Workout Change

I am changing my workout.

For the past 13 months–and off and on in the 9 years before that–my weightlifting routine was a single set of up to 12 repetitions on each of about 8 machines. I then repeated that circuit three times.

It has served me fairly well. Between summer 2005 and now–the time period where I have been most serious–I have made great improvements. For example, I have doubled my capabilities on the machine where you press your extended arms together (fly).

My routine concentrated on the upper body with the lower body left for improvements through jogging.

This routine has two problems:

  1. I haven’t regularly jogged in over 2 years.
  2. Multiple circuit training is not beneficial.

That’s right: the crux of my routine, which is where I repeat the circuit thrice, isn’t doing me any good. The Mayo Clinic has an article about a 1998 study that found that you should just do one workout per machine. As long as the weights are sufficient that you fatigue by the 12th repetition, you get the maximum benefit.

Starting tomorrow, I am taking that advice. That will leave me more time to do multiple machines, so I will start a full body workout.

Latest Spin On Roadway Safety

In the past few days, the nanny-state, safety-theater goons have influenced the newspapers with creative spin on recent road safety statistics. The headlines alert us that that roadway deaths are at their highest levels in 15 years, implying we have dangerous highways that need urgent solutions!

That is hogwash.

It is true that highway deaths increased 1.4% in 2005, the most recent available year. If I left it at that, you might believe that we’re reversing decades-old safety trends. Here’s why that is a faulty conclusion.

Cannot Ignore Exposure

If you spend 1 hour in 0 degree weather, you have a higher chance of suffering hypothermia than if you spend 1 minute in it. Increased exposure to cold increases your likelihood of hypothermia. Likewise, if you drive 100 miles each day, you have a higher likelihood of being involved in a crash than if you drive 1 mile. Your increased mileage exposed you to more risk.

Aggregate that to a national scale: if all the drivers in a nation drive more miles each year, then the nation as a whole have experience more deaths, not because each driver is more dangerous, but because the nation has increased its exposure to risk.

The total death count by itself does not shed much light on the total safety picture. You must to scale the death count by risk exposure–miles driven.

Go back to that hypothermia example. Suppose we do a larger experiment. On day 1, 10 people go outside for 1 hour in the 0 degree weather, and one person gets hypothermia. You might infer that each individual has a 10% chance of getting hypothermia.

Suppose we repeat the same experiment with 50 people, and 4 people get hypothermia. The chance of any individual getting hypothermia decreased by 20%! How could that be? Didn’t hypothermia cases quadruple? In fact, the risk–that is, the number of people in the cold–increased fivefold. That is a much larger increase than the increase in actual cases of hypothermia.

Similarly, if risk–miles driven–increases more rapidly than total deaths, then your roads are actually safer, despite the increased death count, because the chance of any individual dying on the road is decreasing!

The Nitty Gritty

From 1995 through 2005, the number of vehicle miles driven annually (VMT) has risen by an average 2.1%. However, over that same time period, the total death count has risen by an annual 0.6%. This suggests that the death rate is decreasing. Our highways have been getting safer despite the increased death count! Here is a chart comparing deaths to vehicle miles traveled since 1966, with trend lines to show the long-term trends:

Clearly, the VMT count is rising much more quickly than the death count.

From 1995 through 2005, the death rate decreased by an average of 1.5% per year. It decreased every year except for 2005. Is 2005’s number alarming? I say no.

In 1995, the death rate was 1.73 deaths per hundred million miles traveled. In 2005, the death rate was 1.47. That’s a 15% decrease!

Digging a little further into the statistics shows a smoking gun.

Blame Motorcyclists

The yearly death count for motorcyclists has skyrocketed. In fact, on average, motorcyclist deaths have increased about 40 times faster than passenger vehicles every year from 1997 through 2005. Here’s a chart:

What’s going on? Two things: there are many more motorcycles on the roads than before, and most states’ helmet laws have been repealed in the past 10 years. Today, only 20 states have full motorcycle helmet laws.

What would happen if motorcycle death increases equaled instead of grossly outpaced passenger vehicle death count increases? Here’s how the numbers would change if we used an adjusted death count:

  • The adjusted 2005 death rate would be only 1.39, which would mean a one third increase in the death rate reduction from 2005.
  • The adjusted 2005 death rate would only be 0.1% higher than the adjusted 2004 rate.


Road safety nanny state types nostalgically look back on the days of the old national 55 mph limit. Look at this chart, showing actual death rates against time:

Notice how roads today are substantially safer today than in ’74, when the 55 mph limit started? (This is a separate point deserving more research, but also notice how the death rate flattened–didn’t meaningfully improve–in the 8 years following the 55 mph limit and actually turned back the excellent safety improvement record from 1966-1973? Is this causation or correlation?)

Also note how we are starting to hit against the law of diminishing returns: the closer the death rate gets to 0, the more difficult it becomes to further reduce the rate using the same techniques.

Lesson Learned?

While there was a setback in traffic safety in 2005, it was miniscule, and its is likely to be mostly correlated with motorcycle deaths.

No deaths are good deaths. Ideally, no traffic deaths should happen. But painting a picture of doom and gloom with silly statements that castigate all drivers focuses energies on unproductive measures like low speed limits.

Data Sources

My data came from two NHTSA sources: the Fatality Analysis Reporting System and Traffic Safety Facts 1997. Here’s the spreadsheet where I crunched my data.

My childhood kitties

This is a late-’80s picture me holding my favorite cat of all times:

(Yes, I remember that sweater.) His name was Nicholas Pennington, but we called him “kitty.” My dad called him “Kitty Lickins’.” He was a huge, white, long-haired cat with coarse hair. You could see some very faint orangish tabby markings on his forehead.

We got him in Van, TX in 1985 or 1986 when a church member called us about a white, friendly cat that took residence in his tree. We drove over in our ’77 Oldsmobile with some kind of food, and he came straight to us. That was a good sign, a friendly, people-oriented cat. He may have wandered away from someone else’s house. We immediately took him to the Van Veterinary Clinic, where the vet pronounced him healthy and about 6 months old.

Did I say he was huge? I think he was around 15 lbs. He loved being held. When I used to type on the computer, he would jump on my lap and lay down, slowly cutting off circulation to my legs. When anyone would read a newspaper on the floor, he would lay down on the paper.

He succumbed to some wasting disease in 1998, probably at 12 or 13 years old. Over the course of about 3 months, he wasted until he was too gaunt to get up. My father, the family Pet Executioner, had him put down that June.

This is Micah holding our other cat:

Her name was Sophia Ludmilla (Russian-themed name since my mother had a Russian pen pal at the time). She was a calico mutt of some sort with patches of nice jet black hair, and she never got all that big. Since the other cat was named “Kitty,” and since this one was small, we called her “Widdy.” I guess that was a “small-ish” name? My dad called her “Widdy Lickins’.”

My mother got her in 1986 or 1987 from a litter of kittens at a house in Groves.

This cat had a weird, schizoid personality: she hid all day long and would only come out at night for certain people. In the above picture, she is spooked because someone is giving her attention during the daytime. I think part of her problem was that she was not well socialized as a kitten. Another problem is Micah and I weren’t particularly nice to her early on. I think we played football with her once in the Groves parsonage living room, with her being the ball. Plus she didn’t take well to Skeeter, our sheltie dog, which we may have encouraged to “play” with the cats from time to time.

When she voluntarily came out, she was extraordinarily affectionate. Female cats give the allusion of affection because of the “presentation” instinct when you rub just in front of their tail, but, I assure you, she was on a different level. She was so happy to get affection–on her terms–that she couldn’t stay still. She walked to and fro while you petted her, wrapped her body around your hand or torso, etc.

There was one exception to her skittishness: she loved my paternal grandfather. She would approach him at almost any time, day or night. All we could guess is he had some scent that pleased her?

She died of the same wasting disease that the other cat got. I think that the family Pet Executioner had her put down shortly after I left for my senior year in fall 1998.

Leadership: where am I going?

I recently ended up in three leadership positions.

As of May, I am the lead for the ITS Web Technologies Team at SMU. This means I coordinate a 3 person team (including me) that maintains most technical aspects of SMU’s core multipurpose web servers, including our main server,

My shirt reads FUTURE PRESIDENT.

In April, I was elected president of the Lake Park Estates Neighborhood Association. This is a “close enough” fulfillment of an ambition to be elected into some public office before I turn 30. I’ve apparently had this ambition since I was 3; see the “FUTURE PRESIDENT” on my shirt.

Learning how to communicate to neighbors is interesting and fun. I’ve already taken one controversial stand on a very sensitive local issue, and I’ve come out unscathed–and may have even converted a couple of people.

In early 2006, I became a Assistant District Commissioner in the White Rock District of the Circle Ten Council of the Boy Scouts of America. (That’s a mouthful!) I help guide a small staff of Unit Commissioners in addition to being a Unit Commissioner myself for a couple of units.

Back up three paragraphs. Why do I want to be in an elected position?

Part of it comes from youth leadership experiences in Boy Scouts and Order of the Arrow. From that, and from the leadership training I received (such as JLTC), I learned that any idiot can be a good leader as long as he has a plan and knows how to motivate others. (“Idiot” unambiguously proves my qualifications!)

Fuzzy picture of me at the HOBY conference in 1993.

Part of it stems from an idealism partly instilled by a Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership (HOBY) conference I attended as a high school sophomore. (I was floored when I found out my school chose me to go; I figured it would have gone to a “popular” kid.) That conference helped me understand that it is possible for me to do good and be a model elected representative.

Part of it derives from my general interest in politics. I was fascinated by my high school government course. Well before that, I discovered the world of radio political broadcasters. Yes, I was even a Dittohead for a while. (I outgrew Rush once I went to college.)

Finally, part of it comes from a desire to leave the world a better place than I found it. I see corruption, ineffectiveness, and wrong-headedness all the time, and I know there’s no excuse. I know I can do things differently and better.

But the real question is twofold: 1. am I qualified leader, and 2. can I do it?

Am I a qualified leader?

Me (2nd from left) with U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman (R), who I was able to get to speak to the Teenage Republicans group at Clear Brook High School in the 1994-1995 school year. From left to right: Mark Gandin, Aren Cambre, Steve Stockman, Lisa Fox, Chris Bensch.

I was developing effective leadership skills before college. Not being especially popular, I never was elected president of much of anything, nor did I bother with student council. However, I still managed to create an impressive academic resume. Some highlights include that I was a founder of a short-lived Teenage Republicans group; I innovated a radical, new slideshow format for my annual high school band banquet (we did it all on VHS tape instead of with a projector); and I gained excellent access to school administrators through doing special projects or fixing their computers. Even the Computer Applications teacher was asking my guidance on how to run his class! I had a lot of success with leadership in Boy Scouts–at one point, I was even telling the Scoutmaster what to do–and I did a decent job with leadership-related tasks in other areas.

Something happened in college. I lost my edge. Completely. I did a future leader mentoring program through SMU’s Leadership Consulting Council my freshman year. This was a good experience, but it didn’t gel. The only real leadership positions I held were in APO, and even then, I didn’t do a fantastic job. Even the APO chapter president thought I was a crack whore! (There’s more to it than that. You’ll have to ask me in person.)

Looking back, the only partial regret about my SMU experience, leadership-wise, was that I spent too much time in the time-sapping SMU Mustang Band. I liked playing music, and I tolerated marching. However, I am not a party animal, I don’t drink (never have, still don’t), and I am not excited about spectator sports, so I was not a good cultural fit. I finally dropped band my senior year, but that was too late to get deeply involved in other organizations. I probably should have spent more time trying to get into areas where I can utilize my leadership like Student Senate. Speaking of, I technically got elected into the Student Senate 1-2 years after I graduated! I asked several people write me in while I was working on my Master’s degree. Interest was so low that I actually qualified to be an Engineering Senator. Unfortunately, only full time students may serve on the Student Senate, so they had to pass me up for the next person. I wouldn’t have had the time to do that, anyway.

After college, my leadership record has been mixed. I got involved in Boy Scouts again as a Chartered Organization Representative with a troop that wasn’t running well. I had limited success in getting things turned around, but in hindsight I see that I did not manage conflict very well. However, since then, I have had a better record with the Commissioners’ Staff, involvement in my neighborhood association and church, work, and other small successes.

I think I am getting my edge back, but does this mean things turning around? Time will tell.

Can I do it?

Will I someday seek a “real” elected position? The more I think about it, the less I am sure. I value that my current employment doesn’t occupy my entire life. I have a good amount of quality hours off the job. I know lots of people for whom that isn’t the case, be it because of lengthy commutes, long work hours, fear of taking vacation time, excessive job duties, etc.

Many elected positions occupy your entire life. Take the Texas Legislature, for example. Even though it only has regular sessions once every other year, the legislators live in Austin for around 5 consecutive months during the session, only returning for the weekends. That’s 5 months of separation from one’s family and home. Even officials elected to local offices seem to find their lives consumed with job responsibilities. That isn’t appealing, and it becomes even less appealing now that I have a family.

One thing is sure: I must finish my doctorate, and I don’t see that happening until the of 2007 at the very earliest, if I am lucky! I am carefully limiting my commitments because I do not want to jeopardize that degree. If I screw up this doctorate, I will regret it forever.

I leave you with a parting thought, just in case I end up in a position of authority:

Long lost song, recovered after two decades

Back when I lived in Groves, the local Putt Putt Golf would reward students’ good grades with game tokens. My report cards would usually net me enough tokens for around 30 minutes of video games.

I think this place was on 39th St., just west of TX 73. If that’s correct, current aerial maps suggest the place has been razed and replaced.

I remember one really enjoyable game. To get to it, you would take a right after entering the facility and find the rightmost video game machine perched in front of a balcony.

On that game, I would pilot some car through a course where you would jump between platforms while the scenery moves from right to left. It was as if you are looking at the passenger side of a moving car that was maneuvering through all sorts of erector sets.

I don’t remember the game’s name, but I remember that I liked its song. At the time, I thought it was a classical song, although I didn’t know what it was.

Fast forward around 20 years: on today’s A Prairie Home Companion summer break rebroadcast, I knew the first song, although I couldn’t put my finger on it. After a few seconds, I realized that it revived the 20 year old memory of the long lost video game song! You can listen to the song here.

This song is Pipeline, a 1962 surf rock song by the one-hit-wonder group The Chantays. I’ve been looking for that song for years, but could never find it because I didn’t remember how to describe it. It’s amazing that I never got exposed to that landmark song in those 20 years.