Charlie's Blog: October 2023


Sensibility and the Information Buffet

A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.

There has always been a wealth of information. We like to think that our age somehow developed a surplus of information, but we didn't. A newsstand from 1953 contained more information than you could read in a year. The reason no one attempted it is because you had to pay money for that information. As for people staring into their smartphones, they were doing the same thing back in the day with their newspapers, magazines, and paperback novels. Nothing has fundamentally changed except the price of that information. You had to pay for those publications. Today, you pay for internet and cellphone access while the information is virtually limitless and free. It is a buffet, and some people attempt the all-you-can-eat challenge. This is stupid.

People tend to spend more to dine at the all-you-can-eat buffet than at a traditional restaurant thinking they will bust the establishment in the head by eating twice or three times the amount of food. The reality is that they will consume an amount only slightly larger than they normally do. If you pay three times the normal cost but only eat 1.5 times the normal amount of food, they busted you in the head. Yet, people keep lining up for those buffets. Why?

The answer to that question is obvious. People's imaginations are stronger than their observations. A classic example of this is Netflix. I used to have a Netflix membership when they sent you DVDs in the mail. I filled up my queue of movies and proceeded to watch them as they arrived. I would spend entire weekends binge watching stuff until I got sick of it. Before long, I would have a Netflix DVD collecting dust on the coffee table and paying $10 or whatever it was per month for what turned out to be a coaster. What I thought I was going to watch turned out to be way less than I imagined. I made a personal queue of what I actually wanted to watch versus what I could watch, and it was only a handful of movies. I did the math, and it was just cheaper for me to buy the 2 or 3 good movies on DVD that came out each year than pay rent on all the crap that was available on Netflix. I cancelled Netflix. The fact that it is a streaming service now only makes it worse. You are saving them the postage while paying for the higher bandwidth internet. They've got a great scam going there.

Streaming services are an entertainment buffet sort of like cable television. Many people are waking up on cable TV and cutting the cord. I know we did. We watch TV over the air on a $9 antenna. We don't do Roku or Chromecast or Prime or any of that garbage you have to buy. I don't watch much TV except as a weekend treat because the visual processing messes with my TBI. We watch old westerns and Columbo right now. Watching too much television makes me ill.

When I apply a quality test to the content, there's not much worth watching. Life is too short to waste on bad movies and television shows. The quantity is off the chain. OAB TV is not the same as the four channels we got when I was a kid with the fourth channel being PBS. Broadcast television has almost as much content as basic cable television except you don't have to pay for it. I'm not going to watch something just because it is free. That brings us to the internet.

Like the old newsstand, they upload more videos and content in a single hour on the internet than you could consume in your entire life. I find the sheer bulk of this information to be overwhelming. It becomes less overwhelming when you apply a quality filter. Just because they produce it doesn't mean you have to consume it.

I am better than most on this issue for two reasons. The first is that I do not own a smartphone. The second is that I do not have any social media accounts. Those two things alone will allow you to get back much of your time and attention. Still, I developed a bad habit that goes back almost two decades. I was maintaining a digital hoard with my feed reader.

I was a fan of the Google Reader when it first appeared and think it was one of the greatest services they ever offered. The Google folks discovered that the Reader was hurting their other ventures like Google+. The fact is that a feed reader allows you to choose what you want to see versus what they want you to see. Regardless, they killed the Reader, and I went to Feedly. They were generous with their service until they cut the the number of feeds you could have on the free version of their application and on the paid version. So, I looked at Inoreader and paid for an unlimited subscription which I abused.

I never looked at the vast majority of my feed subscriptions which were in the thousands. I was OK because following the feed was enough to make me think I was actually reading the content. I was deluding myself with this nonsense. I was at the information buffet but only eating the same few dishes I actually liked. It hit me that this behavior was foolish, but I didn't know what to do except keep paying the subscription on what amounted to a digital storage space for content I was never going to consume. I was a shameful information hoarder.

It took me a couple of days of thinking to figure out what to do about my problem. The solution I reached was to delete all of those feeds and start over with a 150 feed limit which is how many you can have on Inoreader on the free level. I added back from memory the feeds I actually enjoyed, and it was less than 100. I had repeated the Netflix episode except with the feed reader.

I have likely lost the Gentle Reader at this stage of my personal tale. But if you made it this far, here is the payoff. If you are someone who is struggling with information overwhelm, I have two tools from the sensibility toolbox that can help you.

1. Go with quality over quantity.

You know what you like and what is valuable. If you apply a quality filter to your content, you will find that quality is in short supply. We force feed ourselves crap when it is cheap and plentiful, and we purge when get sick from it.

2. Go with the actual over the imagined.

My feed reader has stats on what I read, and what I actually read isn't that much. We want the options even though we are never going to use them. This embracing of the actual over the imagined requires a great deal of honesty and self-awareness.

This brings us to a concept made famous by Tim Ferriss--the low information diet. This is the practice of selective ignorance. Basically, you cut out everything for a week to break the information addiction. I don't know what you do after this information fast. I just know the correct path lies between knowing nothing and knowing everything. Ferriss is an extremist on things, so he gets credit for experimenting and thinking outside of the box.

I believe in having a sensible information diet. Like with food, you want higher quality and lower quantity. You want to avoid the extremes of starvation and gluttony. Somewhere between those extremes is the right amount of information you should consume on a regular basis.


Unpopular Opinions 6

Nothing is more conductive to peace of mind than not having any opinions at all.

Opinions can cost you friendships and relationships. If someone cuts it off with you because of a differing opinion, that person wasn't worth having in your life. Virtually everyone in my life disagrees with me on something that doesn't really matter. The irony is those differences have made me change my mind on some things. That's the appeal of reading unpopular opinions. They make us reconsider things even if we may not change our minds in the end.

1. Biltmore is overrated.

I visited the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC, one time. One time was enough. I wasn't impressed by Vanderbilt's self-indulgence. The natural beauty of the place is stunning. The house is kinda gross. It is Gilded Age decadence. The Biltmore is a European palace built on American soil.

A better place to visit in Asheville is the Saint Lawrence Basilica. A guy that worked on the Biltmore worked on that church. It is amazing.

2. Pickleball and walking sports are stupid invitations to injury.

Pickleball is very popular especially for people over 50. It is a dumbed down and less strenuous version of tennis. Unfortunately, it isn't dumbed down enough as those old people have the most injuries from the sport. Across the pond, they have walking football which is soccer for people too old to run. I don't know what the injury rate is for that sport. I hear there is also walking basketball, rugby, cricket, etc.

When it comes to these sports, old people need to grow up. Older folks such as myself want to get in shape, but your health insurer would prefer it to not be pickleball. There is nothing healthy about getting an injury. This is why walking is the better way to go. Anything involving lateral movements, jumping, sprinting, etc. are invitations to injury. I know because young professional athletes get injured doing this stuff. Why do this at 50+?

3. Buffs are terrible apparel.

Buffs are neck gaiters, but they also get worn as covid face masks and headwear. I hate the things. I use a bandanna when I get sweaty.

The buff feels like you're getting choked when worn on the neck. It feels like a vise on your head leading to splitting headaches. As a mask, I don't believe in masks period. But if I did, it wouldn't be a buff.

I think dirty hippies like buffs because it keeps their long hair out of their faces. I recommend getting a haircut.

4. When it comes to creativity. stay in your lane.

Rock stars tend to be terrible actors and painters. Actors tend to be terrible rock stars. But when you're famous, people will indulge your vanity and lack of self-awareness. The public won't. It's rare to be good at one creative endeavor much less two or three. I think people should find out what they're good at and stick to that.

For me, I know that I am good at writing non-fiction. I am no good at writing fiction. I can analyze a good story, but I can't write a good story. So, I am going to stick to the non-fiction lane and leave the fiction lane for better writers than me. As for music, I play the kazoo. As for the visual arts, I draw doodles. Those are good for a laugh.

5. Joe Rogan is a bad influence and a poor example of manhood.

I don't know why Rogan is so popular, but I find it has more to do with the guests than with him. So much stupidity comes out of Rogan's mouth that I am unable to listen to him except when I need a bad example for illustration purposes. Rogan is the epitome of everything bad about bro culture. The only thing I like that he does is that he shaves his melon. He can keep the flaming joint and the jiu-jitsu to himself.

6. Men shouldn't wear bracelets or ear rings.

Jewelry on a man is effeminate. I am OK with a wedding band and necklaces with crucifixes and religious medals worn under the shirt. A medic alert bracelet is better worn as a necklace outside of the shirt because it is essentially the civilian equivalent of a dog tag. I think a wrist watch is as close as a man should get to wearing a bracelet. Otherwise, all of this decorative jewelry on a man is ridiculous and unmanly.

7. Paracord bracelets are stupid.

This is a corollary to #6. Men like to buy or make these ridiculous excuses to wear a bracelet. They claim they need the paracord for "survival." Whatever. Instead of making a fancy braided bracelet out of some string you are never going to use, just put some in your pocket. The problem is solved without going to Boy Scout school to tie a stupid craft project.

8. Harbor Freight sells good stuff.

Dudes love to bash on Harbor Freight as cheap Chinese junk. What they overlook is the stuff at Lowe's and Home Depot is expensive Chinese junk. I buy a lot of Harbor Freight tools and supplies especially mechanics gloves. I wear out those gloves. I would rather spend $5 for those gloves than $25 for a similar pair that doesn't last any longer.

9. I'm not a fan of straws.

There is much debate about plastic straws, but I negate the debate by drinking straight from the cup or glass. People like straws because they let you drink in the car while driving. I think eating and drinking behind the wheel is distracting and dangerous. It is a symptom of the fast food lifestyle. I prefer the slow food lifestyle.

I am for anything that reduces waste and pollution. This is not environmentalism but conservationism which is an idea that I want to bring back. This is why a right winger like me drinks from a Klean Kanteen. Plastic bottles pollute our water and spaces. The same applies to drinking straws.

10. Curtains are better than blinds.

Blinds are dirty and difficult to clean. They disintegrate in sunlight becoming brittle. When they break, they are useless. They are expensive to replace.

Curtains do the same job as blinds except you can wash them in the washing machine. They last forever. The heavier versions block out sunlight better than blinds.

That's it for the sixth edition of Unpopular Opinions. Hopefully, this did not cost me any friendships and relationships. That would be a real shame. My other hope is that it may have changed some minds.


Failed Runner Syndrome

You can't run a marathon every day, but you can walk a marathon every day with no ill effects.

I am a regular listener to a podcast called Walking is Fitness. I have found this podcast to be both motivational and life changing as the host of the podcast has told me things about walking I didn't know. A recent example is where I learned that the calorie burn from wearing weights while walking is so insignificant as to not justify the increased risk of injury. You are better off just walking five extra minutes for that small extra calorie burn. Needless to say, I recommend the podcast. I do have one issue with the podcast. The host clearly suffers from Failed Runner Syndrome.

Failed Runner Syndrome is when a walker with a running background or has friends and family who run develops an inferiority complex relative to running. Walking is seen as some second class form of exercise compared to the first class exercise of running. The host is a former runner who switched to walking because he found it more enjoyable. He stops short of saying walking was more sustainable and had fewer injuries than running. I think this is because his wife is a runner and works at a running shoe store. He also recently decided to train for and run a half marathon. Why?

When it comes to this topic, I prefer Frank Ring at Walking for Health and Fitness who is a former runner who candidly admits that running is more injurious than walking which is why he made the switch. For Ring, back issues were the primary injury for him. Walking has been the remedy for those back issues.

I quoted Shane O'Mara from memory of the podcast he did with Mel Robbins, so it may be a paraphrase instead of a precise quotation. I just cited the meat of what he said. You can walk a marathon daily without injury. I don't see runners achieving the same feat with running. If you need proof, consider hikers on the Appalachian Trail who cover 20+ miles daily carrying a pack. The bottom line is that human beings are good at walking. We are not so good at running.

I don't see walking as a second class of exercise to running. I have a good reason for this. Running is stupid. This fellow's rant captures this issue with running. Being a failed runner is equivalent to being a cowardly BASE jumper. It's called SMART. Doing things that hurt you is not smart. When did becoming smart become a failure?

If you suffer from Failed Runner Syndrome, this is a clear sign that you are stupid. The cure for this condition is to get smart. You should do no exercise that has a high risk of injury. Running has a high risk of injury. Injuries mean riding the couch. Riding the couch is not exercise. When I see walkers on my street, I see geniuses. When I see runners on my street, I see idiots. I saw one old guy on my street running one day. I don't see him anymore. I assume he got injured. The walkers are still walking. Where is the failure in that?

UPDATE #1: Dave pulled the plug on his half-marathon. His reason was because his wife "deferred" the half marathon to next year. He did not give the reason for this deferral. I can only guess and say that the wife suffered an injury in her training. Then, he confessed that he doesn't like running and prefers walking. I don't know why he blurted out this confession. What you don't say can speak volumes.

UPDATE #2: Dave recently posted a podcast called Which Is Better - Walking Or Running? Dave's podcasts are either inspiring or annoying. This podcast was annoying. I knew he would take a "diplomatic" stance on this debate because his wife is a runner. Yet, he has an audience of fitness walkers who want to hear that walking is better than running. He has also taken a diplomatic stance on rucking where he seems to recommend it where he didn't before. As I said, Dave is either inspiring or annoying.

My first issue was what he said about the knee issue. Runners will tell you that running does not hurt your knees. Ex-runners will tell you differently. The research indicates running is not bad for the knees, but I have already said these studies suffer from survivorship bias. Who would continue to run for a lifetime if it was destroying their knees? I think running is terrible for knees, hips, back, and feet. My personal experience has taught me that. With fitness walking, those injuries have vanished.

My second issue was with the cardiovascular benefit of running. Running has a slight edge on walking in this department. What people leave out are the diminishing returns of running. When pace and distance are increased, runners show the same mortality rates as people who never leave the couch. A slow jogger who clicks off ten minute miles three times a week for a total of 1.5 hours is probably safe on this. These folks display the same level of health benefits and longevity as--wait for it--fitness walkers.

Once upon a time, this low level of slow running was called "jogging." That term is now held in disdain as even joggers will now defend themselves as runners. I think this is unfortunate. I will candidly admit that I was just a jogger when I was younger. I ran in some road races for make believe fun, but I was always a shuffler and a plodder. I still got hurt doing it. The slight edge of jogging over walking is negated by the injuries.

Runners suffer from vanity. This is that "psychology" Dave mentioned about switching from running to walking. It takes humility to do the smart thing. When it comes to running, pride absolutely leads to destruction. I don't want Dave to get a divorce which is why I totally think his wife would leave him if he said running was for idiots. Calling your wife an idiot is not good for a marriage. Fortunately, I don't have those collateral considerations to bias my viewpoints. Running is for idiots.


Confessions of a Recovering Workaholic

We're not in this life just to work, we're in it to live.

I discovered the pleasure in work when I was young. I read Mark Twain's story of Tom Sawyer whitewashing that fence and conning his friends into paying for the privilege of doing his work for him, and it left an impression on me. People's love or hatred for work depended upon how they thought about it. I decided that I loved work, and I did. I loved it like an alcoholic loves gin. The difference is there is no Workaholics Anonymous group to help you out on this.

You can turn anything good into something bad by extremism. The antidote to extremism is sensibility. Being lazy is a vice. Being a workaholic is also a vice. Working 12 hours a day or more was a common thing for me. I would get blue on a Friday evening when work ended because I would have a whole weekend of leisure time to fill. I toyed with the idea of a second job, but I knew there would be interference with my day job. So, I threw myself into writing which is like a methadone program for workaholics. It prevents withdrawal.

I can confidently say I was a workaholic because my co-workers called me a workaholic. I would go to work sick. I cashed out my vacation time instead of taking vacations. And I wasn't doing it for the money. Earning money was a pleasant side effect of having fun getting things done. As for my bosses, they found it way easier to dump the work on me than to try and motivate someone else to do it. I was the path of least resistance, and they took it. I wanted the work.

It's easy being a workaholic if you're a bachelor. It's not so easy when you get married. Wives have the habit of wanting to see their husbands once in awhile. I learned that the trick is to not hunt, fish, or play golf on the weekends. I never cared for those things, so I ended up devoting my entire leisure life to being in the company of my significant other. I had become the workaholic equivalent of the functional alcoholic.

My workaholism ended on December 4, 2018, when an idiot struck my work vehicle which put me in the hospital with a traumatic brain injury. That date has become a second birthday to me. I don't talk or write about it much because I haven't fully processed the event in my mind. I don't know why God let that happen to me.

When you're Catholic, you get used to suffering. I couldn't handle suffering when I was a Protestant. As a Catholic, it is my daily experience. You don't think it is unusual anymore to go through adversity. You just offer it all up as penance for past sins.

What the accident and the injury have done to me is break me of being a workaholic. Most people are clueless about brain injury, and I have had to deal with a lot of stupidity. I can do things for small bites of time before fatigue wipes me out. My prior self would binge on work until I could no longer stay awake. Now, I take small bites and try to accumulate them into something resembling achievement. I also opt for low labor strategies like lasagna gardening. The rest of my time is spent looking at the back of my eyelids.

I have made peace with the fact that I will never be what I used to be. When I take it too far now, it is not pleasant but catastrophic. All of my activities are done with imposed limitations. If I go too far, it costs me more than if I had been sensible. I have lost entire days because I chose to binge instead of taking a bite.

The primary lesson I have learned with workaholism is that you work to live. You don't live to work. That has been an unbearable pill for me to swallow. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't wish that I was back on the job. I write a daily list of chores and errands, and it is modest. I never get all of those things done. My energy is limited to a handful of hours each day. I am always tired.

Doing nothing is not an option. The biggest hazard to a brain injury survivor is the temptation to stop moving. Once this happens, your lifespan becomes greatly diminished. You are left with striking the balance between doing too much and doing nothing. It is a tightrope walk with danger on both sides. It fatigues me thinking about it.

I think God has put me in a school where I must choose the mean as defined by Aquinas. I must be neither deficient nor excessive. I must not be lazy, but I must not overwork. The alcoholic is limited to one drink per day. The glutton is limited to one serving. The workaholic is limited to doing what he must to serve his needs for living.

I have learned some lessons about workaholism. The first lesson is the need to rest on the Lord's Day. I had already embraced this lesson before my injury. You work six days and rest on the seventh. Work should never take the place of God in your life. People only see the negative in the commandment to not work that one day, but they overlook the positive to work the other six days. Most people work four or five days and take two or three day weekends without even thinking about church attendance. God gives us ample time to get the work done. He also limits our leisure.

The second lesson I learned is the need for sleep. As a workaholic, I treated sleep as my enemy. I would get all the sleep I needed when I was dead. This is profoundly stupid. I have done without sleep so long that I would hallucinate. Why did I do this? You need 8 hours of sleep per night. 4 hours doesn't cut it.

The third lesson I learned is that the work never ends. It will be waiting for you the next day when you return to it. There is no state of life called "done." I agree with Stephen King when he said that he didn't finish novels but abandoned them. Consequently, it doesn't matter if you do a little or a lot. You end at a point with more things undone than done.

The fourth lesson I learned is that people are always going to be disappointed with you. This is because they are never satisfied but always want more. This hit me as a Knight of Columbus when I raised the second highest amount of money for our annual Tootsie Roll drive. I was at a competitive disadvantage to the retiree who was the top earner. He didn't have to work a day job. Yet, the organizer still wanted me to give more hours. Like I said, people are never satisfied. Don't bother trying.

The fifth lesson I learned is that family comes before the job. When I was in the hospital, the boss man didn't spend the night with me in a chair by my bedside. My wife did that. The boss was too busy filling the hole my sudden absence had created. When it comes to work, you are just cannon fodder. You work to support yourself and your family. Your family doesn't exist to support your work.

That last lesson is the most important lesson. Protestants think that your job is your vocation in life. Catholics know that your real vocation is to be a husband, a father, a mother, a religious, or a priest. These things require labor, but the labor is not what defines you.

The purpose of life is to become a saint. You can't be a saint and also be a workaholic. It is enough to be a good worker like Saint Joseph. You should work hard but within the limits of reason.

I haven't embraced the silly idea of taking up golf. I'm not a vacation person. I like my leisure in small but frequent bites. I also can't handle more than that. When people deride workaholism, they do so as an excuse for excessive leisure and laziness. It's like the alcoholic I met who claimed to drink in moderation. Life is not meant to be spent in idleness. I believe in rest, but that rest needs to be earned.

My work right now is recovery. Traumatic brain injury is the cross that I bear today. This has revealed to me that workaholism is an escape from thinking and also a form of pride. The hardest thing for me is coming to terms with what I used to be able to do. It has taken me years to get to this low level of functioning. I am a sleepaholic instead of a workaholic. I no longer do time management. I do energy management. As for this post, I am abandoning it now. I am out of energy.


The Gentle Path

DISCLAIMER: I am not a physician, healthcare professional, or a personal trainer. This advice is purely a personal testimonial. Consult a doctor before beginning any exercise program.

The man who makes everything that leads to happiness depends upon himself, and not upon other men, has adopted the very best plan for living happily. This is the man of moderation, the man of manly character and of wisdom.

I have already written a post about sensibility, and this post is a companion to that post. None of these ideas is original with me but draws upon the ancient wisdom of the Middle Path and the Golden Mean. Over the last few years, I have come to reject what I refer to as "extreme ways." It's not that people do the wrong things. They just take them too far. They do not know how to take the Gentle Path.

The Gentle Path is a term I started to apply to my fitness ideas. I have run and lifted weights. I hated both of those things. When I discovered walking and its benefits, I knew this was the better way. This gentle path to fitness was better than the extreme path pushed by the culture. I now include bodyweight exercises and manual labor in the yard and garden in my regimen. This brought me to a question. Is this stuff that I do now hard? That really depends on where you are relative to the Gentle Path.

Those on the Extreme Path will mock the Gentle Path that I have taken. Conversely, those on the EZ Path will think that what I do is extreme. What I can say is the Gentle Path has made me feel better. My only regret is that I didn't go down this path sooner.

I think people on the Extreme Path are idiots. These are the folks who park as close as possible to the entrance of the gym. They take the elevator to the office gym where they get on the stair climber machine. They run marathons but won't walk a few blocks to where they need to be.

People on the EZ Path are idiots, too. These are the people who atrophy in their office chairs, easy chairs, and couches as they do absolutely nothing. I know why they do it. They know they need exercise, but they only see the ones on the Extreme Path. This is discouraging to them. Going on a walk or raking leaves doesn't count as exercise to the EZ Path people just like it doesn't for the Extreme Path people. It is either everything or nothing. They hold moderation in disdain.

The Gentle Path is a tough sell. If you have been on the EZ Path, the Gentle Path will feel like torture. If you have been on the Extreme Path, the Gentle Path will feel like cheating or a waste of time. Yet, the Gentle Path is the right path in adherence to the Goldilocks Principle. From my experience, the Gentle Path is mildly difficult. The difficulty is enough to provide a stimulus but not cause an injury.

I see people all the time on the Extreme Path and the EZ Path. I don't know what to say to them. Eventually, they both suffer from injury and illness. The information on the Gentle Path is already out there. Your health insurer and most responsible doctors would love it if you took the Gentle Path, and they provide information on it. That information gets drowned out by runners, triathletes, CrossFitters, bodybuilders, and others on the Extreme Path.

I doubt that I will ever reach people on the Extreme Path. I do hold out a glimmer of hope for people on the EZ Path. The sedentary lifestyle will kill you. I think they know it. They just need to hear that there is another path to take back to health and wellness that isn't the Extreme Path.