Get Living

“Let us so live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.”
– Mark Twain


Recently, I’ve been considering getting a PhD in Evolutionary Psychology as a side-project. At the intersection of cognitive psychology and evolutionary biology, it’s a fast-changing field that also draws in part from animal psychology, anthropology, artificial intelligence, developmental psychology, economics, linguistics, neuroscience and philosophy. Or, in short, basically everything I’m interested in, all rolled into one.

So, as a first step in that project, I’ve started studying for the GRE, the first time I’ve had to seriously face off with a standardized test in a decade and a half. Fortunately, standardized tests are totally my bag. But, on the math side at least, they also depend on a fair amount of knowledge that I haven’t had to dredge up from the recesses of my brain for nearly a decade or two.

Ask me to calculate the volume of a sphere, and my conscious mind reaches back to thoughts so old that they feel like they’re being read from microfiche. Even so, it turns out “V=4/3πr^3” is tucked down there somewhere. It’s just slow as molasses bringing it back.

Hence the studying, and the re-learning of high school math from scratch. Sure, once I take the test, that knowledge will once again quickly descend into the unused and unplumbed depths. But, at least for the moment, if you need to know how many chocolates Alan has when Betty has four more than half as many and Susan has two less than twice what Alan has, I’m definitely your go-to guy.



According to Sturgeon’s Law, “ninety percent of everything is crap.” Frankly, I think that may be optimistic. Particularly so when it comes to new innovations. By and large, there’s a Darwinian logic to the products and ideas that exist today and have stood the test of time. Sure, I’m a technologist at heart. But I’m also far too aware that ‘new’ only rarely means ‘better.’

Consider the Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star, a classic sneaker that’s much-loved in the world of strength, for its near-zero heel-to-toe drop and its hard, minimally-cushioned sole. It’s tough to find a better shoe for pulling a max deadlift, especially anywhere near the price.

So I, and many other people in the fitness space, have been a bit dismayed to see Converse “update” the Chuck Taylor with their newly released Chuck Taylor II. Among other changes, it adds “responsive cushioning,” and thereby more or less wrecks the functionality of the original.

Converse hasn’t phased out the original Chuck Taylor – yet – though I suspect the writing’s on the wall. So stock up while you can. And also take a moment to reflect on the dangers of innovation. Sure, creative destructive is one of the best ways to fuel forward progress in the world. But not all destruction is creative, and not all of it creates progress; sometimes, it just burns something excellent to the ground.


“Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.”
– Wu-Men


Frequently, people tell me they want to “get in shape.” And, each time, I have to hold back the dad joke that inevitably pops to mind: “Which shape?”

Turns out, that’s not actually a ridiculous question. At least from a purely aesthetic perspective, there’s an increasing body of research backing very specific proportions as being nearly universally most attractive, across cultures. Like so much else in the world, it comes down to the Golden Ratio.

So, if you’re searching for specific workout goals, here’s the formula to look your best:

For men, your waist circumference (measured at the narrowest point, usually right by your belly-button) should be 44.7% of your height. Your shoulder circumference (measured at the widest point, usually right at the top of your armpits) should in turn be 161.8% of your waist.

For me, at a towering 5’6”, that pegs my ideal waist measurement as 29.5”, and my ideal shoulder at 47.7”. I’ve got the waist nailed, but I’m apparently an inch and change short on shoulder; time for more handstand pushups.

For women, waist circumference (similarly measured at the narrowest point, which is usually slightly higher than on men, above the belly-button) should be 38% of height. Shoulder-to-waist ratio is still 161.8%, and hip-to-waist ratio (with hip circumference similarly measured at the widest point) at 142%.

So, if I were a woman, I’d ideally have a 25” waist, a 40” shoulder, and 35.6” hip. Based on that, I make a pretty terrible woman.

But, either way, there’s your goal. If your waist number is high, fat loss is usually your best first step. Once that’s on (or near) point, your next focus is to add muscle to hit the shoulder (and, for females, hip) number. Get to work.


“We grow up hearing that trumpeters blew down the walls of Jericho, that Gabriel’s trumpet announces the will of God, and that the largest and hippest of all animals, the elephant, has a trunk mostly (we think) for trumpeting. These grandiose images shape the classic trumpet persona: brash, impetuous, cocky, cool, in command. Anyone who has ever played in a band knows that if the conductor stops rehearsal because a fight breaks out, if somebody takes your girlfriend, if a tasteless practical joke is pulled, if someone challenges every executive decision no matter how trivial, it’s got to be a trumpet player. That’s just how we are.”
– Wynton Marsalis, Sweet Swing Blues on the Road,

Wild Strawberry

Buddha told a parable in sutra:

One day, walking through the wilderness, a man stumbled upon a sleeping tiger. As he tried to sneak past, the tiger awoke, and began to give chase.

The man took flight, running as fast as he could until he found himself at the edge of a high cliff. Desperate, he climbed down a vine and dangled over the jagged precipice. As he hung there, two mice, one white and one black, appeared from a hole in the cliff and began gnawing on the vine.

Suddenly, the man noticed a plump wild strawberry on the vine. He plucked it and popped it in his mouth. It was incredibly delicious!

Yolks on You

When I was in college, I went with my family to Japan, to show them where I had lived in high school as an exchange student, and to act as a translator while we toured the rest of the country.

In Kyoto, we went to a ryokan, a traditional inn that served dinner prepared in a regional style. Apparently, centuries ago, the Emperor had been hunting near Kyoto, and had become incredibly hungry on his way back to the palace. So he had stopped at a local farm, where the farmer cooked the hunted game on a garden hoe atop an open flame. The Emperor loved the meal so much that it became a regular preparation. Today, at some Kyoto ryokan, you can still eat dinner prepared on a large cast-iron plate atop a rolling fire.

My brother and parents and I headed in to such a dinner, where two Japanese women in robes set to work preparing the food, starting by throwing a few large pieces of chicken fat onto the cast-iron plate, as grease in which to cook. As I’ve written before, my mother has very strong ideas about food safety, and I could see her visibly cringe as those chunks of potential death by salmonella coasted around the plate. The women started cooking the first few items – vegetables, pieces of steak. Then, just before they served those items, they tossed on a few additional pieces of chicken fat. This, it turned out, was too much for my mother; raw chicken bumping against the cooked pieces tripped over her already pushed disgust limit. With little fanfare, my mother told us that she couldn’t possibly eat the food, got up, and left the restaurant.

The Japanese women looked stricken by my mother’s sudden disappearance, clearly considering mutual suicide as the only way to recover the honor of the meal. So, in my best Japanese, I tried to explain that the food looked extremely delicious, and that my mother had most certainly wanted to try it, but that she was feeling very jet-lagged after our long trip from the US. Doubting as the women seemed of my story, it apparently provided just enough cover to allow things to proceed. And proceed they did, with course after course after course served up for my brother, my father and me.

Had we each just been eating a single person’s serving, the meal would have been extremely substantial. But with us splitting my mother’s portion, too, it verged on ridiculous. We ate and ate, trying our best to show appreciation for the food. But, after a while, my father and brother bowed out. They couldn’t keep eating, they told me. There was just no way. So, in turn, I explained to the women that the meal was one of the most wonderful we had ever eaten, was the highlight of our trip to Japan, but that we couldn’t possibly finish.

You don’t want any more?, they asked.

No, I explained. It was truly delicious, but we had eaten as much as we could.

To which they replied: in that case, there’s nothing left but the omelette.

As we looked on in horror, they pulled a dozen eggs from the bottom of the cart, cracked them over the last of the food, and begun to cook the whole thing up in a sort of culinary coup de grâce.

I eat a lot of food; enough so that my family calls me the garbage disposal, and will pass the remains of their plates my way at restaurants. But, even so, I can honestly say: I am sure I’ve never been anywhere near that full in my entire life.

Family Meal

A University of Michigan report that examined how American children spent their time between 1981 and 1997 discovered that “the amount of time children spent eating meals at home was the single biggest predictor of better academic achievement and fewer behavioral problems. Mealtime was more influential than time spent in school, studying, attending religious services, or playing sports.”

A Drag


Want to take your conditioning to the next level? Get yourself a Magic Carpet Sled, stat.

Then take it outside, load on a plate or two, and run with it as fast as you can. Even 400 meters is terrible, especially after you slam past the lactate threshold about a minute in, perhaps halfway through a lap. Rest and repeat – just once or twice more – and I promise you’ll be totally cooked.