Happy 2018! It’s been four weeks since our last issue and I’m excited to share the picks for this edition. We have articles on improving cities, new science on dietary fiber, and a great read on inspiring movements pushing for harmony with the planet. The long read follows a UN envoy to one of the most poverty-stricken places in the world — America. Finally, our podcast and book recommendation from the man who revolutionized the way people learn to swim, and we wrap up with five things I’ve been digging during the holidays.
◦ selected words
Visual storyteller Ariel Aberg-Riger asks ten people doing inspiring work in cities in the US and around the world, “how can your city do better in 2018?”. Part of The Atlantic’s CityLab, informing and inspiring people to create cities for the future.
citylab.com (8min read)
We know that dietary fiber is good for you, but a recent study is helping us understanding why. We can’t actually digest fiber — it’s the microbes carrying hundreds of species of bacteria and their enzymes that break it down. Researchers at Georgia State University have linked fiber to healthy gut bacteria in studies with mice, and a lack of fiber leading to chronic inflammation. What’s more, in a few weeks the mice put on fat and developed higher blood sugar. Keep adding those chia seeds and hemp hearts to your smoothies!
nytimes.com (8min read)
“A defining characteristic of buen vivir is harmony… harmony between human beings, and also between human beings and nature. A related theme is a sense of the collective. Capitalism is a great promoter of individual rights: the right to own, to sell, to keep, to have…. If you put a price on nature, then you’re suggesting an ownership of the planet … Furthermore, capital is something that is interchangeable between people. But if you destroy the environment, then it’s difficult to rebuild it, which undermines it being interchangeable”. I’m skeptical with regards to placing Ecuador as a leader, with their president’s poor track record on oil and mining, but definitely worth a read.
theguardian.com (6min read)
Extracting and layering high-resolution stills from a video camera, Barcelona-based photographer Xavi Bou captures the path of birds as they fly through the sky in his unique project titled, “Ornitografías”.
nationalgeographic.com (3min read)
“The Skittles people, being much smarter than most of us, recognized that it is cheaper to make things smell and look different than it is to make them actually taste different.” This article from NPR demonstrates how the color of a gummy bear distorts our perception of flavor. It quotes another study where clear beverages and food coloring showed how yellow colors taste like lemon, among others, even when the flavors were changed. Humans are fascinatingly irrational, suggestible creatures.
npr.org (4min read)
◦ listen in
I was immediately optimistic after discovering someone as athletic and focused as Tim Ferriss, like me, couldn’t swim in his thirties. So I was more than curious to learn how he learned this life skill, and as Tim does, the quickest possible way. In this unexpectedly mindful interview, Tim interviews Terry Laughlin, coach of 24 USA national champions and the creator of Total Immersion Swimming. Counter-intuitive (what, no kicking?) with cheesy marketing and a sprinkling of big promises, I had my doubtful glasses on, but after watching the free videos on YouTube and reading reviews, I was convinced to give it a try. You can hear a different side of Tim in this podcast, as this was Terry’s final long-form interview before passing away from cancer.
The Tim Ferriss Show (2h18min podcast)
◦ eat well
Down here in Costa Rica, papayas are a dollar each from the fruit stand, twice the size of the Hawaiian imports, and always sweet and ready to eat. When I saw a photo of this breakfast creation, I had one of those “why didn’t I think of that?” moments. Credit to Chris at The Nomadic in Nosara for his Instagram photo and sharing the idea he got from a local Tica. I recommend sprinkling on Terra Breads’ Artisanal Granola and some Made in Canada Manitoba Hemp Hearts (so good I brought two big bags with me on this one month trip, and rationed it to the end). And no, this is not a sponsored post.
◦ read slow
In the United States, 41 million people live in poverty, more than the population of Canada, and 9 million of those have zero income — not a penny comes home. The Guardian sent an investigative reporter to accompany a UN expert on extreme poverty and human rights for a two-week fact-finding mission, and uncovered a third world country within a country. Traveling coast to coast, stories of injustice, race, basic services, natural disasters and failed social programs paint a bleak picture in the richest nation in the world.
theguardian.com (21min read)
◦ current read
A DARPA study found that human swimmers are only 3% efficient, versus 80% for dolphins. Even elite level swimmers are only 9-10% efficient. And freestyle kicking creates so much drag that it nearly offsets the propulsion. And though they are bigger muscles that tire less quickly, they consume more oxygen, and as speed increases, the forward drive from the legs actually decreases. In this e-book to go with this issue’s podcast recommendation, you’ll finish with this quote drilled in: “the shape of the vessel matters more than the size of the engine”. And although you can’t learn swimming from a book, as a complementary resource it really can accelerate your learning. Visualizing exercise has been proven in multiple studies to improve strength in weightlifters, and having helped thousands overcome what he calls “adult onset swimming”, US Masters national record holder Terry Laughlin’s book gives practical advice and drills in an easily digestible format. His focus on technique, attention and deliberate practice apply to learning other skills as well. For a shorter read, Outside Online wrote a tribute to Terry this past October.
Swim Ultra-Efficient Freestyle!: The ‘Fishlike’ Techniques From Total Immersion (148p Kindle ebook)
◦ dig this
What I’m digging lately:
- Extraordinary Routines – The everyday habits of modern creatives, many of whom you probably follow.
- Make a Mark – A 12-hour design & development marathon benefitting local humanitarian causes. Five independently organized make-a-thons are scheduled this year across the US.
- The Atlantic’s Animalism – Science writer Ed Yong’s short video clips, starting with amazing facts about how animals see and sleep.
- The Best of Brain Pickings 2017 – Maria Popova’s own picks from the consistently thoughtful blog I probably read the most of any.
- Blue Zones – Five Areas Where People Live to 100 – Yes, the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica is one of them. It might have to do with the delicious beans and plantains in every casado.
◦ humble thought
“Injury is Opportunity” – Terry Laughlin, Total Immersion Swimming
In December I decided I was going to finally tackle one of my biggest hang-ups — learning to swim. Friends are shocked when they hear this because they know I surf (poorly, but I try… the ocean has a way to make you feel insignificant). It’s not that I can’t swim, I can tread awhile, but it’s also much easier when you have a big floating device attached to your ankle. It’s the breathing and technique I’ve never mastered. This is one of those life skills that I think is so important, along the lines of cooking, driving, and riding a bike, but can actually save your life or someone else’s. As the years passed I never gave up on this skill, but I also never took the challenge and made it a priority. So what put me over the edge? Tim Ferriss’ TED Talk where he admitted he also couldn’t swim in his thirties, along with an upcoming trip to surf friendly Panama and Costa Rica, that led me to this new focus.
Conveniently, most public pools in Montréal have free drop-in hours daily. I took a few lessons with a swim coach and ex-lifeguard, and when the teacher wasn’t available, I didn’t miss a practice session. In the two weeks before my trip down south, I went to the pool six times, feeling improvement every trip. After my fifth session, I could swim a full 25m length, albeit with lots of flailing and a huge gasp at the end. By my last, I still couldn’t swim more than 25m straight, but I did manage eight lengths in a single hour, with breaks. And the best part was, it was fun and I felt progress.
Now in Nosara, Costa Rica, where the surf is world class and forgiving, all day, every day, low tide or high and all year round, I’ve been lucky to surf the most consistently in my life, getting ten surf days in thus far. And today was the first day my shoulders were strong enough to do both a morning and sunset session. I should also mention last Spring I had a shoulder injury and couldn’t lift any weight for days. An ultrasound found calcifications and my physio found issues with my range of motion that, looking back, would’ve eventually led to injury. After a few months of physio appointments and exercises, I was functioning almost normally, except for some clicking, the occasional soreness, and a lot of lost muscle. But these swimming exercises had the added benefit of opening up my shoulders.
I’m thrilled to report my surfing has improved dramatically, thanks to the swim practice and shoulder opening exercises. Although I still can’t swim a lap without stopping and had a small panic attack snorkeling 500m in the San Blas Islands on the fourth day of this trip, I now feel so much stronger and (slightly) more confident in the water. I’m looking forward to being able to experience the joy of swimming, like over half of all adults do, and enjoying the process along the way. The human body is such an amazing thing if you feed it, treat it and train it right. Here’s to a lifetime of learning.