Some years ago, I read a book called the Inner Game of Music. In a manner of speaking, it was about getting out of your own way. Oddly enough, one of the things that stuck with me about this book was a peculiar concept: giving yourself permission to fail. Apparently many people have learned this lesson from many sources.

So yes, it can be a good habit to permit ourselves to fail. And although I am far from the first person to explore the concept, I would like to share why I think it is so.

Paying attention to failure teaches how to succeed. Of course, this only applies when we pay attention, and fail “mindfully.” The truth is that most of us fail a time or two when we are learning something new. One anecdote from the Inner Game of Music relays how when a pair of musicians tried to isolate when their duet went awry, suddenly it was perfect! When we pay attention to how, when, and why we fail, we come up with solutions.

Failure teaches us about ourselves and about reality. How we react to failure can give us insight to who we really are — but again, only if we are willing to pay attention. But more importantly, failure can be the beginning of discovery! Or, as Isaac Asimov put it, “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka’ but ‘That’s funny…'” Consider Alexander Fleming discovering that the “contamination” in his bacterial culture was actually exactly the exact bacteria-killer he’d been looking for. If he hadn’t been willing to learn, he might have thrown away that specimen and never discovered that antibiotic.

Sometimes, our failures fail spectacularly! No, I’m not talking about all those online videos we’ve watched many times of people doing stupid things on skateboards or motorcycles. I’m talking about a failure that turns out for the best. My favorite example occurred in the original Iron Chef series. Chen Kenichi was the chef who specialized in Chinese cuisine (a footnote, his father invented “shrimp in chili sauce”). A French challenger chef decided to take on Kenichi-san rather than the show’s French specialist, perhaps thinking this gave him an advantage. The secret ingredient was yogurt, unused in Chinese cuisine. You can see for yourself: between 8:30 and 9:00 minutes into the video, Kenichi-san gives himself permission to fail. After all, he’s never used this stuff, never even tasted it. But freed from the need to succeed, he experiments and innovates his way into one of his most memorable wins.

There’s nothing wrong with failing now and again, as long as you aren’t doing something colossally dangerous.

In Closing: milk fail; chart fail; vax fail (don’t do this one); wedding fail; jobs report fail; weight loss fail; just, fail; patient confidentiality fail; accidental paleontology win!

Hard Habit to Break

Today I’m actually using the official prompt:

Have you ever tried to break a habit and failed? What made it so difficult to break?

Ok, this is a weird one. I’m still not quite over this habit: I have a hard time passing up things that are cheap or free.

I’ve got dozens of books on my Kindle that I don’t know when I’ll have time to read them, but they were free! I’ve got canned food in my pantry that I only have because it was on sale — and theoretically I’ll use it eventually. I’ve been known to buy clothes that fit but aren’t really my style because they were so inexpensive.

Why is this a hard habit to break? Well, because it’s easy to think I’m being thrifty. In the case of free ebooks, it doesn’t actually cost me anything. In the case of food, well, I guess I’m well prepared for an emergency. In short, one person’s bad habit is another’s good habit.

Oh hey, and just the other day I got this free ebook on how to break bad habits!

In Closing: the case of the blonde MIT student; Ha Ha Harvard; not entirely sure how one solves problems without strong reading and math skills; crime, security, and privacy; and the intellectual heirs of MacHack.

Hello 2015

Like many people, I was happy to see 2014 go and I’m looking forward to a great 2015. This is a time of year when many people are working on habits: getting rid of bad ones, starting good ones. As you can see from the nice banner at the side, I’ll be talking quite a bit about habits this month. Be sure to check out some of the other nice people who will be doing likewise.

Oh, don’t worry, I’ll be sure to talk about the economy and politics and the freakin NSA from time to time too!

My plan is to keep it short and sweet and useful. Let’s start with a little talk about goals. Yeah I know, I beat up on goals just last week. But here’s the thing: if you don’t try, you’ll never ever succeed. Even though what Mr. Venuto says about goals is tailored to a health and fitness community, the fact is that most of what he says can be applied to any goal — and that includes habit related goals!

In Closing: Health insurance does you no good if you can’t afford to use it; slowdown; the injustice system.

Music Monday: More of the Same as it Ever Was


It does look like things are getting a lot more complicated in Ferguson. And that’s before the Fed’s version of the autopsy*, and before any grand jury sees evidence. The Genie’s out of the bottle now.

In Closing: imagine that, mandatory insurance didn’t fix some of the stuff it was supposed to; fake news reinvented; feminism’s benefits for men; cyberweapons.


*I’m glad there’s going to be another one, because this last one was done by the guy that testified in the O.J. Simpson trial. Yeah, just what we need is to put a nice controversy icing on this cake of unrest.

Go ahead, buy premium. You know you want it.


I realize this one is subtle. But if you look at the directions, the hand is pushing the middle button. The middle button on this pump just happens to be the expensive stuff.

In Closing: ok, you’ve done without your NSA, privacy, government spying, Ed Snowden, cover-ups, terrorism over-reach, and related stuff links for far too long; a nice collection of health, health care, health insurance, Affordable Care Act, and hospital issues links; the magic of adjusting portion sizes (did you notice that 2 Oreos is now a serving when it used to be 3?); race, school discipline, and getting arrested; it turns out most people work because they want to get paid; and burgers.


Ok. There are some people — millions of them to be honest — who are unhappy that their insurance policies are being cancelled. The policies were reasonably priced, the consumers argue. What these consumers fail to understand is that they were crap policies that were inexpensive because they didn’t actually cover much of anything! If any of these people ever actually had a claim, they would have discovered just how bad those policies were, and would probably be far less satisfied. Obama’s claim that if you liked your insurance you could keep it? That assumed you had coverage rather than an insurance fig-leaf.

So getting mad at the government for forcing predatory insurance companies to stop issuing “insurance” that didn’t actually cover much of anything is like getting mad about a crib recall notice because after all, your kid didn’t die.

And for the record, the real way forward is still Medicare For All.

In Closing: cars; problem; recession; some choice NSA, spying, and privacy links; statins; Republicans; Geometry; poor babies; Iran; Too Many Secrets; debt; trash; and an awesome art collection.

Return to BloodShorties Lake

You can thank Drew for the title inspiration. It’s sometimes tough to keep thinking of Shorties titles!

Beating the same drum: so here’s today’s tab dump on the freaking mess that continues to be the NSA, DEA, FBI, and Edward Snowden.

And now for something completely different: a nice selection of  health, health insurance, and healthy diet links.

Armchair economist: yeah, still collecting choice bits on the economy and how it effects Joe Average for you. But hey, at least Congress gets plenty of vacation days. After all, they work so hard preventing legislation.

Oh Look: the Duhpartment of Research has been at it again.

I can’t bring myself to spend that: Average price of a new car is now over $31k.

Education Official has Moment of Sanity: Huh, maybe school should start later.

On Libertarianism and Property Rights: Seriously.

Don’t you think you should have read the book before writing about it?:did read the book, thank you. I wasn’t required to. I wanted to as part of a research project. How about we stop focusing on the fact that there was a lot of racism years ago, and celebrate the improvements that have been made to medical care, medical privacy, and race relations since then? Not saying everything is perfect, just better. How about we temper praise for the author compiling primary source materials with the fact that it’s hard to find any scholarship on the subject not filtered by her findings and bias?

Speaking of medicine: Gin and Tonic and the British Empire.

Shhhhhhh: A judge has thrown out the right of the US to maintain an international no-fly list.

And Finally: a couple of nice videos to waste your time.


Alright, by now everybody and his or her dog has heard the latest about Angelina Jolie, right?

Only a fraction of breast cancers result from an inherited gene mutation. Those with a defect in BRCA1 have a 65 percent risk of getting it, on average.

Once I knew that this was my reality, I decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much I could. I made a decision to have a preventive double mastectomy. I started with the breasts, as my risk of breast cancer is higher than my risk of ovarian cancer, and the surgery is more complex.

On April 27, I finished the three months of medical procedures that the mastectomies involved.

Needless to say, this has sparked much online discussion. Here’s a featured item on BlogHer by a woman considering the same decision. Here’s one from a Professor of Pediatrics (is he also a doctor of medicine? probably?) who points out that this sort of surgery comes with risks and without promises of a cancer free life.

And do you know what I don’t see mentioned much? Time and money.

Most of us don’t have the ability to be in and out of surgery and recovery for three months — more if there are any sort of complications. Heck, many of us can’t really afford to take 2 days off from work (or school, or taking care of family…). Ms. Jolie is truly blessed that not only could she free up her busy schedule to do this, but also that her loving husband Mr. Pitt was able to be there by her side, and further that they were able to arrange adequate childcare for their six children — ranging in age from 5 to 12 — during this stressful time.

Another area where Ms. Jolie is truly blessed is money. Many women can’t justify spending the “approximately $3000” to see if she has the 1 in 100 chance of ridiculously higher breast cancer risk. In a time and country where it can be difficult to figure out exactly how much any given hospital service is going to cost, she didn’t have to worry about it. She knew that the money was in the bank. Perhaps she did get her insurance company to pay for it; after all, this has to be cheaper than cancer treatments followed by reconstructive surgery!

Some people simply have more options than others.

In Closing: transparency and accountability, and why big brother won’t work; it wouldn’t be a bad idea to retire these; austerity, unemployment, and job creation (for the record, I am currently not in the workforce and not officially “unemployed,” more on that later in the week); mobility; interesting point; the law of supply and demand (and why we desperately need a public option).

On Boston

My tax day post was obviously pre-written, and the actual events of the Boston Marathon Bombing left me with nothing coherent or original to say.

As things stand, there are few answers and much worthless conjecture. If anybody tries to tell you that “everybody knows,” remember that once upon a time “everybody knew” that the earth was flat, that the sun revolved around it, and that witches kept cats as familiars. For example, here’s a collection of stories that are not true about Boston. As usual, you can count on a level head from security expert Bruce Schneier.

Now we have a nutcase Congressman who is against immigration reform because “We have people that are trained to act Hispanic when they are radical Islamists.” Forgive my bluntness, but that is a reason we need immigration reform: so they don’t get jobs in agriculture where they can poison our food (and oh boo hoo we might have to pay minimum wage to legal workers). The fact is that the overwhelming majority of voters — you remember, the people who elect Congressmen — support immigration reform.

However, since there is not yet any evidence of who was behind the events in Boston let alone why, I’d like to focus on a blog post by someone who lives within walking distance of the tragedy. Oddly enough, this was the bit that got me thinking:

[N]ote to emergency planners–don’t assume people from out of town or who don’t speak English well will understand where things are, even if they’re really close by[.]

Now Boston has its share of tourists and I do not dispute this. However, I live in a city whose economy lives on tourism. We had over 39,000,000 annual visits to a metropolitan area that — on a good day — has a population of barely 2,000,000. And not only do those tourists come from all over the world, we have a large population of immigrants as well. On a trip to a nearby grocery store, it’s not unusual to hear conversations in Spanish, Cantonese, French, or Russian. The local Home Depot has staff members who speak Japanese and Tagalog.

So, as we carry out our own Bad Thing Happens In Public Place drill, will we account for those whose English skills are poor, or lacking?

How will we account for the fact that a bombing attack such as happened in Boston might force the evacuation of multiple huge hotel-casinos?

Traffic on the Strip sucks on a good day; what happens if all that traffic has to be re-routed to roads like Paradise and Decatur — two roads that also have frequent congestion? What if it has to be re-routed for more than a couple blocks, as with the taxi incident?

I realize that there’s no planning for the extremely unlikely, but emergencies do happen.

In Closing: Complete noobs wanted for toughest assignment in the system; wow; the student loan crisis is worse than you think; “It’s pretty exciting to be on a list that frequently features Mark Twain, Harper Lee, and Maya Angelou”; Eric Schmidt is right; and pissing contest.