Monday, August 31, 2009

First American Trekker to the South Pole:Todd Carmichael

Todd Carmichael

Todd Carmichael, explorer and founder of La Colombe coffee, "the premiere coffee roasting company in the United States" was recently interviewed by Marty Moss-Coane on WHYY-Philadelphia Radio, an NPR station. After barely escaping with his life, he has returned to offer his life lessons and some details of his incredible hike across Antarctica.

What did he do and where did he go? Carmichael trekked solo to the South Pole, departing from Hercules Inlet, Antarctica November 12, 2008 and arriving 702 miles later at the South Pole on December 21, 2008 after a total travel time of 39 days, 7 hours and 49 minutes, breaking a world record. It's an uphill journey to 10,000 feet above sea level. He walked about eighteen miles a day with no assistance and barely survived it.

Why did he do it? He said he enjoys trekking. Maybe three people had done it before, and 45 have tried. It had been done by "a Brit" -- Robert F. Scott and "a Norwegian" -- Roald Amundsen, but not by an American, and he wanted to be the first "American". He also says he wanted to "express freedom". It's the "coldest, driest, highest and windiest" place on earth and he thought he could do it, after making two earlier visits to the South Pole, once when he trekked 45 miles.

What are some of the lessons that he learned? He good-humoredly mentioned making his own "Constitution" of rules, and gave some really great advice all of us can use:

1) Endurance is good for people. Children should learn that, says Carmichael. "Hard things are good for you."

2) Be positive. Banish all negative thoughts. He said he constantly had to "get himself in a good position mentally" to finish the trek, because the wind is strong and demoralizing.

3) Keep going. The wind in the South Pole can be demoralizing because it is so strong and is working against the trekker.

4) Don't negotiate with yourself. No negotiations at all.

5) Don't get in your own way. Don't let your mind stop you. It's a psychological feat, because sometimes people's minds just "jack it in" as the body tires, and they can fail. Your body will get you there, but the mind must be strong as well.

6) Live in the moment. Plans, the past and future are great to ponder, but concentrate on the present.

7) "A stitch in time saves nine."

8) Talking out loud to yourself is okay if you're all alone, and have no one to talk to.

9) Believe in yourself.

10) He discovered for himself that the North and South Poles are "ground zero" in the environmental crisis.

What helped him to keep going? He said he felt his family was with him all the time, worrying about him, and he wanted to console them, but he wasn't able to communicate with them. He said his mind wanted to go to a comforting and safe place, for example, his grandfather's front lawn. He also wanted to return to focus on his wife and regain his health.

How did he prepare for the trek? Carmichael details preparing for the last few months with ultra endurance training for eight hours a day biking and jogging, strength training with machines, and roller skiing pulling a tractor tire on chains, and gaining thirty pounds before the trip.

How did he travel across the snow? He started out skiing but broke his skis the first day, so he walked. Instead of skiing for 10 hours a day, he walked for about 18, for 39 days straight, dragging along a sled on titanium rungs that he called "the pig" and weighed over 250 lbs., taller than him. He found it hard to judge distance and direction.

Did he have problems and what kept him going on his journey? He began his journey with electronic support, but then lost his communication gear, his phone and GPS, and was out of touch for most of it. He had an iPod with music which he enjoyed listening to and kept a journal. He only carried what would save his life.

Since the U.S. does not want to encourage South Pole treks, he was not invited into the U.S. station when he finally reached it, his final destination, but he was so weak he couldn't walk upstairs, and was also coughing up blood and needed food. But they let him in and fed him anyway. He said there is a sign that says "Do not feed the explorers". A doctor at the station said he probably would have died within the next 24 hours, but examined Carmichael and gave him a hospital bed where he could sleep. By the time he reached the station, he was delirious and hallucinating.

South Pole. Courtesy: Iceman's South Pole Page

Every winter, there are about 200 scientists visiting the American stations during the Antarctic summer and about 1200 seasonal visitors to the New Zealand station where there is a nuclear reactor. Carmichael said the American station is as large as a mall. He said the South Pole is marked by a pipe and disc, as seen above.

What did he eat? He ate 7,500 calories a day, a huge amount of food. Before he started his weight was 220 lbs. and when he finished it was 165. He carried his own food, fuel and tent on "the pig", and lots of sticks of butter and other foods to eat, but had to be sure his stove fire didn't destroy his tent. He also drank lots of water. He says that the pig was totally a "she" because he thinks women represent life and it came to represent life itself. By the end of the trek, he was out of food.

Why did he go alone? He went alone for many reasons. It was hard to find someone to push as hard as he could. Also, he had to eliminate all negative thoughts, and he knew he would be able to see pain if he looked at someone else. Also, he didn't want to have to negotiate with someone else and that others make your problems multiply. But there was also much danger in taking on the risks of going solo. He said he would have found other trekkers useful when he found himself inside three crevasses. But he said there are dangers also with going with others. For example, he couldn't rely on someone else to look after the stove fire, and if a stove fire destroyed his tent, he would not have been able to survive.

What was the weather like? It was usually about fifty degrees below zero degrees Fahrenheit. Sometimes the atmosphere was incredibly quiet and he was out all alone in it, but usually the wind was very strong. Catabatic, or downhill wind speed was usually about 50 miles per hour, but often it went over what the instrument could measure. There was also an unusual three day storm that dropped three feet of snow, which hadn't been seen since before 1977 when the station made records. He says there are many different kinds of snow, and they affected the speed of his progress. He says Antarctica is the driest continent and the wind starts at the South Pole, which is at the top of a volcano and spreads out across the Continent, reaching very high speeds at the shores of Antarctica.

Did he have medical issues when he finished the trek? It made his voice gravelly, which will improve. He got frostbite in his throat, which the doctor at the South Pole had to remove. He had problems with his face swelling painfully, his hands and everything swelled in the cold. He also had broken bones, especially in his feet, and infections.

Did he record it? Discover Networks has 120 hours of high definition recordings and Carmichael kept a journal.

What did he wear and where did he sleep? He had to keep the wind off his skin. Wind and water were the enemies. The goal was to not be too hot or too cold, as overheating is also dangerous, but he always felt cold.On his face, he wore goggles and a balaclava to tape up his face, and a snow suit with vents and lots of zippers to cover him (except when he had a potty break "as fast as he could.") Carmichael said his tent was a necessity. He said tents are better now than they used to be. When he slept, and he said he didn't sleep much, it was really cold, about 20 degrees inside. His tent wasn't canvas as earlier explorers had used, and it kept out the wind, and he used his stove to make water, to keep himself hydrated.

What did he do after the trek? He needed to recover for at least two months, because of his broken bones. After the trek he said he needed a lot of sugar, and "ate and ate" and gained 32 lbs. in the first two weeks, and regained his normal weight around 195 pounds. He said it felt like he couldn't eat enough. He also regained "the pig" that he abandoned the last day.

Todd Carmichael resides with his wife in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Carmichael is planning many more treks listed on his website, "Expedition Earth".

All in all, a truly extraordinary achievement as the first American and the first of a series of trekkers to reach the South Pole for a long time. Carmichael's story of extraordinary enthusiasm, personal courage and perseverance in the face of adversity truly captured my imagination. It's very inspiring, uplifting and escapist to focus on life and health in someone who is fortunate to have all of these traits in abundance.

Associated with Carmichael is a Facebook page, and a website for his coffee company, La Colombe in Philadelphia.

There is potentially a great book, and maybe a movie here, because it is not something most of us want to do, or even want our loved ones to do. It sounds like a wildly exciting trek and he left some amazing life lessons in the interview, and in the short movie recorded directly after his trek ended here in "Ice Stories". More details about his journey are linked here in "Men's Journal".

My gratitude for this inspiring interview, with apologies for inaccuracies.

Friday, August 28, 2009

"The Sociable Diet"

"The Sociable Diet" is a common sense combination of many diets. This one's good for eating with family, going out to restaurants and trying to eat "normally". It's also about moderation and vigilance. It's just not possible to eat everything we might want to and still be thin and healthy, so the challenge is to enjoy everything we do eat. Here are ways to be sociable and lose weight.

1. Think positively. Your mind can make or break a diet plan. Believe you can do it.

2. Make goals, and keep reminding yourself of them. Don't let your mind get in the way of your progress. Willpower is everything in a diet, and it's a limited quantity. Be strict with yourself and what you eat, but relax.

3. Listen to your body. Be able to eat more when you've finished a meal. Eat less rather than more and slow down your food intake. Remember which food choices make you feel comfortable hours after a meal, and which ones to avoid. Eat the right amount, and every bit less you eat helps with weight loss.

4. Check with your doctor before dieting and to obtain a reasonable weight goal and daily calorie count. Plan food choices and rationalize decisions. Even if you can't get a lot of support for your diet, just keep at it quietly and consistently.

5. Eat mostly plant food, raw or cooked fruits and vegetables. This is the easiest way to lose weight and helps keep you feeling full enough to avoid snacking on high-calorie foods.

6. Cut out fats, oils, cheeses, creams, sugars and starches, anything breaded or deep-fried, white-starched or sugary, as much as possible. If this is too strict, try to aim for 20g. a day (for health) of fat, and minimize the others.

7. Learn how to turn away food politely, say, by sacrificing second helpings. You don't ever eat seconds, do you, or snack while cooking?

8. Take vitamins, calcium and try fat-free milk and yogurt.

9. Control portion sizes. Studies have shown that covering food with napkins at the table, imagining food that is distasteful and other such quick decisions at restaurants really work in the short term and serve to distract. Since restaurants tend to make portion sizes equal for all, remember not to eat as much as an athlete unless you are one, or at least working out like one.

10. Quality over quantity: it's desirable (and cheaper) to have smaller portion sizes. Try to cut back by one half, or at least one quarter. Try new recipes that make fancy, attractive, low-calorie meals. Try eating on smaller plates and use smaller glass sizes to trick the eyes. Remember how much you used to eat if and when you were thinner.

11. Wine occasionally rather than spirits keeps one sociable. For women: learn to turn away drinks firmly but politely because with the same number of drinks women get drunker than men because of "physiological differences in body composition, metabolism, and hormones." Science is on your side this time. healthlibrary.

12. Tea and coffee with milk is good and sociable. Keeping hydrated is important.

13. Sometimes, the healthiest thing to do is to push yourself away from the table. Brushing your teeth after each meal, and flossing often discourages eating between meals.

14. Keep a journal of all the foods you have eaten and your exercise taken each day. You can also include writing about at least three things go well, as studies shows that it lifts moods after doing so for a few weeks. A journal entry can also be written before a meal to use as a goal. Some find taking digital photos of their plate of food helps them. Being truthful to yourself is key.

15. Exercise, keep moving, stress less and have fun.

16. Stop eating before you’re full.

Be good to yourself and your family and friends while you diet by cutting back gently. Diet to look better, feel better and have fewer health problems down the road.

If you struggle with your weight, then look to scientifically proven methods to help you to keep the weight off. It's a matter of the mind conquering the body, mind over body, a psychological as well as a physiological project.Restricting food intake is a solo endeavor within a larger social context. It's about being accountable to yourself for your actions and being conscious of your food choices.

Keeping weight off and maintaining weight loss can be difficult as social situations present weight loss challenges. We must always eat just the right amount at meals to maintain ideal weight.

A few years ago, I was on a private medically-supervised low-carb diet, and it worked well, but then I gained back the weight and more. This time, I have been on a private diet plan with a diet doctor at the Center for Medical Weight Loss with branches throughout the U.S. Getting weighed privately every three weeks works for me, and it has helped me keep off the pounds this time. Maybe I will have to do that forever to keep my weight accountable.

"If I'd known I'd live this long, I would have treated myself better." Anon.

What do you think about this diet plan? Please comment.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Information Overload: Cellphones With Twitter

It’s not possible today, but the emergence of more powerful, media-centric cellphones is accelerating humanity toward this vision of “augmented reality,” where data from the network overlays your view of the real world. Already, developers are creating augmented reality applications and games for a variety of smartphones, so your phone’s screen shows the real world overlaid with additional information such as the location of subway entrances, the price of houses, or Twitter messages that have been posted nearby


Before you know it, that tourist whizzing by in a car, train or plane next to your home could know more about you than you will ever know, or might feel comfortable with. A new sort of voyeuristic stalking could happen in this world of unintended consequences. It would take "spying on the neighbors" and perhaps even terrorism, homegrown or not, to a whole new level. Can and should lawmakers do anything about this now before the technology is widespread?

Consumers haven't any say over what's bundled into electronics, and can't make them to order. Electronics just become ever more complicated and privacy is often uncertain. It takes many years for legal actions to follow complaints of abuse and for lawmakers to catch up to legal actions.

How much anonymity should a twitterer or blogger expect? Probably not much.

Dear Reader, do you think twitters should be added to cellphones?

Read more here in

Thanks to Monika for bringing this good idea to my attention.

Study Supports Office Web Searching, If Limited

"The University of Melbourne study showed that people who use the Internet for personal reasons at work are about 9 percent more productive that those who do not.

... Coker said the study looked at people who browsed in moderation, or were on the Internet for less than 20 percent of their total time in the office.

Caveat: "Those who behave with Internet addiction tendencies will have a lower productivity than those without," he said."

The employees of my daughter's orthodontist here in America aren't allowed to access the internet, probably for fear of some sort of contagious or distracting "internet addiction." What a throwback to an earlier era. More likely, it would keep them awake and alert. And, as this Australian study says, increase their productivity.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

How To Be Happier

The good life, as I conceive it, is a happy life.
- Bertrand Russell

Gretchen Rubin has been writing a blog (linked here) called "The Happiness Project" which I have read from time to time.

Her latest summary (linked here) is great. She has been working on it just as the blogger, Julie Powell did as seen in "Julie/Julia", the movie -- writing for a year, for many years.

This is a topic everyone can learn from. Who doesn't want more happiness? Just now, I learned that wrinkles are worsened by antidepressants (just saying)... Reading all these how-to articles helps keep me off anti-depressants. Do they help improve your outlook, too?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Who's Speaking Up For The Little Guy?

The great country of America, with its vocal and loyal supporters of public education, should be embracing the same noble democratic ideal of healthcare reform. Why the widespread worry, fear and hatred?

This is a country that connects its home prices to the quality of its local public school systems. Yet the thought of having public medical care for all makes Americans queasy and uncertain, protesting "socialism."

Public education isn't socialistic. What if every American had to pay for every hour of education? America should decide that healthcare, like education, should be given freely to all. The way education used to be, it was for the wealthy, because they had the time and leisure to enjoy it and could pay for it. Nowadays public, free or inexpensive education is looked upon as a necessity and a birthright to Americans.

Former President Bill Clinton "recently urged an audience "to debate the major points" – he said he still favored a public option but that there were many options; but he cautioned them not to lose sight of the opportunity they have now with a Democratically controlled Congress." The New York Times, "Bill Clinton: The Time is Now"

Can the country afford "to debate" what should be a right to every citizen? Nationals from countries with public healthcare defend their systems here. "The business" of doctors is to cure the sick. It's not supposed to be about making the most money. This focus on money-making procedures, money mostly made by cutting up patients, distracts doctors from treating patients with increasing efficiency and caring continuity.

Don't Americans care about the way their country appears so brutish to other countries? They are seeing on television the opposition to healthcare reform showing up to town halls with guns to oppose the very subject they should be most open to widening to all members of society? It's just antisocial. Americans are getting distracted from a huge opportunity, not that they seem to care how they appear outside of their borders.

Hearing about the high compensation of those at the upper levels of healthcare, the insurance company executives, drug company executives, senior doctors, it sounds as if everyone above the level of janitors and nurses at hospitals is obsessed with "making it big." But this cycle of increasing prosperity (except for most nurses and janitors) doesn't improve outcomes for American patients. Otherwise, American healthcare would get top marks internationally.

"What's still missing" says Paul Krugman of The New York Times" is a sense of passion and outrage — passion for the goal of ensuring that every American gets the health care he or she needs, outrage at the lies and fear-mongering that are being used to block that goal."

President Obama has many different areas to consider and healthcare reform could be the most useful one he could make. For now, at least. He certainly has our permission to speak up for us. For the man who is at home wondering how to pay for drugs for sick children, or the single mother who's already paying a third of her salary at Walmart to pay for healthcare. Who cares about them?

Not the insurance executives who are loaded, bloated, with excess pay. Or drug company executives who take advantage of the public's capacity to pay for expensive drugs with "high overhead" and "travel costs." Or the senior doctors too busy, uninterested and unmotivated to promote greater cost control efficiencies?

Its going to take a concerted union of insurance executives, drug company executives, doctors and the government to do all the work that needs to be done to open medical care to all and create an efficient and enduring healthcare system that meets the needs of those it is designed to protect: the sick and needy.

Opening up healthcare as America did years ago with education is the courageous, noble and "the right thing to do" even if the consequences aren't yet clear. It's high time to listen to the will and desire of mainstream Americans and take the opportunity to open up public healthcare to all. Everyone will benefit, if public education is taken an example.

By the way, doctors make almost as much in many other countries as they do in America. As for drug companies, it isn't clear that their research is always sourced in the United States -- it often isn't. Federal and state laws help drug companies flourish, profit and charge as much as they can. Insurance company executives mimic government bureaucracy at a much higher price and often stand between the doctor and patient. Is it any wonder that drug and insurance companies are hiring their best people in public relations to persuade the President to listen to them and to encourage disruption at town hall meetings?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

"Julie and Julia": Useful Lessons from a Worthwhile Movie

Julie and Julia is a fabulous film. Meryl Streep and Amy Adams star in this adorably endearing film about cooking and food.

A few short lessons from the movie:
  1. It's good to have a passion.
  2. Both women had definite goals.
  3. Meeting their goals were achievements that brought them success.
  4. Their men supported them psychologically, emotionally and helped run errands and fix problems. Without them, they wouldn't have achieved their goals successfully.
  5. Blogs aren't necessarily evil time-wasters for either writer or reader.
It's also a great advertisement for Julia Child's first book, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking".

Everyone who sees "Julie and Julia" seems to love it, including this reviewer. The movie did follow the book of her early married life, "My Life in France" by Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme to some extent, with much left out. That book is fabulous, too.

Definitely a movie to inspire a round of cooking. Makes for pleasant entertainment, and what an upscale theater audience.

Wikimedia:National Museum of American History

The Julia Child exhibit we saw last weekend in Washington's National Museum of American History was her kitchen in Cambridge Massachusetts, here:

The Jeremiad: Julia Child's Kitchen

Having worked my way through every recipe in "Le Cordon Bleu At Home"(except a couple) and videos, I can truly sympathize with many of the challenges faced by these busy cooks. Of course, had I blogged about it, I certainly wouldn't have hoped for a free lesson at the Cordon Bleu.

In the movie, Julie Powell always hoped to meet Julia Child. Yet it seems slightly presumptuous to me that a food blogger should have really hoped for an actual meeting with the great chef, as Julie did in the movie. I can see why she hoped; she's a good writer. But whether she's a talented chef or merely an interested cook who's a talented writer remains to be proved. It's unlikely that a blogger starting to experience and write about politics would be able to meet a President. Julia Child was a very busy celebrity and had millions of fans.

Don't we all have some interest in cooking?

For more about Julia Child: Appetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child, by Noel Riley Fitch.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

"Living the $10 Life" Vs. Excessive Pay

In Toronto's Globe and Mail is an interesting story about a couple and how they are coping in their downsized world. At least they have good health care to look forward to in their future.

Not everyone is suffering during this economic downturn as this contrasting article about impatient, seemingly spoiled wives of Goldman Sachs executives proves.

This disparity has got to stop, but how and when? What do you think?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Find Your County's Stimulus Statistics

As part of its mission to follow the money being handed out by the new American administration, ProPublica has published a fascinating interactive chart of money from the federal government's stimulus program to each county in America.

It's easily possible to compare the total number of dollars to your state and then your county and others, along with quick population comparisons. It is also useful and informative to see the unemployment rate for each county, and how much each person has been given so far.

It's also possible to see grant amounts given for different purposes. Let's hope that readers realize that they haven't the information or the perspective to understand and judge the reasons for the grant allocations or competing sources of money for various institutions.

Makes fascinating reading here, and it's easy to check quickly.