Yuletide

Despite being Jewish, I’ve always loved Christmas music. (Which I suppose makes sense, as approximately half of the 25 best-selling Christmas songs of all time were written by Jews.). At the moment, I’ve been wearing the digital grooves off this great cover, Billy Bragg and Florence and the Machine playing the Pogues “Fairytale of New York.”

An early merry Christmas (or gut yontif?) to all.

Keep Climbing

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Headed up this weekend to Cold Springs, NY, to climb Breakneck Ridge, one half of the Wind Gate northern gateway (along with New Jersey’s Storm King Mountain, across the river) to the Hudson Highlands.

Aptly named, Breakneck’s apparently the most challenging hike in the Highlands, as it starts with a steep, semi-technical rock-climbing scramble that ascends nearly 1300 feet in three-quarters of a mile. The trail map warns it’s suited only for experienced hikers in excellent physical condition, and not for those with a fear of heights.

In my own case, I’m actually pretty pettrified of heights. But I also climbed throughout my youth as a way to push past that fear. So it was with familiar butterflies in my stomach that I pulled myself up boulders and ledges, trying to stay towards the sides which didn’t terminate on several-hundred foot drops.

And, in the end, we made it up to the top in one piece, then back down the beautiful and (relatively) meandering descent in blazing time, finishing the hike (usually estimated at 3.5-4 hours) in just 2.5 hours, to beat the setting sun.

It’s been too long since I last headed out to the woods around NYC, and this made an excellent point of return. Apropos enough, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere, indeed.

Lofty

Headed out this past weekend to Gowanus, to see LoftOpera’s final performance of The Rape of Lucretia. I always love Benjamin Britten (or, really, early 20th century British composers in general), and I’d never seen Lucretia staged, so it seemed a no-brainer choice.

The opera lived up to my expectations – not just great music, but strong singing, innovative staging, and some good ballet wedged in to boot. More broadly, I was excited and impressed by LoftOpera as a whole. The company strives to provide younger artists the opportunity to perform lead roles in paid positions, while keeping tickets affordable and performances interesting and intimate. As the Wall Street Journal put it, “LoftOpera offers a paradox: an embrace of highbrow establishment pomp as retold by riders of the G train.”

It’s the kind of thing that makes New York City great, vital and alive. Their 2016 season looks excellent: Puccini’s Tosca, Rossini’s Le Comte Ory, Mozart’s Così fan tutti and Weill’s Mahagonny. If you like opera, or even if you think you don’t, I’d strongly recommend checking them out.

Fit to be Tied

I always love life hacks that improve something small but essential, something you do every day without much thought.  Which is why I was intrigued to find this short video from Bloomberg, explaining that I (and likely you) have been tying my shoelaces in a less than ideal manner for my entire life.

For the last month, I’ve been using their Windsor shoe-tie exclusively, and it turns out those Bloomberg folks are completely correct.  The Windsor is a far better knot, and I’ll be using it from now on.  Try it out, and I think you will be, too:

Taxonomy

The degree to which this Venn diagram (and, really, all Venn diagrams) makes me happy is a pretty good indication that I fall somewhere on it:

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Thankful

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This year, as ever, I have a lot to be thankful for. All my love and gratitude to the family and friends who have given me their kindness and support over the last year. Thank you. It means more than I can express.

[And now, as I’m out in California, playing sous chef for my parents’ thirty-person Thanksgiving dinner, it’s time to get cooking. Enjoy your turkey, everyone!]

Get Living

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

Tested

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.

Chucked

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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.

Unclouded

“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