About my friend John Kounis

I am compelled to tell you a story about my friend John Kounis.

We were at 17,900 feet crammed into flying tin can. The cockpit of a Cessna 172RG is normally a small place, but on that day it was ridiculously so. We were way north of the Norwegian Sea, flying above Arctic waters. There was a life raft, ferry tank, survival gear – heck there was even a rifle. Our bright orange immersion suits and life jackets make us as large as Michelin Men. You’ve got about sixty seconds to once you hit the water to make it into the life raft, even with the suit. John had planned for contingency after contingency, and hadn’t let anything stop us.

That’s what it takes to do the hard thing.

We weren’t “supposed” to be there. A Cessna 172RG has a “service ceiling” of 14,600, so at 3,300 feet over it, we were basically hanging on the propeller at just fast enough to fly. There was a cold front slammed into Norway all along the coast pushing clouds high up, twenty thousand feet at points, substantially higher than forecast. We’d been picking our way through valleys in the clouds for hours. I was right seat piloting (aka “wrong side”) while John told me where to fly while he stared through, I kid you not, a golf shot level – a little telescope of a thing which told you if that wisp of a cloud was really above or below our flight path. You see, all we had to do was scrape a cloud with our wing and, BAMM, we’d pick up ice, loose lift, and have to immediately descend down to the ocean below. Not gracefully either. We’re talking 80 degrees down angle, get the hell out of the clouds right the hell now, or it’s all over.

Needless to say, we were working our ass off, but it didn’t feel at all like work. It was what needed doing, and we did it together.

“John, I can’t feel my hand.”

My right hand went suddenly numb basically from the elbow forward. I could see it. I could move it, but I didn’t really know where it was. Since I was right seat, I needed my right hand to fly the plane. Needless to say, I freaked the fuck out. I became convinced that my hand was no longer there, and started trying to remove the immersion suit to see it. I’m a big guy, so my flailing about cockpit made the plane unflyable – over the Norwegian Sea, IFR on top, within 500’ of clouds, in an airplane without de-icing. I distinctly remember John talking to me and working through what was wrong. There I was, generating a massive fucking problem, at the very definition of a bad time, and he was totally calm and collected. His tone was one which talked me down out of the state of near panic that I was in, nearly immediately, by inspiring trust, and transferring his confidence into me.

I calmed down and promptly blacked out.

You see, you need to use oxygen above 10,000 feet, and now I wasn’t getting any. On top of everything else, We only had one mask and had been passing it back and forth taking breaths in turn. John cranked up the oxygen, held his breath, and put the mask on me. I revived quickly and then he said please when asking for the oxygen mask back so he could breathe too. Deeply consider that for a moment. I had, not but the very minute before, been a full-on crazy man endangering not only my life, but his as well. He had the wherewithal, the gravitas, to say please while being utterly collected. He left the continuous flow of oxygen cranked up, I had 80lbs or so on him, so clearly setting it to his “normal” amount wasn’t enough. Problem solved, we went back to work flying the plane together.

He was an avatar of grace under pressure.

The clouds finally broke at the Arctic Circle. I’ll never forget our decent into the city nestled in the Fjords of Norway. We’d seen nothing but white clouds for hours. There was Trondheim, a city without night, the deep blue sea, the green and gray stone mountains, wind swept breakers and an utterly glorious runway.

The Norwegians went crazy for us once they figured out what we had done. Flying from Spitsbergen to Trondheim in a single go, in a single engine aircraft, blew their minds. Most of them couldn’t get past Spitsbergen. It’s a legendary place, an island far north of Norway where the Polar Bears roam, glaciers calve into the the ocean, the Arctic ice pack stretches out to the horizon, more seals than you can count – a true wilderness. For me, Spitsbergen was the best flying ever. The plane loved that air. The whole time, I was deeply aware of connectedness with all things.

On the ground in Trondheim, John and I were utterly drunk on air. We’d been flying for over 10 hours, and were totally exhausted, but the sea level air made us giddy like schoolchildren. I felt more alive than I had ever been.

The knowledge that such a life was possible was the greatest gift that John ever gave me.

As modern life goes, jobs took us to to different continents and we drifted apart. I stayed in Europe and he went off to fully embrace his truest destiny. He started a magazine, flew to more places than one could count, and encouraged countless people to do the same. Through his actions, he demonstrated that a more full life was possible, as he had done for me. All and all, he lived a life truest to himself.

John Kounis died of a pulmonary embolism on July 13th. He was 51.

I have spent the better part of days in a fetal position weeping for my friend. His departure leaves behind a colossal hole in the world. I know not how, but I am up off the floor, determined to go back to the business of living life and moving along a different heading, a better one, than before.

I ask of you two things.

First, please look at a picture of my friend: http://pilotgetaways.com/mag/ja15/RememberingJohn. That… That is what it looks like when you’re living the life you’re supposed to be living. Doing what is your best destiny. Being true to who you are.

Second, I was closest to John as he truly took flight. I know for certain that the act of flying had a profound impact on him. It was something he loved to share, and something we shared in. Please consider a donation in his name, so that others may also. The AOPA has established a flight training scholarship to honor John Kounis’ legacy. Contributions to the John Kounis Memorial Scholarship can be made here: https://ebiz.aopa.org/Default.aspx?TabID=175&offercode=R1507WXMEM. One hundred percent of the funds will go toward an aviation scholarship for a student pilot.

Thank you for reading about my friend John Kounis.

He was a great man.

Andrew

Apple Watch

A few snap impressions:

  1. It’s both more and less than what I expected. It just screams (un)realized potentially.

  2. Apple packaging is quickly becoming a parody of itself. 

  3. There’s a sync process really early on which is crazy slow and prevents one from using you device. Man does that need to get kicked to the curb at the soonest possible opportunity.

iOS Microsoft Outlook

One unheralded thing about iOS Outlook is their blazing update cycle. Moreso than any other app on my phone. Even more astonishing, I’ve experienced zero regression bugs. Granted I have been bitten by a serious bug, but overall the experience has been shockingly un-Microsoft-like, Who would have thought they could compress their update cycle to days from years?

All over America, IT departments must be pitching a fit. Witness the power of BYOD. 

I love this new world. 

Quote

“We need to start worrying about what kind of world we are going to leave for Keith Richards” – Anon

On the Bulletproof Diet

Connections and Possibilities

The Bulletproof Diet has the world’s best ambassador – coffee. Not just any old coffee, but the best coffee I’ve ever had. It redefined my understanding of what coffee was, could do, and how it could make me feel. For me, coffee is intrinsically linked to being alive. I blame Alaska. The raw vibrancy of that place could turn around even the worst cup – and the combination, sublime. Time to head back to there to find out what a truly excellent cup of coffee would be like with both feet planted in wilderness.

The Bulletproof Diet (BP) book doesn’t stand alone. David Avery (Dave) has been at biohacking for a long time, and has produced nearly 200 detailed podcasts, and dozens of commercial products as a result of his continuous efforts. The focus here is on the book, mostly, but for any topic, go dig through his archives. They’re ridiculously generous.

Core Concepts:

  • Food Quality Matters:
    Dave’s best writing hammers home the point that food quality matters, without any deviation or wavering. Each time it comes up, it feels fresh, relevant, and reinforcing – not boring. It comes through in everything he does. For example, when they make coffee, they use unsalted Kerry Gold butter. He recommends to always use Kerry Gold’s unsalted butter, because Kerry Gold’s salt isn’t high enough quality. Not even pausing for breath, he publicly pressures Kerry Gold to go from 90% grass-fed to 100%. Stew on that a bit – there is no bottom to that once you start digging. Let him go first.
  • Food Spectrums
    As a way out of that bottomless pit, he relies on spectrums of various attributes: quality, nutrient/anti-nutrient ratio, inflammation. This gives the strong willed the ability to save themselves. To successfully navigate his recommendations, you need to firmly keep your specific needs in mind. He does a good job of laying out options, but the course is yours to plot.
  • You need to pay attention to what the hell is going on with your body.
    Like duh. But so hard to do… He provides actionable tool recommendations for minimizing subjectivity and getting useful data. For example, he goes after the drink 8 glasses of water a day mantra. Instead, he advocates simply drinking when you’re thirsty. His core argument is, if you’re drinking high quality liquids (defined as: San Pellegrino from glass, BP Coffee, actual spring water,) and you’re actually paying attention to how your body feels, hydration will solve itself. The dividends from actually paying attention are bonus.
  • Inflammation and Toxins Matter
    He visits these topics so frequently that it’s difficult to separate them. This is in part because his own personal weight loss challenge centered on eliminating toxins as a tactic to reduce inflammation. It’s the cornerstone of the book and as such, there are innumerable tactics both overtly and tangentially discussed. Many of his strategies (I.e. food quality, food spectrums, biohacking tools) made sense to me. Some were new (I.e. actual spring water), but reasonably defended. A close reading will produce an actionable list suitable to your specific needs.
  • Intermittent Fasting (IF)
    He recommends cycling IF depending on the day’s activities. I wholeheartedly agree. It’s in this discussion that I realized that the BP Diet has a ketogenic foundation. It’s low net carbohydrates, high fat and moderate protein. His most insightful comments focused on the metabolism of protein, and why you shouldn’t over-consume it. In addition to the standard growth hormone justification, he presses down on the inflammation reduction angle – hard.
  • Sleep
    I’ve been diligently working on improving my sleep quality for years. Yet, he managed to come up with several new ideas which I hadn’t seen anywhere else. For example, I’m already having good success with the recommended sleep tracking app. I’m going to layer in some of his other suggestions over time. Inflammation reduction is the subtext here, but he also drives home performance angle as well.
  • Exercise
    He wisely opts out of a technical discussion about exercise. Instead he focuses on recovery, inflammation and other performance impacts. He recommends a solid list of other books to read on this topic. I second his Pavel Tsatsouline and Mark Rippetoe recommendations. Left underemphasized is the fact that exercise requires technical study which simply can’t be avoided. Mark Rippetoe has written 150 pages on just the deadlift, every page valuable, and yet he left enough uncovered for Pavel Tsatsouline to write an entire book on just that one exercise. Skip that step -> get injured, every time.
  • Supplements
    Throughout the book he provides supplementation strategies to the topic at hand. They seem reasonable in isolation, but figuring out the right mix is left as an exercise for the reader. Take good notes as you read. It’s damn complicated. He astutely avoids listing his own supplementation strategy, justified by arguing that supplementation must be personalized.
  • “Fruit & Vegetables is not one word”
    Intended as a joke, but capital T true. Each has a very different impact on our bodies. Pay attention to that difference!

My Counterpoints:

  • How you prepare your food matters
    As part of his food spectrum analysis, he also covered the impact of cooking techniques of food. It’s a shorter section and easy to just flip through, but I just couldn’t get past his recommendation against the use of microwaves. His first argument, it’s more likely to denature proteins (cause them to loose shape) than some other cooking strategies, is reasonable to me. His second argument trips my B.S. Filter, namely an assertion that EMF fields are bad. That position is just not sufficiently supported in the book at all. I’ve specifically dug through the podcast and his other web site writings looking for more details and haven’t found anything that I would consider robust.

  • Dog Whistler
    As part of preparing this review, I’ve listened to 20+ podcasts and have reviewed at least that many web site articles. He’ll tosses in references without explanation, attribution or support, on specific topics, which bugs the hell out of me. The question for me is why is he uneven with his external references. Answer that question wrong and my trust level goes to zero. For contentious issues (I.e. EMF Fields, GMO Foods, Ketogenic diets) he’ll address them, but at a noticeably lesser level of detail than other topics, with less attribution, and less referenced research. In other cases, he’ll do things like wear amber glasses on a video completely unrelated to sleep or Melatonin. In those circumstances, the inevitable “Look it’s Bono with bad hair!” commenter pipes up, only to be beaten down by those “in the know.” The second kind of pot stirring is fine and entertaining. I have an issue with the first form, even though I can understand why he might do it. Once you start seeing this pattern, it’s omnipresent and off-putting…

Other’s Counterpoints:

Researching around the web, you can see several variants of haters gonna hate happening here. You can see some here: http://gizmodo.com/bulletproof-coffee-debunking-the-hot-buttered-hype-1681321467, http://authoritynutrition.com/3-reasons-why-bulletproof-coffee-is-a-bad-idea/, http://health.usnews.com/health-news/health-wellness/articles/2014/12/24/the-bulletproof-diet-is-anything-but. Honestly, those links (gathered from the Bulletproof Diet Wikipedia page) are just horrible reading – exemplar bad science and lying with statistics. What they do take aim at is interesting: no calorie counting, high fat consumption, Ketogenic diets, and elimination of grains and nuts.

Horrifyingly, Gizmodo actually makes the most insightful point, albeit while lying with statistics: “In fact, one Spanish study found that people who drank four cups of coffee a day (and this is any brand of coffee, regardless of price and quality) had only 2-percent of what is considered a safe level of mycotoxins.” Aside from the lack of controls on which brand of coffee (and quantity if you read the study), there’s a difference between what the US, EU and Bulletproof would define as “safe” levels of mycotoxins. Oh, but wait, the Spanish study didn’t look for all mycotoxins, they only tested for one type of mycotoxin. Wait, no they didn’t do that either. They just counted how many cups of coffee people drunk and multiplied it by someone else’s numbers and who’s testing strategy is suspect because the brands don’t match (for starters.) Did I mention that they used people from a coffee growing region of Spain? I could continue, but will stop. /Sigh.

Aside from uncovering less than stellar science, Gizmodo did accidentally put their finger on a key issue. Namely, in the Bulletproof world, food quality is a supreme consideration. So the target is always zero, not “safe” as determined by experts or their government agency counterparts. Zero contamination. Contamination is defined really broadly: external toxins, pesticides, genetic manipulation, incorrect feeding (I.e. Grain fed vs. Grass Fed beef.) I haven’t found any substantive counterpoints which understand that core tenant. Instead they selectively chip around the edges using shopworn arguments and demonstrate their lack of understanding.

Things I really wish:

  1. Connections: The podcast, the book, and his web site stand independently. On just about any topic, Dave’s done at least a few and, in many cases, dozens of interviews and Q&A’s, but finding them is left as an exercise for the reader. BLARGH. This is my bugaboo with audio/video data, but it was especially aggravating here. For starters, he needs to deep link into his own content not just external scientific research.

  2. Thinking Fast & Slow: The one thing I would ask Dave to do, to clarify his thinking, arguments, and approach, would be to read Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast & Slow. He should formulate each Fast & Slow concept as a biohacking and/or Bulletproof as a “law.” Then, he should crib Robert Greene’s format and do a “correct” and “incorrect” application of the “law” as well. That book desperately needs to be written.

  3. Argument on behalf of another: There’s a podcast where he’s asked to argue in favor of Tim Ferriss’ cheat day concept, as defined in the 4 Hour Body book. He devotes nearly ten minutes to the biophysical aspects, but completely misses the motivational and psychological ones. He was clearly versed in the material, but demonstrated a huge blind spot. A fair argument might be levied that he just missed it that one time, or I didn’t understand it, but he consistently views mental performance in terms of cognition and not motivationally. Maybe that’s his point of view on free will showing, but in that case, have Sam Harris on the podcast and be explicit about it.

  4. Don’t try to please everyone: The dog whistler thing really bugs me. They’re specific signals to disparate “health” groups (I.e. Paleo, Ketogenic, Raw Vegan, Biohackers.) I believe that he’s fundamentally honest about his combination of tactics and overarching strategy. He is willing to change his mind. Those characteristics are awesome. Other people, especially those whose views which don’t allow flexibility, are not willing to concede that anyone else might have a functionally correct answer. From their point of view, he is in opposition to them. His current strategy of leaving makers and clues for them to recognize, as a way to preempt their opposing force, and hoping they’ll be unnoticed by those for whom they are not intended, just flat-out irks the hell out of me. I wish there was a variant of this material with either those stances more explicit or removed. I suppose, in the end, this falls into the “I wish groups of people didn’t suck” category. As utterly useless as that is, his material provokes that response too often. That’s on me, and maybe you.

Next Actions

Much of Dave’s recommendations are applicable in isolation, especially if you buy into the “spectrum” model. Many small choices in a better direction feels pretty damn good. Here’s some of the things I’m going to do next, or have found myself doing, almost by accident:

  1. I’m paying more attention to food quality, specifically buying more organic food. I’ve also started applying some of the specific food choice recommendations. I expect this to ramp upward over the next two months as part of a natural progression and inclination.
  2. I’m eating more vegetables. Running around 7 servings a day.
  3. I was already doing Kerry Gold butter. I’m using their unsalted butter now with sea salt as needed.
  4. I’ve changed how I’m cooking. For all of the bitching I did about microwaving, I’ve changed how I’m cooking my eggs and vegetables. I’m going to write more on this as to why this has happened in a separate post. The fact remains that an LONG establish pattern of behavior has changed.
  5. I’m drinking San Pelegrino from glass. It was a stable of my diet for nearly a decade and it feels wonderful to have it back.
  6. I’m going to do a two month course of their Oxaloacetate supplement (https://www.upgradedself.com/products/bulletproof-upgraded-aging-formula) and specifically look for the predicted blood glucose changes over time. This is also some homespun Cognitive Behavior Therapy vis-a-vis a trauma egg discovered issue. Fuck me.
  7. I’m going to carve out a two week block to do the recommended diet plan between now and 6/3/15.

Here’s a pro tip If you make VPN…

Here’s a pro-tip: If you make VPN software which can auto-update itself, don’t update over unsecured connections.

Such an obvious order of operations oversight doesn’t bode well. It’s exactly the sort of marker which people look for when evaluating this sort of things. Those that know anyway…

Next up is to evaluate DNS security. I’m starting to get very concerned about attacks via that vector.

Media Consumption

One perennial debate about podcasts is how fast to listen to them. In today’s match, on one side, The Verge:

“I know you’re busy, and you have a lot on your plate, and there are so many shows to keep up with, but you need to stop listening to podcasts sped up to 1.5x. You need to open yourself up to love.” – The Verge

and on the other:

Listen to podcasts at whatever speed you want – Marco Arment

I can see both sides of the argument. In the end of the day, it gets down to control and production effort, but both of today’s debaters miss this point.

“Enjoying the full experience of all media and preserving “what the artist intends” is a romantic ideal, but it’s both overrated and unrealistic in reality.” – Marco Arment

That’s square on the control point, but only sees one side. The core control issue is that the consumer wants to pull out of the larger block of media, be it a record album, podcast, or video, the part which directly interests them – without having to experience the “other.” I suppose this is a logical progression of the “shuffle, remix, and give me my stuff for free” culture prevalent on the Internet.

Give me my stuff for free… Aka the Napster Genie…

Let’s face it, podcasts are just flat out slow ways to consume information, both Marco and The Verge make that point in their own way. They’re poorly indexed, impossible to search, and impossible to (deep) link. They’re that way, because producing those things takes time – more time that the podcasts (and YouTube, etc.) creators are willing to devote to it. That’s the battle really, the consumers sense value in the creatives work, but can’t get at it, so they strip mine it. Brutally.

As a creator and a consumer, the whole thing just rubs my fur the wrong way.

If the creatives want consumers to change behaviors, they have to address their core needs. Smart Speed and/or 1.5x speed are woefully inadequate. The meta-animations that populate YouTube are pale versions of Cliff Notes. For those that would argue, these are just throwaway stories so not worth the effort, then why the hell am I wasting my time on it?