Hacking

While it may not be the new verb on the block, hacking has morphed into a new comfort zone, shedding some of its bad rap.

When I was young, the ‘hacking’ I knew was messy.  Hacking a branch off a tree was sloppier than cutting it off.  Hacking was also the loud bursts of a spasmodic cough you could hear coming out of heavy cigarette smokers.  And of course, hacking was the description serious golfers gave to my golf swing.  The fact that I unintentionally hacked off a few plants at the roots with a gold club made me a hacker.

Could this have been the reason I was a hacker?

Then came personal computers, their coded languages, and the unauthorized access to other’s data.  Computer hacking was born.  If you hacked, you were a hacker.  Hackers were, and many still are, devious, spreading bugs, viruses and stealing what isn’t theirs.

Then at some point in recent evolution, we included building something quickly and being able to solve a problem using a shortcut, as part of the hacking definition.  Hacking became a good thing.  You can now find online life-hacking tips.  Dave Asprey, in his book Head Strong, discusses various techniques for hacking the brain to optimize its use.

One suggestion for brain hacking

Vanessa Van Edwards, the author of Captivate, outlines a multi-step approach to hacking the personality traits of others, for enhanced relationships.  I recently read a blog post by a doctor discussing the benefits of exercise hacking to improve workouts.  Hackety, hack, hack, hack.

Many of us are looking for shortcuts and tricks to gain an edge.  That now means hacking, which is okay, if, in the end, we are more productive, efficient, healthier, and good to each other.

If that’s the case, count me in.  I could be down for some serious hacking, wherever I can find it.

It’s all about balance

Ha.  Just like most things in life.  I didn’t realize how challenging it would be, although I didn’t suspect it was as easy as riding a bike.  I asked the owner of an NYC West Village specialty shop last week if he thought an old dog could indeed learn new tricks.  I knew the answer.  Still, he responded like a good salesman telling me what I wanted to hear.

For some reason, over the years the sport bugged me.  When I lived in San Francisco, they hung out in groups, loud and sort of obnoxious, disturbing casual walkers along the Embarcadero, perhaps because they didn’t have a formal place to play.  Instead, they used benches, railings, steps, and anything they could otherwise jump or slide on, and eventually destroy.

But beyond the racket they made, the sport didn’t make sense.  Incessantly practicing tricks and performing by flipping a wheeled board while not going anywhere didn’t seem logical, or much fun.

My new 32″ low profile longboard

My feelings about skateboarding started to change when I was exercising at Manhattan Beach, in So Cal last year intermittently watching surfers finish their morning bout with the waves, then hopping on skateboards to travel along The Strand.  That made sense — a commute vehicle.  Since then I’ve noticed more people using boards as a form of transportation, not just for acrobatics.

Gradually the bug bit. ‘ Why not use a skateboard as an alternate form of commuting in China, where it’s relatively flat?’ I started thinking.  GV suggested that I consider a scooter, which is probably a smarter idea.  But I was anxious to try the hands-free wheels.  Hence, I walked into Uncle Funky’s Boards last weekend and left 30 minutes later carrying a new longboard.  They told me the longer the board, the easier to learn, so I picked up a 32-inch model.  The more extended 38 incher I may have preferred was too long to hand-carry on my fight to China.  As it was, I barely finagled the 32 through the Newark airport security process strapped to my backpack.  It was too long to fit in my checked bags.

Unfortunately, the beautiful side faces the road surface

It didn’t take long to gain respect for how fast this board travels.  The four thick 75mm wheels start rolling without much coaxing.  Tumbling on my ass as the board sped away gave me the reason I needed to start slow.  I’m sure it’s simply a matter of TOB (time on board), and balance.

The new toy means I’d better carve out a little time each non-rainy day practicing if I’ve got any hope of seriously using it.

This guy, also featured last week, is as cool as a cucumber on his wheels

As in skiing or skating, part of the skill and confidence comes with stopping ability. Today as I was cruising down a slight decline picking up speed, I realized I didn’t know how to stop without jumping off.  Being a low profile board, the trucks — skateboard lingo for the bracket holding the wheels — are at the ends of the board bolted on top, opposed to typical boards where they are positioned underneath.  These low boards make stepping on the end and tilting the board down to stop, hard to accomplish.

Another challenge is twisting the feet.  While pushing the board for acceleration, both feet are parallel with the board, but cruising, they are perpendicular.  While I was gaining speed in the decline, my feet were in the perpendicular cruise position.  How was I going to twist my front foot parallel and skid to a stop when all I could do was concentrate on saying on the board?  I awkwardly jumped off, knowing I have a major hurdle to conquer.

It will be a while until I’m ready to use the board for a commute vehicle.  The manner in which the locals don’t give much credence to right-of-way means bikes, peds, and cars can end up in your path unexpectedly — requiring immediate reaction.

All in all, I’ve got a new respect for the skateboard tricksters.  Even though I still have zero inclination for tricks, I’m hungering for some of their stability.  But I suppose that will come with TOB.  For now, I’ve got a newfound appreciation for balance.

Still trying to figure out which side to face.  Left foot forward, or right?  Maybe it’s gotta be both, taking turns.

 

 

 

No-Fault Thought

It’s an insurance policy I took out for myself several months ago.  No-fault thought (NFT) — prevents crashing into a wall of nonsense.

Gibberish thoughts tend to badger the consciousness more often than necessary.  Those thoughts are the slight annoyances that occur when, say, someone pulls in front of you, either when walking or driving, or when someone says something or behaves a certain way that doesn’t suit us.

If I feel like this at times, it’s a mirage

Why, I contemplated a few months ago (in a moment when the mud must have cleared), should anyone or anything annoy me?  Because I’m human?  Because I’ve got ego and emotions?  Because I’m right and someone else is wrong?  They are (seemingly) justified rationalizations, but only a mirage.  So I took out the policy.

The essence of NFT is that everyone’s actions or words are justified in their own minds.  If their conduct doesn’t conform with mine, no one is at fault.  If someone crosses my path, utters remarks I don’t appreciate, or otherwise interrupts my rhythm, it’s not their fault. They were acting or moving according to their own tempo.  Our rhythmic waves intersected for a split second.  No one’s fault.

The policy helps curb the voice which insists, periodically, that the universe should act a certain way.   NFT doesn’t mean that some people are not irritating at times.  It just means that in their heads, we’d have done the same thing.  By turning to the policy, it helps to allude a moment of annoyance.

This guy was vexing if only for the time being before I remembered NFT

Being exasperated with anything or anyone is really an admission of impatience, or more often, displays our limited understanding.  Even a flicker of irritation shows us that we didn’t, at that moment, have the capacity to understand.  The NFT policy is a blanket license to admit we actually don’t comprehend why others do what they do.  We can’t.  None of us has the experiences of another.

The clever suggestions in our heads can so easily justify a form of self-righteousness.  The downside — it’s most always ill-perceived and leads to moments of unhelpful grit.

Have there been times I’ve forgotten about NFT?  Sure, fog runs thick between my ears more often than I care.  On the bright side, NFT has been seeping into consciousness with more frequency since I picked up the policy.  It must be, like most things, a matter of practice.

Until I can find a way to paste No Fault Thought in my frontal cortex, the times that I can recall the policy helps to serve as a reminder that I’ve got a limited capacity for understanding others, and I am better off nipping tiny worthless thought spirals in the bud.

4 Capitals — 10 days

There are a couple of places in the world where you could visit four capitals of different countries in 10 days with reasonable time for exploring each and one of those is touching the western Slavic area of what was once Czechoslovakia.  It helps to have a car, although you could probably train it.

One amenable option is flying into Budapest, Hungry, hanging for a couple of days, with plenty of time to crisscross the city on foot while slurping down homemade goulash and rich local brew.

After BP, you could head to Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, about five hours away, with a several-hour stop in route exploring Bratislava.  In comparison to the other capitals, Bratislava, Slovakia, is by far the smallest, making the trip to Prague an easy one-day journey.

Following a few days consuming paprika-laced grilled sausages, roasted pigs knuckles, and tasty frothy beers in Prague, you could zip down to Vienna, the capital of Austria, only a 3.5-hour drive, to round out the tour.

Buda and Pest

It’s a relatively tight circle.  And although all four countries are part of the EU, you’ll need three different currencies as Hungry, and the Czech Republic have resisted submitting to the euro.

However you might “do” the trip, it’s worth the investment of 10 days just for the food and drink.  Throw in the impressive architecture, the walking culture of each city, and easygoingness of the local inhabitants, and it makes for a sensory-filled, non-stop, yet relaxing and memorable excursion.

 

Budapest, split by the Danube River

Backstreet Bratislava

A small window looking down at Prague city center

Along the river toward central Vienna

Always a time & place for exercise

Goulash, paprika, fresh peanuts and home brew make the “For Sale Pub” an ideal lunch spot in Budapest.

And an image of building art from Chelsea, NYC for good luck.

Faint Winds

Faint winds blow warm, cool; warm, cool,
No sign for the reason why,
Captured by welcome fascination,
With moments of sparked elation.

Circulating, embracing, raw, and fleeting,
Drawing on colored boundaries,
Subject to induced reception,
Growing in an instinctive direction.

“In my heart of hearts, I believe…,”

Says the guy to the woman he was walking with as I passed them on a busy crosswalk of 23rd at 5th Ave/Madison Square Park in New York yesterday.  Since we were moving in opposite directions, a split-second glance at his face told me that he was engaged in an intent explanation.  And who wouldn’t look purposeful uttering the idiom ‘my heart of hearts.’

Whoever wrote this didn’t add the heart as a source

Shakespeare supposedly gave us this phrase, but he used the singular version, ‘my heart of heart.’   We like many hearts to proclaim something at the core of our beliefs. As emotional beings, we like to express depth and profundity.  It helps convey a level of certainty.

We invoke the heart, or hearts, because we love believing in things. Believing in something self-assures us that we are not idiots.  And if we can believe profoundly, it helps us feel that we are not on shaky ground.

It’s said though, that the only thing we can truly believe is our ability to change.  All other beliefs are built on experiences, which are somewhat like fantasies.  And like snowflakes, everyone’s belief structure is unique.

Heart of hearts or a 10 of hearts, we love our hearts

I believe that the world is flat until I find out it’s round and that it’s round until I learn it’s a spheroid.  And, I believe that what I’m doing at this very moment is positive and healthy.  In fact, I believe from the bottom of my heart, which must be somewhere near the gut, mixing itself in the intestinal instinct fluids.

A belief that reaches the depth of our consciousness, the core of our hearts, helps conquer empty space.  The trick, since beliefs are self-constructed, quasi-realities, is to prevent them from growing too rigid or giving them too much validity, lending them to be more heart healthy.

I’m not sure where my heart of hearts lies.  I can’t think of a conviction I’ve got that is so profound.  If I had a gun to my head, I would proclaim with a certain degree of certainty, ok, my heart-of-hearts, at least for the near future, that the New York Yankee’s will win (something) and that dogs will remain man’s best friend.

Biodynamics to the rescue

While somewhat of an obscure farming method, even though it’s been around for decades, biodynamic, not to be confused with organic, has been slowly creeping into vineyards, orchards, and farmer’s markets.

There is no question that the demand for organic food has been on the rise.  The proof is in its availability.  You can now find organic edibles in many local markets. Organic is mainstream.  Even in rural China, organic specialty foods have made an appearance.  But is organic worth the purchase?  There is no shortage of opinions on both sides of that question.  The answer may be, “it depends,” and also whether we care about ecosystem sustainability, nutrition, flavor, long-term biodiversity, residual synthetic chemicals in our bloodstreams, yadda, yadda, yadda.

from field to store, JD manages a certifiable process

As we were chomping down on rare cooked, organic, 1.5-inch thick grass-fed sirloin steaks during a small family gathering recently, discussing the relative value of animals (humans included), the topic of organic crops came up.  Nephew JD, who works as a produce broker, coordinating business between large grocery retailers (such as Whole Foods) and dozens (or hundreds) of small SE Pennsylvania farms, enlightened us about the smoke-and-mirrors of organic.  Perhaps because I’m a tail-end product of the hippy generation, I’ve been somewhat trust-worthing-ly naive about the “certified organic” label. Throughout the 80’s/90’s organic foods gain popularity as a valid alternative food source.  The standards in those days, I’m told (by Waldorf University agriculture students), for Certified Organic were stricter.  During the last two decades, with lobbying from the food industry, compliance for organic certification have been relaxed considerably.  As JD pointed out, organic food can be sprayed with pesticide and still be certified organic.  The pesticide may not be (as) synthetic as conventional farming, but it’s a pesticide nonetheless.  Additionally, organic has different standards internationally.  An organic tomato from Mexico is different from an organic tomato from the USA. 

Still, the point is we tend to think organically grown is healthier.  In many cases though, if it is, it could be marginal.  JD assured us though, that while the label isn’t what it seems, we were still not throwing our money away by buying organic.

To be fair, he explained, conventional farmers must go through a multi-year process, purging the soil of synthetic fertilizer to achieve organic certification.  Once they do though, their reward is a higher price yield. Still, organic has become marketing at its finest.

Biodynamic to the rescue.  Maybe.

A few years ago GV and I went to a wine tasting close to home in NYC where one of the California vineyard owners proudly and passionately served us samples of his biodynamic wines.  “They are alive,” he said.  One test, he said, was to loosely cork an unfinished bottle without the need to vacuum it.  After a couple of days, unlike traditional wine, it would be as vibrant and flavorful as the day it was opened.  He was right.

Union Square farmer’s market in NYC

In NYC’s Union Square farmer’s market, a few local farms now label their products certified biodynamic.  Apparently, this is a stricter level of certification where no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides are used.  Moreover, biodynamic farms must be regenerative, not degenerative.  In other words, there must be little to no reliance on imported (to the farm) products.  The idea is a holistic, ethical approach to farming and raising food, where systems are considered interconnected, the ecosystem balanced and diversified.

Are there critics of organic and biodynamic foods?  Sure.  There are plenty of studies showing doubt about various benefits of both, but none looking at long-term effects of pesticides or the subtleties of food language.  No studies are looking at the molecular makeup of what is produced and how it affects us over a lifetime.  We are finding out that what we put in our mouths passes chemical information to our cells from what they contain.  So if a plant or animal was raised with pesticides, hormones, or antibiotics, then those coded messages are passed along in what we eat.  It’s subtle, it’s deep, and more than likely, beyond most of our conversations.  It’s beyond the guy writing this post.

I’m a sucker, trusting this marketing bait

I bought fish last night labeled organic because it sounded healthier, although it’s more likely I was caught in a hocus pocus marketing ploy. [Hint: organic fish ≠ wild caught].  However, I remain hopeful that certified organic still means the absence of hormones, antibiotics, and GMO ingredients (GMO being another worm, er.., rat hole).

As in last week’s post, our decision to eat conventional, local, natural, organic, biodynamic, or growing our own, boils down not only to how we grew up and what we’ve learned along the way, but also to a healthy dose of our own self-constructed (sometimes quirky?) logic, combined with a dash of gullibility, with a pinch of trust.  For now though, when I see an organic or biodynamic label, I’m a certified sucker.

Logic didn’t make this chart