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Tim Ferriss

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caveman-computerFirst you couldn’t have more than 10% fat in your diet, then carbohydrates became the source of all evil*. Slow-Carb waged war on the various Schools of Paleo. But the Food Pyramid continues to loom over them all like some kind of Eldritch abomination.

Weight machines were once all the rage, but then free weights became king. Then Tsatsouline brought kettlebell back into fashion, while others urged us on to condition ourselves with our own bodyweight, like convicts.

Eggs, coffee, and long-distance running caused perennial headaches to gurus all round.

So how does the layman observing this cacophonic monkeyhouse deal with all the noise? Simplify. Simplify the shit out out of all this crap and reduce it all to the following basic question:

Would you have been doing this 10,000 years ago?

Diet fads and exercise methodologies come and go, but the human body remains constant – at least on the timescales that matter. Apply the Caveman Test – and you are unlikely to go very far wrong.

Should you count calories? Erm, lolzwut? No caveman would know what a calorie even is. Forget all those Weight Watchers programs that would have you obsessing over that extra 5 calories you ingested at lunch.

How often should you eat? Did hunter-gatherers eat 6 carefully portioned meals a day – or did they alternate between bouts of fasting and feasting in-between their hunts? There you go – intermittent fasting. Feel free to give breakfast the finger if you’ve never liked it anyway.

Did you eat grains? No, they ate root tubers. When humans started eating grains, life expectancy plummeted relative to the levels of the Paleolithic Age. But here’s the thing: Humans have adapted. Partially adapted. Some human groups have adapted more than others. East Asians have been cultivating and eating rice for more than 10,000 years, and it remains a major staple of their diet to this day; but they nonetheless boast some of the world’s lowest morbidity and obesity profiles**. It is not an unreasonable hypothesis that their physiologies have evolved to better process grains. Reinforcing it is the observation that some of the world’s worst obesity crises are among peoples that have only very recently adopted grain heavy modern diets – the Ameri-Indians, the Samoans, etc. If you are East Asian, you shouldn’t worry much about eating rice. You were doing it 10,000 years ago, after all. If you’re Europea, approach with caution – rice only arrived in Iberia only a millennium ago. And if you’re Ameri-Indian, flee for the hills. Other forms of grain however appear to be pretty much universally bad.

lactose-toleranceDid you drink milk? Again, no. But because its a useful trait to have, lactose tolerance independently developed among several human groups – and then spread outwards. But if you don’t come from those red and orangey areas, chances are high you are lactose intolerant. So don’t bother with it. Forget about GOMAD.

Did you eat fruit? Of course – whatever Tim Ferriss might believe. But here’s the thing: The fruits we have now are, quite literally, the fruits of labor – that is, of a long period of selection for size and sweetness. Take the strawberry. People like pretending that eating bowls of the stuff is healthy (I won’t even go into stuff like orange juice). Here is a picture of wild strawberries – that is, the genuine ones – that might change your mind on this (and don’t forget they would have all been foraged, and only available for part of the year).

strawberry-sizes-leslie-land-blog

What kind of things would you have eaten that you don’t eat much of now? Root tubers. Organs. Bone marrow.

How would you have exercised? Certainly not by lifting symmetric weights in “sets” according to a certain schedule. Anything but that.

How about:

  • Ripped rock climbers.

    Ripped rock climbers.

    Bodyweight exercises: Pressups, pullups, squats, bridges.

  • Gymnastics.
  • Rock climbing/bouldering. Seriously – have you ever seen a fat rock climber? It’s pretty much perfect as far as developing the optimal physique is concerned. Most of the muscles (except the pushup ones) are worked out from all angles and directions; there is the strongest of incentives to drop weight, which acts even at the subconscious level; and reaching the top is inherently motivational. There are now many gyms with bouldering walls.
  • Sprinting
  • Wrestling
  • Lugging about uneven weights

What else would you have been doing differently? According to Cracked, a leading scientific authority, pretty much everything: Shitting, bathing, breathing, sleeping, childbirth, dental hygiene, sitting. (Well, okay, Cracked’s articles can be quite dubious in many cases – but that one hits the mark.).

Well, you get the idea. Don’t obsess too much over one guru or another. Use your own brain – apply the Caveman Test.

Would you have been doing this 10,000 years ago?

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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Convict Conditioning by Paul Wade, published in 2010. Also Convict Conditioning 2, a followup published a year later. Rating: 4/5.

convict-conditioning-cover A couple of months ago, I was walking in a park with my dad. We passed an outdoor gym sort of place and decided, “Why not try out some of the exercises?”

It was quite embarrassing – for me, that is, not my old man. I eked out maybe two or three pull-ups, only the first of which was in perfect form. He did more than a half dozen without problems.

This I found to be strange, as I am not objectively a weak man. Until I stopped going to the gym – I can never be motivated enough to keep going at it for more than a few months without a break – I was doing 75 pound dumbbell bench presses and 50 pound dumbbell shoulder presses. This was significantly more than my dad could do though he doesn’t go the gym at all really. But he whooped my sorry ass at pullups, and even came close on pushups.

I recalled this episode when reading through Convict Conditioning, which had been recommended to me as a good intro to calisthenics. Paul Wade is an ex-con who, by his own admission, spent 19 of the past 23 years in some of America’s toughest prisons for various drug offences. (Some commentators have voiced skepticism as to whether the author is a real person. If I had to guess I’d say he is, but even if the whole jailbird thing was a marketing ploy, I honestly couldn’t care less; my interest is in effective information, not personalities). Most prisons don’t have much in the way of gyms. There are no free weights – for good reason, as you might imagine – while barbells only come in a very limited number of weight categories, which makes progressive training impossible. As such, the cons have to improvise and practice self-reliance to bulk up. And Paul Wade was one of the best at this.

laocoon

Laocoön and His Sons

His core argument is very simple. First off, it’s not like dudes weren’t getting ripped in the dark ages before we started “pumping iron.” The Ancient Greeks and the strongmen of the late 19th/early 20th centuries alike relied on bodyweight exercises to build up their strength and Davidian physiques. It is only in the past 50 years that weightlifting has displaced old-school calisthenics as the primarily means of building up strength. The old ways survive, of course, but they are now mostly constricted to fairly narrow groups such as gymnasts, wrestlers, rock climbers… and convicts. Which is a pity, argues Paul Wade, because barbells and dumbbells – not to mention weight machines – are highly artificial and unnatural constructs in the context of human evolution, and as such cause far more injuries, irritation, and stress on the joints than calisthenics. At the same time, while he acknowledges that you can get both strength and big muscles with modern bodybuilding, he points out that much of this strength is inflexible – because of the single-minded focus on brute heaving, as opposed to careful body manipulation and balance – and is unsustainably propped up by over-eating and steroid use.

In a sense, we are to believe, calisthenics is to exercise as the paleo-diet is to nutrition. I.e. work with evolution, don’t fight it. (Though it should be noted that Paul Wade doesn’t have a high opinion of the paleo-diet, dismissing it as a fad).

No denying that he has a bee up his bonnet about modern bodybuilding. He calls them “drugged up jerks” and compares them to “Brazilian rent boys” on one occasion. I don’t judge him for that rhetoric, as he’s entitled to his opinion and it is amusing to read besides; but still, I think it might be just a wee bit unfair on the “gym rats.” Still, one is hard pressed to deny the fundamental validity of his points. All I had to do was think back on my superiority to dad in the gym and how it did jack for my in actually useful activities like being able to pullup your way up a tree to escape predators. Chest pressing a 200lb barbell probably wouldn’t do me much good in that situation, whereas the strength my dad had developed decades before with mostly pure bodyweight exercises would stand him in good stead.

So I had to give his books a good hearing, and they did not disappoint.

The basis of Paul Wade’s system are the “Big Six” exercises: Pushups, squats, pullups, leg raises, bridges, and handstand pushups. They are, in turn, each subdivided into 10 steps, ranging from the very easy – which can be productively embarked on even by very weak or obese people, to the extremely difficult – which can only be attained after a year or more of dedicated conditioning. For example, the Pushup series ranges from the wall pushup, through the “normal” pushup at Stage 5 – that is, about the level of most healthy young males – to the insanely difficult 100 reps of one-arm pushup that signifies true mastery of this exercise.

convict-conditioning-summary

A comprehensive summary of the Big Six exercises. Click to enlarge.

All too many second books are written to ride the money waves generated by the first. One famous example is Pavel Tsatsouline, the guy promoted by Tim Ferriss, who hasn’t really written anything particularly noteworthy after his first book that introduced the Russian kettlebell to the West. Fortunately, this does not describe Paul Wade, whose second book is well worth buying too. In it he goes into a lot more detail on how to exercise other body areas and progression plans for developing grip strength, strong calves, a thick neck, and powerful lats. These exercises can all productively complement The Big Six. It also includes a long section on how to work the joints to keep them lithe, supply, and pain-free. It gets very detailed and I have not yet read those parts seriously. But it’s not a serious priority for now, as some degree of mastery over the Big Six is a prerequisite for many of the more advanced techniques in the second book anyway.

Perhaps the only really surprising (and questionable) advice I found in the book is to take it slow. This is in direct contradiction of the well-known CrossFit program, where you are expected to jump into the thick of things pretty much straight away. Now while perhaps CrossFit is too extreme in that regard – surely, if nothing else, it discourages some novices from even starting on it – I don’t know if the conservative CC approach is much better. Yes, I can understand rank novices with matchstick arms, or people suffering from obesity, beginning with wall pushups and vertical pulls and the like. But for basically fit people who can already hammer out 40 pressups?

I appreciate and take into account Wade’s words about overly arrogant Rambos pushing blithely ahead, running into a wall sooner rather than later, and getting discouraged from the entire program. But wasting a month doing wall pushups, as he seems to suggest everyone embarking on his program should do, sounds rather ridiculous too. I think a good middle-ground compromise for basically fit people here is to start with Stage 1 as he suggests, but to go through to Stage 4 or Stage 5 a lot quicker than his recommendation of three to four months; say, one month should be time aplenty. This will give you ample time to get into the groove of things and build up “training momentum”, while foregoing the apathy that might develop from having to repeat months of basically redundant exercises.

At least, that’s my current game plan. I’m not a professional coach, nor even a convict. You decide what’s best for you.

Now considering the generally positive nature of this review, you might be surprised why I gave the books four stars, not five. It’s not a matter of their cost (more than $20), just to clarify at the outset, though that does not mean that making them cheaper would not be appreciated. The rather banal reason is that I have grown rather cautious about giving such types of books perfect scores before being comprehensively assessing their performance in the real world, as opposed to just the ostensible lucidity and short-term persuasiveness of their theories and reasoning. (For instance, while I initiatially gave Tim Ferriss’ Four Hour Body a 5/5, I would today lower it to a 4/5 or even a 3/5). This way, I will not disappoint myself or prospective readers of this review. As Wade approvingly quotes the old masters, “The weights aren’t going anywhere.” Neither is the edit function for old reviews; this is a preliminary rating, and it might yet go up – or down – depending on whether I am still getting my ass whopped in pullups at that park in a few months time after I start following this program.

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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If we want to optimize life, we must first start from our projections of what the world is going to look in the years ahead.

Generally speaking, it is coming to resemble something out of a cyberpunk sci-fi setting, i.e. “low life, high tech”; a world of instant communications, global markets, fewer resources and growing poverty, and intrusive government surveillance.

In fact, it can be reduced to three major trends:

  • Informatization: Everything is becoming more interconnected, from online businesses selling Chinese-manufactured goods or India-outsourced services to African peasants looking up local grain prices on their new cell phones. This empowers the entrepreneurial, the tech-savvy, the globalized, and the surveillant.
  • Peak Oil: Is a catch-all term for the growing supply challenges facing the global energy industry – slowing or plateauing extraction; decreasing quality (e.g. heavier, more polluting, less energy-dense); rising geological and political risks. This will be translated into higher fuel and energy prices in the years ahead.
  • Global Warming: Many parts of the world are going to become adversely affected by the consequences of AGW: floods, droughts, strong hurricanes, wildfires, desertification, etc. Due to its runaway nature this will become evident at an accelerating pace. Consequences will include high food prices, climate refugees and international tensions.

The general theme we have is of a world that will be more fragile and fluid. Job security, already a thing of the past, will not return. Many of today’s middle-classes will become impoverished, and will be unable to climb back out, as happened after Argentina’s economic collapse in 2002. But for the entrepreneur – the person who “shifts economic resources out of an area of lower and into an area of higher yield,” as defined by French economist J.B. Say in 1800 – the world will be an oyster as never before in history.

Rather than wasting time worrying over which degree or specialization to pursue, and how you’re going to pay back the student loans, consider focusing on the following seven “core skills” of the cyberpunk survivalist.

It’s The E-conomy, Stupid

Knowing the driving rules of the global information highway is indispensable to entrepreneurial success today. Do you want to do targeted advertising for your product? Probably nothing beats Google Adwords. Want to find wholesale manufacturers from China who sell stuff at prices 5x cheaper than what you see on Western markets? Ali Baba is the place. Need to develop an involved community that sticks together? You will need a blog (WordPress is the best), a Facebook page, and a Twitter account. Desire to establish yourself as an expert or market your books? You will need a prominent online presence. Offering a specialized information product? You’ll need to sort out your SEO, webpage and newsletters.

Some people like to sneer at the Internet and blogs and social networks, regarding them as a time sink for people with no lives. Of course they have a point if these things take over your life. However, correctly utilized, the Internet and the global marketplace it offers, with zero taxes on digital products, offers countless opportunities for exploiting price differentials between countries – what is called geoarbitrage – and is probably the most surefire way to creating a “muse” today.

What is a muse? It is a term coined by Tim Ferris to describe a sustainable, location-independent income stream. Most muses are Internet based. The idea is to quit your job, fire your boss and enjoy life while automated systems and Indians work for you. You can’t do much worse than read and internalize his book THE 4-HOUR WORKWEEK.

Programming To Prosperity

Short of the total breakdown of industrialism, those folks who can fix programs and write code will always be in high demand and well-compensated. After the Soviet Union collapsed, visiting misery on most of the fallen empire’s citizens, programmers never starved.

If you focus, it is possible to become a fair programmer within 6 months to a year. It is recommended that you start with a practical language like Python, Ruby or Java. The “holy book” of programming is The Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, but practically speaking it requires too much intellectual investment unless you specialize in this area.

As for that – I’m not saying you should make it your life goal to get employed by Google or Oracle. You’ll get paid a lot, but do note that terms like “code monkey” and “office plankton” didn’t come from thin air. That said, it is extremely useful to know how to understand programs and be able to write simple Apps.

Languages Get You Likes

Languages are very useful and not anywhere near as hard as commonly thought. Know the top 100 most frequent words, and you already know half the language. Learn the most frequent 1,000 words, and you can have a free-flowing conversation on practically any topic.

In short: Organize vocabulary memorization around word frequency lists; Learn basic grammar; Practice with native speakers. And last but not least, learn about an interesting subject or activity through the medium of the language you’re trying to assimilate. If you’re Muslim and want to learn Arabic, your goal is to read the Koran in the original. Russian has an unparalleled literature on chess. You can use Japanese to brush up on kendo or business management. Use your imagination.

Knowing languages is invaluable to making full use of geoarbitrage for both business and pleasure.

Enter The Hulk

The cyberpunk world is one in which life is cheap and death is free. So you have to get big, fit, and kickass.

The cheat guide to the first two (and prerequisite for the third) is Tim Ferris’ THE 4-HOUR BODY. Read it. I can’t really expand upon it.

To “kick ass”, I recommend Krav Maga. It dispenses with the formalities of traditional Asian martial arts, instead just focusing on what works for the hard men of the Israeli Defense Forces.

In some parts of the world, especially the US and Latin America, it is useful to get a pistol and learn how to shoot it. In other places like Britain you will have to rely on the kindness of criminals and the helpfulness of government.

If you’re elderly, your biggest enemy is old age. Fortunately, longevity research is going strong and making real progress. It is not impossible that within two decades life expectancy is going to radically increase. A good place to start off with to maximize your chances of living “long enough to live forever” is the Kurzweil and Grossman book FANTASTIC VOYAGE.

The Network Effect

Having a good network of friends and acquaintances is an effectiveness multiplier. Is your friend a graphic designer? Get her to come up with a logo for your business in return for setting up a website, or a massage.

Some people try to befriend everyone Kumbaya-style, while others get tired of the vanities of the social scene and retreat into their holes and cubicles. The real secret to having an effective network is to *filter* friends. If they’re especially positive, helpful, inspirational, or influential, then by all means stay in close contact with them. If they create too much hassle, pessimism or negativity, it’s better to let them go for the better of everyone’s mental health. Don’t forget that you are the average of the 5 people who are closest to you.

How to identify your best friends? Make a list of all your contacts, then rate each one out of 3 on “usefulness” and “influence”, then write a sentence or two about their specific qualities and skills. Bold the names of the Top 20%. Work from there.

The “Gray Arts”

Burdened by unpayable debts? Though you probably lack the political connections to be “bailed out”, you can consider changing your identity and/or taking a lengthy holiday in another country.

Want to avoid them in the first place? Explore the fascinating world of LLC’s, holding companies and trusts that you don’t even personally own.

Don’t want the greasy paws of government fingering your hard-earned assets (that you accumulated by selling Chinese junk and Indian IT products to Western consumers)? The sunny beaches of the Cayman Islands aren’t only for Western banks and Third World kleptocrats. Neither are multiple citizenships.

Down and out in the gutter? Lock picking, pick pocketing and urban evasion skills are the hallmarks of the streetwise professor.

Not that I’m endorsing any of this, but they’re all useful things to “research”, if you catch my drift. Neil Strauss’ EMERGENCY is a good jumping-off point.

Global Perspective

What’s invaluable for making profitable long-term investments, making astute business decisions and managing your risks?

It is having a global perspective.

While acquiring specialized knowledge on the product you want to sell or the information services you offer is indispensable, being aware of global affairs – be they current events like the Middle East unrest, or longer-term trends like the development of the energy base or global warming – will save you from big mistakes and multiply your long-term wealth.

Say you want a house as a long-term investment. Is it a good idea to buy it somewhere in Florida, seeing that prices have come down in the past 2 years? Some would say yes, go for it! But anyone with knowledge of long-term climate models will avoid it like a drowning ship. That’s because when everybody finds out about those climate models, housing prices in Florida will plummet, as nobody will be willing to insure houses built in the path of ever stronger storms and rising waters.

Likewise, long-term bonds offered by the PIGS countries, Japan, the US, and the UK are surely no longer safe havens given the runaway sovereign debt dynamics seen in those countries.

Where should you put your money? That’s for another post, but in short, some reliable *longterm* investments that come to mind are: The ARCS states (Alaska, Russia, Canada, Scandinavia); The BRICs (especially China and Russia); Financial instruments that track commodities under stress from rising wealth and growing populations (e.g. oil; Rare Earth Metals) or the companies producing those commodities; Real estate in select places (e.g. Sochi-Abkhazia; Arctic ports such as Murmansk); Biotech; Nanotech; Pharmaceuticals (global aging).

But make sure you research thoroughly before taking the plunge. Oil might be a good investment, but it’s no use if you buy in at $120 / barrel, only to see it plunge in the wake of a global recession and stay at $50 for a year or two. You might go bankrupt before making a profit. The global economy tends to snap when real oil prices get into the $120-150 range, but a price of $40 is likewise unsustainable due to plateauing (or declining) global production and soaring demand from China. If you see oil prices fall back to less than $70 in the next few years, it would make a lot of sense to buy in big.

Back to houses. Speaking of the US, I think the Great Lakes region is the most prospective region for real estate in the next decade. But its a pretty depressing place to actually live in. One unconventional idea is to take up sailing and become a sea nomad.

Full freedom of movement. Access to the Internet via satellite. Most of the world’s great cities are within your range. And contrary to popular myth, it’s not even that expensive. There are communes offering free or near-free sailing lessons in return for a couple hours of volunteered maintenance work per week. Once you get the hang of things, you can buy a comfortable sailboat for $30,000-$90,000, or rent one for $3,000-$6,000 per year, which is an order of magnitude cheaper than the typical San Francisco or London apartment. And in practice you get the advantages of both!

Obviously, you can ignore this if world travel or boats aren’t your thing. But in any case – Think big, Think global.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.