There are three types of problems. A simple problem, such as following a recipe, might require some knowledge or mastery of certain techniques, but generally carries with it a high assurance of success. Complicated problems, like sending a rocket into space, while not being as easy to master, can still be broken down into many simple problems. Once one addresses issues of coordination and scale, they, too, are likely to succeed upon repetition. In contrast, complex problems, such as raising a child, depend on multiple interconnected relationships, making each instance unique. Losing weight, it would appear, is a complex problem. While there are certain immutable principles, such as calories in < calories out, what works for some may not work for others. Having said that, now that I’ve figured out what works for me, I’d like to share it with the world in case anyone happens to be in a similar predicament.
Last Friday I loaded the Oru Kayak onto my bike in the morning for only the second time and headed out to work. It was to be my first round trip kayak commute. Given the tricky logistics of a one-way kayak commute, I was very much looking forward to getting in some more paddling without having to carry the kayak half a mile into my office first. Predictably, the process of setting up and dismantling the boat in Manhattan always attracts a crowd of curious onlookers with myriad questions. I’ve also gotten quite a few questions from friends and colleagues both online and in real life. Here are some answers to the most frequently asked questions I’ve received.
In the previous post, I described the genesis of the idea of a kayak commute and some of the initial steps taken towards bringing that idea to reality. I acquired an Oru folding kayak, went out on a guided trip across the Hudson, and honed my kayaking skills with family and friends. The foundation had been laid for me to complete my first solo kayak trip across the Hudson as part of my daily commute.
I don’t often get to take the long way to work given my school drop-off responsibilities. But there I was, on a bright and crisp morning during Spring Break week, crossing the GW bridge with one colleague and on my way to pick up another colleague for a joint bike commute. Looking out over the Hudson, I thought about how great it would be to cross the river without having to come all the way uptown first. There must be a way.
I didn’t start bike commuting purely for fitness and weight loss purposes, but it was certainly a very big plus. As I wrote in my previous post, the 100+ mile per week commute from Riverdale helped me lose weight pretty much no matter what I was eating, but just a few months after moving to the city (and after a very harsh winter that didn’t allow for much riding) my cycling mileage shrank dramatically and I regained all that weight. I had resolved to get back on the path to good health and fitness.
About a year ago I wrote about how cycling to work every day from Riverdale helped me lose about 12 lbs and achieve much better overall fitness. Back then and over the ensuing summer, I averaged over 100 miles per week cycling. With a minimum round-trip length of 22 miles (and occasionally taking longer routes of over 20 miles one-way) plus frequent weekend riding, I was burning calories and shedding pounds with ease. No matter what I ate, it seemed, I was still burning far more than I was consuming. But at the end of that summer, when we moved to the City, …
I just listened to a fascinating (as always) Freakonomics podcast about a concept developed by Economics Professor Daniel Klein called Rinkonomics. On an ice skating rink, a few simple rules (everyone skating in the same general direction, no cell phones allowed, etc.) suffice to keep everyone relatively happy and safe. Given the lack of central control and direction, someone unfamiliar with a rink might think that collisions would be extremely common. In fact, as I can attest from recent experience, collisions are very rare and the most common type of injury is self-inflicted and involves only one skater.
Klein goes on to make the case for the rink as an analogy for economic life in general, and against central planning. However, I was most struck by the following quote explaining why the rink functions as it does:
An important quality of collision is mutuality. If I collide with you, then you collide with me. And if I don’t collide with you, you don’t collide with me. In promoting my interest in avoiding collision with you, I also promote your interest in avoiding collision with me.
Therein lies the key to understanding, and potentially solving, one of the biggest public health crises (and undoubtedly the biggest public health crisis facing children) of our era.