All taken over this previous weekend. The weather has been incredible recently and I’ve been enjoying every minute of it.
All taken over this previous weekend. The weather has been incredible recently and I’ve been enjoying every minute of it.
In general, I haven’t found that old age is what stops people from living the life of their dreams. It’s the attitude we’re conditioned to acquire that old age gives you an excuse to slow down or give up. Everyone else is giving up at my age, so why shouldn’t I?
Age is whatever you think it is. You are as old as you think you are.
- Muhammad Ali
But for most people it’s not enough to simply answer the question. You need to witness someone walking the path and leading by example. Someone who is uninhibited by the social conventions of age, who rejects fear and reluctance, and seizes every opportunity.
That person is my mother, appropriately named Daisy, who turns seventy today.
As I write this she’s somewhere between Zurich and Vienna, but it feels like only yesterday that I was 13 years old and she was traveling across Russia for weeks by herself. On other trips she’s traveled to South and Central America, East Asia, Northern Europe, the Middle East, and pretty much everywhere else on earth. She almost exclusively travels alone, unencumbered by travelers who don’t share her curious and fearless approach to embracing other people and cultures.
Everywhere she goes she makes friends, language barrier be damned. I’ve always been a bit jealous of how naturally that comes to her — it’s a gift. When I ask where that came from she describes a childhood in ravaged post-war Germany: hungry, cold, and with few possessions, but remaining hopeful and positive. The mindset of a truly positive person is an unmistakable as it is unstoppable.
Nothing can stop one with the right mental attitude from achieving their goal; nothing on earth can help one with the wrong mental attitude.
- Thomas Jefferson
I grew up wanting for nothing and sometimes I struggle to be half as open and positive as my mother, who grew up in war-torn Prussia without a father. Her brother, who was her guardian, died at 40 of lung cancer shortly after I was born and her companion of 15 years (The Giant) died recently. Both are dearly missed, but life goes on and begs to be seized. And seized it will be.
Seventy years isn’t old unless you let it be. Because of my mother I face my 30′s, 40′s, 50′s, 60′s, and 70′s with absolute optimism, knowing that the vibrancy of life increases, not diminishes, in the decades to come. I know it because I’ve seen it.
Happy 70th birthday, I love you!
Photo above taken in December 2012 when my mother took time after sailing the Andaman Sea to meet me in Bangkok for my 31st birthday weekend.
Man, climbing trees is fun. In recent weeks a Dutchman in Chengdu named Marco has also been taking his car battery-powered DJ setup to the park with him at Sichuan University. You can see it above, nestled onto a shopping cart. Great times in this glorious weather.
The last photo is another Dutchman, Hise, who recently had a bicycle built by Natooke. Recently I’ve been working with Hise a lot on the Dojo, our new venue in Flower Town. I’ll save all of that for an upcoming post.
The internet is the greatest disruptive innovation to education that we’ve seen so far, well beyond Gutenberg’s printing press which was born in the 15th century. Its effect is so great that we have absolutely no idea what the education industry will look like in 10, 20, or 50 years.
This book, The One World Schoolhouse, is Salman Khan’s vision for what the future of education looks like — one where anyone around the world can receive a free, world-class education.
Salman Khan is the founder of the Khan Academy, a non-profit educational website that has delivered thousands of lectures to 250 million students around the world and received funding from Google and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
In the age of our parents, or our parents parents, you graduated college, got a job, and stayed there for 40 years before retiring. Those days are over. In our era, the onus of acquiring skills and gaining experience is on each of us for our entire adult lives. The tests that matter aren’t administered by a central authority, they’re the challenges that we face in our everyday lives. Our outdated education system, which is a carryover from the 18th century Prussian model, is designed to produce obedient factory workers. But what it’s producing these days is debt-laden adults ill-prepared for the real world.
The One World Schoolhouse imagines a future where a high quality education is available to everyone around the world, for free. If you’ve ever used Youtube to teach yourself something, you probably have at least a very basic idea of how this system of information dissemination works. You start with the best teachers in the world but instead of having them lecture a few hundred students in person, they address an audience of millions by recording lectures and putting them online. Couple that with interactive course material that’s suited for exactly your skill level, and you have a very scalable system.
The way that Salman Khan fell into online education is itself a great story. While Salman was managing millions as an MIT-graduate hedge fund manager, his younger cousin Nadia was failing 6th grade math. Due to the “tracking” system of her school which threatened to place her in a remedial math class, she had little chance of being on the advanced math track which taught students algebra in the 8th grade. And if Nadia didn’t take algebra in 8th grade, then she couldn’t take calculus in 12th grade, and so on.
Salman committed to tutoring her over the internet since they lived thousands of miles apart, and his personalized online video classes via Skype made all the difference. One day he decided to record his lessons, in math subjects ranging from simple arithmetic to calculus, and put them on Youtube. Before long, millions were watching, and the Khan Academy was born.
Today, The Khan Academy has hundreds millions of students around the world learning for free, and Nadia is studying medicine at Sarah Lawrence College.
The basics of the standard educational model are remarkably stubborn and uniform: Go to a school building at seven or eight in the morning; sit through a succession of class periods of forty to sixty minutes, in which the teachers mainly talk and the students mainly listen; build in some time for lunch and physical exercise; go home to do homework. In the standard curriculum, vast and beautiful areas of human thought are artificially chopped into manageable chunks called “subjects.” Concepts that should flow into one another like ocean currents are dammed up into “units.” Students are “tracked” in a manner that creepily recalls Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and completely ignores the wonderful variety and nuance that distinguish human intelligence, imagination, and talent.
In a traditional academic model, the time allotted to learn something is fixed while the comprehension of the concept is variable. What should be fixed is a high level of comprehension and what should be variable is the amount of time students have to understand a concept.
Is it natural for kids to sit quietly for an hour, listening? No, it’s natural for kids to want to do something, to be busy with work or play, to interact. Students are not naturally passive. Perversely, they need to be taught to be passive; the passivity then becomes a habit that makes them more tractable, perhaps, but less alert, less engaged in what they’re doing.
The body of knowledge that can only be gained in a formal setting is getting smaller and smaller every year as the internet becomes further engrained in the way that we learn. I think everyone, of all ages, all industries, and all countries, has something to learn by considering what the future of education looks like. I really enjoyed this book and I highly recommend it. As of publication of this review, it’s also a fantastic bargain on Kindle at just $2.99.
Amazon Link: The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined
You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this and you will find strength. If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.
- Marcus Aurelius
Controlling the world is impossible. Controlling yourself is the greatest of all mortal endeavors.
The day after a raging house party, we didn’t want to do anything but decompress, and that essentially means movie time. Since there were seven of us, we picked seven movies and had each person eliminate one, ending with this movie that none of us had ever heard of. Strangely and by total coincidence, four out of the seven movies starred Robert Redford.
After our selection process, we watched Downhill Racer, a 1969 film starring Robert Redford and featuring Gene Hackman. Directed by Michael Ritchie, whose most famous film might be The Golden Child (starring Eddie Murphy), Downhill Racer is about an Olympic downhill skier who fights his way to the top. This movie is basically an extended analogy for the American dream.
The protagonist, David Chappellet, begins as a competitive skier who cares about winning more than anything else. His coach, played by Gene Hackman, tells him to play his position (rank #79 on his team), but Chappellet refuses to accept that he isn’t the best. Through hard work and the emotional rejection of girlfriends and parents, he grinds his way to the top position – but in the end, is it worth it?
This movie has something to say about success and the path that you take to get there. But since the protagonist is so emotionally distant and difficult to decipher, you wonder how much there is to actually figure out at all. It’s like Drive with Ryan Gosling but without fleeting glimpses of the protagonist’s vulnerabilities. And it’s not nearly as stylish as Drive.
With all of that said, the narrative is coherent and features a lot of the twists and turns that you’d expect a modern movie of this type to have. The whole thing just feels very stark, with little dialogue and a minimal soundtrack.
Perhaps since Downhill Racer was made in 1979, it looks extremely old, but it is stylish. There were a few things extremely unusual about this film in particular.
The first thing is that the full credits played at the beginning of the film and not the end. Five minutes in, we’re watching the entire film’s credits (which were actually pretty slick, with freeze-frame skiing shots framing the credits). When the Technicolor logo appeared I knew that they were the actual full credits, because that’s what you see at the every end of the actual credits for every movie.
The second bizarre thing was the ending of the movie. Spoiler alert: the protagonist in Downhill Racer becomes an Olympic champion at the end. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, really, but what is strange as that as soon as he wins the gold medal, he smiles and the screen turns black. Movie over. No music, no credits, nothing. This movie is incredibly stark and abrupt.
After Downhill Racer concluded, we decided not to sleep yet and watched American Beauty. The contrast between the two was staggering. American Beauty features relatable characters, familiar settings, and a lush soundtrack. It just felt so much more coherent.
I often prefer older movies because many of them were produced before the mold of modern film convention had been set. But some of them just age better than others.
A few weeks ago I read a post on Tim Ferriss’ blog deconstructing how a pair of first-time authors secured a 7-figure advance on their first book deal. Turns out the book is a guide to fitness, specifically endocrinology, and the authors are two of the foremost experts on regulating hormones like insulin, growth hormone, and testosterone through diet and exercise to produce what they call the alpha male. Having already read and enjoyed Ferriss’ Four Hour Body (a 600-page monster compendium on all things health), I decided to read Engineering the Alpha and see what I could learn from it.
The way I see it, life is all about identifying and understanding various systems. Career, education, relationships, and so on. No single system in your entire life is as important as figuring out the system of your own body. Mental and physical performance supersedes everything else, which is why you can never invest too much in mastering this part of your life.
As a side-note, the authors of this book don’t mean alpha in an aggressive or chauvinistic way – they mean someone in control of their destiny. This is addressed several times in the book and I mention it because the selection of this word might turn some people off, wrongly thinking that this book was authored by meatheads.
As a neat bonus, the foreword to this book was authored by Arnold Schwarzenegger, and is available online to read for free. It’s linked below.
What makes Engineering the Alpha stand out from your average fitness book is the hormonal approach that it takes. The idea is that mental and physical weakness in men is due to our hormones being out of balance, and an oft-cited figure is how the average man’s testosterone has plummeted 30% in recent decades. The number of implications of this one change is huge, but among them:
And the list goes on. The implications of testosterone at pictures at right but in summary, as an adult man with low testosterone, your life sucks. Obviously other hormones also play important roles in overall health and happiness, and those are addressed in this book as well. In the Tim Ferriss style of “body hacks”, this book includes a number of small tricks to regulate and adjust your body chemistry for optimal performance.
The authors of this book break down the entire process into four stages, which are spread out over a period of four months. Each stage has a specific goal, be it fat lass or muscle growth, and there’s an accompanying diet and exercise plan which are in harmony with your LBM (lean body mass) and caloric requirements. On workout days you’ll eat at surplus and on rest days you’ll be at caloric deficit, for example. The phases are called Prime, Adapt, Surge, and Complete.
In my opinion the most significant barriers to building a strong body and mind are psychological. Lifting weights, eating healthy, and sleeping 8 hours each day isn’t that difficult, it’s staying motivated and encouraged throughout the process which is where most people falter. To address this, a large portion of Engineering the Alpha is basically a self-help book for people who have very little self-control.
It’s peppered with stories of people who’ve lost hundreds of pounds and have completely transformed their lives. These stories are inspiring and useful in motivating total beginners, but as someone who’s been training and reading about fitness for over a year, at times I wished that it would be more about physiology and less about psychology.
I might have left more highlights in this book than in any book in recent memory.
You don’t need a chemistry set to become superhuman. You can achieve that naturally. No pills, no shots, no injections. As we’ve already mentioned, the benefits go far beyond looking fucking awesome. Your hormones are the key to optimizing physical, social, and cognitive performance. This is basic endocrinology that’s sixty years of research in the making.
Not targeting your hormones through diet and training means less intelligence and a limited capacity for achievement. The key is a hormone called BDNF — one of the biggest scientific advances that no one is talking about. What it stands for (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) isn’t as important as what it means because if you don’t produce more BDNF, it could stand for “brain does not function.” The concept is best understood this way: Have you ever seen the movie Limitless with Bradley Cooper? In it, Cooper’s character takes a pill that maximizes brain functioning. He becomes brilliant — not because he suddenly has more knowledge but because his brain is firing and operating at a more efficient pace. This is BDNF.
Every day there are millions of cellular reactions occurring in your body. Some of this activity causes damage within your body. As with any equipment that is used a lot, the daily stress causes breakdown. Fortunately, your body is built for such circumstances and can naturally heal anything that isn’t working at an optimal level. This is autophagy. So what happens when your internal repair is slow and lazy and doesn’t get the job done? That’s when you have a damaged internal environment. More specifically, when your workers don’t repair your mitochondria — the cellular power plant of your body — then your body is basically fucked.
As you can see, sometimes technical concepts are explained in layman, bro-like terms.
One thing I loved about this book was that it’s filled with references to The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. If you haven’t read that book, read it, because it breaks down the archetypical mores of every movie you’ve ever seen. In Engineering the Alpha, the authors portray you as Luke Skywalker on his uncle’s farm on Tattooine. You crave enlightenment and greater things, but you can only attain them after you’ve completed a journey. You must leave your ordinary world in order to become extraordinary. I love this analogy.
Amazon link: Man 2.0: Engineering the Alpha