Gold Panning, Little Dogs, and Opportunity

“Ever prospected? Ever hit pay dirt? I’ve dug for gold, silver, lead, mercury. I’ve dug more holes than a whole regiment of gophers. I ain’t never dug a decent day’s wages yet.” – Bite the Bullet

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How can you not find the river???

Mankind has been chasing gold forever (Gold, Relativity, Black Holes, Niburu, and Warren Buffett).  Probably the most iconic image associated with prospectors is the gold pan.  Oh, and the whiskey.  But gold panning has been documented to exist at least since the Romans did it, and gold panning exists across cultures – the Japanese gold pan is called the Yuri-ita, and gets much better mileage than one made in Detroit.

The Boy, Pugsley and I headed towards a small river, intent on prospecting.  The Mrs. came with us, intent on trout fishing.

This, of course, is where the trouble started.  I had fished this river as a young boy, but it had been many presidents since I had hiked down there, since the only reason that I had gone fishing was for the adventure.  I had never had, not one time, even one fish bite on any lure or worm or fly I’d ever put in the water.  Half the time I went fishing with my friend, C.R. (you would use initials too if your first name was Clyde) we’d end up just playing in the ice cold river.  Because?  Because we were 11.

As I said, I’d hiked down there dozens, if not hundreds of times, that had been long ago.  The walk to the river started as a nice walk along a sage brush plain.  Then there was steep gravel drop off – as steep as a gravel slope could be.  As an 11 year old, I’d have half jumped down the slope.  Now?  Not so much.  Plus there was the factor of the gear we were carrying:

  • Two five gallon pails
  • Shovel
  • Pick
  • Metal detector
  • Sluice box (only about 36” long, and more about this later)
  • Waders for The Boy and Pugsley
  • Gold pans
  • Snuffer bottle (sucks up itsy bitsy pieces of gold)
  • Lunch
  • Fishing pole
  • Folding chair
  • Two small dogs on leads
  • Bug spray
  • Sunscreen
  • A drone (that’s what took I took the pictures on)

So, we were carrying nearly everything we own.  But the drone allowed me to take videos like this:

The Mrs. was carrying her folding chair, fishing pole, and previously listed two idiot dogs.  The dogs, relatively unused to being on leashes, would constantly attempt to kill The Mrs. as she walked down the steep gravel slope by wrapping the leashes around each other and her legs.  As we stepped into the thick forest, it got worse, since now, in addition to trying to kill The Mrs., the dogs now had the option of trying to kill themselves by wrapping their leashes around trees.

To top it off, the smaller of the two dogs had to be carried over some of the fallen timber, being, apparently afraid in its dog brain of falling down a cliff on the other side of the dead tree.  To top it off, there had been record snowpack, so areas that had never been wet when I was a child were swampy.

Everyone who has a wife recognizes “that” tone, when they’ve nearly reached the end of their rope, and the emotion will be jumping out full force.  “That” tone showed up.

“Okay, everybody put the stuff down.  I’ll go ahead and find the easiest way.”

I dropped the things I was carrying and headed toward the forest, and, I hoped, the river.

I could hear the river, and started that way.  I wove around trees and over fallen trees, and through at least one (small) swamp.  Right next to the river, however, I was faced with a relatively impenetrable wall of willows.  I could have made it through, but would have needed a machete.

So, falling the wall of willows, I made my way back around and found . . . the steep gravel slope.  I had come in a full circle.  Fortunately, I found both the way to the river, and an easy way for our stupid, frightened dog to walk.  The big plus?  An easy path back out for when we left.  And right there was the fishing hole I hadn’t seen since the Soviets were a thing.

The Boy, Pugsley and I got to work.  We used the metal detector in the water (it’s waterproof) and then The Boy and I began to dig up the area.

Now, I had panned for gold before, but only in a half-hearted way.  This time?  I wanted to get serious and really understand it.

The gold pan kit that I’d bought (LINK) came with a screen that we used to get rid of the bigger rocks.  I figured that if we started getting gold nuggets the size of my fist that I might be able to recognize them, and screening out the bigger rocks allowed us to fill the bucket with smaller material so we could go to step two . . . the sluice box.

A sluice box is a device that uses the current from the flowing river to wash most of the smaller material away.  The idea is that gold is quite heavy, and will fall down in the water faster than the surrounding soil and will get caught in the carpet, riffles, and parts of the sluice box.  A good picture of the sluice box we used is here (LINK).

After you wash the sluice box, then it’s time to pan.

And one thing I will say – the biggest mistake I made was being too gentle with my initial panning.  Again, gold is heavy.  Gold is ten times denser than sand.  It is four times denser than magnetite sand (also called “black sand”), which is what is left over after you’ve panned out the regular sand, and are getting to the point where you’ve eliminated most of the material.  And you won’t just swish the magnetite out of the bottom of your five gallon pail – it, like gold, drops out fast.

So, as we panned, we got down to the black sand, and I’d use the snuffer bottle (it came with the gold pans) to pick out the very, very small flecks of gold – nearly gold dust – that would appear in the bottom of the pan.

I still have about five pounds of black sand to go through to find all the gold dust – I imagine that by the time I’ve gotten through it we’ll have gotten $10 or $20 worth of gold, which is the product of three people working eight hours.

Pretty quickly I realized that gold panning was like life and opportunity.

  1. If you don’t pan, you won’t get any gold. This is true of opportunity.  You might have a wonderful idea for a novel.  You might have a great business idea.  If you don’t get up and get going?  You’ll never know.
  2. The more material we processed, the more black sand, and thus, the more gold we’d get. If we had stopped after the first bucket, we’d only have had 1/6 of the gold.  And opportunity is like that – the harder you work, the more opportunity you’ll have in life.
  3. Most of the gold is very, very small. Most opportunities are small.
  4. There’s gold everywhere, but in most of those places it’s not worth getting because it’s too diffuse. There’s 20 million tons of gold in the world’s oceans, but only a 13 billionths of a gram in each liter.  Nuggets are rare everywhere.  Most huge opportunities are rare, too.  That doesn’t mean that you should stop looking, but you should look in the right places (LINK).
  5. The better I get at panning, the more gold I’ll find. The better I get at reviewing places that might hold opportunity, the more of them I’ll find.
  6. More experience will tell me what’s worth panning, and what I should ignore. Many opportunities (most!) aren’t worth your time.  Experience tells you which ones to focus on.
  7. Most people who strike it rich in gold spend every bit of what they found . . . looking for more gold. I’ve seen this in life, too.  How many people look for that same set of conditions to arrive again and again and fail as the moment has past?
  8. Everything goes better with big, heavy equipment.   Huge pumps!  Water cannons!  Now we’re talking!  If you have a business with tax lawyers and accountants and experts?  The size of the opportunity you can jump on increases.

Oh, and The Mrs. and her fishing?  A nice trout hit her lure on her second cast.  But she didn’t get that one reeled in.  But still that was a better fishing day than any I’d ever had there, but I did get another insight on life, and got to play in the rivers of my youth one more time.

Fortunately, my fishing streak is still unbroken!

Information Vacation – More than a Rhyme, it’s Good For You

“Mulder, the Internet is not good for you.” – X-Files

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The Boy, looking out over the Fruited Plain.  Sadly, cell reception is great there.

As I’ve alluded to in the previous two posts (GOLDand SUDDEN WEALTH), The Mrs., The Boy, Pugsley, and our borderline idiot dogs (who try ever so hard) recently went on a vacation.  We took off for the Fourth of July, which in Great Britain is known as Benjamin Franklin is a Jerk Day.  Part of the idea was to have some fun experiences (which we did, and I’ll describe in future, meaningful posts) but when we finished I had some other observations, as well that I’ll share in the next few posts . . . anyway . . .

We went off to the mountains, because:

  • that’s where the gold is, and
  • that’s where the cold is.

Lower Northern Midwestia summers bounce between hellishly hot and molten iron, although this year the summer has been quite mild and pleasant.  One other nice thing about the mountains is that they don’t have large populations – lots of solitude is possible.  And there are reasons for the low population:

  1. It’s really, really cold in winter, like -40˚F. I know.  I grew up there.  People (outside of my family) don’t appear to cryogenic levels of cold where plastic turns as brittle as Shia LeBeouf’s temper.
  2. Since there’s not much atmosphere above you when you’re over 8,000 feet in altitude (that’s over 100 meters!), it doesn’t block the Sun’s incoming pain rays. I can walk around in Midwestia all day long without sunscreen.  Up high?  I burn like a California resort town during a drought in about 15 minutes.
  3. Economic activity (mainly) consists of tourism, which, because of the whole “bitter cold and five feet of snow on October 1 and no ski area” ambiance, only lasts four to six months out of the year, but mortgages are a 12 month out of the year affair. It’s a poor area, except for the really rich people that own cool summer chalets.  They’re all Texans.
  4. Services are bleak. From our campground, the nearest gas station was 30 miles away (17 meters).  There is no natural gas to any house or business.  Propane is trucked from 30,000 miles away.  Electrical service is beamed from the moon, since that’s closer than any power plant, and, most importantly for today’s post:
  5. There is no cable, no cell phone service, and only a tiny bit of Internet.

Honestly, that was part of the allure of the camping spot, and part of what we were paying for, that dwindling of focus and distraction . . . we’d had that before . . . in Alaska.

In Alaska, even though we had gotten media from “Outside” (Outside means “Not Alaska”) we just . . . didn’t care.  It was too far away.  Bush fighting with Democrats (this was 2004-6)?  Who cares – not us.  Sinkhole swallows Florida?  Sounds rough – yawn.  A not news story about some subject guaranteed to polarize and produce outrage?  Unless it happened in Alaska we didn’t care.  At all.

When we moved back down to The States, we started caring again: we got meshed back into The Matrix.

  • We started worrying about issues that we couldn’t impact – but like attempting to teach a Kardashian to fetch, it just frustrates you since the Kardashian clearly cannot understand the basic concept.
  • We started using Google® as our arbiter of facts. Around the year 2000, we stopped arguing about facts.  In Alaska, we started again.  When we moved back to the states?  Stopped arguing.  Google® is wonderful to find out when Richard Dawson hosted Family Feud®.  What have we lost because we don’t argue about facts anymore?  In my case, I stretched some mind muscles on this trip I hadn’t used in a while, and we thought about the facts not as discrete digital bits, but as part of the continuum of knowledge.  When did that volcano pop up?  How did the valley form?  Why are the rocks near the stream bed at 8,400 feet in elevation rounded, while the rocks near the ridgeline at 11,000 feet angular?  The arguments about facts we don’t know is in and of itself a valuable mental process, and teaches us how to think.  (Imagine Kim even understanding that!)  We don’t need to know how a Kardashian gets into yoga pants.  We can, if we have a strong enough stomach, think it through.  (shudder)

As a family we fight back against The Matrix.  We have designated activities and times when we unplug.  No cell phones when we go out to dinner.  Gourmet Night (LINK).  These things make us turn away from our distractions, (LINK) and focus on each other, and on the present moment.  We have a secondary rule:  we don’t allow The Boy and Pugsley begin to huddle in an autistic mind meld about computers.  No computer discussions allowed.

And as we travelled?  Eventually we hit dead zones with no communication.  At our campsite?  No communication whatsoever.  No cell.  No Internet.

No phone, no lights, no motor car,
Not a single luxury,
Like Robinson Crusoe,
It’s primitive as can be.

Okay, we had lights, and a car, and wine, and a dvd player that we watched Firefly® on, and they had something resembling a primitive WIFI made of smoke signals (it’s digital, right?) but it was really isolated.  I confiscated devices gently encouraged The Boy and Pugsley to embrace unplugging from the Infosphere.

And it worked.

For over 90 hours (with one small break to visit the gas station) we avoided even radio.  Even AM radio.

What did we do?

  • We talked to each other.
  • We panned for gold (next post).
  • Played games. (This one is called Poor Choices and it was a LOT of fun – disclosure:  when I start up an Amazon affiliate link I’ll get paid for it, but not as of this writing)
  • Drove the High Country backroads.
  • Fished.  (no, didn’t catch any)
  • Focused on now.
  • Ate the precious, precious Pez® we brought with us.

We moved away from information saturation, from caring about each and every issue to a life where we were free . . . not to care.

Then, too quickly, we headed for home.  Like a body returning to life, with each passing mile more information was available to us, first AM, then FM, then finally actual cell phone towers.  Then personal email, finally work email.  Then, we got home, and found that our DVR had dutifully watched TV for us in our absence.

So, driving to work this week I ditched news radio.  I started by trying to listen to music, but at drive time all they want to do is talk about butts and farting.  Not that I don’t enjoy having a butt, and, well, the very first joke was probably about a fart and not a no-load mutual fund, so we’re hardwired to find those funny.  Today I drove in silence, just listening to my thoughts accompanied with the back beat of the tires on the road.

Listing to talk radio plays on your emotions – no matter what side of the political spectrum you’re on.  That’s what the radio folks intend.  And I had an idea while driving in silence.  Maybe a life changing one.  Maybe not.  But as Kiyosaki (LINK) tweeted the other day, you control what goes in your mind.

And I do control what goes in my mind.  (Which is why you should read this blog, since it is rated totally awesome for your mind!)  I even can control the things that I say to myself – after all, would I want to be friends with a person who says as many meant things as my inner dialogue could?

Nope.

And I can control that, too.  But there’s no way that I can make the British love Benjamin Franklin, or teach Kim to fetch.

Risk of Sudden Wealth . . . Over Rated? Are you Nic Cage, or Keanu Reeves?

“What’s in the bag? A shark or something?” – Nic Cage, The Wicker Man

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How I imagine Elon Musk hunts for ducks.

In panning for gold, I can’t help but wonder what would happen if I found a whole bunch, all at once.  My mind wanders.  All the beef jerky I could wear.  All the Lear® Jets I could eat.  I’d be fine, right?

Well, it seems like there are a pair of psychologists (Joan DiFuria and Stephen Goldbart, LINK) who described “Sudden Wealth Syndrome.”  They describe the following symptoms (my comments in parenthesis):

  • Anxiety/Panic Attacks (Try the Panic Attack from not being able to pay your Pez© dealer, I assure you they don’t take kindly to folks who can’t pay for the sugar)
  • Worries About Money (Hmmm, this seems a bit forced?)
  • Worries About Stock Market Volatility (Elon Musk probably doesn’t lose much sleep in his orbital habitat)
  • Insomnia (I can see millions of dollars keeping me awake all night – especially since I’d be partying in Elon’s orbital habitat)
  • Irritable Mood (Yes, I can see being irritable because I was too flush with cash, and I get mad because my pancakes are too fluffy)
  • Guilt About Having Money (This is real – otherwise explain why every Hollywood actor wants ME to pay more in taxes)
  • Identity Confusion (Once I found a twenty dollar bill, and became convinced I was Luke Skywalker© – but in truth, I was 12)
  • Fear of Loss of Control (The idea of being without a mortgage should make us all shake with fear)
  • Paranoia (Are you threatening me?)
  • Depression (I’m so sad, I can’t count as high as my money, no matter how long I live!)

From that description, it sounds like winning sucks, eh?  I assure you that, in the choice between having money and not having money, I MUCH prefer having money, and as a business model, catering to very, very wealthy people with neurosis is probably very profitable.  I like the way those guys think!

But let’s put this in context.  Think about the behavior of the typical twenty-something starlet or rock star that’s rolling in cash?  They tend to make a lot of poor choices, primarily because nothing in their experience has prepared them for the sudden onset of cash.  By contrast, many of the folks who do really well with money at an early age (Think Bill Gates and Paul Allen) had a really well-to-do upbringing.  Not rock star rich, but they were going to exclusive private schools.  They’d been taught how to deal with money early on, and, likely never had to worry much about not having it.

But let’s pick on Nicolas Cage.  Why?  Face/Off is probably reason enough.  Really?  Swapping faces with John Travolta?  That’s the movie plot?  I won’t pick on Shia Lebeouf because that’s like a velociraptor picking on a kitten.

Nic Cage (he told me he didn’t mind me calling him that when I imagined talking to him) made millions as an actor.  He could have done that if they only paid him a dollar a movie, but he made much more, at least $20 per movie.  Again, he made millions.  $150,000,000.  Yes.  ONE HUNDRED FIFTY MILLION dollars.  American dollars, not fake ones like they print in Canada.

He spent it all.  ALL OF IT.

On what?

  • An $8 million dollar castle in England. He spent millions fixing it up.  Never spent a night there.
  • An island.
  • Four yachts. At the same time.
  • A pair of rare albino king cobras.

Let’s face it, the man had a whole small country plus a navy (yes, four boats is more than in all of Canada) plus king cobras.  I’m not sure why he didn’t get three albino king cobras, but, he settled for two.

Seriously – was Nic Cage trying to live exactly like the bad guy in an Austin Powers movie?  No, I think that there’s something missing, plus nobody can figure out how to tell a guy not to blow all of his money on shiny things.

From observation, I do think that sudden wealth, or worse, sudden wealth and fame is not really good for you.  I think that it can greatly distort the sense of self.  Bill Murray said that everyone is a jerk (not exactly the word he used, but you get the idea) for the first year after they become rich and famous.  He then followed up with the observation that some people never snap out of it.

And, from the way that stars handle fame, it looks like many of them fall into DiFuria and Goldbart’s Sudden Wealth Syndrome.  They’ve got money but the feelings that they have wrapped up around the money give them a lot of guilt.  Some, however, seem a bit more grounded:

It has been reported that Reeves gave approximately US$80 million of his US$114 million earnings of The Matrix sequels, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, to the special effects and makeup staff. – Wikipedia

That seems a bit more grounded.  Warren Buffett lives in a house that (per the Intertubes) is worth $652,000.  I’m pretty sure it’s paid for, since Warren is worth $76.7 billion dollars.  That also seems pretty stable, since he bought it in 1958.

Lottery winners also seem to have a problem.  The first problem they have is the inability to do math.  Now, if there’s a tax that I like, it’s a tax on folks who can’t do math.  But the general saw is that some sort of karma hits the lottery winners, and makes them miserable.  And those stories are the big ones in the news.  But the reality?  85% of winners keep going to work (based on one study I saw) and most of those (60%) were still working at the same place they were before they won the lottery.

It seems that we almost want to hear the tragedy, because it suits our sense of fairness – this poor person who didn’t know math lucked out, but, boy, karma got ‘em in the end.  Nah.  Most of them seem to do just fine – more like Warren Buffett, less like Nic Cage.

Me, if someone bought me a lottery ticket that one, or I hit a pocket of gold worth $150,000,000?  An 8,500 pound (that’s about 17 kilograms) pocket of gold?

I’m headed to the Musk’s space habitat.  Beer’s on me.

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

DSC04272

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.