For years I've belonged to a big health club that has rows of exercise contraptions. I use them regularly, and while I do, I wonder how you could make that sort of mindless exercise more interesting.

One idea is to have some sort of RFID device on your gym ID card, and keep it with you when you work out. Each exercise machine would automatically recognize your presence and access your history. You could do a lot of interesting things with that technology, but the idea that interests me most is a graph of how many pounds you are moving per week, using any subset of the machines. The idea here is that it wouldn't matter what muscles you were working so long as you moved more weight this week than last. And you could watch your tally increase with each repetition.

My theory is that although this somewhat random approach to weight training wouldn't have targeted results, it would bias you toward working your largest muscles, which is a good thing. And it might encourage you to use lots of different machines instead of just your favorites, especially after your favorite exercises fatigue specific muscles.

My other exercise idea is to make video game controllers that weigh five pounds apiece, shaped like small dumbbells, and create games where you steer the action using two controllers, one in each hand. For example, imagine aiming a big gun in a video game, or pumping your arms to make your character run, or leaning your digital motorcycle or skier to make him turn. All the game action would require moving your hand weights. An hour of that per day would make you look ripped, at least from the waist up. And it might be more fun than pushing buttons.

I think it's great that you can listen to your iPod while exercising, but weight training is still mostly a technology of the 1800s. It's time for some updating.
I was looking for information on how much energy my different appliances use, on average, and came across a great bar graph. Unfortunately I can't find it again. It showed a huge bar for heating that was about as large as all the other appliances put together. Obviously the graph was for a typical home where you have serious winters. I already knew that heating and cooling were the major culprits in energy use, but seeing it on the graph gave it context and perspective that I will always remember.

The other night on Bill Maher's show he held up a pie chart showing the percentage of U.S. corporations now controlled by the government. It was a tiny slice, more of a line than a wedge. Bill's point is that we're not on the verge of becoming socialists. That was an interesting graphic and very powerful for his argument.

I'd love to see a newspaper or web site that is nothing but graphs putting the issues of the day in context. For ever major issue, there's generally one chart that captures the essence of the argument. I think charts would help put everyone on the same page whereas the continuous blah, blah, blah of talking heads makes you want to take sides.

Charts get a bad name. Everyone made fun of Ross Perot for whipping out charts to make his points, but that had more to do with Ross Perot than the charts. And people like to mock USA Today for their funny little graphs that oversimplify relatively unimportant topics. But I think there is room for serious charts on the important topics. And those charts should be republished often, even if they don't often change, so we don't lose sight of the context for daily events.

One of the most basic rules of management is that you need data on how you're doing now, and where you're heading. Everyone needs to be on the same page and trying to create the same change. What if the collective energy use for your block, or you small town, was on a chart comparing you to the energy use of the blocks or towns around you? I think it would automatically make you feel competitive about reducing your waste. It's human nature. Charts change behavior.

I'd like to see a "dashboard" display for how the entire country is doing. It would be one page with the graphs showing elements of our economy, crime rates, health coverage, energy use, SAT scores, and anything else we deemed important. I think it would help to get everyone on the same page.

Obviously there is a risk of oversimplification, so every chart needs to be backed up with text and with other charts that add more context. And in the market for news you would have plenty of room for competing charts that shine a different light on topics.
I'm fascinated by the Iranian election results. On the surface it appears that the vote was rigged by the guys in power. That's the way these things usually go. But this is a bit more interesting.

First, remember that in Iran the Supreme Leader, Khamenie, decides who gets to run for President. So in theory, whoever wins is okay with Khamenie, even if one candidate is somewhat preferred. That's not a situation where the Supreme Leader has a strong need to rig an election, especially given the risk that doing so would delegitimize the entire government, which is apparently what happened.

But what if President Ahmadinejad's supporters were behind the vote rigging, without the approval of the Supreme Leader? That theory makes sense. Ahmadinejad's supporters would have both the means and the motive.

I haven't yet heard the conspiracy theory that the United States and/or Israel were behind the election results. Both countries would have the motives to destabilize Iran by making the election appear rigged. And Israel would have a better justification for military action if Ahmadinejad remains in power. But I doubt either Israel or the U.S. has the means to rig an Iranian election.

The Supreme Leader has ordered his cronies to look into the allegations of election fraud. Most cynics would conclude that this is just a trick to appease the masses. The obvious play here would be to appear concerned about the feelings of the voters, pretend to look into it for several months then conclude that everything was just fine. By then the outrage will have subsided and people will have acclimated to their unsatisfying situation.

But I am going to make a prediction. I think the Supreme Leader will report to his people in a few weeks that the election was rigged by supporters of Ahmadinejad, without the President's knowledge. And the election will be held again. And I predict you will also hear allegations of meddling by outside powers, meaning the U.S. and Israel, but those suspicions will not be supported by evidence.
Here's a funny video you might enjoy, from the creator of Pearls Before Swine, Stephan Pastis. He's raising the bar on what cartoonists need to do to promote their books.

If you have stairs in your home, you probably do what I do, namely leave little piles of crap at the bottom of the stairs that needs to go upstairs on your next trip. I hate those little piles. But I hate making trips upstairs for trivial reasons too.

In the house that we're building now we'll have little cubby holes in the walls near the top and bottom of the stairs - call them niches if you must, to hold the crap that needs to travel on the next trip. It won't look attractive, but it will get our stuff off the floor and tucked out of the way, and that's a start. This is more important than it seems because our dog thinks anything left on the floor for more than five seconds is a legitimate chew toy.

My other de-cluttering idea is what I call the Toy Jail. It's a closet beneath the stairs where I plan to toss anything found downstairs that doesn't belong there. In any given day the family drags in many pounds of miscellaneous stuff that is, for one reason or another, too valuable to discard, and too worthless to have its own space in the house. Generally your home has no established storage area for miscellaneous, odd-shaped, crapinalia. In our new home, that sort of thing will find a final resting place in the Toy Jail, along with any toy that should have been put away and wasn't. When the Toy Jail gets full, we'll probably have to move.

I am often amused at the features that big developers leave out of their homes. Our current home is a townhouse designed by one of the biggest names in the industry. When I want to sweep up some crumbs in the kitchen, I have to walk down two flights of stairs to the garage to get the broom. There is literally no place nearer to the kitchen to store it. I have to think the builder knew there was no broom closet in the design of the townhouse, but they also knew you wouldn't notice it was missing until after you moved in. It's diabolical. Our new house will have a broom closet in the kitchen.

All of this gets me to my point: Where's my frickin' checklist?

When you buy, rent, or build a new home, wouldn't it be good to have a checklist of features that a house could possibly have, so you could compare it to what you will actually get? And when you build a home, wouldn't you want to know about all the potential features that are relatively inexpensive if you think of them during the design stage?

Where's my checklist?
One of my mental hobbies is concocting hypotheses that I hope someone else will test. Today's hypothesis involves the health benefits of pet ownership.

It is common wisdom that owning a pet makes you healthier.  Interestingly, the group that does NOT get health benefits from pet ownership is older people "in a community," according to one study.

My hypothesis is that the reason younger people get health benefits from pets, while old people "in a community" do not, is that the younger people spend more time outdoors walking their dogs, gaining both cardio benefit and exposure to sun which generates vitamin D. Old people let someone else walk the dog, or they have a doggy door, or they simply own a cat.

Interestingly, vitamin D confers similar health benefits as pet ownership, and most people don't get enough of it. Is it just a coincidence?

One way to test, albeit not conclusively, the reason pet owners are healthier than non-owners is to see if cat owners get the same health benefits as dog owners. My hypothesis is that cat owners get less sunlight, and less cardio, because you typically don't walk a cat.

Some of the health differences, if any, might be because dog owners are hardier people than cat owners to begin with. If you're not too healthy, and want a pet, you get a cat before you get a dog. So that would have to be factored in.

All I know for sure is that since I got my first dog, I'm getting all sorts of sun exposure that I wouldn't normally get, in small doses throughout the day. And I also get about an hour of walking per day, cumulative, that I wouldn't otherwise get. My cats give me none of those potential benefits.

So the testable hypothesis is that most of the health benefits of pet ownership are associated with dog owners, not cat owners, and the reason has to do with the walking of the dog more than the emotional bonding, although the latter might have some health benefits too.

This hypothesis came to me because I was wondering why my asthma was so much worse this spring. My particular brand of asthma is allergy induced, and I am spending far more time outdoors in the pollen than I ever did because of my dog. So chalk that up on the negative side.
What do these crises have in common:

Economic crisis
Water shortages
Global warming

Okay, they probably have lots of things in common. But the answer I was looking for is "food."

Imagine for a minute that everyone in the United States stopped overeating and became vegetarians, perhaps with some fish thrown in the mix for protein and Omega-3. We all know that situation can never happen, so this is just a thought experiment.

Healthy eating would have a huge impact on healthcare costs. It would be partially offset by people living longer, but I have to think multiple sports injuries cost less than one heart bypass operation. And I read somewhere that 40% of mortgage foreclosures are caused by health problems. (Anyone have a link for that?) So in the short run, until the world is overrun by 200-year old marathoners collecting Social Security, the economy would be better off if people ate right. And that would free up money to insure the uninsured.

Now imagine that cattle are taken out of the food chain. Suddenly you don't need to cut down the rain forests to create new pastures, and the cost of food would drop because veggies are much cheaper than cows. Preserving trees would help the environment, which is also good for the economy. Beef suppliers wouldn't be too happy about this situation, so that is one offset to consider. But your food bill would be substantially lower.

Two-thirds of the world's fresh water supply goes to agriculture, and some sources claim that half of that water is wasted because of inefficient irrigation methods. Once again, food is the culprit. If we irrigated more efficiently we'd have plenty of water.

Now consider how much energy is expended in the pursuit of food. The typical American eats twice as many calories as needed. And most families are making multiple car trips to the grocery store, or to get take-out, every week. If we cut our calories in half, we could enjoy more leftovers and reduce all the driving we do for food. Plus we'd weigh less, so our cars would use less fuel hauling us around.

Therefore, food-related inefficiency is a big contributor to most other crises. Unfortunately, food is somewhat sacred, so political solutions around food are not practical. And our cigarette-smoking President isn't in a position to tell people they should eat less. So don't expect anything to change.
I just invented a new holiday. It's called Negative Christmas. On this day, rather than giving gifts, you can force a family member or friend to discard one item that he or she already owns. The selected item might be a hideous shirt that you consider an abomination, or that pair of bedroom slippers that are an insult to all footwear. The idea is that the unrecipient should be better off without the item you ungift.

For example, let's say you have a single friend who has a collection of Star Wars memorabilia and also complains that he can't get a woman to stay the night. You could help by making him give away the full-sized wookie that he keeps next to his dresser. When the next Negative Christmas rolls around you could go after the collection of light sabers he keeps over his mantle. It might take you a few years to make any difference in his love life, but think of it as a project.

For real Christmas, people often give gifts of clothing or accessories so the recipient will look attractive. For Negative Christmas you could pay a crazy guy with tattoos to punch your friend in his soft tissue every time he eats a Big Mac or skips going to the gym. In the long run it will help your friend more than a new necktie.

During Negative Christmas there will be no need for vacuous greeting cards or festive salutations. For the entire month leading up to Negative Christmas you are expected to avoid eye contact and mumble insults about everyone you encounter. Ask yourself what would make you happier: 1. Getting a cheap greeting card or, 2. Calling someone a trout-faced bastard under your breath.

Negative Christmas would be every June 25th, on the opposite side of the calendar from Christmas. You would celebrate by planting a tree instead of killing one, and saving your money for yourself instead of blowing it on worthless crap for others.

Who's with me?
Even ugly rock stars have groupies. Kid Rock comes to mind. It's the same with famous actors and powerful politicians. The usual explanation for this phenomenon is that evolution predisposes women to seek alpha males who can produce excellent children and then protect them.

But that doesn't explain the occasional ugly guy with no job, and no ambition, who has inexplicable success with women. My hypothesis is that the common factor is a lack of fear. When women see a man who is apparently not afraid, in a situation where most people would be, that triggers the "must have your child" reaction.

If I asked you what a rock star and a cop have in common, you might say they both have power, and that is the part that attracts women. But how do you explain the appeal of firemen? Fire fighters aren't particularly powerful in society, yet they are like catnip to women. I think it has to do with their lack of fear.

Likewise, while the appeal of "bad boys" might have something to do with the fact that elevated testosterone levels are implicated in both bad behavior and sexual attraction, bad boys are also relatively unafraid of consequences. I think that is part of it.

To trigger sex appeal, being unafraid isn't limited to physical risks. Rock stars and business executives perform in front of crowds and risk only embarrassment and financial consequences. My hypothesis is that any man who has a high tolerance for risk of any sort is naturally attractive to women.

Lack of fear should not be confused with confidence. A man who is confident about things unimportant, such as his rightness of opinion, isn't exhibiting a lack of fear. Confidence only attracts women when it is applied to situations where real risk is involved.

You might wonder why evolution would favor those who take risks. Risk takers tend to die young. But when they don't die, they accomplish more for the tribe than all the cautious people combined. So I can see why nature encourages risk.

This hypothesis seems quite testable.
If you're familiar with Star Trek, you know that a young Star Fleet cadet named James T. Kirk had an innovative approach to a training exercise that no one had ever beaten. (I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that most Dilbert Blog readers are familiar with Star Trek.)

That Star Fleet training exercise essentially asked young Kirk, "What would you do if this happened to you?" In my post from earlier this week, I asked readers if it was moral to kill a guy who was 99% likely to kill you in a year. The most common response was something along the lines of "You can't calculate the odds of that sort of thing."

This is a fascinating response, and it's the sort of response I often get when asking a hypothetical question on any topic. It leaves me wondering if the person is unclear on the concept of hypothetical questions, or if he's pulling a James T. Kirk maneuver to avoid exposing some flaw in his reasoning.

Do any of you James T. Kirks want to try answering the hypothetical question again, this time without cheating?

If it makes it easier, I will stipulate that in the real world, people are notoriously bad at predicting the future. You could never have 99% certainty that some guy was going to kill you within a year. But in a hypothetical world where you COULD know that the odds were 99%, is it moral to kill that guy in order to probably save yourself?

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