Monday, March 31, 2008


BE WARNED... This post started as a nice little response to Earl, but I ended up studying for comps on my blog. Read it and give me feedback, but don't expect it to be all that exciting... or short.

I'm just going to respond to some previous comments. First, I'm going to respond to Earl. He offered a solution to encouraging people to walk or ride a bike rather than driving everywhere. He argued that telling them that they're killing the environment won't work. Government involvement not only won't work, but will also mess up the capitalist system. So the solution is in engineering. For the most part I agree.

I would agree that telling people that they are destroying the environment won't work. People don't seem to care. That's why I want to do research in this area, I want to know what will help people change their behavior to improve their health and the health of the earth. Telling people to change doesn't work. That's why I spend my time on this blog telling people to change....

Government involvement is sort of a sticky topic. I agree that the capitalist system works better when the government keeps their hands out. The problem is that motor vehicle travel is already highly subsidized. I'm paying for a portion of your gas so that Americans can have some of the lowest prices in the world (outside of major oil producing countries). This is important to help with 'economic growth'.

If we were to really let the capitalist system go, gas prices would go way up. The idea behind the capitalist system is that companies want to make a profit after paying for all aspects of a product and buyers will find the best deal for their money. I am all for getting government out of the center, but that would be a major change. I don't think that Navy boats (paid for by the military portion of the budget that comes out of my taxes) should guard oil tankers going in and out of the Persian Gulf, make the oil industry fund that. Once the oil is back on American soil, oil companies need to pay for clean-up due to water, air and soil pollution. That includes the use of petroleum based pesticides and fertilizers that get into soil and water. That includes the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico caused by chemical runoff from the Mississippi drainage basin. That would also include water treatment plants that treats storm drain water that is contaminated with auto guano. Should I also go on to health implications? Motorized vehicles are contributors to all 5 of the leading causes of death in the United States. Oil companies play a major role in that (their product makes the cars go, without moving cars, they really don't do much damage). They should be held financially responsible for the health issues caused by use of their products.

Earl expressed that he felt that government should stay out of the equation, and I agree, but I think that the government is already in extremely deep facilitating, or even promoting the situation.

So the solution is in engineering. I like that idea, but I don't foresee it working until government is out of the equation and that isn't likely to happen. I know that many cities are adopting 'complete street' initiatives so that all new streets or rebuilds have to be built with amenities for pedestrians and bicycles in addition to motorists. That's a start, but it still doesn't feel safe. I have talked with several police officers who used to ride their bikes regularly, but don't any more because they don't feel safe.... Wait, isn't it the police that are supposed to be keeping the streets safe? So I have some issues with the laws that are on the books and the enforcement of the few laws that are supposed to protect cyclists.

This section probably should have gone earlier, but it didn't flow. As I think of it though, I want to throw it in because it is helping me study for comps. Sprawl is a function of capitalist economics (and in my perception due to the government and business subsidies on motorized travel). Businesses started in the central business district with homes located nearby for the sake of convenience. As cars became more available and remained inexpensive, it became attractive to live further from work and commute from the 'suburbs'. This lead to the development of residential areas further and further away from the city center because land was cheap and commuting was relatively inexpensive (as far as out of pocket expenses go, really commuting is extremely expensive for society as a whole). Now these people living a long way from the city demanded amenities. They wanted a gas station and a grocery store so they didn't have to go to the city to run errands. With enough people commuting and living outside of the city center grocery stores found it economically beneficial to add more stores near the new homes. While this increased the demand for workers in the suburbs, most of the high paying jobs remained in the city center.

The people from the suburbs are still commuting long distances, but as the population of the suburbs increases, small cities form out there and traffic increases. Wait, I studied this on Saturday, here's how the cycle goes. First (well, it's a cycle so really there isn't a 'first'), we have increased business growth to meet demand. This increased business increases traffic demand and therefore congestion. With an increase in congestion people demand more roads to accommodate the increasing number of people taking the roads. To appease demand, they build more roads which increases accessibility to local amenities as well as vacant lots. The increased accessibility increases property values and leads to changes in zoning with businesses interested in moving into an area with high traffic and good accessibility. The city, interested in the potential tax revenues of a new business, will readily accommodate new commercial stores. As the new stores come in, traffic increases and we are back at the beginning of the cycle where increased traffic is demanding more roads.

Here's another problem and it lies within the solution. You see, the way to stop the above cycle is to not grand a change in land use. If the land use in a highly accessible area remains residential, businesses can't move in. But therein lies the problem, cities want money. Cities make very little money off of residential areas, but they make what they need off of businesses and tax revenues. That city is under pressure to change from a residential area to commercial in order to increase tax revenues. 'People' (I don't know who this refers to, but supposedly they exist) say that they want to keep a small town feel and a certain level of walkability. The problem is that if the city chooses to follow the 'desires' of the people, the business will find a different city to set up shop. While the people now have what they wanted (a smaller, more walkable community), they then drive to that business in a nearby city and give their taxes to another city. So why did your city not put the business in and get the tax revenue? Because 'they' didn't want it... yet 'they' go around the cities back and gives their money to another city. So now cities are battling to get big box stores into town so they can have that tax revenue. Sure that's not what 'the people' want, but it's the only way to keep the city with a steady income.

To be fair, there are regions where neighboring communities have made alliances where they share all tax revenues, so there is no advantage to the store going into one city or the other and this helps to drive development based more on peoples' demand rather than tax revenue... although the region still needs big tax revenue and that doesn't come from the mom and pop shop.

I'm going to stop now. I think that answer will look good somewhere on my comps... Feel free to critique it (if you were able to wade through that much gunk), I need to continue preparing.

Friday, March 28, 2008


I think you may be surprised by this post. Yes, I'm a raging tree hugger. Yes I am interested in organic gardening and I'm interested in urban design. Now I'm going to express my distaste for both.

When I think of organic farming I think of how God made the earth. There is an amazing system of leaves falling in the fall, creating a perfect mulch from which a nutrient rich soil can develop. It's a basic system that can be seen in it's perfect arrangement deep in a forest where humans haven't messed it up yet. Now lets compare that to organic farming. We take and destroy the plants in the area, because what was previously growing isn't what we wanted to farm. Then we till the soil to get lots of air in there or something. I don't know why we till, but we have for a long time so we might as well continue. Then we plant a whole lot of one crop over the area we have 'prepared'. Don't worry, we won't add chemical herbicides or pesticides because that would be unnatural. Do you see the same problem I see?

I do want to recognize that I subscribe to Mother Earth News and have seen some wonderful examples of trying to mimic Mother Nature, but still it is all for our benefit. I don't think that we should return to a hunter gatherer system, but I do think that we need to move away from mass monoculture and start trying to mimic God on a larger scale.

Now lets look at development (this is really the one that I want to write about, it's the subject I"m studying for comps right now). The early communities were developed without any plans. You built your house and if you were a butcher, you raised animals in the back (or bought them from the local farmer) and sold them from your shop next to your house. Everyone did this and it created a community that had all of the essentials, supported all of the residents and didn't take any planning.

To be fair, this also lead to some poor situations where people have to live next to a slaughter house or other disturbing businesses. It also lead to some unsanitary conditions because they didn't have plans on how to get rid of their waste. We've changed things up (in large part for the better) and now we have separated the polluting industry from the places we live. Unfortunately that has also separated our destinations from our homes so we have to drive everywhere.

Of course I don't like that most people have to drive everywhere, but there is high demand to have your own little piece of land away from stuff, but in a nice little community. Now there is a neo-traditional movement that says that we should live in tightly packed condos built above stores. It's a great idea from the view point of walkability and environmentalism. The problem is that there is not a lot of economic demand for such places. People don't want to live in small condos (for the most part). The people who can afford those trendy little condos can't pay the bills with the amount of money they would make working at the downstairs shops, so they have to commute out of their 'walkable community' to their job. So where do we get the workers? They commute in from outside of the 'walkable community' because they can't afford to live in the new condos. So we've created a massive flux in and out of the 'walkable community' (mainly by car) every morning and evening in order to provide the needed jobs.

I don't think that people understand that organic means natural, just sort of let it go and allow nature do its thing. I would say that I'm all for organic farming. And I mean real organic farming, not mass produced and then transported monoculture. The organic communities... I'm just not sure. I like some of the principles of Euclidean zoning. I like having some confidence that my neighbor isn't going to start a feed lot in his back yard. But I also don't like the status quo of developing everything further and further apart so we have to drive more and more to get to where we need to go. I like the idea of incentives to make good decisions, to help people make choices that will lead to walkability, good communities, etc. That's not organic. I also don't believe that is realistic considering the current political climate (and the political climate in the foreseeable future).

So what do we do? This is the question I most fear for my comps. (all the questions have been submitted, so as long as Dr. Tucker doesn't read this while compiling them, i should be OK). The status quo is out, we need to make changes (although he political climate seems to be against major change... in my highly skewed view of the world). I think that complete streets that make cities more friendly to pedestrians and cyclists are important. Sure, nobody uses them except for cars, but I think we need to be prepared for that to change and having bike lanes and sidewalks is a step in the right direction. I also think we need to continue developing mixed use. I know I was just making fun of the mixed use ('walkable communities') because they just don't usually work as planned, but maybe as they age, they will become more walkable. The thing is that it is putting people closer to the stuff they need and therefore they have a choice to walk or take another job (although it's often not economically feasible, maybe it will be in the future). Tomorrow I think I'll write about some big changes that I think need to be made, like making it harder for big box stores to set up shop and attracting smaller Mom and Pop shops.

That's enough for now, I'm going to return to studying.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Magician and the Saint

Once upon a time there lived a wee little lad of only two years. He had some special gifts not given to most lads at that age and he was expected to become a great magician in his day. As an example, there was a day (yesterday to be exact) when he demonstrated his obedience that will help in his training as well as the magical powers with which he was born.

This young lad has an amazing ability to keep secrets. For example, he doesn't like to tell people when he has soiled his diaper. While this may seem minor, he has a gift of hiding the soiledness until it is dried and takes a stiff putty knife to remove the debris.

Recently his loving mother has been attempting to teach the young lad that while maintaining a magician's secret is important, there are times when you have to tell others about the problem and get out of the messy diaper.

The young lad, in an attempt to be obedient to his mother informed her of is messy diaper and let her know that he needed to be changed. It is this type of obedience and dedication that will lead him to be a powerful magician some day. Mother was busy with the dishes and knew that in the three minutes it would take to finish, the mess would still be sufficiently moist. But this young lad knew of his mother's wish to have him clean messy diapers immediately and he is dedicated to his calling of a magician.

This magician lad then proceeded to tackle one of the most difficult tricks known to parents. The boy decided to attempt the removal of a diaper without getting any poop on his hands. It was incredible feat. Not only was he able to remove the diaper and get it to the bathroom without getting any on his hands, but as if to flaunt his talent he was able to get poop on other things. For example, there was poop up and down his legs, on the outside and inside of the shirt he was wearing, on the carpet and even on the floor between the location of diaper removal and the bathroom. An extraordinary trick by all accounts especially since there was no indication of any poop whatsoever on the young lad's hands.

While the magical trick was truly spectacular, it leaves a young mother with a bit of concern. Of course the young mother recognized her son's talents and wanted to support and encourage his development, but with a such a daring piece of magic attempted by her son in her home created a cause for concern. Oh, the things that could have gone wrong, the reasons that were available to punish the promising young magician, but this mother was a true saint. She didn't get upset. In fact, not a discouraging comment left her lips.

Although disappointed to be interrupted from the dishes, she went calmly over to the developing magician and helped him clean up the mess caused by the magic trick. She encouraged him to continue in his efforts to be helpful, although she also offered some potential improvements on the trick. For example, the trick could have been better had it occurred entirely in the bathroom. It also could have been better had the young lad taken a preemptive strike and used the toilet before he had a soiled diaper. Truly the entire situation could not have been handled with more patience and love. The woman is a saint.

The only upset words to leave this woman's lips were when her husband arrived home just after she had dealt with the situation. And the family lived happily ever after... or at least happily for another day.

Monday, March 24, 2008


A few weeks ago we bought a tag-a-long bike off Craigslist. She went out for her maiden voyage on Saturday. I'll get a picture sometime, but what it is is an attachment that hooks to my bike's seat post end then there's a seat, handlebars and one wheel which makes for a sort of tandem that my kid can ride, but it's a lot less expensive than the real thing.

First I would like to say that I think the Mugwump had a blast. We went to the park and he liked following me around. Except he kept urging me to go faster while he coasted. And he had some complaints about his view.

I think the idea behind the little bike that has to follow me everywhere is an excellent one. I loved using it and I hope that we can work up to some longer rides. The balance was a little off and that was a little concerning. I couldn't see what he was doing, but I suspect that my son was sitting on the bike behind me rocking violently back and forth to see if Dad could keep the bike upright. I was able to keep the bike upright, but it was at times a battle.

Now for the ultimate disappointment... I have always had a dream of creating a train of my wife and I on a tandem, followed by a tag-a-long bike which would then be followed by a bike trailer with my other boys in it. I thought that would be the ultimate SUV that would make an impression around town. After having ridden with just the tag-a-long I don't think this is a good idea any more. I have had visions of coming to a stop sign, losing my balance and having my entire family crash to the ground due to my mistake. Maybe we could make it into a really big tricycle so that I can't tip over....

Friday, March 21, 2008


I've been struggling to write. Here's the thing. I have a comprehensive exam that I intend to take at the end of May. I know, I am as good at procrastinating as the next guy, but really I have already procrastinated too much.

I have always hated it when teachers gave comprehensive finals because that meant that you had to go back and study the 'old' material as well as the more recent material. Tests that are not comprehensive are easier. I'm all about easy.

So this test is a comprehensive exam over about ten classes that I have taken in the last couple of years. I no longer have enough time to give myself a full week on each subject, so I'm down to crunch time. You might even say I'm a little nervous. If my posts get shorter and less thought out, that is because I'm reading another book on the metabolic syndrome, or city design, or city planning, or environmental health, or behavior change.

This post was merely a means of getting out of studying for a moment. I will now return to pounding my head into my desk... I mean studying.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


I think I made some mistakes last year in my garden. My wife warned me that if I let all of the squash volunteers go, I would have a mess. But I couldn't pull something that was growing in my garden. Sure that's not where I planted it, but it was growing in my garden. The picture at the right is the result. Does anyone want some squash? We still have some. We need to cook and freeze it pretty soon or it's going to go bad.
This year is going to be better. Instead of boards that you have to walk across to stay out of the garden, I actually dug some trenches and filled them with wood chips to make more permanent walk areas. We also have grass in the front yard instead of black plastic which will make it more attractive.
Monday I planted peas, beans and beets. I don't think the beans are going to survive, but that's OK, we have lots more seeds and not a lot of room to plant them (besides, I don't think my wife likes them). Tuesday I planted carrots, lettuce and spinach (I'm not sure that the spinach will survive). Last night I finished building a couple of experimental cold frames and planted broccoli, peppers, brussel sprouts and egg plant under the cold frames. I love experimenting in the garden.
A lot of people will comment about my garden saying that I need to rototil, or fertilize or use pesticides. They say that I planted things too early or too late. They have never seen a cold frame, but are sure that it wouldn't work. I recognize that there are a lot of people who have far more gardening experience than I do, but I don' think they really know. I really enjoy experimenting. How would we learn new things if we didn't go outside of the box and try them? So I will continue to run the unconventional garden on the street that everyone makes fun of. I am OK with that.
Another huge thing I'm doing this year is planting things in like groups. I'm not big on rows, but I at least bunched my carrots together and my lettuce together, etc. Last year was a free for all, I had a bucket of seeds all mixed together and I sprinkled them wherever. You may be able to tell that from the photo. On the other hand, last year it was kind of fun to find random beets that you didn't realize where there.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Day I Met My Son

No, I have never adopted a child, although I sometimes think of it. And no, this is not about my new son that was born about 6 weeks ago. This is about my two year old. I met my two year old for the first time last night and it was a wonderful experience, although I'm sad it took so long.

Yes, my son has lived with me since he was born. He was even born in my house. So how did I just meet him? Last night was the first time I spent a couple hours alone with my son. As I reflect on it, it's sort of sad. I didn't think I was doing anything wrong. I spend time with my boys, I play with them and I try to give them equal attention. That means that I sometimes give the older boy one on one attention and other times I give the younger boy one on one attention. I have read to my boys individually and together. We talk... In as much as you can converse with a two year old. The thing is that if the younger boy is rarely awake while older brother is sleeping, so if they are both home, the younger boy is never truly alone.

Last night my wife took the baby to a church activity. My older son, knowing his friends would be there, asked to go along. That left me with the middle son for a couple of hours. We worked in the garden for an hour or so. He helped me plant lettuce, carrots and spinach (I hope it wasn't too early for the spinach). He helped me water and he helped me build cold frames so I can get a head start on some warmer weather crops. Then we went inside and played with toys on the living room floor.

I've played with him numerous times before on the living room floor, but my older son is always around and the older boy's personality is sort of absorbed by the younger. I didn't realize until last night just how different the middle boy is. My four year old (the oldest) has always been a talented speaker. He started talking early and can communicate very well for his age. He has even taught me words like contrail and proboscis. He still talks well and is responsible for much of the talking in the house. My two year old (the middle one who I met last night) knows a few words, but has not developed verbally as quickly as his older brother. We're not concerned, but there is certainly a difference.

Last night playing on the floor, my two year old told me the names of all the different toys. I'm talking about dozens of words that I didn't realize he knew. Why would he know them, his older brother spends a lot of time talking for him. It was a sort of game, he would pick up a toy and say what it was. I am not sure whether he was showing me that he knew what it was and how to say it, or if he was asking for a confirmation on what that word is. He would hold up the toy, and say what it was, I would repeat what he said and he would get this huge smile of pride and say, "yeah". We even got into some more abstract words. He played with a little merry-go-round that would throw people across the room and I would ask if they got hurt. He would say, "No, happy".

I think I have done a poor job explaining the experience thus far. Everything I have written about could have occurred with my other boys there. But his personality was totally different when I was alone with him. He often plays rough with his brother (he has to, otherwise he'd get pulverized). Last night he was extremely gentle and soft spoken. I hadn't really seen that before. I think that is who he really is, but he has some defending to do most of the time.

I can see that it is going to be difficult to get alone time with boys, but I think it's crucial. The problem is that alone time with boys takes away from time together as a family. I like being together as a family, but I think we need to divide up on occasion so each member of the family can develop individually. So I'm a changed man. I am going to do things differently.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Public opinion

I am currently in a public management class that has been quite eye opening. The question arose the other day (I may have been the person to bring it up), if 'Mom and Pop shops' and walkable communities are seen as more attractive, why don't we have policies that encourage small shops and walkable communities? In fact, cities generally give big incentives to the box stores (like free land or paying for infrastructure needs of the business) in order to come in when it is knows that they will likely destroy local businesses.

The answer was simple and true. The reason is because that is what you want. Well maybe not you personally, but I think many of us are guilty. We voted for the big box stores and against the little guy. Right, I know they didn't hold a formal vote, but that is still the way the masses vote. They vote with their dollar.

Hypothetically you want to buy a new computer. Also pretend that you know as little about computers as I do, but you hate it when yours crashes and you want to be sure you get something good. Here are your options. You can go to a big box store like Costco or Wal-mart and get absolutely no customer service, but a pretty good deal (or at least you can hope). You can go to Best Buy or another of the big box electronics places and get marginally better service and pay a little more. Or you can go to the local guy on the corner who knows everything about computers and he will sit down with you for 30 minutes or more in order to talk you through exactly what you need and the best computer to meet your needs, but you will pay a premium for the computer. Oh and there are the online deals that are a really good deal, but you're never quite sure what you'll get or if it will work.

Which would you choose? Or would you go talk to the guy on the corner, have him tell you which is the best computer for your needs and then order it online or get it from the box store at a really good price? I know small business owners who experience that regularly and it's destroying their business. Do people realize that you are taking money out of that guys pocket as you talk to him and 'waste' his time and then send your money to a big box store or other entity that offers no customer service?

Lets look at this in the context of the original problem. The 'Mom and Pop shop' now has to charge higher prices in order to put food on the table and the city gets less tax revenue from them. Eventually the 'Mom and Pop shop' goes out of business so the city can put in something that will make more money and the computer expert can get a job elsewhere so he can support his family. The city will get more money this way and the store owner will likely be able to find a reasonable job that pays pretty well.

Where does it leave us, the consumers? We end up with a limited number of people who can actually guide us on our computer buying decisions and no option but to go online or to a big box store where nobody knows what they are talking about. But I thought we wanted walkable communities and local stores with local owners. We did, but we were more worried about ourselves than our community so we outsource their jobs. Who does the outsourcing, the US or us, the consumer?

My wife and I have been talking about buying a new digital camera and here are my requirements. It has to meet my wife's demands (even though I don't know what those are). And I want to pay full price from a local guy to help keep him in business and help feed his family. Am I going to pay too much? I suppose it depends on how you look at it. My community is worth it to me.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Men's Restroom

I wrote a bit ago about being yourself and not trying to impress people. Actually I wrote that to a large extent you have to try to impress people because that is the way the world works. I believe that we have to act in a manner that will 'impress' others at times, but I think that most of the time we should be ourselves in as much as it won't leave a bad impression on others. Then again, if our 'true self' will make a bad impression, maybe it would be prudent to change our 'true self'.

Here's where I'm going... Straight to the bathroom. I just used the restroom and when I am finished I wash my hands. I know that the study has been done and we know that people are more likely to wash their hands when there are others in the bathroom at the same time. This was a little different.

First off I want to be clear that I think that you should wash your hands after you use the bathroom. In public places I will almost always wash afterwards (unless the quality of the facility makes me fear the sink more than urine that might have splashed). It's a good practice, but I don't think it's the end of the world if you don't (Don't tell my professors in public health that I said that).

So anyway, I was washing my hands in the bathroom and the other guy washed his as well. He turned off the water and went for the paper towels, until he noticed that I was going to use soap. Instantly he turned back to the sink and got some soap and turned the water back on so he could finish. I'm glad that he washed his hands, but is he that interested in complying with a complete stranger? If he didn't use soap would I have chastised him (No, but I sometimes think of chastising the guy who uses 14 paper towels to dry his hands). So why the soap? I really think it was because I used soap and that is the wrong reason.

My next career will be in sociology. I will conduct all of my research within a public men's restroom. I think there is a world of information to be discovered in there.

Sunday, March 16, 2008


I used to be able to type around pictures. Today I can't. So there they are, you'll be able to find them.

Friday, March 14, 2008


I taught a class several years ago that used various means of taking physiological measures. One of the measures taken was lung volume. We had two means of measuring lung volume.

The first was essentially an upside down bucket (it was actually a perfect cylinder) with the lip submerged in water. As you blew into the tube, it would fill the inside of the bucket with air and make the bucket rise in the water. It was well calibrated and there were some pens and a little motor attached to it. So the motor would turn some paper and the pens would mark on the paper as the bucket rose in the water. You ended up with a pattern on a piece of paper which you could use to calculate lung volume because the volume of the cylinder is known.

The second way of measuring lung volume was a little hand held device that you blew into. As you blew it would turn a fan which created an electrical current that was translated into lung volume. You could then read your lung volume on the handy digital readout.

When I asked the students which they thought was more accurate, almost all of them said that the electronic device was more accurate. Now I would certainly agree that the electronic device was more convenient, but the upside down bucket actually captured air and moved objects so that it was easily understood how much air had 'appeared' in the cylinder. Nobody could really explain how the electrical device worked, but they were sure it was more accurate because it gave a digital readout.

Just because a device is electronic and technologically advanced, does not make it better.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


I study exercise so sometimes I do silly little tests to see how my physiology is doing. The other day I did a VO2 max test. This tells how efficient your body is at using oxygen and is generally an indicator of athletic performance.

An average VO2 max is probably in the 40s, while elite athletes are much higher (Lance Armstrong was in the 80s). I have been in this field for some time, so I have done these tests on many occasions. Over the years I have always been a little below 60. That's probably why I did OK in high school track and was able to keep up in bike races. But a 60 just isn't sufficient to be an elite athlete. That's OK with me, I've never aspired to be an athlete, but it's sort of a fun idea.

I was interested in being tested on Tuesday because they say that your VO2 max drops about a point every year after you turn 25. So I was expecting a number in the mid 50s. My VO2 max on Tuesday was 69.8. While my first question was whether the machine was working properly (and I am still not confident on that), I later started questioning my past.

I've never been good at training. I've ridden in some long bike rides and I've raced. I'm not slow, but I never really had the dedication to put in the long miles and long hours it takes to be competitive. I haven't really been training recently, except that I put 25 miles on my bike every day in 12.5 mile allotments. While my intensity is far from high, I am putting far more miles on my bike than I ever have. I don't ever go on long rides, I just do the same thing day in and day out. Had I been more dedicated when I was 20, could I have been really competitive? Could I have been a world class athlete? Of course that would be highly speculative to say, it takes a genetic component to have a VO2 max of 70 that evidently I have.

Do I wish I had pursued a life of bike racing? NO. While I wonder of the things that might have been had I been more dedicated to cycling, I have no regrets of the path I took (except for anything that I did in Junior High, that's just a bad time). I am glad that I dedicated more time to college than cycling. I'm glad that I have pursued education to the point that I have (I don't think I was glad about that last week). If there was a test that evaluated potential in different professional arenas, I wonder if the results would make me regret the decisions I have made?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


I posted earlier about using the word 'I'. I challenged readers not to use the word for a day. Did anyone notice the irony in this? Here I am, writing a blog about myself and my experiences from my perspectives and I asked people to consider how much they think of themselves. I know I'm a hypocrite, but I wanted to prove a point and the comments I received hit right on it.

First, Roadrage commented that he couldn't write about his opinions without using 'I', so he postponed starting the experiment until he finished the post. He then talked about the need to belong. As we are talking to people we are often thinking of what we want to say to contribute. I think that is our desire to 'fit in'. If I can relate my experiences to those of another, that means that I'm not nearly as weird as I think I am. I have an experience similar enough to the person I'm talking to that I can contribute. I want that person to know about my similarities so they don't think I'm as weird as I think I am.

Then the other comment was from Heather who hit the nail on the head. She forgot about it most of the day (as did I), then when she was thinking about it, she noticed that as someone was talking with her, she wasn't thinking of what the person was saying, she was thinking of what she ('I') was going to say in response. I know I do that a lot and based on the conversations I have with people I am pretty sure that people are more interested in relating themselves to the conversation then 'hearing' what is being said.

I think this is an interesting situation because I think one of the best ways to 'fit in' and really build meaningful relationships is to truly listen and understand people, but in reality people tend to want to 'appear' to belong by commenting about themselves. I would venture to guess that the more we resist using 'I' in conversations, the better relationships we can build. Of course that goes with the idea that you really can't have a meaningful two way conversation without using the word 'I', but if you really want to belong and feel powerful relationships it happens as we focus on others and not ourselves.

I wonder why I didn't get a degree in psychology, I like this sort of stuff... Maybe I could start over.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


I am supposed to be in class right now, but the fire alarm went off and they sent us away. So here's what happened. The teacher was presenting a phenomenal lecture on housing when the strobe light on the alarm starts flashing and the alarm sounds. The instructor turns to the class and asks, "Does that mean we have to leave?" I'm not questioning my professor's intelligence, but if there is one thing that school has taught me it is that when the fire alarm sounds you leave the building. Maybe they only taught that to the remedial classes that I was attending.

I think we have all experienced this. The alarm sounds and everybody 'knows' it's just a drill or a false alarm. Of course sometimes it is the real thing and evacuation is a matter of life and death, but how many of us have actually been in a real fire where the alarm meant we had to leave? I'm guessing it is a small percentage.

How about red air quality days. They happen all the time around here. I've been told that it's due to the geography of the land. We live in a valley surrounded by mountains and the pollution just doesn't move out of the valley. Interesting. I thought that we caused the pollution. So we have red days where the radio guy tells us that we aren't supposed to burn in the fireplace unless we need it for heat, we're not supposed to drive and we're supposed to avoid exercising outside. This is quite similar to the fire alarm I heard this morning. People hear that and complain about the pollution as they hop into their SUV and drive by themselves to work.

I ride my bike on the red air quality days and I notice it because my eyes get red and burn and my throat gets dry and itchy. There is a lot of pollution in the air and I probably shouldn't be riding. But what are my other options? I could take the bus. While I am at the beginning of the bus line and would have no problem finding a seat, I know that the bus fills up before it reaches the destination of most of the people. If I take the bus that means that the bus will have to pass people by and they will end up driving. It seems like we need more buses on this route. I could drive my wife's minivan. But I was counseled not to because it contributes to the poor air quality. So I ride my bike and hope that it doesn't kill me.

I thought about writing about the global warming warnings, but I think that is different. I am not certain about the facts of that controversy. Yes, the planet is warming. Are humans the cause? I don't know. We certainly aren't doing anything good for the planet by pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and cutting down the forests that absorb CO2, but I don't know that we are the cause. Are there major problems with pollution around the world? I think so. If we make our air and water unusable will we be in trouble? I think that is an understatement. Have we been warned? Yes, I think we have. Do people care? That's more difficult because I really think that people do care, but they are complacent. Why should I make a change in my life (do something that may be difficult) when my neighbor is going to continue his polluting ways? He'll kill the planet enough for the both of us, so I may as well enjoy while I can. (Did that seem backwards to you, like it did to me?)

I think people are counting on a technological solution that will take care of all our problems. And I think there are some solar and wind technologies that have potential to help greatly in reducing pollution, but I don't think we're going to invent a big filter that is going to clean the air and oceans.

I think our world is doomed unless common people stop listening for warning sirens from public officials and start taking an active stand toward what they believe. Look at the warnings around you. How many pieces of trash did you pass this morning on your way to work? Was there a visible sign of air pollution? Look around, the warnings are around us and will continue until we do something.

Friday, March 7, 2008


I've been thinking of what I want to do with my life and why (the link is a joke, but there is another versions). I've been thinking of aspirations.

I'm a doctoral student. I suppose there is some prestige in that once you get out and can be called doctor and you get a PhD behind your name... Unless you are just hanging out in school because you are afraid of leaving school and getting a real job, that just makes you sort of immature and unprepared to grow up. I don't know which I am.

I've been thinking about future jobs. What do I want to do? (Whenever I think of that, I think of the Twisted Sister videos I linked to above, I don't know why). I don't, however, want to spend my life listening to bad music from hair bands. I think that I have some good ideas that I could spend a lifetime doing research and contributing to research. I also like working with students who are deciding what to do with their lives (Since I don't know my own direction, I figure I am qualified to direct others.)

In my field the top researchers are competing for grants from the National Institute of Health (NIH). Reaching the ultimate 'success' in my field involves spending long work weeks competing for big money grants from the NIH. That is not my goal. I think that I could do it. I think that I could make lots of money and contribute greatly to 'the literature'. That's not my goal. I don't want you to misunderstand, I have come this far in my education because I want to use the information I have learned to help people, but I think there is a disconnect between the available information on health and application. I want to spend more time filling the gap than conducting new groundbreaking research. I would consider myself successful if I can teach others about how to be healthy and it makes a difference in their lives. I can do this teaching classes or in producing research that is understandable and attainable for people who have been struggling with their health.

Those are my professional aspirations. Those are secondary to my real goals in life. I want to spend lots of time with my family (I have to improve that). I want to spend real time with my kids helping them to learn the importance of integrity and hard work. I want my children to learn through real life experience how to communicate effectively and how to interact with others in a way that uplifts all involved. I don't necessarily think that I'm good at that, but I have met people who are and they are a pleasure to talk to. I want my kids to be able to contribute more to society than I have. For the time being my wife is doing a great job at working toward my real goals in my life. I hope to be able to contribute more fully to my goals soon.

This goes back a little to what other people think of you. Is this a cop out? Am I trying to enter retirement early and spend my life doing nothing but fishing and hanging out in my underwear around the house? I don't think so. I have definite goals and they take work. It just happens to be different work than a manufacturing job or even the work as a professor. I want to work at bringing my family up properly.

But can you make money raising a family? No. That's why I have to have a real job. Here's the big point that I want to make; my aspirations and true goals in life are based on family. If I spend too much time at work (like I do now), I will fall short of my true goals. In order to attain the goals that I feel are really important in this life, I will have to get by on a meager income and sacrifice financial well being for time spent with my family. In many circles I think I will be considered unsuccessful because I haven't taken the highest paying (and generally most time demanding) jobs, but 'settled' for a 'lesser' position. The thing is that I will NEVER be 'settling' for my family because I believe that there is nothing GREATER to work for than a successful family.

Thursday, March 6, 2008


This post is sort of about bragging, as was yesterday. I don't have much time, but I just want to recount a conversation I had with my 4 year old son.

Mugwump: Dad, can we go to Lego Land this afternoon?

Dad: No, Lego land is in California, we are in Utah, it would take more than a day to get there.

Mugwump: Can we go the next day, you can not go to school.

Dad: I have to go to school and work, besides, we're poor, we don't have the money to get to California, let alone get into Lego land.

Mugwump: We're not poor, our family is rich. We have each other.

Dad: You're right.

I don't know that I've ever been prouder in my life.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


No, this is not a blog about my kids, I want to discuss pride and why people do what they do. On my survey there was a respondent who commuted by bike. To be specific it was a recumbent. In some of the open ended questions he mentioned that he commutes by bike because it is different, it isn't the norm. He takes it to another level and specifies that he commutes by recumbent because most people who commute by bike don't ride recumbents. He has a desire to stick out, to be different.

Why? Probably because it draws attention to himself. I watch my kids fighting for attention all the time and I think that we as humans really like attention. Do I want people to know that I woke up early and rode my bike 12.3 miles instead of driving? Well, I like it when people ask... errrr when I get (make) the opportunity to tell people that I commute by bike. It puts attention on me and I don't think that I'm the only one that likes that attention.

Do I want you to know that I'm better than you because I had the strength and courage to battle the bad weather and mean drivers on my way to work while you were lazy and sloth like (I think you're ugly too, but that's a different point) and drove? Suddenly I'm not feeling so good about myself and my bike ride to work. I do not believe that I'm better than motorists. I know that there are many reasons to drive. I know that many people would like to ride but can't for whatever reason. There are many people that just don't think of it. That's OK. Do I hope that some drivers will see me and think, "gee, I think I could do that"? Sure, I hope that I can motivate someone to start riding. That is not, however the reason that I ride.

I have heard of people who will not do something because they feel it will make it look like they are bragging. Wouldn't that philosophy, taken to extremes, lead to a world where everyone does exactly the same thing in order to not stick out? I don't think that's healthy. But some people will do something for the sole purpose of being different, not necessarily because they like or agree with the thing they are doing. I don't want to mistaken for someone like that, that's not who I want to be.

I know it's easy, all you have to do what you believe regardless of what people think. Except making impressions with others is a HUGE part of this world. Other peoples' judgements of me will decide my job and my friends and define my reputation. If you get a reputation as 'that creepy guy who never really does any work', that sticks with you, it doesn't suddenly vanish. It takes a lot of work to demonstrate otherwise. And what work are you doing to convince people that you do something? You are taking good care of what people think of you to build a reputation. In the end, it does matter and we have to take a little care of what people think of us. I know there are moments when I say something and can tell that it was taken wrong and I think, "oops, that came across far more egotistical than I intended".

So here's a challenge for you (and me). Pretend for a day that the word 'I' is the most profane word that you know. Using that word is the greatest insult imaginable to the person that you happen to be talking to at the time and it should be avoided. The point of this is not to absolutely avoid using the word 'I', the point is to make a mental note of when you use it and how often you talk about yourself. How egotistical are we? I've done this before and look forward to doing it again. It's insightful. How long can you go without talking about yourself? How does it make you feel? How does it make the person you are talking to feel? Let me know how it goes.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

10 biggest corporations

Evidently my vocabulary is not as precise as I had hoped. I think I was looking for the biggest corporations which I equate with businesses. Evidently businesses are more like sectors in the true vernacular. Anyway, here are the top 10 corporations in the world.

1. Wal-Mart (retail)
2. Exxon-Mobile (petroleum)
3. Royal Dutch Shell (petroleum)
4. British Petroleum (petroleum)
5. General Motors (auto manufacturer)
6. Toyota (auto manufacturer)
7. Chevron (petroleum)
8. Daimler Chrysler (auto manufacturer)
9. Conoco Phillips (petroleum)
10. Total (petroleum)

Do you see anything these companies have in common?

I'm going to be honest, I want to blog more about simplicity and less about politics and stuff. This list really makes me mad and I see HUGE problems in the world as a result of the power that these corporations have. Proceed at your own risk.

Tomorrow I have a good post planned, but for today I want to express some views on these big businesses. I suppose I have no problem with big business, if they are responsible and contribute to a good world. When it is all about making more money for a few at the expense of the masses, it makes me mad. What really makes me mad is that they have such a stronghold so deep in our political system that I can't do much. It would take far more power than I can get together.

I saw a You tube clip the other day about big business in politics that I liked. I would link to it, but the profanity was such that I am not going to. Anyway, the guy started talking about big business and how they are powerful lobbies in Washington. I don't think there is any argument there. This guy went as far as to say that the reason our (US) education system stinks is because big business wants it that way. If the masses really understood the power of a democracy and the importance of the people having a voice rather than big business running things, there would be less money in the pockets of big business. So how does big business prevent this? They help keep people less educated by continuing with status quo education while the rest of the world moves ahead.

I want to throw in an example just for fun. The state of Utah recently refused to allow students in high school participate in the International Baccalaureate program. While scholastically this program puts students well ahead with a broad understanding of the world, my elected officials refused to allow it because understanding a world view seems to be breeding anti-American sentiments. There is a lot that I love about my country. The fact that I can write this is a big one, things could certainly be much worse. The problem is that we fear too much about what others think of us and we can't allow that into schools. Lets hide the truth from students so that they can continue as naive to the world as their parents. That way big business can continue as usual.

I also want to add that the whole democratic process is so complex that it gets out of the hands of the people. Lets take city council as an example. Attendance at those meetings is sparse at best. That should be one of the biggest meetings of the community, but that lethargy of residents overrides any importance it may hold. That's not big business' fault, but they certainly take advantage of it. The whole process also seems so complex that most people can't figure it out. Big business likes that way, they can continue on without the obnoxious uneducated towns people interfering.

I know what we could do, we could have our government subsidize the production of oil to make it so the big businesses can make more money. Oh, we already do that.

Hey Vertigo, can I come live with you in Canada? I think communal living sounds like it could be fun.

Tomorrow will be better, I promise, but I feel better getting that off my chest.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Lawn mowers

I mowed the lawn on Friday afternoon. The weather was nice and I could see the lawn, so I gave it a shot. The lawn certainly wasn't long, but there was some logic in mowing my already short lawn. Sure, making the neighbors questions what the goofy family on the corner was doing partly drove my decision, but there was much more to it.

Last year we tried to plant a lawn in the front yard. The old lawn was 90% weeds and it was really ugly. We have some desire to resell the house, so we decided to redo the lawn to make it look better. I know that lawns aren't the most environmentally friendly use of land, but with the desire to resell our home, we did it anyway. But we decided to do it without chemicals. Did I mention that the previous lawn was almost entirely weeds?

So we rototilled the lawn and turned it all over into a big pile of dirt. In that pile of dirt you could see morning glory roots throughout, so I knew that if I planted my lawn in early spring, I would be giving the morning glory and the grass an equal start and the morning glory was sure to devastate the grass seed. So I wanted to figure out a way to kill the morning glory. I decided that morning glory needs light and water to survive and it will die when exposed to excessive heat. So I put a layer of black plastic over the front yard (yes, it looked as bad as it sounds). I figured I would just do this for a couple of weeks, but when it came time to take the plastic off, we were deep into summer on a lawn with a Southern exposure that would not be conducive to starting grass seed. I decided that fall would be better because morning glory is at the end of its growth cycle and I could give the grass a bit of a head start.

Last summer our home was known for the black plastic in the front yard and the sunflowers on the side. I thought for sure nothing could live through the drought and heat under the plastic, but the morning glory was ready to grow as soon as I removed the plastic. I planted seed, but it was quickly evident that it was going to lose out to the morning glory. So we went to the local park that was being torn out and we took some of the free sod from there. It was a late night, but I got a lot of the lawn done in the pitch black and my pregnant wife finished the next morning. As I look at it now, it is obvious that I laid the sod in the dark. By the end of last fall, there was morning glory starting to spring up through the sod.

That is why I mowed the lawn Friday. Morning glory season is still a ways off, but the grass is ready to grow. I have heard that mowing will stimulate growth, so I want to get that grass growing early in the season so that hopefully it will block out the morning glory (I doubt that it will, but I'm trying).

Another reason that I mowed on Friday is because I like my lawn mower. Last year we got a reel mower, and I love using it. Sure it takes longer and you often have to go over the lawn in a couple different directions, but I really enjoy using the new lawn mower. As an additional bonus, I can tell how the new lawn mower works and I can fix most any problem that will arise (except for laziness and lack of time). With our gas powered mower I hated the hassle of getting it started and following the smelly beast around the yard. I therefore mow more often with the new mower and enjoy it far more.

QUIZ: Tomorrow there will be the answer to a special quiz. The question is: What are the 10 biggest businesses in the world? I know that you know how to Google it and find the answers, but how well can you do without Google? (No, Google is not one of the top 10). Check and see tomorrow.

Saturday, March 1, 2008


I forgot to post yesterday. I got so caught up in the excitement of school that I neglected my blog. So what was I so excited about? This is the point where you will discover how lame I really am.

Let me set the scene a little. Some of you may remember the survey that I posted on my site many months ago. Fatty also posted it for me and I got a few other sites to post it. Anyway, lots of people took that survey (about 600 to be exact). I didn't realize it at the time, but the survey equipment that I was using didn't transfer very nicely to excel, so I had to do it manually. I'm thinking that took me 60 hours or more of the most tedious, boring data entry I have ever done. Finally, last weekend I got all my data into excel.

That was huge, I was really excited last weekend, so I went to my advisor and said, "What next?" He questioned what I had gotten myself into. The next step was to get the excel file ready to go into SAS which is really confusing statistical software. He wished me good luck and sent me away with a slight chuckle. I spent about 3-4 hours correcting my spreadsheet, preparing to send it to SAS. I was excited to give it a shot.

Let me explain SAS a little, I don't think you have a feel for it. It is not like Excel. Bill made Excel user friendly so that people would like using it. SAS is made for statisticians who know some computer programming in the SAS language. Statisticians are a unique breed. Computer programmers are also a unique breed. When you have to be both a statistician and a computer programmer to operate a computer program it means that you have to wear thick glasses, a pocket protector and a calculator mounted to your belt in order to operate SAS.

I've taken 1.5 classes that use SAS (and I have a calculator that I sometimes carry in my pocket and glasses that I wear on occasion) so I thought I would give it a shot. For the first 2 hours of trying to import my excel file into SAS I got nothing but errors that ended with "file import unsuccessful". That's OK because there are at least 14 ways to do any given task in SAS, so I moved on to the other way that I knew. After about 3 hours of trying, I finally got data from Excel into SAS.

Unfortunately I had gone from 580 subjects to 193. The data also didn't line up anymore. I had a column of data that was supposed to be how many times a week the person commuted by bike (should have been a number between 0 and 5) and then I'd have a list of data such as: married, full time work, 2, 1000, mountain, road, female. So somewhere along the way my data got all mixed up. I spent a couple more hours trying to figure out how to straighten my data out so that the columns were all the same type of data.

Finally I gave in and made an appointment to talk to my advisor again. I told him the problem and he laughed at me. He told stories of data sets that had taken hundreds of hours to get imported into SAS because of little errors that were difficult to find. But he was willing to give me 30 minutes.

My advisor gave me a third way of importing data into SAS and I tried that. It straightened things out considerably, but there were still some areas where things weren't right. Then I found it. A space between city and center in the question about where the person lived. I took it out and suddenly everything was lined up.

So that is why I didn't write yesterday, I was excited to finally have data to analyze. That was not a simple process, nor was it a simple excuse for not writing. Using SAS really increases my motivation to simplify!