, my marriage, and my affair?"

The point here is that commodifying marriage has basically ruined it. We expect the cutesy romance, followed by the expensive wedding, followed by childless marital bliss, followed by 2.3 children (it is still 2.3, isn't it?), followed by a commodified set of child-rearing benchmarks (first tooth, first day of school, first etc. etc.). Small wonder this has grown into boredom.

But if it is boredom, then of what benefit is adding one more commodity to the list? {Love, marriage, job, kids, infidelity, death} is not much better than {love, marriage, job, kids, death}. True, there is one more "term" in the "set," but this term would only ever prove valuable if it actually meant something to us. Its value - especially in light of what Perel believes - is not in the fact that it is part of the list of life experiences to "check-off," but rather in the fact that it is not supposed to be there. It is one rare triumph on authenticity in an otherwise commodified set of existence-benchmarks.

Normalizing, i.e. commodifying, the experience of infidelity will surely result in nothing more than rendering the experience itself inauthentic, and therefore no more interesting than anything else on the list. That's the first inevitable conclusion here.

The second one - the more important one, in fact - is that infidelity isn't the important thing; authenticity is. So we'd all be better off if we made our marriages (and our daily lives) more authentic, rather than trying to keep our experiences neatly packaged and then seeking to escape from them by engaging in divergent and self-destructive behavior.

Darn, there's that nuance stuff again!


It's difficult for everyone, of course. Every moment of your life is a moment in which we experience some kind of pressure to commodify. We don't want our children to merely meet Santa Claus, we want them to meet him at a shopping mall, and have their pictures taken on his lap, and ask him for a particular Christmas present. And he has to be wearing a red suit with white trim and a black belt, and he has to be fat, and he has to say, "Ho ho ho." If it's not that, if it's not all of that, then we say that our children haven't had the "real" experience. 

This itself is preposterous, considering first that Santa Claus isn't real, and second that we can therefore define the experience however we want. It doesn't have to be any particular way! The whole thing is made up! So why not just invent a totally pleasant, authentic experience, and make that your holiday tradition?

This is my whole point.

Rather than seeking out a socially prescribed list of experiences and lifetime milestones, hoping that they will unfold in the way that they have unfolded for countless other people, we should take the time to recognize that whatever list of life experiences we have is ours for the choosing. We can define our lives to be anything we want them to be. Every minute of your life can be authentically yours. It can be as satisfying as you'd like it to be.

To accomplish this, you need to back away from the idea that your experiences should look and behave a certain way. You need to get away from the heuristic-heuristic, the mechanism telling you that X is only accomplished through Y. 

There might not be a product available to satisfy your need. There might not be a standard response to every terrible thing that happens in the world. Creating a new product or a new national standard will not necessarily fix things the way you want them to.


Dichotomous Thinking

Heel-Strikers Versus Forefoot Runners

This morning I read an article in The Guardian about proper running form. Author Sam Murphy sets the stage:
A few weeks back, this blog ran a feature on running form and how to improve it. It included the oft-repeated advice about avoiding overstriding, which “causes the foot to land too far in front of the knee and encourages heel striking – and increases injury risk”. A reader commented that they’d “like to see a blog on whether heel striking really is a bad thing”, which spurred me to investigate.
Murphy then goes on to discuss the influence of the book Born To Run (I reviewed it on the blog here) and its role in promoting "barefoot running." Much of the remainder of the article discusses the evidence of whether "heel-striking" is bad, compared to "forefoot running."

The problem with such an article is that, aside from a small number of people with very extreme running form, almost no one is a pure "heel-striker" or "forefoot runner." Most of us fall somewhere on a continuum, where we tend more toward one direction than the other. For some, the tendency is quite mild. Still others land exactly in the middle of their foot.

In short, the problem with the article was dichotomous thinking.

"Cognitive Distortion"

Why is this a problem? Summer Beretsky at PsychCentral.com breaks it down for us:
...[U]sing dichotomous language boosts dichotomous thinking, and the latter is a type of cognitive distortion that can negatively influence the way you feel about yourself. If you’re dealing with anxiety, casual usage of extremely polar words can lead you to magnify thoughts and events through a distorted lens that can ultimately make you more anxious.
So the problem is twofold: First, dichotomous thinking is distorted, and therefore less accurate than having a more nuanced perspective. Second, and perhaps more importantly, dichotomous thinking can make you unhappy.

Murphy herself seems partially aware of this, as she writes that she has recently "begun to feel a little like someone who was converted to a religion by zealots." I can understand this, because when I finished reading Born To Run, I also gave barefoot running a try. It was consistently the one question that everyone asked me when they learned I had read or was reading the book.

When one watches racing events, one is typically struck by the same fact that McDougall reports in his book: good runners tend toward a similar running form. This is not altogether surprising since running is a natural human activity and all human bodies are built more or less the same with respect to musculo-skeletal structure.

That so many great runners have similar form is not a cognitive distortion. However, the insistence  that all runners should adopt the same set of practices to run well or run comfortably, is.

Anti-Vaxxers And Climate Deniers

In an article aimed at promoting the scientific validity of childhood vaccinations, Amy Parker succumbs to dichotomous thinking. While she opens her article with carefully worded sentences laying out the perspective of those who oppose childhood vaccinations, by her final paragraph, she is talking about all people as though the belong to one of two camps:
Those of you who have avoided childhood illnesses without vaccines are lucky. You couldn’t do it without us pro-vaxxers. Once the vaccination rates begin dropping, the drop in herd immunity will leave your children unprotected. The more people you convert to your anti-vax stance, the quicker that luck will run out.
Ah, yes. "Anti-vaxxers." Many commentators at Slate.com pointed out that "anti-vaxxers" are quite similar to "climate deniers" because both groups of people are opposed to the latest scientific research on the subject in question. This claim alone is somewhat dubious, since people who oppose vaccination don't typically feel that the science behind vaccines is bunk, but just that the risks outweigh the benefits. I disagree, but it is a value judgment based on information they have deemed important to them. As for "climate deniers," few if any openly disagree with the idea that climate doesn't change - the question is whether one believes specifically in the climate forecast models of those scientists who believe that anthropogenic global warming is a risk to the survival of the human species.

But just look at all those words. Why bother with all that nuance and fairness when we can simply engage in dichotomous thinking, box people into "camps" or "groups" or "sides," and then declare one group wholesale wrong?


Much has been written and said by many intelligent people about the "state" of political discourse today. We hear a lot about how polarized people have become, and this seems to suggest that dichotomous thinking is a rampant social problem. When was the last time you heard or read a political opinion that you didn't subsequently place into some kind of ideological box? 

In the political sphere, when people try to regain control of all this cognitive distortion, many of them fall into the logical fallacy that "the truth lies somewhere in the middle." The problem with this line of reasoning is that it accepts a dichotomous framing of issues and attempts to reconcile that dichotomy. In reality, dichotomous thinking is dangerous because it doesn't describe reality accurately at all.

For example, most of your day is probably spent indoors, at room temperature, i.e. neither hot nor cold. You wouldn't even think to describe this temperature. Temperature only becomes an issue when you find it either too hot or too cold, and suddenly we are confronted by an extreme from the dichotomy of hot versus cold. Never mind the fact that the vast majority of time spent indoors is spent at a temperature we don't really have linguistic terms to describe. The point being this: our reality is neither hot nor cold, it's room temperature. Framing things in terms of hot and cold doesn't adequately describe the majority of our day!

Meanwhile, at Cato Unbound, Kevin Vallier engages in some tetrachotomous thinking, boxing all possible viewpoints about religion in politics into four boxes. The reader may determine for him-or-herself whether Vallier's point resonates; my only point here is to remark that perhaps there are a few more possible ways to look at it. 


The philosophical concept of "difference" is a powerful one. It is one of the first things we learn as infants, and it forms the basis on which we build the knowledge that guides us for the rest of our lives. To that extent, some elementary form of dichotomous thinking will always be a part of human cognition.

But if we think rationally, then as we apply "difference" to our experiences and observations, we will start to uncover the inadequacy of dichotomy. We start to learn that life consists of more than just conceptual poles. We start to reject dichotomous thinking, and we gain a perspective that is at once more accurate and more curious.


Workout Of The Day

I was somewhat skeptical of heart rate zone training when I started last week, but to my surprise I finished my workouts feeling a little bit more endorphin-charged than usual. Maybe this was psychological. Either way, I finished the week with a five-mile "long run" consisting of 100% negative splits (I'm not sure I've ever done that during a long run before) and peaking at a robust 6:35-per-mile pace. Best of all, I don't feel any risk of injury or over-use of my muscles, joints, or tendons.

Today, the adventure continues. It's a new week, and I'd like to increase my weekly mileage, so I'm heading out for a four-mile run in HR Zone 2 or 3.

Very Elucidating

I can't say much in favor of Kevin Vallier's recent attack on Hans Hermann Hoppe, because - although I agree with Vallier's take on Hoppe - the argumentative logic employed is not strong enough to stand up to scrutiny.

However, the comments section produced a wealth of information I had not read before. Pay close attention to commentator "King Snail," in particular.


Workout of the Day, Surprise! Edition

Due to some laptop issues at work, I ended up doing today's workout in the morning when I had some idle time. Working out is a great way to make good use of small blocks of time you didn't expect to have on your hands.

As per my previous workouts this week, today's workout is/was a five-kilometer run.

I am aiming for 20 total miles this week, and hopefully 22-25 next week. This will be a slow, consistent build-up of miles up until about the 12-weeks-until-Cowtown point, around January 1st. I should be up to over 60 miles by then, and if I don't get too anxious to hit the 50-miles-per-week point, I'll enjoy a low risk of injury throughout the process.

By way of experimentation, I allowed myself to run outside of heart rate Zone 2 today, sticking in about the Zone 3-4 range, based on current heart rate estimates. I want to see how that impacts the way I feel today and tomorrow. My initial thoughts, now 90 minutes post-run are: There seem to be fewer endorphines, but I feel more satisfied with the quality of my workout.

To be continued...


Workout Of The Day

Yesterday's workout went fairly well. I attempted to run in heart rate Zone 2, subject to the default calculation in my Garmin Forerunner watch. What I learned is that the default zone calculation method programmed by the Garmin folks is a bit too low for my tastes. After doing some digging, I discovered the Zoladz method of calculating heart rate training zones, and it seems more in line with my training needs.

For example, during yesterday's workout, I ran in what felt like Zone 2, but my watch had me within Zone 3 for most of the way. I'm comfortable with my maximum heart rate, so I think it was just the zone settings that were off. After some reading, I figured that the Zoladz method comes closest to creating training zones that are appropriate for me, personally. Your mileage may vary, pun intended.

Here's a link to a great heart rate zone calculator you can use to determine your own best-fit for training zones.

As I mentioned, yesterday was my first day back after a pulled calf muscle. To my delight, I was able to complete the workout without any pain or unusual tightness in my calf, and my muscle has felt great ever since.

Thus, today I am going to attempt a repeat of yesterday's workout: Another 5K run or so, in heart rate Zone 2. Try it yourself!


Workout Of The Day

You know the routine, and anyway, I've just declared that I'm reinstating this feature.

As aforementioned, I recently pulled a calf muscle. Thus, I'm not totally sure I'll succeed in my run today. I'm going to give it a try, anyway.

Today's workout is intended to be a three mile run at or around Z2 heart rate, easy aerobic pace. I'm not getting too knee-deep in the heart rate training thing, I'll just use it as a reference guide for now.

Time To Train Again, With Stationary Waves

I've gone and signed myself up for the 2015 Cowtown Half-Marathon. Some of you may remember that I ran this race last year, too. I'm looking forward to it this year, and by way of expanding my horizons, I have also registered for the Cowtown 10K the day before the half-marathon.

I'm told that runners get a special medal and/or t-shirt for doing this. That fact wasn't a decision point for me, but everyone loves a little exclusivity! Truth be told, I didn't want to put a lot of pressure on myself to run the half-marathon at breakneck speeds, so I signed up for the 10K to ensure that I run both races with fun in mind, not speed.

With speed set aside, I have the flexibility to attempt some different training tactics. Last year I received a Garmin Forerunner GPS watch as a gift, and it came with a heart rate monitor. I've never trained with a heart rate monitor before, so I thought I might give it a whirl. My thinking is not complicated, and can be summarized as follows:

  • If I decide I don't like doing it, I can just stop and train as usual.
  • I recently pulled a calf muscle (again) despite doing what I thought was perfectly light and reasonable training, hence an added measure of restraint might help me avoid injury in the ramp-up to my next race.
  • If I document my progress here on the blog, you, the reader, might also learn what I learn.
  • I quite enjoy my Garmin watch and other such gadgets, so this should be a lot of fun, at least in theory.
As I set out to train for the race, I'll attempt to keep my workouts documented here on the blog, as well, by reinstating the on-again/off-again Workout of the Day feature. These tend to be somewhat popular blog posts, so maybe that will give me a traffic boost. Not that I care about traffic anymore. :P



This is L'eterna Primavera by Auguste Rodin:
Courtesy Wikipedia.org
Today, Rodin is perhaps most famous for his The Thinker. Adults also know him for The Kiss. Both of these sculptures have essentially become part-and-parcel to modern, art-aware culture. They are the great works of a genius.

There are probably many reasons why The Thinker and The Kiss are more widely recognized and appreciated than L'eterna Primavera, but I would speculate that one of them is this: Most people have never experienced the kind of passion depicted in the latter sculpture before. Unfortunately, most people never will.

An Empty Vessel

I once met a woman who insisted on welcoming me into her home by hugging me. She made a great show of it. I knocked on the door, and when she answered, she threw it open and energetically greeted me. Her eyes went wide and she beamed from ear-to-ear. She threw open her arms and stepped toward me.

As she embraced me, her arms barely touched me. Her cheek came physically close to mine, but didn't touch. It was almost as though I wasn't even there. Except that I was there, and I was hugging her back. Based on the fanfare with which she had indicated that she wanted to give me a hug, I responded physically in kind. I gave her the kind of hug she appeared to want.

But when I felt the half-heartedness of the hug she actually gave me, I quickly dialed down my own intensity. She fluttered away to greet the other guests, and I stood there, confused. Why would someone make such a show for the sake of such a weak embrace?

The easy answer to the question is that she wasn't really as happy to see me as she made out to be, but I don't believe that. Everything else about her behavior was fully consistent with a person who was genuinely ecstatic to meet me. 

No, it wasn't that she didn't mean it, it was that she didn't understand it. This is likely the same kind of warm embrace she gives to everyone she is happy to see. Perhaps she has never had the experience of embracing a friend she might never have seen again.

Passion And Art

One of the reasons we all like art so much is because artists are uniquely suited to express our feelings better than we ourselves can. Art speaks to us not because it depicts things we have never known, but because it depicts things we have only known and never articulated, at least not in the same way the artist has. In short, art is a stylized representation of a human experience.

If one has never had the experience in question, then one can come to appreciate the artist's technique in depicting something. One can appreciate the painter's ability to make a scene look realistic, or a musician's ability to play or write difficult note-and-rhythm combinations. But if the audience has never gone through the experience described by the art, then the audience cannot ever hope to understand that artist's work.

Thus, many people might find L'eterna Primavera a visually appealing sculpture; but how many among them can say that they understand why Rodin created it in the first place?

If you lack that passion - if you've never lived that experience - then you'll be inclined to feel as though the sculpture is mildly pornographic. You'll see it as a sculpture of two attractive, nude lovers locked in an embrace. True, that is technically what the sculpture is, but what a sorry and dimwitted level of appreciation that is, compared to the experience that sculpture evokes in those who have lived it!

*     *     *

I often tell a funny story about my high school cross-country team. Each year, we used to have a team t-shirt printed up. One year, my sister was kind enough to produce a sketch of Michelangelo's David, with a banner crossing in front of him (covering what more sensitive souls might not want to see); the banner said "Cross-Country" on it, and the statue held a pair of running shoes in one hand and a stopwatch in the other. It was great!

Of course we suspected that my (very conservative) teammates would object to a banner-less rendition of the David, hence the contentious part of the statute was covered up. We realized that they might not have enough maturity to handle "the full Monty." We never dreamed that they would lack so much maturity that even the covered statute created controversy.

Some of the team members objected to what they called "the naked guy." Despite the fact that the David is one of the most iconic sculptures in human history, they identified it as merely a figure of a nude man. They were scandalized, made uncomfortable by the fact that a drawing of a statue of a character from Holy Scripture who was famously depicted without clothing, sanitized by a drawing of a covering over his genitals nonetheless implied nudity. 

The maturity these kids lacked was the maturity of passion. Just as the woman who greeted me with the hug of an empty vessel, so these kids looked at art - and humor - with the wits of empty vessels. While most teenagers readily embrace the prospect of passion, even if they don't fully understand it, these poor souls did not even want to want to experience passion. They weren't even curious. They wanted it gone.

(If you're wondering how this story ends, my sister finally agreed to draw shorts on the statue, which still didn't satisfy the most vociferous objectors, but was enough to make the grade.)

How Empty Is Your Vessel?

When I meet people who squirm in their seats at the sight of the great works of art, such as the sexually charged sculptures of Auguste Rodin, I feel a great deal of pity for them, for obvious reasons. We only get one life, and these folks have lived theirs without ever experiencing the kind of love that Rodin wanted to remind us of. It's sad that they've missed out on such a beautiful part of the human experience. It's also sad that, when confronted with the life's work of one of history's greatest artists, all they see is a combination of technique and salaciousness, the intersection of talent and sin. 

One might say that if you've missed the point of Rodin's art, you've missed the point of life. It's not that passion ought to be pursued at the expense of all other aspects of the human condition, but simply that this kind of passion is one necessary component of a life properly lived. Just as a desert hermit denies himself the company of others is missing out on a sense of social belonging, so too those who lack passion are missing out on a layer of their own humanity. 

We don't very often experience that kind of passion all day long, but if you never experience it, neither during part of each day nor during part of any day at all, it's difficult to believe that your concept of love is as hollow as the hermit's conception of companionship.

No one will think you're a bad person if you never experience this kind of passion. Then again, no one will think much about you at all. Passion is how you leave your mark on a situation. Without it, you, too, are an empty vessel.

The Poetry Of Life

I'll say that again, because it bears repeating: Passion is how you leave your mark on a situation. That goes for any situation.

The passion with which you interact with the loves of your life will determine the mark you leave on those relationships. Perhaps that's just a fancy way of saying that you get out of any relationship exactly what you put into it. On the other hand, loving someone passionately results in more than just "getting something back from them," it also shapes your own perspective on that relationship. A passionate affair that ultimately fails is "stormy." One that endures is "timeless" and "triumphant." One that goes unrequited is "tragic."

The passion with which you tackle your work will determine what you make of yourself professionally. You can go through the motions, bring home a paycheck, and watch the years go by as others move in and out of your professional life, driven by their ambitions and the things they wish to achieve. Or, you can dive into the fray and live your work as though it's an experience worth having. It's a choice. A successful ambition will earn you an extension on your home, a beach vacation, a corner office, and an undeniable lift in your gait. A failed ambition will teach you life lessons that can only ever be learned the hard way, but people will respect you. When you work with passion, you'll be remembered; without it, you're just another face at the water cooler, wondering where to sign up for fantasy football.

In any case, it's your life. If you haven't immersed yourself in it, then you've lived on sidelines. If this were a fine art museum, you'd have spent your whole existence behind the velvet rope. Passion's purpose is to get you inside the frame. Without it, you'll still be able to hand out hugs and go to fancy art museums to see the great works of Rodin, and others. You just won't understand it.

The Life You Want To Lead

There are those who stand by, waiting for passion to happen to them. When it doesn't, they feel that they were either mislead by the passionate ones, or that they are somehow defective. They were supposed to be passionate about work, but they never found a job they could be passionate about. They were supposed to be passionate about their spouse, but when the fire failed to ignite like it does in the movies, they determined that life just isn't like the movies. They were supposed to be moved to write a novel, or travel the world, or achieve something remarkable, and when it didn't happen to them, they resigned themselves to the notion that true passion either doesn't exist, or they don't have the capacity for it.

These people will never understand Auguste Rodin.

At a certain point, a person has to be ready for these kinds of experiences. In order to throw caution to the wind with a lover, you must possess the courage and the willingness to throw caution to the wind. In order to throw yourself into your job, or your marriage, or your community art class, or whatever, you have to allow yourself to do so. You have to warm up to experiencing the poetry of life.

If you feel like hugging people, hug them. You won't experience a hearty embrace by going through the motions and stopping short. If you're in love with someone, then act on it. Don't hold hands and think pure thoughts, go to an art museum and find something that stirs you both. If you're bored at work, find something to care about.

Choose to be passionate, or live a life full of awkwardness and boredom. You get one life, how will you spend it?


One Mystery Solved

Via my Facebook feed, I became aware of this great article on type 1 diabetes, written by an endocrinologist who seems to understand that struggle faced by people with my condition. In it, Dr. Claresa Levetan writes as follows:
During the 1990s, I spent a great deal of my career studying the hormone amylin, which is co-secreted from the beta cell in equal concentrations as insulin. Among patients with Type 1, there is also an absence of amylin. Many patients who have used the amylin hormone replacement therapy pramlintide (Symlin®) have told me how they finally felt full after starting to use the drug; it was a feeling they hadn’t had since their diabetes began. Indeed, amylin works on two receptors in the brain that affect satiety.
People who have known me for a long time have known my persistent, uncontrollable hunger. Since my teenage years, I have seemingly always been hungry, and no amount of food has ever been able to quell my urge to eat. Even when stuffed to the brim, I still felt hungry all the time.

In an effort to better control my blood sugar (as I have previously written), I started limiting my carbohydrate intake to no more than 60 grams per meal, and my fat intake to no more than 30 grams per meal. It improved my control, and so I have stuck with it, but there is no doubt that I am now eating much fewer calories than I used to.

In spite of that fact, however, I have not experienced any weight loss whatsoever. I still work out hard every day, and most other things are essentially equal here. So the fact that a reduction in caloric intake didn't translate into weight loss always seemed to indicate to me that, however hungry I might have been, I was not eating "too little" food. But then why was I hungry?

The mystery is solved: I'm hungry all the time, no matter how much or how little I eat, because my brain is probably not receiving the right signals from the amylin hormone. I'm not really freakishly hungry all the time, I'm just basically a normal diabetic.

Maybe you've been through the same thing.


Album Review: Big Wreck - "Ghosts"

What many of us liked about Big Wreck's "Albatross" album was that it was a return to musical form for Ian Thornley: More rocking, more grooving, more screaming. It felt like 1997 all over again. 

So think back to 1997's "In Loving Memory Of..." and then the years that followed. Big Wreck followed-up their debut album with something many orders of magnitude more eclectic and experimental with 2001's "The Pleasure and the Greed". Always billed as a reformed band of prog-rockers, Big Wreck finally hinted at that history on that second album, which featured many layers of guitars, contrapuntal instrumentation, odd time signatures, and extended instrumental passages. True, it wasn't a Dream Theater album, but at least the narrative made sense. 

After 2001, though, the musical tides turned against them, and Big Wreck seemed to fade away, replaced by Ian Thornley's apparently more radio-focused solo career. 

Even so, he seemed to leave hints at his uneasiness with radio-rock everywhere. Many of the lyrics on the "Come Again" album can be interpreted as expressing discontent with having to make pop music. Or is it just me? One bit of evidence in my favor are the "Come Again" demos that Thornley uploaded to his MySpace page a few years later. They were only available for a short while, but they demonstrated a far more hard-rock, and yes even a bit more of a progressive, inclination than what "Come Again" ended up sounding like. Again in the liner notes of the still-more-pop album "Tiny Pictures," Thornley thanked a friend for reminding him to rock, even as his music took a ligher turn. Well, the evidence seemed to be there for those of us who wanted to see it.

Then came the return of Big Wreck, with their "Albatross" album. As I mentioned before, it was a return to form. Once again, we heard those old hard-and-bluesy Big Wreck riffs. Ian Thornley was screaming again. He was even shredding, which was something we previously only got to enjoy from his live performances. This was the new Big Wreck, but in many ways it was the same Big Wreck that won our hearts over upon the release of their first album.

What's interesting about "Ghosts" is that it seems to have the same follow-up relationship to "Albatross" that "The Pleasure and the Greed" had to "In Loving Memory Of..." What I mean is, "Ghosts" is the more eclectic and progressive follow-up to "The Albatross." This is great news for me, since I always liked Big Wreck's second album better than their first.

"Ghosts," in particular, fuses together so many important aspects of the Ian Thornley oeuvre: There is the heaviness and the groove, as well as the soft melodic singer-songwriter vibe. We hear both the Zeppelin influence and the Bruce Cockburn influence. We hear the bluesy, slide guitar creativity evident on Thornley's earliest work, as well as the pop-focused hooks that were so pervasive on, for example, the "Tiny Pictures" album.

Indeed, what I like best about the "Ghosts" album is that it draws from all aspects of Ian Thornley's creative work. Any of these songs could have been found on his previous albums without sounding too different, and yet at the same time Big Wreck has managed to move the bar up a few notches: better guitar solos, stronger melodies, better production, nicer guitar tones, and so on. For my money, this is the best Big Wreck album yet. I had wondered how Ian Thornley was going to top "Albatross," because I love that album so much. Well, here's how.


Bass, And Things About Which To Muse

Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that I've recently joined forces with the band Morningside Drive, as a bass player. While I've been playing bass on my own demos and home recordings for a long time now, I haven't always been gigging bassist. Of the time I've spent as a gigging bassist, I haven't always been a very good one.

And yet one fantastic byproduct of my playing with Morningside Drive is the extent to which it has honed my bass chops. I'm still not a very good bass player, but I am slowly crawling toward the point of being a fairly decent one.

One advantage I have here is all the years I have already invested in learning music theory. Thus I generally know which notes to play, and that is half (or much more than half) the battle for most people who take up a musical instrument. That is one reason why I've been able to ramp-up on my bass playing fairly rapidly. I don't have to re-learn scales, modes, and what note goes with what chord; I already learned that stuff when I became a guitarist.

Another advantage I have is that bass guitars are - let's be honest - highly similar to guitar-guitars. It's true that they shouldn't be played the same way, but still... they're tuned identically, save for the difference in octaves. All the notes are in the same place, and I use the same fingers to play them. Moving from guitar to bass is a bit like learning French after you already know Italian: there is a real difference in flavor, but the underlying information is the same, and we use it the same way.

So playing the bass is similar to playing the guitar, but being a bassist is much different from being a guitarist. For one thing, one's role in the band changes from being a lead player to being a supporting player. I had expected that aspect of being a bassist to be less fun, but what I've discovered is that I can often make the same contribution to the band I would normally make, but in such a way that no one really objects.

In part, this is because non-bassists don't tend to be very invested in bass notes. Let's face it, what the bass does seldom catches anyone's attention unless the guitarist is doing it, too. Or unless you're playing a juicy, groovy riff. Barring that, though, people tend to focus on the singer or the guitarist. While as a guitarist I might choose to throw in an augmented chord - alienating many bandmates who may not have the same taste for dissonance I have - as a bassist, it is not usually a problem. People just don't notice it as much.

Non-bassists don't always think their way through the overall harmonic movement of a piece the way a bassist does. So a guitarist may fall in love with a particular riff, play it through the entire verse, then comes the chorus, and the guitarist plays the chorus riff... and so on... By contrast, it is a bassist's job to ensure that the transition is pleasant. First, it has to be rhythmically pleasant. A guitarist can just switch to a new, and sometimes rhythmically different, riff. If a bassist did that, it would be too jarring. Thus, the bassist must help the guitarist and the drummer navigate a rhythmic structure that remains cohesive through the transitions in a piece of music.

Second, the transition has to make harmonic sense, and also tell a harmonic story. The basic mistake most songwriters make is not changing the harmonic structure of a song from part to part. Novice songwriters often write whole songs using only one underlying chord, or a single chord progression, across the verse, bridge, chorus, and so on. Were a bassist to merely mirror the guitarist's work, we'd have a very boring song on our hands. But a bassist can inject pleasant harmonic variation by playing notes that the guitarist doesn't want to play, sometimes even changing the root note of the chord without the guitarist having to do anything at all. More advanced songwriters like to play with chord structures a bit more, and here the transitions become the key. It's all well and good to play a verse and a chorus in totally different key signatures, but without a bassist's help setting up the transition to the new key, it just sounds like a harmonic skeleton with no vertebrae, no backbone.

And all of this is what I've been moved to think about as I play bass for Morningside Drive.


Album Review: Demi Lovato - Demi

A few days ago I received a promotional email from Google Play, offering me a free download of Demi Lovato's most recent album, Demi. I'm a sucker for free music, so I hastened to avail myself of the offer, even though I wouldn't count myself among Lovato's fan base.

In fact, prior to listening to this album, I can only remember hearing one other Demi Lovato song, although I had certainly heard her name and seen her pictures before. I even knew a thing or two about the celebrity gossip in which she had been ensconced, whenever it was she was ensconced in it. I am also told that she has been on TV. And this, my friends, was the sum total of my Demi Lovato knowledge, prior to listening to her album.

On the one hand, this lack of familiarity makes me ill-equipped to review the album in the context of the rest of her work. On the other hand, this does give me the advantage of being able to assess the music more or less on its own merits, without being bogged down by the prejudices that come with having a great deal of familiarity with a particular artist or genre.

Having thus set up my review of the album, one might expect me to review it quite favorably. Unfortunately, Demi feels to me like a tragic combination of missed opportunities and the general state of the popular music industry as it exists today.

When I say "missed opportunities," what I mean is that a number of the songs on Demi have very real potential for greatness.

The song "Two Pieces," for example, features a strong vocal performance and some interesting, elaborate compositional elements, both of which are masked by what I would call poor production decisions. The vocal harmonies are hidden behind the over-powering sound of a synthesizer that attempts to mimic the sound of distorted guitars and basses playing in unison.

That song is followed by two more - "Nightingale" and "In Case" - that start off almost identically, with soft vocals accompanied only by a "piano." (I use the term "piano" loosely here since, as far as I can tell, nearly every instrument that appears on this album is a synthesizer.) One can't be too critical of that sort of set-up, considering that Demi Lovato is a female vocalist, and piano intros are the bread-and-butter of female-lead power ballads. In this instance, however, what might otherwise be the album's strongest song, "In Case," gets buried at the tail end of a trio of similar-sounding songs, reducing its emotional impact. Once again, it is a missed opportunity.

The consistently weakest elements of the album are the inescapable domination of fake instrument sounds, which leave the music feeling stiff, over-compressed, and artificial, and the over-reliance on four-chord songwriting. (Think of it as Nickelback in a sequin clubbing dress.)

This is all a real shame, considering Lovato's undeniably fantastic voice, which demonstrates some real maturity over my memory of her previous work. (The fake vintage-Motown r&b accent Lovato over-uses on her previous hits is still there, but it's slowly going away, and good riddance!)

The other problem with Demi is not really the album's fault at all, so much as the fault of the forces that have been working to destroy the quality of music for a long time. As Prince once mentioned in a PBS interview some time ago, many modern musicians seem to have failed to properly learn their craft.

I seriously doubt Lovato - or any of her peers, for that matter - could explain any of the music theory behind her own songs. And while that might not be necessary for a song to be good, it still strikes me as odd that one can consider oneself a professional musician while knowing so little about music. Consider a professional data analyst who knew how to program linear regressions, but couldn't explain basic statistical theory. Both imply that there are problems with the hiring process, even if the work itself still has the potential to be acceptable.

But the real problem with failing to learn one's craft is that songs that might sound kind of special when played with a small ensemble of people collaborating on a nice arrangement end up sounding like bits and pieces of samples strung together via GarageBand. The last thing a professional artist should want to sound like is a bedroom musician toiling away in the basement. The production quality is certainly there throughout the Demi album, but the quality of the songwriting is not far above what you might here from any of the local friends on your Facebook feed.

Isn't it a shame that someone with such a lovely singing voice exists in a world that must stomp out all the best qualities of music with a combination of bad production decisions and songwriting that is simply divorced from the experience of making music with a room full of other people?

High points for me were the songs "In Case" and "Shouldn't Come Back," both of which feature instrumentation that is a bit more realistic than the others, and which demonstrate Lovato's genuinely good singing voice. The lowest point on the record is perhaps "Really Don't Care," which feels too much like a Taylor Swift knock-off. (Can you imagine that someone actually wants to sound like Taylor Swift?)

All it in all, it is a decent album if you are a sixteen-year-old female. The rest of you can pass this one by.