Tuesday, March 31, 2009

From Apes to Marathoners

Bipedalism, opposable thumbs, and a giant brain are the big three differences that separate us from the rest of the food chain. The benefits of the latter two for tool making, hunting, etc. are obvious, but the first isn't totally understood. Usually it is attributed to one of the myriad of benefits that is associated with walking, but there are some that believe running is the real evolutionary driver behind bipedalism.

This is an argument that has been around for a while but recently has gained some strength in scientific data, particularly with a recent article in the Journal of Experimental Biology showing the benefit of short toes (a trait specific to humans) for running. Specifically, while shorter toes provide no measurable reduction in energy usage during walking, they do cut it by 20% for running.

This efficiency wouldn't help much with pure speed, but it provides a great benefit for running endurance, a trait that humans are particularly well suited for. How would this help hunter-gatherers? One of the authors, Daniel Lieberman, points to persistence hunting.

Basically you chase an animal over dozens of miles, slowly wearing it down until it collapses either from exhaustion or overheating. No need for sprinting, just a long, steady, fast gait. This practice is rare now but it was one of the earliest forms of hunting (predating even simple tools like spears).

So contrary to what you people continue to tell me, it turns out that humans may be designed to run marathons after all.

some more running nerd lolz

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Perfect hindsight

The left wing in America, and much of everybody else, seems perfectly smitten with Jon Stewart over last week's skewering of Jim Cramer. It seems like populist issues are so easy to foresee it's a wonder that there isn't still a party with that name around.

Two problems though:
a) Jim Cramer is an entertainer. If you think he's something more than that you must be watching a different show than I am. It doesn't matter how CNBC bills it, if you take him as more than that you're going to do so at your own risk.

b) Jim Cramer is a stock analyst. He gets them right and wrong. As all good analysts do, he admits this. In the real world, a company that is about to break out into a record year for it's stock and a company that is about to fail tend to look about the same on paper, it's only hindsight that makes Bear Stearns "so easy to see coming."

I'm not trying to defend Cramer here, I'm just pointing out that it's not his fault people lost money. I don't know his track record, but I'm betting neither do the people that listen to him and lose that money.

If your favorite analyst doesn't have a winning track record you shouldn't listen to him. If he does, you should listen to him with a grain of salt. This is financial common sense, do it any other way and you would do better off to take your cash to Vegas.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Texas Roadhouse Boycott

This weekend I once again pulled off a new half marathon personal record, it's been a good year for me. This time down in College Station I finally beat an 8 minute/mile pace, but not without some serious suffering along the way. Along with this being the coldest race that I've ever run, 33 degrees with 25 mph winds gusting to 35 mph, I made the mistake of eating at Texas Roadhouse the night before.

Turns out that Texas Roadhouse does not serve pasta. At all. I understand I was at a steakhouse, but how hard is it to throw a dab of spaghetti on the menu. Even I can cook spaghetti. Or maybe a veggie burger. Anything that isn't 90% fat and/or protein would have been acceptable, alas this was not a choice.

I asked the waitress if they could figure something out, she was very quick with a seemingly-prepared, negative response; apparently some runners had already come through that evening with the same questions. They did have some pasta on the children's menu, Mac & Cheese. A little unconventional I think to myself, but at least it has carbs.

I order two sides of this and a Caesar salad, and the arrival of these dishes is about where the wheels came off.

The salad was damn near inedible. Within the sea of Iceberg lettuce there was a tiny bit of Romaine, but that clearly was of the best-consumed-immediately, on-sale-special variety usually shrink-wrapped in a bin near the front of your local Kroger's and ignored by anyone that has ever eaten outside of McDonalds. Of course they made up for it by applying the dressing with a fire hose. How a steak restaurant can survive with poor salad skills is beyond me, but the hour wait to get a seat in the restaurant tells me that they are not having a lot of issues keeping business.

At least I have the Mac & Cheese to fall back on. The only problem was I felt like I was coating my throat in butter as I consumed it.

Me: (uncomfortable look) "This Mac & Cheese sure is...creamy..."

Waitress: (wide-eyed grin) "I know, isn't it great?!"

Me: (speechless, just stares)

In the end I finished nearly half of one of the sides of Mac & Cheese (ignoring the other) and some minority portion of the Caesar. Despite my lack of enthusiasm for either I still felt the butter in my gut all 13.1 miles the next morning.

So, regardless of the effort they expend to create that extraordinarily outlandish redneck environment, Texas Roadhouse is now under an official personal boycott due to the overall lameness of their food. It's rare that I ever boycott a place based on a single meal, but I'm making an exception in this case.