Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Kettlebells: A better way to work out

A Russian strongman w/ kettlebell
A Russian strongman w/ kettlebell
The Gold's Gym I used to work out at in California employed a super-friendly trainer named Pam. Pam was a spark plug. She was in her early 40's, worked full time. managing a local business. She had three kids between 15 and 21. Her husband, who worked  IT support at Amgen, had just recently left her.

So, I being single at the time, I became friendly with her. And one day, I spotted her working out with with these odd weights that looked to me like cannonballs. So, I asked her about them.

She graciously took her time, and explained to me that they were called kettlebells, and originated in Russia -- though the Ottoman Turks used similar exercise systems as well. Russian exercise guru Pavel Tsatsouline brought the kettlebell craze to the West with his classic book on kettlebessl,  Enter The Kettlebell! Strength Secret of The Soviet Supermen

Like so much in fitness, Pavel was a bit of hype. He claimed it was the fasted way to strength and power. But much of that could have been fluffery. He is, after all, a marketer...

Monday, March 25, 2013

Gravity's Rainbow; "Now everybody--"

Thomas Pynchon, author of "Gravity's Rainbow"
Thomas Pynchon, author of "Gravity's Rainbow"
In celebration of Gravity's Rainbow's 40th Anniversary (or is it birthday?) I reread the book over March. And I've got to say it is still among the most challenging books I've ever read. Though, without a doubt, James Joyce's Finnegans Wake is hands down the most difficult.  I went through a brief overview of the novel, including links to some outstanding resources in an earlier posting, "Gravity's Rainbow" turns 40... and it's still amazing

Thomas Pynchon wants you to work. And, though at times the text seemed a bit dated to me -- a lot of the "hallucinations" rang of a Richard Crumb or Bugs Bunny montage to me -- there is something a lot deeper to this book. Which lacks a deep sense of humanity on one hand. But deals with science, the nature of reality, and the seeming conflict between the classical and quantum world views that it is still among a handful of books that, upon closing it, made me say "WOW!?"

World's Healthiest Foods: Keeping it simple

Worlds Healthiest Foods: Are available, tasty & good for you
World's Healthiest Foods: Available, tasty & good for you
Eating well, as the saying goes, is not rocket science. Sure, you have to be aware of things. Like sodium content and getting enough fiber. But, at the end of the day, it's about taking in quality calories, mostly fruits, whole grains and vegetables. And eating healthy, low-fat cuts of meat or seafood for your protein (if, like me, you cannot eat a pure vegetarian diet due to a food allergy).

But we Americans tend to muck everything up, and make complex that which should be simple. There are conflicting reports about what is healthy for you, and what isn't.

For instance, take eggs. Which have been "off limits," or egg-whites only. No yolks, because they are filled with cholesterol. Until recent research made it clear that, even though egg-yolks actually help lower overall cholesterol, and are chock-full of health benefits. And thus, the recommendation changes to "eat eggs, including yolks, several times per week.

 Which is why I think Micheal Polan, in his recent book In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto  is so spot when he talks about the shifting "healthy/ avoid" foods. His advice is sage:
Eat whole foods, that a grandparent (or great grandparent) in 1900 would recognize as food [this means butter, and not Olivio; sugar or honey instead of Sucralose]. Eat mostly fruits and vegetables, with a smattering of nuts and whole grains. And keep your meat portions small -- about the size of a pack of cards. 

Aquaponics: Towards a truly sustainable agriculture

Figure: The nutrient cycle driving an aquaculture system
Figure: The nutrient cycle driving an aquaculture system
There is something about a really good idea that grabs me. Like when I first discovered that there were urban farms, with the farmers actually making more money by operating in city limits, and selling at farmers markets.

I was intrigued. Good idea. I even thought about pursuing this as a career option since I do have a lot of experience organic gardening. And, like always, I was looking for a challenge.

But reality made me rethink things. I had just moved from CA to OH. I had been laid off twice in the past five years when the businesses I worked for shut down. So going into business for myself seemed like a great opportunity -- when I got my financial head a little bit above the water. ...

Monday, March 18, 2013

"Gravity's Rainbow" turns 40... and it's still amazing

Figure: "Gravity's Rainbow"
"Gravity's Rainbow" 
There is something about February through June. Every year, I read the "heaviest" books out there in these months. Last year it was James Joyce's The DublinersUlysses and Finnegans Wake. In 2013, I figure to tackle some Pynchon, and Nabokov's Pale Fire .

So I decided to kick this year's heavy reading season off with the granddaddy of all postmodernist maximalist books, Gravity's Rainbow.

Why not? It's been 20 years, give or take, since I read it.

It turns out that the only difference between then and now is that The Simpsons spoofed the reclusive Thomas Pynchon. Other than that, the book has lost none of it's power. Nor, unfortunately, has it become any easier to follow. Which is why it is still considered a postmodernist masterpiece.

If you have not read it, prepare for a bit of a ride. It takes works, especially in the opening section, Beyond the Zero. Pynchon does not introduce you to characters, one after the other. Instead, his narrator jumps from character to character, scene to scenes abruptly. So it takes a while for the major players to coagulate into real people. And the plot becomes clearer...

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Laughing at the Laffer Curve: Sequestration and the tragedy of Trickle-Down economics

GDP Growth 1991 through 2010 (Source: Wikipedia)

I was raised during the Reagan years. I remembered all of the tough-talkers in the media, who sounded like they were talking about, spouted "Supply Side Economics," tax cuts and the Laffer Curve.

I sort of believed them. Until  I took university economics.

I was shocked. My profs -- and everyone knows the economics professors are among the most conservative members of any faculty -- scoffed at those ideas.

I mean, I thought those tough talkers were economists. Or knew what they were talking about.

Well, it turns out they weren't economists  And didn;t understand what they were talking about. And most of their ideas would never pass academic "muster." And thus, few would pass on to legitimate peer-reviewed journals.

And, years later, I have to agree with my professors. But for today, let's look at just one aspect of the current "tough talking -- but hollow -- economics, the Laffer Curve.

Basically, the Laffer Curve states when taxes are TOO high, then decreasing taxes would cause an increase in economic growth. And that increase in economic growth would bring more money in taxe revenue. 
Fine. That is a plausible position. But it turns out to be pure bunk.

But  how can I state this so clearly? How do we test my assertions? After all, experimentation is impossible in macro economics....

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Future Smuture: "The Singularity is (probably) bunk" and what the future will likely look like

Kurzweil's extension of Moore's law 
I love Science Fiction . So I am attacking Worlds Without End's lists of "Science Fiction Classics" and "The 101 Best Novels 1985-2010."

I have been amazed at how many 21st Century books focus on Vernor Vinge's "Singularity." Which is the idea that computers will eventually become sentient, and begin replicating themselves, rapidly creating a huge network that will colonize the entire galaxy. And, eventually, man will be able to "piggy back" onto this network to transcend reality.

Not particularly scientific -- even if it's based on Moore's Law and Metcalfe's  Law. The Singularity is scientific mysticism -- the natural correlate to Scientism, which is my term for people who deify science, and follow its dictates as if it were gosepl "truth." When science is nothing more than a rational, conscious exploration of what can be measured.

But, something  seems wrong about the Singularity. There evidence that science is hitting the wall on processor growth which will cripple the acceleration of technical progress on CPU's, which is central to Singularity Theory. According to what I've read, it will soon cost manufacturers too much to add circuits to chips. Not to mention that we are limited by the size of electrons and atoms. After which we are in the probabilistic quantum world. Which will make computing unreliable....

And let's not forget that we need people to write programs to take advantage of the new CPU's.

Or that our current use of network traffic is heavily weighted to mindless Tweets, X-Box Live, and watching American Idol on Hulu. While worthy projects, like the open source Mathematica replacement Sage Math, languish.

Not exactly the stuff of Artificial Intelligence...

Monday, March 4, 2013

Sustainable Jobs Viable? Conviction versus practicality

I have a friend, who owns a small solar consulting business in Cleveland. During a conversation, I objected about the cost of solar projects, and the long payback threshold  He said, "It's not about the cost. You have to be willing to take a stand."

That's great. If you're Amory Lovins.

Most of us are not martyrs. Me, I want my sustainability with Internet access, an I-Phone and Ohio State football.

And I have no doubt that I am speaking for the majority of us. We want real lives. And have commitments. We  cannot take the hippy solution, turning on, tuning in and then dropping out. See what that got the Boomers (end game, The Tea Party? Yikes!).

The relevant question to me seems to be, "How can a person earn a living, integrate with the community, and be sustainable?" And, in an economy like this. there is little doubt "earning a living" is more complex. The current unemployment statistics seems to indicate that, unlike in the past, layoffs have impacted all levels and all occupations according the the latest BLS statistics. So, across the board, there are more applicants than jobs.

So, the Green livelihood in question MUST fulfill the following...