Archive for December, 2008

Motivation: David Goggins, 100 Mile Man

This video of ultramarathoner David Goggins has been circulating among friends and colleagues at the height of final exams in an email with the subject line “Motivation.” Indeed.

“When you think you are done… You are only 40% in to what your body is capable of doing. That’s just a limit we put on ourselves.”

Love it.

play, think…
J. R. Atwood


December 15, 2008 at 10:14 pm 2 comments

Ideas carnival

From air bags for the elderly to wine from China, the online version of the 8th Annual Year in Ideas published in this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine compiles an interactive list of the science, research, thoughts, breakthroughs, paradigms, and “things that make you say hmm…” born in the past 12 months.


December 15, 2008 at 9:32 pm Leave a comment

Costs of being a triathlete; a booming sport — er, lifestyle

From “Triathletes leave slowing economy in the dust“:

  • In 2006, there were 16 Ironman-branded races throughout the world; in 2008 there are 34 — many of which sell-out within hours of opening their online registration.
  • Costs for completing an Ironman? Entry fees are around $500. Add $3,000 for the typical tri bike, $200 for bike shoes, another few hundred for accessories and cycling gear, $350 for a wetsuit, $150 for running shoes, maybe $750 for coaching services and gym memberships, and another two-grand for airfare to and weeklong lodging in places like Kona, Hawaii or Nice, France.
  • Average household income of a triathlete? $177,000. Says one industry insider, “I don’t think [triatheltes] are the people getting laid off. They’re the people laying off.”
  • Membership to USA Triathlon, the sport’s governing body, increased by 15 percent in 2008, to 115,000.
  • Subscriptions to Triathlete magazine continue to climb, as do their advertising rates. Circulation is now at 70,000, a 10 percent annual increase.

Thirty years ago, who would have thought that a simple race among training buddies in San Diego, CA would morph into a sport lifestyle of the wealthy?


December 13, 2008 at 5:47 pm 1 comment

Project Rwanda: Bicycle-based development

Continuing with my end-of-the-year cleaning and de-cluttering of my home, I found myself flipping through Outside Magazine‘s September issue and was captivated by a story about the Wooden Bike Classic in Rwanda.

Almost fifteen years after the genocide, tiny Rwanda is suddenly a hot adventure destination, the new darling of multinational investors, and, says mountain-bike legend Tom Ritchey, one extra-long bicycle short of a comeback.

Videos and photos of Rwanda’s Wooden Bike Classic can be found here, but I was most intrigued to learn about Project Rwanda, an organization “committed to the economic development of Rwanda through initiatives based on the bicycle as a tool and symbol of hope. Our goal is use the bike to help boost the Rwandan economy as well as re-brand Rwanda as a beautiful and safe place to do business and visit freely.”

One of the cool things to come out of Project Rwanda is the “coffee bike,” a 45-pound, all-steel bicycle with special modifications (e.g., V-brakes, eight-speed drivetrain, long-wheelbase) that allow coffee farmers to cut hours off the time it takes to haul beans from fields to the processing plants — a job that is still done on foot throughout much of Africa. By delivering more beans at a faster pace, farmers and workers are able to demand a premium for fresher product.

Project Rwanda is not the first organization to use long-wheelbase utility bikes to facilitate economic development; in Kenya, WorldBike initiated a similar project called Big Boda.

World Vision plans to offer two-year micoloans to help Rwandans cover the $185 cost of a coffee bike. Feel free to donate directly to any of the above organizations (easy to do via online donate buttons on their sites); Project Rwanda also sells a $1,000 replica of the coffee bike in the U.S., with proceeds supporting its cause.

play, think…
J.R. Atwood

December 12, 2008 at 8:34 pm 1 comment

Berkeley’s Longest Paths

I have no idea how I first came across this — and actually forgot about it until cleaning up my desktop this morning. But “Berkeley’s Longest Paths or, why I took so long to graduate” by A. A. Efros is a romantic, nostalgic, and inspired collection of the author’s favorite walking and hiking paths throughout the greater Berkeley, California area.

In the footnote on the first page, Efros notes that his reflection of pedestrianism in northern California was originally tucked away as an appendix in his 2003 doctoral thesis, “Data-driven Approaches for Texture and Motion,” and “will likely become the most useful part of this present manuscript.”

I don’t have the rest of your thesis, A. A., but I found myself smiling this afternoon as I took a sunset stroll along a part of Berkeley that I had not yet otherwise explored (and probably would not have known about) if it weren’t for your collection of walking and hiking paths. Many thanks!

play, think…
J. R. Atwood

December 12, 2008 at 6:36 am Leave a comment

Brain steroids endorsed by medical experts

brain steroids“Society must respond to the growing demand for cognitive enhancement. That response must start by rejecting the idea that ‘enhancement’ is a dirty word, argue Henry Greely and colleagues.”

This is the introductory tease of “Towards responsible use of cognitive-enhancing drugs by the health,” a new and provocative opinion piece in the journal Nature.

It’s a fascinating document because it re-frames the debate of chemical enhancement from one rooted in morality to one that is based on issues of health. No longer is fairness the determinant of what could and should be allowed: so long as something is safe, these experts claim, it should be acceptable.

As noted in the Reuters story on this commentary, some medical, science, and health experts advocate the use of cognitive-enhancing drugs because, “much like education, the Internet or other helpful tools … [they provide] a legitimate way of improving brain power.”

“We should welcome new methods of improving our brain function,” Henry Greely of Stanford Law School in California, Barbara Sahakian, a psychiatry professor from the University of Cambridge in Britain and others wrote.

They cited a recent survey that found nearly 7 percent of students in U.S. universities have used prescription stimulants, and on some campuses, as many as a quarter of students have used the drugs for non-therapeutic purposes.

So what would these experts say about the practice and use of doping, steroids, and chemical-enhancement in sports?


In the context of sports, pharmacological performance enhancement is indeed cheating. But, of course, it is cheating because it is against the rules. Any good set of rules would need to distinguish today’s allowed cognitive enhancements, from private tutors to double espressos, from the newer methods, if they are to be banned.

Have a thought on the issue? Leave a comment or join the debate at Nature‘s online forum.

Play, think…
J.R. Atwood

December 8, 2008 at 6:59 pm Leave a comment

Healthiest states in the U.S.

Hot off the presses: the annual report of America’s Health Ratings, 2008. (The entire report can be downloaded at this site.)

First, the list of healthiest states, ranked by the percentage a state is above or below the national norm:

1. Vermont (24.8)
2. Hawaii (21.6)
3. New Hampshire (19.9)
4. Minnesota (18.8)
5. Utah (18.2)
6. Massachusetts (17.7)
7. Connecticut (17.5)
8. Idaho (16.1)
9. Maine (15.3)
10. Washington (14.9)
11. Rhode Island (14.0)
12. North Dakota (12.5)
13. Nebraska (12.0)
14. Wyoming (11.8)
15. Iowa (11.6)
16. Oregon (11.3)
17. Wisconsin (10.3)
18. New Jersey (9.8)
19. Colorado (9.7)
20. Virginia (9.0)
21. South Dakota (7.5)
22. Kansas (8.7)
23. Montana (6.5)
24. California (5.3)
25. New York (3.8)
26. Maryland (3.4)
27. Michigan (2.0)
27. Pennsylvania (2.0)
29. New Mexico (1.7)
30. Alaska (1.3)
31. Illinois (0.8)
32. Ohio (0.7)
33. Arizona (0.4)
34. Indiana (-0.6)
35. Delaware (-1.6)
36. North Carolina (-3.2)
37. Kentucky (-3.6)
38. Missouri (-4.9)
39. West Virginia (-5.0)
40. Alabama (-7.0)
41. Georgia (-7.8)
42. Nevada (-7.9)
43. Arkansas (-8.1)
43. Oklahoma (-8.1)
45. Florida (-8.9)
46. Texas (-9.0)
47. Tennessee (-9.7)
48. South Carolina (-10.7)
49. Mississippi (-15.0)
50. Louisiana (-15.2)

As to why Vermont is the healthiest and Louisiana the unhealthiest states in the union:

Vermont moved from 16th in 1990 to the top position in 2007 and 2008. Vermont’s strengths include ranking in the top five states for a high rate of high school graduation, a low violent crime rate, a low percentage of children in poverty, high per capita public health funding, ready access to primary care, low geographic disparity of mortality rates within the state and a low premature death rate. It also ranks first overall in all health determinants combined and ranks in the top 20 states for all measures except two. Those two challenges are low immunization coverage with 79.8 percent of children ages 19 to 35 months receiving complete immunizations and a high prevalence of binge drinking at 17.3 percent of the population. 

Louisiana is 50th this year, down from 49th in the 2007 Edition. It has been in the bottom two states since the 1990 Edition. The state ranks well for ready access to prenatal care, a low prevalence of binge drinking, high per capita public health funding and few poor mental health days. It ranks in the bottom five states on 10 of the 22 measures including a high prevalence of obesity, a high percentage of children in poverty, a high rate of uninsured population, a high incidence of infectious disease, a low rate of high school graduation and many preventable hospitalizations. It ranks 50th for all health determinants combined, so its overall ranking is unlikely to change significantly in the near future. 

For further details on these states — or any other — visit

It’s interesting to compare the ranking of state healthiness as determined by America’s Health Rankings to the rankings of those determined by CQ Press’ recent — and 16th annual — report of states’ health

CQ Press used “21 factors infant mortality to obesity to cancer rates” to compile the rankings. The AHR uses 22 measurements broken into either health determinants (personal behaviors, community and environmental factors, public and health policies, and clinical care) or health outcomes to compile its rankings.

Here is the list of the most healthy an unhealthy states as determined by CQ Press with the AHR rankings in parentheses:

1. Minnesota (4)
2. New Hampshire (3)
3. Vermont (1)
4. Maine (9)
5. Massachusetts (6)
6. Iowa (15)
7. Nebraska (13)
8. Hawaii (2)
9. South Dakota (21)
10. Rhode Island (11)
46. Florida (45)
47. Nevada (42)
48. New Mexico (29)
49. Louisiana (50)
50. Mississippi (49)

 The AHR provides a summary of what it deems successes and challenges to America’s healthcare:


Infectious Disease
51% decrease in the incidence of infectious disease from 40.7 cases in 1990 to 20.1 cases per 100,000 population in 2008.

Infant Mortality
33% decrease in the infant mortality rate from 10.2 deaths in 1990 to 6.8 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2008.

Prevalence of Smoking
33% decline in the prevalence of smoking from 29.5% in 1990 to 19.8% of the population in 2008.

Violent Crime
23% decline in the violent crime rate from 609 offenses in 1990 to 467 offenses per 100,000 population in 2008.

Cardiovascular Deaths
26%decline in the rate of deaths from cardiovascular disease from 405.1 deaths in 1990 to 298.2 deaths per 100,000 population in 2008.

Children in Poverty
13% decline in the percentage of children in poverty from 20.6 percent in 1990 to 18% of persons under age 18 in 2008.

Occupational Fatalities
40% decline in the occupational fatalities rate from 8.7 deaths in 1990 to 5.2 deaths per 100,000 workers in 2008.

Immunization Coverage
45% increase in immunization coverage from 55.1% in 1996 to 80.% of children ages 19 to 35 months receiving complete immunizations in 2008.

High School Graduation 
Slight increase in the rate of high school graduation in the last few years; 74.7% of incoming ninth graders now graduate within four years.

Premature Death
14% decline from 8,716 years of potential life lost before age 75 per 100,000 population in 1990 to 7,490 years of potential life lost before age 75 per 100,000 population in 2008.


Prevalence of Obesity
127% increase in the prevalence of obesity from 11.6% in 1990 to 26.3% of the population in 2008.

Lack of Health Insurance 
16% increase in the rate of uninsured population from 13.4%in 1990 to 15.5% in 2008.

Poor Mental Health Days
In the last eight years, the number of poor mental health days per month increased from 3.0 to 3.4 days in the previous 30 days.

Poor Physical Health Days
In the last eight years, the number of poor physical health days per month increased from 3.2 to 3.6 days in the previous 30 days.

Here is an international comparison of health, with the most healthy countries at the top and the most unhealthy at the bottom. (Variables such as life expectancy, infant mortality, cancer deaths, cardiovascular deaths, and obesity rates were used to compile this list). America — where we at?!

San Marino
United Kingdom 
New Zealand 
United States of America
Czech Republic 

Certainly our lack of exercise is one of the reasons why we are such an unhealthy nation (33% of Americans are overweight with another 33% classified as obese). According to the CDC, 33-50% of Americans fail to meet the government’s minimum recommendation for exercise.

There are two national standards for exercise: The Health & Human Services Department calls for a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic activity, such as walking, or 75 minutes per week of rigorous aerobic activity, such as running. The Healthy People 2010 initiative recommends 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 20 minutes of rigorous aerobic activity at least five times per week. With these relatively low-bar recommendations and so many of us failing to move throughout the day, I wouldn’t be surprised if close to 80% of Americans fail to meet the even stricter guidelines of the Institute of Medicine, which recommends at least an hour per day or aerobic activity. 

Let’s get movin’.

Play, think…
J.R. Atwood

December 5, 2008 at 8:54 am Leave a comment

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Jason R. Atwood

I'm an avid trail runner and doctoral student at U.C. Berkeley who studies motivation and the relationship between the mind and body. This blog is a forum to share research, news, and musings about these topics of interest. More

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