Levemir: Another Update

In keeping with my previous posts on Levemir (see here, here, and here) and in the interest of providing some completeness on this issue, I thought I had better provide a short update on how it's been going.

Because my overall opinion on Levemir is resoundingly positive, I thought I should start with a single negative point about my experience thus far. That's just in case someone stumbles upon my Levemir posts and only reads them quickly.

This could be a major consideration for some users: There seems to be a slight increase in the amount of scarring around my injection sites. I'm not sure whether this would happen to everyone, and I've certainly not read from other users that this is a problem. Still, it seems that my injection sites take a little longer to fully heal, and if I don't do a really good job of rotating sites, then I will build up a great deal of scar tissue and the insulin won't absorb properly. Sometimes the FlexPen won't fire at all for this reason. (This latter point is similar to my discovery that reusing pen needles often doesn't go so well with the FlexPen.)

And that's it for the negatives. Now for some positives.

The biggest difference I have noticed is that Levemir seems to last longer than Lantus. I don't know why this is, especially since Lantus lasts longer in clinical studies. Whatever it is, though, it works for me. If I conjectured as to why this happens for me, I'd be talking myself into an explanation without any sort of real evidence. Maybe this is a highly individualized reaction, or maybe it has something to do with my lifestyle. Whatever it is, I am glad it works this way.

Once I got used to the FlexPen, I found that I prefer it. I can understand how others would feel differently, but I personally enjoy the spring-loaded trigger. I like knowing that I'm getting the full dose, and I like knowing that if the insulin fails to trigger completely that I haven't gotten the dose. Perhaps it's just more reassuring.

The injection site never burns, never, like it did with Lantus. It's a totally painless injection, and that is a small but significant improvement in my regimen.

And one potential imaginary factor: The insulin "feels" more "natural" to me. Doctors scoff at me when I tell them I can "feel" the insulin in my body, but it is what it is. Take it for what it's worth.


Some Links

I have to chuckle at this David Henderson proof of objective truth, contra Scott Sumner and Rorty. The commentators (and Sumner) keep missing Henderson's point: You can't assert that objective truth doesn't exist without demonstrating that you do not, in fact, hold that belief. (Or, in other words, you cannot possess knowledge that you disbelieve.)

It's interesting to see everyone's reaction to the whole Cheryl Tiegs / Ashley Graham row. Women who once lambasted Sports Illustrated for the "exploitation" of its swimsuit issue are now applauding the magazine for putting a plus-sized model on the cover. So sexual exploitation is okay, so long as it's plus-sized women we're exploiting? Or, it doesn't count as exploitation if it's a fat woman in a swimsuit - only skinny women can be sexually exploited? And note that all Tiegs is saying is that being plus-sized is unhealthy; and it is.

Here's a Huffington Post article about replacing the Best Actor and Best Actress categories with a single, gender-neutral category. Once again, what's interesting here is not the position the author takes, but the inherent contradiction: On the one hand, gender identity is vitally important to all people; on the other hand, we should eliminate all traces of gender from public discourse.

Scientists claim that hominids' teeth shrank due to increased use of tools and the cooking of food. But how would any of this lead to the natural selection of smaller teeth? I really dislike just-so evolutionary stories.

By now you must have heard about the Atlas robots. Does anyone out there really think it's a good idea to make artificial intelligence that is impervious to human attacks?

Maybe I'm not understanding Scott Sumner's argument here, but it sounds like he has completely undermined the case for monetary policy (which wasn't his intention). My comment explains.


Inside / Outside

In which I discuss the different perspectives that come from a person's relationship to the community in which they live.

Mormon high school students typically take special, daily religious classes called "seminary classes." Outside of Utah, these classes are offered before or after school, but in Utah a dedicated "seminary building" stands next door to every high school campus, and students organize their class schedules so that their seminary classes are incorporated into their regular daily schedule like any other high school course.

One day, when I was in high school, I had lunch with an attractive friend of mine, trying to get to know her a bit, with hopes of mustering up the courage to push things further. At some point, she mentioned her seminary class and then, assuming that I was also a mormon, she paused to ask me what period during the school day I had scheduled my seminary classes.

When I told her that I didn't take seminary classes, she was visibly but unantagonistically startled. She put a hand on my shoulder and reassured me: "Oh! That's okay."

There are two ways of looking at this interaction, depending on whose perspective you're likely to take.

From her perspective, she wanted to reassure me that the fact that we were members of different religions didn't bother her. I completely understood that at the time, but as a religious minority in the area, I also had another thought: "I know it's okay!" I didn't need reassurance from the religious community that it was "okay" to believe what I believed.

Members of a social majority often have very little perspective into what it means to be tolerant of minorities. Saying that "it's okay" for me to have my own beliefs sounds kind, from the perspective of a tolerant member of a majority. However, minorities don't want to be reassured that their existence is valid in the eyes of the community, they just want to live their lives. Members of majorities never have to ask for this kind of liberty because it is taken for granted.

I thought about my experience in light of some of the things I've been reading out there. It's not uncommon for pundits, economists, and philosophers - especially political philosophers - to discuss "the polity," or to discuss the various ramifications of "our" running "our" political system one way or another, or to discuss what "we" mean when "we" say or act a particular way, or etc. They aim to solve problems that "we" have, so that "we" can do a better job of living "our" lives.

I can't help but notice that these are conversations that can only be had from within. "We" can only discuss what "we" think should happen in "our" community or political region if we happen to consider ourselves members of that community. The choice, however, is not always ours. The community might openly reject your bid for membership because of your religious beliefs, or your race, or your income level, or whatever else it might be.

If "the polity" decides for itself, in your absence, that you do not belong to it (even though you do), then your position in "the polity" changes considerably. Your relationship to it is completely different. Your ability to affect change is diminished if it is not obliterated. Your ability to be persuasive is no longer a question of your ability to communicate or to reason, because what the group wants from you is not change but conformity. So, conformity - the one last thing you could ever want - is the only option offered to you.

Some insiders recognize this, and temper their philosophies accordingly. They aim to be tolerant and non-judgmental. They aim to "check their privilege" and to "respect other cultures." They make willing and liberal concessions in their political ideologies to allow plenty of room in "the polity" for us outsiders to thrive. 

When they speak about the interests of minorities, or outsiders, or individuals, they remind me of that the girl I knew in high school who wanted to reassure me that it was "okay" to be who I am. And when pressed on this point, members of strong in-groups will simply invite the outsider or the individual an opportunity to come in and participate in the community's already-established operating system.

Individuals and outsiders want neither reassurance that their existence is okay nor an opportunity to conform and participate according to the group's rules, and offering us these things is not an act of kindness or tolerance. 

We want only live our lives.


Sweatshop Math

This is what lower-class urban Bangladesh looks like

Donald Boudreax is posting about sweat shops this morning, and some colleagues of mine were recently discussing the presumed immorality of sweat shops the other day, too. Consequently, this seems like as good a time as any to add some simple thoughts of my own.

To understand why so-called "sweatshops" are less objectionable than they seem, we must assume that it is us ourselves who want to open a factory overseas.

Start with some basic assumptions:

  1. We have $100,000 to spend on labor costs.
  2. Widgets are produced in batches, and batches are then shipped Stateside to be sold.
  3. Every employee we hire produces 10 widgets per batch.
This means we can hire one employee and pay him $100,000, two employees paid $50,000 each, four employees paid $25,000 each, and so on.

This also means that one employee will yield 10 units per batch, two employees will yield 20 units per batch, four employees yield 40 units per batch, and so forth.

Median household income in the United States is a little over $50,000 per year, so let's keep things simple. If we want to pay our overseas employees as though they were Americans, we could only hire two of them. We will end up with 20 units, and we must hope that we can sell these units for $5,000 apiece in order to break even. (Yes, I'm ignoring sunk costs, shipping costs, etc.)

Now, very few items can be sold for $5,000 apiece, particularly when we're talking about items manufactured overseas. In fact, we probably started looking into outsourcing this labor in an effort to keep costs (and therefore prices) competitive. Most probably, we selected a country whose labor costs are low.

Median household income in Bangladesh is about $600 per year. At this level of income, we can now afford to hire about 167 employees and produce 1,670 units, which we can sell for $59.88 apiece to break even. 

Alright then - now we have ourselves an attractive business case. 

The problem here is that this means we are paying our employees less than $2 per day. I'll say that again: This means we're paying our employees less than $2 per day. 

Let's recap:
  • We are paying our employees the median income of their country.
  • Our business is barely breaking even.
  • Most American social activists would accuse us of running a sweatshop.
The point here is that it's not exactly easy to solve the poverty problem by raising salaries. The math just doesn't work out that way.

This is what middle-class urban Bangladesh looks like


The 2016 Oscar Gift Bag And Comments

I know. You were just dying to read my take on this. I shall happily oblige. I report the items and their monetary value as reported by a website called "Good.Is."

Haze Dual Vaporizer ($250)
Relevant only for those celebrities who choose to vape their marijuana. I claim no expertise here.

Personalized M&Ms ($300)
I'm suspicious of the monetary value here, but have no further comment.

A 10,000-meal donation made in the nominee's name to an animal shelter or rescue of their choice ($6,300)
Ethically problematic. I wonder if the celebrity can opt-out of this. If not, then the "gift" is really the use/abuse of a celebrity's name for a political agenda. I imagine most celebrities are used to this kind of thing, and probably have good lawyers who specialize in preventing it.

A lifetime supply of Pu-erh Tea Nourishing Cream and Pu-erh Tea Cleansing Bar ($31,200)
Any time I see something like this, I wonder whether the sponsor will actually last through that celebrity's lifetime and will remain solvent enough to follow through on its gift.

A year's worth of Audi car rentals from Silvercar ($45,000)
For the celebrity who cannot afford their own car.

10-day all-expenses-paid trip to Israel ($55,000)
And let me guess: Comes with a free photo-op so that the celebrity can be as conspicuous about vacationing in Israel as possible?

Tribute video services ($125)
This is probably really useful for actors.

Caolion Ultimate Pore Care gift set ($134)
This is probably nice, too.

Healing Saint Luminosity skin serum and hair follicle stimulant ($193)
I have never wanted to stimulate my hair follicles, but I'm not judging you if that's your bag.

Private 15-day walking tour of Japan ($54,000)
For the famous person who wants to walk around in a crowded public place during a holiday.

10 personal training sessions with Alexis Seletzky ($900)
Unless the celebrity is already planning on switching PTs, this strikes me as fairly useless.

Belldini gift certificate ($300)
Probably nice.

Chapstick ($6)
This one's just weird. Right up there with a pack of Brawny paper towels.

Chocolatines Drunken Fig Cake Bites ($35)
Likely delicious.

Dandi Patch anti-perspirant solution ($21)
The operable word is solution. What does it come in, a beaker?

Delovery gift basket ($2,000)
This is probably something that people from L.A. swoon over. I have no idea what it is.

Druzy earrings ($25)
A $25 pair of earrings? This must have been an impulse purchase they picked up while shopping for the Chapstick.

Fit Club TV “Ultimate Fitness Package” ($6,250)
Hey, baby. Wanna see my ultimate fitness package?

Gleener on the Go ($12)
I had no idea what this was, but it's actually pretty cool. Removes fuzz from clothing. Nice.

3-day stay at the Golden Door Resort & Spa in San Marcos, California ($4,800)
Let me guess, no weekends or holidays, not for use during peak season, cannot be combined with any other offer.

3-night stay at the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria in Sorrento, Italy ($5,000)
Probably nice for those celebrities who already happen to be in Sorrento.

3-night stay at the Grand Hotel Tremezzo in Lake Como, Italy ($5,000)
Well, I guess I might as well spend an extra 3 days in Lake Como then, right?

Greenhill Blanc de Blancs wine ($39)
Gone before the ceremonies are over.

Hydroxycut Gummies ($20)
Betcha can't eat just one.

3 fitness training sessions with Jay Cardiello ($1,400)
Again, unless you're already planning on getting a new trainer...

Joseph's Toiletries toilet paper ($275)
Wow, I totally retract my Brawny paper towel comment.

Sterling silver necklace ($150)
No joke, I bet this is awesome.

Memobottles ($47)
It's a reusable water bottle. Celebrities probably have tons of these kinds of things coming out of every cupboard.

El Silencio Mezcal ($75)
Gone before the after party is over.

Mission1 protein bar ($6)
Probably fed to the dog, but likely very tasty.

Nuelle Fiera arouser for her ($250)
Well, I didn't see that coming...

Phantom Glass screen protector ($50-$60)
Probably cool, but will probably go unused.

Purely Inspired Organic Protein ($20)
Every male celeb is swooning over this.

Rouge Maple culinary products ($99)
Details not specified, leading me to wonder what we're talking about here. Serving spoons? Tapanade?

Sedone Lace makeup brush set ($110)
I got nothing here.

Signature Vodka ($70)
Gone by the end of the night.

Slimware plates ($30)
Not sure what $30 gets you for kitchen china. Four dinner plates? A teacup?

Steamist spa system ($5,060)
It's a spa, it's a system, it's two things in one!

Sundial powder coating ($500)
I have never needed to coat my sundial in powder. Is it more accurate that way?

Blow dryers and flat irons ($250)
People are coming up to Don Cheadle going, "Dude, are you gonna use that?"

Vampire Breast Lift ($1,900)
I bet the maitre'd will do it for free.

Wallet ($125)
In case you came to the Oscars without one.

740 Park plastic surgery ($5,530)
Not sure how they arrived at that specific number, but I bet Hollywood knows.

Concise And Persuasive

A few days back, I mused on the idea of putting together some sort of a podcast-type thing as a method to practice being persuasive.

Further to that initiative, I recently stumbled upon something kind of fun: a website called EdgeStudio.com offers a "script timer" that you can use, free of charge, to estimate approximately how much time it takes to speak words that you have written.

It turns out to be pretty simple arithmetic, anyway: at an average of three words-per-second, a person can expect to recite about 180 words in sixty seconds. I think this puts bounds on my initiative. I'll start at 180 words - if I can be reasonably persuasive using only sixty seconds of your time, I'll consider myself a successfully persuasive person.

Granted, this is just an exercise for me, but think about how it could be applied to your own life. We've heard a million annoying things about having an "elevator pitch." Well, three words-per-second gives you a starting point there. If an elevator ride takes fifteen seconds, then you've got forty-five words with which to make your pitch. Alternatively, you could write down your best-possible argument for something and then count how many words you've used to estimate the minimum amount of time you'll need to get your point across.

Obviously, someone like myself, who is used to writing long expositions, needs a lot of time to convey a message. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it helps to be able to communicate in more than one way.

This experiment, then, should be a good way to hone my persuasive brevity. Thanks to a little clever Googling, I now have something to aim for.

Album Review: Brother Cane - Brother Cane

Image courtesy Wikipedia.org

Long before there was "red dirt" music, there was Brother Cane, one of the best nineties rock and roll bands you've never heard.

Back then, the natural inclination upon hearing a Brother Cane song was to call it "southern rock." True, the band was from the south. And true, their songs featured a blend of country, blues, and hard rock. But there was more to Brother Cane than "Sweet Home Alabama." The band had a string of minor hits during the nineties, and these songs were so popular that, while you might not remember them unprompted, you'd recognize them if you heard them.

So, it's not "southern rock," which came earlier, and it's not "red dirt," which came later. What is it? It's the perfect blend of nineties hard rock experimentation with Nashville songwriting, that's what. And it was incredible.

Singer and guitarist Damon Johnson has one of the best voices in hard rock, capable of screaming high notes, dusky low notes, and everything in between. Vocally, he's the result of equal parts Chris Robinson and Chris Cornell. That alone is worth the price of admission, but Johnson ups the ante with guitar pyrotechnics so substantial that they landed him a gig in Sammy Hagar's band, a gig in Alice Cooper's band, and finally a gig in Thin Lizzy / Black Star Riders. So we're not just talking about a good pop rock singer or a good guitarist, we're talking about skills in both territories that have put him in the enviable position of being a major in-demand guitarist to rock and roll's living legends.

Get the picture?

Brother Cane's debut album, 1993's Brother Cane gave them two recognizable hits in the hard-hitting "Got No Shame" and the softer, sweeter "Hard Act to Follow," both of which I still hear on rock radio stations today.

Naturally, this debut album is not as well-defined, from an artistic standpoint, as their subsequent releases, but all the Brother Cane trademarks are in place. You could say a lot of things about a band this good, in terms of what those trademarks really are, but for me, I can sum it up in one word: intelligence.

Intelligence is the thing that put Brother Cane ahead of all the other southern rockers, all the other nineties bands, and certainly all the red dirt bands that popped up two decades later. While the songs on Brother Cane certainly feel like straight-ahead country-twinged rock songs, the riffs have a harmonic depth that straight-ahead rock so often lacks. Even Johnson's guitar solos, despite their explosiveness, always shine for their note choice more than their speed. And the melodic composition of the songs is a few steps ahead of the game. Add to that the rather clever and surprisingly technical drumming of Scott Collier. Not content to simply keep the beat, Collier's drumming features unique and well-thought out beats that, while never over-stated, always served to inject a level of depth in what might otherwise be a straight-forward rock song. Collier would really spread his wings on the band's second album, but even here on the debut the intelligence of his craft is fully evident.

Brother Cane is an excellent album, one that sets the stage for what the band would accomplish later. Its only real weakness, if it has one, is that it is not quite as good as the band's later releases - but you certainly can't fault a band for ending better than they began! Not a lot of people remember this band, just as not a lot of people had heard of them at the time, but for any fan of melodic hard rock, it's love at first sound.


Album Review: Richie Kotzen - Break It All Down

Image courtesy Wikipedia.org

On first blush, and especially in the context of the late-90s when guitar heroics were a bit of a loaded question, the 1999 Richie Kotzen album Break It All Down feels like one of those albums that guitar-guys were doing back then. You know, it's stripped-down and it's bluesy. It's almost grungy. If you didn't know a lot about Richie Kotzen, you'd be tempted to think, "Oh, I get it - 80s shredder is trying to get a hit by releasing a blues album."

This was, in fact, my first impression of the album when I got it back in... well, it must have been about 1999, actually. There was a lot of this sort of thing going on. The most vivid example I can think of is Joe Satriani's Joe Satriani album, which was such a bluesy, stripped-down album that it nearly alienated his fans. Heck, even Dream Theater was going bluesy and writing with Nashville songwriters. It was just one of those things, you know. It was happening.

My mistake was believing that this was what Richie Kotzen was doing at the time. In the context of his body of work, Break It All Down is certainly stripped-down, but this isn't a case of a shredder-gone-blues. This is a case of an R&B songwriter trying out some new sounds. In hindsight, this album is a major artistic achievement.

The opening track, "Break It All Down," is important because it sets the stage for what I believe Kotzen wanted to accomplish with this album. His prior albums, aside from being a bit "shreddier," also featured some straight-ahead instrumentation. By this I mean that his early work typically involves a rhythm guitar track, a lead guitar track, some basic vocals, maybe a keyboard here and there. On this album, there are often three or more rhythm guitar tracks per song, in addition to a keyboard or organ track, and every instrument is playing something slightly different. The impact is massive - even though the guitar tones are cleaner, they sound huge because of the complex orchestration of the songs.

And yet, in true Kotzen style, the arrangements never get away from him. This isn't complexity for the sake of complexity, nor is it one of those, "Let's play with an orchestra!" cheeseball moves. No, this is simply an artist finding his footing and coming into his own as a post-Shrapnel Records guitar god who always wanted to play soul music. Comfortable in his art, Kotzen uses the songs on this album to explore a different aspect of songwriting, moving away from the guitar-centric nature of his earlier work, toward a more full-band sound.

Boy, does he nail it! The guitar tones are warm and juicy. He leans heavily on tube-driven vibrato and deliciously boutique single-coil tones that occasionally rival SRV. The keyboard tones establish a warm, analogue backbone to songs, allowing each guitar track to leave some space between the notes without the song losing something. (Check out the killer leslie tones on "You Don't Know!") The drums are particularly warm on this album, something that gives it a genuine throw-back feel, back to the soul music of the 70s. But for me, this album is basically a lesson book on how to write arrangements. That's really where the album shines. Every time I listen to these songs, I hear something new.

All the same, this might be the first album in the Richie Kotzen oeuvre that does not feature extensive guitar shredding. As such, it may be a challenging album for those who are only drawn to Kotzen because of the guitar playing. For those who love the vocals and the songwriting, though, this is not just a good album, it's one of his best. At least for my money.

Three Miles Is Better Than Zero Miles

I spent all day yesterday doing landscaping and home improvement. You might be able to guess what impact that had on today's energy levels. By the time I was ready to head out on my run, I was exhausted and my muscles were sore.

At that point, it would have been tempting to just take the day off. But that would have been a mistake. Barring some kind of injury or act of over-training, it's almost always better to do some exercise than none at all. There are a few reasons why.

First of all, a lot of being fit means making fitness part of your daily routine. The more often you can get out there, even if you aren't killing it every time, the more that habit becomes second-nature to you. Once the act of working out is fully habituated, rather than having to motivate yourself to just get out there, you can focus on motivating yourself to go the extra mile. That's not going to happen on your "extra tired day," but if you can use that day to reinforce the habit, you'll be more motivated in the future.

Second, even easy days have health benefits. If you're running outside, then getting some sunlight on your face in and of itself will boost your mood and your health. If you pair your workout with some basic stretching, then the additional day added to your flexibility routine will have almost as much of a health benefit as the run itself. And of course adding a few miles to your weekly total is never a bad thing, ceteris paribus.

Third, you can use the occasion to work on things you don't usually have time for. For example, I wanted to explore a new running route today, which is not something I get to do when I'm running for speed or time. If there are any weaknesses in your form, you can work on them during an easy run without having to jeopardize the integrity of a speed workout or long run. Perhaps you want to break in a new pair of shoes or try something different with your wardrobe. Now's the time.

If you're a diabetic, even a short, easy run will help lower your blood sugar - in some cases, it might even do so better than a harder workout. If you're looking to lower your blood pressure, burn some calories, lose weight, etc., then having an easy day rather than an off day will help push you toward your primary markers.

Finally, and most importantly, it's a lot more fun to get out and have fun than it is to sit around not having fun.

So get on out there.

Some Links

Hey, it's been a while since I did this.

  • Bryan Caplan says we can replace libel and slander laws with prove-me-wrong prizes. A number of commentators pile-on about the fact that this is exactly the same as the system we currently have.
  • I'm sweet-talking about moral philosophy again. The crux: "You are what you do."
  • At some point I'm going to write a blog post about this because it's highly relevant to my SweetTalkConversation.com posts, but until then: Teaching moral philosophy to children.
  • Someone recommended this book to me. I can't personally vouch for it, but it looks very good.
  • Umberto Eco - the world's last great author of literature and the novelist who defined my teenage years - has passed away. This New York Times obituary demonstrates the world's problem with Eco: no one who wrote about his books has any idea what they were about. Only the fans will know.
  • Two of Philip Zimbardo's ideas - Situationism and conception of time - have been fused together in a single experiment. The actual study is short enough and easy to read, so please refer to it.
  • More than just a hangover remedy. (Take this one with a grain of salt.)


Why Would Someone Rip Off Uncle Kracker?

This is a song called "Dreams" by Life of Dillon, circa 2016:

And this is a song called "Follow Me" by Uncle Kracker, circa 2001:

Let me anticipate your response: "Hold on a minute, Ryan. It's not as if it was super-original when Uncle Kracker sang it." If this is your response, then you're missing the point. The fact that "Follow Me" is completely derivative and unoriginal is precisely why it's a stupid song to rip off


And Further To Yesterday's Post...

I continue my diatribe today:
We don’t really want a perfect philosophical theory, anyway. That’s just an intermediary step to more interesting goals, like “happiness” and “sanity,” just like you don’t write C# code in order for it to be syntactically correct, but rather as a step toward a more interesting goal, like buying food at the grocery store and subsequently eating it. A job that pays well and keeps you dipping your ammonia cookies in milk instead of anti-freeze is a good job; a philosophy that keeps you happy, well-adjusted, and sane is a good philosophy.


Results, Results

I'm Sweet-Talking today. Here's a slice:
Philosophy tends to raise objections that need not be raised. If you and I both give the man our spare change, there is no point arguing over which one of us had the better moral reasoning: the outcome was the same, ergo our reasoning was equal. You can say this however you like: what matter are results; actions speak louder than words; practice is more relevant than theory.
Read the whole thing.


Album Review: Z - Bone-Us Disc

Dweezil Zappa is known among a certain crowd, but few people have really followed his music. I count myself among a rare group of dedicated fans.

Believe it or not, I discovered Dweezil before I discovered his father Frank. I was reading a guitar magazine, and they happened to do a brief interview in support of Dweezil's then-new album Music for Pets, released under the band name "Z." Z consisted of Dweezil on guitar and vocals, brother Ahmet Zappa on lead vocals, legendary sideman-to-the-stars Mike Keneally on guitar, Bryan Beller (now of the Aristocrats) on bass, and Joe Travers on drums. With a roster like that, how could they be anything but a fantastic band?

The Bone-Us Disc is a rare collection of leftovers from the Music for Pets sessions. The songs range from humorous Van Halen tributes ("Badass"), pop-rock pleasers ("Enigma," "Ask Yourself," "Not My Fault"), and delightfully bizarre humor songs ("I Wants Me Gold," for example...).

This disc - which I purchased in the context of the "Video Box Set," a VHS home video and merch goodie-basket that is still available from Barfko-Swill - does a great job of showing off what made Z unique. They willingly embraced the most whimsical aspects of their sense of humor and fused it with surprisingly intense, guitar-driven music. In that regard, a comparison to their father is well-deserved. Still, Z's music never pretended to be the revised orchestral compositions that much of Frank's music was. If you can imagine a group of good-natured musical geniuses trying to crack each other up, that's basically what Z sounded like.

On their first album, Z hadn't yet hit their stride. The band still felt like an offshoot of Dweezil's failed solo career as an 80s guitar god. Still, they managed to nail a certain aspect of the then-up-and-coming grunge sound on a couple of songs. By the time Music for Pets hit, the band was comfortable with its identity and the album sounded slick. Bone-Us Disc, then, is something of a middle step, presenting a large dose of the chaos prevalent on Shampoohorn, but with the more refined compositional elements of Music for Pets.

What the Bone-Us Disc lacks, unfortunately, is a display of musical virtuosity. We're talking about some of the most gifted musicians of their generation, whose technicality is on full display on most of their discography. On this collection, they don't over-play. That's often a good thing, but in this case it feels like they're holding too much back.

At the same time, there are a couple of songs that simply should have featured on Music for Pets as primary releases. In particular, the album close, "Here," is possibly the best straight-ahead rock song Dweezil has ever written. How and why it never found itself on a major release I'll never understand.

That magazine interview by which I was introduced to Dweezil's music featured a discussion of Dweezil's having attempted to jokingly imitate Edward Van Halen throughout the Music for Pets sessions. On that album, however, only one true EVH tribute appears (a great song called "Chicken Out"). All the other attempts seem to have made their way onto the Bone-Us Disc, making it a very interesting look at Dweezil's unique ability to channel the guitar sounds of other guitarists. One could easily believe that the guitarist playing on many of these songs really is Edward himself.

This is a fun disc. Not many people have heard it, and that's a shame. Many of these tracks aren't even available on YouTube, a problem I might consider remedying at some point. Prior to the "Zappa Plays Zappa" initiative, I don't think most people understood what a superb player Dweezil really is. A deep dive into his musical catalog, including this Bone-Us Disc reveals the musical prodigy that many have missed.


More Data Analysis For Running

In which I follow up on the results of my previous recommendations.

A couple of days ago, using data from my Microsoft Band 2, I came up with some recommendations for improving my run. Here's what I said then:
I might draw all sorts of conclusions from this data, but knowing for myself how the workout actually felt, I conclude that I ought to increase my pace at the outset of the workout. I might use the heart rate monitor as my guide here. It does take about a half a mile to get my heart rate up to "workout levels," but after that I can set a target more in line with my expected heart rate for the rest of the run...
Another interesting data point to notice is that the last one-tenth of a mile was run at a much faster pace than the previous mile. This suggests that I may have lost a lot of momentum during the first half of Mile 5. No surprises here - there was a big elevation gain during that mile. But if I want to improve my performance on a run like this, I ought to focus on maintaining a strong pace during the last mile.

Analysis / Interpretation

So how did that turn out? Today I ran the same course at about the same time of day. The weather was a little nicer, but I kept in mind that my prior conclusion was to attempt to run the first couple of miles a little faster, and to push the final mile.

First, let's review my mile splits and average heart rate for Tuesday's run:

Now, take a look at what happened today:

Obviously, I pushed the first mile way too hard. This is obvious simply because it's almost 40 seconds per mile faster than during my previous workout. That certainly isn't what I intended! Probing the mile splits a little more deeply, though, we can see that I struggled to maintain that pace for the rest of the run, proving for certain that I started out way too fast.

On the other hand, judging by my average heart rate, I didn't actually over-shoot too badly. Miles 2 through 4 came in at roughly the same average heart rate as Tuesday, despite my having run those miles twenty seconds per mile faster. The Band 2 estimates that I only burned 5 additional kCalories today versus Tuesday.

Tuesday's run was pretty good in that my pace didn't vary too much. I started out at about seven minutes per mile and basically held that all the way through. Today my pace steadily decreased until the final mile, when I reminded myself to try a little harder not to lose pace, and I ended up with a negative split.


As far as future recommendations go, I have a few of options.

One would be to attempt to repeat today's run next time, only concentrating on maintaining a constant, 6:30/mile pace. This isn't a terrible idea, but a more practical way to accomplish the same goal would be to add one day a week of interval training to decrease my pace, and use the other days to train for pace maintenance. At 25-30 miles per week, though, I don't think there's any point. I'm not training for a race and I don't have much of an endurance base built up, so... why?

Another option would be to choose a slightly slower pace, something between 7:00 and 6:30 per mile. Probably, I would choose something like 6:40/mile, since that is slightly faster than my slowest mile. That's fast enough to challenge my leg muscles, but won't raise my heart rate much - in fact, if anything, it will lower it slightly. I actually like this option, and I may very well just mentally "accept" 6:40/mile as my target pace, since it doesn't appear to push my cardiovascular system any harder than running at a much slower pace.

Given that a large improvement in running pace has produced a negligible change in both calorie consumption and heart rate, my guess is that best way to improve my fitness going forward is not by running faster, but by running further. Once acclimated to higher mileage, I should then work toward adding an interval training day or two in order to increase my aerobic threshold and, hopefully, reduce my overall heart rate.

A Word To Novices

The popular wisdom out there suggests that people don't need to do a lot of cardio, they just need to do a couple of sessions a week at a higher intensity. What this data seems to suggest is the opposite: do more minutes and, as long as you're maintaining an elevated heart rate, you will burn more calories. This certainly has weight loss implications.

Of course, I have yet to test out an interval workout, and eventually I absolutely must. But there is at least a prima facie argument that more cardio minutes = more calories burned. If I am missing something obvious, please kindly correct me in the comments section. 

Naturally, I will follow this matter closely as I continue to make use of my fitness tracker.


It looks like I need to increase my weekly mileage. This, however, is not a purely cardiovascular question. I can't put my heart through more mileage if my muscles and joints can't handle the additional effort. So that means I should finish out my plan for the week (five miles per day) and attempt to increase to six next week.

I will not worry too much about my pace. I think 6:40/mile is a reasonable target, but I'm not going to attempt to decrease my pace any further than that. Obviously, though, running much slower than 7:00/mile is kind of pointless. I'd merely be getting a lower-quality cardiovascular workout with no real benefit (and potentially at the expense of good running form). 

There it is. As usual, I'll let you know how it goes.


This morning on Facebook, David Henderson gave us a pointer to his recent appearance in a Wall Street Journal video, discussing the draft. It's great, you can see the video here:

(I may be having trouble embedding the video, so try this link.)

His piece starts at around the 6:56 mark.

I commented that I thought he did a great job of communicating his ideas and being persuasive. That's one of the things I really love about David Henderson - I think he is a truly superb communicator. His advice for me? Practice!

I think that's great advice, so now I am mulling over the idea of putting together some sort of podcast or YouTube thing, where I try to make short, concise arguments for something. If effective, I should start to see real progress in my ability to communicate.

And besides: videos!

So here's hoping I can make that happen. Keep me honest! If you don't see one of these videos soon, please bug me about it. I want to be a better communicator.


Album Review: King's X - Black Like Sunday

Image courtesy Wikipedia.org

To me, it seems like only yesterday that King's X released their 2003 album Black Like Sunday. At the time, I was living in a tiny one-bedroom apartment and didn't really have a disposable income, but I bought the album anyway.

This is a unique King's X release because it consists of songs that were written and performed in the band's early days, in some cases even before they changed their name to King's X. So, at the time, the album sounded very strange to me. It felt like a throwback to the 80s, because the songs on it basically were 80s songs. It was a big departure from the band's post-Dogman work, but by the same token, it was a major step up from Manic Moonlight, released two years earlier.

In the context of the band's catalog, Black Like Sunday feels like an album released by a band that no longer really knew who they were. Manic Moonlight was such a goofy, drum-machine-driven, experimental album from a straight-up rock band that I think it alienated a lot of fans. This was especially true in light of the fact that Tapehead and Please Come Home... Mr. Bulbous were widely considered to be the band's return to a very reinvigorated form. That vigor piddled-out with Manic Moonlight, and Black Like Sunday felt almost... lazy at the time.

I remember thinking, "What? They didn't write any new material for this album, they just recycled a bunch of old songs?" It was disappointing. I must have listened to the album a dozen times, and then put it away for a long time.

When I finally went back to it, years later, it was no longer "current." As a result, I was able to hear it with fresh ears, unbiased by a linear time perspective. Finally the album clicked with me. Finally I was able to accept the album on the level it was intended.

Some of the songs sound odd because when the band became King's X they started channeling their energy into a signature sound. These old leftovers are great songs, but they wouldn't have fit in with the songs on early-90s King's X albums. Some songs were ahead of their time, for the band. A song like, "Finished," for example - possibly the strongest song on the album - would have a been a great one to include on ...Mr. Bulbous. Other songs, like "Johnny" and "Rock Pile" seem almost ironic, coming from a veteran rock band that never really managed to have a break-out hit.

But, at the end of the day, Black Like Sunday is a testament to the idea that it's important to take music for what it is, rather than what you imagine it ought to be from a fan's perspective. With a little emotional distance and some properly calibrated hindsight, I was able to fall in love with this album completely after a few years.

In fact, it might very well be one of my most often-played King's X albums, which is very surprising when you think about it.

EP Review: Living Colour - Biscuits

Image courtesy Wikipedia.org

Comprised almost entirely of cover songs, Living Colour's Biscuits EP is a release I picked up in a used CD store in my college days. I'm not just a Living Colour fan, I'm a casual collector of their releases, including singles and minor EPs like this one.

It is a short EP, and thus deserves no more than a short review.

There is little hear that will appeal to anyone other than hardcore Living Colour fans. The EP does not contain that one hidden gem destined to make it onto anyone's mix tape. Instead, it contains six songs that are more or less guaranteed to slay any Living Colour fan.

It begins with a studio cover of James Brown's "Talkin' Loud and Sayin' Nothing." It's a great cover that showcases the advantages of Corey Glover's voice over Brown's. The arrangement is very reflective of Living Colour's early days.

Next is a live version of the song "Desperate People," from the band's debut album, Vivid. It's a great rendition of a song that was probably quite popular at the time, but which pales in comparison to the band's later material.

Track three is a studio cover of Al Green's classic "Love and Happiness." They do a great version, but the original is much better. I would love to have heard this live. I'm not sure whether the band still plays it.

Track four is a live version of "Memories Can't Wait," the Talking Heads cover that appears on the band's debut album. Like the studio version, this live version is far better than the Talking Heads' original version. Still, neither version is as good as the songs actually penned by Living Colour.

Track five is a studio cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Burning the Midnight Lamp." Not only is this an underrated Hendrix song, it just might be the best cover song Living Colour has ever done. The guitar solo is fantastic and the vocals are about as stunning as Glover has ever performed in the studio.

The final track is an outtake from the Time's Up sessions, a Vernon Reid-penned punk-ish rock song called "Money Talks." The chorus of this song has a simply wonderful melody. This and the Hendrix cover alone are worth the price you'd end up paying for this EP if you ever had to find a physical copy, which seems unlikely in this day and age.

As this is mostly a mish-mash of songs from here and there, outtakes and live recordings, it doesn't really reflect any particular moment in the history of the band. But, like I say, for die hard fans like yours truly, it's an excellent addition to the collection.

A Situationism Primer

At Sweet Talk Conversation, I have a sort of primer on Situationist social psychology and its view of good and evil, drawing especially from the writings of Philip Zimbardo. It's too long and meandering to excerpt here, but do read the whole thing.


Album Review: Billy Talent - Billy Talent II

Image courtesy Wikipedia.org

One of the strangest bands I ever got into was a Canadian... er... rock... band called Billy Talent. The band scored a minor hit on their debut album with a song called "Try Honesty." On their second album, they really seemed to come into their own.

Billy Talent's shtick basically consists of rhythmically interesting, harmonically dense rock riffs combined with truly awful, borderline cartoonish vocals. The vocals aren't just bad, they're idiosyncratically bad. That is to say, you're not supposed to believe the vocals are good. Like a punk band, Billy Talent wants their vocals to be seen as, uh... well unorthodox.

Add to that their lead singer's baffling public persona, which can only be described as that of a manic adolescent. He never appears to be serious; or, if he is serious, then he is probably insane or possibly heavily medicated.

If you can get over all this, then what you're left with is a rather interesting band. The guitar riffs, the guitar-bass interaction, the melodies, and the harmonies, are all rather elegantly composed and arranged. Guitarist Ian D'Sa has a knack for finding "wrong" chords that sound right. His tones are rather unique, owing to a set of single coil pickups distorted to the extreme. To their credit, they can pull off all the complex tones and arrangements live. However bizarre the vocals might sound on the recording, they can do it live, too. So they sound exactly the way they want to sound.

On Billy Talent II, the production value of the album is truly stunning. This fact is generally credited to producer Gavin Brown, who has produced some of the biggest Canadian rock records of the last 20 years. The guitar tones are particularly rich, albeit very heavily compressed. The songs are short, and to the point. Lyrically, the subject matter deals with classic leftist hobby horses such as sexual assaults committed by Catholic priests and communism. No, I'm not kidding about the communism. Two songs in particular, "Red Flag" and "Worker Bees," are overt communist anthems.

At this point in the review, I feel like I haven't really done the music justice. The songs are genuinely good, and Billy Talent's sound is truly original - that's what I love about them. But halfway into Billy Talent II, the listener finds himself simply exhausted by it all. The vocals are difficult to enjoy on a musical level. That is, I can see how a teenager circa-2006 could get into it as part of a particular "scene," but now ten years later it sounds like The Muppets - and not in a good way. By contrast, the album's instrumentation is almost gorgeous and anticipates many of the developments that would follow in the more progressive djent metal scene. Billy Talent, though, was more punk rock than metal, so the fact that they were working themselves toward this territory proves that they were visionaries, ahead of their time. If only listeners enjoyed being yelled at for an hour.

Weirdly - and I can't really explain this - Billy Talent II reminds me of Megadeth's Youthanasia album. Maybe it's because both albums feature homogeneous songwriting and over-compressed instruments in a hard rock package. Maybe it's because neither album is as captivating when consumed in toto as any of the individual songs on the album are. Maybe it's just because they both feature songs about molestation. I'm not really sure - but I can tell you that I've always felt this way.

Well, ten years later, Billy Talent II is not an album that sounds very relevant to modern audiences. Listening to it now takes me back in time a bit, but it doesn't make me identify with that period the way listening to an old Soundgarden album takes me back into the grunge season. 2006 was the beginning of the end for the record industry, when all bands were scrambling for top hits, churning out a lot of four-chord hard rock and not a lot of innovation.

This album is bound to be yet another at the bottom of the pile. It's worth noting, though, that at the time it was a pretty fantastic album. 

How Big Data And Wearable Tech Can Improve Your Running

In which I provide a sample of the way I personally use fitness data to improve my running.

Keeping Myself Honest

Boy, have I felt great this week! It's like heading out for a daily five-miler is easy, compared to just two weeks ago.

Hmm, well, maybe it's not just "like" that. Maybe it really is getting easier to run those five miles. How might I determine whether that is true?

One way would be to look at how many calories I've expended. Simply comparing one run to another isn't really fair - a lot of different things can happen to your body from day to day. To gain better insight, I'll have to do some "data tricks."

My eight most recent runs have all been about five miles long. Adding the estimated calories expended for the most recent four (as reported by my Garmin Forerunner or Microsoft Band 2) yields a total of 2,219 calories, or 554.75 calories burned per run, on average. For the four preceding runs, the values are 2,327 and 581.75, respectively. So, things do seem to be getting a little easier for me. If I were training for a race, this would be great news, since it would indicate improving levels of either running economy, cardiovascular efficiency, or both.

However, I'm not training for a race. My perspective needs to shift a little. This week, in order to have a workout equivalent to the workouts I was doing last week, I need to either run further or faster (or both). Of course, my fitness tracker will help me with this, since it tracks both distance and pace while I'm running.

Keeping these factors in mind, I'll be able to add up the calories expended on my next four runs and compare the result to the previous two figures. I'll thus ensure that my subsequent workouts are, on average, at least as tough as last week's, if not a little tougher.

And that, friends, is how you can use data to lend some objectivity to your workout efforts.

Apples To Apples And Mile Splits

The good people at Strava have an interesting feature called "matched runs," which will automatically compare like-workouts if you run on the same course. It even spits out a fancy graph with absolute pace times, a moving average, and local extrema:

Source: Strava

Nifty! Of course, any run mapping interface will give you similar feedback, although some will require that you enter the course name in manually before it can be compared. Strava appears to provide additional insights, such as "pace analysis," for a premium fee. I get it for free via Garmin Connect, or more recently Microsoft Health.

Source: Microsoft Health

From this table, a couple of things pop out right away: (1) My first two mile splits are the slowest, and (2) Thereafter, my average heart rate basically doesn't change.

I might draw all sorts of conclusions from this data, but knowing for myself how the workout actually felt, I conclude that I ought to increase my pace at the outset of the workout. I might use the heart rate monitor as my guide here. It does take about a half a mile to get my heart rate up to "workout levels," but after that I can set a target more in line with my expected heart rate for the rest of the run.

If, during the last half of the run, I experience either a big decline in running pace, or a noticeable increase in heart rate, or both, I'll consider it a failed experiment. My guess, though, is that I can pick up the pace early on with little to no impact on the last half of my run.

Another interesting data point to notice is that the last one-tenth of a mile was run at a much faster pace than the previous mile. This suggests that I may have lost a lot of momentum during the first half of Mile 5. No surprises here - there was a big elevation gain during that mile. But if I want to improve my performance on a run like this, I ought to focus on maintaining a strong pace during the last mile.

An Early Delta

There are a few things available in the Garmin interface that do not appear in the Microsoft Health interface. They are: Ground contact time, vertical oscillation, and running cadence.

Running cadence is a concept I'm skeptical of. As I previously wrote,
Cadence is a concept imported from the cycling world. When cycling, it's important to maintain a steady speed over long periods of time. Cadence in this context makes some sense because gears are variable, so different cadences translate into different speeds, depending on what gear one is using during the ride. This means that, if you want to cover a given distance in a given period of time, you will have to translate that into different cadences, depending on your gear selection. There is a direct relationship between the gear, the cadence, and the speed of travel.
Runners, though, don't have gears. And while stride is variable, it is impossible to know the exact length of one's stride during the run itself. Thus, focusing on cadence provides no information that isn't already provided by pace.
Furthermore, while the writers seem to imply that shorter strides are always better, stride (like forward lean) can be varied throughout a run to achieve different results. A short stride during an uphill climb saves a lot of energy, but a short stride during a downhill charge expends it needlessly. And because stride is variable, cadence must also be; nor should there ever be a dedicated "range" one's cadence should fall into.
I would make a similar criticism of ground contact time. Does it really matter how long your feet stay on the ground on a per-stride basis? Is there any ex ante reason to believe that a longer or shorter value for ground contact time is better or worse for running? No. Instead, ground contact time might be an indicator of some other running issue, but I can't think of a single issue offhand that would be indicated primarily by ground contact time.

So it makes sense to me that Microsoft Health doesn't track this data. It doesn't provide the user with any information worth thinking about. For the most part, it's a false lead.

Vertical oscillation actually is useful to analyze, because the greater the oscillation, the less efficient the runner's form. Making noticeable decreases in your vertical oscillation will almost certainly make you a better runner. This is maybe the only thing I'll "miss" about switching to a Microsoft Band 2.


Dawn Phenomenon?

In which I speculate based on a single morning's data.

Take a look at my first partial day of continuous heart rate monitoring from my new Microsoft Band 2:

The large heart rate spike is, of course, the run I went on during my lunch break. I started at around 11:45 and finished about forty minutes later. Because I didn't correctly turn on the Band's GPS sensor, it incorrectly logged my five-mile run as a four-mile run and screwed up my pacing. Oh, well. Live and learn. Full run details can be had by viewing the Strava widget on the right hand sidebar of the blog.

But take a look at that spike in my heart rate at about 6:00 AM. My heart rate began rising sometime during the four o'clock hour, peaking durin the six o'clock hour, and then slowly decreasing again. This is precisely what we would expect to see from the Dawn Phenomenon.

If I see this every day, I'm going to have important biometric information about myself. Amazing.

Microsoft Band 2: Some Preliminary Thoughts

In which I provide some general musings to kick off my use of the Microsoft Band 2.

Image courtesy agemobile.com

My loving, sweet valentine gave me a wonderful early Valentine's Day present: The Microsoft Band 2. I charged it last night, and I'm ready to give it a try today. What follows are my preliminary thoughts, prior to any significant use whatsoever.

The Device

While, I have no experience with the original Microsoft Band, the second iteration of this technology immediately appealed to me. 

Longtime readers already know of my affinity for fitness trackers. I started with a Nike+ GPS running watch back in 2012. That actually broke after about eighteen months of use, which made it a terrible value. Next, I tried the Garmin Forerunner 620, which I've been using since I got it back in 2013. I actually love the Forerunner. It accurately maps my runs and, with the help of a chest strap heart rate monitor, provides deep analysis of fitness data such as pace, heart rate, running cadence, elevation, VO2 max, and so on. The thing works perfectly and I've really enjoyed it.

But the Microsoft Band 2 dispenses with the need of a separate heart rate monitor. It has one built right into the strap, just like a FitBit. Unlike a FitBit, however, the Band 2 has a GPS sensor. This means that I get the best of all words: I get all the GPS-based data of a Forerunner, without the need of a separate heart rate monitor, plus all the constant-monitoring data that FitBit-style trackers add. This means the Band 2 monitors my resting heart rate, the restfulness of my sleep, tracks my steps, flights of stairs, etc. The Forerunner didn't do that; it only operated during a workout.

Some might ask, "Why don't you just run with your phone?" There are many reasons why I don't, but probably the most important one is: I run in spandex. There aren't a lot of places to keep my phone while I run. And I run way too intensely to carry my phone around on an arm strap or in my hand. Hence, a wrist-based device is a necessity for me.

So, in short, it's the "best of both worlds" between a fitness tracker and a GPS running watch.

Add to that some simple Bluetooth functionality: access to text messaging and emails, calendar, social media (if I so desire), and so on. It's not a replacement for a smart phone, but it's a handy (heh, get it? hand-y?) option for people who are keen on such things.

But wait, there's more. The Band 2 also has a UV light sensor, which can advise you of your exposure to UV radiation. I'm generally pretty good about knowing when I'm exposed to sunlight, but hey, data is data. I can also connect a Starbucks gift card I have to the Band 2 and, apparently, pay electronically at Starbucks without having to pull out my wallet. I haven't tried this yet, of course, but this seems pretty nifty.

How does it fit? Comfortably. It doesn't quite feel like a watch, it feels more like a bulky bracelet. The documentation recommends that you fasten it snugly to the wrist so that it doesn't move around. It's also recommended, although not necessary, to wear the Band 2 with the screen on the inside of the wrist. Some might find this annoying, but I'm pretty ambivalent here. It seems to work, so I'm okay, but I mention it for those who might expect the Band 2 to be exactly like a watch. It's not.

If you like gadgets, this is a pretty good gadget to get, at least on paper. Cool stuff.

The Apps And Stuff

Microsoft Band 2 connects to your smart phone, and subsequently the cloud, via the Microsoft Health app. The mobile app provides a user interface through which to adjust the settings and preferences on the Band 2. So, for example, if you are interested in running, but not golfing, then you can use the app to activate the running "tile" and deactivate the golf "tile." Here you can also activate the social media tiles, or not, as the case may be, set your height, choose between Celsius and Fahrenheit, and so on.

From there, the app gives you access to some basic statistics: steps, heart rate, sleep information, and activity information (when you actually log a workout). This is pretty standard fare.

The browser-based interface then provides access to even deeper dives of the data. For example, you can see a breakdown of your restful vs. light sleep, and how that compares over time, and how it compares to other people who match your demographic profile. You can see what percentage of calories burned were burned while sleeping, while going about your day, and while working out. And so  on, and so forth. 

Microsoft has then taken the Band 2 into even better territory. First, Band 2 connects to a great many third party apps, such as Strava, MapMyRun, MyFitnessPal, and so on. Recall that level of extended connectivity proved to be a challenge with my Garmin Forerunner. I'm not sure that the Band 2 is on speaking terms with Google Fit, but I'm also utterly certain that it isn't necessary. Microsoft Health ultimately proves to be the central repository of health data, through which most other apps can easily connect. Or is it? More on this below.

The notable exceptions seem to be Google Fit, Garmin Connect, and Samsung S Health. These latter two interfaces are only relevant to people who own Garmin devices (i.e. not necessary if you're using a Band 2) or Samsung smart phones. It's true, I'd appreciate it if the Band 2 could interface with S Health, but it's so easily connected to so many other apps that this is a little too much for me to ask of the Band.

I said before that Microsoft Health seems to function as the central repository of health data. That's not entirely true. Microsoft Health seems to be the central repository of fitness data. This can interface with Microsoft's borader health data app, called HealthVault. It is here that users can connect fitness data with all their other health data, such as blood pressure readings, prescriptions, medical records, family medical history, and - for me, crucially - blood glucose readings.

Many users will understandably feel some reluctance to give the system access to their private medical data. I, by contract, am keep to subject my health data to as many analytical algorithms as possible, in hopes of gaining ever-better control over my blood sugar. I don't mind being a guinea pig here if it means I can lower my HbA1c. 

Final Thoughts

So with this near-total, 360-degree health data interface, fed by the Microsoft Band 2, I'm feeling optimistic about the overall value proposition of the Microsoft Band 2. I seem to have access to every piece of data that's important to me, most of which is tracked and analyzed without my having to think about it, other than simply logging the data. I'm running basically a single device - the Band - and using it for everything. I'm excited to see how this all pans out for me.

I'm just about to head out for my first run with the band. I'll let you know how it goes.


Album Review: Soundgarden - Badmotorfinger

Image courtesy Wikipedia.org

The single most important thing to say about Soundgarden's 1991 album Badmotorfinger is that its release was the moment Chris Cornell went from being the singer in a hard rock band to being one of the greatest singers in the history of rock and roll.

There are, of course, other important things to note about Badmotorfinger.

New bassist Ben Shepherd not only made his bass-playing debut on this album, but also his songwriting debut. This would be less important if it were any other bassist, but Shepherd is so unique that his fingerprint was immediately audible to the listener. Prior to 1991, for example, Soundgarden never wrote anything even remotely like "Somewhere." But Shepherd penned not only that, but three other iconic songs on the album, and went on to be more or less the songwriting equal of the always-dominant Cornell.

At the time, I recall the music press (especially the guitar magazines) making a big deal about the guitar tones on this album, which were decidedly heavy, and had a big, loud, low-end thump. This was naturally and fairly attributed to Kim Thayil's tweaking his Peavey Rockmaster amps in just such a way, and - allegedly - inventing the "grunge" sound. So Badmotorfinger is important for that reason, too.

It ought to be pointed out, too, that drummer Matt Cameron wrote his most iconic drum beat for this album, too: the busy, driving, complex beat in "Jesus Christ Pose." But it's not just that song. It's safe to say that he really came into his own identity on this album.

So, in a way, Badmotorfinger was a confluence of artistic events. Each member of the band came into their own identity in a way that happened to compliment the whole band and its other players. It's inevitable that this would be the band's true break-out album, and it's no surprise that it has since endured as one of the great albums of hard rock music.

However, as I said, the most important thing to say about this album is that it represents the arrival of Chris Cornell, vocal virtuoso. His voice sounds so different from the band's previous efforts. He successfully pushed himself into vocal territory that few have ever really entered. His performance on "Slaves & Bulldozers" has quite possibly never been equaled. In the wake of this album, he would go on to become one of the most beloved vocalists of my lifetime, if not the most beloved.

And it all starts here, on Badmotorfinger

The Macroeconomics Of Good Thing Vs. Bad Thing

In which I explore the idea that economic analysis sometimes involves non-economic value judgments that color our conclusions.

Consider this a thought experiment. I'm not going to stake my life on the ideas contained in this post. Instead, I'd like to explore these ideas conceptually, and test them for weak points. In this post I'd like to think up instances in which a decrease in GDP might not be a bad thing. Can it ever be the case?


Suppose the nation is under attack from a despotic regime. The war is winnable, but not without some level of increased military spending. We need to equip and mobilize the troops, carry out strikes, and win the war.

The populace is ready and willing to help, so when the government announces that it will finance its wartime operations with some combination of war bonds, tax increase, and deficit spending, no one objects. In the classic national income identity of Y = C + I + G + nX, G definitely goes up - way up. Let's assume that consumer spending doesn't increase and that any changes to I are net (i.e. businesses perfectly reallocate their investments from "business as usual" to "we're in a war" purposes). At the expense of some (sustainable) inflation, national income goes up, up, up.

In a short while, and at minimal loss of life, we win the war! The nation briefly celebrates and then gets set to settle back into a new peacetime normal. 

The government has many options here, but what they decide to do is return military spending to pre-war levels and demobilize the wartime aresenal, etc. Ceteris paribus, G decreases, C might temporarily increase in the jubilation of triumph, but in the long run it remains the same, and I is as unchanged coming out of the war as it was going into it. 

GDP decreases. Bad thing?


Alternatively, consider a situation not unlike what the United States experienced in the wake of the September 11 terrorist event. U.S. consumers are said to have gone on a "spending spree," presumably because the violence of the attacks shocked us into a state of living for today. You never know when something terrible is going to end everything, so let's buy houses and vacations and luxury goods and live like we enjoy it for a while. 

Ultimately, however, the spending spree must come to an end. Either the consumers become so indebted that they are no longer solvent, or they simply deplete their savings and must replenish them. We could call this a "consumer-driven Austrian bubble" scenario, where an unsustainable boom occurs (although not for reasons of government interference). 

In this scenario, the economy is going to slow down, and it's not going to feel good. But the boom we've just experienced wasn't a "new normal," it was a temporary lift. Like a positive shock.

Should this kind of GDP decrease be viewed as "bad?"

Additional Comments

In the traditional view of things, the "war" lift is viewed as being good (in a weird way, even though it was a war), while the "peace" lift is viewed as being not good. 

Part of the reason I think people hold this point of view is that, when we're under attack, we have little choice but to defend ourselves. So wartime spending is seen as something that needs to be done regardless of economic considerations. Since it results in GDP lift, we tend to think of it as being good because "we had to spend the money anyway - at least national income went up."

To be clear, I don't think anyone consciously thinks that, I just think that this might be a subconscious reason why people view wartime spending as economically good.

By contrast, the peacetime spending is always viewed as an unsustainable boom. Long-range forecasts aren't built to assume that this kind of bubble will last forever, analysts know that it will eventually come to an end. It's not a question of "if," but a question of "when." Unlike wartime spending, we can't subconsciously view it as a "sunk cost" or whatever. It's not something we were going to do anyway, it's something we suddenly decided to do for reasons that made sense at the time, but which will not make sense in the future. Or at least, those reasons will be seen as unsustainable. 

In short, the first scenario seems to make the best of a bad situation, while the second scenario seems to make a perfectly fine situation, if not worse, at least confounding of long-term business investments. 

So think about investment for a moment. Suppose astronomers identify an asteroid headed straight for us, but with sufficient lead time that governments and private businesses can invest in research, development, and production capacity for devices designed to save the world. Here again, what we're actually doing is saving the world. The fact that this spells an increase in investment, and therefore national income, is icing on the cake. What we really want is for the world to remain intact and free of astronomical collisions. 

But the investment occurred for unplanned, unsustainable reasons - like, suppose it just became popular for every business to have a small zoo in their offices, for reasons of employee satisfaction - then we'd obviously see this as wasteful and harmful to the economy. 

I guess what I'm saying is that, when it comes to economics, "good" and "bad" often refer not only to the impact of shocks on national income, but also our subjective judgments of the wisdom those shocks for non-economic reasons. There's a value judgment baked into it that doesn't have anything to do with economics.

Democratized Evil

My latest at Sweet Talk Conversation puts the moral responsibility of evil directly where it belongs:
It's easy to believe that these situations are just too complex to easily solve, and that the best we can do is vote for the right people, who will implement the right procedures, which will solve the problem. 
But, no. That's just our delusion talking. That's just the part of our brain that doesn't want to acknowledge that the crime is a direct result of the Situation, and the Situation is a direct result of the System that enables it. To prevent these and other atrocities, we don't need better rules written by better philosopher-kings.

Instead, we need to dispense with the delusion and confront the existential vacuum.
Read the whole thing


Album Review: Jim Matheos - Away With Words

Image courtesy AllMusic.com

Typically, when a heavy metal band's guitar player releases a solo album, the listener knows what's coming: technical guitar solos, and lots of them. I remember when I discovered Jim Matheos' Away With Words album in my local music store, and that is precisely the impression I had. I was, however, intrigued by the fact that, on the album's reverse cover, there is a note intended for music store inventory managers: "File under new age / fusion."

When I brought the CD home and put it into my stereo, a couple of things happened.

First, I was given a purer look at the compositional vision behind Matheos' full-time band, Fates Warning, for which he serves as the primary composer. As I mentioned in my review of Awaken the Guardian, Fates Warning's music is harmonically and sonically dense, requiring a tremendous attention to very subtle details in order to fully appreciate. The listener has to do a lot of work. 

On Away With Words, however, that density is peeled back considerably. In place of distorted guitars, Matheos plays acoustic instruments exclusively. No distortion, no sonic clutter, just the pure and unadulterated sound of the acoustic guitar. To that, Matheos adds a violin as a lead instrument for most melodies, the stunning bass playing of Michael Manring, and then-Fates-Warning drummer Mark Zonder. Just as musicians in an orchestra tend to create rich, dense harmonic content by playing one note at a time, in unison, so too do the musicians on Away With Words showcase the richness of Matheos' compositions by sticking to single notes and arpeggios. 

So, like I say, it's a purer look at the musical mind of Jim Matheos. Truth be told, I never fully appreciated Fates Warning's music until I got ahold of this album. This was the perspective I needed to have seen, the filter through which to appreciate the much heavier music of Matheos' main band. And this is the perspective I got by buying this album. I'm glad I did.

The second thing that happened when I put the CD on for the first time is that I was introduced to one of my all-time favorite records, a true "desert island" disc that I, personally, couldn't live without. Of all the albums in my collection, none other has held as much universal appeal among everyone I know. This is an album that can be appreciated by my prog and metal fan friends, my daughter, my wife, my parents... literally everyone I know who hears this record enjoys it. 

That's not to say that you should turn it on at parties. The music is soft, dark, and moody. It sounds like a cold Autumn afternoon. It's appropriate for long drives, quiet afternoons, cups of coffee, or romantic evenings. In those circumstances, I've simply never encountered anyone who disliked the album. To be sure, popular sentiment doesn't determine artistic value, but it's worth noting that people tend to love this album.

For my part, it fills a necessary slot in my musical appetite. Sometimes I need to hear something soft, but complex, but with more energy than a string quartet. Sometimes I need to hear progressive music without the glam or the theater. Sometimes I need to hear instrumental music that isn't intended as a technical display. Sometimes I just need to relax. Away With Words satisfies all of these needs in a way that no other album in my collection does.

It's too bad that the only audience who would be inclined to purchase this disc is composed solely of existing Fates Warning fans, because Away With Words offers so much more to so many more people. If you pay no attention to any other album review I write, pay attention to this one. It is a true hidden gem. You won't be sorry.