Sunday, June 23, 2013

Jane Wicker - Spirit of Lillian Boyer

Extreme heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of wingwalker Jane Wicker and pilot Charlie Schwenker who went down yesterday in Ohio:

Ohio air show resumes after stuntwoman, pilot die  (USAtoday, 23 June 2013)

Incredibly sad to see the great Aurora go down, taking out such a vibrant person and her pilot. Jane truly possessed the spirit of Lillian Boyer, whom I wikified in 2008. She captured what drove her to do this line of work in her last blog post:
Why do I do this? There is nothing that feels more exhilarating or freer to me than the wind and sky rushing by me as the earth rolls around my head. My soul is fed by the air and I get a complete sense of fulfillment by not only the experience, but by challenging myself and doing something so uniquely different. I’m alive up there. To soar like a bird and touch the sky puts me in a place where I feel I totally belong. It’s the only thing I’ve done that I’ve never questioned, never hesitated about and always felt was my destiny. I’m not the type of person that is satisfied by just sitting still and watching Monday night football. I need to be active and see and do new things.
May we all find something in our lives that exhilarates us and compels us to keep at it, seek challenges and not just sit around spectating, passively entertaining ourselves. I'm absolutely certain Jane would have wanted the show to continue as it did. I'm even more certain that she and Lillian enjoyed watching it together from Heaven :)

Here's a great video of Jane Wicker airshows from the 2012 season, put together by her crew chief Brian Rosenstein and posted on her twitter account this past May. Jane gave some interviews here and here just before the Dayton Air Show where she explained how she got into wing walking: "In 1990 I answered an ad in the newspaper that said, 'Wing walker wanted. No experience necessary.'" Very similar to how Lillian Boyer got into it. Interesting historical note: Lillian died in 1989 (age 88).

We owe it to Jane to comb through the wreckage of the Aurora piece by piece and review the videos to try as best we can to figure out what took it down. Investigation is ongoing. There are more Jane Wickers and Lillian Boyers out there, some not even born yet, but with equally fearless spirits. Gotta keep the skies safe for them.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

In Defense of TED

There was some TEDMED bashing going on in the comments to an article in the Washington Post, and I felt compelled to come to TED's defense. My comment raises an important point about communication and promotion of science to the general public—a topic near & dear—so I'd like to re-post it here and add some follow up thoughts.

The situation: some scientist types in the comments were slamming the whole TED enterprise with statements like:
TEDMED is for self-promoters, not scientists. 
Real scientists don't have time for this.
No working scientist in the field of human genetics pays attention to any form. 
My reaction:
Have to disagree. Science needs the TED hype machine, big time. Events like TEDMED provide a worthy service in promoting science and showcasing scientists to the general public. Scientists can use all the PR help they can get in making their work exciting and connecting with the masses (which funds most research here in the U.S.). 
TED encourages more public engagement in science & technology -- something that is especially important now given the trouble we're having with basic science literacy and graduating more science and engineering majors.
Real scientists should appreciate anyone talking up science, especially high-profile figures that have the broader cultural reach practicing scientists can't attain (since they're busy doing science and cranking out those papers). 
Yet science spokespeople that don't have sufficiently scientific credentials are frequently dissed by the scientific elite. Recent example: Alan Alda on Science Friday was dubbed by a caller as an "offense to science" since he's not a trained, practicing scientist.
Real scientists may be too busy doing science to pay attention to TED, but millions of real people do tune in, and that's real good, IMHO.
And BTW, there were some real scientists at TEDMED2012: Eisen, Petsko, Butte, among others.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Jack LaLanne Thoughts

Today marks one year since Jack LaLanne passed away. I want to use this space to collect some thoughts on his life and legacy. This is at present just a preliminary post. Stay tuned for updates.

The image at right is from the LATimes collection of 'Notable deaths of 2011'. Their obituary was one of the best out there and is one of many that came flooding in from every major new source after Jack died on 23 Jan 2011.

Regarding the "for the record" note in the LATimes obit regarding Vic Tanny opening a gym before Jack did: Jack actually started a gym in 1931 while still in high school (mentioned in the Larry King interview video clip below). He trained policemen and firefighters and was the first to have progressive weight training.

Words with Larry King 

Jack gave a great interview with Larry King on 17 July 2000 when he was 86 (see the complete transcript and a short video of a portion). Here are some JLL quotes from that interview that sum up his main messages about health & fitness:

• "If man makes it, don't eat it. Stick to as close to nature as you can."
• "It's not what you do every once in a while, it's what you do every day."
• "I have never really liked to exercise but I like the results!"
• "Exercise is king, nutrition is queen, put them together you've got a kingdom."
• "Anything in life is possible. Make it happen. It starts in your brain. There's really no limit. The limit is between your ears."
• "You help you. We must take responsibility for ourselves."
• "You don't die of old age, you die of neglect."
• "I can't afford to die, it'll wreck my image."
• "Break the monotony of your workouts. You're doing something different, you're muscles respond, you prevent injuries."
• "If you're overweight, you have to count calories. Period."
• Regarding daily workouts: "Everyday I don't want to do it. But I kick the devil off my shoulder, 'Get outta here!' and I workout. The next thing I do is I look in the mirror and say, 'Jack, you've done it again!'."
• Message to today's youth: "There are two things in this life that you have to develop: pride & discipline."
• "You've got to use every joint in you're body. Completely extend & contract."
• "Always keep your stomach tight."
• "Your health account & your bank account are synonymous: the more you put in, the more you can take out."
• "So many of you people are lounging, just sitting there on your big backsides, and you're fat and out of shape, and you're praying to God, 'Dear God, please!' God is not going to do anything, you've got do it! God gives you the power to do it. God helps them that help themselves, and I hope that each and everyone of you helps the most important person on this earth, YOU!"

Jack LaLanne Day

For the past several years, I've been promoting the idea of designating Jack's birthday (26 September) an international day of health. I've also been leading free, monthly core workouts for JLL "check-in" days in the SF Bay area, since one day per year for fitness doesn't really cut it. See for details.

More to come...

This post isn't complete. Check back soon for updates.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Apple Devices Power Down

...and observe a moment of silence

...Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. 
...The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking and don't settle. 
...Stay hungry. Stay foolish.   --Steve Jobs, June 2005, Stanford

Other stories from around the net:
Wired's home page, 5 Oct 2011 home page, 5-19 Oct 2011

Friday, September 09, 2011 at the Solano Stroll

Anyone in the San Francisco Bay area on Sunday 11 September 2011 is invited to visit me at the booth at the Solano Stroll between 10am and 6pm. is my umbrella organization for various projects aimed at improving the human condition.

Here are some details about what will be happening at the booth.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Green Tech Oy Vey!

Sometimes you just want to crawl under a rock, particularly when your DC-AC power inverter's low voltage alarm goes off for the N-th time in the middle of the night and wakes up your neighbors. Such is the plight of this greentech do-it-yourselfer.

Let me explain.

Since early 2008, I've been playing with a mini-solar power system that I set up at my house. It started out with just one panel, one deep-cycle battery and a cheap 400W inverter from Radio Shack but has grown to 7 panels, 3 deep cycles, and a 600W pure sine wave inverter (needed to convert DC from the battery into AC used by appliances). At peak sun, it can generate 35-40 amps -- not nearly enough for a family of four to live off the grid, but enough to keep the batteries charged and power a handful of small gizmos, the sort that come with a "wall wart" AC converter (e.g. modem, router, phone rechargers, laptop recharger, printer, even a small desktop computer + monitor with good sun).

I need to keep the inverter turned on around-the-clock because I am using a timer to control when the connected appliances are on, so they don't drain the batteries overnight (there's no need for your wireless router to be on at 3am, at least not most nights). The use of a timer necessitated the pure sine wave inverter, since the timer needs a nice-looking wave form to keep track of time accurately. The cheaper inverter produces a 'modified sine wave' (actually a square wave) -- poopy from the point of view of the timer and some appliances like computers/monitors, which will be noisier with it.

Sounds peachy so far. What's the problem?

Because space is tight inside the house, I've had my entire set up outside: panels (duh), batteries, inverter, etc. Handily, I can connect the inverter to an indoor 6-in-one power strip via an extension cord running under a door. Weather is mild year-round in the Bay Area, so it's not too rough on the batteries, which are protected from rain & sun. However, my batteries have grown decidedly less happy over the past three years (and yes they are protected by a charge controller to avoid over charging). My upgrade to the 600W inverter which draws more baseline current than the cheapo 400W unit has meant that there is more load on the batteries even when it's not powering any appliances.

Enter the low-voltage alarm.

A handy feature of the inverter is that it will sound an alarm when the battery charge drops below a certain point (10.7V). This is to warn you about the situation before it shuts down, which it will do when the battery voltage drops even further (10V), to avoid damaging the batteries.

Sometimes, due to cloudy/cool days or lots of indoor appliance use, the batteries don't sufficiently charge during the day to make it through the night (even when the only load on the system is the inverter itself) and the alarm will trip at some random point between 2am-6am. Other times, such as when I'm working late, I will temporarily extend or disable the timer and will forget to re-enable it later, meaning the appliances will be continuously running and likely will drain the batteries before morning sun or on the following night.

Then, the low-voltage alarm trips...

Now this alarm screams like a banshee, and it annoys the bejeebers out of our neighbors (who often have windows open at night). We, on the otherhand, don't hear it because we sleep with our double-paned windows closed and often have an air filter running, too. The alarm went off in the wee hours this AM, and zapped our neighbors from their slumber yet again. I'm truly sorry for this and have another wine bottle peace offering at the ready.

But there is good news.

This morning, after the latest 'incident', I moved the inverter indoors out of neighborhood airspace. This meant a less than optimal battery-to-inverter connection (via 10 AWG wire which fits under the door, unlike the 4 AWG wire I had been using). So the next time the inverter blasts it will just be us that are annoyed.

I had been researching ways to disable the inverter's alarm, but as far as I can tell, this is not possible (and probably not a good idea to do so).

Ideally, the batteries + inverter should be kept in a more controlled environment, like inside the house, allowing them to hold their charge better and keeping the inverter out of earshot of neighbors. I could also ditch the batteries altogether and invest in a grid tie to PG&E's power, but I'm (1) trying to keep costs down and (2) like the fact that I can run without any grid dependency.

Someday we'll buy a real solar installation, probably from my friends at Sun Power, and my jury-rigged solar install will be a thing of the past.


Saturday, May 14, 2011

Barefootr is born

My barefoot/minimalist shoe-related blogging activity will now take place on a new blog I set up at Check it out.