Independently Strong

Three years ago I read a weight training book that was more influential on me than I expected.

Muscle

According to the book, called “Training for Mass” by Gordon La Velle, weight training is best done at high intensity. You might think all weight training is high-intensity. High-intensity training (HIT) is a particular flavor of weight training that advocates deliberate, intense action, in a short workout, to stimulate muscle growth. While some people who lift weights may spend hours at the gym, several times per week, with multiple sets per exercise, Training for Mass says this is overkill. It’s unnecessary at best, and may cause burnout or injury at worst. What’s needed is just one “work set” per muscle group, once per week. But it must be very intense.

“The higher intensity, the greater the growth stimulation. Within the realm of weight training, where muscular growth itself is the objective, the ability to generate a high level of intensity is the most critical factor under your control.” (p. 33)

Source: Flickr user mjzitek

Source: Flickr user mjzitek

Contrast the objective of muscular growth with the objective of appearing strong. If my goal is only to appear strong, there are certainly ways to fake it:

  • Assisted repetitions — An assisted repetition is when your friend helps you lift the bar. “If someone is helping you lift the weights, it doesn’t take a Ph.D. in physics to deduce that the weight you’re lifting is equal to the mass of the weight minus the force being applied by the helper….” (p. 111)
  • Cheating — Cheating is to use bouncing, or momentum, or a change in your body position to lift more weight than normal. Not good. “[There] should be no bouncing, swinging, or using any other deliberate technique meant to increase the momentum of the lift. Any momentum present in the lift should come only from the simple linear movement of the weight.” (p. 107)

(Technical note: There is a place for assisted reps and cheating — on the very last repetition. Because it’s harder to raise weight than to lower weight, our muscles burn out on the raising part of a repetition (“concentric contraction”) before they burn out on the lowering part (“eccentric contraction”). When you can no longer lift on your own, assistance or cheating, if it can be done safely, can be used to raise the weight one more time, and then you should lower the weight entirely on your own.)

If your goal is muscular growth and you’ve been using assists or cheats (for more than the last rep), it’s better to reduce the weight, and the *appearance* of strength, and use a weight you can actually lift on your own.

“Why don’t these lifters just go lighter and lift the weight themselves, at least before reaching failure? This seems like it would make a whole lot more sense. Inflated egos might be the culprit here, since the lifters may want to appear to be lifting heavier weights.” (p. 111)

Source: Flickr user Pete Bellis

Source: Flickr user Pete Bellis

Character

Suppose we think of our character as a muscle. How could the above principles change our mindset about the development of character?

One of my favorite quotes of all time is from D. Todd Christofferson:

“[God] is endeavoring to make us independently strong — more able to act for ourselves than perhaps those of any prior generation.”

To me, “independently strong” is different from “appearing to be strong” or “strong when assisted.” I don’t know that we can expect to have character that’s chiseled and solid without actually lifting heavy weight. When the weight is heavy and it feels like there’s no Trainer assisting, maybe that’s on purpose.

A friend recently told me that 2013 has been the hardest year of his life. If we had been leaving the gym, and he had said this was the hardest *workout* of his life, I would have congratulated him. Maybe hard days and hard years are cause for congratulations. If you’re having the hardest year of your life, maybe you’re becoming the strongest you’ve ever been.

UPDATE on May 17, 2014: Elder David A. Bednar has an excellent talk on burdens: Bear Up Their Burdens with Ease

The Evidence of Things Not Seen

I wasn’t planning to write this today, but I want to.

david-miller

It was two years ago today that my brother David left home. We thought he had run away to start a new life or something. Then last fall, we learned he had passed away.

I feel melancholy thinking about my brother today. However, I also feel a sense of peace that I will see David again. I actually feel very assured about that.

That raises a question: Why should a rational person feel assured of something he can’t see or demonstrate, such as life after death?

The five senses are considered our inputs for rational thinking. However, I’ve learned I can know things outside of my five, traditional senses. There are other, finer senses that give us knowledge about spiritual things. We can cultivate these finer senses and trust them. They contribute to rational thinking. For me, faith and religion help cultivate these finer senses.

Traditional thought is that religion is at odds with science; it’s religion versus science. However, we can think about it differently, as religion plus science. Both are methods for learning truth.

In fact, religion may sometimes know things before science knows them, especially at a personal level. In that way, religion is sort of “indy” truth — truth before it goes mainstream. Eventually religion and science will be reconciled as separate views of one great whole.

In the meantime, religion and faith appear “supernatural” or “magic” to outsiders. Arthur C. Clarke said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” The Subject of faith seems supernatural because we don’t understand it fully, but I think it’s more natural than we know.

As I come to understand spiritual things little by little, they seem less foreign, less “magical”. What is “supernatural” now will eventually just be “natural”, because our understanding will have changed. As Tim Berners-Lee said, “Everything you don’t understand is magic. When you understand things, there’s no more magic.”

On a day like today, I’m grateful for the possibility of knowing additional truths by faith.

I really enjoyed this 5-minute clip from Professor Clayton Christensen discussing science, religion, and the pursuit of truth (starting at 2:55):

There’s also a great interview with John Lewis, a scientist discussing religion and science as being like two lenses in a pair of glasses:

Update, Aug 2, 2014: Here’s a recent, related quote from Elder Russell M. Nelson: “Truth is truth! It is not divisible, and any part of it cannot be set aside…. Whether truth emerges from a scientific laboratory or through revelation, all truth emanates from God. All truth is part of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Dating Advice For My Future Children

As a little background, I’m Mormon and we take marriage seriously — a high ideal worth working for. Because dating is the process that leads to marriage, we usually take dating seriously too. We might do well to be both more serious and less serious about dating — more deliberate, but less anxious. I look to my parents, several good friends, and others as models of good marriages. This talk by Richard G. Scott also paints a good picture: “The Eternal Blessings of Marriage”.

Introduction

I’ve been thinking about this post for almost two years and the ideas in this post for even longer. I’m 33, so I’ve had over a decade of post-mission dating. The differences I see between my dating world and the one described by my parents’ or grandparents’ generation will likely be even more stark for my future children, so these are the observations I’ll share with them:

Be careful of distraction and other mental traps

Some people have told me, “Your generation is scared of commitment.” While that may be true for some people, I believe distraction and other mental traps are larger factors. Ironically, distractions even affect the people who desperately want to get married.

Here are a few distractions and mental traps I’ve observed:

Facebook, etc.

It’s not really the time wasted on Facebook. It’s that you can travel down a “rabbit hole” of looking at pictures of attractive people you don’t know, looking at events that you’re not attending, and deluding yourself into thinking you’re “meeting” people. Of course, no one thinks they’re actually meeting people, but your mind can be tricked into thinking you’re making progress. And you’ll probably believe your own dating isn’t very exciting. I’ve had friends go down that rabbit hole and say “she looks like my type — why can’t I find someone like her?” and then come out of the rabbit hole to say “Where did the last 30 minutes go?”

In this trap, the strangers on Facebook we don’t know seem more attractive than the real people we do know. Of course, those strangers are also real people with strengths and weaknesses too, but we build them up in our minds.

In The Great Gatsby, Jay fell into this trap: “There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams–not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion…. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.”

The aggregation effect

Suppose you go to a dessert party, talk to several attractive people, and have a great time. Which one do you want to date? None of them? You may have just been fooled by the “aggregation effect”.

Source: Flickr user Doug88888

Source: Flickr user Doug88888

The aggregation effect is that you mentally combine all the attractive qualities of a group of people and subconsciously believe there’s one person out there who possesses all those qualities. Amy dresses well, Beth is well-read and interesting, and Candace laughs at your jokes, which makes the party fun, but if you don’t want to take someone on a date, then your mind may have fooled you. Again, this is subconscious.

Elevated baseline

Related to the aggregation effect is an elevated “baseline”. Think of your baseline as your average day-to-day excitement or happiness. It might be loosely associated with dopamine levels in your brain. When you meet someone attractive, your excitement level rises above the baseline. It’s novel and exciting.

By constantly attending parties, dessert parties, group activities, huge dances, etc. with exciting/attractive/interesting people, I believe it’s possible to raise your “baseline” so that you’re no longer excited by one individual.

To paraphrase Jeffrey R. Holland, no one is as handsome or as beautiful or as brilliant in school or as witty in speech as all of us are combined.

With 1 person, you have to carry the conversation about 50% of the time, and you get to hear novel, interesting, or funny conversation the other 50% of the time. At a dessert party with 20 people, you might carry the conversation just 5% of the time, but you hear novel, interesting, or funny conversation 95% of the time. Parties are biased to provide you far more novelty and entertainment than any one person can provide alone.

How to kill a moth

Nature magazine published an article on how moths were exterminated in Australia using their own natural pheromones instead of manufactured insecticides. (Pheromones are a natural substance released by female moths to attract male moths.) One method was to build a snare into which the male moths would enter and not escape. The second method didn’t require a physical snare at all:

Source: Flickr user Benimoto

Source: Flickr user Benimoto

[It] is called the confusion method. An airplane scatters an environmentally insignificant number of very small plastic pellets imbedded with the scent of the pheromone, and only a few of these pellets per acre are enough to overpower the male’s ability to find the female. He is thus desensitized to the natural scent of the female by this compelling scent. The Australian article describes the confusion method as follows, “The male either becomes confused and does’t know which direction to turn for the female, or he becomes desensitized to the lower levels of pheromones naturally given out by the female and has no incentive to mate with her.” (Quoted by Dr. Donald Hilton, Lighted Candle Society Annual Banquet, May, 13, 2009)

The male moth was exterminated by raising the baseline pheromone level of its environment.

Frenzy

Adlai E. Stevenson was a candidate for U.S. president in 1952 and 1956. He said that from citizens we need “not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime”. That also sounds like a good formula for a relationship. To be open and vulnerable in marriage, you’d want your partner to be steady, not frenzied.

Incidentally, that’s opposite of what makes romance exciting. Drama is fun! Drama is exciting!

What makes slot machines addictive and dogs trainable is intermittent variable reward or IVR, the idea that it’s easier to manipulate behavior with random rewards than consistent rewards. “[A] dolphin rewarded with a fishy treat every six jumps will soon become lackadaisical about the five in-between ones; reward it at random, however, and it’ll jump vigorously, never knowing which jump will bring fish.”

If you date someone that’s up and down, hot and cold, it certainly may be exciting. The transition from cold to hot is exciting because of the contrast, but your mind may be tricked by this IVR effect. On the other hand, someone who’s consistent and steady may not be as provocative to your amygdala but they may provide more safety in a relationship. Our minds trick us into wanting excitement when we may prefer steadiness.

In pop culture, this is called being “no drama”. The recently passed Margaret Thatcher said, “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.” Being no-drama seems about the same.

Lower the costs of dating, and not just financial costs

Source: Flickr user The Fayj

Source: Flickr user The Fayj

Much has been said about reducing the financial cost of dates, and I think it’s good advice. I also think it’s more than financial costs. Keeping dates inexpensive is also about reducing the transaction and risk costs.

The transaction cost of a date is all the “fuss” before and after a date.

The risk cost of a date is how emotionally painful or socially awkward it will be if this date doesn’t work out.

Things that increase the transaction costs and risk costs of dating:

  • Making a big deal out of date, whether yours or a friend’s
  • Jumping to conclusions about someone you like
  • Jumping to conclusions about someone you don’t like
  • Talking too much or too soon with your roommates/friends about your dates
  • After your roommate’s date, asking “Is he/she THE ONE?”
  • Spreading the news that two people went on a date

Dating as a conversation topic should be as mundane as the weather.

Privacy

I know a young lady who lived by herself and didn’t talk about her dates, even with girlfriends. She sometimes had dates on different nights with guys who knew each other but didn’t know they were all dating her. She effectively reduced the cost of asking her on a date because guys learned that they could ask her on a date without burning bridges with anyone else. Later she started dating one of them steadily and it became public.

As my friend Tristen says, stop talking about your first dates.

Optimism

Suppose I have a daughter who doesn’t get married until later in life. It may be difficult for her to stay optimistic and cheerful about dating. However, I’ll try to explain to her how important it is to be as carefree and cheerful as she was when she first started dating. I might say, “If a guy perceives that asking you on a date might get your hopes up and hurt you if it doesn’t work out, he may not be inclined to take that risk, for fear of hurting your feelings. Stay optimistic and reduce the risk for him to get to know you.”

Source: Flickr user DanieleCivello

Source: Flickr user DanieleCivello

I like these words from Thomas Edison: “I have not failed, not once. I have discovered ten thousand ways that don’t work” and “I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.” Dating is a process of experimentation, trying to find the right fit. It doesn’t have to be viewed as compounding disappointment until it’s finally, happily over. It can be fun along the way, and we can learn a lot from each other, even when it doesn’t work out.

Four responsibilities of a CTO

Brad Feld recently shared “what does a CTO do”. While several points referred to much larger companies that didn’t feel applicable to me — for example, I’m not nearly as outward facing or as involved in sales — it was helpful to read. Mostly, I was glad that it led me to think more deeply about how I view my responsibilities as CTO at a smaller, series A company. I see my responsibilities falling into 4 buckets: people, ideas, the business, and dev-ops:

  1. People
    • We like the Daniel Pink model: mastery, autonomy, and purpose motivate people. We ask people to self-rate each week on those 3 things. I want developers to feel they’re constantly challenged and growing.
    • I also like the servant leadership / inverted pyramid model: managers support and empower workers. Joel Spolsky tells the story of being in the Israeli army and seeing a sergeant major show him how to scrub a toilet. I like that. (But we’re keeping our cleaning service.)
    • The flow/zone/monastic startup police. If distractions are grenades, jump on the grenades so developers can stay in the zone. If someone has to come out of the zone, I want it to be me.
    • Recruiting, interviewing
  2. Ideas
    • Peer-to-peer: If team A discovers an interesting technology, library, or service, make sure team B knows about it.
    • Outside-in: books, blogs, podcasts, meetups. Scanning the horizon for new technologies, more options. Before we start building something, it’s helpful if someone can say, “Hey, wait, I saw a package/library/service that will do that” or “Such-and-such company modeled that data or process this way.”
    • Teaching/mentoring: We don’t do formal pairing, but it’s not uncommon to sit down with a developer to code something and hear, “I didn’t know you could do that”, or “I didn’t think about that constraint”. And it goes both ways. I also forward articles on programming concepts, technologies, libraries, etc.
    • Advisor to the team leads on technology choices and architecture
  3. Business
    • Advisor to CEO — provide 2nd opinion on general management decisions.
    • Opinionated on business model and strategy.
    • Able to articulate business constraints to the engineering team, e.g. “We only want to build this if it’s in X amount of time, under XYZ circumstances”, “This doesn’t meet the needs of the business.”
  4. DevOps
    • Head of DevOps, which meets the dual role of 1. supporting people (make sure the Vagrant box is working so developers don’t have to fiddle with their dev environments) and 2. supporting the business (the site’s up, it’s fast, we have backups, we’re protecting IP and assets, etc.)

How a Caucus is Not a Primary and Why It Matters

In addition to whom to support for public office, it’s important to consider how we select candidates for public office.

I wrote previously that in 2008 I voted for Mitt Romney but now I prefer Ron Paul. I believe there are strong principle-based reasons to support someone like Ron Paul.

Now that Romney is the GOP nominee, I want to share some observations about the nomination process itself. The nomination process has implications for whether we operate like a republic or like a pure democracy.

The 17th Amendment shifted the selection of U.S. Senators to a more direct democracy

Prior to the 17th Amendment, U.S. senators were selected by state legislatures, not by the direct vote of the people themselves. The House represented the people; the Senate represented the states. The 17th Amendment made Senate selection equivalent to House selection: by direct vote of the people.

Before the 17th Amendment:
Citizens —> State legislature —> U.S. Senate

After the 17th Amendment:
Citizens —> U.S. Senate

Arguably, this change has crippled states’ power and damaged the notions of federalism (power shared between national and state governments) and bicameralism (a Congress with two chambers):

“Let the state legislatures appoint the Senate,” Virginia’s George Mason urged at the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, lest a newly empowered federal government “swallow up the state legislatures.” The motion carried unanimously after Mason’s remarks.

So it’s probably fitting that it’s a George Mason University law professor, Todd Zywicki, who has done the best work on the 17th Amendment’s pernicious effects.

Zywicki shows that selection by state legislatures was a key pillar of the Constitution’s architecture, ensuring that the Senate would be a bulwark for decentralized government. It’s “inconceivable,” Zywicki writes, “that a Senator during the pre-17th Amendment era would vote for an ‘unfunded federal mandate.’”

Source: Repeal the 17th Amendment? by Gene Healy

According to Professor Zywicki, prior to the 17th Amendment U.S. Senators were called “ambassadors of the state governments to the U.S. government”, which highlights their role in representing the interests of the states. (Source: Repeal the 17th Amendment?)

When Judge Andrew Napolitano was asked what might be the most important major political transformation, he stated:

I would repeal the 17th Amendment…. If you read Madison’s notes from the constitutional convention, they spent more time arguing over the make-up of the federal government and they came up with the federal table. There would be three entities at the federal table. There would be the nation as a nation, there would be the people, and there would be the states. The nation as a nation is the president, the people is the House of Representatives, and the states is the Senate, because states sent senators. Not the people in the states, but the state government. When the progressives, in the Theodore Roosevelt/Woodrow Wilson era, abolished this it abolished bicameralism, the notion of two houses. It effectively just gave us another house like the House of Representatives where they didn’t have to run as frequently, and the states lost their place at the federal table.

That was an assault, an invasion on the infrastructure of constitutional government. Even kings in Europe had to satisfy the princes and barons around them. And that’s how…their power was tempered.

Source: Injustice System

(Interestingly, while most states ratified the 17th Amendment a century ago, between 1912-1913, Maryland ratified it earlier this year on April 1, 2012. Utah rejected the 17th Amendment and has never ratified it.)

The selection of Presidential nominees has shifted to more direct democracy over time

In a primary system, a party nominee for President is selected by direct vote of the people. In a caucus system, citizens select delegates from their precinct, who go on to select delegates from the county, who go on to select delegates from the state, who select a nominee. The caucus system is multi-tier, while the primary system is single-tier. (For more information, see Khan Academy’s Primaries and Caucuses.)

Historically, most states used a caucus system. Over time, many states have shifted to a primary system. Now, only 10 states rely entirely on a caucus.

Most states, in the past:
Citizens —> Precinct delegate —> County delegate —> State delegate —> Nominee

Most states, now:
Citizens —> Nominee

The primary system allows you to express preference. The caucus system allows you to express preference and intensity.

I live in Colorado, which is a caucus state. On February 8, 2012, I attended my local precinct meeting at a nearby elementary school. There were 12 people present and we voted as follows:

  • 7 for Ron Paul
  • 2 for Romney
  • 2 for Santorum
  • 1 for Gingrich

We elected 3 of 3 precinct delegates (and 2 of 3 alternates) to support Ron Paul. My bias speaking: Ron Paul supporters in my precinct were far more enthusiastic about their candidate than the others were for their candidates.

While the fraction 7/12 represents our collective preference for Ron Paul, the fraction 3/3 represents the intensity of our preference for Ron Paul. (None of the 5 citizens supporting other candidates objected to the voting; they didn’t appear to feel strongly about their candidates.)

On March 24, I attended the Boulder County Assembly as a delegate from my precinct. Among other things, we elected delegates to represent our county at the State and Congressional District assemblies.

On April 13-14, I attended the Congressional District and State assemblies as a representative of my county. My perception was that the delegates were among the most informed and most passionate supporters of their candidates.

A caucus system causes a bubbling up of informed citizens. Not to say these delegates were perfectly informed, or that any one candidates’ delegates were more informed than any others’, but these were the most informed of the Mitt Romney supporters, the most informed of the Gingrich supporters, the most informed of the Ron Paul supporters, etc. To some degree the caucus system filters for indifference and ignorance.

The United States is a republic, not a democracy. Pure democracy can be dangerous.

Pure democracy is majority rule, for better or worse. Benjamin Franklin said democracy is like “two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner”. A republic, on the other hand, is that sovereignty rests with the people, governed by the rule of law. The majority doesn’t rule the minorities. At the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Benjamin Franklin was asked what form of government they had created. He said, “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

LearnLiberty has an excellent video on how democracy can lead to tyranny: Democracy, Tyranny, and Liberty

The caucus system more closely resembles a republican form of government while a direct primary more closely resembles pure democracy

Thomas Mullen writes that “…caucuses do not let the majority rule unchecked. Instead of merely pulling a few levers behind a curtain, caucus participants must complete a multi-tiered process that occurs for months after the popular vote before being chosen for the national convention. Who can doubt that these delegates are more informed than the typical primary voter? The essence of republicanism is for reason to triumph over the transient passion of the majority.” (Source: Ron Paul’s caucus strategy is authentic republicanism)

Conclusion

I’m not implying that the 2012 GOP primary necessarily would have been different with some other system. However, my perception is that the caucus system provides several benefits:

  • Caucuses filter for indifference and ignorance, to some degree
  • Caucuses filter for the “transient passions of the majority”
  • Caucuses filter the influence of mass media. If you’re worried that such-and-such network is a puppet of such-and-such political party, which system makes it easier to influence the masses? Which system makes it harder? (Similarly, if you’re worried about corporate lobbying, which system makes it easier to influence senators? Which system makes it harder?)

Our selection of candidates either by primary or by caucus has implications for “what we get” through our political system.

Other Reading:
Wikipedia: Seventeenth Amendment to the United States Constitution

Huffington Post: Repealing The 17th Amendment ‘Would Be A Positive Thing’

An early draft of this post was accidentally published and retracted earlier this week.