Friday, December 19, 2014

Mind of the Meditator by Ricard, Lutz and Davidson

Saving this article to read and reference in the future.  This was featured in the November 2014 Scientific American magazine.

When the Society for Neuroscience asked Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th dalai lama (the leader of Tibetan Buddhism), to address its annual meeting in Washington, D.C.,in 2005, a few hundred members among the nearly 35,000 or so attending the meeting petitioned to have the invitation rescinded. A religious leader, they felt, had no place at a scientific meeting. But this particular leader turned out to have a provocative and ultimately productive question to pose to the gathering. “What relation,” he asked, “could there be between Buddhism, an ancient Indian philosophical and spiritual tradition, and modern science?”

The Dalai Lama, putting action before rhetoric, had already started trying to find answers to his own question. Back in the 1980s, he had sparked a dialogue about science and Buddhism, which led to the creation of the Mind & Life Institute, dedicated to studying contemplative science. In 2000 he brought new focus to this endeavor: he launched the sub-discipline of “contemplative neuroscience” by inviting scientists to study the brain activity of expert Buddhist meditators—defined as having more than 10,000 hours of practice.

For nearly 15 years more than 100 monastics and lay practitioners of Buddhism and a large number of beginning meditators have participated in scientific experiments at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and at least 19 other universities. The article you are reading, in fact, is the product of a collaboration between two neuroscientists and a Buddhist monk who originally trained as a cell biologist.

A comparison of the brain scans of meditators with tens of thousands of hours of practice with those of neophytes and non-meditators has started to explain why this set of techniques for training the mind holds great potential for supplying cognitive and emotional benefits. The goals of meditation, in fact, overlap with many of the objectives of clinical psychology, psychiatry, preventive medicine and education. As suggested by the growing compendium of research, meditation may be effective in treating depression and chronic pain and in cultivating a sense of overall well-being.

The discovery of meditation’s benefits coincides with recent neuroscientific findings showing that the adult brain can still be deeply transformed through experience. These studies showthat when we learn how to juggle or play a musical instrument, the brain undergoes changes through a process called neuroplasticity. A brain region that controls the movement of a violinist’s fingers becomes progressively larger with mastery of the instrument. A similar process appears to happen when we meditate. Nothing changes in the surrounding environment, but the meditator regulates mental states to achieve a form of inner enrichment, an experience that affects brain functioning and its physical structure. The evidence amassed from this research has begun to how that meditation can rewire brain circuits to produce salutary effects not just on the mind and the brain but on the entire body.

WHAT IS MEDITATION?
Meditation has roots in the contemplative practices of nearly every major religion. The prevalence of meditation in the media has given the word various meanings. We will refer to meditation as the cultivation of basic human qualities, such as a more stable and clear mind, emotional balance, a sense of caring mindfulness, even love and compassion—qualities that remain latent as long as one does not make an effort to develop them. It is also a process of familiarization with a more serene and flexible way of being.

In principle, meditation is relatively simple and can be done anywhere. No equipment or workout attire is needed. The meditator begins by assuming a comfortable physical posture, neither too tense nor too lax, and by wishing for self-transformation and a desire for others’ well-being and for the alleviation of their suffering. Later the practitioner must stabilize the mind, which is too often disorderly—and occupied by a stream of inner chatter. Mastering the mind requires freeing it from automatic mental conditioning and inner confusion.

We will examine here what happens in the brain during three common types of meditation developed through Buddhism and now practiced in secular programs in hospitals and schools throughout the world. The first one, focused-attention meditation, aims to tame and center the mind in the present moment while developing the capacity to remain vigilant to distractions. The second one, mindfulness, or open-monitoring meditation, tries to cultivate a less emotionally reactive awareness to emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment to prevent them from spiraling out of control and creating mental distress. In mindfulness, the meditator remains attentive, moment by moment, to any experience without focusing on anything specific. Finally, another type of practice is known in Buddhist tradition as compassion and loving kindness and fosters an altruistic perspective toward others.

UNDER THE SCANNER
Neuroscientists have now begun to probe what happens inside the brain during the various types of meditation. Wendy Hasenkamp, then at Emory University, and her colleagues used brain imaging to identify the neural networks activated by focused-attention meditation. In the scanner, the participants trained their attention on the sensation produced by breathing. Typically during this form of meditation, the mind wanders from an object, and the meditator must recognize this and then restore attention to the gradual rhythm of the inhaling and exhaling. In this study, the meditator had to signal mind wandering by pressing a button. Researchers identified four phases of a cognitive cycle: an episode of mind wandering, a moment of becoming aware of the distraction, a phase of reorienting attention and a resumption of focused attention.

Each of the four phases involves particular brain networks. The first part of the cycle, when a distraction occurs, increases activity in the wide-ranging default-mode network (DMN). This network includes areas of the medial prefrontal cortex, the posterior cingulate cortex, the precuneus, the inferior parietal lobe and the lateral temporal cortex. The DMN is known to become activated during mind wandering and to play a general role in building and updating internal models of the world based on long-term memories about the self or others.

The second phase, becoming aware of a distraction, occurs in other brain areas such as the anterior insula and the anterior cingulate cortex, regions of what is called the salience network. This network regulates subjectively perceived feelings, which might, for instance, lead to being distracted during a task. The salience network is thought to play a key role in detecting novel events and in switching activity during meditation among assemblies of neurons that make up the brain’s large-scale networks. It may shift attention away from the default-mode network, for instance.

The third phase engages additional areas—among them the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the lateral inferior parietal lobe— at take back” one’s attention by detaching it from any distracting stimulus. Finally, in the fourth and last phase, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex continues to retain a high level of activity, as the meditator’s attention remains directed toward an object such as he breath.

In our laboratory at Wisconsin, we further observed different patterns of activity depending on a practitioner’s level of experience. Veteran meditators with more than 10,000 hours of practice showed more activity in these attention-related brain regions compared with novices. Paradoxically, the most experienced meditators demonstrated less activation than the ones without as much experience. Advanced meditators appear to acquire a level of skill that enables them to achieve a focused state of mind with less effort. These effects resemble the skill of expert musicians and athletes capable of immersing themselves in the “flow” of their performances with a minimal sense of effortful control.

To study the impact of focused-attention meditation, we also studied its volunteers before and after a three-month retreat with intensive meditation exercises for at least eight hours a day. They received headphones that broadcast sounds at a given frequency, occasionally mixed with slightly higher-pitched sounds. They had to focus on the sounds played in one ear for 10 minutes and react to periodically interspersed high-pitched tones. After the retreat, we found that meditators, compared with a non meditating control group, showed less trial-to-trial variation in their reaction times on this highly repetitive task, which lent itself easily to distractions. The result suggested that the meditators had an enhanced capacity to remain vigilant. The brain’s electrical responses to high-pitched tones remained more stable at the second session only for the meditators.

STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS
The Second type of well-studied meditation also involves another form of attention. Mindfulness, or open-monitoring meditation, requires the meditator to take note of every sight or sound and track internal bodily sensations and inner self-talk. The person stays aware of what is happening without becoming overly preoccupied with any single perception or thought, returning to this detached focus each time the mind strays. As awareness of what is happening in one’s surroundings grows, normal daily irritants—an angry colleague at work, a worried child at home—become less disruptive, and a sense of psychological well-being develops.

With Heleen Slagter, then in our group at Wisconsin, we sought to learn about the influence of this form of training on mental functioning by measuring the participants’ capacity to detect rapidly presented visual stimuli—a means to measure mindfulness meditation, which is also sometimes called nonreactive awareness. To perform this experiment, we used a task in which the participants had to detect two numbers presented on a screen rapidly, amid a succession of letters. If the second number appears about 300 milliseconds after the first one, subjects often do not see the second, a phenomenon known as attentional blink.

If the second number appears after a delay of 600 milliseconds, it can be detected without difficulty. The attentional blink Reflects the limits of the brain’s ability to process two stimuli presented to the observer at close intervals. When too much of the brain’s attention is devoted to processing the first number, the second number cannot always be detected, although the observer usually can see it on some of the trials. We hypothesized that mindfulness training could reduce the propensity to “get stuck,” or absorbed by seeing the first number. Mindfulness practice cultivates a nonreactive form of sensory awareness, which should result in a reduced attentional blink. As we predicted, after three months of an intensive retreat, the meditators perceived both numbers more frequently than the controls did. This improved perception was also reflected in lessened activity of a particular brain wave in response to the first number. Monitoring the P3b brain wave, used to assess how attention is allocated, indicated that meditators were capable of optimizing attention so as to minimize the attentional blink.

Staying aware of an unpleasant sensation can reduce maladaptive emotional responses and help one to move beyond the disagreeable feeling and may be particularly useful in dealing with pain. In our Wisconsin lab, we have studied experienced Practitioners while they performed an advanced form of mindfulness meditation called open presence. In open presence, sometimes called pure awareness, the mind is calm and relaxed, not focused on anything in particular yet vividly clear, free from excitation or dullness. The meditator observes and is open to experience without making any attempt to interpret, change, reject or ignore painful sensation. We found that the intensity of the pain was not reduced in meditators, but it bothered them less than it did members of a control group.

Compared with novices, expert meditators’ brain activity diminished in anxiety-related regions—the insular cortex and the amygdala—in the period preceding the painful stimulus. The meditators’ brain response in pain-related regions became accustomed to the stimulus more quickly than that of novices after repeated exposures to it. Other tests in our lab have shown that meditation training increases one’s ability to better control and buffer basic physiological responses—inflammation or levels of a stress hormone—to a socially stressful task such as giving a public speech or doing mental arithmetic in front of a harsh jury.

Several studies have documented the benefits of mindfulness on symptoms of anxiety and depression and its ability to improve sleep patterns. By deliberately monitoring and observing their thoughts and emotions when they feel sad or worried, depressed patients can use meditation to manage negative thoughts and feelings as they arise spontaneously and so lessen rumination. Clinical psychologists John Teasdale, then at the University of Cambridge, and Zindel Segal of the University of Toronto showed in 2000 that for patients who had previously suffered at least three episodes of depression, six months of mindfulness practice, along with cognitive therapy, reduced the risk of relapse by nearly 40 percent in the year following the onset of a severe depression. More recently, Segal demonstrated that the intervention is superior to a placebo and has a protective effect against relapse comparable to standard maintenance antidepressant therapy.

COMPASSION AND LOVING KINDNESS
The third form of meditation under study cultivates attitudes and feelings of loving kindness and compassion toward other people, whether they are close relatives, strangers or enemies. This practice entails being aware of someone else’s needs and then experiencing a sincere, compassionate desire to help that person or to alleviate the suffering of other people by shielding them from their own destructive behavior.

To generate a compassionate state may sometimes entail the meditator feeling what another person is feeling. But having one’s emotions resonate empathetically with the feelings of another person does not by itself suffice to yield a compassionate mind-set. The meditation must also be driven by an unselfish desire to help someone who is suffering. This form of meditation on love and compassion has proved to be more than just a spiritual exercise. It has shown potential to benefit health care workers, teachers and others who run the risk of emotional burnout linked to the distress experienced from a deeply empathetic reaction to another person’s plight.

The meditator begins by focusing on the unconditional feeling of benevolence and love for others, accompanied by silent repetition of a phrase conveying intent, such as “May all beings find happiness and the causes of happiness and be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.” In 2008 we studied experienced volunteers who had practiced this form of training for thousands of hours and found an increase in activity in several brain regions while they listened to voices conveying distress. The secondary somatosensory and insular cortices, known to participate in empathetic and other emotional responses, were more activated for experts than controls in response to the distressed voice, suggesting an enhanced ability to share the feelings of others without reporting any sign of becoming emotionally overwhelmed. The practice of compassion meditation also produced more activity in areas such as the temporoparietal junction, the medial prefrontal cortex and the superior temporal sulcus, all typically activated when we put ourselves in the place of another.

More recently, Tania Singer and Olga Klimecki, both at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, in collaboration with one of us (Ricard), sought to distinguish differences between the effects of empathy and compassion on meditators. They noted that compassion and altruistic love were associated with positive emotions, and they suggested that emotional exhaustion or burnout was, in fact, a kind of empathy “fatigue.”

According to the Buddhist contemplative tradition from which this practice is derived, compassion, far from leading to distress and discouragement, reinforces an inner balance, strength of mind, and a courageous determination to help those who suffer. If a child is hospitalized, the presence of a loving mother at his side holding his hand and comforting him with tender words will no doubt do that child more good than the anxiety of a mother overwhelmed with empathetic distress who, unable to bear the sight of her sick child, paces back and forth in the hallway. In the latter case, the mother may then end up with the common experience of burnout, which, in one U.S. study, beset about 60 percent of the 600 caregivers surveyed.

To further explore the mechanisms of empathy and compassion, Klimecki and Singer divided about 60 volunteers into two groups. One meditated on love and compassion, and the other experimental regimen trained participants to cultivate feelings of empathy for others. Preliminary results showed that after a week of meditation-based loving kindness and compassion, novice subjects watched video clips showing suffering people with more positive and benevolent feelings. The other subjects, who devoted a week to an experimental regimen that just cultivated empathy, experienced emotions that resonated deeply with others’ sufferings. But these emotions also brought about negative feelings and thoughts, and this group experienced more distress, sometimes to the point of not being able to control their emotions.

Aware of these destabilizing effects, Singer and Klimecki added training for the empathy group in compassion and loving kindness meditation. They then observed that this additional exercise counterbalanced the detrimental effects of training in empathy alone: negative emotions diminished, and positive emotions increased. These results were accompanied by corresponding changes in the areas of several brain networks associated with compassion, positive emotions and maternal love, including the orbitofrontal cortex, the ventral striatum and the anterior cingulated cortex. The researchers, moreover, were able to demonstrate that a week of training in compassion increased prosocial behavior in a virtual game specially developed to measure the capacity to help others.

A DOOR TO CONSCIOUSNESS
Meditation explores the nature of the mind, providing a way to study consciousness and subjective mental states from the first person perspective of the meditator. In a collaboration with expert Buddhist meditators at Wisconsin, we have studied the brain’s electrical activity using electroencephalography (EEG) during compassion meditation in which the meditators described the well-defined sense of self as becoming less fixed and permanent.

We found that these long-term Buddhist practitioners were able, at will, to sustain a particular EEG pattern. Specifically, it is called high-amplitude gamma-band oscillations and phase synchrony at between 25 and 42 hertz. The coordination of brain oscillations may play a potentially crucial role in the brain’s building of temporary networks that can integrate cognitive and Affective functions during learning and conscious perception, a process that can bring about lasting changes in brain circuitry.

High-amplitude oscillations persisted throughout the meditation for several dozens of seconds and gradually increased as Practice progressed. These EEG traces differed from those of control subjects, in particular, in the lateral front oparietal cortex. Changes in electrical activity may reflect an increased awareness in expert meditators of their surroundings and their internal mental processes, although additional research is needed to better understand the functioning of gamma oscillations.

Meditation brings about changes not just in well-defined cognitive and emotional processes but also in the volume of certain brain areas, possibly reflecting alterations in the number of connections among brain cells. A preliminary study by Sara W. Lazar of Harvard University and her colleagues showed that among longtime meditators, as compared with a control group, the volume of the brain’s darker tissue, its gray matter, differed in the insula and prefrontal cortices—specifically, regions called Brodmann areas 9 and 10, which are frequently activated during various forms of meditation. These distinctions were most pronounced in older participants in the study, suggesting that meditation might influence the thinning of brain tissue that comes with aging.

In a follow-up study, Lazar and her colleagues also showed that mindfulness training decreased the volume of the amygdala, a region involved in fear processing, for those participants who showed the most noticeable reductions in stress over the course of training. Eileen Luders of the University of California, Los Angeles, and her colleagues further observed differences in meditators in the fibers called axons that connect different brain regions, suggesting an enhanced number of brain connections. This observation may support the hypothesis that meditation actually induces structural alterations in the brain. An important limitation of this research relates to the lack of long-term longitudinal studies that follow a group over the course of many years and to the absence of comparisons between meditators and people of similar backgrounds and ages who do not meditate.

Some evidence even exists that meditation—and its ability to enhance overall well-being—may diminish inflammation and other biological stresses that occur at the molecular level. A collaborative study between our group and one led by Perla Kaliman of the Institute of Biomedical Research of Barcelona showed that one day of intensive mindfulness practice in experienced meditators turned down the activity of inflammation-related genes and altered the functioning of enzymes involved with turning genes on and off. A studyby Cliff Saron of the University of California, Davis, looked at the effect of meditation on a molecule involved with regulating the longevity of a cell. The molecule in question was an enzyme called telomerase that lengthens DNA segments at the ends of chromosomes. The segments, called telomeres, ensure stability of the genetic material during cell division. They shorten every time a cell divides, and when their length decreases below a critical threshold, the cell stops dividing and gradually enters a state of senescence. Compared with a control group, the meditators who showed the most pronounced reductions in psychological stress also had higher telomerase activity by the end of the retreat. This finding suggests that mindfulness training might slow processes of cellular aging among some practitioners.

A PATH TO WELL-BEING
About 15 years of research have done more than show that meditation produces significant changes in both the function and structure of the brains of experienced practitioners. These studies are now starting to demonstrate that contemplative practices may have a substantive impact on biological processes critical for physical health.

More studies using well-defined, randomized controlled trials are needed to isolate meditation-related effects from other Psychological factors that can influence the outcome of a study. Other variables that may affect study results are the level of motivation of a practitioner and the roles played by both teachers and students in a meditation group. Further work is needed to Understand the possible negative side effects of meditation, the desirable length of a given practice session and the way to tailor it to a person’s specific needs.

Even with the requisite cautions, research on meditation provides new insights into methods of mental training that have the potential to enhance human health and well-being. Equally important, the ability to cultivate compassion and other positive human qualities lays the foundation for an ethical framework unattached to any philosophy or religion, which could have a profoundly beneficial effect on all aspects of human societies.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

MJ on Work, Failure and Success

I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed. –Michael Jordan

ISP More than Triples Speed

Today, I got a letter from my ISP saying that they are giving everyone a free upgrade from 15mbps to 50mbps.

As reported previously, without a VPN, I would get around 11-14mbps and after installing a VPN, I've been consistently getting over 30 mbps.

Well, after this free upgrade, I tested with and without a VPN.

With a VPN, it was coming in the 40mbps range.  With the VPN, I'm consistently getting over 100mbps now.

This is a nice Christmas gift from my ISP.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Collaboration & Influence Series: Conducting Successful Influence Conversations

Summary of notes from the successful influence conversations module



There are three key skills for conducting successful influence conversations
  1. Inquiry: Asking how they understand it
  2. Acknowledgement: Demonstrating understanding of their story and having empathy for their feelings
  3. Advocacy: Explaining how you understand it
As you use these three skills, you begin to understand the other person's story; what their conclusions are; what interpretations they based their conclusion on and what data they based their interpretations on.

From there, you can find common ground, as well as differences, as you begin to explain the data you see, and what your interpretations of the data is and how you arrive at your conclusions.

This whole process can be viewed as two different ladders.  This tool is called the Ladder of Inference.



As you use the three skills to go down their ladder and up yours, keep these tips in mind for each skill:

Inquiry

  • Seek to elicit their story or point of view, their feelings, and the impact of your actions on them
  • Help them walk down their ladder and share specifics about key information, assumptions, and reasoning underlying their conclusions
  • Get curious: ask yourself "What am I missing?" "What might they know that I don't?"
  • Assume they have thought about these things that they have not addressed; ask how
Acknowledgement
  • Put their story at least as eloquently as they did
  • Test the accuracy of your understanding and whether the other person feels heard
  • Name their feelings as well as their logic
  • Communicate empathy - the sense that you can understand their feelings in the context of their story (how they make sense)
  • Remember that you can demonstrate understanding of their story without signaling agreement (or disagreement)
  • Acknowledgement ≠ agreement
Advocacy
  • Put your story / point of view forward as a theory to be tested
  • Walk them up your ladder and offer specifics on key information, assumptions, and reasoning underlying your conclusions
  • Include your story, your feelings, and the impact of their actions on you
  • End with a request for comment, especially about what is missing, unaddressed, unclear, or unpersuasive

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

front row seat

lights glitter and gleam from the fa├žade so grand
exhilarating anticipation fills the air as people enter the theater
people dressed exquisitely with precision
nothing out of place

socialization abuzz, a sea of beautiful people
cacophony of voices of what is new and what is seen
the air wafts of sweet gold
rich beyond compare

my destination is the grand hall
which anchors the back of the theater
i cut my way through the crowd
and let drip off me the sociality

the corridor is long and wide
the red and gold walls royally stand
fellow travelers move toward their destinations
clamor … chatter … whispers … quiet

majestic doors with ornate knobs
a gentle turning; an enormous heavy swinging
the hall is wide and warm and glowing
but seats are empty

i swim in the air and move toward the front
doors, fantastic barricades close
then collapse under their own weight
thunder astonishing

a front row seat, perfect view of stage
red curtain as wide as the sky
opens, revealing the mirror of the world
revealing all who are seated in the hall

i turn to see them, but none are there
astonished I watch the reflector
yet I don't see my reflection
there is no way to enter

people socialize, discuss, then debate
people debate, conclude, then argue
people argue, lie, then fight
people fight, fight and destroy

the hall unravels
chairs unhinged
tossed
wrecked

front row seat to the end of the world

chaos reaches a fevered pitch
a crack appears across the mirror
veins spread
explosion of glass and shards fly at me

all is quiet, except for the crisp air
gleaming, pure light enters the hall
blue, green, yellow perfection
my eyes adjust and I awake

placing my hands and feet on the stage
all my skin is cut and bleeds
but my focus is on the other side
i no longer wish to hide

i reach for the hand of the resurrector

source of the image

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Goodbye September

Walking among the ruins of a long-abandoned church
I've been forced to examine
How I wish I could sleep; I'm tired but so shocked
By the voices of sweet children singing in the choir

I don't belong here, yet I'm compelled to stay
By the captivation of what use to be
And searching for something lost among the ruins
That would give me the peace I used to have

I swear it is here, but all are ghosts wanting company
And I can't tell who is haunting who
The signs were on the collapsing the door
But I was hoping they were confined

Now I hope it stands just a little longer

There sits a flashlight in plain sight
I turn it on and shine it on the ghosts
But the ghosts scream they don't need my kind
And so I point the light to the floor

The light takes me to the collapsing door
Sweet voices fade and the air cools
The light catches an orange leaf flit across the floor
September is dying

The grace of sweeping violins fills the air
Brighter light breaks, taking me back to happier times
I'm moving past this feeling; I'm going to write again
September is dying

Goodbye September


source of image

TIL: European / Asian Honey Bees vs. Japanese Giant Hornets

the cookie crumb trail went from the oatmal to two youtube videos.

the first video is about european honey bees vs. japanese giant hornets.

the second video is japanese honey bees vs. japanese giant hornets


Thursday, September 4, 2014

advice from joan rivers (rip sept 4, 2014)

joan rivers died today.  i read this article and the below quote stuck out like a spotlight in the night sky.

If there is a secret to being a comedian, it’s just loving what you do. It is my drug of choice. I don’t need real drugs. I don’t need liquor. It’s the joy that I get performing. That is my rush. I get it nowhere else.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

1984 by george orwell

my wife and i read 1984 while we were driving on our vacation.  it was a really fascinating book, albeit sad and disheartening (the end of it anyway).

i simply don't have much to say about it.  more than anything else, reading the book together provided us an opportunity to discuss real-world events going on that indicate we could live in a 1984-like society someday.

we talked about real-life examples of how political and religious leaders will say one thing but in reality they are saying the complete opposite.

the telescreens was prescient; especially in our world today where it is practically de facto known that the NSA spies on every u.s. citizen.  obviously not to the extent of what the telescreens do, but we are not off by far today from something like that happening.

in my opinion, the best dialogue my wife and i had was about how julia and winston viewed their world.  julia simply wanted to enjoy it and really was not motivated to "bring down ingsoc", while winston seemed to have a desire to seek the real truth and rectify the situation.  it is true, a lot of people would gladly remain blind to what governments and some religions to today, while others would attempt to scrounge courage to seek true justice.

anyway - good book, but the dialogue between my wife and i was what i most enjoyed about reading this book.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

dad and johnny cash

it must have been the fall of 1993.  i was a senior in high school and the autumn in eastern Oregon was typically lovely.  dad had already been retired by 1993.  he must have been retired for a couple of years after having taught school for over 40 years.  i'm not sure what he was doing; perhaps sitting in his chair reading a book.  but after i got home, i had a quick snack and then sat down at the kitchen table to start on some homework.

for the past few months, i regularly listened to my favorite cassette tape: U2's Zooropa.  the tape was probably on the second side when i put it in to the family stereo system before i started on my homework.  the stereo system belonged to my deceased aunt mar.  it was a nice system with big boxes, a record player, FM and AM radio and a cassette player.  i loved the big silver volume button.  adjusting the volume could always be precise with that smooth knob.

the last song on the tape began to play.  my dad was still sitting there and was listening along with me.  when that deep, distinct johnny cash voice sounded across the speakers, my dad stirred a bit and begin listening more intently.  he was pleasantly pleased that it was johnny cash and commented to me that he loved the man in black.

that was almost 21 years ago.

then last week, my last week of work before my 3-week summer vacation, i listened to Zooropa during my morning and afternoon commutes.  when the wanderer came on, i recalled that autumn afternoon so many years ago.  as i thought of that day, i had the desire to listen to the rest of his songs.  so i did some searching a found a 4 CD discography of his.  i copied it to my smartphone and then while we drove across Texas on 287, i listened to johhny cash.

i loved every song.

i couldn't help but think that my dad listened to these same songs decades ago while he travelled lonely country roads when he was single.

anyway - i'm looking forward to listening to hours and hours of johnny cash - getting to know the lyrics and singing along.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Fasting for a Healthier Immune System

Fasting triggers stem cell regeneration of damaged, old immune system

“When you starve, the system tries to save energy, and one of the things it can do to save energy is to recycle a lot of the immune cells that are not needed, especially those that may be damaged,” Longo said. “What we started noticing in both our human work and animal work is that the white blood cell count goes down with prolonged fasting. Then when you re-feed, the blood cells come back."

"Prolonged fasting forces the body to use stores of glucose, fat and ketones, but it also breaks down a significant portion of white blood cells. Longo likens the effect to lightening a plane of excess cargo."

"During each cycle of fasting, this depletion of white blood cells induces changes that trigger stem cell-based regeneration of new immune system cells."

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

follow-up post on 'bad calls'

so last November, the NBA announced their partnership with SAP to provide big data on player stats using SportsVU to track every move of every player (read full story here).

NASCAR is doing something similar, but they are going further by putting RFID chips on the pit crew people to track every movement.  with cameras, you will get blocked by objects, but with RFID chips, you can see every move.

why can't the NBA and soccer leagues uses RFID chips on athletes, coupled with SportsVU type cameras and then simply fire every referee?  bad-calls be gone!

Monday, April 21, 2014

technological solution to bad calls in professional games

we've all seen it - the referee blows a call; doesn't see a foul or calls the wrong foul; or any other number of scenarios.

the solution i propose probably would not eliminate 100% of bad calls, but at least it would give referees more data.

why not have every player wear 5 or so sensors on their bodies: wrists, ankles, neck.  maybe there are other spots to place the sensors.  these sensors can then detect fouls and where feet are placed, etc.

not only would this help with refereeing the game, but analysts and coaches could collect massive amounts of data - especially for more dynamic sports such as soccer and basketball and even hockey.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

WEP 2014 4.18-20

good weekend.

the two older kids were out with their friends on campouts and parties friday night.  so my wife and i got to hang out with the two little ones.  it was fun.

on saturday, i cleaned the pool filters (psi was up above 25 - it should be just below 20).  then i trimmed and mowed the lawn, dead-headed my roses and then went on a 6 mile run/walk.  my younger son came along with me (on his bike).  it was nice talking to him.  we stopped several times and enjoyed the nice weather.

my wife spent all her time this past week and weekend cooking easter rolls and then delivering them.  my daughter is trying to earn money to go on a band trip to hawaii next year, so this was to help her.

after she completed her deliveries and after my run/walk, we cleaned up and then ate dinner at jason's deli.  then we went home and relaxed and put the kids to bed.

sunday was easter - went to church, enjoyed the services, then came home and relaxed.  the kids did a little treasure hunt as well as easter egg hunt.  we played scattergories, then ate a ham dinner.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

my dream replacement for my old laptop

i got to dreaming this weekend.

i'd love to get rid of my laptop set-up with two 19-inch dell monitors.

in it's place, i'd love to get a surface pro 2 ($1000) and a 27-inch samsung monitor ($273).

it might be a few years, though, before this happens.

Friday, April 18, 2014

WIR 2014 4.14-18

Super busy week - full of meetings during the day as well as meetings at night.  The highlights are below.

health
worse than the week before.  only did monday, tuesday, wednesday and saturday.  i'm about 7 hours or 11 miles behind my goal.  if i run two miles every night this week, along with the usual four miles in the morning, i should be able to make up the 7 hours.  thankfully, the weather is nice this week.

leadership development
the big item was getting out the questionnaire survey to my co-workers.  unfortunately, out of the five people i sent it to, only two have responded.  the goal is to get the book read over the next month to two months.

work efficiencies
the biggest work task i have going on now is this little proposal of mine to save the company about $500K.  i've talked to one other manager about this, as it impacts her group as well.  she confided in me that she had similar thoughts as i had described, so this validated what i've been thinking.  i then gave my manager an update on this initiative and have set up a meeting for the first week of may to fully discuss this.  she has a follow-up with another supervisor, before meeting, to ensure we are all on the same page.

air conditioning unit
we're going to get the upstairs system a new set of coils as the old ones have rusted quite a bit.  the company wanted us to replace the whole system, but that would have ran us about $10K.  instead, i opted to go with the simple coil replacement which is about $3K.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

WEP 2014 4.11-13

carnival fund-raiser
our kids' school had their carnival fund-raiser on Friday night.  The weather was really quite perfect - cool, with a slight breeze.  The kids had tons of fun doing the jumphouse, face-painting, trampolines, playing in giant hamster balls in a pool, auctions, food and candy.

paddle boats and trains
on Saturday, we got to go on walks, do some yard work, eat donuts and then we cleaned up.  After that, we drove to the city park and rented some paddle-boats and let the kids have a bit of fun.  Then we went on a little train ride around the park.

it was lots of fun for the family and quite memorable.

after that, we tried a new burger place - the food was actually really good, but the price was way too much.

after we drove home, we relaxed and enjoyed the evening.

our son B was able to go to an NBA basketball game with his friends and he had quite a bit of fun.

good bye to friends
Sunday was church and meetings and dinner with friends.  Our good friends are moving, so we ate one final dinner with them and played games and had a fun time.

One of the games our two families like to play is the sofa game.  Everyone puts their name on a paper and then we draw names.  If you draw your name, you have to re-draw.  You then "become the person" whose name you drew.  Then you sit boy-girl-boy-girl.  You leave one extra space.  The person to the right of the empty place calls a name.  The person who has that then then sits in the empty spot; they also create the next empty spot.  The goal is to get 4 in a row (or however many you decide depending on how many people are playing the game).

the office
often, when we try to wind-down for the day, we've been watching The Office all over again.  We only watched the episodes once or twice when they were on TV.  So, it's been fun watching them again on Netflix.  We are in the Robert California season.

Friday, April 11, 2014

WIR 2014 4.7-11

pretty normal week - not much exciting happened.

air conditioning units
I guess the biggest item this past week was the visit from the A/C techs.  They told me exactly what I knew they were going to tell me - that I need a new system; that the Freon we have now is out-lawed and that it will cost $100/lb as if we need to add more.  The upstairs system is really in need of replacement - there is a major leak in the coils.  so next week, I'm expecting another visit to discuss options and how much it will cost.  the home repairs never end.

health
it was an ok week.  I did some exercising, but we had a couple of weak cold fronts move in and it made it difficult to get up an exercise.  But we did it anyway.  I just didn't get in some extra evening miles (2-mile runs).

work / leadership development
My old boss invited me to lunch on Tuesday.  We were both really busy, so we only had time for a quick bite at the local cafeteria.  We talked a lot about future assignments for me.  I explained to him where I see myself going and what types of assignments I need to get there and he was able to give me some good advice about what I need to do.

Then he asked me if I wanted to go down the technical / professional track or the management track.  I told him I'm focusing on the management track.  Then he asked me how I'm doing on developing my leadership skills.  I honestly have not thought about this much.  I've done tons of leadership training, but then never was in a position to really use it, so I've kind of abandoned the whole leadership mindset for the last 5 years.  So, he suggested I start focusing on developing my leadership skills (not my management skills).  He suggested I begin by reading The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.  After lunch, I found some on-line presentations about the book and read through those.  I then decided to go ahead and order the book.  There seems to be a lot of interesting content and ideas in the book.  I may be blogging more about learning leadership and developing my own leadership skills; so stay tuned.

That is about all for the week's highlights.  The weekend should be nice and enjoyable.

Monday, April 7, 2014

WEP 2014 4.4-6

Gorgeous weekend!  I did lots of yard work in the morning.  I took my boys to Lowes - we got lots of good for the yard.  Then we laid rock in the back yard.

After that, we went to my son's E soccer game.  He won 5-1.  Then we went to Jason's Deli and ate.

I didn't order the Reuben; rather I ordered the Smokey Jack Panini - it was really good!

The rest of the day was relaxing, watching some NCAA basketball and spent time with the family.

Sunday was really relaxing too.  We went on a walk; got rained on a bit and then spent the rest of the day inside watching TV.

Friday, April 4, 2014

WIR 2014 3.31-4.4

Work
It was a great week - the highlight was my one-on-one with my boss.  I had this idea to save our company some money - to make it more efficient.  The idea had been floating in my head the last few days and by the time Thursday rolled around, I still didn't have it solidified.  So I go into the one-on-one, I report out on the main things going on.  Then I just jumped feet-first into the suggestion.  I told my boss that the idea wasn't fully baked, but I knew they were looking for efficiencies.  After I dumped the idea, my boss reacted quite well - they liked it!  They told me to keep working on it; to work with a few other people and that by the time my new assignment rolls around (in June or July), it should be off to a great start.  By my calculations, the savings gained will be around $500K.

Health
Another idea I've had floating around in my head is this motto of 6:1:4.

6 - six miles of walking or running
1 - one meal
4 - four days a week

I kind of did this last week.  It might have been 3 days instead of 4 days.  Anyway - I did a pretty good job.  My weight went from around 217 down to 210 over the course of the week.  So, I'm trying to drill that motto in my mind 6:1:4

NCAA Tournament
I won my family's bracket challenge.  This was the 11th year of our family doing this, and I finally won!