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Archive for August, 2013

Summer in Seattle is usually pretty nice. Since July 1, I think we have had only two rainy days – August 2 (the day of our division picnic) and yesterday (August 29).

Yesterday was very humid, a major shift in the weather. Not only was it muggy, it was raining. As I was walking around, I could feel it in my hip – the one I haven’t had surgery on yet. I was walking normally and it ached every time I took a step; I said to myself “What is going on?”

I did go to the gym on Tuesday but I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. The only thing that changed was the weather – from hot and dry to warm and humid.

I’ve done some research, and other researchers argue that people who complain about weather changes by feeling it in their bodies is a myth. It isn’t true. Well, it is true because I’ve felt it multiple times. When the weather undergoes a dramatic shift and I haven’t acclimatized, my hip(s) will complain.

I wish they’d shut up.

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This is weird.

About a month ago, or maybe two months ago, there was a car in the condo complex where we live that was on fire. I’m not sure if it was the engine or the interior or both, but it was on fire. Police and fire trucks had to come out and put it out.

I found out at the Condo Board Meeting last week that this turned out to be drug related. Apparently, the owner of the car was in some sort of drug ring and had snitched on someone. Because of this, the other person went to jail. However, that guy got out of jail and as payback for the snitching, he lit the owner’s car on fire.

I am not making this up.

It’s like I’m in an episode of Breaking Bad. In fact, you can call me… Faraday.

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Ever since I got married, I have been determined not to gain weight. I know that can’t last forever, but I will put it off as long as I can.

I had assumed that I had arrived at a certain weight that was now my “new normal.” I “remember” being lighter a decade ago, or even three years ago, but my current weight (as of a couple of months ago) was what I was destined to be at, at my current age of 34. I put the word “remember” in quotes because I don’t know if I actually recall being a certain weight, or if my brain is making things up and I only think I was at that weight.

Anyhow, my weight had been in a range of +/- 2 lbs since May 2012. It dropped a bit when I went to Argentina, then snuck up again this past March. It then dropped back down.

But over the past month, it has broken down to new lows:

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See that part at the bottom where it crashed below starting in early July? It’s not a temporary bounce, it has broken below my previous lows and stayed there for a month.

What the heck!!!

Right now is the lightest for me I have ever been since I started measuring. Is is because I am hiking more? Not likely since the wife dragged me out hiking just as much last year as this year.

Is it because I have changed my diet?

Maybe. I eat less meat now but that was starting the end of July. My weight-loss started a bit before that.

Am I losing muscle? I don’t think so. I can hike faster and further than I used to be able to. Nowadays, doing an 8-mile hike that only gains 2000 feet is pretty easy.

This weight measurement has me concerned:

  1. Was my previous weight, the one that was relatively stable for a year, my real weight? If so, then what have I lost? That doesn’t sound good. I don’t want to waste away!
  2. But maybe it’s not that. Maybe I haven’t lost any bad body mass. But this possibility is even worse – my previous weight was body fat. If so, I was walking around with more of it and in denial that I had anything to lose (I told myself that for a long time).

A couple of years ago I had to get rid of a bunch of clothes because they were too small. I figured “Well, as I’ve gotten older I guess I have filled out more.” And then a few months ago, I almost bought a couple more pairs of pants with a slightly larger waist size.

Good thing I didn’t because now they wouldn’t fit. I’ve had to start wearing belts again on my pantaloons.

Ugh. Maintaining your health and fitness is a full time job.

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Yesterday, I came home and started making myself something to eat. As I was looking around, I saw a bunch of cookies from Trader Joe’s. The wife told me earlier she was going there, but I didn’t realize she was going to buy cookies.

I don’t normally eat many cookies, but these are Trader Joe’s pistachio cookies. They’re really good! The plastic container was sealed but I opened it up.

As I was doing that I thought to myself “Wait… maybe the wife is planning to bring them to a party or something later that week.” I thought about that. Then I said to myself “No, if that were true, she would have told me about it. She always says stuff like ‘Don’t eat this <insert food item>, it’s for a party at work later on!’” Since she didn’t tell me, I assumed it was fine and had a couple.

Later that evening, I said to her when she came home “Those cookies were good! I had a couple!”

She then replied “Oh, I’m bringing them for a party this week! I forgot to tell you not to eat them.”

Well, the damage had been done. Better luck next time.

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This past weekend I had the opportunity to perform a magic effect at an annual church campout. This is an event I go to some years and they have a talent show. I perform a magic effect and I often use it to test out new material.

This year, I decided to perform an effect I had never done there before but had in my repertoire for years, The Invisible Deck.

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This is one of my best card effects, and everyone loved it. I opened up with a couple of smaller effects and finished on this one. I received a lot of compliments afterwards which I am always grateful for; it means I did a good job and people enjoyed it. One lady even said I could be doing this professionally. I don’t think that’s true (I’m not good enough) but I appreciated the thoughts.

But that’s not the part I enjoyed the best.

For you see, when I started the trick, I started by talking about how I’ve been reading a book by another author by the name of “Charley Erik Mintz”, and then I clarified by saying “Erik with a ‘K’”. He’s a very good writer and a very good performer. I then said that if anyone else ever becomes a magician they should definitely read his stuff as he talks about how we as performers should challenge our audience’s perception of reality.

reality

This introduction didn’t really have much to do with the trick. So why say it? What’s so significant about Charley Erik Mintz?

Here’s what:

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Yes, that’s right – “Charley Erik Mintz” is an anagram of “Terry Michael Zink.” Pretty clever, wouldn’t you agree? I’m boasting about being a great writer and a great magician right in plain sight (sort of)! I also did it to talk a bit about my philosophy of magic and how we should blur reality.

Thus, it wasn’t a throwaway line, I put it in there to amuse myself and talk about my greatness.

And I succeeded.

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Climbing the Murderhorn

A couple of weeks ago, I climbed a mountain in the Seattle area that I had been dreading – Mailbox Peak, also known as the Murderhorn.

Mailbox is a beast. It is 3 miles, one way, but gains 4200 feet for an average climb of 1400 feet/mile. For comparison, when I am hiking I start to feel the incline at around 500 feet/mile. So, this was nearly 3x worse.

What’s worse is that the first 1/2 mile of Mailbox is reasonably flat gaining only 300 feet. Moreover, it’s not actually 3 miles one way, it is 2.8 miles one-way. That means that this stupid hike gains an average of 1700 feet per mile at the most difficult part! This makes it the hardest hike I have ever done.

But I did it!

I had to drop the wife off at the airport that Saturday morning at 5:30 am. I knew that if I went home after that then there is no way I would have climbed the mountain because I’d be too lazy. I would have to go straight there.

So, that’s what I did. From the airport I went straight to the Murderhorn. I waited a few minutes for the sun to come up after arrival and by 6:15 am I was making my ascent.

Name: Mailbox Peak (the Murderhorn)
Distance: 5.66 miles
Low point: 675 feet
High point: 4813 feet
Elevation gain: 4143 feet

The good thing about hiking early is that (a) there is nobody else on the trail, and (b) it’s fairly cool, since hot weather makes it more difficult.

I made one additional change on the Murderhorn – instead of bringing only water, I also brought along some Gatorade. That stuff is a performance-enhancing drug! It really works!

On the way up, I had to stop for 3 breaks of five minutes each, and then one more for about two minutes. It was difficult work; my average speed was super slow and I had to take breaks much earlier than I normally do (I typically try to not take one before two miles).

But when I finally got to the top, I felt great! I could walk around without wobbly legs and I had plenty of energy! I attributed it to the Gatorade because I don’t normally feel that good.

I also think I was on an adrenaline high because I climbed such a difficult trek and was the first one to the top.

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Why do they call it Mailbox? Because there’s a mailbox at the top stuffed with junk:

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This is a shot across the highway at a mountain I haven’t climbed yet. Maybe next time:

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And to prove to you that I really was there and that these are not some generic pictures:

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On the way down, I counted 64 other crazy people who planned to make the ascent that day (all of them after me, ha, ha, ha!). It was about 10:15 am when I was done and I thought to myself “Hmm, now what do I do for the rest of the day?”

I relaxed a bit and walked around a bit more, feeling very proud of myself.

And that’s what I did a week and a half ago.

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I’ve been doing some reading lately on the nature of violence. When we look at violence over the course of history, most of the time it is men committing it. This is confirmed if we look at offenders of violent crime in prison in every country, and looking at who participates in the most wars. Even when it comes to domestic violence, both men and women have roughly equal representation in doing it, but the difference is that women do it in self-defense most of the time.

Why are men the more violent gender?

Back in the 1990’s, after taking my sociology class I probably would have said because society reinforces it. Men are encouraged to be violent and therefore they commit more acts of it. It’s society’s fault.

But is it really?

No. At least, not exactly.

The reason men are more violent is because of genetics. Through natural selection, genes that predispose men to violence are the ones that survived to pass on their descendants.

It works this way:

  • Men who reproduce more often have more descendants. The most successful ones win. This is not a moral statement either in favor of it or not in favor. But in the animal kingdom, a male lion who kills the king of the pride will also kill off all the cubs and then mate with the female lions. Obviously, he wants no competition.

  • For men, because of this competition, they are drawn to compete for the attention of women because from an evolutionary standpoint, a woman’s reproductive capacity is a scarce resource. That is, women can only have a certain amount of children in a defined period of time.

    By contrast, men have relatively little work to do in the conception of children. It’s “easy” for them to reproduce. But for women, because they cannot have more kids simply by being promiscuous, it pays for them to be selective. But for men, being selective doesn’t matter that much.

  • But because women are a scarce resource (from a male reproductive point-of-view), scarcity breeds competition. When you want something badly enough, you will fight over it. The men who defeated other men survived to pass on their genes with the women along to their descendants. The men who were pacifists died out, just like the dodo bird.

  • But for women, it makes no sense to fight over men (most of the time). Getting access to multiple men doesn’t help them produce more children. But having a monopoly on multiple women does help men. And these genes that caused them to fight over this explains why men are more violent than women – the stakes are higher.

  • That doesn’t excuse violence today, of course. There are many things from our ancestry that we don’t do today like infanticide, casting away the elderly, and so forth. And, thankfully, violence has been declining over time gradually.

  • In hunter-and-gatherer societies, tribes would conduct raids on other tribes in order to steal their women. Why would they do this? For wives to produce children (violence because of competition).

    You can even see this in the Bible. In Numbers 31, the Israelites launch a raid on the Midianites. They burn all the towns where they lived, as well as the camps and brought back captives to Moses (10-12). Moses is angry with these officers – why have you allowed all the women to live (v15). He then instructs them to kill all the boys and all the women who have slept with a man (v17). But for every girl who has never slept with a man, they could keep for themselves (v18).

    This sounds an awful lot like the lion who kills his competition’s descendants. The Israelites then kill the (tainted?) women, and then use the rest of the women to presumably breed out the rest of the Midianites.


That’s my theory on men are more violent than women.

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I admit, I am taking the lazy way out.

This weekend, I am attending a church campout. This is something I do regularly, although not every year. Each year, they have a talent show and I use it as an opportunity to test some new effects. I don’t perform very often so I take every chance I get.

The idea behind the campout is that you camp in tents. But this year, I am taking the lazy man’s approach: I am getting a hotel.

Why?

Well, in the past I have camped in a tent. But this year:

  1. Paying for a hotel puts money into the local economy. It’s good for money to circulate through it.
  2. The wife is currently out of town and took the tent with her. I’d have to find a replacement.

#2 is the main reason. I just cannot be bothered to ask around if people have a spare tent (which I have done in the past). I don’t feel like doing it. It took me less than 15 minutes to logon to Orbitz, research, and book a hotel room. All it cost me was a little bit of money.

By contrast, I would have to spend time emailing or phoning around for a tent, head down there and pick it up (not to mention returning it) and then getting our stuff from our new house for when we move (that is, sleeping bags, sleeping mats) as it is currently in storage.

I don’t feel like doing it. So instead, I stay in a hotel.

I think it’s a win/win situation.

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Over the past week, I have been experimenting with vegetarianism. The title of this post says “pseudo” because I haven’t done it every day, my goal was three days per week and I hit it.

Probably my main reason for cutting back on the amount of meat I eat is because it’s better for the environment. I’ve witnessed the receding snow caps in Patagonia, read about the melting Arctic and how ships can now navigate through it, and that cow farts are a major driver of greenhouse gases. By changing my own behavior and reducing my demand for meat, it allows me to feel better about myself even if it doesn’t help that much (I should point out that both former President Bill Clinton and the head of the International Panel on Climate Change have recommended reducing meat consumption in order to help combat climate change).

One of the problems for me about going vegetarian or worse – vegan – is that I have associated it with making a political statement. I have in my mind this picture of dirty hippies who don’t eat meat because they are more moral than the rest of us. That is, they believe that because they don’t eat sentient beings, that makes them morally superior than the rest of us omnivores.

It’s very hard for me to shake that image, even if it’s not true for everyone. And it’s not just that. The whole morally-superior position goes into a slew of other left wing positions that I do not want to associate myself with.

So you see, there is a psychological barrier.

And what’s worse, look at my reason for wanting to go vegetarian – to help combat global warming! This is a political cause and I am changing my behavior, so what do I think of others who don’t?

I’m trying really hard to contain my arrogance; I’m just making my own small change. I’m still early into this experiment but as time passes, my guess is that my belligerence will get worse.

One reason I didn’t do it is because of the health benefits. I’m not convinced that vegetarians or vegans have a healthier diet than other diets like the Paleo diet or Dash diet.

I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s not that vegetarians consume less meat than omnivores which makes them feel better, but because they consume less junk food than the typical person that makes them feel better. Junk food is what causes most of the health problems. Thus, it’s the bad stuff that drags us down and its elimination is where we see the benefits.

There are plenty of studies that say “Oh, this diet is the healthiest” but they are done on people who eat healthy diets (the one they are trying to promote) and have healthy lifestyles (they exercise much more), compared to those who eat a lot of junk food (in addition to meat) and do not exercise very much. There are no control groups of people with the same lifestyle but whose only difference is eating meat (the China Study is the closest but the analysts who use it to support their cause tend to cherry-pick their findings).

Thus, while I agree that vegans and vegetarians have healthy diets, I am not convinced that it’s much better than someone with a similar diet who eats meat in reasonable portions, and doesn’t eat junk food.

At the same time, I fully concede the possibility that I am just trying to rationalize my own dietary choices and that I am cherry-picking data to support my own conclusions. My own biases are preventing me from seeing objectively.

Sigh.

Part of the problem with dietary advice is that are there so many contradictions. Different diets each have their own list of Do’s and Don’t. Below is a table comparing three diets, and I have highlighted in red where they contradict each other:

Food Dash Diet Paleo Diet Vegan Diet
Grains Yes No Yes
Fruits Yes Yes Yes
Vegetables Yes Yes Yes
Low fat and non-fat dairy    Limited No No
Lean meats, fish, poultry Limited Yes No
Nuts and seeds Yes Yes Yes
Legumes Yes No Yes
Fats Limited Yes Depends
Sweets Limited Limited Limited
  • The Dash Diet and Vegan Diet say that Grains are okay, even great. But the Paleo Diet says that you have avoid them at all costs – no bread, cereal or anything else made from wheat.

  • The Paleo Diet says fats are high as well as some animal protein, but the vegans say none of it is allowed at all, while the Dash Diet lets you have some.

  • The Dash Diet and Vegan Diet say legumes (e.g., peanuts) are okay but not the Paleo Diet. Not even soy is allowed in the Paleo Diet.

  • Some Paleo Diets (e.g., Tim Ferriss’s Slow-Carb diet) recommend that you don’t eat fruit because of all the sugar in them.

You can see from all of this that no one can agree on all aspects of a healthy diet: animal products are fine vs. they are terrible for you; peanuts are fine vs. don’t eat them; fats are okay vs. don’t eat them; grains are fine vs. they are bad for you.

Contradictions!

Having said all that, this past week I cut down on my animal products. I’ve already been eating more fruits and vegetables. I just increased them instead of eating meat, and switched in more tofu. Here are the results:

  • In a restaurant, I had tofu with phad thai and some other Asian food. I liked it! But when the wife bought it from the store and cooked it in a stir fry, I did not like it.
  • The smoothies the wife makes are pretty good. At first, I would have them for breakfast, but they made me so full I wouldn’t have anything else. This wasn’t that much of a problem for me, but I wouldn’t have any water or coffee. This led to me getting headaches by 11 am due to dehydration. I have modified this to eating a normal breakfast, taking the smoothie to work and then drinking it later.

  • Sometimes in the evening I have a salad for dinner along with quinoa and bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. That works for me.

  • When I first started, I thought I’d have way more energy than I do now. Instead, I found myself getting tired in the afternoon at work which hadn’t happened to me in a long time.

  • I am proud of myself for eating more fruits and vegetables, especially more green vegetables. I’ve discovered kale and chards; the mixed greens from Trader Joe’s are the best, in my view.

  • I have lowered my % body fat, according to the scale that measure it I have lost 1% to 1.5% body fat.

So you can see, my results are a mixed bag. Maybe I do feel better but the change has been so gradual that I haven’t noticed it, and if I went back to my previous lifestyle I would definitely notice.

I will have to keep this up for three more weeks before I can give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down to this change.

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Aug 1: D-Day

Yesterday, August 1, 2013 was D-Day – Dee Day Da Wife Paid off Dee Mortgage on her property (the day the wife paid off the mortgage on her property).

The wife had a plan to pay it off by 2016. But, we decided to accelerate it because there was really no point to leave it like that when we could pay it off whenever. Now it’s finally an asset wherein it generates more revenue than it costs to maintain.

Dave Ramsey is one thing about paying off debt – pay off the lowest one first because it feels good to finally be done with it. And as Mark Cuban says, there’s always a positive return when you pay off debt.

Next up is my never-ending mortgage (groan). That’s going to take another 20 years at the rate I am going.

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