Archive for the 'books' Category

The dangers of “Fight Club”… someone might actually break a spine?

Ok, so it has been some time since I last posted on Broken Spines but it is with good reason.  Just over ten weeks ago I actually broke my spine… I woke up to sure agony.  I thought I had pulled a muscle in my neck/back and waited it out over night.  The next morning the pain was still there and I made an appointment to see my doctor and a chiropractor and a colleagues suggestion.  The chiropractor proceeded to tell me how messed up my neck/back was and gave me an alignment adjustment with no improvement.  My doctor saw me and thought that it was a pulled muscle and prescribed muscle relaxers and Vicodin.  After a week on the drugs, more chiropractic “help” and even acupuncture I was without sleep and still in excruciating pain (so much so that on some nights I honestly would have preferred amputation).  Talking with friends and colleagues I was convinced that I needed to see a specialist.  I called the recommended neck & back specialist the next morning and was told that I needed a referral from my primary doctor and an MRI before the he would see me.  I  called my primary doctor and after some pleading I was able to get an appointment the next day.  My doctor ordered x-rays, did an exam, and agreed to give me the referral and MRI request.  At the scheduling area for the MRI I was told that there was a mobile unit that came to the clinic on Mondays and Thursdays… and of course today was Tuesday – I had to make it clear to the scheduler that Thursday was not soon enough.  Sure enough there was one at a local hospital and their MRI was available that evening.  After the most painful 30 minutes in an MRI machine I get to go home and wait until the next morning for the results.  In the meantime, I called the specialist back and told his staff that I my referral and my MRI – how soon could they get me in?  The answer – three weeks!  I wasn’t going to last three more weeks with this pain and lack of sleep!  I explained that to the scheduler and she suggested that I leave a message with the doctor’s assistant and they would get back to me.  I decided to pull out all of the stops and left the voicemail informing them that my neighbor worked with the specialist, two other neighbors had seen the doctor and one had surgery with him, and that I was in EXCRUCIATING pain.  What do you know… they found room for me within seven days.  The next morning the MRI report was available online and I come to find out that I had herniated a disc in my neck/spine: C6-C7.  I meet with the specialist the next week and after three weeks of the most excruciating pain I have ever felt (even with the aid of the finest narcotics man has made) I was finally prescribed oral steroids (a.k.a. Prednisone).  Within hours the amazing anti-inflammatory medicine in Prednisone had started kicking in and the pain was almost gone.  The only lingering effect was numbness or tingling in my first two fingers of the my left arm.  I proceeded with six weeks of physical therapy which helped strengthen my neck and arm but still left the numbness.  The only problem now was the persistent numbness… my specialist suggested that I did not want it to go beyond 12 weeks or I could risk permanent nerve damage.  Last week was week 10 and I decided to proceed with surgery to remove the herniated portion of the disc that was causing the pressure on the nerve (posterior microdiscectomy)… five days in and still waiting for a final verdict if the numbness has gone away for good.  I’ll keep you posted…

The Third Man… neurological defect or a glitch in The Matrix?

With only 22 hours to spare I just finished our next tome on the existence of the Third Man. Author John Geiger distills the phenomenon of sensing the presence of another being with us during times of stress or panic as not a guardian angel or religious savior but as a neurological defect that enables us to triumph over our immediate appalling situation. He further suggests that we should learn to master this feature of the brain. While interesting, I am not sure I am sold on the “science” behind the idea but I do have a few tangential ideas…

1) Check out the TED video presentation by Oliver Sacks (the neuropsychiatrist who wrote Awakenings) as he describes the lucid hallucinations of visually impaired people and the discovery of the areas of the brain the recognize teeth, facial features and cartoons. Maybe this is just biological brain stimulation and nothing more?

2) What of Will Ferrell’s character in the movie “Stranger Than Fiction” who is an IRS auditor suddenly finds himself the subject of narration only he can hear: narration that begins to affect his entire life, from his work, to his love-interest, to his death.  Maybe we are all just characters in our own book?

3) Perhaps there is a much simpler story… Maybe we are all captives of The Matrix and much like Deja Vu is an example of the The Matrix re-writing code to fix a glitch or bug… the experience of The Third Man is an example of our minds transcending The Matrix to see that we are actually part of “the system?”

Recession Holding Back Education Too…

Great… not only is the recession hurting my income today but it is likely to have a much larger economic impact on education (and thus earning potential) of future generations.  It a NY Times article last week titled “Facing Deficits, Some States Cut Summer School” many schools are cutting back or closing their summer school programs to save money.  This is being done in spite of $100 billion in stimulus money being pumped into education and the Secretary of Education urging states and districts to keep their summer school programs open.

Summer school you say?  Who really really cares about summer school… unless of course you are talking about the classic 1987 movie Summer School with Marc Harmon and Kristy Alley.  The reality is that summer school can be critically important to those kids coming from low-income households.  In our most recent bout, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell we learned that the knowledge gap between the kids from the poorest families to the richest families is almost exclusively attributed to what knowledge is gained or lost during the summer (not technology in the classroom or classroom size).  As the Times article points out, children of working parents will be at the mall or in front of the TV instead of in the classroom preparing them for the next grade level.

If Gladwell’s analysis is correct, why is it that state governments or school districts would make such a short sighted decision?  Perhaps his research hasn’t made it back to the education establishment?

Close Enough to Free to Round Down

FreeMalcolm Gladwell, a Broken Spines favorite, provides a nice counterpoint to the digital age mantra of “build it and they will come” as articulated in Chris Anderson’s new book: “Free: the Future of a Radical Price.” 

Anderson describes an experiment conducted by the M.I.T. behavioral economist Dan Ariely, the author of “Predictably Irrational.” Ariely offered a group of subjects a choice between two kinds of chocolate—Hershey’s Kisses, for one cent, and Lindt truffles, for fifteen cents. Three-quarters of the subjects chose the truffles. Then he redid the experiment, reducing the price of both chocolates by one cent. The Kisses were now free. What happened? The order of preference was reversed. Sixty-nine per cent of the subjects chose the Kisses. The price difference between the two chocolates was exactly the same, but that magic word “free” has the power to create a consumer stampede.

But, Gladwell turns Anderson’s YouTube example around and points out how Free isn’t really working out for YouTube and its parent Google.  

YouTube lets anyone post a video to its site free, and lets anyone watch a video on its site free, and it doesn’t have to pass judgment on the quality of the videos it archives. “Nobody is deciding whether a video is good enough to justify the scarce channel space it takes, because there is no scarce channel space,” he writes, and goes on:

Distribution is now close enough to free to round down. Today, it costs about $0.25 to stream one hour of video to one person. Next year, it will be $0.15. A year later it will be less than a dime. Which is why YouTube’s founders decided to give it away. . . . The result is both messy and runs counter to every instinct of a television professional, but this is what abundance both requires and demands. 

But, according to Credit Suisse, Google is spending $500 million to support YouTube and it has yet to make a profit.  Advertisers don’t want their ads associated with stupid pet tricks.  And, with the video capabilities of new cell phones, YouTube videos have jumped 1700% in the last 6 months.  That’s a lot of inane video.

10,000 Hours of Deliberate, Strenuous and Boring Practice

The next Broken Spines bout is on “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell.  Basically Gladwell debunks the myth that great people are innately smarter or more capable than the rest of us.  He references research that shows that 10,000 hours of practice are necessary before mastering anything.

David Brooks writes in his column this morning that this research has been conducted by people like K. Anders Ericsson, the late Benjamin Bloom and others. And he recommends two new books: “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle; and “Talent Is Overrated” by Geoff Colvin.  Brooks writes:

Coyle and Colvin describe dozens of experiments fleshing out this process. This research takes some of the magic out of great achievement. But it underlines a fact that is often neglected. Public discussion is smitten by genetics and what we’re “hard-wired” to do. And it’s true that genes place a leash on our capacities. But the brain is also phenomenally plastic. We construct ourselves through behavior. As Coyle observes, it’s not who you are, it’s what you do.

Incidentally, David Brooks is speaking at the Minneapolis Orchestra Hall next Tuesday.

Opus Distinguished Speaker Program: The Age of Obama, featuring David Brooks

Clean Coal Unrealistic?

Now I know there are some with a vested in clean coal, but this is a pretty scathing article from the Economist.  True?

“Despite all this enthusiasm, however, there is not a single big power plant using CCS (carbon capture and storage) anywhere in the world.”

“CCS particularly appeals to politicians reluctant to limit the use of coal. Coal is the dirtiest of fossil fuels…Yet burning coal is one of the cheapest ways to generate power. In America, Australia, China, Germany and India coal provides half or more of the power supply and lots of jobs. Rejecting cheap, indigenous fuel for job cuts and international energy markets is seen, naturally enough, as political suicide. CCS offers a way out of this impasse.”

“The problem with CCS is the cost. The chemical steps in the capture consume energy, as do the compression and transport of the carbon dioxide. That will use up a quarter or more of the output of a power station fitted with CCS, according to most estimates.”

Jon Stewart goes “mad” on Jim Cramer?

For those who missed The Daily Show last night it was awesome… Jon Stewart took it to Jim Cramer and CNBC on the lack of “financial reporting” on their supposed “financial news” cable network.  Not to be a spoiler… but there are some great video clips of Cramer off air.  Take 20 minutes of your day and watch this episode!


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