New morning routine

As someone who can work remotely, it is easy to fall into a “routine” of waking up late then hopping on my computer, with no longer of a commute than walking down the steps to my basement. Appealing as this may sound, especially on dark winter mornings, it is actually a trap.

I’ve eschewed coffee for most of my life (I’m living proof that it is possible to survive two engineering degrees without it), so, on such mornings, grogginess can set in after an hour or two. Is there another solution?

When I lived in the city, commuting to my various schools or workplaces took anywhere from a 20-minute walk to a 40-minute bike ride. Similar to how I’ve refrained from coffee, I avoided commuting by car unless absolutely necessary.

Something happened on those commutes that I either did not realize or took for granted at the time: starting the day outside in sunlight.

Neuroscientist Andrew Huberman explains how the “morning signal of getting bright light in your eyes is absolutely vital,” affecting mood, appetite, hormones, and immune-system function. He recommends getting outside for five to ten minutes at the start of each and every morning. This practice tells the hypothalamus to signal bodily systems into coherent action. Without such a strong signal, systems fall out of synchronicity, leading to drowsiness or other minor issues.

At northern latitudes, where our winter mornings start in the dark, Huberman says to turn on as many bright lights as possible for five to twenty minutes.

Let’s also pair this with John Mark Comer’s recommendation from The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry to put your phone to bed at least an hour before you go to bed—ideally, airplane mode “in a drawer in the kitchen.” Don’t check it again until after your morning light.

In a week of trying this, I’ve found improved concentration and alertness throughout the day, no caffeine required. I suppose morning dog walkers have known this all along.

Start your day off right!

Another thought on television

I recently read John Mark Comer’s terrific The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry. Much of the book resonated with me, but I found his take on television particularly illuminating:

If you fill your mind with fornication and wildly unrealistic portrayals of beauty, or romance and sex, or violence and the quest for revenge, or cynical secular sarcasm that we call “humor,” or a parade of opulent wealth, or simple banality, what shape do you think that will give to your soul?

“Cynical secular sarcasm”—what an incisive way to describe so much of our current pop culture.

Some recent reading

I was going to start this post with a quip about how the lackluster winter means more time for reading, but—who am I kidding?—I’d still be reading lots anyway.

Here are three articles that have resonated with me lately:

1. Everybody Worships

David Foster Wallace, in a 2005 college commencement address: “In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.” Then he talks about true freedom:

But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom.

2. E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction

David Foster Wallace’s longer 1993 essay, E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction, examines television from before the streaming era. With the invention of the microchip, television was about to change from a “one-active-many-passive” broadcast model of content distribution to something new. Wallace discusses what this change will mean, repudiating a more optimistic take by media futurologist George Gilder who published the 1990 book, Life after Television: The Coming Transformation of Media and American Life. Given what I think of television—see The Pendulum Swings—I quite enjoyed Wallace’s rejection of Gilder’s hopefulness:

In sum, then, [Gilder] offers a really attractive way of looking at viewer passivity and TV’s institutionalization of irony, narcissism, nihilism, stasis. It’s not our fault! It’s outmoded technology’s fault! … Once all experience is finally reduced to marketable image, once the receiving user of user-friendly receivers can choose freely, Americanly, from an Americanly infinite variety of moving images hardly distinguishable from real-life images, and can then choose further just how he wishes to store, enhance, edit, recombine, and present those images to himself, in the privacy of his very own home and skull, TV’s ironic, totalitarian grip on the American psychic cajones will be broken! (187)


It’s tough to see how Gilder’s soteriological vision of having more “control” over the arrangement of high-quality fantasy-bits is going to ease either the dependency that is part of my relation to TV or the impotent irony I must use to pretend I’m not dependent. … Make no mistake. We are dependent on image-technology; and the better the tech, the harder we’re hooked. (189)

In the age of streaming, ultra-high definition, and virtual reality, this rings as true now as it did thirty years ago.

3. Nightbirde’s blog

First, watch this clip from America’s Got Talent. Then, read her blog—all of it. Simultaneously the most heartbreaking but also uplifting response to terminal cancer. Wow.

New favorite workout

My daily workouts have long consisted of a mix of cardio and strength training. I’ve always taken advantage of free gym memberships when they have been available, though I have had no such option since leaving the city over four years ago.

Lately, I’ve been inclined toward free/cheap workouts that can be done with minimal commuting or equipment. Why pay for a gym membership, when you can do an upper-body workout with a pull-up bar, a yoga mat, and a few dumbbells, all without leaving your house? A lot of my biking—mountain and road/gravel—can be done without needing to drive anywhere (yes, I am spoiled to live where I do). Nordic skiing is only a fifteen drive away too (terrific cardio, but it requires maintaining equipment and commuting).

A recent book, Outlive: The Science & Art of Longevity, by Peter Attia, MD, introduced me to the workout of “rucking”: walking with a heavy backpack (more info). In a way, I’ve been rucking already during summer backpacking trips or winter ski traverses, though I hardly touch my expedition backpack outside of such trips.

Given my slender dimensions, I get major hip chafing when hauling around a big backpack on multi-day trips. I pre-emptively tape my iliac crests before such undertakings, though the first few days are usually uncomfortable when backpack weights start exceeding 45 pounds.

Maybe the real solution here is more functional training. Throw some weights into my 75 liter backpack and ruck around my neighborhood a few days a week. On a recent ski traverse, I felt the best carrying a heavy backpack I have in years.

Simple, time-effective, free, brilliant. 👌

Starting a microblog

As my Journal usually has long gaps between posts, I have created this page to try my hand at some more frequent, shorter-form content. Given that I already have this website as a platform, I’d much rather use it for publishing such content than using an existing micro-blogging service (and being at the whims of someone else’s system). If anything, this is an encouragement to myself to journal more, something I can too easily fall behind on.