Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Self-Healing: Panic Attacks

The cure for panic attacks is to say - repeatedly and preferably (if there's no one around) out loud:
"It's ok!"
Say it in the most reassuring voice possible - the voice you'd use to comfort an upset child.

There's a twist: this isn't self-soothing. Don't say it to yourself. Rather, direct it to an imaginary child. It's the speaking, not the hearing, that helps. Don't absorb the reassurance; offer the reassurance. It's a flip (aka reframing).

You may need to repeat it a number of times (again, it must be spoken out loud). But you'll quell even horrendous panic attacks via this surprisingly simple little move.


This can make you feel self-conscious if you have a tendency to view yourself on an imaginary movie screen.  You might decide you’re a weak, pathetic, and shaky character grasping pathetically at straws. Three thoughts:

1. You're not in a movie. To imagine you are is to take leave of reality (aka madness). Repeating "it's okay" is unconventional behavior (you might raise your eyebrow if you saw someone else doing it), but it's sane and helpful, while disrupting a helpful process because you don't like how it looks when you peer at yourself through an imaginary camera lens is neither sane nor helpful. This is not a movie. Snap back to your senses.

2. It's nearly impossible to survive and thrive in this world without a few go-to moves reserved for tough times. They may not be "in-character" for the personality you ordinarily try to project, but, believe me, the most confident and secure people you know have moves they do in private when no one's watching (that's how they maintain that veneer!). It's ok to drop out of character once in a while to do what it takes to get through hard stuff like panic attacks. It's not weakness, it's strength. It's not how one loses, it's how one wins.

3. Human beings spend their lives in conflict with imaginary people: mentally rearguing old arguments, worrying about faceless attackers and detractors, reliving bygone humiliations, and generally using our imaginations to make our lives a living hell. That's considered "normal", but using the same faculty in positive ways to help us cope seems, for some bizarre reason, childish and loopy.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Self-Healing: Knee Problems

Knee problems make life difficult, and doctors are very quick to suggest surgery. At age 30, I couldn't walk down steps without howling in pain (my doctor said it was a meniscus problem, and that all options were expensive, invasive, and uncertain). But I figured it out, and never had such problems again.

Doctors often advise patients with bad knees to build up their weak quadricep muscles. And that's good advice (if you really do have weak quads). But what they don't tell you is that it's equally helpful to stretch your hamstrings. If your quads are already strong, that's all you need to do. And I'll bet you need it. Show me someone with achey knees and I'll show you someone with tight hamstrings. A regimen of stretching will bring great relief, and pretty quickly.

If you do haphazard hamstring stretches, you'll see mild improvement along with some backtracking. But if you can find a few minutes to methodically stretch them twice per day, you'll see great improvement. I'd strongly suggest taking a yoga class or two to learn many ways to safely and thoroughly stretch them out, but you can do it on your own. There are many web pages, videos, and books about stretching.

Check with your doctor first to make sure that you don't have a condition that can be made worse by hamstring stretching. 

Hamstring stretches will help, but tight quads and IT bands can also exert torque on your knees, causing pain under certain conditions. If, after a couple weeks, the hamstring stretch hasn't entirely fixed the problem, get yourself a foam roller (as firm as possible). They look like this:



...and roll the sides and fronts of your legs from just above the knee to the top of the hip. It may be painful at first (go slowly, and do this every other day until it's comfortable enough to do daily), but it quickly becomes much easier. Here's how to do it (I let my feet drag on the ground for stability), and remember to go slowly (she's going way too fast):



If you want to go further and develop super knees, yoga offers a miracle, called Triangle Pose. Probably the most famous of all yoga poses, it's also one of the easiest. It's what they start beginners with!

You'll definitely want to start off by using a yoga block to make your arm longer:



Another good pose, usually taught along with Triangle, is Side Angle Pose.

These two are panaceas for knee problems (if your doctor approves). And they are simple and easy! But if your hamstrings, IT bands, and/or quads are very tight, you'll need to work on them first, or concurrently.

Don't let knee problems interfere with your lifestyle - or resort to invasive medical procedures - when these moves are so effective!

Monday, July 26, 2021

Self-Healing: Hiccups

Only read this if you're in the middle of an attack. Or read it now to learn how to cure other people. But once you know the secret, it may lose some effectiveness. I'd also like to note that this is the first self-healing trick I ever devised. It dates back to third grade.

To cure a hiccup attack, it's crucial to time the interval between hiccups. Have ready a pen and paper, plus a watch or timer that shows seconds. Start timing immediately after a hiccup - precisely at the moment the hiccup occurs. Then time the frequency of each subsequent hiccup. Be accurate!

Ok, when you're ready.....go! Your next hiccup starts the clock!



The hiccups are gone, aren't they? :)

If you're helping someone else, try to "control" the experience by giving lots of intense directions. Show how diligently you're timing their hiccup frequency, and coax them to try to hiccup as soon as possible.


Saturday, July 24, 2021

Self-Healing Addenda

This belongs to a series of postings on self-healing, which you can access by choosing the self-healing tag from the Slog’s left margin (beneath "Popular Entries").


In my previous post, "Self-Healing is the Move You Don't Want to Do", I explained how I've worked out fixes for conditions like tendinitis and arthritis. Here are a couple of followups:

But Which Stretches Exactly?

In the arthritis section, I describe stretching and contracting "the bejesus out of" my feet "in every direction", and that I can "earn a sublime 24 hour pain timeout via 30 seconds of clenching and wriggling."

"But wait!" you holler. "WHICH stretches? WHICH clenches? WHAT wriggling?"

It seems like a sensible question. After all, I glossed right over this seemingly critical issue. Arthritis sufferers (or tendonitis, which I cured via a different sort of stretching...described with similar vagueness) would surely need precise directions for the exact magic stretches that will fix the problem.

This is a distinctively grown-up request. Seven year olds wouldn't ask this. They'd instantly know what to do, and get busy with their hands and feet, trying different stuff curiously, all in a spirit of play. They'd keep coming back to it. And it would work.

With adults, I could sigh, roll my eyes, and cook up absurdly detailed intructions to meet the whiny, helpless, fraught need to have everything explained (and, at some point, I guess I will). But they'll get so caught up in instruction-following and compliance-self-doubting (all on top of the intrinsic skepticism that this stupid weird fuzzy crap even works) that they'd remain light years away from the spirit of it all. They won't be Doing The Move, they'll be anxiously Following Instructions, which is a whole other sort of activity.

There's no one magical action to do, nor am I doing anything unusual or cleverly sequenced. Honestly, nothing smart here. Just stretch and contract the bejesus out of your arthritic body part (if your doctor approves). That's really the best instruction. That's the move.

So: summon some resourcefulness. Clench and stretch your feet IN EVERY DIRECTION. Be creative! Take time! Explore, and keep coming back to it, like kids learning to whistle! Learn what works! It doesn't need to click immediately. Find some patience and curiosity.

You needn't replicate my exact foot movements. You do need to replicate my spirit of playful, patient exploration; stretching and contracting in lots of different ways; trying stuff. That's the easy part! I've already done the hard part by pointing the way, so it won't take you the full year it took me. But it might take a week. One lousy week of playful experimentation to relieve the pain without expense or side effects or doctor visits. Sounds reasonable to me, but it's too much for people, who mostly can't manage to get to the gym or keep up their French lessons or meditation practice, or drive an extra mile for slightly better pizza.

People don't do stuff. They can, however, bitch prolifically about the torment of their arthritis.

Life consists of a series of revisitations to tired clichés, certain with each new pass that we now really understand them. It's time to reconsider "God helps those who help themselves."

Success from Slowness

In that previous posting, I wrote that
Despite my success with self-healing, it's a realm where I'm extremely slow, and have never sped up. Nothing smart, snappy, effortless. Never a snazzy "TA-DAH!". It takes me a year or two to figure out each Move, and when I do it's always cloddishly simple. The Move never involves praying to Akhkhazu or grinding owl molars or concocting some perfect blend of rare herbs. It's dopey, coarse stuff.
Riffing on the odd-seeming combination of slowness and success...

I can toss off nuggets of shiny impressiveness in realms where I'm talented and fast-minded. But magic can be conjured from the realms where I'm pathetically slow and ploddish.

Yoga is like that for me. If a teacher directs me to reach my left hand behind my head, I need to think about it. For a long time! I've driven teachers mad with my hapless dimness. I seem absolutely unsuited for yoga. But when I finally get a move (after working 1700 times harder than the rest of the class), I get it deeply (see the Vedic anecdote here). It took me 25 years to touch my toes, but the insights I gleaned en route could fill a library, whereas a naturally bendy person who easily flops right over learns nothing. And I'm here to learn.

This quote is often attributed to Einstein: "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid". Turns out Einstein never said it, but it's still a great quote. And the reason most people never discover their genius is because it usually lies in our slow/sticky zone, which teachers and parents urge us to give up on. Most people need to feel smart and look smart, and steer well clear of their Achilles heels.

Me, I embrace my shmuckiness. I ply, with perverse delight, those realms where I'm thick as a fricking malted. I'm not trying to improve/accelerate that side of me (our innate plodding talentlessness, being innate, can't be sped up any more than our innate gifts can be retarded). I plow those fields because I've discovered a great secret: that's where the best stuff comes from.

The hard stuff I can do effortlessly might impress you (cool party tricks!) but doggedly relentless slogging through bleary thick-headedness produces minor miracles. For instance, I can cure incurable conditions...but it takes me forever to figure it out, and, when I do, it always sounds super "duh" and leaves me feeling extra stoopid.

I linked to this post ("The Infinite Potential of Slow Learners") above, but I'm repeating it now because it's such an important point, and one I don't see anyone else making.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Self-Healing is the Move You Don't Want to Do

This belongs to a series of postings about self-healing, which you can access by choosing the "Self-Healing" tag from the Slog’s left margin (beneath "Popular Entries").


When people inquire about my health, I never know what to say. My genetics are shit, so I've been afflicted with way more than my share of issues, but after 50 years of ardent yoga practice, I have a knack for self-healing. I've escaped, Houdini-style, from myriad dire scenarios. And I feel pretty great. The peak of good health...even though it's all held together with staples and duct tape, and I need to do a thing for my back and a thing for my feet and things for my neck, etc, etc, etc.

I've dodged many supposedly incurable conditions, never aiming for anything grand, just grappling with physical puzzles, one after another, necessity mothering invention. I'll be cataloging my tricks and tips in case anyone out there can benefit.

I consider memory issues a health problem, so I've tagged my two recent posts on memory (one about opening extra slots and the other about recovering forgotten info) accordingly. Both were developed via my standard approach to self-healing, which I'm about to outline.

This posting is nominally about curing tendinitis and arthritis (both incurable) and blasting through meditation plateaus, but, on a higher level, it shows how I came up with the fixes, so you can do the same.
 You'll need vast patience and worrisome levels of persistence. One must be an extreme contrarian to try hard while living among lazy, comfortable, self-satisfied rich people. There's not much inertia to draw from!

Despite my success with self-healing, it's a realm where I'm extremely slow, and have never sped up. Nothing smart, snappy, effortless. Never a snazzy "TA-DAH!". It takes me a year or two to figure out each Move, and when I do it's always cloddishly simple. The Move never involves praying to Akhkhazu or grinding owl molars or concocting some perfect blend of rare herbs. It's dopey, coarse stuff like "try it while hung over" or "do the tiniest possible stretches" or "work the part that hurts". Most importantly, it's inevitably the thing you didn't want to do. That's why people don't ordinarily stumble onto these fixes. Self-healing most often involves the move you don't want to do.

Again, there's nothing smart about it. I’m a syrupy-thick dim bulb amid myriad hotshots too lazy to make an effort. One thing about me: I make the effort. Remember, I'm an ant. And, as I keep mentioning,
Life consists of a series of revisitations to tired cliches, certain with each new pass that we now really understand them. And so it is with Edison's "Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety nine percent perspiration." That quotation used to conjure up images of wild-eyed fanatics banging hammers in garages in the middle of the night. But it's just a matter of normal people blithely but indefatigably putting out. The Colorado River, etcher of the Grand Canyon, is just some shitty little river. The best among us are shitty little rivers. To me, that's what Edison was saying.
Ok, here goes.

Curing Tendinitis

Note: I'm trying to explain how I came up with the cure more than how to implement it yourself. Stay tuned for better instruction in an upcoming posting.

I was suffering from awful tendinitis (likely Carpal tunnel, as well) in my hands and wrists from holding a heavy instrument all night and typing all day. As a longtime yogi, my instinct was to try stretching. But nothing worked, and I realized that that was expected. Millions of people have repetitive stress issues, so every conceivable stretch has been tried thousands of times. If one could stretch one's way out of this pain, it would have been noted.

My younger self once sent my future self a tip: always try flipping it. Don't try to be clever. Don't orchestrate it. Just, whenever you're stuck, capriciously flip things upside-down, inside-out, whatever. You may not find an instant eureka, but you'll view the issue freshly, opening up landscapes of possibility (this was an early exploration of perceptual framing, the deliberate shifting of perspective).

Big yoga stretches wouldn't work. So what about tiny ones? It didn't make sense, but I didn't need it to make sense. This was an exercise in creativity. A flip. So I playfully tried my familiar stretches at 1/1000th scale. Teeny-tiny. And then shrunk it even further, until they were invisible. Nothing visibly moved, yet there was discernible action. My hand might look stationary, but, under the skin, there was sloshing. I found I could make it smaller and more subtle still, until there was only intentional movement (fully engaged; i.e. poised to move).

It worked. Knocked out all pain, and the smaller the better. Sometimes it returns, and I can knock it back out again in 15 seconds flat.
This works for all tendon and other soft tissue and nerve pain. Muscular pain responds best to conventional stretches.
I've tried instructing others, but it's like teaching orangutangs to read. Way too subtle. People either do big fat careless stretches, or else they stare at their motionless hands, "wishing" or "visualizing" or god knows what. I urge them to remain engaged - don't just imagine movement, actually do it....but tiny. It's hard, because it's something different, and people don't cotton to "different" (we’re deluded enough to presuppose we’d cure the incurable with something familiar!). So they get confused and bored, and would prefer to pay a specialist $$$$ for ineffective treatment (nothing out there works for this), risking side effects, than spend a full minute entertaining Jim's weird thingee.

Anything familiar has been tried to death. You must go the other way and try moves nobody does. Moves that seem alien and counterintuitive. Or uncomfortable moves you’d normally resist. This next one is a great example of an uncomfortable move.

Mojo Rising

Valentines Day 2005. I am very badly hungover, can barely move. I'd been meditating twice per day for years, and made great progress (my resting heart rate's slowed by 25%, and I was surviving an untenable work situation with relative equanimity). And the thing with meditation is that you have to commit to never missing a session. The practice must slot in as top priority.

Hungover people don't want to exercise. Or socialize. Or work. But what they really really don't want to do is sit up straight intoning a mantra for twenty minutes. That's literally the very last thing hungover people want to do. And so it never happens!

Also, diligent meditators aren’t usually the insouciant type. Me, I was a devoted meditator who loved craft beer (drinking for the flavor, not the high), making me an edge case. And for centuries you weren't taught meditation until you'd made certain lifestyle commitments, alcohol abstinence being the most common. So it is really really really really edge case behavior to meditate while hungover. I doubt it's happened more than 1000 times in the history of Earth.

But this day I sat up and meditated, and within moments, coils of molten liquid energy snaked up my back, fueling an ecstacy lasting for weeks (it's never fully died down). If the experience could be compressed into pill form, it would easily sell for $100,000 per pill.

Since then, whenever I plateau in meditation, I deliberately get hungover so I can blast past it (my theory: the body gathers powerful healing/detoxifying inertia from hangover recovery, and meditation rides that tailwind). It’s not always ecstatic, sometimes it’s just peaceful. But it always breaks the logjam. 
Note: don't try this until you've established a strong meditation practice for a couple of years (I do this - and also this and eventually added this and this and this - but I recommend skipping the author's other writings and his online forums). And don’t do it too often. Maybe once every year or two, tops.
Curing Arthritis

I was immobilized for a full year due to foot problems. You name it: plantar tear, capsulitis, bursitis, plantar fasciitis, arthritis, and nerve damage, all at once. Recovery would take 3-6 months with likely setbacks, given that the plantar tear could easily re-tear, resetting my recovery clock.

Very long story short, at the one year mark, I realized the remaining pain was entirely arthritis, which often appears in under-used limbs, joints, and extremities.

You can simply try to put the arthritic bodypart to use, but there's a vicious circle. The arthritis pain discourages you. And if you try to brute force it, you'll keep suffering ad infinitum. Eventually, it will wear you down, and you'll settle into immobilization...which worsens the arthritis. It's ghastly.

After several MRIs and lots of ginger experimentation, I was finally certain I wouldn't reinjure the tear, and I did the very last thing my poor tormented feet wanted: I stretched and contracted the bejesus out of them in every direction. Not suble movements. Great big ones. Since it was the last thing I wanted to do, it was also the last thing arthritis sufferers ever try. And it worked. Perfectly.

Except, that is, for one toe, which remained painful. One solitary throbbing toe. I hemmed and hawed, plotted and experimented, but I could not figure out a way to contract/stretch this specific toe until one day I became consciously aware that I was avoiding a certain move that hurt even a little more. Nothing excruciating, nothing I contemplated with dread. I just kinda didn't wanna, so I hadn’t. I did it, and, ka-ching, the toe was fine and I'm once again walking 7 miles at a stretch. I feel like a condemned prisoner set free.

The incurable arthritis has been wiped away like magic, though it returns daily, requiring me to redo my Moves, stretching and contracting in all the wrong ways. It's mildly painful (I'm used to it!), and I'm careful not to overdo it - to unnaturally over-stretch (it's not the pain, per se, that fixes it!). I earn a sublime 24 hour pain timeout via 30 seconds of clenching and wriggling.

To clarify: stoically walking around on an arthritic foot will provoke pain forever. You need to go a step further and systematically clench and stretch every part of the foot. Then walking and other activity will be pain free…at least for a day or so. Obviously, ask your doctor first. S/he will doubt the effectiveness, but can help ensure you don’t create fresh problems.

Redux

I've done a bunch more self-healing, as well. This posting offers the master key, explaining how to go about it. But I'll be posting fixes for actual maladies.

See this follow-up posting, explaining why I'm being vague about how to stretch (or micro-stretch) for tendinitis and arthritis, and riffing about why sometimes slow-mindedness is a feature, not a bug.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Something's Off

I expected changes after the lengthy lockdown. Irritability, jagged social skills and raggedy presentation. I expected depression and neurosis. We've been through stuff, and I didn't expect it to pop back the same.

But above/beyond all that predictable stuff, people seem different in ways that are hard to pin down and which don't seem tied to our recent trauma. It's eerie. If this were a sci-fi film, I'd suspect we'd been replaced by Earth 227N, a similar parallel world.

I often identify societal trends early and can come up with some sort of shaky hypothesis to account for them. But I have nothing insightful to say about this, no framing about what's different. Zip. Yet it's different in a tectonic way.

I don't think it's me; I wasn't much traumatized by Covid. So I'm still me, but the world's not exactly the world.


I'm offering the following anecdote not as an example (I can't give you any single example...it's just a spidey sense), but as a surreal vignette about post-COVID big biz.

I went to Bed Bath & Beyond yesterday, and it was weirdly strewn with empty space - very Soviet - and just a couple of forlorn sales people. I asked one if they carry folding tables, and he looked at me with oddly penetrating intensity, tremulously replying "We only have one kind."

I said that might be ok. He wagged his head ruefully and asked how big I needed. I gestured with my arms. He nodded knowingly. Yep. Nope. Our one table's not that big. I'm REALLY SORRY (deep eye contact) I can't help you.

I walked out through the dense silence feeling like my oncologist had given me 2 months to live, passing an old woman clawing among the many drab unmarked cardboard boxes occupying prime floor real estate as if her grandson had been sealed in one of them. Even the light had a weird dystopic glint.

I'm sure there are easy biz explanations for a lot of that. But the personal stuff was totally Earth 227N.
As a topper, BB&B used to carry these weird chairs that were essentially a big fluffy pillow on spindly legs. Cheap, lightweight, portable and oh so comfortable. I was delighted to see them back, and flopped into one, and found it fiendishly not-comfortable. Not actively uncomfortable, just the absolute zero point on the comfort thermometer. The disappointment rattled me, so I got up quickly, and I heard a crashing sound. I spun my head around, trying to figure out if I'd broken anything, but the Antithesis-of-Comfort Chair looked fine, as did the Stonehenge of grey unmarked boxes being desperately scraped at by anguished grandma. The store manager glanced over at me and winced, ala "Jesus Christ; now this." I got out fast.

I want to note that I'm not emerging from a cave. I've been shopping pretty freely during all but the very height of the pandemic (with mask, etc), and all retail near me has been maskless and back to normal for weeks. There's some new X Factor appearing, and I'm not even close to putting my finger on it.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Vigilance

Watch like nobody’s dancing. 


Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Smug Chickens

A Skinner Box is any setup rewarding "good" behavior and punishing "bad" behavior. One imagines laboratory rats, but our world is nothing but Skinner Boxes, running entirely on positive and negative reinforcement. If full bladders weren't uncomfortable, human beings would never get out of bed. If reproduction were a duty rather than a thrill, the species would die out within a century.

But there's a weird thing about positive reinforcement. Even if we haven't done anything remarkable to earn the reward - even if we've just rotely hit some button in a lab experiment to propel a dumb sugary yumyum into our expectant gullets - we will experience a profound shift in our sense of self. It’s hard-wired into us. 

Chickens

I wrote in "A Tale of Two Chickens":
When the subject learns that a certain action triggers, say, an electrode buried in the orgasm part of its brain, that action will be repeated, over and over again, ad infinitum. It will become the defining action of the subject's life. It's the action that makes the good thing happen.

The reward must be well-suited to the subject. If the subject is a chicken, which is basically a biological device for pecking endless grain, you set up your Skinner box to feed the chicken. And the chicken will never stop responding in the way you've trained it to. It never "gets wise". Blessed with the result it most seeks, there's no reason to ask deeper questions. The chicken thinks it's just killin' it.
Smug chickens are absolutely everywhere. The following are a few examples.

Day Traders

Whenever the stock market has a long climb, day traders feel really smart, because their number goes up, and up is good. They quickly conclude that they've got quite a flair for this whole investment thing. The smartest ones might recognize, intellectually, that they're benefitting from a powerful tail wind from market inertia boosting all stocks. They may even recognize that their success is still below market averages - i.e. a vanilla index fund would have been more profitable than all their feverish machinations. But when a human enters a powerful reward loop, it's impossible to maintain perspective. There's no doubt that you're a genius investor.

Then, inevitably, the market tanks and the geniuses lose all their money.

Restaurateurs

In a posting last year titled "The Cambrian Implosion" I analyzed why some restaurants would survive the pandemic while others won't, explaining that the restaurant business is so inherently profitable (your $3 slice of pizza cost pennies to produce) that even imbeciles quickly come to feel like geniuses. When you're pulling in a high six figure income running a crummy diner selling crummy food following rote formulas, no one can convince you that you're anything but a lofty culinary titan.

But then a pandemic arrives and you're forced to innovate to survive. You must add delivery, online ordering, and curbside pickup, and find ways to let customers know about new hours and new policies. Less than half my favorite restaurants ever managed to do even the very minimum - to keep people informed via web sites and social media pages. Fewer still modified business practices to adapt. It was too high a hurdle. Grinding out insipid rice pudding every morning, keeping thieving busboys away from the cash register, and not poisoning patrons with shoddy food handling absorbed 100% of their capabilities, so hordes of restaurateur geniuses, who'd grabbed easy money for years, were wiped off the map (along with a few diligent operators who, alas, failed despite smart heroic efforts).

Internet Visionary

For years I was proud of the smarts I'd poured into building and running Chowhound. I managed to invest it with a unique image, tone, and credo to appeal to a savvy audience which normally can't be gathered en masse (because they're righteous holdouts from conventional marketing). It connected with the optimal crowd for populating a really savvy online community, I devised procedures to stave off subterfuge and vandalism, and my unique take on food - which echoed as users adopted a similar tone - seemed irresistible.

While those things may (or may not!) have been true, the site succeeded because of timing. In 1997, websites were cool. That's it. That's why it worked. It was that dumb (also: I didn't do anything to mess it up too badly). Chowhound might have been as successful had it sucked. Or perhaps more successful. Consider Yelp!

My smartphone app is as indispensable as Chowhound. And this Slog is much higher value than either (I don't see much original thinking out there). But blogs weren't cool in 2008 and smartphone apps weren't cool in 2017. So...nada.

I've done proud work in eight fields, but only one single venture was commercially successful. Thanks to market timing and trend cycles, it passively floated to success upon a grand wave. But, man, I sure did feel like I was killin' it!


Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Deprogramming Effort

There is a really dumb line of thought that may never die. It's been debunked to death, yet keeps coming back because it's irresistible mind candy for a certain kind of person. It's usually used to attack science programs (particularly, for some strange reason, space science). Most typically:
Why are we spending billions on another space telescope when we can't feed everyone down here on Earth?
This glue-sniffy sentiment may pleasantly tingle your amygdala if you don't think about it too hard. And explaining the illogic doesn't seem to "stick" for people, so I will attempt to immunize you via multiple exposures to the virus under controlled settings. Hopefully this will stoke some resistance.
Amid a deadly pandemic, with millions out of work, people blew $200 million on ping pong balls. [Source]

Nearly 2% of the Ethiopian population has gone needlessly blind while the rich world spends a billion dollars on Jell-O.[Source and Source]

1 in 4 children in America grow up without learning how to read while we sink $7.4 billion per year into music.[Source and Source]

Why are we trying to cure Dutch elm disease, which affects only trees, when we have no cure for Pompe Disease, which cruelly strikes down people?

Why do we eat pizza while millions of Americans lack broadband Internet?

How can your children play video games while Uyghurs are persecuted?

Why are you reading silly blogs when 9 million people per year starve to death? [Source]?


People think they're living in a cartoon, operating on simple cartoon logic, imagining that if they ruled the world there'd be mercy and virtue and equity because they'd institute peace (by fiat or whatever), and feed every last soul. It just takes some ordinary human kindness and consideration, that's all. Once we've restored common sense and repaired our damaged sense of priority, a more equitable world will fall easily into place. So let's start by shutting down those goddamned ping pong ball factories...

Monday, July 12, 2021

My Annual Post on Transcribing Voice Recorder Memos

I have more thoughts than I can remember (not necessarily a good thing), so I really depend on voice recorder apps.

I'm a big fan of RecUp, an iPHone app that gives you a big red button to hit for on/off, and that's it. When you stop a recording, it automatically uploads an MP3 to DropBox. The simplicity is fantastic. (I've heard NetMemo+ is similar for Android). I also rigged up an IFTTT process that watches the RecUp folder in my DropBox and sends me an email whenever a new recording arrives. FYI I first mentioned RecUp in this iOS app survey.

Transcribing can be a chore. You can do it yourself (using this Mac transcription app to fastforward and rewind or this free web app which does the same). Or you can pay a service gobs of money to hire people to laboriously transcribe your stuff, which takes days. Or you can settle for semi-crummy automatic translation, which will be riddled with mistakes.

Automatic is the sweet spot, because while you'll need to edit the transcription against the original audio, a decent transcription will be accurate enough to completely fix in one single pass, with very little pausing. It's viable.

Having carefully tested/compared all major automatic transcription services, I've discovered they're definitely not all the same. Best and cheapest by far is TranscribeMe. They offer pricey human translation, but I use their automatic service, which costs 7¢ a minute, and doesn't add up much even if you use it extravagantly (I bask in the delights of The Future).

Other services make you pre-buy bundles of expiring minutes, but TranscribeMe lets you micro-pay as you go. Easy-peasy. And it effortlessly handles dumps of multiple audio files (I let them pile up and then blitz through all at once). Sole problem: their site loves to show you forever-spinning cursors as you upload and order transcription. Just reload the page!

Sunday, July 11, 2021

It May be a Mass Delusion that People Are Living Longer

Pretty much everyone accepts that people live longer these days. Lots more folks are in their 90s, 100 no longer seems so exceptional; people dying in their 70s now seems surprising.

But statistics say otherwise (average life expectancy may be rising *slightly*, but mostly due to reduced infant mortality), and scientists absolutely do not share this empirical observation.

This is normal. The public frequently draws unsupportable conclusions, and scientists frequently debunk. But in this case, I've never met a scientist who'd even concede that this is a widespread observation. It's "news to them".

Thanks for playing today's edition of "Who's Hallucinating?"




I think I figured it out.

Life expectancy for a 60 year old has gone from 78 (in 1975) to 83 (today). That’s a significant rise, but can’t account for the massive demographic changes we’ve emperically observed. Hence, my question: is this gap due to statistical aberration or mass delusion?

But those figures are means. We might notice more people in their 90s and 100s even with the mean increasing only modestly. It takes a lot of change to really move a mean. And while we’re observing powerful changes, they’re not happening in bulk.

Today, many people have a centennarian in their lives, while in 1985 very few of us did. That’s a significant observational change, but it couldn’t move the mean very much (unless you built your statistical model around the very narrow issue).

Same for nonagenarians. There seem to be “many more” of them around, but we don’t need vast quantities to foster an impression of change. Say the average person knows four nonagenarians in 2020, versus one in 1990. That could create a powerful impression without significantly budging the mean.

Note I’m just calling out numbers here (e.g. “four nonagenarians”) very roughly and informally.

I’ll call this “statistical aberration” rather than “mass delusion”. It’s actually an example of my “Green M&M Fallacy”. Scaling creates subjective shifts disproportional with the degree of scaling.

The Parallels of Anti-Racism and Homophobia

If being non-racist is “good”, then being super extra anti-racist must be amazing. Strident anti-racists are seeking extra credit for their extravagant virtuousness....while hiding the fact that they're afraid they’re maybe just a little bit racist. Shhhh!

Macho homophobia is a way of establishing that one is not just straight, but super extra straight....while hiding gnawing insecurities. Shhhh!

Being quite secure in both my racial tolerance and my heterosexuality, I feel no urge to ostentatiously prove (or hide) anything.


I really don't care whether someone craves innies or outies, and I really don't care what someone thinks of other races (so long as they don't cause harm or illegally discriminate). Think whatever you want and shtup whoever you want. It's totalitarian to imagine trying to control how people think.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Panera's New "Swim Soup Collection"

Many years ago, I wrote an article about the evil that is Panera (aka "Why Adam Smith's Invisible Hand Reaches For Lousy Chow"). It was cited a couple times by marketing guru Seth Godin, who also seemed to disagree with every word in it. I never really grokked his position.

Anyhoo, Panera seems to have segued from demonic evil to fatuous craziness. Thanks (if that's the word) to friend-of-the-Slog Paul Trapani for pointing out their "Swim Soup Collection". Please understand that this is not satire. This is not a Simpsons episode.

Panera's terribly brainy market research finds that 70% of us have no qualms about eating soup in hot weather. To "celebrate" (if that's the word) this fact, and to remind the other 30% of what they're missing, they've launched a line of soup-themed swimwear and pool floats "designed to help you cool down this summer as you commit to eating your favorite hot soups despite soaring temperatures."

These are the final days.

Actually, y'know what, forget the above part about how this isn't evil. Just because you've revealed the utter absurdity of your airlessly skewed thinking (if that's the word), that doesn't mitigate your evil. This represents the ultimate fruition of their view of their business, their customers, and their world, which is too spine-chillingly alien for me to delve into. The deeply manipulative geniuses who came up with this aren't clueless airheads; there's an inhuman intelligence at work, and it's behind everything they've ever done and every revolting speck of their shiny, non-carbon-based food. And let's not forget that it's worked. They've grown into a five billion dollar operation.

This campaign could succeed. Hideously awful ideas - ideas so transparently and grotesquely "off" that you'd never suspect they'd possibly catch on - do prevail...a lot (half of my friends won't vaccinate against COVID - the other half make their kids wear masks while walking outdoors - and I'd have bet $$$ against that outcome in summer 2020). If you can dream it, you can achieve it. And god help us all.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Memory Trick #2

A few months ago, I posted Memory Trick #1, a method for adding new slots to your brain’s memory via a reframing trick (I also posted this followup explaining how to add still more extra slots).

The following works the other end of the equation: remembering things you’ve forgotten. Prerequisite is faith that everything’s recoverable. It's true. I can affirm, after using this technique for years, that remembering is always possible. It doesn't always work quickly, but it never fails.

Like many topics here on the Slog, it's a stupendously simple matter, but so counterintuitive that I must go to some length to explain. If the following is more conceptual than you can stand, cut to the bottom section for an easy shortcut that delivers immediate remembering improvement.


The Remembering Process

Most people are extremely bad at retrieving forgotten information because successful remembering requires going against instinct. If you can control your reaction to forgetting, you'll greatly ease the process of remembering. 

I remember reading an article mentioning an aboriginal group in Japan which still has a few surviving members. And there was lots more interesting stuff, which I made a mental note to read up on sometime. The note just flashed back to me...but I couldn't remember any details. I was stuck!

Web searching might yield further information on the aborigines, but not the article that had piqued my curiosity. So I needed to power through remembering unassisted by the Google machine.

Let’s replay this minor crisis in slow motion. My mind was operating normally, fluidly passing from thought to thought in a more or less straight line (with some digression and haziness). A particularly strong thought - “I must read up on aborigines in Japan!” - flashed, and was followed by....nothing. A sheer cliff, leaving my train of thought trackless.

My mind tried stubbornly to plow ahead, backing up repeatedly to the thought ("aborigines in Japan") and then trying to push forward, like spinning the wheels of a car stuck in snow. Nothing!

At such an impasse, there are three options:

1. Blunt force
Back up and go forward again and again in a helpless loop, hoping the missing data magically appears. Bash your face, again and again, against the dead end. This is a very popular move.


2. Think something...anything!
Emotions arise, steering the mind into a new (but unhelpful) train of thought. We cue up the familiar "GOD DAMN IT I CAN'T REMEMBER!" script, which at least provides a sense of forward momentum, leaving us more comfortable than we were hovering at the edge of blankness. I can't remember the thing I forgot, but at least I'm doing stuff! I'm complaining and stressing over the fact that I forgot! We scowl, tighten up, slap our foreheads, and make a dramatic display that does absolutely nothing to help us remember. In fact, it's hard to imagine a better way to push away the forgotten chunk.

#1 and #2 are full of stress. Why do we behave that way? First, it’s what people on TV and in movies do when they can’t remember. Second, anything beats standing around like some goof with mouth stupidly agape and no thoughts forthcoming. You've reestablished dynamic forward momentum, regaining the impression of control by bashing away (#1) or by turning it into a drama (#2).

3. Abide in the Brain Fart
Nobody does this, though it's the only move that actually works: Relax into the blankness. Rather than repeatedly try to ram through, per #1, or conjure up emotional tizzy, per #2, the gap is accepted (what choice is there, really?) and you begin to gently probe and nibble at its edges.


Choosing #3, I sit back in my chair, choosing not to furrow my brow or tense up or curse the gods. I don't make the slightest attempt to pry loose the memory. Rather than demand that the missing information present itself, I gingerly explore the gap. My attitude is relaxed, playful, curious.

First, I dip my toe into the part I did remember, re-experiencing the surprise and curiosity I'd felt upon learning that aborigine culture still exists in Japan. Cool! Without grasping, I continued to brood lazily/dreamily about where such culture might be situated...certainly not in the more populous central zones. No...it would have to be at the northern or southern tip. Southern tip immediately rings a bell for me. But I remain comfortably poised in the vacuum - the not-remembering - resisting the urge to tug at dangling strings.

I picture the south of Japan, and since this isn't a place I often visualize, the same vague mental image arose that had arisen while reading that article. Lots of water all around...someone rowing to Southern Japan and being met by aborigines...all in the past, back when that group was more intact. I settle into a lazy, expansive revery about rowing through the sea....to Southern Japan.....a long time ago. Shipwreck. Adventurers. Sneaking into Japan. Aha! I remember! It was an article about how the West tried to penetrate the insular nation at the end of the Shogun age. I suddenly re-experienced the same curiosity to read up on the subject. Deja vu means you're close!

The remembering has gained momentum, so it’s particularly important to restrain my mind's eagerness to reach for the prize. A mind derailed is a delicate thing, and unless the knot is fully untied in a state of mental relaxation (i.e. "abiding in the brain fart"), it will only tighten further. I sense, without forcing the issue, that the name of the publication would elude me if I directly seek it out.

So I sit back again, loftily immersing in the flavor, the smell, the feeling of an adventurer sneaking into Southern Japan via rowboat, claiming to be a shipwreck victim. I paddle oh-so-lightly around the hazy coastline of my memory. With great patience (constantly soothing my eager mind with the assurance that there's no hurry), I passively collect more fragments as they appear: the Shogun's hard-line prohibition of contact with foreigners; the strong currents transporting hapless Japanese mariners all the way to the North American west coast, laws requiring boat builders to intentionally cripple ships in order to prevent citizens from wandering off to other lands...

In a flash, it all spills from beyond the veil: I’d read about this in The Economist. At this point, the article was a snap to find.

Let it Go to Get it Back

The moment you become aware of an impending derailment - that a memory is about to elude your grasp - just relax into it. It's counterintuitive, like learning to steer into a skid. Get in the habit of loosening up, slowing down, and resisting the impulse to bash through via endless rewinding/fast-forwarding. Pause, amiably, in the fuzzy zone. Exist in the vacuum. As your mental train of thought stalls, begin to languidly paddle around the shadowy ambiguity, starting with whichever detached shards are available.


And keep your emotions out of it. Anger, exasperation, stress, and helplessness prevent remembering. Remain calmly aloof as you probe the edges of the gap. Have faith that the knot will unwind under the sustained light of patient curiosity. Don't expect a flash; invite one by letting it appear whenever it will. Loosen the deadline, but don't look away. Don't check your email or think about lunch. Hover weightlessly within the bubble. Remain non-insistently curious.

The sharp emotions aren’t really about memory frustration. The level of consternation is normally far out of proportion with the value of the forgotten data. How many times have you waited while an older relative painfully struggled to recover some absolutely insignificant dab of useless trivia? They're upset not about the missing information but about the gap in their mental narrative.

The brain's spigot normally gushes effortlessly. Information simply arrives. When it doesn't, deep-seated issues of control and identity arise from the subconscious. If my thoughts stop, where does that leave me? A curtain has pulled back to reveal my impermanence!
But that's wrong. You're not your thought stream. You're not the data, or the memories, or the words or deeds. You are pure subjectivity. As thoughts pause, you're the awareness that notices. By noticing, you’ve demonstrated your existence. Rocks never notice that they’re not thinking!

Since people are terribly confused about who they actually are, these gaps freak them out.
This explains the counterproductive impulses. Feeling as if we've crash-landed in an eerie silent abyss of non-existence, we flail for a sense of control, trying to reboot our mental continuity like a smoker frantically flicking her empty lighter. We’re engaged not in data recovery but in a struggle to restart the ticker tape of mental narration that establishes our sense of continuity.

Since we falsely think that we are this narration, the struggle feels existential! This is why people won't easily abandon the chase, even for garbage information. Losing continuity leaves you nowhere. A scary place.

Unless, that is, you blithely relax into it. Our thought stream is something we do, not what we are. We can easily abide in the pause. Mystics spend their lives trying to quiet their minds to experience pure awareness...and you've just had a free pass! (I'm not being glib. Brain farts - senior moments, et al - are identical to mystical states. We have only to relax into them.)

Focusing on Forgetting

Emotions reengage our sense of continuity. We flail, and the flailing becomes the new momentum. I'm no longer lapsed; my mind’s back in gear, grousing about how annoying it is to forget! I'm back, baby! I'm me!

You can opt out of all that. Don't flail. It won't help you remember. On the contrary, it buries the evidence, because what you're searching for lives in the gap you’re fleeing from! Relax into the gap, opt out of struggle, and remembering will be strangely easy.

On-the-Fly Forgetfulness

You'll be amazed at what you're able to recall. There is literally no limit to how far you can take this. No detail will escape your memory if you're able to fully relax into the gap, setting no deadline.

The only problem is that it takes time, and you can't zone out of a conversation to bask in the psychic gap. When trying to remember under inescapable time pressure, options are slim. You can make the standard brain fart jokes, or shrug, or steer the conversation elsewhere. But even under pressure, the way you react makes a critical difference. Your body will sense the gap before your mind does. Learn to relax into the inevitable, rather than contract and harden against it. Resist the urge to frown and tense up. Your odds of graceful recovery improve dramatically when you embrace rather than recoil.

To be sure, a placid response to forgetting will make you look a little weird to others ("Why did he stop talking? Why does he look so relaxed about how he stopped talking?"), but you can adjust those parameters (looking normal vs increasing your odds of remembering) to suit specific situations. Maybe pretend to grimace a little, just for the sake of social signaling.

Pity the Artists

Artists have a better feel for this. The creation of a symphony, novel or painting involves a multitude of mental stalls as you try to materialize the next note, brushstroke, or sentence. Sometimes that chunk arrives, but often it doesn't, and you must keep backing up and trying again.

Artists learn to expect dry spigots, and to proceed gently, never forcing. They become intimately familiar with dead ends, and take them in stride. In fact, they had no illusions about controlling the process to begin with. Truly creative people find gaps exhilarating, because they’re the very wellspring of creativity (we all know what happened the moment after the earth was without form and void). A tight vacuum sucks in inspiration...if we allow it.

But even artists grow weary when a certain chunk keeps defying their grasp. So if you’re exasperated about having forgotten some trivia, consider the plight of artists, who spend their professional lives in that fuzzy realm.

Remember Like a Dream

Here's a cool shortcut.

Failing to recall a fact - a name, a date, a word - we instinctively strain and bash against the block. But when people try to recall a dream, they go about it very differently. They get a faraway look in their eyes and slip away a little, almost as if falling lightly asleep. We recreate a hazy dream state to access dream information. No one ever flails in frustration to remember a dream. We don't force or rush the remembering. We relax into it! We do it the right way!

(Why? Because there’s no interruption involved. And since we don’t actually mind the forgetting - it’s the interruption that freaks us out - we apply a more effective, more relaxed approach to dream recollection.)

So do that! Frame a forgotten chunk as having occurred in a dream. And then do what you naturally do to remember dreams.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

COVID Vaccine versus Long Term Symptoms

Writer Laurie Garrett tweeted:

....about new research reported in New Scientist that even mild COVID infections can bring long-term neural/cognitive symptoms.

And it didn't make sense to me - particularly the part about how these long term effects are prevented via vaccination. I asked the Slog's technical advisor:
If (as we know) the vaccinated can still experience mild infection, and mild infection can cause long term effects, then how can it be said that vaccine prevents long term effects? I don't see how all those things can be true.
Technical advisor answers:
First, New Scientist has been pretty bad in their coverage; not as bad as Lancet, but pretty awful nevertheless.

Vaccinees may be at risk of these effects, but, if so, it's very low, because while problem cases can theoretically "leak" through at each step, each step constitutes a reasonably effective filter, and the good news is that they're cumulative. So:

The Vaccinated Can Still Experience Mild Infection
Yes, but only a small fraction.
Mild Infection (among unvaccinated) Can Cause Long Term Effects
Yes, but only a small fraction.
Vaccine Prevents Long Term Effects
Yes, because exceptions are a small fraction of a small fraction.
Plus: the vaccine creates a third filter by also reducing the probability of infection turning into actual disease.

So because we’re concerned with a small fraction of a small fraction of a small fraction, vaccinees, in practical terms, need not worry about the prospect of lingering symptoms.

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