Month: January 2023

I Don’t Understand

I am not a student of history, geopolitics, or economics. I confess that I have about a 7th grade grasp of world events most of the time. Therefore, I am being sincere when I say that I need someone to explain something to me like I was a child. Speak slowly and in simple language. No platitudes, vague historical references, or moral right vs. wrong inferences. I’m looking for a clear, fact-based argument. Ready?

Why is it in the United States strategic interest to fully fund, arm, and (eventually) defend Ukraine?

What I find when I search on this subject is mostly vague arm waving and teeth gnashing about “we can’t let naked aggression like this go unchecked”, or “if we don’t stop Russia here and push them back, they’ll soon be rolling into Poland”. There’s plenty of moral justifications thrown out – “we can’t stand by and let innocent civilians be slaughtered”, or the WWII reference of “we stood by when Germany began occupying other countries, we can’t let that happen again”. All of those things may be true. But none of them are an argument for why the US needs to be the one to solve it.

This is not a defense of Russia’s actions. For a variety of reasons, Russia made the strategic choice to invade another country. War is awful and never leads to a good outcome for anyone involved. Period. You can hate Russia all you want for their decision… but it doesn’t change the fact that they did it. So, now what?

The US has committed upwards of $60 billion dollars, with future pledges bringing the total to over $100 billion. We’ve depleted our own stockpiles of military hardware so we can send it to Ukraine. We have troops on the ground in-country, we’re providing training, intelligence, targeting, and continue to push the envelope with more and more advanced military technology. We seem to be doing everything possible to poke the Russian bear and provoke an escalation. Why? Why is all this in our interest?

So back to my child-like questions:

  • Ukraine is not a NATO member, nor has it been a historical ally. Why does the US need to be the one to defend them?
  • Russia has not attacked a fellow NATO member, so you can’t claim we’re fulfilling our article 5 duties. Why are we there?
  • If the European countries are feeling threatened… shouldn’t that be primarily a European problem to solve?
  • Given that any future threat is to Europe, shouldn’t the vast majority of aid be coming from European countries?
  • Given that we’re $32+ trillion in debt and have a whole host of issues of our own to solve, we do we need to be sending $100 billion to Ukraine?
  • We just ended (badly) a 20-year war that cost us $5+ trillion. Why do we need to engage in another war?
  • And finally… how is it in our strategic interests to provoke Russia to the brink of a nuclear exchange?

Here’s something nobody wants to talk about. Without US support, Russia would have pretty quickly taken a large portion of Ukrainian territory. Whether that is good or bad is subject for another discussion. Regardless, we enabled Ukraine to push back sufficiently enough that this war will now go on for a very long time. No matter who wins, the end outcome will be that Ukraine will be left a smoking heap of ash. There will be nothing left. Its infrastructure will be completely destroyed. Its agricultural, drilling, and mining exports are already gone. As we approach spring, Russia will accelerate its targeting of all power infrastructure, water, sewer, and industrial capacity. They will turn Ukraine into a wasteland and force a mass exodus of refugees. Whatever is left of the population will be facing actual famine. That’s reality.

Do you really think Russia is suddenly going to say, “whoops, my bad. Sorry about that”. Is Russia going to decide tomorrow to just pull back with its tail between its legs? Doubtful. The US has done everything possible to accelerate and prolong this war. Now what? When Russia sends 300,000 troops over the border this summer, what are we going to do? Ukraine is rapidly running out of fighting age males to throw at the problem. This is why they need more and more advanced battlefield tools – they can no longer win with just infantry. Are US ground troops and air cover next?

If Russia loses a couple hundred thousand troops by next fall, don’t you think battlefield nukes are a realistic option for them? Then what do we do?

None of this makes sense to me. I really need someone to explain to me in simple terms, why it is in the United States strategic interest to own this mess?

P.S. The actual answer to all of this of course, is the military industrial complex. We want to sell weapons. That’s it. It’s that simple. Sorry.

Extreme Sports, Attempted

I’m not sure what I was thinking. I suspect my improved leg strength gave me a false sense of skill. Regardless of how it started, I found myself panting heavily, staring down at a series of steep drop-offs and surrounded by cliffs. How did I get myself in this predicament? Too late to back out, nothing to do but take a deep breath and 3..2..1… go.

Let’s rewind to the beginning. I am an average skier. A rockstar on the intermediate groomers, more tentative on the steeper stuff, a disaster in the crud and moguls. My problem is that I really, really like the idea of skiing in the trees. Off-piste as the Europeans would say. I just can’t figure out how to get good at it. I watch others flow through the trees and smoothly navigate big bumps and obstacles. Me on the other hand on the same terrain – a series of awkward hop turns, sliding, skidding, often ending up in a snow covered, contorted upside-down position.

This year I vowed to master the off-piste. To be one of those guys flowing through the trees. I started out with vastly improved strength, due to the time I’ve spent in the gym. That new-found strength has given me the confidence to ski hard, all day. I’ve been fortunate to be able to ski every 2-3 days, which has certainly improved my form. I started making small forays into the trees and seeking out ungroomed snow. As my skill improved, I started eying a valley known as an “experts only” area. One of the groomed runs borders the area and I kept flirting with the edge and eying the trees and chutes in the valley.

A few days ago, we had a big powder dump. I got to the resort early and did a few warm-up laps on the groomed runs. Finally, I skied down the run bordering the off-piste area and stopped at the edge. I spent quite a bit of time looking down and going over in my head what could go wrong if I dropped in. Eventually I told myself that I’d never know If I didn’t try.

Down I went. And it was awesome! While I don’t know if I was actually flowing through the trees, I handled it without any problems. I spent the rest of the day dropping in and playing in this new playground. I had a blast. The next day I skied with friends who stick to the groomers. I spent that whole day diving in and out of trees bordering the runs, seeking out all the crud and powder remnants I could find. My confidence was through the roof!

Yesterday we had another overnight snow. I hit the slopes and warmed up with a few runs. I was going to drop in where I spent the other day, then thought to myself why not drop in from the very top? With my newfound confidence, I rode the lift up and traversed around to the entrance of the expert area. There were ominous signs posted indicating this was an area for experts only and ski patrol was limited. I paused for a moment, but my excitement over my new skills won out. I went through the gates.

Things went bad from the beginning. The “trail” was a very narrow, slick, twisting route full of bumps and awkward off-camber turns. My speed was increasing, but I had no way to slow down as the trail was too narrow to turn or even snowplow. I was now flying along, borderline out of control, and definitely did not want to slide off the edge. Up ahead I spotted a wider spot in the trail and did a hard slide to bleed off speed. Unfortunately, immediately around the corner the trail turned steeply uphill and I no longer had the momentum to make it up. I came to an awkward stop on the edge. Fuck.

Now I was stuck. No way to get my skis off and hike anywhere. My only choice was down. I was looking down a narrow chute with trees at the bottom and unknown terrain below that. It took a while to get my breathing under control. I will say, committing to that first jump turn was one of the harder things I’ve done. I made my way down the chute. Jump turn. Slide, slide, jump. Over and over.

Finally, I reached the trees. This was a little easier, but there were steep cliffs everywhere and I couldn’t always tell if the edges I was skiing up to were vertical or navigable. I kept traversing across the slope, dropping down in places my skill allowed me to make turns. Eventually I made it to the wide open part of the bowl and terrain I could handle. I was drenched with sweat and my thighs were quivering.

I turned around and looked back up at what I had come down. I realized I’d come down a double black diamond called Chinook Chute. Probably one of the hardest areas in the resort. Wow. I couldn’t believe I’d done that. I started feeling pretty proud of myself. It was ugly and more sliding and slipping than actual skiing. It certainly won’t make any Warren Miller ski film highlights, but I did it and managed to not crash.

If you told me at the beginning of this season I’d be going down that, I wouldn’t have believed you. Trust me, I’m in no hurry to go back up there. It really is above my skill level. But… I’m not that far off.

The lesson is that you are capable of way more than you think you are. All it takes is the willpower to try. Yes, you may crash and burn. But if you don’t try, you’ll never know.

My problem is balancing my age, true skill, and good decision making with my new-found ego. I need to remind myself that I’m no longer twenty. At this stage of my life, do I really need to be flirting with cliffs and double black diamond runs? Probably not.

But man, it felt good to accomplish that. Hmm… maybe I could become that guy effortlessly floating through the trees?

Whiteout Conditions

I went skiing the other day with some friends. A typical day, although a bit foggy when we rolled into the parking lot. We pulled on our gear and trudged across the icy parking lot to the lifts. I stretched a bit and tried to loosen up before our first run. As we clicked into our ski bindings, the fog suddenly went from 4/10 visibility to 0/10 visibility. As in, we could barely see the lift ten feet away. No matter, we are hearty soldiers and got on the chairlift anyway.

As the lift climbed the mountain, visibility remained poor. But we held out hope – it’s not uncommon in our area to have the fog/cloud layer dissipate at the summit. Alas, it was not to be. The summit was socked in with thick pea soup fog. We slowly made our way to the first run we could find, just to get down the mountain. Skiing in zero visibility is weird. It’s not uncommon to get a bit of vertigo, as your brain wrestles with slopes and angles without any visual clues.

We stopped about halfway down the run and just looked at each other. One of the guys proclaimed, “This sucks. I’m going to the lodge and getting a beer.” So down we went, carefully picking our way through moguls we couldn’t see. At the bottom, the pessimist headed straight for the lodge. The other optimist and I debated and decided to do one more run before calling it a day. As the chairlift carried us up, the fog started getting thinner and thinner. We looked at each other and laughed – wouldn’t it be funny if the cloud layer burned off and the pessimist missed out?

Sure enough as we neared the top the fog dissipated, and it was nothing but bright blue skies. Beautiful! We headed down a run, whooping the whole way. We stopped several times and texted and called the pessimist, telling him to get back out here. At the bottom we zoomed right back to the chairlift so we could head back up. More texts and voicemails telling our lodge-bound friend to dump the beer and join us. No word from him, so we went back up into the sun and bombed down another run.

Once at the bottom, we ran into the lodge and convinced the pessimist to abandon the beer that had just been delivered and come back out with us. He reluctantly gave up the tasty beverage and trudged outside to put skis on again and make his way with us back to the chairlift. He was quiet on the ride up. And disturbingly, the fog seemed to be thicker than the last two trips up. Visibility dropped the further up the mountain we went. And sure enough, we reached the summit and… whiteout conditions again. Zero visibility. Mr. pessimist just looked at us without saying much. There wasn’t much we could say other than, “honest it was blue ski fifteen minutes ago.” Down we went into the soup.

Back at the bottom, tail between our legs we all went into the lodge for some adult beverages. We spent some time enjoying the warmth of the bar and mostly ignoring the elephant in the room. As everyone was finishing, I looked out the window and it appeared as though the fog was lifting a bit. I got smart this time and used my phone to bring up the live summit webcam. Sure enough, bright blue skies! I excitedly showed the video to my friends and suggested we hurry up and get at least one more run in while the sun was out. I was met with very skeptical looks. I kept pointing to the video – it’s a live look and I see sun! Let’s go!

Skis back on, hop on the chairlift, and back up we go. Do I even need to say what happened?

I have officially been fired as a weather and conditions prognosticator.

P.S. A bad day skiing is still better than being at work. Just saying…

Happy As a Hippo

I really, really like the idea of maintaining a bullet journal. The engineering side of me appreciates how logical and organized it is. To be able to easily see and track tasks, events, and future plans just makes sense to me. I would like to be the type of person who is that organized. Unfortunately, I’m not and I don’t understand why.

A week ago, I said I was going to give it a try again (probably the fourth or fifth attempt). I rewatched the bullet journal video. I got everything set up. Dates and days added, tasks and events entered. The next day I stared at it. The following day I simply stared at it again. It’s now been a week… and I haven’t touched it. I literally don’t know what to put in it. I really don’t need reminding of the few tasks I entered. Anything critical is already on my electronic calendar so I’ll get a reminder.

So now what? Do I just enter stuff in for the sake of it? Maybe if I just keep writing stuff in it every day it’ll become a habit. But why? I’ve somehow managed to live a lot of years without a journal. Is my life really going to be better if I become a journal-person?

I don’t know what it is that I’m trying to solve by continually going back to the idea of the journal. Clearly there’s something I feel I’m lacking or missing out on. All the minimalist and entrepreneur-types on YouTube and Twitter say it’s the path to productivity. Maybe that’s answer – I just don’t feel productive. Perhaps continually trying to journal is a way to force myself to be more productive. But do I really need to be?

I’m reminded of The King of Scuba in the silly movie Along Came Polly. He tells Ruben the story of the hippo. The hippo painted stripes on himself to be like a tiger, but everyone knew he wasn’t a tiger. He put spots on himself to be like the leopard, but everyone knew he wasn’t a leopard. Finally, he looked in the mirror and decided he’d just be a hippopotamus. And then he was happy.

I’m not going to pretend to be something I’m not. Being an uber-organized overachiever is not me. No matter how many times I try to journal, the end result will be the same. I am not a journal person. Never have been, never will be. Relaxed and care-free on the beach like the scuba king is more my personality. This is officially the end of any attempts to be a journal-person.

Ahhh… see, I’m already relieved.

Be like the hippopotamus. Just be happy.

Are You A Driver Or A Passenger?

Seven months ago, I retired. It’s weird to think that “I’m retired”. That’s something old people do. At the time I didn’t really say anything about it, as it just seemed odd. I wrote something vague about leaving healthcare, but I didn’t mention that was the end of the work phase of my life. I will say that I do not miss working. I’ve held a job of some sort every year of my life since I was thirteen. From paper routes to lifeguarding to working in ski shops and a short order cook. I worked my way up in the tech world from writing manuals to phone support to traveling to do on-site deployment and installations. I moved on to software engineering and managing large tech teams. Eventually I got bored and moved to healthcare. So, it’s fair to say I’ve put my time in. And now I’m done.

So what does this have to do with anything? Well, last night some friends we hadn’t seen in a while asked, “are you loving retirement?” And… I really didn’t have an answer.

When Mrs Troutdog and I decided it was time to be done, I had visions of travel and exploring without the constraints of worrying about the 9-5 routine. I had projects I needed to do, and creative stuff I’ve been thinking about. Finally, unlimited time to cook and get my diet and fitness dialed in.

So, did all that happen? Uh, no. Not exactly. I honestly don’t know where the time went or what I’ve been doing. We had a house remodel going on that consumed time and schedules. The weather this year has been weird, making it a little harder to do outside stuff. I did some motorcycle riding, but not as much as I’d thought I’d do. The creative juices faded a bit. I spent a lot of time reading and napping. In a nutshell I blinked, and half a year went by.

Why did that happen? I realized I’ve been a passenger instead of a driver. As an adult, especially in the midst of your working life, it’s easy to become a slave to your calendar. There’s a contractor coming to the house this afternoon; hockey tickets tomorrow; need to grocery shopping; a friend wants to play golf on Wednesday; I need to clean up the garage a bit; laundry; lawn needs mowing; we have to go to that thing with your sister this weekend. And so on, and so on, and so on. It’s life.

But time marches on and eventually you realize all you’re doing is being reactive to the tasks and events on your calendar. You’re being a passenger in life. You’re not driving the calendar – it’s driving you. I get it when you’re mid-career, you’ve got young kids and juggling the soccer mom/dad thing. It’s hard to do anything other than just get through the day-to-day minutia. But I don’t have that excuse. I literally have unlimited time. I can put anything on my calendar I want.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my life. I’m very fortunate to be in the position I’m in. I’m not bored at all. But it’s clear that I’m not really driving my life right now. I’m just drifting along, enjoying whatever pops up any given day. Maybe after a long work career, that’s enough for some folks. But not me. I want more.

It’s time to climb into the drivers seat and dictate what I want out of my time. Because as the last half-year has demonstrated, time is accelerating at a frightening pace. I can’t control time, but I can control what I do with that time.

How about you? Are you being a driver or a passenger?

Let’s Go To The Numbers

I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again. Somehow this blog turned into nothing but writing about my (lack of) health and fitness. I don’t know how that happened and it wasn’t my intention. But for some reason, 90% of my few followers have some connection to the health/nutrition/fitness industry. I don’t get it. Write about some current event or a political issue, and crickets. Write about how many cookies I ate last week, and I get new followers. I find it bizarre. Anyway, clearly you asked for it, so let’s go into excruciating detail about my numbers.

As part of this years revolution (not resolution), I’ll be tracking my weight daily. I want to see how things fluctuate with food and exercise. I use an impedance scale (this one if interested) which provides a number of stats. First off, yes I know they are not a precise tool. The non-weight numbers tend to fluctuate quite a bit from day to day. But as a way to watch trends over time, I think it’s a fine tool.

A side note on interesting observations… I’ve been using the scale on and off for a number of years. Out of curiosity I went back to when I was at my leanest and most cardio-fit (was doing tons of mountain trail running). At that point my body fat was 17.5% and lean muscle mass was 132 lbs. I wasn’t exactly Viking warrior material – more like Chris Froome cyclist physique.

Fast forward to today. Body fat is, well… an embarrassing 26.8% I know, I know, we’re working on it. But here’s the interesting number. I’ve been lifting weights seriously for about four months now. Muscle mass today is at 147.8 lbs. A 15.8 lb gain in lean muscle mass! Now I don’t think that’s a super accurate number, but it has been steadily increasing over the last few months. Given my age and the back issues I’ve had recently, I’ll take muscle mass and core strength improvements over body fat%.

But we’re all vain creatures (if we’re honest) and I’m tired of struggling to button my jeans, so the body fat number is important. The official weigh in was Jan 2. Here’s what the numbers show:

Jan 2 food/exercise: several eggs + bacon; string cheese, grapes, a few pretzels; tri-tip, salad; a big piece of cake; went downhill skiing for the day.

Jan 3 weight increased .2 lbs, no change in body fat%.

Jan 3 food/exercise: stuffed bell pepper + cheese/sour cream; plate of Chinese food; big handful of chips; another plate of Chinese food; 1 small piece of chocolate; Split and carried wood up a flight of stairs for 40 minutes, went cross country skiing.

Jan 4 weight increased 2.4 lbs and body fat increased .4%

What the hell? So frustrating. Zero alcohol, nothing crazy calorie-wise (well, cake), was pretty active, and I gain 2+ pounds. This is why people get so frustrated dieting.

Here’s my guess – Because I cut out alcohol, I’ve been pounding fluids. Water, coffee, and 3-4 “vitamin waters”. It doesn’t seem like I’ve voided commensurate with overall fluid intake and I’m sure the Chinese food had tons of sodium. My theory is that most of that weight gain is fluid retention. Maybe? Unfortunately, the scale says my water percentage has actually gone down, so I don’t know what to think.

Obviously, the answer is to go back to tracking calories (I use this app) and map that to the scales data and watch the trend. Once I see a clear trend with calories to weight loss, I can create a bunch of known calorie meals and plan for the week. Remember – revolution, not resolution. Systems, not goals.

Sigh… why is this so hard? I want to go back to my twenties and the steady diet of burgers and nachos just to keep weight on.

Resolution Or Revolution?

It’s time for the annual beginning of the year resolutions. I’ve never been a big fan of resolutions. Mostly because I rarely keep them for more than a week. Also, because at my age do I really need to be resolving to eat more tofu to save the planet? No. Tomorrow is not a guarantee. Besides, making resolutions like that are just virtue signaling. Nobody cares.

But every few years I do try to set goals. Take last year. I was bored leading up to the new year and binge watched a bunch of minimalist and productivity YouTube videos. I went on a two-day productivity frenzy getting ready for the new year. I re-re-re-started a bullet journal. I put schedules and workout plans together. I mapped out all the motorcycle and camping trips I wanted to do. I even put a 2022 Goals page together with tracking metrics that I was going to use to measure progress.

I had a lot of fitness goals, some fly-fishing things I wanted to do, motorcycle camping trips, and a bunch of river rafting day trips I planned on doing. You can see that my goals are not terribly intellectual, spiritual, or altruistic. I never claimed to be the sharpest crayon in the box. Anyway, so how many did I accomplish? Zero. Zip. None. Nadda. Whoo hoo! Underachievers of the world, unite!

Interestingly, I’d completely forgotten I’d even set those goals. I stumbled upon them yesterday while I was looking for something else. Clearly, they weren’t terribly memorable or important to me if I didn’t even remember them. It made me think about what I wanted out of this current new year. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there wasn’t any single thing I could come up with. I literally couldn’t come up with a single, burning desire that I wanted to accomplish this year. Not one thing. My god, how uninteresting and shallow of a person does that make me?

Have I turned into one of those boring country rubes with no life desires other than to sit on the porch and watch the traffic go by? Don’t get me wrong, there are things I want to do – ride the motorcycle, get back to making YouTube content, lose weight, work on the house, etc… but I don’t have a driving passion to make them happen. If they happen, great. If not, oh well.

After writing and re-reading that last paragraph, I don’t like what it says about my state of mind. My god, that’s a recipe for complacency and a ticket straight to sitting on the couch, watching ESPN reruns and eating bon-bons. So now what?

I thought about writing down goals again, but I’d just be making stuff up and would be ignoring them in a few weeks as per usual. I really thought about this for some time, and then accidentally stumbled upon one of the definitions of “revolution”.

a forcible overthrow of a social order, in favor of a new system

It reminded me of something cartoonist and writer Scott Adams says, “for success, create systems instead of goals”. For example, wanting to lose ten pounds is a goal. Learning to eat right is a system that substitutes knowledge for willpower.

So that’s it. It’s time for a Revolution. We’re throwing out my old social order and creating a new one. The plan for 2023 is to create systems instead of goals. Routines that make it easier to succeed at the day-to-day. Routines that lead to better habits around health. Routines that make it more likely to plan trips, house tasks, and creative projects. The more I think about it, the more I like it.

The problem with many revolutions is that once you’ve fired up the population and stormed the gates, you hit a “now what?” moment. Do I go throw everything out of the pantry? Mount a huge chalkboard for meal planning in the kitchen? Start blocking out days on the calendar to force myself to plan things? Re-re-re-re-start the bullet journal?

Hmmm… Analysis paralysis. Ok, maybe I don’t know what this is going to look like yet, but I promise change is happening. Stay tuned.

Viva la revoluciĆ³n!