Life-Mod: Waking Up

I spent 2-3 weeks in November making an attempt to wake up without an alarm clock. The hope behind this was that I’d be able to wake up more naturally and feel more refreshed.

Turns out this was difficult. My initial plan was to set an alarm for later than usual, and get to sleep early enough that I’d wake up before it went off. Unfortunately, I just ended up waking up and then laying there or falling back to sleep a lot of days. On the days when I actually managed to wake up earlier and get up, I didn’t really feel like waking up was easier or that I was more awake during the day than usual. I did notice, however, that my desired sleep level seems to be between 9 hours and 9 hours and 20 minutes.

Last week a friend of mine sent me a link to this article, originally from (which claims to be down temporarily for maintenance, but has been down for at least a week). The article contains 40 different sleep “hacks” ranging from suggestions on how to sleep better, to specifics on what do do if you want to learn to sleep less. I highly recommend reading it. It’s missing some information that I would have like to see about the cognitive impacts of lessened sleep over time, but reading it sparked a lot of ideas for me to experiment with.

One mistake in my approach that this article brought to light was not waking up at the same time every day. Because I usually work out in the mornings Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and sleep in sometimes on the weekends, I was never really giving myself the recommended 10 days to settle into a sleep pattern. If I ever decide to try this again, I’d have to pick a time for 2 weeks and stick with it.

Another suggestion made in this article that I think I’ll try out, is to train yourself to get up right away when the alarms goes off. The suggested method is to go through your normal getting-ready-to-sleep activities and then set your alarm for 5 minutes later and lay in bed with eyes closed. As soon as the alarm goes off, jump out of bed. By repeating this process, it claims you can train yourself to react this way in the morning when your alarm goes off. Seems to me like it could work.

On a bit of a side note: during this experiment, I also discovered that there are both Android and iPhone apps which claim to wake you up when you’re in a less deep sleep state. The best one I’ve found for Android is called sleep-as-an-droid and is in the market. All of these apps seem to try to guess what state of sleep you’re in by using the accelerometer to detect movement. The theory is that you move more when you’re closer to being awake I believe. So they allow you to set a time frame in which it’s allowed to wake you up. It will then wake you up within that frame if a suitable sleep depth is reached. I used it for four nights last week and during only one of them did it wake me up before the last possible time I’d specified. Looking at the graph of movement, it also did not appear that it was gathering much useful data to determine my level of wakefulness. I tried messing around with sensitivity of the sensors and placement of the phone on my mattress, but I’m not convinced that these apps really work.

The article I linked above references a watch which has similar properties. I’d imaging that a watch would be better at measuring movements, but that said, I don’t want to pay the $180 or so that they cost just to see if it works.

Post any sleep-hacks you’ve tried in the comments.

WTF does “Pasteurized” mean?

So I was looking at a carton of milk in the fridge the other day, (like you do…) and inadvertently reading the word that I’ve seen probably a million times (ok maybe not that many) “Pasteurized.” It occurred to me: what does that even mean? I think we assume that it’s a good and natural part of how we get our milk, but why? I figured I’d try to do some research and figure that out.

Pasturization is a process developed by Louis Pasteur which uses heat to destroy human pathogens. According to the International Dairy Food Association, “‘pasteurized’ and similar terms shall mean the process of heating every particle of milk or milk product, in properly designed and operated equipment, to one (1) of the temperatures” specified by a supplied chart. There are 3 different types of pasteurization: 1) Vat Pasteurization (145F for 30 minutes), 2) High Temperature, Short Time (HTST)  (161F for 15 seconds), 3) Higher Heat, Shorter Time (HHST) which can be a range of times and temperatures from 191F for 1 second up to 212F for 0.01 seconds and, finally, 4) Ultra-Pasteurized (280F for 2 seconds). Fascinating, no?

There also exists one final form, UHT or Ultra-High Temperature which involves heating and packaging the milk in a sterile environment, so it doesn’t require refrigeration. I remember seeing this in Thailand and a few places in Europe. It always weirds me out to see milk that doesn’t require refrigeration.

Now let’s look at the other side of the story: Raw Milk. The term “raw” is actually a bit misleading in my opinion. It seems to imply that milk is somehow normally served “cooked.” Raw milk is simply milk straight out of the cow, minus the pasteurizing. Despite this being it’s natural state, it’s illegal to sell raw milk across state lines and to sell at all in a number of states. Check this map for details. Sounds sinister doesn’t it? Well in doing some research, it’s actually more complicated than that. In fact, what did we do before Louis invented it? Seems unlikely that we just suffered with the occasional death from drinking milk.

There are certainly some marked bad effects of raw milk, the CDC reported 1,007 illnesses, 104 hospitalizations, and two deaths from 45 outbreaks between 1998 to 2005. Yet, compare that to these numbers from the CDC: foodborne diseases cause approximately 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year. Suddenly the effects of raw milk are not so impressive. However, they’re not negligible. It does appear from doing some research here and here that it’s likely that these problems with raw milk are likely due to corn feeding the dairy cows. This is known to cause abnormal pH levels in the cow’s internals, creating an environment which breeds pathogens. This explains the need for pasteurization in most of our milk. It also explains what we did pre-pasteurization: we didn’t feed our cows crap. Here’s a neat write-up of that history.

This could be a topic for a future post, but in doing this research it seems to me that grass-fed raw milk may, in fact, be quite healthy.  My local Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods don’t carry any raw milk however, so I guess I’ll be left just wondering about it. If any of you know where I can get some grass-fed whole milk in LA, let me know.

So the short version: pasteurization is a very effective work-around process for dealing with the screw-up of feeding corn and other unnatural food to our cows.

Focusing Life

I’ve recently discovered Tim Ferriss’ blog and have been making my way through some of his older posts and some videos. I can’t believe I’ve never seen it before. He has an interesting and valuable approach to life. I’m going to steal a few of his ideas and try them out for myself.
In his post on the Superstar Effect, Ferriss paraphrases Steven Martin, stating that “the key to diligence isn’t the work applied to your pursuit, but instead the work you don’t apply to other pursuits.” This phrase hit me. I’m constantly trying out new pursuits, often to the detriment of those which I am already pursuing. In my defense though, trying new things can be extremely rewarding. In fact it’s probably one of the only things I’d really say I’m a master of.
I’ve decided after some thought to try some refinement of my daily activities. I can’t find the quote, but I feel like I read a suggestion somewhere to pick 3 things to be good at. I like this number, but I’m having a hard time coming up with this few. I can clearly see the benefit of at least three. Ferriss mentions this in this video, but I’ve had the same experience where doing something great in one persuit (pulling a PR, learning an aria) can make up for failures or frustrations in another (flat site traffic, injury). Getting up to three is not my problem.
I made a list of activities that I want to continue to improve or start doing while trying to narrow down to three. Here’s my list (in no particular order):
  • Opera Singing
  • A Cappella Singing
  • Coding
  • Guitar
  • Bass
  • Lifting
  • Free Running
  • Making Jewelry
  • Photography
  • Leadership Reading/Writing
  • Nutrition Reading/Writing
  • Creative Writing
  • Learn About Robotics/Electronics
  • Work
  • Cooking
  • Surfing
  • Hiking/Backpacking

And I’m probably missing a few. Looking at this list and trying to narrow it down to 3 things makes me very depressed. It’s not possible. Or rather, it is, but it would defeat the purpose. The purpose of this whole experiment is to make me a happier person, both by simplifying my life and also by allowing me to focus more and become better at certain activities instead of being mediocre at a lot of them.

I tried a few different approaches to narrowing the list down. I made a spreadsheet and ranked them along different variables and I made lists of pros and cons for each one. But in the end I’ve come to realize that 3 is not possible, so I’m going to try something else. The approach I’ve decided on is to select 3 activities at a time and pick some measurable goal to complete. I will then have a list of three things at any given time which I can work towards when I have free time and energy. The hard part will be avoiding taking up other activities until I complete one of those three. My starting list is: Finish a website project I’m working on, play bass for 10 hours, and write a leadership related blog post.

I should also mention that I separated this list in my head into required activities (like work and excercise), group activities (a cappella singing, opera rehearsals), and more one offs (almost everything else). I’m not going to have the required stuff be part of my list, I’m just going to do it regularly. The group activities will likely factor in as part of the list, but in a more granular fashion. For example, “learn song X”, as opposed to “be in this group.” The latter is too hard to measure and account for. Rehearsals will count as regular activities, and thusly will not be included in the list.

Ok, that’s the plan, now it’s just a matter of execution on my part. So far I’m doing ok. I’ve been working on my site, but I haven’t practiced my bass, and I’ve outlined the blog post, but instead I sat down and wrote this one. Oh well, I’m not perfect.

Making something of infinity

Let’s start off with some XKCD:

XKCD: Dreams

I go through a mid-life crisis about every 2-3 months. I probably think too much about everything, but I can’t help it, so I might as well make the most of it. Actually my usual crisis is something along the lines of the comic above. Because we only get one path through life’s infinite possibilities, every second that passes narrows our field of possible outcomes, so I might as well make them count right?

In this string of causality that is daily life, introspection into the routine is important. Maybe I’m already making good decisions, and there’s not a whole lot wrong with routine, if you don’t have tunnel vision about it. I like to keep eyes open and break out of the trenches from time to time. So long as I’m constantly challenging my daily routine, I feel that I’m not in danger of suddenly waking up middle-aged in suburban America with a wife and kids and a house in foreclosure. Maybe I’ll end up there anyways, but at least it’ll be a conscious trip.

As such, I’m going to start posting some life-mods that I’m trying out. Certain little things that I’m trying out to break myself out of the routine. Some may work, some may not, but at least I’m not getting bored.

Book Review: Strangers to Ourselves

Warning: I started writing this review about 4 months ago so I’m going off memory here.

I recently finished reading a book with my grandmother had given to me entitled “Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious” by Timothy D. Wilson. (My grandmother has a Ph.D in Psychology so it’s not all that weird a selection.) I actually enjoyed it a considerable amount. It was, as you might expect quite dense, but I’ve read worse. It was cohesive and presented information in a carefully considered manner.

The book describes a modern model of the human unconscious. It begins by taking a look at the evolution of our understanding of subconscious thought, beginning with Freud. It then walks us through more modern research showing some other possible models of our brains. I read this on the heels of “Blink,” and the two books share a lot of commonalities. I enjoyed “Strangers to Ourselves” more because it presented a thorough model and narrative, paired with good experimental examples.

Probably my favorite concept introduced in the book is that of our conscious brain’s involvement in narrating emotions from our subconscious. While Wilson does not declare this as fact, he describes a possible scenario where emotions arise in the subconscious brain and our conscious brain attempts to explain them by weaving some sort of narrative. Wilson describes how this can be beneficial in the case of coming to grips with traumatic situations. An interesting thought stemming off of this model of thinking is that of how this process can be used to describe the act of dreaming.

Damn, I wish I could remember this book better. I know this is a lame endorsement, but anyways the short version is: It presents a cool model for analysis of how our subconscious functions. I recommend reading it.