Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Dear Dumbass: What Drugs Will Make Me Smarter?

Dear Rick,

Which are the best nootropics for an average seventeen-year-old student?


Hey Michele -

Unfortunately, most of the nootropics I know are intended to preserve brain function in older people. Older, unhealthy people often have brains that work like crap. When you're in traffic, check out other drivers. You can tell just by looking at some people that their brains don't work very well - they appear dull and stunned and out-of-it (even if they're not texting). Some people with dazed looks may be on drugs (especially in LA, where I live), but often it's their bad health habits taking a toll on mental function. 

Being only 17, you haven't had much time to wreck your brain, so all the drugs that promise to restore brain health aren't going to be much help (assuming their claims happen to be true). Your best bet might be coffee. It's widely available and generally harmless, and the current thinking seems to be that it's good for you. I started drinking coffee two years ago. Until then, I fell asleep nearly every afternoon at work. Now I'm alert - maybe too alert - all day. Coffee doesn't make me smarter, but it does make me better able to do work. More than about two-and-a-half cups in a day however, makes my heart gallop a little, so be careful with it.

There are some habits which seem to preserve brain function throughout life (based on studies of older people whose brains still work) -
Always be learning and engaging in activities which require you to think.
Do the whole "healthy mind in a healthy body" thing - eat reasonably well and engage in physical activity.

Being 17 is lucky - you're young enough to take full advantage of the coming biotech revolution, which will bring us stuff that really will make us smarter, instead of the iffy, half-assed nutritional supplements we have now.

Another couple ways to be effectively smarter without brain drugs -
Read about smart people to see if they have strategies you can emulate. Richard Feynman, for instance, was proud of not being overly smart (which is BS - he was very smart) but instead, of having figured out problem-solving tactics which let him come up with approximate solutions to most problems within a couple of minutes.
Become a ninja at internet searching. For the first time in history, we have instantaneous access to nearly all information. Being better than most people at retrieving and using information takes you 80% of the way to being a genius.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Dear Dumbass: How Do You Meet People?

Hey Rick,

As a 20-something-year-old guy, I naturally spend a lot of my time thinking about attractive women, and how to best approach them/talk to them/ask them out/etc. So as the Dumbass Genius, do you have any advice on the matter? Or if nothing else, during your time as a bouncer, did you notice any patterns of what kind of men seemed to do best with women at the bar?

- Phil

Hey Phil -

First of all, bars and clubs were the place to meet women before the internet. Now they're where you go to enjoy $18 handcrafted cocktails. I'm sad to have missed the current internet hookup era. I'd probably do better meeting women by typing than by showing off my disco moves. 

Standards of attractiveness have also changed. We're fat - we're all frickin' fat. In the 70s and 80s, people were still skinny. So you might have to adjust your expectations. But what your partner looks like doesn't matter as much as it used to, since our heads are so stuffed with porn that during sex, no one pictures the person they're having sex with.

The topic of meeting women is inherently sexist. But people have been meeting ever since there have been people, so I'll apply my 12 units of Women's Studies and having read every issue of Ms. magazine from 1972 to 1984 to the task. If I strike wrong notes, let me know.

So, some tips for meeting women in bars -
Don't go alone. Unless you have incredible panache and social skills, being a lone guy in a bar comes off as creepy - it's obvious why you're there. You need to get a wingman (or a job in a bar, which gives you an excuse to be there). In LA, you sometimes see lone movie stars in bars, striking out, because even a movie star on his own in a bar is still a lonely, needy guy.

Don't go out with the sole intention of meeting women. The odds of hooking up on any particular night are low - in the small single digits - so find other ways to make a night out fun. If you go out with friends, at least you're having a night out with friends even if you don't meet someone.

Look at pickup artist literature but ignore the stupid/creepy stuff. Pickup artistry has become the subject of dozens of books, scores of websites, and a few movies and TV shows. If you strip away all that is slimy from the subject, you're left with a few not-horrible concepts:
Try to understand women as people with their own wants and needs (and not as the targets of pickup tricks).
Be your own best self (Thanks, Oprah!). That is, you should strive to be someone hook-up-withable - as attractive as you can be without being a douche about it.
Risk rejection. You have to be able to approach someone, get shot down, and not be wrecked by it.
Be fun or at least pleasant. You want whomever you're with to have a good time being with you. And women are more likely to want to be with you if you let them know that you can handle whatever level of interaction they might want without awkwardness, coercion, or drama.
Look for the best qualities in women you meet. Some of the luckiest guys I know are more honestly enthusiastic about the women they encounter than perhaps these women are used to. Enthusiasm is attractive.
Enjoy the journey. You don't have to end up in bed with a local weather reporter for it to have been a good night.

Go where the women who want to meet men are. Rather than bars, try dating sites. At the very least, going on dating sites gives you practice meeting people virtually which may be helpful in real life. Plus, the people you meet in bars are often chaotic messes.

Produce video content. In LA, even the grossest producers can meet attractive women because of the math of attractiveness, which works like this -
The top 10 or 15 percent of people are very attractive. In a country the size of America, that's many millions of people. But only a few thousand people are at all famous for being attractive. So, for every person who's famous for being attractive, there might be hundreds of people who secretly or not-so-secretly think, "I'm so hot - I should be famous." People who are seen as being able to provide opportunities for attractive people to achieve some degree of fame get to meet attractive people. So make funny YouTube videos or something.

A word on how clubs work for hook-up purposes -
Clubs lower the bar for what people find attractive. In everyday, non-bar life, everyone is too exposed and familiar - you see someone every day at work, you know way too much about that person. It can be hard for attraction to withstand that level of exposure.
Thanks to noise, dim lighting, drunkenness, and sexually demonstrative clothes, music, and behavior, bars are low-information, high stimulation environments, making it possible to imagine that people are more attractive than they actually are, all of which helps people make hookup mistakes they may regret later.
I imagine dating sites can work in the same way, with people sharing limited information at first and easing themselves into what might turn into relationships.

Best of luck in your club-hopping.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Dear Dumbass: The World's Second-Smartest Person Tries to Answer your Questions - Pills and Diet

Here is where I'll try (sometimes not very hard) to answer your questions. My judgment has often turned out to be terrible, so any advice should be greeted with great skepticism.Tweet questions to @dumbassgenius or email them to rickrosner@gmail.com.

A trio of related questions:

Dear Dumbass:
Do you follow a particular diet? Which one? Why?

Which pills/supplements should I be taking in order to have a better life? (thinner, smarter, live longer, etc)

You've talked about controlling blood sugar as a way to add time to your life. I have type 1 diabetes (diagnosed at a late age of 27, 3 years ago), and although I control my sugar very well for a diabetic (A1C between 5-6), it's unlikely to be anywhere near a normal person. Best case scenario, Id guess I'm going to die at least five years earlier than I would have had I not been diagnosed.
If you were diagnosed as a type 1 diabetic, what would you do?
Try to find a natural cure?
What kind of diet would you follow?

Dear Christophe, Philip and Bradford  -
     The inventor Ray Kurzweil takes 150 to 200 pills a day because he wants to live to 2040. Around that time, he thinks, artificial intelligence will create a singularity - a point at which technology will be able to solve all problems and we'll all get to live forever. I don't think that events will play out like that, but I do take 70 pills a day, hoping to live long enough to see some really cool stuff, like Google contact lenses and the Suri Cruise - Maddox Pitt-Jolie wedding.
     I've also dropped my weight. Weighed in the mid-170s at 5'10 1/2" when I was bouncing bars. Strong like bull. But now I'm in my 50s, and what's the point of slabby pecs anymore? Science shows that skinny, underfed animals live longer, so, over the past 8 years, I've dropped about 30 pounds. Now I'm kind of scrawny, and it looks a little creepy. I now weigh what pretty much everybody weighed in the first half of the 20th century, before we turned into a nation of waddling, shirt-untucked blobbos.
     I like food and don't like exercising too much discipline, so I use fiber gummies and carb blockers to replace some discipline. Fiber gummies are chewable fiber in the shape of gumdrops - candy that makes you poop. (Offer a bowl to an unpleasant coworker without telling him about the pooping part.) The faster food moves through you, the less you absorb. Carb blockers suppress a digestive enzyme so you only absorb 75% of the carbs your eat when you take them with a meal. Yes, you poop a little more, but it's worth it.
     Fat blockers, however, are pure punishment and should be avoided for all but the fattiest meals. Lots of intestinal distress and disgusting, oily dookies. Better to eat less fat. For instance, peel half the cheese off of a piece of pizza - it'll still taste just like pizza. People will think you're weird, but eff them. Other weird stuff I do besides peeling pizza: take a leak before I eat - you enjoy your food more if you're not distracted by a full bladder; eat off of small plates using small forks and spoons - helps with portion control.
     I take cholesterol blockers, both prescription - statins - and non-prescription - phytosterols - along with a DHT blocker. DHT is the form of testosterone that makes your prostate blow up and your hair fall out. Anytime you see a TV ad where old men are always rushing off to pee, you're seeing an ad for a DHT blocker. An added benefit of DHT blockers is they cause your body to pump out some extra testosterone to compensate, so it's a little like being on steroids.
     My favorite drug is metformin, a diabetes drug that decreases glucose production in the liver and increases insulin sensitivity. Tens of millions of Americans with Type 2 diabetes are on it. I don't have diabetes, but metformin can be good for non-diabetics, too. Metformin is one of two drugs that fools your body into reacting as if you're taking in fewer calories, possibly flipping your metabolism into extended-life mode. (Check out this article/photo on calorie restriction in monkeys. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/10/science/10aging.html Resveratrol is the other drug that can flip your metabolism, but when you take it orally, your liver knocks out 99% of it.)
     Other drugs/vitamins I like are aspirin (half an adult tablet per day) - reduces inflammation (so does flossing); glisodin - possibly slows down graying of your hair, makes some people euphoric, generally scavenges age-related gunk; curcumin - reduces inflammation, is a very pretty orange color; fish oil; ToCoQ10; carnosine; ALA and carnitine; glucosamine/chondroitin; and vitamin D. Maybe only 1/3 of the vitamins I take actually do anything, but we won't know until the future which 1/3 it is.
     You might want to visit Life Extension (www.lef.org). They sell fancy vitamins and try to back up what they sell with research. Lots of stuff to read there. Vitacost.com has good prices.
     If I had Type 1 diabetes, I'd try to hit all the fairly easy ways to minimize blood sugar spikes:
Eat lots of small meals/snacks instead of a few big ones.
Find out what foods have a high glycemic index and eliminate the crappy-tasting ones from your diet. Turns out rice cakes have a high index in addition to being bleh. So why eat them?
Slow down and minimize food absorption with fiber and carb blockers.
Get aggro with people who try to sabotage your routine.
Make sure your doctor is up to date in his/her diabetes knowledge and make sure you're up to date. There are a few diabetes newsletters you can sign up to get spammed with. This one's good - newsletter@newsletter.diabetesselfmanagement.com.
Don't get down on yourself if/when you screw up. Not giving yourself shit makes it easier to maintain healthy habits.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Dear Dumbass: The World's Second-Smartest Person Tries to Answer your Questions Wednesday, August 6

Here is where I'll try (sometimes not very hard) to answer your questions. My judgment has often turned out to be terrible, so any advice should be greeted with great skepticism.

Tweet questions to @dumbassgenius or email them to rickrosner@gmail.com.

Dear Dumbass,
What do you think of cryopreservation? You like it/believe in it?

Dear Steve -
    If you want to live forever, cryonic preservation isn't a great method, but it's better than nothing. It's logistically complicated - have to get relatives, doctors, coroner to sign off on it, or your dead self turns to mush while they're arguing. Need a cryo team in place right when your heart stops beating to start filling you full of antifreeze. All the steps, and there are many as your temperature gets lowered by 300 degrees, need to be done precisely, and even then, there's no guarantee that future medical technology will be able to bring you back and that future beings will even want to. Go to Alcor.com, the website of the leading cryonics organization. You can read the case histories of more than 100 of their clients who've been more-or-less preserved. In nine out of ten histories, the preservation did not go well.
     You can't just be frozen. As water turns to ice, it forms knife-like crystals and stabs, stabs, stabs all your cells. You're mush. Most of the water has to be flushed out of your cells and replaced with a series of cryoprotectants as your temperature goes lower and lower. And your temperature needs to drop faster than crystals can form - instead of turning to ice, you turn into a kind of non-crystaline glass - they call it vitrification, not freezing. And even if they can get you vitrified, you might fracture on a large scale. It'll take a lot of future nanobots to put you back together.
     All the risks you encounter on the way down to the temperature of liquid nitrogen, you run into again when it's time to thaw you out - crystals can form during thawing, too. And once you're back up to room temperature, you're still dead of whatever killed you in the first place.
     Research is proceeding, but legit scientists can be reluctant to say that they're working on freezing people for resurrection immortality. Instead, scientists research cryonics to make transplantable organs viable longer or to reduce trauma as wounded soldiers are transported to hospitals.
     When it comes to lowering the temperature of bodies and brains, the third dimension is the problem. It's relatively easy to cryopreserve two-dimensional tissue such as skin or corneas - you can reach the entire surface with the preservatives. But getting to the middle of three-dimensional organs and making sure that the outside and interior cool at the same rate is tough. Right now, cryonic tech can't handle organs much larger than a golf ball.
     Only one celebrity has announced that he wants to be cryopreserved, and that's Simon Cowell, who doesn't care if people think he's a dick. Once more people publicly embrace the option, perhaps more scientists will do research on it. (It's pretty affordable - you buy a life insurance policy and make the cryo organization the beneficiary. Watch out for greedy relatives with forged wills saying you changed your mind and want them to have the money. By the time the judge throws out the bogus will, you're mush.)
     Better to stay healthy and alive for the next 30 years, when advanced medical technology should be able to buy you another 20 or 30 years, by which time anything may be possible. Controlling weight, blood sugar, and inflammation can buy you an extra ten years. Even something as simple as flossing can add a couple years, time in which medical breakthroughs may save you from having to share a cryo tank with Ted Williams' head.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Dear Dumbass: The World's Second-Smartest Person Tries to Answer your Questions

Here is where I'll try (sometimes not very hard) to answer your questions. My judgment has often turned out to be terrible, so any advice should be greeted with great skepticism.

Tweet questions to @dumbassgenius or email them to rickrosner@gmail.com.

Dear Rick,
     Is time travel into the past impossible because it leads to logical paradoxes such as the Grandfather Paradox? If you traveled to the past you could kill your own grandfather. However, if you killed your own grandfather, you would not exist, and thus you could not have traveled into the past to kill him in the first place. Can these paradoxes associated with backward time travel be avoided? 
Frank in Kansas 

Dear Frank -
     Time travel into the past is impossible because the past doesn't exist anymore - it turned into a series of present moments. You can access artifacts of the past, but you can't put the whole thing back together. (In quantum mechanics, certain particles can be seen as briefly traveling backwards in time, but these can also be seen as their anti-particles traveling forwards in time, and they don't give you any real leverage in accessing or changing the past.)
     But that's the real world. Let's talk about time travel in movies and on TV shows. There's a simple solution to the Grandfather Paradox. (Most good SF writers are now familiar with this.) Every time you go into the past and mess around, you create a parallel world that splits off from our timeline beginning from the point you started messing with history.
     For instance, let's go back in time and kill Hitler, which is really the main thing time travel is for. In the present day, a celebrity team is formed, sponsored by a large media corporation, which is making a movie about the expedition. Spielberg, Schwarzenegger, LeBron James, Dwayne Johnson, Dave Batista, Jennifer Lawrence, other celebs, athletes, Seal Team Six personnel, and their support staff travel back to 1936, where they add themselves to the U.S. contingent at the Berlin Olympics as athletes, coaches, and fans.
     In and around the Olympics, they kill a bunch of Nazi big shots, humiliate Germany in athletics, and kill Hitler extra good. Or, acknowledging Hitler's leadership skills, they kidnap him, surgically implant explosives in his neck, and tell him to lead Germany in a non-evil manner. No world domination, no oppressing Jews and other people Hitler doesn't approve of, or they'll press a button and blow his head off. Maybe they give him a little tiny lobotomy while they're at it. Or put a behavior-modifying chip in his head. Hey, if they can time travel, they can certainly chip Hitler's head. Then they go to Japan, and get them to stop acting like assholes. Also, Mussolini.
     So, World War Two and the Holocaust don't happen. Commerce and tourism are established between our present world and the world we messed with of the late 1930s. The large media corporation builds a couple of theme parks where people from our present can enjoy the peaceful world of 1938.
     But our history hasn't changed. We still have our own miserable history. We just created a second world with a different history beginning in 1936. In this arrangement, we can visit that world as it moves forward from 1936, and people from that world can visit us as we move forward normally in time. 
     It's a pretty clean arrangement. And we can add dramatic touches. Maybe time travel tends to scramble your brain, so it's a squad of half-crazy people who have to kill Hitler. Or perhaps information leaks out of the heads of time travelers into the heads of anyone they come in contact with. So they have to complete the mission even as they're forgetting what their mission is. And what if some of that information leaks into Hitler's head?
     So you don't need all that Marty McFly time-repair stuff. No matter what Marty does after arriving in 1955, he's created a second worldline. Why haven't we seen any second worldline stories on TV and in the movies? Probably because TV and movie writers have been slow to get the memo - they're TV and movie writers, with a unconscious conservative desire to have a time travel story end with few to no changes to the world, not hardcore SF and physics geeks who might appreciate a nice second worldline. 
     It's the same thing with stories of the future - they're mostly post-apocalypse, because that's the easy way to go, thinking-wise and production-wise. Just wipe out the world except for a few survivors in the desert a few miles off the road to Vegas - so easy.
     Hope this helped. Now let's go kill Hitler.

Starting things off with one of the most common types of questions seen in advice columns - wrote a generic version myself.

Dear Dumbass -
     I'm tempted to have an affair (at work, online, with someone I know from high school). I love my spouse, but he/she (has put on weight, is no longer interested in sex, is distracted by work or kids, had an affair of his/her own a couple of years ago). I could set boundaries, no one would have to know, etc., etc.
Hot to Trot in Pascagoula

Dear Hot to Trot -
     First, get to couples' counseling. You seem to have some issues with your spouse, and that can be an advantage in the couples' counseling game - the person with the most gripes is often seen as the injured party, especially if the counselor is an idiot. Be sure to present your gripes in a considerate, loving tone, at least initially - you can get more worked-up as the session progresses. Let your partner get some gripes in, too - makes you seem reasonable. Your partner might appreciate that you're at least making the effort to go to counseling, and you could actually make some headway.
     Second, if you're tempted to cheat or send dick pics to someone, don't. Instead, pleasure yourself to internet porn. It doesn't make you a loser - just about everybody does it. Stay away from stuff that's too creepy - it'll eat your brain. Do you really want to wreck your life and your family's and cost yourself your house and most of your savings and your career for some mediocre sex with an awful person? Lean to appreciate staying home and beating off after the fam is asleep. And no one wants to see pictures of your penis - no one except the guy who'll take your place in Congress after you're forced to resign.