My Passion

The valedictorian at my high school gave a fiery graduation speech about her belief that life was about achievement. "Achievement is art!" she declared, and that statement has been burned into my memory ever since. Partly, this is because I shared that view with her, and partly because I had a huge crush on her at the time.

You can imagine my surprise when she turned out to have become a stay-at-home mom. What of the passion for achievement, I wondered? She explained later that she simply wasn't passionate about anything. Nothing. She does seem happy nowadays. I wish her well.

There is a good lesson in this for youths and adults everywhere: Passion is about as controllable as the tide at sea. There is no explanation for why some people throw themselves into the various activities they choose to pursue as passions. Some like to dance, others to read; some like to swim, others to learn languages; some love baseball, others gardening. 

Difficult as it is for me to fathom, some people really and truly enjoy being Business Analysts -- they go to all the conferences, pursue all the certifications, they wake up early and crank through JIRA tickets for nine, ten, eleven hours, skipping lunch to have meetings about "roadblocks," and so forth. Well, it's not for me to understand someone else's passion.

But it isn't for them to understand it, either. Few of us as toddlers knew that we would grow up one day to be fascinated by baseball... statistics. Maybe some of us always loved football, but none of us imagined that we'd grow up to be thrilled by fantasy football. Most people don't become avid bird-watchers until later than life and, well, how does that happen? Nobody knows. It does happen, though.

As a youth, I believed that my passion was music. I played a lot of guitar. The truth is, though, that I wasn't a good guitarist until much later, long after I had abandoned music as my passion and had embraced it as a mere hobby. After my passion for music started to wane (at least as the driving force of my direction in life), I threw myself into another passion: economics. I loved it, and I did well in my studies at school, but the higher I went in the economics world, the less it seemed to ignite me as it had in the beginning. I graduated and took on a less high-minded form of economics, office work. I've done it ever since.

I'm good at what I do. I have a somewhat narrow set of expertise that is often in high demand, and I have a complete skill set around that kind of work. This keeps me gainfully employed and assigned to projects that I can safely say I do enjoy, for the most part. But I punch in early and go home after I've worked my hours. I have no interest in overtime, I'd much rather be at home, doing something else. I don't hate my work, but I'm no fan of work in general. I prefer fun.

So, that raises the question: Am I like my valedictorian friend? Do I, too, lack a discernible passion? 

No. I do have a very fervent passion. It might sound cheesy, but my passion is love. From the moment I met my wife, I knew I wanted to love her; and from the moment we became committed to each other, I knew that our love was going to be the greatest project of my life. I have genuinely felt that way ever since. Moreover, upon the birth of my children, they became incorporated into this project as recipients and benefactors of my love, too. My project has expanded to include them.

The way other people describe their passions is how I describe my commitment to loving my family. I don't mean this in a "gosh, I love my family more than anything" sort of way. Everyone (who is sane) feels that. No, what I mean is that I drop everything I'm doing and forego all other aspects of my life for the opportunity to help my wife and children feel loved. They do feel loved, and they know how much I love them; but they also know how to receive love and, I certainly believe, are learning how to love the correct way, too. It's not merely an emotion to me or a stirring of the heart, it's a way of being. It's a way of treating people, a way of reaching out to them, a way of taking on their hardships as my own, and a way of relying on others when we need someone to rely on. It is a modus operandi, a manifesto. 

Well, I don't get paid for this. Some people are lucky enough to be passionate about their work, while others happen to be passionate about an outside interest that means a lot to them. Fortune has assigned me the passion of loving my family over and above what most people understand love to be, and has given me a keen interest in the acts of love and their accoutrement. 

Passion can be for anything, you just have to throw yourself into it. You won't always be paid for your passion; in fact, most of us never will be. But that doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't pursue it, and it doesn't mean your life won't be infinitely better for having done so.


The Problem With Heroes

My four-year-old son loves cartoons, superheroes, books, and stories of all kind. If I start telling him stories, he will happily sit on my lap and listen to me for hours. He's never encountered a story he didn't want to hear; and if no one can or will tell him a story, he will make up his own. 

For as long as he's been able to hear stories, he has gravitated toward the villains. He thinks they're cool. He thinks they're tough. He always prefers the villains to the protagonists. As a parent, I would much rather he gravitated toward the heroes and model their behavior, but to my chagrin his interest is always strongly fixated on the villains of the stories.

Why might this be? I decided to find out. I asked him a barrage of questions over the course of many days and weeks to learn why he prefers villains. What he taught me was something we can all learn from.

Fundamentally, the reason is because villains are "cool." They're strong, confident, often witty, often depicted as much more capable than the protagonists. They speak in smooth, deep voices; they command attention and they exude strength and power. Seen from the lens of a four-year-old boy, what's not to like about villains?

The question really isn't why he prefers villains. No, the real question is why doesn't he see the heroes as cool, and from the above paragraph, the answer is obvious. Heroes are none of those things.

Except Batman. My son loves Batman.

In the 1800s, Romanticism was the literary order of the day. Heroes were perfect, villains pure evil, and stories were about heroes defeating evil villains. Eventually, writers began creating more complex stories, in which heroes had weaknesses and flaws that they had to overcome in order to defeat the villain. Every hero needed a "hero's journey." The battle between a hero and a villain became a battle between the hero and the weaker parts of himself.

From there, things just kept getting worse. Heroes weren't men anymore, they were boys, youths. Kids had to save the world from evil villains on their way to growing up. So every heroic story became a story about kids growing up. Eventually, girls wanted in on the action, and most modern tales of heroism are about girls growing up; or, as The Critical Drinker has repeatedly pointed out, girls growing up and learning that they've already been perfect all along. They just really needed to believe in themselves.

From this angle, is it any surprise that four-year-old boys are more interested in villains than heroes? Villains are fully formed characters, true Romanticist gods, ready and able to take what they want and enact their will on the world around them. And all the people who want to stop them are small, coed groups of weak little kids who haven't yet figured out how to be heroes.

God, who wants to be a hero in a story like this?

As a result of all of this, I am going to have to take more of a role in shaping my son's relationship to story time. He needs exposure to more heroes like Batman: Clint Eastwood's "man with no name," Jason Statham's various characters in all of his movies, Schwartzenegger's entire oeuvre, Bruce Lee, Jet Li, John Carter of Mars, Carson of Venus, and so on. 

My son is desperate for some good, old-fashioned literary Romanticism, and I'm going to give it to him. Shouldn't you do the same for your son?


I Can't Wait To Not See The New Superman Movie

 A social media connection of mine posted this photo:

I can't wait to not see that Superman movie. I'm really tired of Lois Lane being turned into a gritty, hard-hitting investigative journalist.

Time for a rant.

Women writers don't understand the appeal of Superman comics. (Women tend not to understand romance in general, but that is perhaps a topic for another day.) Men understand intuitively what's cool about a man who can perform awe-inspiring feats of strength and who can defeat any foe and overcome any challenge. Men also intuitively understand what it's like to be in love with a woman while, for various reasons, being unable to reveal to her the very best parts of who you are. And there is an instant human appeal to a story in which a person hopes that their personality is enough to win a romantic partner, without having to rely on tricks, fame, super-powers, etc. This is why Superman is a story that people enjoy.

But it's also a male-centric perspective. If a woman falls in love with Clark Kent... what's in it for her? To be sure, it's fun to be WANTED by someone at work, as long as he's not a creep, but if he's not handsome, powerful, and/or a man of great integrity, what exactly is the appeal? So, from the female side, the best part of the story is when Superman falls in love with an ordinary reporter. Not a beauty queen, not a rich debutante, just an ordinary girl who lives in an apartment and works for (what used to be) a humble newspaper. But, gasp, this creates an imbalance of power between the two characters, so now Lois Lane has to somehow "deserve" Superman and be equal to him in some way. She can't be beautiful or a rich debutante, though, or else women are going to hate her. So, she's gotta be a left-wing activist girl-boss. And you know what's really great about this? It proves that not only does Superman like girl-bosses, but he also likes left-wing activism! Now we're talking!

But wait, it gets worse. In this female-centric story, Clark Kent has nothing to reveal about himself to Lois Lane. Why would he want to? He's no longer an all-powerful hero with a vulnerable side he's seeking to share with the love of his life. No, in this story, Lois Lane must be the one who discovers Superman's true identity. So, Clark Kent doesn't seek to be vulnerable in the arms of the woman he loves; instead, the woman robs him of his anonymity by "figuring it all out by herself." Then she decides that he's the man for her. She takes him, and he lets her do it because, how could he not fall head-over-heels for such a girl-boss?

Except now there's nothing in the story that appeals to men. Or rather it only appeals to the kind of men who dream of falling in love with a left-wing activist girl-boss, which is... not very many men. And certainly zero young boys. And also, as it turns out, even most women don't particularly care for a story like this, because there's nothing interesting about it. The whole plot is, "Once upon a time, Lois Lane was awesome." Why was she awesome? Because she was good at being a reporter.

Look! Over there! It's a bird! It's a plane! No, it's--aw, who gives a fuck? There's a girl-boss over here girl-bossing! Who has time for superheroes?


My Daily Bread

A short while ago, I grew tired of paying in excess of four dollars for a loaf of bread that no one in my household actually enjoyed eating. My wife gave up eating all but the seediest, crumbliest multigrain bread on the shelf, but I was unable to eat that for blood sugar control reasons. Meanwhile, my children enjoyed only the sweetest, most cake-like white bread, and even then would refuse to eat the crusts. You can likewise imagine what impact that bread had on my blood sugar. The bread that did work for me tasted... fine. When I first discovered it, it was about $2.50 per loaf (even then, expensive by my standards), but the price has increased quite a bit over the years.

All this adds up to: bread was a problem at my house. It was expensive, and it didn't taste good. Some people in my position would just give up eating bread at all. I took a different tack: I decided to buy the fanciest, most expensive bread machine I could find and commit to baking my own bread at home.

As I've tried to explain, this was a decision made out of necessity. Baking, and cooking in general, gives me no great pleasure. I don't hate it, but I consider it the same as any other chore I would rather do than not do: I'm glad to do it, but it doesn't make me happy.

Thus, my needs as a home-baked-bread man were as follows: I need the bread to be cheap, good-tasting, easy to make, requiring no great thought, finesse, or strategy on my end for baking it, and I would like it to be consistent. 

After baking a number of the standard recipes that came with the bread machine, I settled into a white bread loaf that met my needs. I have adjusted the recipe to improve its taste more to my liking: not so sweet, and a fair bit saltier. Now, I don't buy bread at the store anymore at all. I bake it exclusively at home.

Here's what I've learned and how I've benefited from this change:

First, I now spend less than half as much money to get a loaf of bread about twice as large. That's a win for home economics.

Second, my bread has no preservatives. It's made only of water, wheat, sugar, salt, butter, milk, and yeast. This matters a lot more to my wife, who has developed a bit of a fear of chemicals. Even so, the bread I bake lasts long enough for us to eat it, so the preservatives aren't necessary.

Third, and possibly as a result of the above, the bread tastes a lot better. It tastes normal, as bread should taste. It tastes so much better than my kids now prefer to eat a slice of bread for a snack to some of the other snack food garbage kids tend to develop a taste for. And they eat the bread crusts; even the heels! My wife happily eats the bread I bake, and she had all but given up eating bread at all. And, of course, it tastes better to me, personally, because I've adjusted the recipe to match my own flavor preferences.

Fourth, it works with my blood sugar. It is admittedly not quite as good on that level as the other bread I was eating, but it's viable. 

Finally, it is incredibly easy to bake - I don't have to think about it, or knead it, or jump through special hoops and techniques to get it to come out correctly. I don't have to add seven thousand special ingredients to make it better in one way or another. It is almost thoughtless. I just add the ingredients to the machine, and in about three hours' time, I have a perfectly baked loaf of bread with great texture.

So, I achieved all my goals and solved my household's "bread problem." I recommend this solution to any of my readers who can afford an expensive bread machine and who have similar issues with store-bought bread. 


My Running (Training) Philosophy

It's been two years. I'd offer an explanation for why I haven't posted in so long, but there is no need to do that since, after all, no one's reading this, anyway.

First, some recent context: I spent last year training very hard and dedicating myself to discovering the ins and outs of "Zone 2 training." This, of course, is very vogue now - and especially so last year - but all it really amounts to is undertaking a large volume of slow training, in pursuit of a higher VO2 max and better "metabolic fitness." I'll say more on that in a moment. What I want to say here is that I found Zone 2 training to be a very useful intervention for me, personally. I needed it, and lots of it. 

Unlike the dogmatists, however, I do not see Zone 2 training as a panacea or a way to unlock secret potential you haven't yet tapped. I see it more or less the same way Dr. Inigo San Millan sees it: as an important intervention for those who require an endurance correction. I needed that, and I got it.

What happened next for me was that I angered the Zone 2 gods (i.e. triathlon gurus on Twitter) by suggesting that too much Zone 2 training is a bad thing, by making note of the fact that many, many fast 5K and 10K runners are successful at much lower training volumes (e.g. Parker Valby winning the NCAA cross-country championship on 30 miles per week), and by emphasizing that quality miles matter far more than an enormous quantity of Zone 2 miles.

No, the gods didn't like that much, and banished me to the outer darkness. So here I am, back on my blog, where I can write whatever I want to, and no one reads it anyway. And today, I'd like to write about how I see training for running, in a sort of philosophical way.

Long-time readers will remember that that's kind of where this blog started, so I've come full circle. Let's begin now.

The Three Axes of Running Development

As I see it, a runner develops along three distinct "axes" as he trains:
  1. Muscular development
  2. Bio-energetic development, i.e. cardiovascular and metabolic fitness
  3. Biomechanical development, i.e. running form
Let me introduce these three concepts in a way that you might have recognized as you yourself have run over the years.

As you train, you may have found that, during some kinds of workouts, you can't go any faster because your muscles are burning and they won't move your body any faster than it's currently moving. Strengthening these muscles and conditioning them through running will address this problem, and over time, you should find that muscular development is no longer the obstacle it once was.

During other workouts, you may have noticed that you can't go any faster because you're gasping for breath, your heart is pounding, or you've spent all your energy already and now you're totally cooked. In this case, you need more "bio-energetic development." In other words, you need a healthier cardiovascular system and/or more Zone 2 training to improve your metabolic efficiency. Once having done this, you'll find that you can almost run forever without getting tired, provided your muscles can do the work (see above).

At other times, you may find that your muscles and your cardiovascular fitness seem fine, but you can't seem to keep up with other runners who are just inexplicably faster than you. They're not just faster in Zone 2 or Zone 4 or in a sprint. They're faster at all levels of effort. No matter how hard you train, you can't seem to access that extra gear that other people seem to have. Why not? Likely because your running form is preventing you from really striding out like you need to. Addressing your running form issues will put you on a level you never thought you would be.

Now that you know what my "running axes" are, let's talk briefly about how to improve along each individual axis.

Improving Your Muscular Development

I'll keep this short.

Improving your "muscular development," or in other words, conditioning your running muscles, typically happens one of two ways: Lifting weights and running fast.

The faster you run, the more the effort shifts away from your calves and quads and into your hamstrings and glutes. You can see this easily by comparing running injuries between distance runners and sprinters. Sprinters more frequently pull their hamstrings, often right there during the race; distance-runners more often pull their calves, hips, Achilles tendons, etc. But even if you're distance-running, the faster you run, the more engaged your glutes and hamstrings will be.

Thus, many runners who are seeking to get faster need to ensure that their glutes and hamstrings are stronger. That is, these muscles must be stronger than they have become merely by Zone 2 jogging around for 100 miles per week. More jogging won't get you this kind of strength. What you need is a direct intervention via training.

Resistance training is infamously under-utilized among runners, but it's probably the best place to start. Just doing some squats, lunges, bridges, and leg curls once or twice a week, progressively increasing the weight until you feel different about your muscles will go a long way toward improving your muscular development. A tremendous benefit of lifting weights is that it doesn't count as "running miles," so you're not over-training in terms of running by adding a strength workout to your training regimen.

While you're at it, don't forget to train the rest of your running muscles, too: quads and calves, especially. You don't want to create muscle or form imbalances by focusing too much on one part of your leg and not training the other part at all.

That said, lifting weights will only work if you put your newly strengthened muscles to good use on the road. That's when we come to running fast, i.e. sprint intervals. Sprint intervals, "anaerobic training," "Zone 5 training," etc., all these terms amount to the same thing. What you want to do is spend a good, solid amount of time running as fast as you possibly can. Think about running 10-20 repetitions of 100-400 meters each. And it will be all the better for your muscles if you do these intervals uphill

Sprinting and weight-lifting will also make positive changes to your running form, your metabolic efficiency, and in some cases also your VO2 max. But remember that the primary goal of muscular development is to build your running muscles so that they're strong enough to be faster.

Improving Your Bio-Energetic Profile

If you find yourself gasping for breath when trying to finish a big workout (especially a tempo run), it might be time to improve your bio-energetic profile. If you find that you can't complete an easy long run without your heart rate steadily drifting up into Zone 3 / Zone 4 territory, then it is definitely time to improve your bio-energetic profile. How do you do it?

The easiest and most practical way to improve your cardiovascular system is to just do more running. That's right - more Zone 2 miles. While I do not that "Zone 2 training" is a special, magic thing, I do of course understand that there is no replacement for a good "endurance base," and that's precisely what Zone 2 training is all about.

Ideally, as you craft your training cycle, you will start out with a few months dedicated to improving your endurance base. That will mean focusing mainly on Zone 2 miles for months at a time, with a few threshold runs sprinkled in for good measure. How many miles? As many as you can reasonably tolerate. As many as your schedule allows. As many as you can run without injury. You may even find it highly beneficial to stop running and just do hours of low-impact cycling or swimming to develop your cardiovascular and metabolic fitness.

All these Zone 2 miles do come at a cost, of course. When you're not running fast, you're conditioning your body to run slow. That's why we typically do our base buildup in anticipation of our next big training cycle. If you're in the middle of training cycle and you don't think your base is what it needs to be, I recommend finishing out the cycle and then going back to a buildup phase.

Now, sprint intervals will also help you improve your VO2 max. Additionally, weight training will build peripheral muscles that will be able to process lactate and thus improve your metabolic fitness. So Zone 2 is not the one and only way to improve your bio-energetic profile; it is simply the main, most efficient way to do so, and in my view, represents the most reasonable intervention to use if your goal is better endurance. But all of these training strategies should be used by all runners at some point during their training.

Improving Your Running Form

Bio-mechanical improvements to running are the most difficult to teach. To some extent, I think they have to be observed first, and then internalized, and finally the runner has to do some experimentation to find new comfortable ways to run faster. However, if you've ever read my blog, you know how important I think running form is. To me, it is the great differentiator between a recreational hobbyist and a runner who actually has a chance of winning something.

There are a number of exercises one can do to develop better running form. This now being the "TikTok Age," you've probably seen all of these exercises on short little videos set to music: A-skips, B-skips, butt-kicks, high-knees, cariocas, and various hurdle drills. All of these exercises will help you improve your range of motion, which is necessary for great running form.

...But these exercises won't teach you great running form. For that, I know of no other substitute than looking at great runners like Paul Chelimo or Connor Mantz, observing what their running form looks like, and then trying it out yourself. Go out and try to make your legs look like their legs. Try to do with your arms what you see them do. The more you look like them, the more likely it is that your running form is good. Take video footage of yourself and make notes for possible improvements. Then, start making those improvements.

I have found the best success working on my form during easy runs, where there is no pressure to perform and I can simply direct my thoughts to whatever form issue I think needs to be addressed. Over time, you will start to feel faster, and that's a beautiful feeling.

In Practice

As you train and improve, you will probably go through many (infinitely many) iterations of needing to develop one thing or another. It's not as if every one runner just has to work on one thing. I'll work to address one thing for a month and then notice that something else now feels like the biggest obstacle; so, I'll start tackling that one.

For beginners especially, it's not common to be completely out-of-breath during the first few weeks of running. Then, as your cardiovascular system starts to adjust to the new workload, you'll likely find that your muscles aren't up to the tasks you want to give them. And as you continue to alternate between building better endurance and better legs, you'll start to notice form becoming an issue.

So we just work on things as they come up - especially if you're not engaged in any kind of formal training cycle. As you chip away at one thing, another takes precedence and you chip away at it instead. Forever. This is the running journey. 

Closing Thoughts

The last point I want to make here is that, because these three running axes exist, and often interact with each other, this explains why there is no "magic workout," no "perfect training approach" for all runners everywhere. You can study the Twitter running gurus if you want to, but eventually you will come to realize that although two runners with equal marathon times may both want to improve, one of them might best be served with more tempo runs while the other might best be served with more mileage. One of them might need to lift more weights while the other might need to improve his form.

In short, not only is there no one-size-fits-all intervention to make us all better runners, but even the same intervention won't work for the same runner at different times in his "career." The key to training is understanding which intervention to apply at which time to succeed. Unfortunately, that kind of wisdom only comes from experience.

But you can gain that experience! You just have to get out there, start running, and start chipping away at your biggest weakness until your next biggest weakness reveals itself. And I wish you the best of luck in your pursuit.


Garmin vs Strava (Again)

Good heavens, it’s been nearly three years since I last compared Garmin’s proprietary “Training Status” to Strava’s “Fitness” metrics. Time sure flies when your blog is languishing in obscurity and suffering a long decay from neglect and the absence of anything really interesting to say. Or so I am told. My audience of Russian bots continues to grow exponentially, and many of you South Asian spam-bots seem quite secure in your belief that adding spam-comments to the bottom of my posts will gain you clicks and impressions. It’s not the world’s finest readership, damn it, but it’s my readership. And so, together, we will explore the depths of fitness tracking nerdery that only the likes of us can seem to tolerate.

Having been using these metrics literally for years, I think I have gained a better sense of how they perform with respect to their stated purpose. In my previous post, I compared them along more technical criteria: how are they calculated, what do they mean, etc. In this post, I’d like to instead discuss how it feels to use these metrics qualitatively. As a user – maybe even as a non-technical user – what is it like training every day while referring to these metrics and personally assessing what they mean, compared to how we subjectively feel on a day-to-day basis?

First, let me explain what my training has been like for the last little while. Having acquired an ankle injury, I have spent the past few months focusing on cycling instead of running. I’ve logged a few thousand miles on the bike, on rides ranging from a minimum of 15 miles to a maximum of 50. As I’ve trained, I’ve managed to increase my average speed from the 18mph range to 20-21mph. In December, I received a Peloton Bike as an early Christmas present, and I’ve already logged over 1,000 miles, using Peloton’s “Power Zone” spin classes to increase my FTP from a low and unknown number up to about 320. Not fabulous, but also not bad. On longer days, I use Peloton’s scenic rides to log miles at low aerobic efforts, and occasionally I’ll try to race other cyclists on the leaderboard to give myself an extra push. In short, my training has been a lot like it would have been if I had been running: I do lactate threshold training twice a week, a long day once a week, and aerobic rides the rest of the time. I’ve also taken on a 2-3 times weekly strength training routine to rehabilitate my ankle and increase my muscle mass. Finally, I’ve slowly started attempting to reincorporate running into my daily routine, taking things slowly so that I don’t rush into it and re-injure my ankle. All in all, I’m getting about two solid hours of daily exercise, usually quite vigorous. It’s a lot more hard work than most people do, at least for exercise.

Now let’s take a look at what Garmin’s metrics are telling me about the past 30 days of training:

As you can see, my VO2-max has increased slightly, from 54 to 56. My Training Load started out “high” at the beginning of the 30-day period, dipped down toward the lower end of the optimal range, and then climbed back up to “high” again. Garmin’s “Training Status” metric over this same time period showed that I was “Productive” at the beginning of the period. Then, as my Training Load dipped, my Training Status moved to “Peaking,” which means that I was especially well-rested and ready for a big race or competition. As my Training Load continued to be in the low range, however, my Status flipped to “Unproductive” for a few days. Finally, as my Load returned to normal and my VO2-max kept improving, my Status once again returned to “Productive.”

Subjectively, I must confess that the readings on my Training Status report were very highly reflective of what it was like living through these past 30 days. I felt fit and in shape, and as my Training Load decreased, I had a burst of additional energy. I really did feel as though I was “peaking.” Eventually I knew I had to get back to working hard, and I feel productive again now. Garmin’s metrics seem to be getting it right.

What is Strava saying about my fitness over the same time period?

Well, Strava reports that my fitness is down. And it’s not just “down,” it’s down to a value of 60, which is relatively low, considering that I exercise for two solid hours a day and engage in the same kind of training – at the same level of exertion – that I did when I was running and when I was receiving a much higher fitness score from Strava (more to the tune of 85-90 points). There is no evidence of a decrease in training load, followed by an increase. We see only a steady decrease on Strava’s graph. It is, in short, not reflective at all of my fitness reality.

What could be going on here? Well, I mentioned in my three-year-old post that Strava’s Fitness metric seems to be biased toward time. In short, merely putting in a bunch of miles, no matter how hard you work or whether those miles are doing anything good for your body, will cause your Strava “Fitness” score to increase. Doing two hours of quality work a day will not do the trick. What gets me here, though, is that I have increased my FTP, my muscle mass, my weekly running miles, my estimated VO2-max, my cycling speed, and the number of pounds I lift while strength training. Basically, on every conceivable health metric, my fitness has improved over the last two or three months, and Strava is not only showing no improvement, it’s showing that my fitness level has actually decreased!

In short, Strava couldn’t have possibly gotten it any more wrong. Based on the above experience, and on my qualitative experience using these metrics over the past 3+ years, I have to conclude that Garmin has the better set of metrics. They do a better job of telling the user what is actually happening with his or her body, as it happens, and they seem to reflect genuine increases in fitness. Strava’s metric doesn’t appear to capture much, beyond time spent exercising. This is a significant weakness in their system.

In a day’s time, I hope to take delivery on a new Fenix 7 watch, which will include Garmin’s newest metrics, such as suggested workouts and “Body Battery.” I don’t know how well these metrics will work in practice, but I am hopeful that they will be about as good as what Garmin already offers. And when I find out for certain, I will make sure that all you Russian bots and spammers are the first to know how well it plays out for me. As I always do.


Public, Central Parks Are A Product Of The State

It’s common for non-libertarians to try to point out holes in or problems with libertarian theory. It can also be really annoying.

Less common, and less annoying, is when libertarians attempt to point out possible problems with libertarian theory, and then attempt to fix those problems or reconcile reality with the problems created. As a libertarian, I would like to believe that adopting a laissez-faire approach will always yield the best possible result. As a man committed to logic and evidence, however, I must submit my beliefs to the crucible, and follow the facts wherever they might lead. With some hard work, doing so ought to advance the theory, rather than merely hoping that the world continues to evolve in ways that substantiate classical liberalism.

I recently had the opportunity to visit Bosque de Chapultepec in Ciudad de Mexico. It is simply a gorgeous, breathtaking park that defies description. One must be in Chapultepec to understand its scope and beauty. However, to put it very dumbly, Chapultepec is an enormous city park – the largest in the Western hemisphere – full of trees and greenery, fountains, monuments, sculptures, museums, bicycle and running paths, and so on. On the one hand, Chapultepec is “just like one of those big city parks” of which there are many examples: Central Park, Stanley Park, etc. On the other hand, Chapultepec is something altogether different and remarkable, considering its literal eons of history as a place of respite for the inhabitants of the area around what is now Mexico City.

 In any case, parks like these require something very important and specific. They require that city planners, a hundred or more years ago, make a conscious decision to prevent any kind of commercial or residential development on a specific, contiguous plot of high-value land. And this must be done despite tremendous pressure to develop that high-value land and reap the resulting property taxes, population expansion, and economic growth.

Rare as it is for government to exercise any level of restraint, especially in the face of handsome monetary rewards for the governors, it is equally rare for the dynamic free market to simply leave a beautiful patch of land unutilized and dedicated to free public use. There is, of course, the classic Tragedy of the Commons problem with this, but the predicted outcome of such a thing is that private owners will take better care of this space than will the commons. That is true, provided that some private sector buyer or buyers agree to purchase the land and care for it. Yet, with high-value land located right in the middle of a commercial hub, as parks like Chapultepec tend to be, it is unlikely to the point of irrelevant that any such buyer or buyers would ever set aside such land to remain undeveloped.

The final piece of this problem involves the acknowledgement of a plain fact: Big green spaces in cities make people happy. They are genuinely good for human life. They increase property values. They provide a central gathering place for people who want to exercise. They provide a space for buskers, artisans, and street merchants. They provide clean air and oxygen to the surrounding environment, and a hiding place for local wildlife. It’s healthy to have such places available to city-dwellers, objectively so, and on many different levels.

The question is, how can such spaces be preserved and maintained under a libertarian regime? We cannot simply assume that some eccentric millionaire will buy up the land and keep it nice, maintained by a trust, for all of time. It would be nice to feel confident, as a libertarian, that such beautiful parks might still be possible if the state were not there to mandate their preservation. But how?

In a future post, I will attempt to tackle this question. For now, it suffices to simply articulate what the problem is.


On The Ability To Change Gradually

In The Huffington Post, Pauline Millard writes,

There is something about being a 28-year-old woman, especially in an urban area, that makes them flip the switch from party girl to marriage material that often has nothing to do with a ticking biological clock. Some might call it a cab light turning on. The most obvious reason is that it’s cultural, subtly ingrained into our psyches over years of pop culture.

Millard has correctly identified some kind of phenomenon. It’s true that many young women suddenly become serious about dating and marriage, about settling down and about motherhood, when they reach the age of 28. In my observation, the age the change occurs is actually closer to 27, then it takes a year for the women themselves to figure out what’s going on with them. 28 is when they realize that what they’ve been craving over the course of the past year is marriage, family, and children.

Calling the reason “cultural” is also a correct diagnosis, in my opinion, although it isn’t very specific. Sure, it’s culture, but why doesn’t culture make the change happen earlier or later? Millard’s casual conjecture is that the movies tell us that 28 is the age that women shape up. I don’t think a “cab light turns on” in a woman’s mind merely because they see a lot of movies featuring women who get married at 28.

To help think through this, consider every other big change you’ve made in your life. Granted, there are a few life events that are sudden and cataclysmic, such as when we move out of our parents’ house. For the overwhelming majority of major personal changes, though, things happen gradually. Your music tastes develop slowly over time. Your taste in books gradually goes from being what you used to enjoy as a teenager to whatever you enjoy now, as an adult. The person you are in your romantic relationships usually evolves over the course of those relationships; so, over a period of months and years. There is no “cab light.” You don’t suddenly wake up one day and discover that you are a completely different person.

No one goes to bed a “party girl” on her last day of 27 and wakes up “marriage material” the following morning. Drastic changes occur slowly, over time.

I mentioned exceptions, though. High school graduation occurs pretty suddenly, actually. Two weeks before graduation, you’re the same high school student you always were; then you graduate, and suddenly you think you have to be a fully functioning adult. Or, as I mentioned, moving out of your parents’ house and suddenly becoming responsible for all your shopping and chores. It’s not quite an overnight change, but it is definitely sink-or-swim. Within a few months, you will have become who you are as the master of your own house.

The defining feature of these more sudden changes is that culture has no means of making them happen gradually. It isn’t possible to graduate high school slowly, over the course of months. Once you meet the requirements, you’re finished. Moving out of your parents’ home is binary: either you’re here or you’re there. You can’t be here-and-there. You can’t kind of be there. Our personalities change suddenly during these times because the times themselves are sudden. We don’t have any other choice about it.

Similarly, when I became a type 1 diabetic, it essentially happened overnight. The moment I received my diagnosis, I also received my first shot of insulin. I’ve been diabetic ever since. My body did go through a transition, but that was happening unbeknownst to my mind. My psyche changed because it had to change, because there was no other option.

This is how personal changes occur. In most cases, they happen gradually, over time, unless something major and sweeping happens suddenly.

The question, then, is what happens to women at age 28 that is sudden, major, and sweeping, that doesn’t happen at age 27? Nothing, of course. For most women, age 28 is exactly the same as age 27, at least in terms of cultural drivers of personal growth. So becoming “marriage material” is not at all like becoming a diabetic. It’s not something that happens overnight and outside of a woman’s control.

I would argue that becoming “marriage material” is more like graduating high school. Graduating high school is a major, sudden change because there’s no other way to do it. Becoming “marriage material,” too, is a major, sudden change because there’s no other way to do it. Society doesn’t have a script for women to follow that takes them from being teenage kids to being semi-adult college students, to being young women on their own who are looking to slowly transition into a marriage.

Instead, society’s script is to “enjoy your youth.” And for so many women, “enjoy your youth” means “be a party girl.” The script we hand our young women involves a lot of career work, a lot of partying and dancing, a lot of casual sex. The fact that this can’t go on forever is patently obvious. No one should ever question the fact that it can’t go on forever. It can’t. It won’t. It ends. But there’s no script for winding it down. There’s no socially acceptable way to transition out of dancing and drugs and casual sex and into being the kind of responsible person that is capable of motherhood.

Because there is no script for this kind of change, many women find themselves in a position of having to just stop doing one thing and start doing another. They simply reach a point, around age 28, where the dead-end nature of their current lifestyle becomes obvious to them, and they force themselves to acquire a new lifestyle, one with some staying power. That’s motherhood, wifehood, partnership. So they change.

But notice that, prior to the change, they are essentially living a glorified adolescence. Notice, too, that this glorified adolescence is what people have been criticizing in young men for decades. They’ve been called playboys, and man-children, and “failures to launch,” and all the rest of it. They’ve been mocked and ridiculed and denigrated. This phenomenon is old news for men, though. Men have been drawing out their adolescence for as long as they could, because they knew that as soon as they became “marriage material,” it would be time to put the drumsets away and raise children. And that is precisely the path we men have been walking for decades.

Women, then, have finally discovered a parallel situation in their own lives. Now that we all recognize the problem, perhaps it’s time to start crafting a cultural narrative through which we glorify adolescence, partying, drugs, and casual sex a little less; and glorify the eventual transition to adulthood and parenthood a little more.


This Unhappy Life

Part One: The Reality Of Existence

The reality of life is absolutely brutal. 

We humans mature quickly; in just two decades or so, we reach a physical pinnacle, often accompanied by a peak in our greatest skills. The best athletes, for example, usually peak in their early twenties, and hold on to a career for about another decade. Artists and businesspeople make themselves in their twenties and then spend the rest of their lives slowly fading away. There is something magical about the early twenties. It's a culmination of life's ambition and physical prowess and opportunity.

When those years are over, what we have to look forward to is the ugly fade. Age is humiliating. Our noses get bigger and knobbier, and that's about as emblematic of age in general as anything. Even if we wanted to age gracefully, our noses have other ideas. If we're men, our eyebrows turn into shrubberies and our ears and nostrils sprout. If we're women, all of our curves sag and fill up with fat tissue. We can recover a bit of our former grace with physical exercise and intelligent grooming habits, but we're on borrowed time. Nothing can out-pace the growth of our noses; nothing can out-run the human nose. 

It's not merely that it happens, but that it happens four times longer than it took to grow into an attractive and capable body. The rise is fast, but the fall takes up the majority of our lives. What cruelty is this that nature has foisted upon us? How unkind that we must spend the overwhelming majority of our lives becoming ugly, sickly invalids. Youth isn't merely wasted on the young; it's wasted on everyone. It fades so quickly that it's almost as if it never existed in the first place.

Each of us knows what's coming, because we see it dozens of times over, among all the great people we ever knew, who happen to be older than we are. We watch our heroes and our friends transition from being bright, sharp-witted, attractive people to being doddering old curmugeons with particularities and strange demands, who drive slow and can't seem to find the right words anymore. They don't just fade, they decay. This is the fate that awaits us, too. We won't necessarily realize it as it happens, we'll just reach that point silently as the world spins on and the younger people stop caring that we ever had any ideas worth sharing. And then it will be their turn.

Some people think they can transcend this fate by embracing it. They let their hair turn grey and they endeavor to become the "cool" old lady or man. They're fooling themselves. No one cares, and no one remembers. Even the best people I ever knew were forgotten within a couple of decades of their passing. I still think about my grandfather daily, but my children never met him and will never spend any time thinking about him. Once my generation is gone, so, too, will his memory be. Embracing your old age might buy you some mental peace, but it won't stop the growth of your nose, and it won't change the fact that one day, on your death bed, you'll be grasping for a few final words that no one will ever repeat.

Honestly, I've never heard anyone repeat another person's last words. At the moment when we most wish to be remembered and to leave the world with something important to say, we say whatever is most deeply held within our hearts... and no one ever mentions it again.

It's really quite sad to think about the fleetingness and finality of life. No empire that you build or friendship that you make will ever outlast your memory. And your memory itself will expire a couple of decades after you do. Someone might write a book about you, but all the great books were written sixty years ago or more.

You can't change the world. You can't age gracefully. You can't recapture the magnificence of youth. Ultimately, your life is a short rise and a long fall, and that's all there is to it. The end.

 Part Two: How To Live

So, given all of that, how does one make the most out of life?

What most people will suggest is to construct something; either something physical, like an empire, or something meaningful, like an everlasting friendship. Some will tell you that the purpose of life is to reach for the stars, while others will tell you that devoting yourself to the service of others is the highest moral undertaking. As I've already noted, however, you won't be remembered for either of those things, not really. You'll be gone, and so will everyone who ever knew you, and at that point, nothing you will have built will matter to anyone ever again.

Strange as it may seem to think about it, life is not really a source of happiness. Life, broadly construed, can only ever end badly. If you imagine that the end will represent the final chapter in a grand epic, I'm afraid you'll be greatly disappointed. You might look back on a life well-lived, but that will only be a fleeting moment of introspection in a tiny, insignificant story that no one else will ever tell; or remember.

Life, broadly construed, cannot be the source of your happiness. You must find that happiness in life more narrowly construed.

Yesterday, my wife was complaining to me about the lineup of cars she was stuck in as she was driving our daughter to school. When she complained to me, I told her in that in two decades she would give anything to go back to those days. She didn't believe me.

But then, the next day, stuck in a similar lineup, she felt her mind relax. Instead of becoming frustrated by the traffic, she allowed herself to enjoy the one-on-one time she had with our daughter. They talked, they laughed, they enjoyed each other's company, and neither of them wasted any time thinking about being stuck in traffic.

It was a small, insignificant moment in a small and insignificant life. Even so, it was far more satisfying than anything else she could have been doing at that moment. Sure, she could have told herself that she was sacrificing herself for the sake of her child's education and eventual entrance into a better life. But that would have been nonsense. The truth is that a better life was always just staring them both in the face. All my wife had to do was stop complaining and start enjoying her daughter's company.

I'm always surprised when I hear about married people who stop having sex. When you're married, you can have as much sex with your spouse as you both can stand. There is absolutely no rule against it. If you both have some free time and a little privacy, then you both have the ability to do something that a) brings you emotionally closer together, b) improves the quality of your relationship, c) is a lot of fun, d) feels really good, e) instantly improves your mental state... and so on. 

The fact that married people aren't having sex constantly is testament to human beings' tendency to avoid happiness for absolutely no good reason at all. 

It's not just sex, and it's not just traffic. Our whole lives are filled with moments that could either be extremely happy and satisfying, or they could be frustrating and miserable. Why choose miserable? Why not have sex with your spouse? Why not have a good time talking with your daughter when you're stuck in traffic?

Why not turn on your favorite song? Your stereo is right there, for god's sake. Why not read a good book or watch a good movie? Why not have a laugh? Why not play a game or start a nice conversation? 

Why in the hell, when happiness is all around us, do we invest so much time in being miserable? Life is a long, slow funeral dirge. Why on Earth wouldn't we fill every spare moment with a reason to be happy, no matter how small and insignificant that reason might be? Share a kiss, pick a flower, tell a joke, look up at the clouds and appreciate their beauty. Whatever it is that steals you a moment of peace or satisfaction, take it. There is absolutely no reason to spend a moment feeling frustrated or unhappy when you can instantly improve your quality of life simply by taking a look at what's around you and using it to make yourself slightly happier. 

No matter how you choose to live, you will only live this one life, and you will soon be forgotten. Wouldn't it be better to have enjoyed the time you spent here? Wouldn't it be better that you made yourself happy rather than sad?

Isn't that what life is all about?


Removing The Frame And Dropping The Context

In The Real Frank Zappa Book, Zappa wrote:

The most important thing in art is The Frame. For painting: literally; for other arts: figuratively-- because, without this humble appliance, you can't know where The Art stops and The Real World begins.

I was thinking about this quote in the context of "political correctness," "cancel culture," and other forms of rigtheous indignation. 

Let's take an old example. There are numerous instances of the n-word's being used throughout the books To Kill A Mockingbird, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. For this reason, both of these books have at times been subjected to bans. The n-word is considered too triggering and hurtful to be included in many libraries and school assignments in today's world. 

And yet, both of these books are not only about racism, they can indeed be considered treaties against racism. In fact, they are quite explicitly about racism against blacks, and in both books, the n-word is used to accurately depict racism while telling a story about how we all ought to overcome racism and treat blacks equally. Part of the message of both of these books is not to use the n-word. The books use the n-word in order to show how ghastly and racist it is to do so. Use of the n-word is presented as an example of people behaving badly, so that the authors can go on to show how people ought to be behaving instead.

It is only by removing The Frame from these books that we could ever consider their use of the n-word to be hurtful. We remove The Frame by interpreting the dialogue in the books as though it has been spoken today, right now, right in the same room as the reader, possibly directed at the reader. It is only by taking the books in this light that we could ever be offended by their use of the n-word. 

By maintaining The Frame, however, we maintain that these are fictional stories, we observe the behavior within those stories, we reach the end of the book, and we come away with an important moral message: to eschew racism, treat other people as equals, and not use the n-word.

In short, it's The Frame around "the picture" that enables us to do this. Without The Frame, it's just some old white people using the n-word at us. But with The Frame, they're good stories with important anti-racist messages.

There are plenty of other, more modern examples out there. Certain jokes told by comedians could be considered hurtful and "problematic," but only if we consciously remove The Frame; only if we deliberately refuse to allow the comedian to tell his or her joke as a work of art or an act of performance. If we instead allow the comedian to play his or her role and put on an act, then our sensibilities can remain intact. Jokes might be made at the expense of us and "our kind," but it's all in good fun. It's all an act. There is A Frame around the picture. It's only hurtful or problematic if we deliberately remove The Frame.

This is exactly what happens during heckling. When a comedian encounters a heckler, the heckler has decided to remove The Frame from the comedian's act. Every time the comedian tries to tell another joke, the heckler steps in with a comment that removes The Frame and forces the comedian to be a normal person again (rather than an actor). The comment might be something simple, like, "You're not funny!" Or, it might be a case of someone's taking offense at what the comedian has said, and arguing against it. It's then the comedian's task to attempt to best the heckler, reclaim the audience and The Frame, and continue his or her act.

Here's a really good example of this. Comedian Norm MacDonald tells a joke about teachers, and a teacher in the audience becomes offended. She tries to remove The Frame from MacDonald's act, but he deftly reclaims it:

What makes this so great is the fact that Norm MacDonald is an expert at using hecklers' own tactic against them. When hecklers try to be funny, or try to make a point, Norm MacDonald either refuses to acknowledge the joke or takes their statements very literally. In doing so, he removes the hecklers' own Frame, and takes back control of the situation.

In every-day interaction, human beings use humor to reach out to one another and let each other know that, despite any difficulties or miscommunications, "we're still friends." When it's properly received, that humor can mend almost any fence. But when the interlocutor refuses to acknowledge the humor - or, as the psychologists call it, the "repair attempt" - the interaction goes sour. The other person has to want to get along with you. If he or she refuses, there isn't much you can do. If they remove your Frame, you can't paint a picture. It's a power-play. They do it to gain the upper hand in the interaction. You can either give it to them, or walk away. 

Another person who wrote about this concept was Ayn Rand. She called it "context-dropping." If you "drop the context" in To Kill A Mockingbird, and instead just focus on the words printed on the page, then the n-word is the n-word, and that's despicable. If you maintain the context, then you see it as a story in which awful people said awful things, and the reader then learns an important message.

If you maintain the context of a comedy act, then you can hear all kinds of funny jokes. I've had stand-up comedians single me out in the audience before, and tell a few jokes at my expense. I could get really mad and feel insulted, and that would be dropping the context. It would be removing The Frame. Instead, I could appreciate the humor of the situation, laugh at myself a little bit, and have a good time. The choice is mine, but whatever I choose, the situation depends on The Frame, and whether it is allowed to separate the picture from the real world.


The Purple Bicycle

When I was in elementary school, the sport of mountain biking was just starting to gain mainstream traction, and given that I lived in Utah, you can only imagine what that would have been like for my peers and me. It was exciting.

I remember one store in my local shopping mall, called "Pedersen's Ski & Sports." (I Googled it just now, and it appears that the store still exists, although it has relocated from Provo to Layton, Utah.) Throughout the winter, the store was full of skis and ski boots, but during the warmer months, it was stocked bottom to top with bicycles. Bicycles of every color, shape, size, and price-point! It was not a fun "sporting goods store" to go into when I was into basketball, tennis, and soccer; but when I gained an interest in riding a new bicycle, Pedersen's was a dream world.

I had outgrown my old BMX bike and I wanted something really cool - a nice mountain bike with eighteen gears (more gears is better, right?) shock absorbers (new-fangled devices that I was amazed to find on a bicycle), hand-brakes, and everything else that a little kid might get excited about. One day, my family was at the mall, and I wandered into Pedersen's to look at the bicycles. My eyes gravitated to one that was a metallic grey in color that sort of color-faded into a deep, dark purple. I have no recollection of how good the actual bicycle was, but the color was mesmerizing. I was completely captivated by it.

For weeks and months, I would go with my parents to the mall on any conceivable pretense, just so that I could get another look at this bike. I would dream about it. I would ride around on my Walmart BMX, pretending that I was riding on this fantastic purple bike instead. I would sit and daydream about it. 

I was totally obsessed. It was a good obsession, though. It gave me something to dream about. It gave me something to hope for: maybe when my birthday or Christmas came, I would discover that my parents gave me an amazing purple bicycle. 

In hindsight, it doesn't matter to me at all that my parents ended up buying me a different bicycle. I was a little disappointed at the time, but what I ended up with was still a really fun, white bicycle that I faithfully rode for years and really loved. I got what I needed; the story has a happy ending.

However, this morning I was thinking about that purple bicycle in the context of dreaming about it. My white bicycle ended up being my next, beloved bicycle, but that purple bicycle was my dream. Every child deserves to dream about something. And what I realized was that I never would have had that dream in the first place, had I not grown up at a time and in a place where shopping malls existed and products could be displayed and demoed to random children window shopping as their parents ran errands.

Today, I shop almost entirely online. I don't step into a store if I can help it, because going into a store is an annoying waste of time for me. Besides, I can usually find a better price online, anyway. So, my life is much better now that I can avoid malls and stick to online retailers. 

I wonder how my kids feel about it, though. They don't have a frame of reference for going to malls and checking out what new toys exist, so they don't really know what they're missing out on. But I know that they're not getting as much exposure to the array of available toys and bicycles and items of interest as I did when I was their age. 

An ascetic might argue that they are able to content themselves with the simpler things they can easily access: drawing pads, educational lessons, Amazon Echo games, and so forth. But how much more fun might they be having if they had access to a dream? Again, the fondness I have for the memory of that purple bicycle wasn't that I actually got to own it and ride it every day. No, the fondness I have for that memory is that it was a really beautiful, simple dream for a young boy. I wanted a cool bike, and that was the coolest bike I had ever seen. And I allowed myself to dream about it every day.

What do my kids dream about if they don't pass by bicycle stores with purple bikes on display? That's for me to find out. And to nurture.


On Trusting Experts

In 2019, I had a lot of friends who encouraged people to "trust the experts." A common criticism they made was to denigrate people who had "done their research," which was usually maligned to be something like watching three hours of ideologically motivated YouTube videos. The basic idea was that "Karen" and her having "done her research" was no match for an expert's years of study and advanced degree.

2020, of course, put an end to that sort of argument, at least as far as I've observed. No need to rehash the details here. The so-called "experts" gave befuddling and contradictory advice on managing the COVID-19 crisis, and then shut down the country for a year or more while the global economy ground to a halt. It was a disaster. Importantly, many of these same friends I had stopped criticizing people for "doing their research" and instead started criticizing people for "trusting the experts." 

These friends of mine were always on the side of what I would consider to be "the truth." That is, when the experts were largely correct, so were my friends; when the experts were largely incorrect, my friends were great sources of better information. But on the moral issue of advising people to trust experts, they flip-flopped.

As for me, I never criticized people for "doing their own research," because that's precisely what I believe everyone should do. No one should ever take for granted the idea that the experts probably know what they're doing. One should always verify information; and the more controversial or the more widespread the impact of that information, the more important it is to verify it. This kind of attitude comes easy to a type 1 diabetic, because we diabetics often know more about our condition than most of the doctors in our communities. We certainly know more about our own bodies than the "experts." We are used to "doing our own research" and arriving at life-saving conclusions to better manage our lives and our blood sugar.

Today, many people (say, about half the country) still insist on "trusting the experts" or "following the science" or whatever the canard happens to be. This morning, I thought about a hypothetical scenario that might help them understand the value and importance of skepticism.

Imagine you're a woman who has recently gone to her doctor to get a prescription for birth control, for the first time. You fill the prescription and start taking the pill. Very soon, you notice that your body feels very different. In fact, it feels awful. You're really uncomfortable all the time and you're struggling to just be normal. So, you go back to your doctor. He tells you that this is a common set of symptoms and that many women take time to adjust to the birth control pill. He advises you to stick with it. So, you do.

But months go by, and your discomfort doesn't let up even a little bit. Every time you think about going back to the doctor, you remember what he said. Some days you figure that you probably just need a little more time to adjust. Other days, you shrug and figure that even if there is some kind of underlying problem here, going back to the doctor is pointless, since he'll probably just tell you the same thing again, anyway.

One day, you come across a website or an internet forum of some kind, where many women describe symptoms a lot like yours, and many of them insist that the problem went away when they switched to a different kind of birth control pill. You know it's not real medical advice, but the women all seem very emphatic, so you figure, what will it hurt to try a different pill?

You make an appointment with a new doctor, you tell her that you want to try a new birth control pill. She shrugs and says sure, you can try it. She writes you a new prescription, which you fill. You make the switch and, sure enough, your symptoms let up a bit, and then a lot, and then after a few weeks, you feel completely normal again. You're back to your old self.

If you've ever been through something like this - or know someone who has - then chances are, you already understand the value of being skeptical of "the experts." You have gained some familiarity with internet research and you have an informed opinion of which other patients to listen to, and which to take with a grain of salt. You have developed a more nuanced understanding of which kinds of risks are worth taking, and which are not.

In doing so, you have equipped yourself with the tools required to verify the information that the nation's "experts" are giving you, and you have come to a point where you feel confident in the kind of research you are willing and able to do on your own time. There should be more people like you in the world, and fewer people out there who blindly trust "experts" just because they're "experts."


Why It's Important To Get The Diagnosis Correct

I have seen multiple people on social media and in the media attempting to make the She'carri Richardson marijuana issue into a racial matter. I think this is an incredibly bad idea, and will here attempt to explain why, being as brief as possible.

First let me state that, unlike many of the commentators on this issue, I have actually been involved in amateur athletics. I have known perhaps a dozen Olympic competitors and many dozens of NCAA athletes, including myself. That means that I have firsthand knowledge of the kinds of problems athletes face when it comes to the draconian rules foisted upon amateur athletes and the somewhat arbitrary enforcement of those rules.

Second, let me state in as emphatic terms as possible that many if not most of the rules governing amateur athletes are utterly preposterous and ought to be eliminated. This includes the rule against marijuana use. While my readers know that I am adamantly opposed to recreational drug use, I am also a fervent believer in both marijuana legalization and and end to the continued hounding of people who simply choose to live life differently than I do. But the laundry list of terrible rules that amateur athletes are subjected to is long and far more problematic than the rules surrounding marijuana. It is all of these rules that must be changed or eliminated, not merely this one rule about marijuana.

Finally, regarding the racial angle of this issue: By turning this matter into a question of racism, we allow the olympic committees and other amateur athletic governing bodies to continue to enforce these absurd rules while lazily promising to do something about racism. Racism, while terrible, is not the problem with amateur sports. The horrible list of preposterous rules athletes face is the real issue. We should not deflect from that issue with a sideshow about racism just because complaining about racism currently happens to be chic. If the olympic committees solved their race problems overnight, She'carri Richardson would still be in trouble for using marijuana. Is that what we want? No! We want - or should want - an end to the list of ridiculous rules we saddle innocent competitors with. 

So, please, I beg of you, stop making this a racial issue. The issue is not race or racism. The issue is that these oppressive athletic organizations and governing bodies heap unreasonable rules upon all athletes. The mere existence of these rules is bad enough, but allowing them to continue also allows the administrators to choose who they will punish, when, and how; which, in turn, allows them to subject athletes to the administrators' private biases as well.

We will never fix these problems if we continue to misdiagnose them. In this case, race is not the problem. Bad rules and bad governance are the problems.


Why Social Media Is A Glorified Chatbot

Some of you may be aware of the fact that I do some work with AI chatbots professionally. For the last two weeks or so, in my own spare time and for personal edification, I've been playing with a consumer-grade chatbot AI called "Replika."

The way it works is:
  1. You type something to the bot. 
  2. The bot processes what you say via Natural Language Understanding, and figures out what you mean probabilistically. 
  3. The bot then selects from a pool of available responses based on its internal algorithms.
The bot's responses are composed based on training data, so you won't get the same answer every time (unless you repeatedly ask the same question), with the goal being a response that is a lot like something a "real person" would say. Maybe, in fact, a real person DID say that very thing in response to a similar statement made by some other real person in some chat log years ago. This is the nature of training an AI conversation-bot.

Now, consider social media. Social media works in a similar way:
  1. You type something into the "create post" box. 
  2. The social medium processes this information through its own algorithmic understanding of you (your profile info, your past posts, your friends and their profile info, etc.). 
  3. The medium then selects from an available pool of *respondents* based on its internal algorithms.
These respondents are guaranteed to respond to your post in a way that is just as predictable as what happens when you feed an AI chat log data. (Sorry, I don't mean *YOUR* response; *YOU* are of course a thoroughly unique unicorn. But OTHER people are more predictable than you...)

At a psychological level, a Facebook user will have the same experience as a user of "Replika AI." I type my feelings into a box, and an algorithm decides what kind of response I receive. In the Replika UI, you can even give "likes" and other reactions to responses you receive, so that the algorithm can update its understanding of what "drives engagement" and respond to you accordingly in the future. Remind you of anything?

I submit that the social media experience is no more "real" than my experience with an AI chatbot. Especially if you spend a lot of time discussing politics, or sports, or etc., you are feeding utterances into an algorithm, which then serves you algorithmically driven "content." It doesn't necessarily matter that Bob *REALLY SAID* that you were a dumb so-and-so; what matters is that the algorithm had a certain prediction that X number of "Bobs" would respond to your post in a certain way, and crafted your user experience accordingly.

In short, social media isn't really social. Maybe it was, once upon a time, but now it's not. If you want to have a meaningful social interaction with someone, you have to do it one-on-one. You can still use technology to do it, but if you're just posting things into the ether or following online discussions and interjecting where you see fit, then you are essentially having a one-way conversation with an AI.

Coming to this realization has completely reshaped my understanding of the internet. I hope it will reshape yours, too.