A Startling Look into the World of Competitive Freediving

Freediving is some pretty gnarly stuff. Basically you hold your breath, swim as deep as you can, and then swim back up to the surface. Simple right? Well the best in the world go 300 feet down and come back up four minutes later. If that’s not super-human I don’t know what is.

Here is a great article that takes an in-depth look at those pushing the limits in this dangerous sport. We’re talking torn larynges (plural of larynx), blackouts, and noses exploding into a bloody mess for those lucky enough to return to the surface. It’s a great read, but I thought I would point out a couple items I found particularly interesting that otherwise may not stand out in the article.

Powerful Psychology in Play

“Competitive freediving is a safe sport. It’s all very regulated, very controlled,” says William Trubridge, a 31-year-old world-record freediver from New Zealand. “I would never do it if it wasn’t.”

Cognitive dissonance much? Here is a closer look at the logic being applied: I wouldn’t do anything unsafe and I freedive, therefore freediving must be safe. Wow. Let me guess… he thinks of himself as a moral person so everything he does is perfectly acceptable.

Achieving Greatness

So why do you do this Mr. World Record Holder?

“To me, I don’t really have a choice,” he says in a soft voice. “There is an immortal peace confronting the underwater world on its own terms, with your breath at your breast. The ocean is just where I am meant to be.”

The greats in any discipline will likely have a similar answer. They were made for it and can’t imagine life without it. Since it isn’t really a choice for them, the risks and endless devotion aren’t viewed in the same way everyone else sees them.

Photo: Gavin Goodhart

Life Lessons Learned Through Hitchhiking

Most of us growing up in the Unites States have learned that hitchhiking is dangerous. Don’t attempt it and certainly don’t pick up someone on the side of the road with their thumb out. There is a pretty good Freakonomic radio podcast with some insights into why we all share this belief.

But now that I am in New Zealand, with the new culture comes a new mindset about hitchhiking. It’s fairly common in the south island and has been the primary way I have been getting around for the last month (but don’t tell my Mom since not everyone has adjusted their mindset yet). What have I learned through this experience?

  • What we all accept as truth can and should be questioned. This is an excellent time to cite the oh-so-interesting monkey, banana, and water spray experiment.
  • Both kiwis and other travelers pick up hitchhikers. In my limited experience the drivers have ranged from age 19 to 86. This tells me that its not just a narrow set of people that don’t know they aren’t supposed to pick up hitchhikers – anyone can recondition themselves to match the environment.
  • People are interesting. So many of our conversations with strangers consist of smalltalk – well what if you were in a car with a stranger for 90 minutes? And silence isn’t an option, the main reason people pick up hitchhikers is for someone to talk to, so you better deliver. I’ve found that I have learned much about various countries around the world through these conversations. I’ve also found that these connections are pleasant surprises that would not be possible with an itinerary chock-full of tourist activities.
  • The most important take away is that it has pushed comfort zone socially. It’s good to push your comfort zone in life – that’s how we achieve bigger and better things. I am not used to asking favors of strangers – anything beyond asking for the time or if they can take a picture. And then I found myself approaching strangers pumping gas to see if I could get a ride with them. I found myself low on energy talking about United States politics and thinking up unique questions about their home (if you must know, on my hitchhiking days I am generally dehydrated so I don’t have to make them stop for pee breaks all the time, thus the low energy). And I’m stronger for it. And to keep the growth going, I may do the rejection therapy challenge when I get back stateside.

Anyone out there have some other takeaways to suggest or awesome hitchhiking stories?


Photo: Frank Farm

How to Be Interesting – Irrational Passion for Unconventional Things

Here’s a little secret for you. Anyone who actually enjoys making small talk is boring. Do you think I really want to talk about the weather? I don’t have the patience to wait and see if you have anything better to say. Life is too short, there are too many interesting people out there for me to be wasting my time with you.

You don’t want to be Susie Smalltalk, you want to be interesting. What makes someone interesting? They have a passion for things. More specifically, they have an irrational passion for things. It’s far too common to be into cars, fashion, or football. Boring. But being passionate about something that is so random it seems irrational to be so excited about it, now that is interesting.

All you have to do is drop superlatives about a subject the person you’re speaking with has never thought about. Then back it up with supporting arguments that could logically make sense.

“The greatest travesty in the textile industry is that wool has been replaced by inferior technologically advanced materials.”

“A Knight’s Tale is the only chick flick guys actually enjoy more than girls.”

Ice is the greatest luxury that people take completely for granted.

“Run DMC is the most influential music group of all time.”

This naturally lends itself into teaching them something, which interesting people will enjoy. It also gives your conversational partner the opportunity to challenge you – it is these people that you want to clench on to. Don’t worry if you lose the debate. Yes, the Beatles were also quite an influential band. Good for them. The important thing is that you are having an stimulating conversation and discovering whether the person is worth speaking with again.

Let’s get to thinking … what are some subjects that you are irrationally passionate about?

Photo: Noukka Signe

It’s a Doggy Dog World Out There – Things You Had Completely Wrong

Oh the foolishness of youth! How far I have come. You know the saying “it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there”? Well I used to think it was “it’s a doggy-dog world out there” … what the heck does that even mean? I don’t know, but as a kid there are so many saying that don’t make sense, this was just another one.

But sometimes mistakes like this can come from too much thinking. For example, when a kid learns that Santa Claus isn’t real, she will correctly assume that elves aren’t real, but incorrectly assume that reindeers aren’t real. In fact they are a real animal and the kid might be an adult before finding out.

What other examples do you have, either from your childhood or someone else’s?

Here is a great reddit convo along the same lines. Am I the only one that thinks a lot of the things in there aren’t so obvious?

Photo: Eric

What the World Needs Now, Is Sarcastext, Sweet Sarcastext

Oh the difficulties of using sarcasm online! How are you supposed to get across the fact that you are being sarcastic when you can’t alter the tone of your voice, give a little wink-wink, or nudge-nudge? Anyone with a sense of humor that instant messages has surely encountered this problem first hand.

This week I was fooled once again. CNN published an opinion article on why Stephen Colbert’s bid for presidency must be stopped. Here is a sample that quotes Colbert and explains why he would be horrible running our country.

America’s role in world: “If our Founding Fathers wanted us to care about the rest of the world, they wouldn’t have declared their independence from it.” Under a Colbert administration, it appears America would just attack other countries for no valid reason.

The whole time I knew that Colbert’s candidacy and stances are simply a joke, but I thought the person writing the opinion article was taking it seriously. Apparently I was wrong. Upon closer inspection, that little blurb at the beginning introducing the author can be quite important. Usually it just toots the person’s horn and gives you links to their other material, but this time it actually contained something of real value. “Dean Obeidallah is a comedian”. And in case that isn’t evidence enough, if you take a look at the Story Highlights in the sidebar, you will see “he channels Colbert, satirically calls his candidacy a threat to our way of life ”

So the author was being sarcastic and I had no idea. Honest mistake, could happen to anyone. This is an obvious problem. And when there is a problem, we need a solution. Enter sarcastext.

Sarcastext is a idea for a specific font to be used whenever you are being sarcastic. The font itself alerts the user to the sarcasm, just as bold, italics, and capitalization are used for emphasis. Thus, whenever the reader encounters sarcastext font, the joke will not go over their head, which we have seen can have embarrassing consequences.

This idea goes back to my early days of AOL IMing and I can’t credit myself as the one that came up with it. Neither can I remember who did. So junior high friends, if you are reading, take credit in the comments …

The article even makes some Hitler references, as previously mentioned in my post on Godwin’s law.

Photo: ManyLittleBlessings

Small Scale Brands that Stand for Something

The last decade has seen increased attention paid to what a brand stands for, beyond the product they sell. No longer do consumers simply want a good product – they want to stand for something they believe in at the same time. Tom’s Shoes gives a pair of shoes to the less fortunate for every pair purchased. Patagonia represents sustainable manufacturing for outdoor gear. American Apparel says no to overseas sweatshops and child labor. Apple designs products that push the status-quo and embrace the elegance of simplicity.

What a wonderful world it is. Unfortunately, there is one problem with all of these brands – they are all quite expensive. You have to pay a hefty premium to buy an iPod rather than a Zune, an American Apparel v-neck rather than Hanes, a Patagonia rain jacket rather than one from Walmart, and a pair of Tom’s Shoes rather than a pair from H&M. Not everyone has the luxury of expendable income to pay a 2x markup, but I’m sure they would still like to stand for something through their purchases.

Let’s forget about clothing and technology for a moment and examine a much smaller scale. Can the same stances be taken for highly commoditized goods as well? The definition of a commodity is that you don’t care which one you have because they are all the same. One brand’s iodized salt is identical to the next. But instead of looking so closely at the product, let’s look at the brand itself.

Let’s say you have two brands selling salt. Bradley’s costs $1.00 and Chuck’s costs $1.05. You know that they sell identical products, so logically you would choose the cheaper option. Now for the twist. Bradley’s ships their salt to the store on sleighs pulled by puppies and aren’t shy about using their whips to get moving faster. Chuck’s is a brand that came about to provide a direct foil to Bradley’s – they ship their salt by truck and donate 1% of all profits to PETA. Now which brand would you buy?

Of course, a 5% premium doesn’t sound so bad now! But even more importantly than the fact that it is a 5% premium, it is a 5 cent premium – something that is accessible for everyone who buys salt (which cannot be said about premium brands like Patagonia and Apple).

Some questions come out of this thought experiment. Is there a margin for any commoditized product that can be successfully taken by a “righteous” brand? Is it only an option when the established brands are bad? What about neutral? Can these “righteous” brands come into existence without a marketing budget that would kill their narrow margins above commodity prices?

The change of Shell gas stations to Z gas stations in New Zealand got me thinking about this (btw pronounced “Zed” because kiwis follow British English for the most part). A New Zealand fund bought the 226 Shell gas stations in the country and are attempting to turn it into a source of pride – taking call center and IT jobs back within the country, selling NZ pies rather than Australian, and creating jobs by introducing full service gas pumpers. Is there anything that is more of a commodity than gas? And yet, which would you choose if you were a kiwi and the price difference were mere cents?

Photo: collective nouns

The End of Research-Based Blog Posts

This blog is largely composed of writings intending to teach or explore a subject I finding interesting. Some posts are about subjects I know quite well, like nerdy ratios. But the vast majority of posts are about subjects that I want to learn about, like how check-sum digits work on credit cards. The beauty of having a blog with intelligent readers is that I have an excuse to research the subject, internalize it, and output a concise explanation.

Unfortunately, I’m finding that it is going to be difficult to produce research-based posts while traveling. With limited internet access, I simply don’t have the opportunity to explore a new subject to the level required to write a blog post on it.

I could react to this in one of two ways. The first is to simply stop writing blog posts while I’m traveling since I can’t write the heavily researched posts I love so dearly. But a far better solution is to see this as an opportunity to explore alternative types of posts.

So stay tuned for new posts that might be a little bit different. Rather than being so factual, they will be of a nature that can’t be argued with (and thus doesn’t require supporting data) – things like personal beliefs and observations of the world. Do you have any other ideas?

Photo: Amy Lenzo

Baseball Litmus Test – Do You Find This Interesting?

Baseball is the most polarizing sport – you either love it or can’t understand how people could ever like it. Sports like basketball and football, you still have the die-hard fans, but it doesn’t seem to have the opposition calling it boring and refusing to watch that baseball has.

It’s been said that to be a baseball fan, you have to appreciate history, numbers, and statistics. It’s not so much that any given pitch is exciting, rather it is what happens over the course of an entire at bat, game, season, and many decades.

ESPN finished their year in review, in which they look at everything unbelievable that happened in major league baseball in the past year. I think this is a good litmus test to determine whether or not you have the potential to like baseball. If you are fascinated by any of these blurbs, you are in danger of becoming a baseball fan:

  • In an Aug. 30 game against the Padres, Andre Ethier did something that ought to be impossible: He got the Dodgers’ first AND second hits in the same inning. How’d that happen? It wasn’t easy. In between Ethier’s hits, those other Dodgers helped make this nugget possible by going walk, strikeout, walk, walk, sacrifice fly, walk, walk, walk.
  • Eugenio Velez went 0-for-37 this year, the most hitless at-bats in a season by any non-pitcher Zero Hero in the history of baseball.
  • The Mets went 299 games without hitting any grand slams – and then hit two slams in a span of six hitters.
  • In an Aug. 14 game against the Cubs, Braves rookie Arodys Vizcaino marched out of the bullpen, faced three hitters, struck out all three and still, somehow, succeeded in A) blowing a save and B) pitching only 2/3 of an inning. Those strike-three wild pitches make all sorts of strange-but-true feats possible, don’t they?

And the postseason was even a little crazier:

  • The Cardinals have played 19,387 regular-season games in their history. Not once had they won a game in which they trailed five times. But that’s the mess they overcame to win Game 6 — when all that was riding on it was losing the World Series. That’s all. The Cardinals trailed in this game by scores of 1-0, 3-2, 4-3, 7-4 and 9-7 — and won. Unreal.
  • Never had both teams homered in extra innings at any point during an entire Series. Then, naturally, each team homered in extra innings just in GAME 6 (Josh Hamilton in the 10th, David Freese in the 11th).
  • In back-to-back-to-back at-bats in Games 6 and 7, David Freese hit a game-tying triple, game-winning homer and game-tying double. How incredible was that? Only one other time in World Series history had a player gotten game-tying or go-ahead hits in three consecutive trips to the plate. And naturally, it was Allen Craig, earlier in this same World Series.
  • In Game 1s of this postseason, the Yankees, Tigers, Rangers, Phillies, Cardinals, Brewers and Diamondbacks started pitchers who had been around long enough to make a combined 1,469 regular-season starts in the big leagues, plus another 30 postseason starts. But the Rays had other plans (as always). They started Matt Moore in Game 1. How many big league games had he started in his life before that game? That would be one. So, naturally, Moore went out and threw seven shutout innings (giving up two hits), the first time any rookie starter had done that in a postseason game. So it took 107 years for it to happen once. It then took four days, of course, for it to happen a second time — thanks to Arizona’s Josh Collmenter.
  • Finally, there was Albert Pujols’ picturesque little box-score line in that very same Game 3: 6 AB, 4 R, 5 H, 6 RBIs, with three majestic homers and 14 total bases tossed in there just for fun. Feel free to stare at that line for as long as Albert stared at his long home runs, because in the entire live-ball era — all nine decades of it — there has been only one regular-season 6-4-5-6 three-homer game, by Dave Winfield against the Twins on April 13, 1991.

Head over to ESPN.com for the full articles on the regular and post-season 2011.

Photo: Shutter Daddy

Why You Should Have a Pet Reindeer

Merry Christmas to all! I know exactly what you should ask for next Christmas – a pet reindeer! There are three reasons why a reindeer would be a great pet.


Reindeer lose their antlers every year and grow them back. This means each year you have your pet reindeer, you’ll have another set of antlers to hang in your den. Couple this with that facts that reindeer have the largest antlers to body size ratio of any deer and both males plus females have antlers, and you have a hell of a pet.


Pretty much all we drink is cow milk, and maybe occasionally some goat milk, but there are many other animals that product excellent milk, including reindeer. Compared to cow milk, reindeer milk has 3 times the protein, 6 times the fat, and half the lactose. Sounds pretty good, but be warned – it is pretty labor intensive as it requires someone to hold the antlers while someone else milks. Probably worth the effort though.

Santa Costume

How legit would it be to have a live reindeer to go along with your Santa costume? Can you imagine a reindeer pulling you down Lombard Street at SantaCon next year?


Photo: Britt-Marie Sohlström

6 Things You Don’t Know About Costa Rica

I am back from two glorious weeks in Costa Rica. The beaches, rainforests, and wildlife made it an unforgettable trip and made me want to explore the rest of the Central America. Rather than turning this into a travel blog, I think the pedantic readers would appreciate some knowledge. So here are some things you probably don’t know about the country – pura vida!

  • Costa Rica is one of the greenest countries in the world. Yes, the vegetation is thick and vibrant, but I mean the environmental friendly type of green. A whopping 25% of the land is protected by national parks and wildlife reserves (for comparison sake, the world average is around 10%). On top of that, the government put forward a plan to be 100% carbon neutral by 2030 (already 90% of energy comes from renewable resources).

  • Costa Rica has a tiny pocket of malaria in a remote part of the jungle. The Red Cross has a policy that you should wait 12 months after traveling to “an area” where malaria is found before giving blood (because blood donations are not checked for malaria). Thus, it could be difficult for travelers to Costa Rica to give blood for the following year (although you can show your itinerary and see if they will accept you weren’t in danger of being exposed to malaria).

  • The Nicoya Peninsula has been identified as one of the five regions in the world where people regularly live to 100 (written about in the book Blue Zones). These regions share the common characteristics of putting family first, non-smoking, plant-based diet, constant moderate physical activity, social engagement, and eating legumes.

  • Costa Rica abolished its military in 1948, immediately following a bloody civil war, and made it permanent by adding it to their constitution the following year. Instead, the budget is spent on education, culture, and security (they still have Police Guard forces responsible for ground security, law enforcement, counter-narcotics, and border patrol). Costa Rica is one of the largest of the 19 countries without a military and one of the few that is a democracy.

  • But those Costa Ricans can be shady as well. China built Costa Rica a $105 million dollar stadium earlier this year as a “gift”. Hmmmmm, why is China giving out gifts? Why is a country known for its kickass lifestyle getting so buddy-buddy with a country known for its human rights violations? Check out this story to learn this and why a bridge was unofficially renamed from “Bridge of Friendship” to “Bridge of Backstabbing”.

  • The country is only 19,653 square miles (imagine a 200 mile by 100 mile plot of land), yet it takes a long time to get anywhere. Many of the roads are still dirt. The roads that are paved are two lane highways – its not uncommon for a bus to stop in the middle of the highway or a cart pulled by oxen to slow down traffic. Despite this, it is one of the most developed countries in Central America.


Apologies for the lack of blogging. I will be bringing my computer with me on my next trips so that I can stay connected and write blog posts. Thanks for the patience!

If you liked this post, check out this one about the Netherlands (I haven’t been there, but did have a few facts to share).

Photo: Rafael Alverez