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Monthly Archives: April 2013

By Tom Demerly.

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An assortment of delightful Kent handmade combs.

There is a saying that class is not distinguished by income. The recession proves this. And while I’d like to be reviewing private First Class cabins on an Emirates A380 on my way to race the Dubai Triathlon, that’s not in the cards right now. So in today’s economy we must turn to the little details of everyday life to experience sublime indulgence into ultimate quality.

G.B. Kent & Sons Ltd. has been making hair combs, brushes and even handmade, natural fiber toothbrushes since 1777. They are not the oldest continuously operating company in the world. That distinction likely belongs to writing instrument brand Faber-Castell who started in 1730. That said, few companies can lay claim to a 236 year history. Like larger companies of its time G.B. Kent & Sons Ltd. enjoyed an early endorsement from the aristocracy of the era. This underwrote their status as an aspirational brand before the term was invented. G.B. Kent & Sons Ltd., now simply called “Kent”, went on to win defense contracts and make combs for the soldiers’ personal kit in WWI. Kent even manufactured special toothbrushes with entirely wooden handles (no animal product) for use by Indian troops whose religion prohibited the use of animal products. The company shows an astonishing 250 varieties of brushes alone, plus other personal care items. Kent made special shaving brushes for intelligence operatives in WWII with hidden maps and compasses for escape and evasion built into the handles.

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A typical “Unbreakable” stamped plastic comb with molded teeth and very pointed ends that tends to pull fine hair and scratch the scalp.

Most standard combs are completely injection molded. The plastic is shot into a die in molten form, cools and the combs pop out of the mold. It is a fast, convenient process but most comb molds are worn from making tens of millions of combs and a completely molded comb has rounded surfaces between the teeth of the comb and pointed teeth. There is also a mold parting line on the comb that does not move over hair smoothly.

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The precision, saw cut teeth of a Kent comb move smoothly through your hair because of their flat (not rounded) inner surface. Notice the precisely rounded, hand finished tips on each of the teeth.

A Kent comb uses saw cut, not injection molded, teeth. The internal surface of the teeth are flat making the comb move through your hair more smoothly without binding or pulling. Because the interval between the teeth of the comb is much more precise than with a molded comb, the hair is arranged more symmetrically also, making your hair appear fuller and more attractive. Kent combs are also made from dense and consistently pliable but stiff cellulose acetate, not polystyrene plastic. This material has an extremely glossy outer hand finish that also glides over hair more easily and without snags.

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The hand made, saw cut teeth on a Kent comb glide through your hair without binding. The rounded tips on the teeth also feel comfortable on the scalp.

Another important feature to the Kent comb design is the tips of the teeth. These are individually hand shaped after the hand saw cutting process. This point-rounded shaping of the tips of the combs prevents the comb from scratching your scalp. Instead, it produces a pleasing sensation that Kent claims stimulates oil production on the scalp to make your hair shinier. I can tell you a Kent comb moves through your hair much more smoothly without snagging and is very comfortable, pleasant even, against your scalp.

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Kent’s model 5T combines fine and course hand cut teeth with their hand finish tips and their beautiful tortoiseshell finish. This large comb is a perfect bathroom comb.

Kent makes an incredible variety of combs you can view on their website. They include conventional pocket varieties, full size valet combs and their novel, folding 82T model which hinges into its own cover like a pocket knife. Because of the special materials the combs are hand-made from they feel heavier in hand, making handling more tactile and controllable. All of the models seem to pull through wet hair, even my fine hair when wet, easily and smoothly.

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Kent’s unique model 82T is difficult to find in the U.S. but worth searching for since it is a delightful travel companion.

I first learned about Kent combs from a magazine article years ago. I found the brand for sale in a small specialty shop in Christiansted on the island of St. Croix when I was there for diving and the St. Croix 70.3 triathlon. The combs range in price from $7 USD to about $12 USD for the specialty folding comb. Each comb comes in individual clear packaging with a brief history of the product on the back of the package in five languages, a nod to Kent’s international appeal. You can buy Kent combs directly from their website at Kent Brushes and from Amazon.com along with the rest of their handmade brushes.

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Kent’s luxurious line of women’s brushes with satin wood handles and beautiful handmade boxes are an opulent luxury if you enjoy brushing a girl’s hair as a special way to spoil her. The LHS5 is entirely handmade using Indian bristles. It comes in a blonde version that is a beautiful match to many shades of blonde hair. It is also sold in black bristles at about $260 USD.  Kent makes men’s brushes such as the MC4 using cherry wood bases without handles at around $68 USD. There is a smaller polymer center handle version with molded teeth for use with shampoo while showering at less than $10 USD.  I’ve even used their 14T model comb on my long-haired cat since the hand-rounded teeth tips feel good against her skin and the precision teeth do not pull her long hair.

Kent combs and brushes are worth seeking out. They are an affordable no-compromise tribute to making something commonly taken for granted as beautifully and carefully as can be. Using a Kent comb does more than just arrange your hair. It is a reminder that in ever endeavor the pursuit of the very best has advantages, even if they are small ones in everyday practice.

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03:19 Hr.s Local. 35,000 feet, B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber “Spirit of Arizona”, 15 miles west of Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, North Korea.

The B-2 Spirit stealth bomber is nearly invisible to radar. But not bullets.

Pulling off target after a massive precision strike on the North Korean nuclear weapons development facility at Yongbyon, North Korea, B-2 Spirit number 82-1067, the “Spirit of Arizona” was leaving the target area at medium altitude and high speed. The aircraft was configured for minimum radar and signals observability with all lights retracted and emissions restricted. Spirit of Arizona was one of three B-2’s that leveled the nuclear research facility in a massive conventional bombing raid, the largest of the New Korean War so far. While it would take a few hours to collect bomb damage assessment data the satellite images would show the raid was a complete success, with the entire research facility, storage areas and the reactors themselves being completely devastated in a hail of precision guided 2000 lb bombs.

Now all the crew of Spirit of Arizona had to do was get themselves and their nearly invisible, completely defenseless, two billion dollar aircraft out of the most heavily defended airspace in the world and back to Diego Garcia.

03:22 Hr.s Local. 37,800 feet, North Korean MiG-29 Fulcrum, 28 miles southwest of Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, North Korea.

Sojwa (Major) Kim Si Gwok had more hours in MiG-29 Fulcrums than every other North Korean fighter pilot except for two. He did have the most time flying the Fulcrum using night vision goggles, a particular distinction considering the North Korean Air Force did not have enough night vision goggles compatible with the MiG-29 for all the aircraft they owned. That distinction put Maj. Gwok on CAP (Combat Air Patrol) in his MiG-29 tonight over the critically strategic target of Yongbyon as part of the air defense for the facility. That the American stealth bombers had already gotten through to hit the nuclear facility was a major failure for the North Koreans.

Maj. Gwok knew Yongbyon had been hit within the last few minutes, likely by cruise missiles or American stealth bombers. Gwok couldn’t do much about the cruise missiles. He read about British Spitfire pilots in WWII who had defeated the first cruise missile, the German V-1, by flying next to them and flipping them over with their wingtip. That would be impossible with the low altitude American Tomahawks. But, if there were stealth bombers in the area that he may be able to shoot down, he was going to try to find them. As a lifelong combat pilot he felt he had a sense of what the enemy’s egress route from the target might be, the shortest distance to the coast.  So that was where he went looking for the “invisible” American stealth bombers.

In March 1999 the Yugoslavians used a combination of ground based observers and expert search radar operators to shoot down an F-117 stealth fighter. It was a lucky shot, a golden BB, and it proved stealth wasn’t invulnerable. Major Gwok knew this. He knew that, other than stealth, the American batwing bombers were defenseless. If he could see one, he could shoot it down.

03:28 Hr.s Local. 35,000 feet, B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber “Spirit of Arizona”, 41 miles west of Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, North Korea.

Mission Commander, Capt. Bill Myers of Pensacola, Florida and Aircraft Commander, Maj. Dave Evans of Boulder, Colorado were getting constant secure updates on the air defense environment through their secure datalinks onboard Spirit of Arizona as she ran toward the coast after hitting Yongbyon. The three strike aircraft followed different egress routes in the very unlikely event an enemy aircraft or air defense crew could somehow visually acquire one of the B-2’s at night. Since the B-2 was a fast, subsonic aircraft, was relatively quiet, painted black to blend with the night sky and operated at altitudes to avoid contrails the chances of an enemy fighter pilot visually acquiring them was almost zero. But not absolute zero. Myers and Evans knew the entire North Korean air defense network would be up looking for them with everything they had. Even with the most sophisticated combat aircraft in history they still had to get out of North Korean airspace without being seen.

Local youth becomes a fighter pilot for a day with 301st FS

03:29 Hr.s Local. 37,700 feet, North Korean MiG-29 Fulcrum, 47 miles southeast of Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, North Korea.

Gwok didn’t really see the American stealth bomber as much as he saw what appeared to be a slit in the night sky. Reflected light from humid air at lower altitudes cast a low, soft glow upward from the ground below. The sky had a gently silver tinge to its black emptiness except for a small sliver of dead black below and to the left of Gwok’s MiG. Not knowing the sensor capabilities of the American stealth bomber, if that is what he saw, Gwok turned gradually to align himself with what he thought was his potential target’s heading. He gently moved the stick forward and, as his MiG closed the distance to the sliver of black the descent also added airspeed. His approach was perfect, high and behind. If he was right, this looked too easy.

03:29 Hr.s Local. 34,000 feet, B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber “Spirit of Arizona”, 51 miles west of Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, North Korea.

Myers and Evans knew they were in deep trouble. AWACs told them over secure, stealthy datalink  communications that there was an enemy aircraft high and behind them. There was a remote chance it could visually acquire them. There was nothing they could do except recheck the low observable settings and the make sure the throttles were firewalled so they could get out of North Korean airspace as quickly and invisibly as possible. If it wasn’t already too late.

03:30 Hr.s Local. 37,700 feet, North Korean MiG-29 Fulcrum, 49 miles southeast of Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, North Korea.

Gwok wasn’t quite sure it was an American stealth bomber at first. Through his visor, the night vision goggles and his canopy the image was ghosted and dark. A black slit in the otherwise pixellated sky. Then two bright rectangles of green bloomed in front of him; the exhaust heat from the B-2’s four engines. Even though they are channeled and louvered to prevent a large infra-red signature from below they still pump out a lot of heat as seen from from above. That heat lit up Major Gwok’s night vision goggles. His fingers flew over his console to unsafe his GSh-30-1 cannon. The instant the safety selector was slewed to “FIRE” his gloved finger clamped down on the trigger at the front of his stick. The 30 millimeter cannon tore off a succession of white-hot shells in a bright line of arcing white dots perforating the night sky. They expanded out in a wide curve and faded. Gwok jinked hard right, largely from instinct but also to avoid overrunning his target or even colliding with it. He didn’t know if he scored a hit. He pulled hard back and right on his stick, describing a tight circle to come around and see if he could spot the black stealth bomber.

As Gwok finished his tight 360-degree turn and rolled wings level he saw something trailing flame through the night sky, cartwheeling straight down toward the earth like a black, burning boomerang.

03:30 Hr.s Local. 34,400 feet, B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber “Spirit of Arizona”, 55 miles southeast of Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, North Korea.

Alarms lit off inside the cockpit. The nose went down and Evans tried to add power and gently pull back but there was no perceivable control response. The aircraft began to shudder, then pivot oddly beneath them. It was falling apart. The G-load increased and the aircraft entered a spin like a boomerang. Evans got one hand between his legs and into the ejection handle as he said, out loud into his mask, “EJECT, EJECT, EJECT!”. Myers never heard him. He may have been fighting the losing battle to save the aircraft, he may have been wounded, he may have been dead. He never made it to the ejector seat handles.

The B-2 spun nearly 180 degrees in the air, nosed down and began to topple like a kite freed of its broken string. The top of the flying wing’s fuselage exploded in a spit of flame as Maj. Dave Evans’ ACES II ejection seat rocketed free. It flipped end over end at first, falling through 15,000 feet until it stabilized somewhat. At 10,000 feet the barometric altimeter automatically released Evans from the seat and his parachute began to deploy. The ejection, like all escapes from a crashing airplane, was violent. The severe vertigo was made worse by the darkness. Evans lost consciousness from the centrifugal force of the seat spinning after his egress from the crashing airplane but came back into a hazy state of alertness once his parachute canopy opened and he was scooting along under it at a steady speed with the prevailing winds. He didn’t know it, but the winds were carrying him toward the west coast of North Korea.

A disadvantage to being a stealthy aircraft is that, when the aircraft goes down, it is very difficult for rescuers to know where to look for the surviving crew, if there are any. Major Dave Evan’s ejector seat was equipped with a ProFIND SLB-2000-100 locator beacon. The beacon is a part of the pilot’s survival kit packed into the seat pan of the ACES II ejector seat. It actuates automatically when the pilot separates and dangles below him as a part of the survival kit package. At 9,500 feet above the ground Evan’s locator beacon began to transmit.

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03:40 Hr.s Local. 45,000 feet AGL, U.S. Air Force E-3G Sentry AWACS Aircraft, 21 miles west of North Korean coast.

Airman 1st Class Stephanie “Stuffy Stef” Monroe, an airborne sensor operator oddly prone to allergies on board an E-3G Sentry off the coast of North Korea, saw something on her monitor she had only seen in training. The flashing icon indicated an incoming emergency locator beacon from a pilot’s survival kit. She keyed her microphone to the on-board mission commander. In less than one minute half of the crew of the E-3G were shifting their workloads to a new priority; rescue one of the most sensitive assets in the U.S. military- a stealth bomber pilot.

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I did my first triathlon in 1984. Since then the sport has obviously changed and grown. As a participant in nearly every capacity of the industry for over 30 years, since before the sport began, I’m fascinated with the trends in triathlon. It’s a part of my job to try to understand where those trends are headed.

Through the first decade of the 2000’s we sold triathlon as the recession-proof, upwardly mobile super-sport. It was a marketer’s dream with the median participants’ income of $126,000 per year (USA Triathlon demographics report, 2008) creating a fresh crop of cycling and multisport super-consumers. Bike brands conducted white-paper slugfests to attract $5000+ “superbike” buyers. New product categories were invented when consumers bought their ways through existing ones. Every domestic Ironman sold out in minutes. Other discretionary consumer categories may have suffered. Not triathlon.

It’s tough to get super accurate demographic numbers over the last two years of triathlon without paying for them. USA Triathlons’ demographic data is becoming somewhat dated. We’ve traditionally pointed to the Kona Bike Count for a sense of athlete buying behavior. That information may be increasingly misleading as it only measures athletes who qualified for Kona or got in through the lottery. Their buying behavior may be altered by their participation in Kona and different from a typical age grouper racing locally, the larger demographic.

Triathlon Business International, an industry think-tank and cooperative founded by Triathlon Hall of Famer Dan Empfield, publisher of Slowtwitch.com, has the data but asks $5,500 for the full report on triathlon participation, spending levels, shopping behavior and brand preference. Empfield is a skilled marketer and knows where and how to collect relevant data so the report is likely worth it to those with deep enough pockets, but in this editorial I am sticking to a few guesses based on observations.

One dictum of trends and passing time is that you can count on change. If triathlon has trended contrary to the economy, almost like a Bear mutual fund, then logic dictates we are in for a contraction of sorts when (if?) the economy rebounds.

Another negative factor is the erosion of profit margins at the high end. An increasing number of local alpha-athletes and hotshots enjoy some version of “sponsorship” that means they don’t pay full margin retail for high end triathlon bikes. At the bike brand level this may not be apparent. It is more apparent at the consumer level where retailers sponsor away high end consumers converting them to deep-discount buyers. If a bike brand only produces 200 units across a size range of a $10,000+ “superbike” but 30 of those are sold at a discounted “pro purchase” price it weighs heavily on the profitability of the remaining 170 units.

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A few factors have acted on the current version of triathlon. The economy is one, contributory media another and the influx of female athletes a third. There are quite a few others. I suggest the amalgamation of these may converge to “normalize” triathlons over this next decade. Participation numbers will still be good, but the $100K+ earning individual will melt into a minority of participants that is more proportionate with the general population. Consumers won’t “compete” to buy $5000+ superbikes in the numbers we’re used to. Instead, they will look for bikes in the $1000-$2500 price point. Their participation in events will shift to local events. Ironman numbers will remain strong and sell-outs will continue, but as the sport grows or stays roughly the same in participation the sustenance will be at the “average athlete” level, not the superbike buying, Ironman-a-year doing super-consumer triathlete.

One of the key priorities of our sport has to become participant retention. One good way to do that is provide frequent and accessible racing opportunities. Randy Step of the Running Fit stores in Michigan introduced a series of short, inexpensive mid-week triathlons that are close to major population centers in Southeastern Michigan, an area ravaged by the recession. Step’s race series is three sprint triathlon events each named after a different dinosaur. The short distance races are held at 6:00 PM on Wednesdays, one in June, July and August. The races start at $64 entry fee, a bargain for a well-run multisport race. Despite the challenging local economy all three races will sell out, and all the previous events have too. Clearly Randy Step has figured something out.

As Randy Step’s race series in recession ravaged Michigan suggests triathlon may enter a period of “democratization”. We’ll see more participation from the fitness enthusiast and charity ride participant, a spin-off of the “cause racing” demographic. People will likely still aspire to Ironman, but they may not feel the need to own a $5000-$10,000 super bike to do it on. The demand for more accessible and less expensive events like Randy Step’s dinosaur series will increase. Along with that will be the demand for new and exciting bike models in that price category.

Historically the triathlon industry has been more reactive than proactive. Randy Step’s races are an exception. It’s possible that brands who position themselves to serve the mid to low price point recreational triathlon consumer now will be the first to reap the benefits and will enjoy them the longest before there is another change in the sport.

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Both sides of the gun violence issue will need to learn to evolve to make progress.

The gun law debate typifies the very worst of our system. Gridlock. Misinformation. Murder and fear. The debate has been shamelessly exploited and distorted by both sides of the issue. Neither side has made progress to a better way. And as the gridlock continues, people die. Our first move to address gun violence has to be compromise by both sides of the argument from their current positions. Until then, nothing will change.

I’m a gun owner and a victim of gun violence. I see both sides of the gun argument in America. I’ve also travelled the world and seen how gun laws work and don’t work from Tanzania to Toronto. I believe there is a better way. This is not it.

The gun lobby has stonewalled. Their doctrine seems to be one of rigidity rather than progression. I’m a gun owner, former military, from a family of gun owners and NRA members. I’m here to tell you that the gun lobby’s lack of willingness to adapt has contributed to the “plight” of the American gun owner and likely even contributed to the proliferation of gun violence. At a minimum the gun lobby’s position hasn’t helped build a constructive future for lawful firearms owners. Instead it has made the divide between NRA and the gun-control lobby wider. That position can’t be sustained. The gun-control lobby has a very well defined target to come after in the current, non-progressive, non-adaptive gun rights lobby.

The gun control lobby is no better. Championed by a vocal populace they have, like the pro-gun crowd, distorted statistics to bolster their argument to such a degree that neither side can be believed. The gun control lobby stonewalls also, believing a finite set of specific new (old?) gun laws will eventually stem the proliferation of gun violence. They might be right. They might not. And abridging current laws is an amputation. Amputations aren’t preventative medicine. The crowd that espouses background checks, mental health checks, “assault” weapon bans and other a la carte legislation are hitting the drive-thru at the fast food legislation restaurant. It’s a shiny, conspicuous quick “fix” that soothes the conscience. As I say, it may work. A little. But to suggest any part of the gun violence problem is dependent on any one factor is foolhardy and short sighted. And to press the agenda of conspicuous legislation against certain classes of weapons and certain purchase processes is equally short sighted.

An editorial in the The New Yorker framed the debate perfectly, albeit unintentionally. Writer Nick Traverse said, “despite popular support” the Senate voted down every gun control measure being considered. He went on to say the two largest publicly traded gun manufacturers in the United States had increased their market capitalization by “552%” since President Obama took office. So, if the majority of Americans support gun control, who bought so many guns that the big gun companies are worth 5.5 times as much as they were our current President was first elected?

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Any front page news photo reinforces how things have changed since our original gun laws were drafted. That change reinforces the arguments of each agenda, meaning the responsibility for moderation rests with compromise, not inaction or stonewalling.

What is the solution?

First, we need to move toward middle ground.

The gun lobby would do well to acknowledge that, when the bulk of our current gun ownership rights were drafted it was illegal for women to vote and legal to keep slaves. In almost every other area of legislation that governs social conduct there has been progression and adaptation. Except gun ownership. Despite the fact that society and weapons technology has changed massively from when the bulk of current gun ownership laws were drafted we haven’t evolved the laws that govern either. If the gun lobby had been more  progressive and proactive about safeguarding weapons ownership and society at large, they wouldn’t be in the legislative bull’s-eye right now. For the gun lobby, acknowledging there is a need for adaptation of gun regulation is a start.

The gun control lobby needs to refocus on being a violence control lobby and not be so “scope-locked” on pushing through ineffectual legislation that only addresses the most sensational and conspicuous aspects of gun violence. When the focus changes from being gun-control/magazine capacity control/assault weapon control/background check control to a more omnipotent review of mental health, education, public safety and law enforcement reform then they will make meaningful progress toward reducing gun violence. Until then they aren’t even grabbing low hanging fruit, they are picking up the rotten fruit that fell from the tree years ago and wasn’t that good then.

There is a lot to gain from being the first group to vault the stone wall. If the NRA proposed changes to legislation that addressed the hotpoints like background checks and mental health verification they would be seen as being progressive and pro-active instead of inflexible and puritanical. If the gun control lobby backed off the agenda of regulating conspicuously sensational weapons in the belief that will somehow have meaningful impact on the bulk of gun violence they would not only appear to be wiser- they would be. If both things happened the acceleration toward a middle ground would begin, and our collective futures, gun owner or not, would become safer.

I don’t pretend to offer the full list of solutions, only a thematic direction. That theme is to adopt change to reduce violence. It took a long time for the problem to become this significant. It is like a complex social cancer that has metastasized a little into every cell. It won’t be cured with an amputation or series of amputations, but by a cooperative, adaptive and regenerative approach with a concern for society rather than specific agendas.

For both the gun control and gun ownership lobby there is one certainty: Neither side can afford to do nothing

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Photo: David Cenciotti, theaviationist.com

The Boston Marathon bombing was a strong example of how news reporting and consumption have changed substantially in the zero-delay era of contributory journalism. The major news networks stuttered, choked and backpedaled. Social media was used to break the story of the second bombing suspect’s capture after one of the most dramatic manhunts in history.

The world first learned about the capture of the second bombing suspect through the Twitter feed of Boston Police Chief  Ed Deveau. CNN, MSNBC, FOX and the other news outlets learned from that tweet at the same time the rest of the world did. No news desk, no editor, no copywriter, no fact checking. By the time the networks ran it everyone with a smartphone already knew it. And accepted it as truth.

Social media played a key role in the Boston Marathon manhunt but also showed ominous signs of a new media that was invented before the rules to best employ it were developed. That’s dangerous. It’s also a common theme in new technology from the atom bomb to genetic engineering. The technology is developed before the rules to best employ it are considered. Then, the rules get made up in a fairly abrasive and hurried process along the way. Whether it is news reporting, weapons proliferation or gene therapy, once the genie is out of the bottle it is impossible to stuff it back in. And inevitably, people get hurt and things get broken along the way to figuring out a better way.

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Immediately following the Boston Marathon bombings posts speculating about suspects, including their photos, began running on social media.

The potential for disaster from empowering the everyman with instant media access became apparent during the Boston manhunt. Photos of men dressed in tactical-looking clothing with shoulder patches and carrying backpacks began circulating as a point of concern. People played fast and loose with whom these men were. The photos were shared again and again referring to the men in them as “persons of interest”. They weren’t. The situation became worse when a ricin-poisoning scare in Washington surfaced and an explosion happened at a fertilizer plant in Texas. It took only minutes for the self-appointed conspiracy theorists to weave together a tale few big fiction writers would have conjured. A photo of a young man with a vaguely “eastern” appearance was circulated as a person of interest. As the hysteria elevated he became so concerned for his safety he stayed in his house. The Internet junior G-men and conspiracy experts began to take on the feel of a lynch mob. Instead of tar and feathers they had Facebook and Twitter.

Each generation has its de-facto media that represents unimpeachable accuracy. As each of those media emerge and evolve “experts” claim the rules have completely changed with that new media. It happened with the invention of the printing press, it happened with radio, it happened with television and it has happened with the Internet and contributory social media.

The truth is, the rules do not change. Shoddy reporting is still shoddy reporting. Speculation is still completely different from recounting verified facts. And like all previous media, if there is simply too much signal traffic it is difficult to gain any real understanding of events until things calm down.

There is an integral way to teach the best employment of social media that lies within the medium itself. Because of its contributory nature, we, as users, can reach some consensus on how to best use social media. Once that consensus is achieved, it is self-proliferated through social media. It becomes a kind of social media moray, the same way common courtesies such as a handshake and saying “thank you” are culturally transmitted, but to an even greater degree since those conventions don’t cross cultures the way social media does. The later underscores the necessity for such a consensus because social media, unlike other norms, is not regional; it’s universal and instantaneous.

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One of the most remarkable posts following the Boston attacks was a photo that surfaced on social media of a group of Syrians holding a banner that said roughly, “this is what we experience every day” on it. It also included a message of condolence for the bombing. At first blush there was an abrasive, mocking tone to the photo, almost as though the suggestion was, “Ha, now you have to deal with terrorism too.” It is a well know dictum that when people read something on the Internet they tend to default to the worst possible interpretation.  But when I read it I thought back to the challenges of communicating quickly across cultures and with new media. The photo had been taken only minutes earlier and showed a big banner that took some time to prepare. I remembered Syrian friends and how they often phrase something. I also remembered that, since I am not as skilled at foreign languages as these men are (I couldn’t write a banner in Arabic and post it on Facebook since my Arabic isn’t good enough) it would be very easy for me to be the “ugly American” and presume their English was perfect and they were being snide. I decided that would not be my interpretation though. Instead I decided the Syrians meant us sincere condolences and also desired empathy for their plight. That shift in perspective completely recalibrated the post for me and, I hope, for others when I shared it.  It was an example of author Stephen Covey’s dictum, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

With these experiences in mind I’ve drafted my own set of editorial reminders for social media. It ‘s by no means the de-facto style guide, but it’s a start point for me. It looks like this:

–       At a minimum, think twice about what you post.

–       At a minimum, think twice about what you read.

–       If you wouldn’t want it said about you, don’t say it about anyone.

–       If you post your opinions, you’ve granted license to tolerate others’.

–       What you post never goes away, even if you delete it.

There are exceptions, and I am not an expert on this, you may feel differently and there may be times when this does not apply, but qualifiers go a long way to make things civil and safer.

Social media may be the most powerful resource of this century. It crosses borders instantly without restriction and grants power previously reserved for only a few. In the Arab Spring the power of social media toppled governments. It has made instant heroes, and villains. More than perhaps any single technology man has developed it has empowered and united us. How we decide to make use of it as it continues to evolve will say a lot about the trajectory of our future.

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I live with two cats, Mia, a beautiful 6-year-old rescue with long, pretty hair, beautiful green eyes and a fluffy tail and MiMi, a 2-year old orange striped wild cat found as a kitten in the desert with one eye hanging out of her head. My cats are constant companions. I watch them. They watch me. Despite a huge gap between my species and theirs we’ve worked out ways to communicate that are quite effective. I’ve learned a lot about life and about myself from seeing how they live. Here is some of what my cats have taught me:

Live in the present.

Cats have smaller brains than us. So they worry less. I watch them enjoy a spot in the sun, good food, a nap. They live for what is happening. If they are having fun, they keep having fun until they are tired, then they lay down. If they are scared, they leave the environment to find someplace safer. Cats do not spend time worrying about their past or their future. Instead, they make their present as good as possible and the rest sorts itself out. While people can’t do that entirely since it would be irresponsible we often worry too much about a future we haven’t built yet and a past we can’t change at the cost of appreciating the present we’re living in now. My cats remind me, live in the present.

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Find amazement in simple things.

I buy my cats toys. They ignore most of them. Their favorite toy is a length of orange parachute cord that was a leftover from something I was making. They’ve been playing with it for two years. Both MiMi and Mia play with this cord like it was the first time they’ve seen it, and like their lives depend on catching it. When they do catch it, they carry it over to a corner, chew on it for a second, then forget it until next time. Then, it is all new again. There is tremendous wisdom to finding wonder in simple things.

Be careful.

Mia likes to jump from one piece of furniture to another. I’ve never seen her miss. Before she jumps she studies the area she is jumping to in detail. If she doubts the landing place is safe or she can make it, she finds another way. She still jumps, but she exercises care and caution in assessing the risk before she jumps. My cats still take chances and have fun, but they understand how far they can jump and aren’t reckless.

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There are no handicaps.

MiMi was found by my friend Billy as a stray kitten wandering in the desert with one eye out of her head from a terrible injury. She was dying. Billy took her to a veterinarian who saved her life and removed her damaged eye. MiMi doesn’t know or care that Mia and I have two eyes and she only has one. She simply uses her one eye for everything, moves her head a little more to compensate for only having one, without even realizing it. She can do anything Mia and I can do, and she is the most loving and kind cat. To her, having one eye is just the way it is. It is neither good nor bad. MiMi knows she can’t change only having one eye, so she lives like she has two and doesn’t let this become a drawback to her.

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If you want something, try to get it, but exercise reasonable caution.

MiMi learned food came from the refrigerator. So, she got in the refrigerator. That makes sense. The problem was I almost didn’t notice her and nearly shut the refrigerator door. It terrified me. I rearranged the food in the refrigerator so she couldn’t jump inside again and told her that wasn’t a good idea because she could accidentally get shut inside. I know (think?) cats don’t understand the complexity of that explanation and it is mostly for me. But since then, she hasn’t done it again.  Instead, when I open the refrigerator, she runs over and sits between the open door and the refrigerator until she gets what she wants. She figured out how to get what she wanted but with minimal exposure to risk. Smart.

Rest.

Cats take frequent rests. I have never seen either of my cats tired. They know when to lay down and stop playing. They never get burned out from chasing their piece of string or watching birds outside the house. Cats know they aren’t effective if they are too tired so they make sure they get adequate rest and they make rest a priority.

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Seek first to understand.

I read this idea in a book by Stephen Covey (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) but didn’t really “own” the knowledge until I watched my cats for a long time. Before they do anything of significance, like walking across a room or chasing something, they study the area long enough to gain a reasonable understanding of it. Then they decide how they will respond. Consequently, they rarely get themselves into bad situations or a situation they can’t get themselves out of.

Sometimes you have to stand your ground.

A strange cat came onto the porch. This was a big event. Mia hissed and growled. MiMi’s tail seemed to get bushier and her fur stood up. There wasn’t a fight, but there was some hissing and low growling and everyone understood quickly they needed to respect each other. Once the visiting cat understood the porch belonged to Mia and MiMi already, the visiting cat went next door. Sometimes the cat comes and visits, but now, it sits a few feet away from the screen and rests there peacefully while Mia and MiMi watch it.

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Embrace good things.

MiMi and Mia have a fake furry blanket that sits in the sun and gets warm. It may be their favorite thing. They sit together on it, roll around, fall asleep, lick each other and get brushed on their warm, fake fur blanket. If I pick it up to clean it they follow me around until I put it back, then they get right back on it to be sure it’s still OK.

Have respect for yourself and take good care of yourself.

Mia is a very typical girly-girl. She gets her hair brushed every day and purrs the whole time. She never over eats and has a lean and healthy build. She loves to hold her bushy tail up in the air, especially when MiMi and I are looking at her, and move it just slightly to make it wave. She uses her beautiful eyes to get what she wants, and it always works. But, she has never taken advantage of it by asking for too much food or too many treats or too much brushing. MiMi is a tomboy and spends time sharpening her claws and likes to get brushed until she gets bored. MiMi and Mia spend time licking each other every day because they both know how beautiful they are and how important that is.

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These are just a few things I’ve learned from my cats. I’m always learning more. I don’t pretend to suggest everything about life can learned by watching your cats but, I will suggest there are a lot of common sense lessons there if you are willing to see them.

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1999, #223, Marathon des Sables, the 55 mile stage, with members of the British SAS and the Queen’s personal security detail.

In reflection on the endurance lifestyle following the bombing at the Boston Marathon I thought about what I’ve been given from endurance sports and running.

When I was a kid I was so overweight they put me in a special education phys ed class. I started running. I lost weight. Running made me thinner and more fit. It gave me self-esteem and taught me to believe in myself. More importantly running taught me that what you put in, you get out in roughly equal measure. There are few bargains in life more straightforward than running. As a young teenager that was a valuable life lesson. Running gave me that.

When I couldn’t run in my early 20’s following a ski accident running taught me to keep going so I bought a bike. I won four state cycling championships and raced bikes in Europe. So running gave me that.

When I joined the Army and went to basic training I had an easier time than the other guys so I was able to help them out in training. I already learned that the toughest part of completing anything is simply not giving up. I was the honor graduate from our basic training and AIT class. So running gave me that.

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Left, somewhere in Ohio, 1986. Right, Kona pier, Bud Light Ironman Hawaii, 1986.

After I left the Army I started my own business and learned what it really meant to work, something I knew how to do from running. So running gave me that.

When I met people who had never exercised before and didn’t know where to start I could help them and inspire them and empathize with them. So running gave me that.

When I saw a story in a magazine about a 152-mile running race in the Sahara desert it sounded impossible. Running taught me there usually is no such thing as “impossible” so I went there and did it. The Discovery Channel followed me during the race and put me in their documentary about the event. So running gave me that.

Over the next 20 years I raced endurance sports on every continent, from Africa to Asia, America to Antarctica. I saw things people only see on TV and movies, did things people only read about in books. I travelled the world. So running gave me that.

When I climbed the highest mountain in the western hemisphere I was the only person on our climbing team to make it to the summit. My guide told me it was because I was fit and moved fast. So running gave me that.

When my best friend was killed on his bike by a drunk driver riding home from my bike store I was depressed and thought I had lost everything. My friends Mike and Kim said maybe I should go for a run. I did. It took more than a few runs but I realized the friend I lost would have wanted me to keep going, so I did. So running (and my friend) gave me that.

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The wire and plastic spider that lives inside my heart. Installed by Dr. Samir Dabbous of Baghdad, Iraq to prevent another stroke. It works perfectly.

I had a stroke when I was running and suffered brain damage and vision loss. The doctors told me that if I hadn’t kept running the damage may have been worse. I may have even died. They fixed the problem that caused the stroke by putting a patch inside my heart and said the procedure was easy on me because I was in good shape and it may have saved my life. So running gave me that.

After I had my stroke and a patch put inside my heart I was afraid I was permanently broken and couldn’t run anymore. But I remembered that sometimes when you are running and you feel the worst you simply have to keep putting one foot in front of the other, so that is what I did. Soon I was running again and I knew having a stroke did not change me one bit. So running gave me that.

When the recession came I lost everything and had to start over on the other side of the country with nothing in a new place and a new job. I learned you are only as good as your last run and, since my business didn’t end very well partially from my mistakes and partially from the recession, I learned I better keep running. So I did. Running gave me that.

When I wanted a new job and a better life I remembered that, in running, sometimes you have to go out of your comfort zone so I did. I got a much better paying job and moved to a nicer place to live. So running gave me that.

I’ve never been a very fast runner or a very good runner, but I’ve never given up. That was one of the first things I learned about running: don’t give up.

So running gave me that.

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Left, Ironman New Zealand, right, Ann Arbor Triathlon.