Chance Wins…what-causes-it/

This bit by Seth Roberts reminds me all at once of Nassim Taleb’s work (Status quo, the fed turkey, works until it completely implodes), Seth Godin’s “This is Broken” idea, and the dinosaurs going extinct.

Who is flying this plane? Do they really know what they are doing? Does chance win over purpose?

Seth’s blog post is centered around the broken U.S. healthcare system — a system which suffers both from a burgeoning status quo as well as no means of introducing alternative solutions. In other words, it is entrenched.

And just like the dinos, when that entrenchment ultimately leads to social upheaval, the failure may be catastrophic.

A robust system must be dynamic.

Cross-Pollinating Ideas via the Internet

I was just leaving a comment on Richard Nikoley’s latest blog post, Vitamin K1 vs. Vitamin K2 concerning Natto, a fermented soy food from Japan that contains a huge amount Vitamin K2. I was specifically pointing out that fish gonads, which are considered to have a high K2 concentration, something I had learned over at Stephan Guyenet’s Whole Health Source: Seafood and K2, are absolutely dwarfed by the K2 concentration in natto^. I had first learned about natto and the importance of fermented foods via Seth Roberts’ blog (See his Fermented Food Category). Put differently, my comment took data from three different sources and presented it in a coordinated, collaborative manner.

Though this might not be the best term for it, I call these occurrences examples of the “cross-pollination” of ideas. It’s a collaborative, unpredictable, uncoordinated, complex effort whereby ideas and information gleaned from disparate sources are examined in relation to one another. It is knowing the trees and seeing the forest. The goal is to create more useful ideas and better information, and then spread this new knowledge far and wide. And do it over and over again. If this reminds you at all of evolutionary processes, not only are you catching my drift, you’re cross-pollinating.

Idea cross-pollination is amplified by the Internet. Historically, a powerful idea or discovery could languish in obscurity, the pet project of an experimenter who works in the silo of his own research. This was the case with Isaac Newton who had discovered/created calculus decades before it was made public.

Compare how calculus languished to the ideas contained within Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories, a book written by a non-specialist (Taubes is a writer, not a scientist) that looks at an enormous amount of nutrition-related research, sees common threads across the data, and presents it all in once place, calling into question the mainstream nutrition mantra that low-fat is healthy, fat will kill you, and people are obese because they eat too much. GCBC was created by having the power to examine the research of a number of disparate specialists and see the big picture.

A book like GCBC is made possible by the Internet because it becomes much less likely that ideas remain within the dusty silos of specialists. The Internet takes curiosity, search, and a great deal of disparate computing power*, and uses them to spread ideas much, much faster. Non-specialists(like Taubes or me) then have the pleasure of making fortuitous discoveries of connections across specialties.

Of course, the means by which cross-pollination is accomplished are unpredictable: we can’t plan a course to find them. All we can do is cast a wide net, examine a lot of ideas, follow our curiosity, and let our organic pattern recognition software do it’s thing. This is very much a “learn by doing, then by thinking” concept. If we dabble in this gamble enough, every once in awhile, we will hit the idea jackpot.

Mind, the idea of idea cross-pollination isn’t really an external process across disparate people, at all. To the extent that we learn ideas, we store copies** of them in our brains, forever taking the ideas with us (A reason legal boundaries around mental concepts is fundamentally absurd). Indeed, it seems that the majority of my intellectual growth has been predicated on being able to cross-pollinate within these internalized knowledge stores. I am always trying to reconcile previously learned ideas with new ones. In this way my organic human network, a human brain, is mimicked by the inorganic mesh of networks we call the Internet.

In sum, cross-pollination of ideas has always been occurring — it is a human specialty, warts and all. Thanks to the Internet, it’s happening more, and we’re getting an explosion of ideas/concepts/knowledge as a result.

^ It seems that Natto is an obscure bastion of nutrition, which may be due to the fact that it (apparently) doesn’t taste the greatest. I’ve yet to get my hands on any as it is exceedingly hard to find. Rest assured, I will be eating some just as soon as I get a chance to check out the only Japanese grocery store in Atlanta.

* As in, human minds that work to understand and pull together the data they discover.

** Albeit imperfect, frequently mutated copies, but this, again, can make for fortuitous idea creation, and as far as I can tell, acts as a positive, dynamic force.

Vacation, Baby stuff, Moving, Birthday Shoes, Busy

Life has gotten downright busy lately.

If you recall, we were trying to buy a house in Atlanta. Unfortunately, after a good five months of searching and one deal (that was under contract) falling through, we realized that with a baby only three months away, we were going to have to abandon buying and rent another year. So began a frantic search for a place to rent, which was surprisingly frustrating in that every good listing was already leased by the time we found it. Regardless, one tool that helped the hunt was, which has officially wowed me with being much easier and more powerful than Zillow.

After ten possibles, nine of which were already leased, we found a house in Lake Claire, Atlanta. Lake Claire is slightly east of Little Five Points and Candler Park. Our new pad is within a five minute walk to the Flying Biscuit there! It’s a sweet, walkable location, and will make a great house to tide us over through the birth of our first baby girl.

Speaking of babies, we have finally had the chance to dedicate time to finishing our registry and deciding important things like: nursery furniture and color schemes. This is hard. Way harder than it sounds. Sonal is now seven months pregnant. Our first is due in 80 days.

And regarding birthdays, my side project Vibram five fingers website,, continues to grow. Here are the last six posts:

Note the Jamaica post. Sonal and I took a week vacation to an all-inclusive resort in Jamaica (Couples San Souci). We had a blast. If you’re a Duke basketball fan, you might be interested to know that Brian Zoubek was vacationing there, as well. At an inch over seven feet tall, the guy is a giant. The world was not built for individuals that tall. From what I observed from afar, every table is a kiddie table.

And my day-job, the Implode-O-Meter, just rolled out a subdomain on MLI dedicated to FHA education (replete with an FHA blog).

All of this has been happening over the last three weeks.

Life has been busy.

Our system of human development is broken


When I read this latest from David Friedman, I couldn’t help but think of one word, “broken.” There are so many people, myself frequently included, who are wasting their lives doing things they loathe. Meanwhile, they engage in hobbies, “other worlds” where their talents and energies are spent doing things they enjoy.

What we have is a system that tries to make widgets out of human beings. When the human beings inevitably fail to enjoy their particular widget design, they resort to other activities to distract or make their corporate lives bearable. Everyone loses in this system because people are not deployed to their highest and best (and most fulfilling) use.

The system is broken.

I was reminded of this recently when someone I know in WoW as an unusually competent and charismatic leader, organizer, and player, mentioned the problem of “parental agro.” He is apparently a college student, possibly a graduate student, living with his parents. Older examples are friends in the SCA of whose abilities and energy I think highly, who made their living as school teachers or secretaries or the like—respectable jobs, but not particularly high status or high paying ones.

The pattern is not entirely surprising. It makes sense that an energetic individual who doesn’t find much outlet for his energies in his current career will direct them towards his hobbies. Adam Smith long ago observed that, in the British universities of the time, a professor got no benefit by doing a good job of teaching, since the professors were on salary rather than, as in at least some of the Scottish universities, paid by the students. He concluded that if the professor were naturally energetic, he would spend his energies doing something that might be of some benefit to him rather than doing his job, which would not. Nowadays we call it “consulting.”

The New Dad’s Survival Guide by Scott Mactavish

The New Dad’s Survival Guide by Scott Mactavish

Prompted by impending fatherhood, I picked up Scott Mactavish’s The New Dad’s Survival Guide from Amazon. At only around 130 pages, Survival Guide is a tiny book relative to the growing library of pregnancy and baby books that we are rapidly accumulating these days (What to Expect When You’re Expecting, anyone?). Survival Guide is a brief overview of what to expect out of pregnancy and early child-rearing, all laced with humor and presented in a readily digestible format for us idiot fathers-to-be. The self-deprecation is only slightly tongue-in-cheek, as I feel clueless on a daily basis.

The Guide is helpful in some regards as it is such a smattering of content, even though told in brief, that it will certainly teach you something you hadn’t already heard. This is a plus.

It’s also a fun book in that it’s light-hearted, and us new dad’s need that kind of joviality given the seriousness of pregnancy (Que the thunderclap).

One thing I didn’t care for so much about the book is that it’s so basic, with large print and plenty of clip-art pictures (Not kidding), that sometimes it just seems like “what am I reading here.” But I shouldn’t have expected too much: the subtext of the cover is “Man-to-man advice for the first-time fathers / Secrets Revealed / Codes Broken / Babies Tamed.” However, given that I bought this book online, I wasn’t able to see these bits beforehand nor did I take the time to virtually flip through the pages. Had I done either, I’m not sure I would have picked it up.

But if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have received such “Critical Survival Tips” as:


Attend childbirth education classes with the FPP. Doing so will prevent a major freak-out when a human pops out of your FPP’s private parts, as well as preparing you for your role as a birthing coach.



Get accustomed to the breast pump prior to the birth. Examine it, even take it apart, because when it’s hooked up to your FPP and milk is shooting out like a dairy, you may lapse into shock or laugh so hard that a little pee comes out.

So all in all, it was a fun read and somewhat informative; indeed, some of the specific advice could be quite useful (like preparing for the trip to the hospital).

Afterward: If anyone has any must-read books for men on new-fatherhood, please let me know!

“Their minds close and they turn around and go back to their lives.”…art-14-the-end/

I did a site search on Seth’s blog for “fructose” (On how to do these and improve your use of Google Search) as I was curious if Roberts had seen any negative impact to using fructose in his Shangri-La Diet. I wondered this because fructose is apparently sweeter than glucose, which per the SLD theory that flavor/calorie associations spur weight gain, might imply that ingesting fructose would actually cause weight gain (I was trying to tie this all together into Stephen at WHS’s recent post about sugar). Alas, apparently sugar-water using nothing but fructose works fine on SLD. I forgot that plain sugar water is tasteless regardless of the sugar used (I don’t understand how sugar is sweet, but sugar water is not, but it’s true)

Anyway, in a roundabout way I got to reading Roberts’ interview with Taubes (Only read the last two parts out of fourteen: need to find the time to read the rest!). It was at the end of this interview that Taubes made a fascinating comment about how people in the scientific community react to his research on insulin and carbohydrates. Specifically, these otherwise intelligent and reasoning folk tend to close their minds as soon as Taubes drops the “C word:” carbohydrates. One word shuts them down as they write off Taubes’ immense research by way of invoking the “Atkins diet” or any number of other “low-carb diets” that were all the rage a few years ago.

And I couldn’t help but think how this mental shutdown is what I’ve seen countless times with any person of religion — people who otherwise may agree with any number of points you make will completely shutdown on the invocation of certain words.

This is a fantastic example of rational people utterly failing to apply reason, and it is exemplified by scientists and people of faith, alike. Indeed, the common thread here is simply dogma. Interesting.

TAUBES I think that’s true, but there’s this contrary effect that happens. I said this in my lecture. The science I’m trying to get across can be accepted up until the point at which I say the the word carbohydrate, and then people shut down, and they think “Oh, it’s that Atkins stuff again.” Their minds close and they turn around and go back to their lives. Anyway, I look forward to seeing the interview and getting your book and reading it. I enjoyed this. Again, I like nothing better than talking about this stuff.

Seth Roberts and the Shangri-La Diet

I cite Seth Roberts’ blog a great deal over at Linked Down. Seth is a Psychology Professor at Berkeley and an avid self-experimenter. I’ve learned a great deal from subscribing to his blog.

For those who don’t know, Seth Roberts created the Shangri-La Diet, which is a diet centered around reducing the association between flavor and caloric load. I haven’t read the book, so this is an approximation of how it works, but the gist is that the more correlated taste is to caloric load, the greater hunger can be, the harder it will be to cut calories, and the higher your body’s set point for weight will be. “SLD” hacks this relationship via ingesting flavorless calories within certain windows of time. These flavorless calories reduce the brain’s association of high energy density and high flavor. Interestingly enough, the macronutrient source of the calories may be unimportant: you can do SLD with oil, sugar water (so long as it is flavorless), or nose-clipping while eating protein. If you’re skeptical about this diet, I suggest taking a trip over to the SLD Forums and be prepared to see plenty of evidence that SLD works.

Even as I have not tried SLD, it is a fascinating idea and it seems that anyone who is serious about better understanding why we gain weight and what regulates hunger and adiposity must take it seriously enough to figure out how it fits into the big picture of human health. Barring that gargantuan task, it’s at a minimum another way to try and hack weight loss if your current regiment isn’t cutting it for you.

I mention all of this because I stumbled on a 2008 interview between Roberts and Gary Taubes, author of Good Calories, Bad Calories, which I’ve blogged about exhaustively. What a great thing to find that two people I admire had a thoughtful discussion and, even better, said discussion has been made available to me?

Blogging, science and the internet FTW.

Back to trying to understand how SLD fits into the grand scheme of human physiology. An interesting comment was made at the bottom of Part 13 of Roberts’ Interview of Gary Taubes:

I’ve thought a lot about how consuming tasteless food could supress hunger. My favorite theory is that it is similar to what happens when an animal is hibernating. The “magical” appearance of calories fools your body into thinking it is living off its fat and then it actually does so.

This comment reminded me of how the metabolic pathways while fasted are the same as when we consume a diet of only fat and protein. One effect of low-carb diets is appetite suppression. Could the common theme here simply be that both SLD and low-carbohydrate diets and/or fasting act to “trick” our bodies into switching to a non-hungry state?

Obviously that can’t be the entire picture because insulin is the storage hormone that is unleashed by carbohydrate consumption (though less so with fructose).

This issue is worthy of further thought.

Birthday Shoes dot com

As regular readers know, I have a pair of Vibram FiveFingers Classics (Reviewed last summer). I’ve gotten a lot of use out of my VFFs, having worn them for CrossFit, short runs, sprints, frisbee, world traveling, weight lifting, and for everyday uses like going to the grocery store or any number of other activities. Suffice to say that I think FiveFingers are a fantastic product and allow me the freedom of barefootedness.

So it was with great joy that I recently procured a pair of Five Finger KSOs via John at Kayak Shed, which I just reviewed yesterday. What’s that? You didn’t see my review? That’s because it’s not on Rather, it is on my latest project, Birthday Shoes dot com, a site dedicated to being barefoot by way of consolidating information about the closest-thing-to-barefooted-footwear-available, Vibram FiveFingers:

Let me guess your thoughts. You think I’m out of my gourd to create a site about barefootedness, specifically one to support a product that is difficult to describe, a sock/shoe/foot-glove/ninja-shoe.

You might be right.

Five Fingers are just footwear: how great could this product be? Pretty extraordinary, actually. Why? Because they empower us modern hunter-gatherers to move about the earth and do things in accordance with our evolutionary design, which is to say, locomote a concrete, polluted and often trashy world wearing virtually nothing on our “birthday shoes” (Yeah, like “birthday suit!”) but a thin piece of rubber sole.

And though it might not be obvious at first glance, this is a very big deal. FiveFingers are important because they are designed to work harmoniously with our human nature. Sure, we all could entirely ditch any form of footwear, build up callouses on our feet, and roam the earth completely barefoot (Indeed, many do), but such a pure solution is also out of reach for most of us. By comparison, just as many pursue a “primal” or “paleo” diet by cutting out grains, sugar, heavily processed foods, and other modern food inventions, we still live in a modern world and aren’t hunting and gathering in a true sense, nor should we. There are fantastic benefits of modern technology; the trick is finding ways to marry our genetic hardwiring with our modern inventions.

FiveFingers go a long way towards that goal.

Birthday Shoes is an attempt to centralize information about Five Fingers, be a hub for different VFF experiences, display humans being human, barefooted or in their birthday shoes, and ultimately act as a sort of gateway-idea*, that can open the eyes of otherwise domesticated, corporate-dwelling, debt-servicing, and generally depressed people to a freer world, one more harmonious with our human nature.

In short, maybe I’m not that crazy after all, or at least, there is a method behind my madness. Check it out:

birthday shoes dot com

Recent posts at

* I’ve also called it a “trojan horse idea.” I can’t decide which way to describe VFFs is catchier. “Trojan horse” is kinda fun because the VFF is literally not unlike a mask or cover-up for our feet, hiding the reality of what is really going on. “Gateway idea” is nice because it uses the “gateway drug” definition — VFFs serve as a gateway or catalyst towards higher understanding about other things. Ah maybe I should just use both.

Acheiving the HGH Flush in a Workout


Rusty over at Fitness Black Book talks about how to know when you’ve reached a point where your workout intensity will have the lingering metabolism-boosting effect. The test is what he calls the “HGH Flush,” which is basically that point where you lose your breath and your skin is warm to the touch.

This is interesting to me for a couple of reasons. One, I think I’ve unwittingly been measuring my personal workout success by whether or not I reached this HGH flush state. I just hadn’t quite articulated it. Two, a part of this that Rusty mentions is not to do too much. It’s here that I think back to my CrossFit experience last summer, in which I put on muscle and lost some fat, as well. Any CrossFitter knows that the workouts typically result in an HGH Flush by design and also are completed in less then 30 minutes. In other words, they are very intense but also brief.

Comparatively, when I was making a concerted effort at additional fat loss earlier this year, I’d occassionally reach the HGH Flush, but overall, I just did more workout volume. Perhaps this is why I didn’t see noticeable results despite an ample amount of effort (in both IF, diet, and exercise).

How to Tell If Your Fat Loss Workout is the Correct Intensity?

I look for a thing called the “HGH Flush”. I forget who coined this term, but this is just an indicator of a good fat loss workout. If your skin is slightly red and hot to the touch and you are out of breath after your workout, then you have achieved the HGH flush. Remember your PE teacher in Junior High making you “run lines” or pushing you until you were out of breath and your skin felt like it was on fire? This is the HGH flush which is an indicator that your metabolism will be increased after your workout and that your body will release a bit more HGH than normal (your body’s fat burning hormone).

Learn by Doing, Then by Thinking

Danger: Hubris
Creative Commons License photo credit: toolmantim

Seth Roberts talks about his graduate school days and how he got into self-experimentation by way of the axiom that, “The best way to learn is to do:”

And then I was in the library and I came across an article about teaching mathematics and the article began, “The best way to learn is to do.” And I thought “Huh well that makes a lot of sense.” And I realized you know that it was a funny thing that that’s what I wasn’t doing: I was thinking. And I also thought to myself well I want to learn how to do experiments. And if the best way to learn is to do then I should just do as many experiments as possible as opposed to trying to think of which ones to do. And that was really a vast breakthrough in my graduate training and everything changed after that.

Quoted from a 10 minute presentation by Seth Roberts

Roberts’ goes on to apply these ideas to graduate students and professors, when he notes, “Grad students … worry too much about what to do. Professors often … do something more complex than necessary.”

This is a simple, but enormously important idea: we learn more by doing first than by thinking first. The idea lies at the foundation of empiricism. Despite its simple power, it seems that across all aspects of life, we show a clear preference for thinking over doing. Why?

One reason may be that we overestimate our ability to “figure things out” by thought alone—generally, this is hubris. Another reason for this preference for thinking is poor assumptions. For the novice, the presumption is that less experience, or fewer trials under your belt, must be supplanted with more reasoning and thought. Alternatively for the expert, the problem is reliance on accumulated experience to create a basis for reliable reasoning and thought.

Regardless of the “Why?,” thinking before doing causes problems. Specifically:

  • Thinking results in unnecessary complexity, which obfuscates our ability to interpret results,
  • Thinking sets expectations, biasing analysis towards certain results, and
  • Thinking is time-intensive, reducing resources that could be used doing.

These problems hinder our ability to learn—not just in scientific experiments, but in virtually every aspect of our lives. Here are just a few examples where I’ve seen the problem manifested:

  • Our education system is founded on thinking over doing. School boards think through what subjects students should learn. Even when choice is introduced such as in college, there are enormous costs to trying a lot of disparate subjects. Not surprisingly, students get locked into fields of study only to learn when it’s too expensive to do anything about it that they don’t particularly enjoy their chosen major. Conversely, look at blogging, which seems to result in a great deal of knowledge gathering, but is driven heavily by random curiosity.
  • More on blogging. Perhaps the triumph of blogging lies in the thoughtlessness of it. Sure, you put plenty of thought into a blog post as you are writing it, but unlike writing a book, the blog post is so much cheaper that you end up having many more iterations and much less “thinking” behind each individual post. Contrast blogging to the editorial thinking that is put into mainstream journalism. This thinking results in a lot of censorship — not in the classic “You can’t use that word” sense, but in the “I think your idea should be altered in X, Y, Z ways.” The result? More complex ideas. Fewer ideas. Bad ideas. (Added 4/17/09)
  • The same problem is seen with career choices. We think our way into a certain career versus learning what works and what doesn’t work by simply trying out different types of work. We try to think our way into figuring out our passions. It just doesn’t work.
  • Or apply the idea to William Glasser’s Control Theory. Glasser argues that it is difficult to impossible to change what we think or feel about something that happens to us. Thus, our best course of action is to simply do something.
  • Or consider another book: Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness. Gilbert makes the point that, “We insist on steering our [lives] because we think we have a pretty good idea of where we should go, but the truth is that much of tour steering is in vain … because the future is fundamentally different than it appears through the prospectiscope.” Thinking through what we want is something we all do, yet it rarely is effective at leading to happiness. How often do we finally get what we want only to realize that the experience is not what we expected? This is a failure of thought.
  • Nassim Taleb harps on overreliance on thinking all the time. The Black Swan is essentially a book about hubris and the misguided belief that we can think through everything. As another example, Taleb doesn’t read the news because it formalizes thought, effectively handicapping our cognitive function by creating bias. In Nassim Taleb’s recent interview on EconTalk, he talks about “tinkering,” which is more or less just trying different stuff out and seeing what works, as a means to learn.
  • Or look at thinking over doing as it pertains to governments and political debate. Was there ever such an embodiment of preference for thinking over doing? Every government generally and every government program specifically is a thought-out experiment tested on a massive scale. Should it come as a surprise that governments and government programs are so dysfunctional? Observe how political philosophers consistently prefer thought to action, a la Folk Activism, dismissing attempts at trial and error or ignoring the importance of seeking new frontiers for experimentation, while arguing, “We’ve yet to see pure [ socialism | capitalism ]; therefore, you can’t say it wouldn’t work!”
  • I haven’t read Arnold Kling’s Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids (Preface), but that’s at least partially because it hasn’t been published yet! In thinking about the question of children, two thoughts come to mind in relation to the doing/thinking problem (And both relate to Kling’s review of a study about how “Almost no one regrets having kids“:
    • Couples who choose not to have kids have overthought the problem and will almost certainly regret their decision not to have kids.
    • Parents who think they should only have two kids (for example) will likely end up wishing they had had more—it seems parents tend to think they should have more kids than they end up having!

    Having kids isn’t like waking up and making an omelette, so I realize that this one fits into the doing-vs-thinking paradigm a bit loosely, but nonetheless, it’s just another example of how thinking fails. (Added 4/17/09)

  • Life is the result of trial and error performed on a massive scale and is ongoing. As complex as a DNA molecule may be, the individual building blocks are simple. So here’s an example of doing (DNA replication) and simplicity leading to unfathomable complexity—life. Evolution is the triumph of doing and is clearly a thoughtless process. (Added 4/17/09)

As Seth Roberts realized in his graduate days, “I should just do as many experiments as possible as opposed to trying to think of which ones to do.” But why does doing first work better than thinking first? Perhaps it is because doing is fundamentally an iterative process: doing is trial. The idea of trial and error as a method of learning means making mistakes and learning from them. Making mistakes and figuring out what doesn’t work can also be desirable as evidence of absence. I further wonder if it is the sheer number of trials that spur the creation of knowledge. Could it be that the more experiments/trials/iterations, the greater the chance of winning the lottery and learning something truly worthwhile? Maybe so.

I can’t help but conclude that, regardless of the reasons, thinking should almost always be put on hold in favor of action. Stop thinking and start doing. Follow whims, opportunities, gut instincts, and curiosities. Observe as much as possible. Expect failure and realize that it is through innumerable failed attempts that one can stumble on success.