Do this for 5 years

Screenshot Sims 3: Sim meditating outside

Meditation is good for body and mind. (But playing The Sims 3 is more fun.)

Another question from Quora: What can I start doing now that will help me a lot in about five years?

The asker identifies as a 23-year old student, but the answer I will give here in some detail applies to pretty much everyone who is not a child and who expects to live for another five years or more.

Get started with meditation and/or brainwave entrainment.

Get started today, because the benefits accumulate over time. They actually compound, as in compound interest. Meaning: Not only is your brain slightly improved each time you meditate, but after you have meditated for five years, each 20-minute session is more effective than it was when you started. After ten year years, it is even more effective, and so on. After decades of reasonably regular meditation practice, meditation is amazingly powerful. You can enter into a deep state of meditation literally in a heartbeat, faster than a single breath. I am not making this up, I just tested this standing on my cold kitchen floor before I started writing this entry. There are others who are far more attuned to meditation than I am. But the point is, the sooner you get started, the more difference it will make every day for the rest of your life.

A habit of meditation will actually change your brain in ways that are visible on a tomography, but this takes many years. The changes first happen on a microscopic level. As more and more connections form in higher levels of your brain, the way it functions is slowly improved. This is how meditation becomes more powerful over time. It is not pure magic, although it was indistinguishable from magic until a few years ago. (And thus was often ridiculed by the would-be scientific classes of non-scientists.)

Get started today also because it does not take any time, so you won’t lose out on anything else you do. Meditation and brainwave entrainment both reduce the time you need to sleep to retain the same wakefulness, concentration and body repair. Most of you probably sleep too little as is, so I don’t recommend you sleep less. But you can, if you don’t want to be more clear-headed, energetic and healthy than you are today. A rule of thumb is that half an hour of meditation replaces an hour of sleep, but an hour of meditation does not replace two hours of sleep. In other words, you cannot simply replace sleep with meditation. But a moderate amount of meditation – up to an hour at least – will actually be free or more than free, leaving you as much time as before to do all the other things you want to do in life. More time, actually, especially as you get more attuned and your meditation becomes more powerful.

Secular meditation is now widely taught. If you already have a religion, you may want to learn the form of spiritual practice that is practiced in it, whether it be meditation, contemplation, chanting, holy dance, ritual prayers, holy reading or something else. But I will assume that the reader does not already practice wordless prayer or something equal to it, and recommend that you take up scientific meditation.

Rather than instruct you in meditation, as I did when the Internet was young, I think I should just refer you to the mostly harmless website Project Meditation. I am not really affiliated with them, I just hang out at their forum occasionally and also use their brainwave entrainment product, LifeFlow. You don’t need to be a customer to use their other services, including a thorough introduction to meditation, and a very good section called Principles of Meditation & Entrainment. It is written by one of the forum members, not the site staff. This particular person was the reason why I decided to go for Project Meditation rather than their more advertising competitor. His writing resonates so much with my heart that I would recommend him over myself if you want advice.

The text also refers to brainwave entrainment. There are various technologies for doing this, and the LifeFlow sound track used three of them. There are also visual systems. I recommend first practicing meditation without entrainment for a couple weeks, then use entrainment if you want, and eventually you will no longer need it for ordinary meditation. You may use them for special purposes perhaps. I use delta entrainment as a prelude to sleep, since I have Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome and cannot naturally produce deep sleep early in the night. But I would not recommend a newbie to use delta entrainment. I have recommended it before, but it seems to cause various nasty side effects in untrained people, or at least some untrained people, such as headache or seeing double. I guess it is a bit like asking a couch potato to run a competition sprint. Start with something easier.

Project Meditation has a free 10Hz sample you can download. Looping this MP3 file, you can use it for as long as you want, so you don’t need to buy anything unless you want to proceed to the more fancy stuff. There are also various other free brainwave entrainment opportunities on the Web, including some YouTube videos. Video can help you concentrate in some cases if your mind tends to wander a lot.

Again, let me say: You don’t spend time on meditation. You gain time from meditation. The exception is the first day, when you learn what it is about and decide on which technique to use. After that, it is free and more than free. It improves your brain, it improves your immune system, and it makes you feel better throughout the days and years remaining of your life.

One small warning: I only recommend a modest amount of meditation for ordinary people who want to stay ordinary people. Excessive meditation can cause dramatic changes in personality, seemingly supernatural experiences, and in some cases actual psychosis (insanity), at least if there is a family disposition toward it. 20-40 minutes a day should be fine, but meditation for hours a day should only be undertaken under the guidance of an expert and after conferring with health professionals. Of course, the same goes for eating several pounds of oranges a day, so I am mostly disclaiming here.

Just say no to women

Screenshot anime Ore no Kanojo...

“Don’t get a case of love on the brain!” Men will go to great lengths to impress a beautiful woman (or, failing that, some other woman). Unfortunately the planet could pay the price.

Humans are amazingly intelligent and rational … compared to our furry and feathered friends. But primitive, instinctual tendencies still influence us, and now that we have the power to change the whole planet, this has dramatic effects. We change the climate, unravel food chains, drive thousands of species to extinction. We already have the capacity to erase multicellular life on Earth, and our power is still growing.

In light of this, my worry is not the women as such. My worry is the effect they have on men. Men instinctively try to impress women, and women instinctively encourage it, unless both of them are constantly keeping watch over themselves. There are also other forces pulling in the same direction, notably the need to keep up with the neighbors, to impress our peers. But the strongest motivation is the man’s unceasing drive to impress women, so that he can make at least one of them stay with him.

Modern capitalism – more specifically consumerism – has harnessed this drive. While it is still possible to impress women with physical prowess or rapier wit, modern capitalism has turned these things also into money. As a top athlete you can earn vast amounts of money, and so can a genius inventor who might otherwise be easily overlooked. Unfortunately, this also means someone else is always earning more than you, or may do so next year. To maximize your chance to win and keep a woman, you need to do better, always. If it means the end of life as we know it in some hazy future, well, that’s the way the biosphere crumbles.

Conveniently, the blossoming of consumerism / modern capitalism coincides with general legalization of divorce, and eventually “paperless marriages” – cohabitation – as the norm, as seen in the Nordic countries, the most advanced societies on Earth. It is hard to disagree that humans should have the freedom to leave an unhappy relationship. But the more we are encouraged by society to constantly compare our mates against the elite (as shown on TV), the more relationships become unhappy. And this is wonderful news for the capitalists, who earn money both from your hard work and your hard spending: Knowing that your wife may be gone (or, in Scandinavia, may have locked you out) tomorrow … that certainly spurs a man to do his best. Or if he fails to do so, he will learn his lesson. Unfortunately, doing his best usually means spending more money buying more stuff and dumping more old stuff at a landfill.

It would be an exaggeration to say that humans are like weaver birds, where the male depends on huge, elaborate, decorated nests to attract a mate. We are much more varied than that, and on the individual level the effect may be as good as invincible. But on a global scale, it has a huge effect. Because we are much smarter than the weaver birds, our nests change the whole planet. But because we are not quite smart enough to see through our instincts, there is not much we can do about it.

It is not necessary that all, or even most, men prioritize impressing women over preserving the environment. It is enough that substantially more do it – or more eagerly – than those who have the opposite priority. Opposite, not different. And the facts speak for themselves in that regard.

Celibacy is not a collective solution, obviously. It is a lot of fun on an individual level, and it allows one to see things that the paired must necessarily be blind to just to preserve their sanity and sense of coherent self. But if everyone was like me, this would be the last generation of humans. That would be a tragic loss for the cosmos indeed, since we seem to be the only species that even knows that the cosmos exists!

It is up the women, therefore, to start selecting for ecologically conscious mates, if they want their offspring to roam this (currently) blue and green planet for more than a few decades more. Or alternatively, we may reduce reproduction to a level where humans no longer swarm the planet in the billions. If there were 7 million instead of 7 billions of us, we could all live like Scandinavians without exterminating new species every day. So on that level, yeah, I guess celibacy would work. Just not all at once, please! Heh. Fat chance.

The future of LED lighting?

Two circular LED lights with 19 diodes each

This is not how you normally see the new LED lights. They are used for indirect lighting, usually mounted under or over shelves. It is not recommended to look straight at them, I doubt it is dangerous but it certainly is uncomfortable.

Electricity has been quite well understood for more than a century, and I remember LED – light emitting diodes – used as on/off indicators on radios etc in my youth, more than 30 years ago. Not much later did I buy a nightlight using the same technology. It was faint, but used almost no power. It was the only light source that converted electricity to light so efficiently, losing almost nothing as heat in the process.

It was only the last decade or less that I started to get LED-based torchlights and head-mounted lights. By now the high-energy blue LEDs had been invented. While these had more energy loss in the conversion, they were still more efficient than the competition. Coating high-energy LEDs with a phosphorescent material allowed white light instead of blue, but some energy was lost in the process.

Only the last couple years have LED-based light bulbs been affordable and widely available enough that I could replace the incandescent bulbs in my apartment with white LED bulbs. These fit in the same sockets, but have a converter in their base which also draws power and produces a fair amount of heat. Depending on the type and brightness, LED bulbs use from 20% down toward 10% of the electricity used by a corresponding old-fashioned incandescent bulb. They also are expected to last 15-30 years, so it should be a good investment even at today’s prices. On the other hand, prices are still sliding, so it will likely become even cheaper in the future.

The practice of retrofitting, simply replacing incandescent bulbs with LED, is not optimal. To get that much brightness in the shape and size of the old bulb, you have to pack the LEDs densely together and close to the heat-producing converter. Since we mostly are lazy and hate change, this cannot be avoided, and there will probably be further progress in this area. But it is already possible to get more light (and less heat) out of the same electricity, simply by changing the size and shape of the light source.

The usually circular plates with many small diodes are sold for uplight and downlight, to be mounted under or on top of shelves, cupboards etc so as to cast their light up toward the ceiling or down toward the floor, providing indirect lighting to nearby parts of the room. Because they don’t need to be packed tightly, they don’t have a heating problem and are more effective and less likely to fade or break over time. They add very little heat and use little electricity.

I recently bought a pack with three such light circles, although it can be expanded to five. I am impressed with how much light they give, and they stay cool. I hope eventually, when the incandescent bulb is a thing of the past, flat-panel LED lighting will become the standard.

One can imagine bars or rectangles with rows of diodes, covered with a semi-opaque cover that diffuses the light enough to hide the individual diodes and not make the lamp painful to look at. These could be mounted in full view and provide a stylish illumination in new or renovated homes, either fixed to wall or ceiling, or vertically as movable lamps, perhaps shaped like a “staff”, with the power transformer in the dark lower part and a brightly shining upper section to illuminate the surrounding room. Or if that is too bright, another possible form is a “platter” pointing up toward the ceiling, causing a bright spot there to make the room bright. I have not seen these shapes yet, but I would not be surprised if they are already out there. The shape of the bulb has survived so far, but I don’t expect it to last forever.

Is dating down possible?

Screenshot anime Ore no Kanojo

“Why do I have to reduce myself to the level of [dating] such rubbish?”  It is a good question. Various people have given this some thought.

Another Quora question!

What is it like to date up or date down? Or in general, date someone who is not on your social/intellectual level?

Many of the answers took some degree of offense to the very notion of dating up and down, and reasonably so. If you really thought the other person below you, you probably would not date them in the first place, unless it was some sort of entertainment or something. Usually people have different strengths, so you may be “above” in one category and “below” in another.

For instance, imagine I had the opportunity to date an otherwise sane woman who was debt-free, had a million-dollar house, a great car, lived in a good neighborhood. But suppose she had an average mind, an IQ of 100 and normal human interests. Perhaps she had inherited the money, or won a lottery, or just been lucky with some decision earlier in her life. Who of us would be dating up and who would be dating down? I am barely middle-class by Norwegian standards, but a tried and tested genius with boundless curiosity and some creativity as well. Chances are we would both think we were dating down, so it is unlikely there would be a second date.

The same applies if I were to date a strikingly beautiful woman, someone who made a living off her looks and was looked up to for that. Like money, looks is something I don’t have and sincerely prefer to live without, as they attract the wrong (stupid) kind of attention. So that would probably be a very short relationship, to say the least.

It gets a little different if I met a woman who was an accomplished musician or singer. It is a talent I don’t have much of (or, in the case of singing, worse than nothing). But it is something I can respect and admire. A professional musician has spent thousands of hours practicing, so it is certainly something I can look up to.

The ideal dates, and marriages, are where both think the other is “up”. That is evidently not uncommon, although it sometimes fades after a while. But it is rare that there is a standard which both agree on and yet one of them condescends to dating the loser repeatedly. It does not really make much sense.

Of course, I may be wrong, since dating is a bit outside my circle of interests. Anyway, you can read a number of personal testimonies on the matter on Quora. See you there someday, perhaps?

Read for your life!

Graybeard, from game Skyrim

A Graybeard, the vaguely religious old scholars / monks of Skyrim.

Does exercise of the mind cause longevity more than exercise of the body?

In fantasy novels, wizards tend to live much longer than ordinary people, although they don’t stay young. They generally tend to be healthy and spry for their age, though. This trope probably came to be because the real-life template for wizards were sages, who needed that long and healthy life to acquire all that knowledge and insight. So the long life was the cause rather than the effect, whereas in the fantasy stories it is the other way around.

Then again, the other day I read in Dagens Næringsliv (Daily Business in Norwegian) that male priests and university lecturers lived on average 11 years longer than farmhands and deckhands. It was implied that these groups represented the opposite sides when it came to career and longevity. I have mentioned before that gardeners tend to live long as well, but these were the groups that were listed this time, here in Norway at least. That brings up a fascinating reflection: If exercise is good for your health, why do those who don’t have time for it outlive those who do it for a living?

There is hardly any doubt that physical movement is a good thing. I know this from experience. Back when I was on the verge of losing my job due to wrist and arm pain, my doctor told me to exercise – fast walking at the very least – for an hour a day. In 2005 I started doing just that, and my body healed considerably. Not only did the pain recede, but skin rashes and wounds that refused to grow also healed. Moving about is warmly recommended. But it is not something scholars are famous for. Well, they may pace back and forth, but they are not famous for excessive physical activity. Mental activity, on the other hand…

In my own fantasy novel in progress, The 1001st Book, the final Gift of Thoth is that studying his books will not contribute to your aging. That is obviously not what happens in real life, but there may be more subtle ways in which serious study contributes to a long and reasonably healthy life. Let me bring up two hypotheses.

One is that aging of the body is a very slow process. It is usually when the mind falters that things take a sharp turn for the worse. When Alzheimer’s disease, small strokes or other forms of dementia robs you of your survival skills, you get in trouble: You forget to eat, or forget that you have already eaten; you forget to take your prescription drugs, or forget that you already took them; you forget to wear suitable clothes for the weather; you try to do things that your body is no longer strong enough for; your friendships unravel and you may even distrust your own family, causing fear and frustration. In short, a lot of stress for body and mind hasten your decline.

Building a lot of connections in your brain will not hold dementia at bay forever, but it is shown to delay its onset quite a bit. (It happens faster once it happens, but by then you may already have outlived your less thoughtful classmates.) Lifelong studying helps build those plentiful connections. So does spiritual practices. Whether it is the actual study or the willpower you train up by sticking to it, the result is that the higher centers of coordination in the front of the brain grow larger and stay alive longer, as well as developing multiple pathways to connect the various parts of the brain.

The other hypothesis I have is that people who read a lot tend to eat less. While not all scholars are thin, it is a stereotype for a reason. They are certainly less likely to be obese than the average, not to mention their opposites. With all due respect for running around, there is only so much you can do if you are alleviating your boredom by eating. If you don’t have the boredom in the first place because you are deep in a book until hunger starts gnawing on your stomach, that’s one less problem. And there is also the aforementioned willpower to consider.

We live in a world where there is a certain magnitude of chaos, so we may fall over dead any day for any number of reasons. Doing one thing or another will not guarantee us a long life. But still, if someone came to me and asked: “What shall I do to live a long life in this world?” I would feel obliged to reply: “Read a lot. Don’t rest until you have read a thousand books, not counting airport literature. And then keep reading. Read for your life. Read heavily, think deeply, and live purposefully.”

Go: Adventures in kifu

Felt tip coloring pencils are not ideal for writing game records, but they will do in a pinch, at least for short games.

Today’s newbie Go player report is from the mysterious land of “kifu”. The word means a record or map of the game. It is usually drawn on a simple picture of a Go board. On each intersection you write the number of the move. The first move is number 1, the second move is number 2 etc, and you write them on the map where they were played on the board. That way you can easily reconstruct the game later. Seasoned players can even read the game directly from a kifu as if they had watched it, more or less. I am not one of those. Definitely not.

Do you need a kifu? Not if you are just playing for fun. You can play the game and forget about it. Well, you may want to reflect on particularly stupid moves so as to not do those in the future, or on particularly clever moves of the opponent if you can figure them out. But apart from that, it is all water under the bridge.

But if you are studying Go, and want to get better, there are two obvious uses for kifu. You can record your own games so you can reflect on them at your leisure later. Or you can use kifu from better players to replay their games. This is one of the time-proven methods of getting stronger at Go. Even young professionals do it, so I hear. I am definitely not one of them, though.  Still, I wanted to try it.

I did a Google search for “kifu paper”. There are a number of web sites which are eager to tell you to not use the phrase “kifu paper”. It is called “game record form” in English. But that is not a good search term as you will get lots of irrelevant hits. If you search for “kifu paper”, you come straight to the places where these sites tell you not to call it “kifu paper”, which happens to be right where you can download the form as well. ^_^

I picked the one from, it was simple and to the point. Some have circles to write in, but I find it more natural to just write on the intersection. As recommended, I write the black moves in black (blue is fine also) and the white in red. It makes a big difference to how easy it is both to write and read. With this, you will not lose track easily or accidentally write 69 two times in a row. The black numbers are always odd, the red always even. Pure genius.

My first was an attempt to kifu an amateur match between a 9-dan and an 8-dan on the Internet Go Server. When you play yourself on the IGS, you can save a kifu that is made automatically, and download it at your leisure. It is possible you can do this with games you watch too, but the voices in my h… er, I thought it might be a good idea to write it by hand, involving other parts of the body and brain in the process.

I found out that fiber-tip coloring pens are not ideal for writing kifu. Who would have thought it? It worked, for the most part, up to 99. After that things became iffy.

Next out was coloring pencils. These worked well enough, although you may want to have a pencil sharpener around after a while. And who has pencil sharpeners in this age?

Eventually today I caved in and bought a red and a black Pilot V5 Hi-tecpoint 0.5. Because the quality of your Go obviously depends on the quality of your stuff. Well, to humans that may actually be true, since science has proven that people borrowing cheap imitations of brand sunglasses tend to cheat and not act with the dignity of those who borrow the real thing. So it is entirely possible that having an expensive Go board in real kaya wood, and writing your kifu with a quality fountain pen on original printed kifu forms will make you take your Go more seriously. But I like to think I am not like that. I am not saying I am not human (although sometimes I have wondered), but hopefully I am human in a different way than that. Still, a good pen is nice to have around. I haven’t had one in the Chaos Node for years.

So that’s my story. I am kifuing, as I call it, mainly to involve other parts of the body and brain, to improve subconscious learning. But is learning Go a good use of the sunset of your life? The Japanese certainly seem to think so, it is very popular among the elderly there. Millions of Japanese can’t be wrong! OK, they can – millions of Japanese were wrong during World War 2. But not about Go. In fact, if they had come to Pearl Harbor with Go boards, they would probably have won…

#go #igo #baduk #weiqi #kifu

Problems of our time

She's grown up to be really considerate of other people

If we could grow up to become really considerate of other people, we could overcome the challenges of our time. It is this we lack, more than money or technology.

Modern technology and economics have certainly made life easier for billions of people. But the challenges we face now in the 21st century are mainly challenges of the mind. I don’t mean necessarily insanity and such, although of course mental health problems are widespread and very troubling. Rather I mean what we might call “spiritual problems”, although they should be obvious even to those who don’t believe in spirit. Perhaps we could call them “problems of attitude”?

The error of our times is to try to fix attitude problems with technology, economics or legislation. I will not say that these are entirely ineffective. But they can be compared to fixing a leaky roof by placing umbrellas. Not only does it look absurd to those who see it from outside, but it is a short-sighted “solution”, suitable only for those who have no responsibility for the building and are planning to leave soon with their whole family. Hopefully we won’t all be in that situation with regards to this world.

For example, there is now plenty enough food in the world for everyone to eat their fill, and then some. But that is not exactly what happens. True, obesity is now actually afflicting a greater number of humans than is starvation, but there is still starvation. It usually only happens – at least widely – in countries at war or civil war. So it is certainly a problem of attitude, although not necessarily the attitude of the starving. (Although that can certainly happen too, that they are one of the sides in a war, and have some responsibility for it. That is not always the case, though. And in most wars, it is the stronger who attack the weaker.)

Speaking of obesity and health challenges: I know, I know. There are various hormone and metabolism problems that cause people to gain weight at an unnatural pace. It seems unlikely, however, that a fifth or so of the population have mysteriously mutated over the course of a generation or two. In any case, there are good news from science: Even if you are heavier than recommended, this will do little or no harm if you are physically active, exercising at least at moderate intensity for half an hour a day or so. (Or an hour every other day.) So unless you have a mutated metabolism and also a broken spine, you should be doing fine. If you have the right attitude, that is. The attitude that makes you force your body to do things it does not particularly like sometimes.

Unfortunately, many people really exercise their mind making up excuses instead. If people would eat when they were hungry and stop before they were full, and be physically active at least some minutes each day, that alone would stop the huge growth in health expenses in the rich world. I am not kidding. Sure, there are many expenses that come because we can treat illnesses that were fatal in the past. Treatment for these is typically very expensive. But living a life of moderate self-restraint will dramatically reduce the risk of falling gravely ill. Mind you, we are talking of risks here, possibilities and percentages. It is not like the law of gravity which is very simple and predictable. So you can eat right, exercise regularly and die horribly anyway. But on a large scale, like that of a whole nation, a more responsible lifestyle would have a dramatic impact.

Then there is the whole thing about fearing death. Now, this is an attitude that I sympathize with personally to a very high degree. There are few things I want less than death! But even so, here is something to think of: A very large part of the medical expenses in an average human life happens in its last year. This is independent of the age. If you live to 90, most of the expenses will be in the year from 89 to 90. If you live only to 50, most of the expenses will be from 49 to 50. Of course, this is not without exception, but it is the rule. In other words, a great deal of our hospitals, our doctors and our medicines are employed to prolong life by months or weeks. Of course, in some cases we just can’t know. There is a chance, even if it is small, of survival. And there is nothing we want more, usually.

Still, if we are actually old and we have an illness that is anyway going to end our life within months, I feel that there should be an option to submit to the course of nature. I am told that in America this is what happens if you are poor. But for those who have nothing to fear from death, I feel that it should be an option even if you could afford to stay around for a few months longer. In days of yore, it was not uncommon for old people to feel that they had accomplished what they came to Earth for. “Now let thy servant depart in peace.” I can’t say I feel like that now, but I hope to be able to say that some day. We may long for eternal life, but it is folly to think that science can do that for us, even with tax-financed health care.

Another attitude problem is that we consider our personal luxury more important than the planet. There has been some progress in this, in some parts of the world. But not enough. We are still destroying the biosphere at a terrifying speed. Species go extinct all the time. Fertile soil is washed away or blown away by the wind because of thoughtless agriculture that leaves the soil open to the elements at times when flooding or drought occurs. Forests are cut down that protected the soil, wetlands are drained that absorbed floods. And of course arable land is covered with roads and buildings. So far we have managed to keep food production high enough, higher than ever actually. But we cannot afford to lose more arable land as population is still set to grow. And we should not unravel ecosystems except in the most dire emergency.


In short, the great challenges of our times and probably the next generation as well, is our attitude. As long as we think in terms of money and not time, of luxury and not happiness, of receiving and not giving, of being done to and not doing – as long as we think in this way, it will be difficult to solve our problems, and new ones will appear. The roof will leak in more and more places until it collapses on our heads. For now, we have only this one planet, and we must share it with each other better than we do today.


The day everyone walks

Yes, we love this country! Or at least some of us really like the countryside. ^_^

May 17 is Norway’s national day – unlike most nations, it celebrates our constitution rather than our independence. Arguably, our independence comes from this celebration of the constitution. It was a highly politically charged tradition during our union with Sweden, up until 1905 when the union was dissolved. By then, the tradition of celebrating May 17 was established as a joyous occasion for the whole family, although the original reason for having the May 17 marches headed by singing children was probably to discourage loyalist police from shooting at the marchers, as happened occasionally during the early years.

Be that as it may, Norway and Sweden are now best friends, but the celebration continues, headed by singing children waving small flag joyously. It is the one day of the year when nearly all Norwegians actually walk, an activity that we should do a lot more in order to keep our health care expenses (and bodies) from ballooning. (Children holding balloons have become a part of the May 17 tradition, but ideally the children should not look too much like the balloons!)

In the mid to late 1800s, Norwegians stood together in the face of a challenge to their cultural identity. As a result, we not only got this particular tradition: We got a national cultural renaissance of epic proportions for such a small nations. Writers (including Ibsen), composers (including Grieg), artists (including Munch) and even some capable politicians. Those were the days. Today, we are a success story of a nation, widely recognized as the world’s best country to live in. And we are not only unremarkable: We cannot even be bothered to walk half an hour a day to save our own lives, much less to save billions on health expenses. Even a quarter of an hour would be a great help, say scientists. But we can’t be bothered to do even that for the country we love – or for our friends and family, or even for ourselves.

A Norwegian proverb says: “It takes a strong back to bear good days.” I suspect this applies to everyone, but it certainly does here.

Exercise and gluttony

My selfSim comes home from jogging and makes spaghetti. Hopefully I will be able to eat spaghetti again soon – my digestion seems to slowly recover (most of the time) from the antibiotics three weeks ago. 

The Zeitgeist – spirit of the times – is certainly strong. Today my pulse watch told me that I had burned 1500 calories (well, a bit more, but I think it exaggerates). And I was feeling all “Yay! Lots of fat burned!”

And then I thought “Wait, what? I’m not overweight! This just means I have to buy more groceries! The more I exercise, the more I’m going to eat.” That is certainly true in the long run, if any. And I actually don’t even run – I just take long walks with some jogging here and there.

I believe it is right, or wise, to exercise the body somewhat when I have a job that mostly leaves me sitting. The body is not built for passivity; it needs to be reminded that it is still inhabited, at least at my current level of development. I believe that when people become more alive inwardly, the need for external exercise becomes less. Certainly scholars and sages seem to live just as long as athletes, if not more so. So there is probably more to this than what meets the eye. But for now, it is an enjoyable way to stay healthy, I think.

So where does the gluttony come in? Well, in its crassest form, there is the notion of exercising more so that I can eat more. This is not all that different from the rumored practice of the decadent Roman parties, where people supposedly gorged themselves on expensive food, then threw up and went back to the orgy. OK, it is healthier and less insane, but the underlying mode of thought is disturbingly similar. They attribute this quote to Socrates: “Worthless people live only to eat and drink; people of worth eat and drink only to live.” I suspect most of us fall somewhere in between, but I also think we will gradually drift in one or the other direction over the years.

But even if you eat and drink to live, or mostly so, the fact remains that you eat more if you are physically active. Of course, if you have manual labor, if you work with your body, this is for the good of society (presumably). But simply by running around, it is within your reach to double your energy output. (Not that I am near that, even on my best days; but then I don’t even jog more than short stretches.) If you double your energy output and keep the same weight, you obviously also double your energy input, or in other words the food you eat. And once you’ve eaten it, no one else will.

Luckily we now live in a world where there is enough food for at least 9 billion people, perhaps 10, and we are only just over 7 billion. So other things probably count more, like throwing away food (huge amounts both privately and especially from shops) or distribution problems in poor countries. There is in and of itself no reason why we should need to eat less right now. And if we do, the first thing would be to eat less meat (and to some extent milk) since much of the energy in plant food is lost while passing through animals.

But there may be a future, not so far away, when food might be less abundant. Fossil fuels will surely continue to grow more expensive, and western agriculture (especially American) uses a lot of oil to produce all this cheap food.  So with more expensive oil, food will also be more expensive. This could put it out of reach for the poorest, and the more we in the rich world eat, the less there will be overall. So at that time, eating twice as much may cost someone else their life. That is a heavy burden … except we really don’t care usually. It is not like we can’t afford, most of us, to keep some poor kid alive in a developing country if we really, really want. But most of us don’t do it, at least not regularly. So we’ll probably not think of our eating that way either.

In either case, eating more veggies and grains should help keep the world fed for a while at least, and that may be all we need. The population explosion is set to stop and even reverse around the middle of the century.

Still, there are definitely purer motivations for exercise than eating as much as possible. And it may be that at some point I am going to change my exercise to  get more health benefits with less energy use, like hard interval training instead of long, leisurely walks. But for now, this is not a high priority. I just want to be aware of what I do, and not drift mindlessly like flotsam on the stream of time.


Pulse while jogging

No. A high pulse while jogging is not a good thing.

After reading the transcript from my cardiologist, I pondered how to make my potential “superpower” of super-low resting pulse into something useful. When walking fast, my pulse is typically around 110-120 depending on the day. But jogging even a short distance brings my pulse up in the 140es, at which point I slow down to a walk again. No point in taunting the asthma to attack.

And then I used Google to learn more about normal pulse while jogging, and found numerous young people asking “Is it normal to have a pulse of [180 / 190 / 200] while jogging?” The answers varied in quality, but generally the answer is NO WAY! Most humans have a maximum pulse below 200 even when young. A pulse of above 180 should be reserved for when you try to outrun a tsunami, or during the spurt phase of a championship. Or in other words, don’t voluntarily bring on a pulse like that unless there is a cardiologist and a heart starter nearby, or unless your life is forfeit anyway.

(The exception to this is high-intensity interval training, where you exert your muscles and heart very hard for a brief interval. This is used by athletes who want to improve their maximum performance. As long as you know your limits and do it right, it is surprisingly harmless. But if you are not already an athlete, don’t do interval training without the OK from a competent physician. Get to know your max pulse and that you don’t have any illnesses that may interfere.)

Back to the joggers. It is likely (and sometimes they actually say it) that these people are in a similar situation as I, only younger. They have not actually been jogging before, but they have seen others do it. So they set off, but it is harder than it looks. Why is this? It is usually because the body is not adapted to this particular use.

Even if you are in good shape, when you switch from one type of exercise to another which you are unfamiliar with, the pulse will go way up for some weeks. In part the body simply does not know how to do this exercise efficiently. In part the muscles for that task are not developed. Two things happen to muscles when you start using them in a new way: 1) They add muscle fiber, if you are straining them harder than before, and 2) they add small blood vessels, if you are using them longer than before.

If your body tries to bring sugar and oxygen to the muscles but the blood vessels are too small and too few, the heart needs to work that much harder, and your pulse will go way up, even if you don’t have an illness. What you need to do then is to give your muscle time to adapt. This means weeks where you exercise in the new way but not too hard.

For instance, after I have warmed up by walking, if my pulse is below 120, I start jogging until the pulse passes 140 on its way up. Then I slip back into walking, which I am quite experienced at. When the pulse fall below 120 again, I can jog for another stretch. If you are young and don’t have asthma, you can go quite a bit higher than that, but the point is that you should not stress test your heart when your muscles can’t benefit from it anyway. They still need to grow to their optimal size, and interval jogging three times a week will be enough to make them do that. But you have to keep at it. There is no magic wand. You have to put time and miles into walking if you haven’t even done that, and later you do the same for jogging, and eventually running. It may look easy on TV, but you have to put your own miles into it.

When you’ve got your jogging right, you should be able to keep a simple conversation while jogging, without having to slow down to get your breath back. If you jog alone, you should be able to recite a poem, or a familiar prayer. If your pulse is anywhere near 180, I’d go for the prayer.