Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for April 28th, 2011

Good read of ominous move

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The key is that our national government makes its decisions on the basis of official intelligence, so who controls the intelligence controls, to a large extent, our government. (Although government intelligence’s primary focus is international, the government’s responses to the information can have domestic impact—e.g., defense industries might get additional contracts.)

It has been good, as pointed out in this (recommended) column, that the government had the benefit of two independent sources of intelligence: DoD and the CIA. But now: only one point of view will control both sources of information. And control is the issue.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 April 2011 at 8:41 pm

Climate change and extreme weather

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Scientists working on climatology and climate change have long predicted that one result would be storms of greater severity. I haven’t seen any comments on the amazing storm systems through the South that saw their severity as a symptom of global warming, but it was certainly a predicted consequence. And the storms will get worse as we continue to heat the globe with our CO2 emissions.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 April 2011 at 5:27 pm

Losing weight with minimal time investment

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Steve of Kafeneio pointed out the advantage I have in losing weight: I’m retired, so I have fewer daily distractions.

That’s a good point, so I decided to see how much I could reduce the time commitment and effort, based on my experience to date.

First, minimize decision points. For example, work out a good breakfast (mine is oat bran, turmeric, homemade pepper sauce, a boiled egg, and Bac’Uns) and eat it daily. This may not be possible for those who demand novelty, but as a fallback, they can work out four or five good breakfasts and pick one daily. The idea is that breakfast no longer requires a decision.

Also, do eat a midmorning and midafternoon snack, but make it uniformly a piece of fruit: an apple, an orange, a cup of strawberries. No decision required: get the fruit, eat one piece (or one cup), and that’s the snack.

Thus food decisions come down to two times a day: lunch and dinner. I suggest that those decisions be:

1) what protein to have (and you’ll have 4 oz of whatever it is);

2) what starch to have (and, generally, you have 1/3 to 1/2 cup cooked, usually 1/4 cup before cooking—1/4 cup usually cooks to 1/2 cup, but if I have cooked rice on hand, for example, I take 1/3 cup instead of 1/2 cup, though the latter is a serving: I like a small serving of the starch)

3) the vegetables: pick two; and

4) how to cook: sauté, stew, stir-fry, roast, whatever.

That takes care of the decision part. No additional time involvement over what you’re doing now, since you already fix and eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner in any case. This just tailors the direction of your existing effort.

BTW, food decisions also are easier if you cull your cabinets of all foods you know or strongly suspect you should not eat—if it’s not around, you don’t have to decide whether or not to have some. So get rid of chips, sodas, candy, and the like. (For me, that includes croutons: I don’t have them in the house.)

Next, keep an accurate record of your foods, your weight, and your exercise, daily. Technology helps here: the Withings scale records your weight and lean-body mass and computes your BMI with every weighing, and since it is Wi-fi enabled, you automatically build a record that you can view as a graph, download as a spreadsheet, etc. No time required, and you can look at your record on your computer, iPad, or smartphone. So keeping daily accurate track of your weight takes no time at all.

The food does require entering the meal, but the breakfast and snacks can basically be entered with a keystroke, so again the only issues are lunch and dinner. I recommend using FatSecret.com or some similar site, and using your smartphone or iPad (or computer) to record the foods on the spot.

Exercise is similarly recorded in FatSecret or the like.

So the only significant time or effort demand so far is taking out your smartphone at a meal and recording what you ate.

The other thing is to look at the data—the record of foods, exercise, and weight—and think about it. I used a journal, but perhaps you can just review it of an evening, looking at the data and reflecting on it. You may find adjustments. You may find, like me, that you have been unconsciously eating foods of which you were unaware. But (in my experience) after about six months of keeping an accurate record and reviewing it, and tackling problems as they occur (my discovery of the “bites” problem), you’ll find that you “get it” and understand much better what’s going on. And controlling it at that point is rather easy—or so I’ve found.

The point: with a little technology, some of which you may already own, you can swing into this with practically no investment of time, just by paying attention.

Just a thought.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 April 2011 at 9:21 am

Posted in Daily life, Fitness

A Speick shave

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A very fine shave indeed. Speick is good stuff. Great lather, with a slippery feeling on my face as I rinsed between passes. The Mühle open-comb is a fine razor, and with the Astra Superior Platinum blade, it did a fine job. Three passes, a splash of Speick, and I’m good to go.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 April 2011 at 9:04 am

Posted in Shaving

Those little unconscious engines

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It’s generally recognized that we have a highly active unconscious, and scientists have devised many ingenious experiments to tease out and expose its activity. I’m talking about the little engines/processes/subpersonalities or whatever that take on various tasks so the conscious mind, wherein dwells our sense of “self”, won’t have to deal with them: when you’re scanning a crowd, looking for a friend, the face/person recognition engine is highly active and delivers the result to the conscious mind: you “see” your friend’s face, among 20 other similar faces, and you recognize him at once and never think twice about how you did that. (Sometimes you can even play with this little engine: a bush at dusk looks like a person, then you see it’s a bush, but then you can see the person again, etc. Or seeing the shapes in clouds.)

Indeed, I think my sudden “grasp” (after six months of recording and thinking about the data) of what was going on with my food/exercise/weight was simply that a pattern-recognition routine in my unconscious had been pecking away at all that, driven by my conscious attention to those details and my conscious mulling them over in my journal, and somehow, with that much data and that much effort, integrated all that, separated signal from noise, and I “got” it: I recognized the pattern, the interconnections, and the chain of causality in some detail—my understanding of food, exercise, and weight was no longer merely an intellectual understanding residing in my conscious mind. Rather, by the continuing effort, my unconscious mind had grasped the pattern and now had its own essential understanding, so that it could deliver, as it were, the appropriate responses to food and exercise to my conscious mind, much as the little pattern-recognition guy delivered the recognition of my friend’s face: “There he is!” in the latter instance being analogous to “I don’t want to eat that!” in the former.

By presenting the data, pondering them, and maintaining a strong desire for fitness, my unconscious (which has a myriad of tasks going on, so you do have to persist to get its attention and cooperation) joined the game, and at that point it was no longer such a struggle between my conscious and my unconscious. Thus “viewing my food in a new light” is more or less the natural result of “my unconscious now has a new understanding of food.”

In fact, it was on this diet that I became convinced of the reality and action of these little unconscious engines. Despite recording what I was eating each day, and staying well within my own personal guidelines, I was gaining weight or not losing weight, as shown by my thrice-weekly visits and weigh-ins. The counselor worked me to adjust to my personal metabolism the specifics of the diet tailored to my general characteristics (weight, lean body mass, age, level of activity, etc.). So we cut it from 4 servings of starch a day to 3, for example. (It wasn’t all cutting, of course: my usual breakfast lacked sufficient protein, so I added an egg.)

These adjustments helped, but the weight loss still wasn’t happening right. Something was slowing it. I observed in my records that I ended a month the same weight as when I began. Then I noticed myself getting a bite of food in the kitchen, after dinner. It was just a bite, so I didn’t record it, but it did set me thinking.

I realized rather quickly that it wasn’t just one bite when I went into the kitchen, it was a bite (or two) every time I went into the kitchen after dinner. And I went into the kitchen every time I got out of my chair over the course of the evening, which was fairly often. I was eating an entire second dinner—or more—over the course of the evening and recording none of it. Mystery solved!

An obvious and simple solution: no bites of food save at a meal or one of the two daily snacks (which were just a piece of fruit). But implementing that was tricky. I quickly discovered that I was eating the bites unconsciously. The bites were not a conscious decision, and indeed sometimes (after I instituted the no-bites regimen) I would discover myself chewing and realize I had taken a bite when my thoughts and attention were elsewhere—diverted, I think, so the bite could be taken. One of those unconscious guys really wanted those bites—or, in alternative language, the bites had become a habit that I did without thinking about it, like using the turn signal when I’m going to make a turn: I no longer think about it, I just do it automatically. So it was with the bites.

I remember one instance in which The Wife was over and we had just had dinner and were watching a movie (My Dinner with Andre). I was taking the plates into the kitchen, and The Wife said, “No bites” as I went into the kitchen. I laughed and agreed, put the dishes in the sink and the leftovers away, and when I walked back into the living room, I was chewing, and she said, “No bites!” and it was only then that I realized I had taken a bite while putting away the leftovers.

That made me think that these little unconscious processes were not only real, I could detect some of their handiwork. Because certainly it was not me (the conscious me whom I consider to be my self) that took that bite. Consciously, I was not taking a bite and not going to take a bite. But the unconscious found me distracted and took the bite while my attention was elsewhere.

I did extinguish the bites habit (or retrained that little engine, your choice) in the usual way: by maintaining awareness as best I could. I started recognizing—usually by my chewing—that I had taken a bite after the fact. Then, fairly soon, I would detect it as I took the bite. And then I would detect it as I was about to take the bite, and put the fork, still full, back into the pan. Then I would detect the impulse, sometimes as early as when I got out of my chair, sometimes in the kitchen, and I would kill the impulse. Finally, the struggle—want a bite! no!—took place so early in the process that it occurred beneath the level of my consciousness: I was unaware of any impulse, I just wasn’t taking bites.

That discovery and process convinced me utterly that there was more going on in this than I was aware of consciously. But I had indeed discovered that unconscious process at work and retrained it, so my consciousness was at least a player in the game. I just had to be aware that there were other players whom I could not see, and if the ball, instead of sailing into the net, suddenly went another direction, then that was due to one of the players invisible to my eyes.

It’s a control issue. I’m feeling now as though I control what I eat, rather than the food controlling me. But of course the food never controlled me: it’s out there, I’m in here. But I’m in here with all these invisible players who operate according to their own agenda, harmless (there’s your friend’s face!) or not (take a bite!). So the control is not control of food, it’s control of these processes.

I wonder whether Pilates is in on this: Pilates himself called it “Contrology” and his emphasis was on the brain controlling the body. The exercises, as you learn and gradually master them, necessarily open new pathways in the brain (as does, say, learning a piano piece so that you can play it thinking only of expression without having to read individual notes). As I’ve noted, our minds live in that brain, and new pathways of control may well affect our thinking.

The fact is that the “bite” discovery happened after I had had four Pilates sessions, FWIW.

UPDATE: It occurred to me that the locution of talking about “do you control your food or does your food control you?”, attributing control of your actions to an external inert thing like food, is a face-saving device to avoid recognition that the controlling entity is not “out there”, it’s “in here”, with your conscious mind—and it’s not your conscious mind. It’s somewhat unnerving to realize that your conscious self can be (and doubtless is, either often or always) under the control of your unconscious. But at least your conscious and unconscious are in it together and can work together—as when you master a new skill both consciously and unconsciously.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 April 2011 at 7:01 am

Posted in Daily life, Fitness

What’s with 6 months?

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When I started my weight-loss effort with Healthy Way, I followed their guidance carefully, keeping my journal of weight, food, and exercise, along with my journal of reflections, and though I lost weight consistently from the gitgo, I felt frustrated and dissatisfied because I couldn’t grasp the connections among the data: true, I was eating right and, overall, losing weight, but each time I got on the scale I had no idea what to expect. It was like walking blindfolded to a destination: even if you arrive, you get the feeling you missed a lot.

And then, about 6.5 months in, I suddenly “got it”: I felt that I suddenly understood, at a deep level (the level at which you play a game without thinking about the rules because they have become simply part of how you think about the game) what I was doing. I felt in control. I knew what I would see (more or less) when I stepped on the scale, and I knew exactly how to lose any weight gained. The whole experience around food lost many of its emotional overtones and became just an enjoyable part of daily life, not an arena of struggle.

I started Pilates around the beginning of November. The last couple of sessions have seemed really different: I am beginning to be able to do the exercises with much better form, which means I am better able now to control my body: when the instructor asks me to do something (drop my shoulders, point my ribs down, and so on), I understand how to do it. I feel as though I am starting to “get it.” Again: right around 6 months.

Last night I was watching a (very good) movie in Spanish—the movie (The Secret in Their Eyes) is set in Argentina and made for a Spanish-speaking audience). The characters are lawyers: educated, speaking educated Spanish, and of course I got the benefit of body language and English subtitles (in yellow with black outline, thank God: white subtitles are the pits—yellow with black outline is best). I was able not only to recognize words here and there, and short exchanges (“Bien“), but even phrases. And when one of the lawyers referred to “una investigación“, I not only heard the words clearly and (as it were) unhurriedly—that is, I was understanding them as they were spoken, not immediately after—I was struck by how the definite article matched the gender of the noun: I had an odd, tiny emotional response of pleasure and a feeling of rightness—very much as if one of my little unconscious pattern-recognition engines was tuned in to that and responded with the feeling of rightness. Antonio Damasio has discussed in his several books how the engine of thought is driven by the energy of emotions, and emotions are essential to all our mental processes—memory, ratiocination, making decisions, and the like.

That set me wondering: things are just starting to come together for me in Spanish, so I wonder where I’ll be after six months of study, at the end of July. I’ll be interested if I experience a similar feeling of integration of what I’ve been working on.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 April 2011 at 6:07 am

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