Archive for the ‘couch potato’ Category

Woe is me

August 12, 2013

Nina 1

  Jeesh.  Sharpened my pencils, sat down, and just as I was going to put point to paper, something caught my eye.  I forced myself not to look, to not let myself get distracted.  Again.  To no avail.  Couldn’t believe what I thought I’d seen.  Something even older than Col Davenport’s house.  I got up and looked out to see the Nina and Pinta (well full scale replicas…) tying up just down river from my window.  Had to investigate.

  Making my way over I encountered a couple of young geniuses.  Their caps were backwards, pants riding low, and they smelled like burning leaves.  Standing well back they evinced a twinge of fear.   “What’s that, man?”  one said.  “Ya” said the other.  “They’re models of the Nina and Pinta” I said.  I loved helping my kids with their homework years ago and was happy to be of service to the two young fellows.

  “Huh?”  “Ya, huh?”   “Well, you know – two of the three caravels upon which: In fourteen hundred and Ninety-Two Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”  Blank stares.  “They’re boats” I said.  “Ooooooh” they said in unison.  Guess I’ve lost my touch.  I let them marvel as I paid the modest admission fee and walked toward the gang plank.

  The boats are small, the Nina only sixty-five feet in length and eighteen feet wide.  Below deck is storage – only.  The crew spent the whole voyage on deck, virtually unprotected from the elements.  That is really mind-blowing to consider even though they did know that there was major landmass a good deal west of their point of departure.  A body of knowledge that began with the Vikings made that fairly plain.  They were though, of course, wrong with their thoughts of what it was.

  Which brought to mind an interview with alpinist Voytek Kurtyka that I’d just read.  “But hell, I’ve had several great things happen in my life against all reason.  What’s even more interesting is that if you manage to do something is spite of reason, the level of satisfaction is even greater – downright divine….  If something is happening inside us, there can be no boredom, and life is beautiful.  I create therefore I am.”*

   A conflation of recollections of my own past escapades with thoughts of the mindsets of Columbus and crew upon their return home was tough to extinguish.  Who gives a shit about gold?  I needed though, badly, to get some work done and headed back toward my office when I noticed something else making fast to the seawall.  It was huge.  Damn.  “Wonder what that is…”  After I’d figured that out, it was time to take my friend Nellie for a walk in the woods. 

  Sure hope I figure out how to turn plan B into even a modest revenue stream before my little pile of precious metal runs out.  Woe is me.

  *Alpinist 43 Summer 2013 Interview by Zbyszek Skierski 

Nina 2

Nina 3

You Know It Is Going To Be Something Cool…

April 19, 2013

Abby shot 3

  OK, as those few of you who occasionally visit this space can attest, I have a very short attention span and find it impossible to stay on the same subject for very long.  Nonetheless, it is necessary to return to one, a rather arcane one at that, less than twelve months after having first addressed it . * Rabies.

  You know it is going to be something cool when your kids call in the middle of the night.  Like about  3:00AM a few Saturdays ago.  Picked up the phone and youngest daughter – who I knew to be in Costa Rica – was on the line.  “Dad!  I’m freaking out!  I think I’m going to die!”  She had plenty of breath so I figured her demise was probably not exactly imminent so I asked what was up.

  “I’m staying in this open air hostel in the middle of the jungle and I just woke up with some sort of huge possum or rat biting my toe!  There’s blood everywhere.  Think I’m going to die?”  Well, I thought, she probably won’t exsanguinate if only her big toe was involved.  “Everybody’s got to go sometime.” I replied, “but I don’t think this will be yours.  You’re going to have to get rabies vaccination when you get home though”.

  After she hung up I messaged Dr Brother who agreed about the rabies series and said that she should organize some antibiotics.  Fine teeth of small rodents or marsupials insert bacteria more deeply with less likelihood of being easily washed off than, say, in the case of a dog bite.  Just as wife began to rub her eyes and make inquiries phone rang again and daughter asked “figure anything out yet?” 

  “Ya, I’m glad you’re on your own insurance.  When I got the rabies shots it cost me several thousand dollars.  Also, I talked with your uncle and he said that you should get some antibiotics or something in the morning.  Is there a witch doctor in the village?”  “Thanks Dad… I’ll find a pharmacy”, which she did later that morning and at which she discussed her allergies and arranged a course of ‘Ciprofloxacina’ with the help of her IPhone and Google Translate.

Abby shot 1

  She returned to her home in the mountains of Colorado without further drama where we visited her on part of a previously planned trip a few weeks later.  It was fun to accompany her for the first round of shots.    It had been a long while since she’d had an injection and she didn’t believe me when I said that they really didn’t hurt.  Much to her surprise then, the first of six – tetanus – brought a smile to her face.  “You’re right!” she said. 

  However, she wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of loading up her big toe up with gamma globulin which process you can see below.  I said that I wouldn’t be either, but that it was going to be much easier for me to observe than watching the orthopedic doc some years prior stick a big needle in deep behind her kneecap.

In the event, she did drop an F bomb, quietly, and the docs laughed happy to have counterpoint to my commentary.

Abby shot 2

    *June 15, 2012  “Exercise is stupid”

Way Not Complete

December 23, 2012


  Maurice Herzog led an expedition of French Alpinists that in 1950 became the first to summit an 8,000 meter peak, Annapurna.  His stirring account remains the best selling mountain adventure book to this day – more copies having been sold than even Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air.  Herzog’s final line: “There are other Annapurna’s in the lives of men” has been an inspiration to many.

  Herzog died last week which is why I dug up my copy of the book, the cover of which you see above.  Interesting how cartoonish the image appears to us these many years later.  Had to be that way, I guess, because the nature of the narrative had not yet entered the common consciousness, hadn’t become part of the zeitgeist.  Sir Edmund Hillary, National Geographic, and the likes of Patagonia have changed all that.

  Subsequent books, one by Herzog’s daughter, portray him as having been controlling and egocentric.  Other members of the team had to sign a pledge not to publish their own accounts of the climb until long after his was on the market.  This resulted in the diminution of the heroic efforts of the others, particularly his partner on the summit Louis Lachenal.  M Lachenal remained essentially unknown while Herzog was highly decorated and went on to hold important government posts.

  Whatever happened, it remains an incredible and famously macabre tale.  According to Herzog, Lachenal suggested that conditions were too severe, that they retreat.  They of course did go on to make it to the top and back down, but at the cost of terrible frostbite.  The attempts by Dr Oudot to minimize the ramifications of exposure to high altitude and low temperature can only be described as horrific.  They lost all fingers and toes.

  Whatever he may have been, his description of his first time in the Alps sure makes me think about doing something other than stare into a screen:  “I believe what I felt that day closely resembles what we call happiness.  I also believe that if I felt such happiness in such rigorous circumstances it is because the planned, organized, predigested happiness that the modern world offers is not complete.  It leaves certain sides of man’s nature unsatisfied”.   

  He wrote that in 1953.  Jeesh.

*The quote appeared in his NYT obituary – 12/15/12 




And I Won’t Even Have To Send Her To College

October 19, 2012


  You’ll recall that some months ago (4/20/12) my little black angel had her way with our computer.  Well, now she’s not so little, wife is away for a spell, and thus the major occupation of my increasingly enfeebled mind is that of her energy management.  No small task.  She’s now an eighty pound bolt of black lightening.

  Raring to go at 5:00 AM every morning, a five or so mile run gets her down to about neutral for a while and it’s fun.  Today for example we crossed paths with a young reporter for a local TV station on a live remote.  She was cute, but for some reason evinced perturbation when Nellie attempted to wrestle the microphone from her grip.  More friendly are the folks at the coffee shop close to home.

  Worried sick about the inside of our house, I race home for lunch hoping to beat her full recharge.  So far the worst has been the demise of a phone book and package from LL Bean.  (Please don’t mention this to wife.)  Outside is another story.  While I’ve been changing clothes sweet Nellie has torn drain tile out of the ground and shake shingles from side of house.

  So, every day at noon I grab a quick bite and then take her for a drive to a hike in the woods and problems of a different sort.  There are more than 100 acres of timber where we go and first couple of times out she disappeared.  It’s deer season and some years ago old friend Sauger was ahead of wife and son in these woods.  They crested a hill to see a deer hunter with bow drawn and aimed at our (then) pup!

  We’ve seen (and chased) a few deer, but had no such incident.  However, several days ago I found myself, uh, bewildered in the Daniel Boone sense of the word.  For a good long while and in the rain.  By the time I made it back to our vehicle I had worked up considerable concern, but Nellie was there and I could tell she’d been concerned too because she ran the multiple tight little circles she does when exuberant. 

  The experience was good for us both, first because an approach to the razor’s edge is always invigorating and second, lesson learned, we now pay attention and pretty much stick together.  And finally, for the opportunity to feel such deep connection.  Like wise wife said (12/2/11): “Every dog who comes into my life gifts me with a piece of their heart”.   

*Interesting.  Auto correct wanted me to substitute ‘that’ for the ‘who’ in the last sentence.  Take note couch potatoes, there is no heart in your machine.

Exercise is Stupid

June 15, 2012


  Last Sunday at about 10:00 AM I was running hot and shirtless across a busy intersection near a bike path.  Looking at me on the far side was a big dog with a vaguely disheveled woman, hungover maybe, in tow at the end of a steel collar and lead.  Unfortunately that’s the best recollection I can muster.

  As I veered left a bit, the dog snarled toward me and clenched my right forearm in its jaw.  It was tall enough that it didn’t have to jump up. “It bit me!?” I exclaimed as he let go and lurched toward my groin.  I leaned back as lady wrestled chain with both hands.

  Bleeding not a river, but a decent crimson creek I told the pair that I love dogs and was not inclined to make a big deal of the incident.  She said nothing and looked confused.  “Thing have its rabies shots?” I asked?  “Uh, ya” she finally mumbled stumbling away.  Maybe was even still drunk.

  That was it.  Right side covered in blood, I ran the mile or so to meet my took a shortcut wife who was impressed, then on home to call Dr Brother.  “Uh, I think I’d want proof” he said.  “Make sure to wash it off well and check to see if your tetanus is up to date”.  Hmm, I drove back to the scene then and several times later to try to cross paths and verify.  No luck.

  Did a bit of research and found that it has been a long time since anyone has contracted rabies from a dog bite in the USA – due to widespread and multifarious animal control measures as well as some 40,000 post incident inoculations annually.  Uh, also learned that a horrible violent death follows an untreated case of that viral disease nearly 100% of the time. 

  Called the county health department to find if there is a record of canine rabies cases in the area.  “Uhm let me see: none this year – yet, one in 2011, two in ten, five in ’09, why?”  I explained.  She took down the whole story, told me that by law dog bites must be reported and that there were more than enough rabid bats, skunks, and coons about for dog owners’ concern to be caused let alone mine.

  She’d have animal control undertake a thorough series of patrols, talk to the MD County Health Director, and get back to me.  Oh boy.  The grim but vivid tales from childhood of torturous dog bite aftermaths overwhelmed my consciousness.  Big Needles.  In the Stomach.  Twice a day for like a year.

  “Mr. Dumbass?, this is the county health department calling”.  “Hello”.  “There’s been no sign of your assailant and our director says that you should begin the inoculation series as soon as possible.  Supposed to start within seventy-two hours of the bite and you’re a bit past that.  Where would you like to have them?” “Not in my stomach” I quickly responded.  “No, I mean which emergency room.”  “Oh”.

  While typing up paperwork the ER receptionist told me that one receives multiple injections on the first visit.  “Last guy took twelve”.  I wondered how long the horrible violent death throes might last.  “It is based on body weight and that guy was well over 200 pounds so he had several in each shoulder, thigh, and buttock.

  That wasn’t bad news.  I don’t have nearly 200 pounds and thus likely wouldn’t even have to pull down my shorts.  Nurse was cute to boot.  One shot in each thigh and shoulder.  One at bite site. 0.5ml of Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis) to top it all off. Have to go back in three, seven, and fourteen days for more.  Piece of cake.  Oh ya, except for the thousand + bucks. 

  Shoulda stayed in bed.  Exercise is stupid.

kids in the middle dog at our feet

June 8, 2012


  Ok, don’t ask me where this is, because I’m not going to tell you.  And you’re gonna want to know.  I guarantee it.  Subtly supernatural it’d be the perfect haunt for a New World Merlin or Gandalf.  Those who’ve passed through leave imbued with a sense of wonder not to be dimmed by triumph, trial, or TV.

  Roommate and I stumbled upon it as kids which is why it came to mind when we had several of our own.  We were graced with the recollection and thought that the spot would be a great place to camp with a young group because it offered a wilderness experience minutes from home.  No foolin’. I took these photos this morning on my way to work!

  Well, maybe I didn’t take the route a crow might, but uhm, my house is basically centre ville, yard abuts an interstate, and even so I was alone and nearly lost to the sound of water some five to ten minutes after pulling out of my driveway.  Not a park or public land.  Like I said, secret.


  It’s a place the glaciers missed as you can see from the rugged limestone escarpment in the video below.  There is thus flora and fauna not often seen elsewhere.  I would have taken photos of the red columbine, but it’s not out yet.  Bluebirds, orioles, crawdads, and deer – rare before the herd explosion of the last twenty years.  We’d take plaster casts of their hoofmarks in the mud.


  Many massive sycamore trees magnificent in their addition to the canopy.  They in fact cover and hide this section of the creek and the cliffs from all but the most intrepid passers nearby.  We’d be quiet until dusk and before a bit after the sun came up because uninitiated could pass that close and not notice our presence without an aural clue.

  We all felt a subtle power, possessed of special knowledge as we’d silently watch folks chatter by unaware.  It came as no surprise to learn that Native Americans considered such sycamore groves sacrosanct.  After dark, we’d have a scrumptious repast and a huge roaring fire to complete our rite. Then into the tent kids in the middle and dog at our feet.


Think With Your Hands

September 9, 2011


  OK, the other day I was near a bookstore in its final death throes, having been killed by the internet, Amazon, et al.  Sign said “80% off” so I decided to go in and see if there was anything interesting left.  There was!  Edward Tufte’s Visual Explanations – Images and Quantities, Evidence, and Narrative. 

  The Boston Globe calls the book “A Visual Strunk and White”.  The New York Times calls Tufte: “The Leonardo of Data”.  No understatements.  With wit, verve, and beauty the author convincingly shows how good design matters.

  One of many cases in point.  We learn that it was poor design that allowed the Space Shuttle Challenger to explode, and I’m not referring to the engineering of the Shuttle or its launch vehicle themselves, but rather that of charts engineers used the day before the launch in an unsuccessful attempt to convince NASA that an explosion was likely.

  The physical problem was that the cold temperatures predicted for launch date would attenuate the resilience of critical rubber o-rings allowing propellant to escape and conflagrate.  The chart below is but one of several holding data describing the danger.  Of their many faults Tufte cites inadvertent visual dissembling: “Chartjunk”. In contrast “Good design brings absolute attention to data”.

  Then he recounts the famous experiment undertaken by the Nobel Prizewinning Physicist Richard Feynman in front of the commission investigating the accident.  Using a small c-clamp he’d brought with him, he squeezed an o-ring and put it in a glass of ice water for a few moments.

  As he removed and released the bit of rubber, it became immediately apparent that the cold kept it from springing back.  “I believe that has some significance for our problem”.  The utter clarity of his presentation and his deadpan understatement blew the minds of the masses who saw it on TV or read about it in the printed press.

  “Never have so many viewed a single physics experiment.  As Freeman Dyson rhapsodized:  “The public saw with their own eyes how science is done, how a great scientist thinks with his hands, how nature gives a clear answer when a scientist asks her a clear question.”

  So, now, my questions are first: Without shelves loaded with books in a store through which to meander, how will one be able to occasion such moments of serendipitous edification?  Seriously.  And more important (again) what will the internet do to the potential for the development of great minds that “think with their hands”? 

  Here’s a response to question #2.  Reformed nerd Nick Carr has written a Pulitzer nominated book, The Shallows, What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains and penned an article for The Atlantic titled “Is Google Making us Stupid?”  Slate called his work “Silent Spring for the literary mind”.        

  Carr believes that “…there’s legitimate reason to be fearful.  I’m just suggesting that data technology is becoming so dominant that we’re losing the opportunity and the encouragement to engage in what I think is the highest form of thought.”*

  I’m gonna get some sort of grip exerciser. 

*”The Reluctant Luddite.  Nicholas Carr is a Net user of the first order, but he believes his brain is paying for it.”  Article by Dirk Olin in the Sept/Oct ’11 Dartmouth Alumni Review.


Mens Sano In Corpore Sano

July 24, 2011


  I’d been wondering why my MD brother had no TV in his place (none!) till I began paging through another of his JAMAs (Journal of the American Medical Association).  I figured it out when the following heart pounding sounding title caught my eye: “Television Viewing and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease, and All-Cause Mortality”.

  Made me think of the phrase above from the first line of Juvenal’s Satire X which reads in full: “It is to be prayed that the mind be sound in a sound body”.  It will come as no surprise that I’m in agreement and don’t think that either will be enhanced in front of a tube.  (cf “couch potato category tab below right.)  Still, it is fun to see actual peer reviewed evidence (for which I need a dictionary to understand!) in support.

  The study “revealed a linear increase in risk with the number of hours per day of TV viewing for both type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease; the association with all cause mortality appeared stronger with TV viewing time of greater than three hours per day”.

  Interestingly, the authors also relate that for a group of nine year olds, reduced time in front of the television slowed increases in body mass index even without change in physical activity.  No thoughts of “free” Happy Meals and “Livin’ It”.

  Or like Mason Williams* wrote in 1969, “Network television wants to keep you stupid so you’ll watch it”.  And: “Television is not a salesman with his foot in your door, it’s a salesman with his foot in your head”.  

*Mason Williams is an incredible creative force.  He recorded his “Classical Gas” on twelve string guitar in 1968 and won two Grammys.  He was a writer for the groundbreaking Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour the cancelation of which was in part the motivation for the book the cover of which you see above.  He was briefly head writer for Saturday Night Live and could be said to have conceived of music videos and recorded the first one.

Ripple Patterns

June 24, 2011


  After innumerable vehicular gridlocked approaches to Chicago’s skyline over the last nearly sixty years, a recent one from the east afloat through mist and fog was ethereal and otherworldly.  It was like walking into a theater with the most magnificent of backdrops and a smoke generator laying cover for the first act.

  It was incredible.  We were sailing downwind in a light breeze, so it was silent at first.  All one could do was stare.  Time passed, we continued toward the marina at Monroe and Lake Shore Drive.  The air cleared a bit and the sounds of water lapping at hulls and unladen halyards woke us up.  Sun burned and we soon saw more clearly the iconic rectilinearity, strangely yet bereft of the usual downtown din.

  The experience reminded me of something I read about the ascent of man, how “From the stone age to ancient Greece to the Maya to modern Japan, the most technologically advanced and economically successful human beings have often been seafarers and fisheaters”*

  “…people reached the Andaman islands, Melanesia and Australia, all of which required sea crossing, within a few thousand years – whereas it took them tens of thousands of years even to begin to oust our Neanderthal rivals from Europe and inland Asia.

   I wonder about the conscious (or not so) experience of those voyages eons before even Columbus.  Were they reckless forays into the truly unknown or an adventurous hewing to a vestigial instinct?  I’ve read about Polynesian navigators able to find their way through open sea solely by reading ripple patterns on its surface. 

  Something’s gotta be going on there.  Something not to be found on a cruise ship.  Something the zeitgeist lost somewhere between the acquisition of language and literacy.  I need a compass.  Scratch that – I need a GPS.

*WSJ”We Are the Apes Who Took to the Sea”, Matt Ridley, WSJ 3-12/13/11





At Me Too Is Someone Looking?

February 25, 2011


  A recent experiment* suggested that certain sorts of simple movements can improve creative thinking.  Researchers had students squeeze a rubber ball with their right and left hands before taking a test – success on which required “the formation of associative links between otherwise unrelated concepts in order to solve problems in novel ways”.

  Those squeezing the ball with their left hand outperformed both those using their right and those with their hands clutching nothing at all.  Researchers assume that the activity undertaken on the left stimulated the brain’s right hemisphere in which at least part of one’s creative potential is thought to reside.

  I’ve exposited in this space many times in different ways about movement and its importance to cerebral dynamics and physical fitness.  If a few forearm contractions can measurably enhance one’s imagination, think about the benefits of a holistic regimen for a while and then consider the ramifications of a lack thereof.

  OK.  Let’s start at the very beginning – a very good place to start.  In an article in the New Yorker** Rebecca Mead tells us “How tot lots became places to build children’s brains”.  She tells us that an understanding the expenditure of valuable energy in ‘play’ activities begins with the observation that the most intelligent animals all engage in them.

  Ms Mead cites anthropologist Melvin Konner who defines play as “inefficient, partly repetitive movements in varied sequences with no apparent purpose”.  He goes on: “The idea is that natural selection designed play to shape brain development … [it is] directing [one’s own] brain assembly”.

  And ya gotta keep doin’ it.  Most will agree that physical activity is essential for physical health.  It’s essential for your headbone too.  No one will convince me that hours spent moving a mouse or flippin’ IPad pages will supplant squeezing that ball.

  If the only vigorous exercise you get is struggling with footwear at either end of the day you’ll end up like Vladimir in Beckett’s Godot: “We have time to grow old.  The air is full of our cries.  But habit is a great deadener.  At me too someone is looking, of me too someone is saying, He is sleeping, he knows nothing, let him sleep on”.

* Psychonomic Bulleton & Review 2010, 17 (6), 895-899 Goldstein et al

**State of Play, The New Yorker, July 5, 2010

***cf post 1/24/2008 – “Let’s Dance”