Meditation Pros and Cons – Might be Great for You, Might Kill You

“Sitting here attempting to meditate, I have counted the number of ways I know of killing someone, using just a finger, a hand, a foot. I had reached 94 when you entered.” – Star Trek: Voyager

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So, when I meditate?  Gotta have a tiger.  Nothing makes me calmer than sitting with an apex carnivore, because it allows me to forget materiality. 

So, I’ve always thought that meditation must be cool.  After all, David Carradine did it as Kwai Chang Caine all through the 1970’s as Kung Fu.  And he could give any group of bullies very peaceful and regretful butt-kicking they deserved.  And, really, throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s on television, meditation was seen as sort of a way to create super powers from within.  The (often Asian, or certainly taught-by-Asians) character would sit down, legs crossed, and would meditate until he got super-strength, super quickness, super pain tolerance, super control of his nervous system, or . . . super control of his ability to quickly grow fingernails at twice the speed of a normal human.

It was everywhere.  Meditation was the cure to all of life’s problems.  Transcendental Meditation™ would help with:

  1. Lower Stress – People who meditate appear to have lower stress and lower concentrations of cortisol (a hormone associated with stress). Me?  Sometimes when I try to meditate it stresses me out because I’m unsure if I’m doing it right, so I focus on that instead of meditating and pretty soon I’m wondering if I’ll have enough money when I’m 80 to parachute into the Super Bowl® and . . .
  2. More Work Output – Some study said that employees that meditate get more work done. I’m pretty sure that if my boss walks by my desk and sees me staring into a blank computer monitor and repeatedly saying “ohmmmmmmmm” he will either assume I’m measuring electronic resistance in my mind, or, more likely, he’ll think I’m off my rocker and rush to fire me before I can charge the company insurance a lot of money for treatment of whatever makes me stare at my monitor and say “ohmmmmmmm” again and again.
  3. Lower Blood Pressure – I thought I needed blood pressure? Oh, not the kind that causes blood to ooze out of my pores like sweat?  Got it.  I think this is probably compatible with the whole Lower Stress thing.
  4. Lower Risk of Heart Disease – If true, probably tied back to 1. and 3., above. Since heart disease sounds pretty bad, I’d probably like to avoid that.
  5. ADHD Treatment – Is ADHD made up? I don’t seem to recall this even existing when I was a kid – it was called, “being a kid.”  And you didn’t get classified narcotics for it.  You got a pile of wood to move and split and haul.  That typically un-deficited my attention and took all the energy I had stored up for hyperactivity away.  Move four tons of wood with a wheelbarrow?  Yeah, you’re not going to bug Mom to the point she wants to give you psychoactive drugs.  But apparently meditation works to help, too.
  6. Better Home Life – Yes, if you’re not a raging jerk from stress from work, that might help your home life. Or not.  Raging jerks seem to do okay, so don’t sell that short.
  7. Increased Intelligence – Unlikely. If you’re reading this blog, you’re already growing your IQ by 3 to 6 points . . . per hour.  If meditation increases your IQ?  Your head will explode.
  8. Ability to Smoke Weed Like the Beatles – Minus the money and the freedom from repercussions. Oh, wait, I’m describing most everyone.  No meditation required.
  9. Finding Chicks Like Yoko – How is this an advantage?
  10. Weight Loss – Yeah, most everyone wants to be skinnier. Except Gary Busey, who just wants to be a fried chicken.  Not eat it, be it.
  11. Growing Younger – Apparently (he said skeptically), a 55 year old that meditates regularly has the body of a 43 year old. Probably buried in his crawl space, right?  But here I think that there might be a correlation with the type of personality that has sufficient discipline to meditate regularly and not get side-tracked, rather than the meditation itself?
  12. Shinier Teeth – I made that one up. But, why not?

That sounds pretty good.  So why don’t people meditate more?

Well, there are some potential risks to meditation, namely a risk to your ego.  I’m not making this up.  Think about the process of meditation – it ends up bringing clarity and reflection on the way the world is, and, potentially, can strip away many of the constructs that we create in our day to day life.

And that is dangerous.

I had a boss that went to a leadership seminar – but this was an intensive leadership seminar, 12-14 hours a day, meant to rip the illusions about your life right up and out of your nostrils.  The theory was that this will allow you to take the risks and live your life unafraid.  Turns out that many people have built their entire life on illusions – and ripping those illusions out through your nostrils is painful.  Especially if you have to confront that you might be the cause of every problem you have, every repressed emotion, and that is dangerous.  According to my boss, one of these Fortune® 500 executives who had paid $25,000 for this course tried to kill himself due to guilt he felt after his illusions were pulled away.  (This is also why you DON’T TAKE my blog as ADVICE!)

Psychology Today (also a dubious publication) indicated that meditation can also lead to depersonalization, psychosis, anxiety, seizures, insomnia, and dating Yoko Ono.  They also indicated that those who had previous trauma could also be . . . dare I say . . . triggered by meditation.

Buddhist meditation was designed not to make us happier, but to radically change our sense of self and perception of the world. Given this, it is perhaps not surprising that some will experience negative effects such as dissociation, anxiety and depression.

–  Psychologists Miguel Farias and Catherine Wilkolm

I have been attempting to meditate, in my own fashion.  My best success has been while I’m off, alone, floating in the Wilder Family hot tub (LINK).  I’ll sit there, alone, focusing on breathing, and then . . . wake up half an hour later.  I know that the instruction manual says never fall asleep in a hot tub, but I’m generally refreshed and have a pretty positive outlook when I wake up.  And Yoko Ono is safely far away in New York, living on John Lennon’s massive pile of money.

Also, I’ve learned to think, when I meditate, that I might be good at Kung Fu.  And levitating.  And . . . being able to grow my fingernails . . . really fast!

Weight Loss Plateau, Exercise, Apple Cider Vinegar

“It gladdens me to know that Odin prepares for a feast.  Soon I shall be drinking ale from curved horns.  This hero that comes into Valhalla does not lament his death.  I shall not enter Odin’s hall with fear.  There I shall wait for my sons to join me.  And when they do, I will bask in their tales of triumph.  The Aesir will welcome me!  My death comes without apology! And I welcome the Valkyries to summon me home!” – Ragnar, Vikings

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Miley Cyrus after some bronzing and a bit of weight loss.

 

What’s the ugliest word in the English language to a person who is losing weight?

Plateau.

Plateau came from the French, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary (LINK), and first entered into the English language just a decade before when Napoleon was on his Russian Winter Vacation (hint: no land wars in Russia – Napoleon started with about 500,000 French troops on his joy ride to Moscow, and when he crossed back into France he was down to 27,000).

The first recorded use of plateau in the sense dieters dread (The stage at which no progress is apparent) was in 1897, the same year that John D. MacArthur, whose foundation gives out the MacArthur Genius Grant (HINT HINT!), was born.

Plateau comes from the Greek word “platys” which means “flat, wide, and broad.”  Wide and broad are the last adjectives a dieter wants to hear, since those are generally the adjectives that started the diet in the first place.  Taken together, “flat, wide, and broad” also describe my first girlfriend, but I digress.

Every time I’ve lost weight, I’ve ended up at a plateau (or two, or three) on my way down.  I don’t seem to have the plateau problem on the way up, or if I have, I’ve never managed to really notice it because the scale is covered in melted rocky-road ice cream dripping from my chin.  And, as plateaus go, this one isn’t horrible, I’m still pleased with the overall weight loss.  But it is a marked decrease when compared to the earlier rate, when pounds were dropping faster than Kathy Griffin supporters.

I credit some of the earlier losses to water.  One think I’ve noted about the Aktins/Primal lifestyle is that two days or so after I stop eating carbohydrates, my weight takes a significant bump downward, which I attribute either constant prayer to the Norse god Wåysfyärläëss (wears furs, has a wolf and a book containing the carbohydrate content of Norse cuisine) or, more than likely, a drop in pure water weight because I’m no longer digesting carbs.

The second place I lose water is working out, and they sure have noticed at the gym, since they’ve installed an intricate drainage system around the stair climber I normally use.  They also are building a vaguely ark-like think near the climber, and the staff runs for life preservers when I wring out my headband . . .

Emotionally, the early, big success helps you a lot.  It shows that your efforts really do pay off, that the sacrifice of time, sweat, and sweat chocolate ice cream is worth it.  But in the last few weeks I’ve lost the equivalent weight of clothing that Mylie Cyrus normally wears (like an ounce).  The change in Jupiter’s gravitational impact on me between night and day is more than that.

From XKCD, reminding me that little changes add up.

I’ve hit plateaus before, and used a variety of techniques to get through them, but hacking off limbs is painful and has a bit of an air of desperation about it.  I did some research, and there are some things I’ve started/going to try that I thought I’d share:

  1. Change Up My Cardio – I had been climbing more virtual stairs than the number of times that Stairway to Heaven was played in 1978, but at a constant, Clydesdale pace.

This week I’ve changed it up and am doing interval training, doing four minutes my Clydesdale pace, and one minute like a greyhound.  An old greyhound.  With hip problems.  But, this one change (four minutes medium and one fast, repeat 6+ times) has already increased my stair climbing number by 43% in terms of the number of floors climbed.  43%!  Now, I should be increasing my output and going up farther and faster, I weigh less, right?  But 43% is a lot.  And it feels good.

 

Verdict:  Yup.  This will help break the plateau, but the gym folks are now digging a sweat moat.

 

  1. More Sleep – Studies have shown that people who get less than six hours of sleep a night lose less weight on a diet than those who get eight hours of sleep.

I’ll never average more than 8 hours of sleep a night until I retire.  Never.  Work happens during the day, and my boss wants me there . . . in the morning.  Ugh.  My mind has different ideas, though, and I hit my creative peak in the evening.  I will put in an effort to get more sleep than the six hours I’m averaging now.  But life is really spelled T-I-M-E.  I just have all the time I want, even now.

True Wilder Story:

I went up to my friend, Madge, and said, “I’m so tired, I’m just wondering if something is wrong with me?”

Madge:  “What time did you go to bed?”

John Wilder:  “2AM.”

Madge then, after slugging me, patiently explained that sometimes tired is a symptom of “not sleeping enough,” whatever that is, and perhaps the ultimate cure was sleep.

Why sleep when there’s caffeine?  Silly Madge.

Verdict:  I’ll try, but . . . sleep is for the weak.

  1. Re-fanaticize About Calories – As time progresses, sometimes lifestyle changes start to slip a little backwards . . . I’m not talking about burying my face into a full box of donuts, but there is part of my mind that likes to pretend that Bud Light® and a single slice of pizza doesn’t have any carbs.

Verdict:  Back on it with a passion.

  1. Vitamin C – One website (one) that I reviewed thought that since vitamin C is an anti-oxidant that somehow it does something that might slow weight loss. It was boring, so I can’t remember.  Heck, maybe I slipped into a coma.

Verdict:  I’ll keep this one in my back pocket for now.  Maybe if the plateau doesn’t break in June . . .

  1. Apple Cider Vinegar – Wow. Not sure how I missed this one.  I could do an entire post about the supposed benefits of this stuff.  The websites mention that the apple cider vinegar should be unpasteurized, unfiltered, and unboxed.  Wait, the unboxed is a Sammy Hagar album.  I was a bit skeptical about the unboxed part, thinking it might come in a used one liter Miller beer bottle, but, no, Heinz sells the stuff, too, so it seems legit?  Some claims about Apple Cider Vinegar:
    1. Helps with upset stomach
    2. Cures hiccups
    3. Soothes a sore throat
    4. Kills cancer cells???? (everything does in a petri dish)
    5. In a 2006 study – Lowers Cholesterol
    6. Aids in weight loss by suppressing appetite and increasing metabolism
    7. Clears acne
    8. Controls blood sugar, especially in pre-diabetic patients
    9. Whitens teeth (SERIOUSLY – DON’T DO THIS! IT WILL DISSOLVE YOUR TEETH.)
    10. Prevents metabolizing starches (not all carbs, like sugars, but somehow slows down metabolizing of more complex carbs)

Verdict:  Wow.  E, F, H and J are amazing, if true.  D would be amazing, but sounds bogus to me.  I’ve started taking some of this morning and night and now kinda smell like a salad.  Doesn’t seem to be a downside except causing my teeth to turn into a crumbly calcium paste.  We’ll see?

I’m pretty sure that the weight loss dam will break in the next week or so, or else I’ll have to pull up the stone altar to Wåysfyärläëss that I put in the backyard and apologize to the neighbors about the wolf and the chanting and drinking of mead late into the night.

Wait, Mead doesn’t have calories, does it?

Nah.  On to Valhalla!

Okay, I’m reminding you again – I am NOT a medical doctor, though once the MacArthur Fellowship comes in I’m thinking of becoming a Podiatrist, because feet need love, too – SO DON’T CONSIDER THIS MEDICAL ADVICE OR DO ANYTHING WITHOUT DISCUSSING WITH YOUR OWN PHYSICIAN.

Good Work, Significance, and First Break All the Rules

“We’re put on this earth to do a job.  And each of us gets the time we get to do it.  And when this life is over and you stand in front of the Lord . . . well, you try tellin’ him it was all some Frenchman’s joke.” – Fargo (Series) 

DSC03481The Boy on his day job, attacking dragons, lions, and the French.  He’s pretty good with that, since we haven’t seen any of those around here recently.

Nothing has a greater influence on the well-being of a man than the work he does and how significant it is.  Studies have shown that doing good, significant work increases testosterone levels, decreases anxiety, decreases depression, and increases the likelihood of developing super powers, like fingernails that grow on command, or advanced control of nostril hair.  I’m just kidding – decreased anxiety, how ludicrous!

I know you’re thinking, “John Wilder, how can you make such an outrageous claim!” but I assure you, thousands of scientists have been working for decades just to prove me right.  Oh, and Gallup, Incorporated® did an actual study that proved exactly what I’m saying.

Their study came out in the book, First Break All The Rules.  You can buy it (and I do recommend this book) here .  (Full disclosure, at some point I might get around to monetizing these links, but as of the date of this posting, not yet.)

The authors, Buckingham and Coffman (like many business book authors) manage to pack a decent five pages worth of material into the current edition’s 368 pages.  Also, other folks (consultants) glom on to it with, I’m sure, tests, powerpoints, websites, charts, and four day training courses in Orlando in the off season, complete with a coffee bar and a buffet lunch with an added spousal event where the spouses go and tour Epcot, get to take a photo with Walt Disney’s frozen corpse, and drink mojitos all day long.

But back to the book . . .

The book is based on 1.5+ million hours of interviews with over 80,000 managers over the span of years.  Gallup then looked at which of these businesses were highly productive and profitable, and, rather than come up with a theory, just looked at what the data said about these high-performing organizations.  What came out of it were 12 questions that determined employee engagement.  Crazy idea – if employees are engaged at work, the place gets profitable?

What sort of sorcery is this?

Here are the 12 questions, and it’s important to note that they are in order.  The first question matters more than question 12.  I know that there are those of you who say all questions should be equal, and they are.  Some are just more equal than others.

  1. Do I know what is expected of me at work? This one is top of the list. 

I’ve had managers who give you a desk and say, go do it.  What is “it”?  Nope, the only thing you see is a contrail as they head away from your desk at nearly lightspeed.  Then you’re left guessing at what “it” is.  This turns work into an eternal game of “warmer”/”colder”, assuming that your boss even gives you that kind of feedback.

I’ve also had bosses who say – “go fix the thing – I don’t care what you do, just don’t break the law or spend more than $10,000,000.”  Those are actually really clear expectations.  I like bosses like that.  And they like me.

  1. Do I have the material and equipment to do my work right?

If you know that you’re in charge of the Canadian space program (Is it called CASA?) and they expect you to create a manned space expedition to Mars within ten years, eh, you certainly have clear expectations.  But if they only give you two dog teams, some moosehides, and the retired Mounties from Saskatchewan, well, you’re going to be as frustrated and conflicted as a vegan poodle in a butcher shop.

  1. Do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?

 I can recall finishing a project (it took 45 straight 12 to 16 hour days) and watching as the last piece went into place.  What I did in those 45 days was what I do best – and it was wonderful, and I was in the zone.  I saved my company tens of millions of dollars.

But I’ve also been in the job where I was tasked with correctly folding up manufacturing drawings.  Yay!  More folding!  But, within two months I was doing research for the company (and, accidently recreated Soviet research into the perfect railroad tie).  It got better.

However, there are places where you’ll never get to do what you do best.  Imagine Seth Rogan teaching physics to high school students?  Yeah, that probably isn’t where he’d be best used, unless the class was really titled: “The Physics of Marijuana, Dude.”  At some point, if the company can’t use what you do best, you’ve gotta hit the rip cord and bail out of there (the preceding does not constitute parachuting advice nor parachute training).

These first three form a triad – they speak to having clear purpose, tools, talent and using them all to create value.  This is food for the soul of the deepest level.  If you have these three elements at work, you are happy at work, and generally also happy at home.

The other elements are also important, but decrease in importance as we go:

  1. In the last seven days, have I received praise or recognition for good work?

Most of us are people (technically The Boy isn’t, since he is an android sent from the future to destroy the popularity of Justin Beiber by bombarding Beiber’s brain with dank Twitter memes) and people like to have their good points brought up.  Funny, huh?

  1. Does my supervisor or someone at work care about me as a person?

Ditto.  I like to work with people that want me to keep breathing.  It’s nice when you walk in and have a cup of coffee with a coworker and they genuinely pretend to being interested in my boring life.  Your mileage may vary, but still not as important as doing important work well, though it can be a partial substitute if your employer is slowly eating your soul.

  1. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?

I think that no matter our age, we all want to improve, do better, and want the advice of people we respect to help us grow, because those are people that can become our mentors.  Not Mentos™.  Mentors.  They are different things, though both can be minty.

  1. At work, do my opinions count?

I’m sorry – I wasn’t listening?  Did you say something?

  1. Does the mission or purpose of my company make me feel that my job is important?

Let’s pretend that all the questions above this are answered with YES!  In that case, you’re probably happy, unless your job requires you to grind kittens into Kitten Chow™.

That’s how it’s made, right?

  1. Are my coworkers committed to quality work?

If the people you work with do bad work, goof off, or are in some other way not contributing, I know you don’t like it, because if you’re reading this, you’re smarter and have great character and probably don’t need deodorant because your body gives off a faint scent of sandlewood whenever you sweat.  But if your coworkers are trolls from the reject pile that do work like poo flinging monkeys?  Yeah, takes a bit out of your pride of doing work.

On the plus side?  You’d think you’d get a good performance review, unless your boss is threatened by you and your genius and natural sandlewood smell.  Then you’ll get a review that says you don’t fling enough poo.

An aside at an appropriate place:  Pugsley just told me, “For a writer, you’re a pretty good typist.”  Thanks, pal.

  1. Do I have a best friend at work?

Not a killer if you don’t, but really nice if you do.  When you go home, explaining to your spouse the poo flinging monkeys that you have to deal with at work is like explaining to Albanian lawyers (who have offices in a strip mall) how a photocopier works.  Frustrating at best.  Amusing when the Albanian Strip Mall Lawyers go at the copier with pliers and some Allen wrenches left over from an Ikea© bookcase assembly.  (Spoiler alert: the NEVER ACTUALLY FIX it, but they go at it with gusto!)

Is it just me, or did anyone else ever assemble an Ikea bookcase and end up with a functional hovercraft?

Oops – big digression.  Having a friend at work makes you want to stay there.  Duh.

  1. In the last six months, has someone talked to me about my progress?

Getting toward the end (keep in mind, less important as we go down) – this is a variation on point 6 – the concept that humans want to be more effective and to have someone they respect tell them how well they’re doing.  Honestly, that’s what we want – someone to tell us how awesome we are.  It is a rare person who wants actual truth.

And, as a manager, after a long time doing it?  I gave ‘em both barrels in annual reviews.  Full on truth.  But HR was getting none of that truth – HR exists to justify why you fire employees and reduce their benefits to those of a typical Botswanan goatherd, so when you ding an employee on a review, they start circling like high school students around a dank meme.

Don’t give them that dank meme!  (Also, would someone please tell me what a dank meme is?)

Urban Dictionary says:

“Dank Memes” is an ironic expression used to mock online viral media and in-jokes that have exhausted their comedic value to the point of being trite or cliché. In this context, the word “dank,” originally coined as a term for high quality marijuana, is satirically used as a synonym for “cool.”

So, now you know.

  1. In the last year, have I had the opportunity to work and grow?

I have had that opportunity!  Most of the growth, unfortunately, was due to Pop Tarts©.  So, Pop Tarts™ were introduced in 1964.  Winston Churchill® died in 1965.  Coincidence?  No.  The carby goodness of Pop Tarts© was created to kill world leaders.  Avoid the trap!  Especially the strawberry ones.

As a set of questions for leaders to gauge the environment they create?  Priceless.  These 12 questions are wonderful in that respect.  Every leader should strive to create an environment where they get the most out of their employees, not only because it benefits the business, it also benefits the employee.

Whew.

I have at least two more topics that are directly related to this, and I’m over 1900 words on this post right now.

Okay.  I give up.

This is my first unanticipated two or more part post.  In the near future?  IQ and the workplace of the future.  Not that this will be an important topic to anyone.  Or, really, everyone.

Okay, really, it is everyone who will be impacted by this, we’re on to a trend that will determine all of future life for humans in Western civilization for at least the next 80 years.  But that’s too scary to think about right now.

So now?  I’m just going to make my fingernails grow like crazy!

 

You Can’t Cheat the Scale

“Dad, before you blame the dryer, have you ever considered stepping on the bathroom scale?” – Frasier

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Pugsley, after a particularly bad binge a decade or so ago . . .

One of the things that I do to keep myself motivated while exercising is to watch Youtube videos about people who’ve done amazing things.  I do this while I climb endless stairs to nowhere at the gym while the sweat runs down me like money through a government agency.

Now, keep in mind, there’s a component of survivor bias associated with these videos.  I have yet to see a video put together by someone who said:

“I started this diet at 245 pounds, and finished at 260 pounds plus now Nutrasystem® owns my spleen and just sold it to a Chinese billionaire to pay for all of the food I ate – I’m an utter failure.  Oh, and my wife left me for Mickey Rourke.”

No, those videos don’t get made.  And is it just me that I think that Mickey Rourke might smell like dried leather and day-old potato salad?  Unrefrigerated potato salad.

So, I watch these videos.  At ten weeks in, sometimes motivation is about as high as a Baptist teetotaler on temperance Tuesday, especially after having climbed over nine vertical miles.  A quote from one of the videos struck me – it was Penn Jillette (I’ve talked about him earlier, here) talking about his weight loss.  And his comment wasn’t the point he was trying to make, it was just an aside:  “I don’t know how much I weighed.  No one weighs themselves at their heaviest.”  This really made me pay attention.  And think.  Wow.  That is a really profound truth.

Why is that so profound?

My theory is that our brains create reality distortion fields that allow us to ignore certain things, or mark them as insignificant.  Then it hit me.  I can ignore or get used to the way I might look in a mirror, but I cannot ignore the actual weight shown on the scale.  I can’t hide from it, I can’t explain it away.

The second data point was that Penn posted his weight to his friends as he, quite single mindedly, proceeded to lose the weight equivalent of a fifth grader.  Penn posts to his friends, I post to Batman.

I wrestled when I was in high school, and one of the rituals was weighing in.  To be able to compete, you have to be at or under the weight that you’re planning on wrestling at.  They weighed us in on a balance scale, like you used to see in the doctor’s office.  If the weights balanced, you passed.  One of the junior varsity wrestlers (I’ll call him “Steve,” because his name is “Steve”) was just barely over on the weight, as close as I’d ever seen.  One of the other wrestlers noticed that Steve was chewing gum (helps you spit, so you can lose weight that way, too).

“Hey, Steve, take out your gum.”  Steve took out his gum and stepped back on the scale.  With the gum still in his hand.

Some kind soul convinced Steve that perhaps the gum weighed just as much in his hand as in his mouth, and he threw it away . . . and made weight.

Numbers on a scale can’t be cheated.  They’re objective.  They’re real.  And saying “The extra weight is really muscle” only works if you’re Vin Diesel.  Or Chad Kerosene.

My weight is a fact, and as a fact, it’s the number one way to destroy the pretty little lies that my brain cooks up to tell me everything’s fine the way it is.  John Wilder’s Brain:  “You don’t want to be hungry.  You don’t want to work hard.  You like pie.”  Mostly true.  I rather enjoy working hard, but really do like pie.

Eliminating Variation

I’ve tried to pick a day and time to minimize fluctuations and also the opportunity for me to tell myself more lies.  In past weight loss iterations, I’ve picked the low weight of the week, and just recorded that in my spreadsheet, but now, I’m all about first thing Friday morning.

I’ve noticed the following things make my weight vary.  By vary, of course, I mean be higher:

  1. Carb Intake. I’ve noticed that the amount of carbohydrates that I eat impact how much I weigh.  I’m certain that ties back directly to the amount of water my body can get rid of if I’m not trying to digest carbohydrates.
  2. Work Outs. If I’ve not been able to work out, again, there’s a lot of water that remains in the system.
  3. Recent Food Intake.  Duh.
  4. Phase of the Moon. Sometimes you step up on the scale and . . . huh?  How did that happen?  This (for me) is a pleasant surprise about half the time.

And how are things going?  Pretty well.  I’ve (consciously) varied from diet and exercise during Spring Break (wooo, party!) and for Pugsley’s birthday party.  That really points out the impact of carbs on my system.  They have no real positive effect, and I find my energy, motivation, and even mood are better when I’ve been avoiding carbs.  As part of a systems approach (more on that soon!) carbs are something I’m leaving out.

Every Thursday, I have the folks at the gym take a picture.  I’m planning on having The Boy stitch them together to a time-lapse when I’m where I want to be.  As it is, the improvement is noticeable.  And it has to be.

I’m thinking that Mickey Rourke is sniffing around The Mrs.

But she’s sure to smell him first.

Homes: Affordability versus Income

“Well, you know, I’ve been lying about my income for a few years; I figured I could afford a fake house in the Hamptons.”-Seinfeld

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Our old Alaska home.  Photo by The Boy.

Houses are both an economic and emotional topic.  As a half-human cyborg travelling back in time from the year 2000, I tend to focus on the economic side of the equation, however I realize fully that there are a huge number of emotions (like happy, or sleepy, or caffeine) tied up in a house.

A house can also be a home.  And a home is for living in, for entertaining, for loving in, for building memories, for first steps, for raising children.  It’s also where I keep my pants, and that is fairly emotional for me, too.

The process of home-buying is built entirely around emotions.  The agent taking you around to view properties will have the emotional antennae of a cocker-spaniel with daddy issues, attempting to understand what you like, and, if they’re good, they’ll swap around the listings to show you the one that they think you’ll like the most as the last one on a long day.  It’s happened to me.  It’s effective.  For the most part, you’re tired at the end of the day, and you don’t even blink when the realtor tells you about the repeated haunting of the house by the soul-stealing-infant-snatching ghost.  Honestly, you can always get another infant, right?

When selling, though, the realtor puts on an entirely different hat.  It looks a lot like the Pope’s, but it’s orange.

A list of things we’ve been told:

  • No odd objects. Where did you even get a Battlestar Galactica helmet?  Do the lights work and everything?    (Apparently the buyer can’t imagine their things in the house if yours are too striking or unusual, like that coffin we keep in the corner with Uncle Drago’s skeleton.)
  • The smell of freshly baked cookies should permeate your house. If you grill a burger?  It should smell like a cookie.
  • Move your, um, things out. We can then stage it with things that normal people might own.

There’s also a huge amount of emotion based on the selling price of a house.  I’ve seen (and when I was younger, I was guilty of) being emotionally tied to the value of the house.  The value of the house was a reflection of my value!  How dare you say you don’t like the color?  I painted that!

Also guilty of?  Emotion in negotiation.  True story, I once negotiated back and forth so often that the realtors (both of them!) pitched in to close the difference.  At the end we were arguing back and forth over 0.25% of the price.

Also guilty of?  Mixing emotion in with the inspection report.  The Home Inspection is the rite of passage for a home whereby an inspector tries to make the current homeowner’s head explode by picking out every tiny possible thing wrong with a house and then whining about it.  I mean, what’s wrong with exposed copper wiring in the children’s playroom?  They love the way it makes their arms vibrate when they grab it.

I know that emotion is important to those of you who had that chip implanted at the factory.  But, really, in the longer term economics is more important.

In my opinion, the most important aspects of home ownership are:

  1. Affordability/Tax Deduction – When I moved to Houston, I was talking on the phone to the nice lady at the mortgage company, and she said I qualified for a loan that was eight times my salary. The payment alone would have been enough to keep President Trump in hair product for a month.  Me:  “Why would you even offer me that, there’s no way I could ever repay you?”  Her: “I have to tell you that you qualify for it.  They make me.”  More about this topic follows.
  2. Insurability – Let’s pretend you buy a house. Can you even get insurance?  Check with your company – they have a list of houses that they won’t insure based on previous experience and claims at the house.  It’s a downside of the data-driven world, but your mortgage company (unless you’re buying outright) will demand you have insurance, lest they unleash a cauldron of lawyers to play Justin Bieber songs outside your window all night long until you are insured.
  3. Cost of Upgrades/Code Compliance/Upkeep – Over time, these items add a lot to the cost of home ownership, not to mention the amount of personal time you have to spend polishing the Great Orb in the back room, and making sure that the bare wires in the children’s playroom are where they can reach them.
  4. Cost of Commute/Time – If you have a job, where your house is determines how long it takes you to get to work, unless you’re a witch and can teleport. Commuting costs time and money, and detracts from your ability to spend time with your family though, with some families, that might be a plus.  A little more on this follows.
  5. Resale/Future Value – I know I put this kind of low, but this is my list – yours will likely vary. My actual results are below.
  6. Cost of Private Schools/Time – We’ve always bought homes where we didn’t have to worry about this – the public schools have been adequate, and in small-town America, most are pretty good. Our worst schools? Houston area.
  7. Storage Costs – If you buy too small of a place, this might be a thing. Hard not to buy an adequately sized place where we live.

Item 1. In the list above is where it is because, for me, it’s been the most important.  You can have an awesome place that you can’t afford, and that wrecks your life, since the insurance and taxes are consuming so much of your income.

Home Number 1 2 2A 3 4 5
Home Cost as a % of Gross Income 22% 17% 20% 17% 14% 5%
Return (Annual) on Sale 16% 3.4%   11% 0% N/A

Home 2A was a refinance, home 5 is our current home.

Affordability

My experience on home price to income:

  • Home 1: Too expensive, very little money left over.  The cheapest home on the list, but also my lowest income.  Bought at just the right time, but wasted the equity on Pez®
  • Home 2: Next house. Even at 17%, the house was too expensive, but primarily because other debt loads were too high.
  • Home 2A: Same house, just refinanced to buy more Pez®.  Got rid of car payments, so very livable.
  • Home 3: Great house, made a killing, no car or Pez© debt, so that worked for us.
  • Home 4: Debt level okay.  Also a help? We still had no car payments.
  • Home 5:   Next to no income spent on the house.  Plenty of money for Pez™!

Cost of Commute/Time

Home Number 1 2 3 4 5
Commute Time Minutes 20 20 10 30 20
Commute Cost (at $0.35/mile) $14 $12 $6 $14 $14

 

Meh.  Not a lot of difference there, though I will say the 10 mile commute was awesome, and sometimes I biked to work.  In Alaska.  Yeah, it was awesome.

Resale

As you can see, I’ve never lost money on a house transaction.  House 4 was our most expensive house to date, and I had to sell it in the middle of the real estate crisis.  It’s at a zero instead of a negative (it should be about a 20% loss) but when I took a job with that company, one of the conditions on the job offer was that, if they moved me, I would, at minimum, be kept whole on the house.  Nice work, and it was an easy negotiation that took the form of one question, followed by a “sure, we can do that.”

It’s likely that whenever we sell our current house, it’ll be at a loss.  We bought it at a time when the market was (locally) pretty hot, but those days are likely gone.  It’s okay, because at my current equity and payment, it’s really not a strain.

What would have been a killer for me would have been living in a house that was too expensive and unaffordable.  Based on the above, I’d peg that as a total home payment (including taxes and insurance) of less than 1.4% of your annual income.  Above that, and I think (depending on your debt structure and payments) that is enough that ever purchase has to come under extreme scrutiny.  And it gets tough, and life is much less fun.  So, I’d go for a less expensive house, even if it means living with the soul-stealing-infant-snatching ghost.  At least it does dishes more frequently than Pugsley or The Boy.

John Wilder may be a Nobel©®™ Prize winner, but he is not a financial advisor.  So, talk to someone who isn’t the Internet equivalent of Bluto Blutarsky.

Diet, then Exercise. Diet first. Atkins and Paleo work.

Yep, I don’t need food anymore. Just water, maple syrup, lemon juice and cayenne pepper.-Veep

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Visited this Denny’s before the Russians built a Denny’s at the North Pole.

Historically, I had been able to bring down/control my weight by exercise alone.  In fact, at the age of 18, I was singly responsible for 80% of McDonalds® pre-tax profit.  A sample order:

  • One Big Mac®
  • Two Cheeseburgers
  • One Large Fries
  • Make that Two Large Fries
  • Nine Pack of Chicken McNuggets© with Hot Mustard Sauce
  • Make Sure You Put in THREE Sauce Packs
  • A Cherry Pie
  • No, Make that Two Cherry Pies
  • Large Orange Drink.

I would then look at my date and ask if she wanted anything.  I did learn that high school girls like a healthy eater, or were perhaps amazed to see such a consumption event.

When I was between 15 and 19 I could eat like this each and every night, and not fluctuate too much during the school year, and I wasn’t fat, either.  Now the easiest part of almost any daily workout started with a quarter mile run.  During an average workout, I’d sweat out about a gallon of water.  That 7.48 pounds of water.  Or sixteen metric beers.  In reality, one of our coaches said that a day of our practice made boot camp in the 70’s look easy, so we were really working hard.

Fast forward to early dates with the Not Yet The Mrs.  We visited her hometown, and were walking down Main Street.  We took a left hand turn into a bakery and inhaled the smell of just baked sugar cookies on a spring day.  She smiled at the aroma as the memories came flooding in.

It is now that I have to come to a shameful admission:  The Mrs. has a drug problem.  If she doesn’t take a certain drug, she starts sweating, and if none is administered, eventually withdrawal symptoms will kill her.

I’m speaking of insulin.

At the tender age of eleven, The Certainly Not Yet The Mrs. was diagnosed with Type I diabetes.  Type I diabetes is not the “addicted to Twinkies® and chubby and insulin seems to not work anymore” but rather the “pancreas has left the building and no longer produces insulin type.”  She actually slugged me in the upper arm the first time I looked her in the eye and told she should deal with her addiction.

You see, insulin is absolutely required for your body to turn sugar into the gasoline that runs your cells.  If you don’t have enough insulin (or in the case of The Mrs. ANY insulin) your blood will turn to maple syrup, and you will become a zombie Canadian, and start to like hockey.  And eat brains.

No, I’m kidding.

Why I Owe The Canadians for The Mrs.

Without insulin you’ll die.  And that happened routinely before insulin was isolated in the early 1920’s.  By Canadians.

In October 1920, Canadian Frederick Banting concluded that . . . (it was Insulin). He jotted a note to himself: “Ligate pancreatic ducts of the dog. Keep dogs alive till acini degenerate leaving islets. Try to isolate internal secretion of these and relieve glycosurea.” – Via Wikipedia, kinda

No one knows what that means.

But Banting figured out how stop the hockey-loving zombies by illustriously isolating islet insulin in at totally tubular test tube.  And, thus 90 years later, allowing The Mrs. to not have maple syrup for blood.  Oh, and to live and stuff.  Even with the insulin, however, a Type I diabetic has to watch what and when they eat, so they don’t temporarily spike their blood sugar and turn zombie.

When The Mrs. was growing up, her parents sent her to “Diabetic Camp,” which is (by her description) a cross between hell and un-air conditioned hell where they have no candy.  Well, they have candy, but it’s made from coal-tar extract and pebbles instead of sugar.   They learned how to be diabetic.

Back to the Story

So, we made that left turn into the bakery in her home town, and bought a cookie.  As we walked out, she said, “My Mom figured out that I was buying cookies here during lunch when I was in Junior High after I became diabetic.  She said, ‘You’re digging your grave with your teeth, girl,’ and I always remembered that.”

Although The Mrs. has very good teeth, I could not imagine her getting to a standard six foot depth for a grave, even if she cheated a bit on standard width.

Then I realized it was a metaphor!

Fast forward to some other time in the future (in the last three years or so) when I heard my next metaphor.  The second in twenty years.

“You can’t outrun your teeth.”  This pithy observation indicates that I can eat a metric ton more than I can work off on any given day, especially since I have a desk job calculating the approximate number of electrons in William Shatner on a daily basis.  Not a lot of time to get away from the desk, since I have to keep calculating how many electrons he gains when he drinks more coffee.

“You can’t outrun your teeth.” Well, of course I can’t, they’re busy digging my grave.

And that’s what Karl Denninger says.

Karl makes several points as he writes (quite passionately) about health and how it intersects with the economy.  As we look to the way our health care system is gradually melting like the Wicked Witch of the North East covered in picante sauce, Denninger notes that getting healthy is smart, and also it removes you from the nonsense related with health care nowadays.  And Penn Gillette showed that there is a direct correlation between weight and life expectancy.

Diet, especially as you get older, is key. Atkins and Paleo are (for me) two good choices.

J.P. Sears has a fun take on Paleo.  He’s a bit cynical, but I still like Paleo.  Enjoy!

So, Atkins® and Paleo (Mark writes about it at his blog, here’s a great recent post) are based around changing not only the total amount of calories that you consume, but the types of calories.

For example, drinking a gallon of gasoline would provide you about 31,000 calories.  So, if you just drank a tenth of a gallon of gasoline each day, you’d never have to eat anything (DON’T DO THIS AT HOME OR ANYWHERE!  IT WILL NOT BE GOOD FOR YOU! GASOLINE IS NOT FOOD!).

But just like Justin Bieber can’t process a thought, your body cannot process gasoline.  At all.  IT WILL KILL YOU.  But when someone says a calorie is a calorie, they have no idea what they are talking about.

Let me explain:

To determine the number of calories that food has in it, they dry it, burn it, and see how much heat it gives off.  When you think about it, you would see that firewood would be awesome to eat!  But it’s not.  It does, however, make awesome toothpicks.  All energy content isn’t the same – your body has to be able to convert it to use, and some things are converted to energy more easily than others.  I’ve read in the past that the order of preference is something like this:

  1. Alcohol – because it’s what a body craves? Well, it gets used first.
  2. Sugar – like, well, a sugar high. No one is surprised.
  3. Other Carbohydrates – okay, you have to use enzymes and explosives to break the stuff up.
  4. Protein/Fat – depends on several factors which one gets used. It’s like The Mrs.
  5. Pebbles and Dryer Lint – mmm, mmm, good!

Paleo and Atkins remove part of number 1., most of number 2., and some of number 3.  That leaves your body (lots of times) burning at the number 4. level, which is where you want to be if you want to either lose weight or stay lean.

In my case, avoiding 2. and limiting 3. allow me to lose weight and also have a ton of other beneficial effects:

  1. I lose weight. I know I already mentioned this, but it’s just awesome.
  2. My mood is better. Nuclear war?    It’ll be fine.
  3. I still have number 1. Yay wine!

Honestly, I could not physically eat the order I listed (and, I’m sure at some point that was a real order I actually ate) anymore.  But I have teenagers . . . .

I guess I’m back to supporting 80% of the pre-tax profits of Taco Bell®.

So, do you have a strategy or system to keep lean?  Does it involve Scotch?

Oh, final thought – I AM NOT A DOCTOR!  EVERYONE CHANT – YES, HIS ADVICE (except for not drinking gasoline) IS HORRIBLE.

“I feel a cold coming on, and I’m wondering, should I take vitamin C or should I just leave Seattle?” – Caller, Frasier

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He vants to drink your blaaad, but only if enriched with yummy vitamin C!

There was the time I almost killed myself through a simple experiment.

I had heard that having a high pH body (basic) was better than having a low pH body (acidic).  I decided to test this to see how it would work out.  Rather than do (as a normal person would) research, I decided to jump right in and purchased some antacid.

I took the antacid.

Going back to basic high school chemistry, what do you get when you mix an acid and a base?  Water and a salt.

I know that they say salt is fine for you.  It certainly is, when you haven’t just ingested something like three cups of it.  My body swelled up, and I’m fairly certain my blood pressure was sufficient to keep blood flowing from the tip of my toes to the top of my head if I were standing on a neutron star.

Wilder Fact:  Neutron Stars are very, very dense.  Not stupid dense as in “she’s so dense,” but heavy-dense.  A neutron star has a density of 7×1014 g/cm3.  Water has a density of 1 g/cm3, which shows you just how stupid the metric system is, since all I know is only that a neutron star is really, really heavy.  If I stood on one, I would be a tiny, thin, puddle of Wilder.  But if I took enough antacid, I could keep my blood flowing!

The Mrs. shook her head.  Life with me is like that, one large experiment.  She notes, correctly, that the difference between science and messing around is writing stuff down.  What do you think I’m doing now?  Yes, I’m writing it down.  Hence, science!

Anyway, I resolved to do many fewer potentially stroke-causing experiments with my life.

One thing that has recently caught my attention is vitamin C.  Vitamin C is, of course, the reason that the British are called Limeys.  The British Navy, enduring long sea voyages, would come down with scurvy based upon their diets consisting solely of rats and rum (I may be making some of this up).  Scurvy is not fun.  Gums bleed.  People die.  In fact, over 300,000 sailors (I am not making that up) died of scurvy in the 1700s.  1,500 sailros died in combat.  Maybe that’s why they drank the rum?

Some enterprising Scottish British Navy Surgeon decided that the cure would be switching from rum to Scotch.  He was fired, but James Lind, another (and real this time) Scottish British Navy Surgeon got 12 men to come down with scurvy on purpose, and gave two of them citrus fruits.  They got better, and also proved that the British diet will kill you more often than a Frenchman will.

After this, the British Navy supplied its sailors with citrus fruit (seeing as this was a much better alternative to them being all dead), and therefore kept their navy at float for years at a time, and allowed Admiral Nelson (more posts on him in the future) to keep the French navy in port.  So, yes, science works.

But Lind was dead for decades before they put his cure into motion.

What’s the deal with vitamin C?

Every animal produces it, except for gorillas, fruit bats, guinea pigs, and . . . (drumroll) humans.  And most animals make more vitamin C per pound than the recommended daily allowance, by far.

Linus Pauling, somewhere around winning his second unshared Nobel Prize©, came to the conclusion that vitamin C was the solution to most of our health problems.  Whereas the FDA thinks you need a tiny wisp of vitamin C, Linus felt that you could treat vitamin C like a sorority girl treats Diet Coke©.  Eat it all the time.  Inject it in your nose.  Have a bath in it.  Put it in your gas tank.  Wait . . . DON’T put it in your gas tank.  Think of the fuel injectors, man!

But, in Pauling’s thought, we people certainly weren’t getting enough.

Pauling’s first thesis is that vitamin C is used in the creation of the stuff that keeps your blood vessels together – collagen.  He thought that cholesterol deposits were the body’s way of putting duct tape on the inside of you so you didn’t bleed internally.  A better solution would be to make the stuff that actually fixes your circulatory system available to actually fix it.

It also appears that you can take a truly amazing amount of vitamin C and not die.

“The mechanism of death from such doses (1.2% of body weight, or 0.84 kg for a 70 kg human) is unknown, but may be more mechanical than chemical.”  – Wikipedia

Another way to think of that would be to have Wile E. Coyote drop an anvil made of vitamin C on the Roadrunner.  But, in this case, it’s radioactive vitamin C, so the Roadrunner turns into SpiderHulkRoadrunner.  Big, and green, and all spider-like, it’s probably more dangerous than a 300 mile tall Bill Gates!

Okay, that’s probably not true, I’m still more afraid of the giant Bill Gates.  But it does show that it takes eating nearly two pounds of vitamin C at a single sitting to kill you.  But no one knows why, but they think it might occur based on damage done to you while forcing it down your throat.  Strangely, sometimes science begins to look like a Quentin Tarantino picture.

The Mrs. and I came to our current experiments with vitamin C through different channels.  She was listening to quacks on the radio, I was listening to quacks on the Internet (specifically a trial that show that vitamin C in conjunction with chemotherapy was very effective against cancer).

Her radio quacks said to take one gram for every 25 pounds of body weight.  My Internet quacks said take vitamin C somewhere between 6 grams a day and 18 grams a day.  18 grams a day is a LOT of vitamin C, but, unless someone is tamping it down my throat with a broom handle, Science says it probably won’t hurt me.

I have seen, again and again, the scientific establishment change cues and opinions on fundamental ideas in my lifetime.  Carbs?  Great!  Carbs?  Tool of Satan.  Carbs?  Great!  Carbs?  Probably not good for you.

John Belushi knew.  Cigarettes and Carbs in the year 2132 will be all the rage.

And it continues.  Eggs?  Great!  Eggs?  YOU WILL DIE IF YOU LOOK AT THEM.  Eggs?  Have a dozen.

It’s enough to make you crazy.

And that’s why I began to focus on vitamin C.  At least from everything I’ve read, it can’t hurt you.  And it might help you.  After dealing with a doctor, Pauling added lysine to his recommendations.  Oh, and the doctor was dying.  Here’s a link that discusses it.  Blah blah blah heart, blah blah blah not dying.

 

But Pauling died of cancer.  So doesn’t that make him a stupid poopy-head with two Nobel™ prizes?  (And he nearly beat Watson and Crick to the double helix shape of DNA, which would have bagged him a third.)

Pauling died of prostate cancer, which, statistically, every man who lives past 70 will get.  And he was in his 90’s.  He’s smarter than me with my single Nobel© prize for blogging.   What can listening to him hurt?

So, now, I’m taking vitamin C.  In much more than the recommended daily alliance.  And, since The Mrs. isn’t tamping it down my throat with a broom handle, it probably won’t kill me.

And, vitamin C is cheap.  And I’m cheap, so that works.

I’ll let you know how it works out after I get my next Nobel® prize.  In the mean time?  I’m avoiding antacid.

As can be shown in the story above, I am a horrible choice to emulate for health advice.  Talk to a real doctor.