Dan John: Wandering Weights, Issue # 287

Wandering Weights
Our Epic Journey Through All Things Heavy, Issue # 287

I have a strange attraction to probability. On Mother’s Day, my daughter, Lindsay, and I were going through some of the classics like the Let’s Make a Deal fallacy, the Heads or Tails issue and, of course, the Black Swan thing (from Nassim Taleb).
The Black Swan is basically a rare event with severe consequences. It cannot be predicted beforehand. If you study swans your entire life, you will assume all swans are white. The day you retire, you see a black one. In one moment, all your assumptions prove wrong.
Covid-19 is NOT a Black Swan. Dustin Hoffman, a fairly famous actor, was in a movie about this kind of thing. Literary Hub talked about this MONTHS ago and this kind of thing (disease) has hit our human family before 2020.
With 20/20 hindsight, 2020 is certainly not a once in a human history tragedy. When I taught Medieval Studies to high school kids, I would tell the students about how people would leave their village to warn other places about the Black Death. The new place didn’t have it and then…BOOM…the Black Death appeared.
Of course, it was the people (“Soylent green is people!”) carrying the disease from town to town.
Now we are far too advanced to ignore the warnings of the scientists and leave our homes and…well, maybe not.
What was always funny about teenagers is that they would comment, nearly universally, about “how stupid people used to be.” I’ve been watching these Home Gym Bloopers online and I have to say that I’m not sure we have come a long way.
I’m certainly stupid about some things. No, that’s not it: I’m ignorant. I “ignore” things that don’t fit my worldview more often than I care to admit it. I was talking with an old friend from SSF, Kathy, and we talked about a friend of mine, John, who contracted a terrible disease and chose suicide.
I couldn’t help but think that I may have “ignorant” to his needs and issues for so long. John was a great guy: he arranged for both of us to take our dads to a Giant’s game for Father’s Day. In the Ninth inning, down two runs with two outs and two on, we won with a “walk off” home run. It was probably the last Father’s Day I spent with Dad.
John is gone. I don’t know if I could have helped or not, but I could have talked with him about that game. I wasn’t aware. I didn’t reach out.
I’m trying to be better. Many of my friends have noticed that I called to “check in.” I think that my mom modeled this well; she had mental checklist of people to call. And she did. She spent a lot of time on the phone catching up with her “Old Bags,” her name for her friends. (By God, she was Irish).

In all probability, most of my people will come out on the other side of this thing.
But that doesn’t mean that we can’t all be kinder. Reach out to someone today.
This week on danjohnuniversity.com:
Dan has been busy during quarantine! He’s been making so many videos that it’s been hard for me to keep up.
The 30 / 30 for 30 articles he posted last week on the site was so popular he decided to make a follow along video to go with it. Here’s the link to the first one. He tells me there are more on the way, so be on the lookout.
We also posted his Epistemology workshop this week. This one is really interesting and explores how we know what we know and explores some of the best practices of learning and decision making. Here’s that link.
Finally, here’s the link to Episode 42 of the podcast. Please feel free to send in your questions to podcast@danjohnuniversity.com.
The translation project on the website is in full swing. We now have nearly complete translations for Chinese and German and a Korean translation is in the works!
Have a great week!
Oddly, I only have one podcast to share. Pat and I had a podcast go bad, but this one is excellent.
Let’s run around the internet. I think I have read this article a while ago, but I still love it.
Usually, I summarize articles, but this one is too good to do that for you. I find the whole “fat” discussion just a…dead end.
This was a nice article on those tools that people use for productivity. I like this point here.


If you’re ever evaluating a productivity system, the right measurement to make is “am I getting more done than I was a week/month/year ago?” If you’re, instead, asking yourself, “how close am I to being perfectly productive?” or worse, “how productive am I compared to so-and-so?” you’re going to have a bad time.
The tyranny of ideal productivity is a major problem. I’ve worked with students in my courses whom set up a project successfully and were making consistent progress towards it. When I asked them how they’re doing, however, they complained that they still didn’t think they’re productive enough.
But how much is enough?
There’s certainly being insufficiently productive for your current goals or environment. If I were falling behind in my classes or failing to reach my deadlines, that might be cause for reflection.
On the other hand, there’s a perverse tendency to judge yourself against some ideal benchmark. Comparing yourself against a theoretical possibility, rather than your own past results. If you get more done than you were getting done before, the system is successful. That you’re not able to work for sixteen hours without break cannot be viewed as a failure.

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This kind of information becomes more important every year (as I age!). Metformin is very inexpensive and this article explains how it “might” work.


Diabetes is a risk factor for neurodegenerative diseases, but using metformin is associated with a dramatic reduction in their incidence. In the most comprehensive study yet of metformin’s cognitive effects, Qian Shi and her colleagues at Tulane University followed 6,000 diabetic veterans and showed that the longer a patient used metformin, the lower the individual’s chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and other types of dementia and cognitive impairment. In line with some of the previous, smaller studies of long-term metformin use, patients in the new study who used the drug longer than four years had one quarter the rate of disease as compared with patients who used only insulin or insulin plus other antidiabetic drugs—bringing diabetics’ risk level to that of the general population. The findings were presented in June, 2016 at the American Diabetes Association’s Scientific Sessions meeting.
Even in the absence of diabetes, Alzheimer’s patients often have decreased insulin sensitivity in the brain, says Suzanne Craft, a neuroscientist who studies insulin resistance in neurodegenerative disease at the Wake Forest School of Medicine. The association has led some people to call Alzheimer’s “type 3 diabetes.” Insulin plays many roles in the brain—it is involved in memory formation, and it helps to keep synapses free of protein debris, including the tau tangles and amyloid plaques that build up in Alzheimer’s, Craft says.
Metformin, then, may help correct insulin issues in the aging brain. Research in animals shows that the drug’s effect on neural stem cells might be key. Neuroscientists Jing Wang and Freda Miller, both then at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, showed that when nondiabetic mice are given metformin, their memory improves, thanks to an increase in the neural stem cell population and in the number of these cells that develop into healthy neurons in the hippocampus, the brain’s memory center.

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I like this article. Of course, if I agree with an article, I like it.


“Intermittent fasting enhances the ability of nerve cells to repair DNA.”
He also goes into the evolutionary aspect of this theory, explaining how our ancestors adapted and were built for going long periods of time without food.
A study published in the June 5 issue of Cell Stem Cell by researchers from the University of Southern California showed that cycles of prolonged fasting protect against immune system damage and, moreover, induce immune system regeneration. They concluded that fasting shifts stem cells from a dormant state to a state of self-renewal, triggering stem cell based regeneration of an organ or system (source).
Human clinical trials were conducted using patients who were receiving chemotherapy. For long periods of time, patients did not eat, which significantly lowered their white blood cell counts. In mice, fasting cycles ” ‘flipped a regenerative switch,’ changing the signalling pathways for hematopoietic stem cells, which are responsible for the generation of blood and immune systems.”
This means that fasting kills off old and damaged immune cells, and when the body rebounds, it uses stem cells to create brand new, completely healthy cells.
“We could not predict that prolonged fasting would have such a remarkable effect in promoting stem cell-based regeneration of the heatopoietic system. . . . When you starve, the system tries to save energy, and one of the things it can do to save energy is to recycle a lot of the immune cells that are not needed, especially those that may be damaged.  What we started noticing in both our human work and animal work is that the white blood cell count goes down with prolonged fasting. Then when you re-feed, the blood cells come back. ”
– Valter Longo, corresponding author (source)
A scientific review of multiple scientific studies regarding fasting was published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2007. It examined a multitude of both human and animal studies and determined that fasting is an effective way to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. It also showed significant potential in treating diabetes. (source)

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A great summary of “what we do.”


7. Make the Hard Thing Easier
Willpower is overrated. Rather than relying completely on self-control, intentionally design your environment to make the hard thing easier. For example, if you (like everyone) are constantly distracted by your smartphone, don’t just turn it off — remove it altogether from where you’re trying to concentrate. If your challenge is eating healthy, instead of relying on your willpower at 9 p.m. after a glass of wine, simply keep the brownies out of the house. This applies to everything. Don’t just think about how you’re going to accomplish your goals; think about how you’re going to design for them.
That will have to do for this week. I know these are mostly in the area of nutrition and the rest, but I really like these pieces.

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And, until next week, keep on lifting and learning.


For your quick access link, here’s Dan’s full OTP page, including all of his articles, books, lectures and videos, all in one place.

The Sword in the Stone, Part 140


Before I get started on our new chapter, starting this chapter got me to read The Book of Merlyn (White’s “Fifth” book of this collection) again. When it came out in 1977, I was the first person at the bookstore to buy it and I didn’t really have any money. I still have the edition.
This chapter is going to be from the original 1938 version for our discussion. The later version (the completed The Once and Future King) gives us the story of the geese. Both the story of the geese and the ants were cut and pasted into the 1958 single book, The Once and Future King.
The ants and the geese work well in The Book of Merlyn. They choke the story in The Sword in the Stone. With Arthur facing the loss of everything at the end of TBoM, his transformations into an ant and a goose open his eyes a bit. It gives some respite for our hero.
It’s not happy.
This chapter, in all versions, begins with Wart becoming an owl. In the 1958 version, he changes from an owl to a goose and I couldn’t figure out why when I first read it. In OUR version, we will have some amazing stories.
I rediscovered the older version, by the way, teaching English as a Second Language. An instructor left the scholastic version out and I picked it up and found all these stories that just made me deep dive again. It’s funny how important rereading can be.
Let’s begin.
Chapter XVIII, Quoting:
The Wart lay awake as he had been told to do. He was to wait until Kay was asleep, and then Archimedes would come for him with Merlyn’s magic. He lay under the great bearskin and stared out of the window at the stars of spring, no longer frosty and metallic, but as if they had been new washed and had swollen with the moisture. It was a lovely evening, without rain or cloud. The sky between the stars was of the deepest and fullest velvet. Framed in the thick western window, Alderbaran and Betelgeuse were racing Sirius over the horizon, the hunting dog-star looking back to his master Orion, who had not yet heaved himself above the rim. In at the window came also the unfolding scent of benighted flowers, for the currants, the wild cherries, the plums and the hawthorn were already in bloom, and no less than five nightingales within earshot were holding a contest of beauty among the bowery, the looming trees.
Wart lay on his back with his bearskin half off him and his hands clasped behind his head. It was too beautiful to sleep, too temperate for the rug. He watched out at the stars in a kind of trance. Soon it would be the summer again, when he could sleep on the battlements and watch these stars hovering as close as moths above his face—and, in the Milky Way at least, with something of the mothy pollen. They would be at the same time so distant that unutterable thoughts of space and eternity would baffle themselves in his sighing breast, and he would imagine to himself how he was falling upward higher and higher among them, never reaching, never ending, leaving and losing everything in the tranquil speed of space.
He was fast asleep when Archimedes came for him.
“Eat this,” said the owl, and handed him a dead mouse.
The Wart felt so strange that he took the furry atomy without protest, and popped it into his mouth without any feelings that it was going to be nasty. So he was not surprised when it turned out to be excellent, with a fruity taste like eating a peach with the skin on, though naturally the skin was not so nice as the mouse.
“Now, we had better fly,” said the owl. “Just flip to the window-sill here, to get accustomed to yourself before we take off.”

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As someone who owns/has a dog named Sirius Black, I loved this selection:
Alderbaran and Betelgeuse were racing Sirius over the horizon, the hunting dog-star looking back to his master Orion
Of course, if you love Beetle Juice (the movie), you have to like it too.
Merlyn’s use of magic continues to change. In the fish episode, he asked Neptune for help. He used wand magic for the transformation into a raptor. Here we eat a mouse.
Remember this mouse. An interesting side story will pop up concerning Wart’s eating of this mouse and hunting. Of course, Wart eating a mouse is a discussion for another time.
Prepare for some great stories.

DanWandering Weights is published each Wednesday by On Target Publications