I took a 24-hour fast recently, limiting myself to water (and chewing gum). Since I’d already been counting calories as part of getting back on track after picking up about 10 pounds over the holidays, I can see that I ate probably a bit more in the meals before and after the fast (I fasted from 1 p.m. until 1 p.m.). What I didn’t expect to happen was the kind of hunger that kept after me for the next couple of days, when I found myself feeling almost compelled to eat more than I would normally eat. A kind of after effect of fasting, I guess. I wonder if that would happen every time I fasted, or if my body would adapt.
Archive for January, 2009
Turtling is the derisive term hockey players use when a supposed tough guy hunkers down on both knees rather than fight. Richard Martin, editor of the networking publication VON, says the press and a good deal of businesspeople are turtling because of the economy.
“This is not the Great Depression,” he scolds. “It’s not even the dot-com crash of 2001. It’s time to get out of the turtle position and start working, and investing, and looking to the future again. This is America. That’s what we do.”
He’s right that it is not the dot-com crash of 2001. It’s far broader than that. There are also potential demographic trends that suggest consumer spending in developed nations will slow for a generation.
But he’s also right that gloom needs to stuffed in a shell. Put it away for a bit, and figure out how to develop a growth strategy built around consumers in emerging economies. I’m reading the insightful book “Globality” right now, which has several intriguing examples of companies that have done just this. More on them soon.
When she gives advice to the president, she talks up energy independence and fighting global warming, invokes Sputnik and talks about how the nation rallied behind the space program. Coincidentally, I’m about a third of the way through Tom Wolfe’s “The Right Stuff.” Wolfe’s book so far isn’t really about test pilots and astronauts, but an anthropology of national totem-building, and how America’s leaders and the press became bewitched by “a modern, i.e., technological, astrology.” The program, he argues, benefited from the press culture of the 1950s, which Wolfe archly calls “a great colonial animal…made up of countless clustered organisms responding to a single nervous system. In the late 1950s (as in the late 1970s)…the animal’s fundamental concern remained the same: the public, the populace, the citizenry, must be provided with the correct feelings!”
It’s a little disconcerting to see Wolfe hack at the mythology of of the U.S. response to Sputnik, which is one of those crises, along with the great wars we’ve been in, and the Depression, that define our character as a country. Wolfe basically is saying the Sputnik alarm was a false one, and we were already well on our way to having our own satellites to launch, if a little behind. It suggests that America only functions when a panic button gets pressed. Otherwise, we are mired in our petty everyday conflicts.
I hope in this case that he’s wrong, because it’s obvious that energy independence and fighting global warming are slogs, not dramatic things that can be shown on television.
My second crack at Budget Hero. I chose not to create certain spending programs I wanted, like having the feds pay more for college. And I was more aggressive about certain kinds of taxes — I cut out a couple of business tax breaks I would’ve liked to keep, for instance. But there are a number I did not eliminate. Not that anyone will ever take my opinion, but I did stave off budget disaster until 2070.
Sort of. I played Budget Hero and managed to keep the country from going bust until 2060. But no one would ever elect me — I focused on making the government somewhat more efficient. So I cut farm subsidies, the defense budget, discretionary spending, ended earmarks and did not do much about healthcare or the public schools.
In the future, corporate drug testing will be to see if you’re taking the drugs the company wants you to take.
An argument found and posted by Nick Carr, in Managing productivity through pharmacology, holds that people should be allowed to take drugs that dull their minds to everything but the task at hand. Carr takes this as the next logical step, as a follow-on to an editorial in Nature calling for governments to allow mentally healthy people access to prescription-only drugs like Ritalin. The scientists, several of whom hold chairs funded by drug companies, think that such drugs should not be used only as correctives, but for all those who want to stimulate their minds.
Carr is mildly concerned by the legalize it view of these scientists, but seems to see the Frank Pasquale post as a logical follow-on, though Pasquale holds that companies may require workers to take drugs so they’re focused solely on one task, thus increasing productivity. Pasquale is being tongue-in-cheek: his real feelings are here.)
But even in the original Nature editorial is a weird leap of logic. The Nature editorial authors call neuro drugs the moral equivalent of exercise, sleep, nutrition, teaching, using computers, writing and language itself. They seem to have confused their moral equivalence with their moral hazard. Just because two things have a similar effect does not make them the same.
I’m not necessarily against brain enhancements — I have consumed coffee when tired, and I like to exercise to relieve stress and change my perspective (I took a walk before posting this). More to the point, it’s painful to make errors or fail to recall a fact at a crucial moment or to have the mind wander when you need it to be paying attention. At those moments, drugs sound pretty good. And if there were a drug that would make my first drafts better, I’d at least be tempted to take it.
But here are some issues with encouraging people to pop mind pills. We know that we don’t have personalized medicine — we don’t know what drugs work for which people. Thus there are always side effects, sometimes severe ones. Even something as simple as caffeine pills might not work as expected; I well remember falling asleep despite having popped caffeine pills, and I’ve amped up on coffee only to find myself getting into raging arguments that killed everybody’s productivity. I also know people who were put on anti-depressants that caused other deleterious side effects, including life-threatening ones.
I’m also leery of things that dehumanize us, and drugs that get rid of our variations do exactly that.
Research suggests modest enhancements at best with today’s crop of brain drugs. We’ll probably get better at them. But should we? If you could take a drug that would make you a better manager, would you?
I’ve posted a pill-popping poll on Big Think, where I first put this musing.
My good friend Kathy Kleiman had a great moment recently, when she and one of the early ENIAC programmers, whose memory has been kept alive largely by Kathy’s efforts, went to Silicon Valley for a couple of major events: the programmer, Jean Bartik, was given a Fellows Award by the Computer History Museum, and then spent a chunk of time at Google.