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Becoming the All-Terrain Human –

March 28, 2013 Leave a comment

Kilian Jornet Burgada is the most dominating endurance athlete of his generation. In just eight years, Jornet has won more than 80 races, claimed some 16 titles and set at least a dozen speed records, many of them in distances that would require the rest of us to purchase an airplane ticket. He has run across entire landmasses­ (Corsica) and mountain ranges (the Pyrenees), nearly without pause. He regularly runs all day eating only wild berries and drinking only from streams. On summer mornings he will set off from his apartment door at the foot of Mont Blanc and run nearly two and a half vertical miles up to Europe’s roof — over cracked glaciers, past Gore-Tex’d climbers, into the thin air at 15,781 feet — and back home again in less than seven hours, a trip that mountaineers can spend days to complete. A few years ago Jornet ran the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail and stopped just twice to sleep on the ground for a total of about 90 minutes. In the middle of the night he took a wrong turn, which added perhaps six miles to his run. He still finished in 38 hours 32 minutes, beating the record of Tim Twietmeyer, a legend in the world of ultrarunning, by more than seven hours. When he reached the finish line, he looked as if he’d just won the local turkey trot.

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Levon Biss for The New York Times

Jornet “is not normal,” his mother says. “My mission is to make Kilian tired. Always, I was tired, but Kilian, no.”

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Levon Biss for The New York Times

Jornet in Pelvoux, France, for the I.S.M.F. World Ski Mountaineering Championships last month.

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Come winter, when most elite ultrarunners keep running, Jornet puts away his trail-running shoes for six months and takes up ski-mountaineering racing, which basically amounts to running up and around large mountains on alpine skis. In this sport too, Jornet reigns supreme: he has been the overall World Cup champion three of the last four winters.

So what’s next when you’re 25 and every one of the races on the wish list you drew up as a youngster has been won and crossed out? You dream up a new challenge. Last year Jornet began what he calls the Summits of My Life project, a four-year effort to set speed records climbing and descending some of the world’s most well known peaks, from the Matterhorn this summer to Mount Everest in 2015. In doing so, he joins a cadre of alpinists like Ueli Steck from Switzerland and Chad Kellogg from the United States who are racing up peaks and redefining what’s possible. In a way, Jornet says, all of his racing has been preparation for greater trials. This month, he is in the Himalayas with a couple of veteran alpinists. They plan to climb and ski the south face of a peak that hasn’t been skied before in winter.

But bigger challenges bring bigger risks. Less than a year ago, Jornet watched as his hero and friend Stéphane Brosse died in the mountains. Since then, he has asked himself, How much is it worth sacrificing to do what you love?

Chamonix, France, is a resort town wedged into a narrow valley at the foot of Mont Blanc, just over an hour’s drive southeast of Geneva. For those who adore high mountains, the place is hallowed. The Rue du Docteur Paccard is named for one of the first men to ascend Mont Blanc, in 1786; millionaires are tolerated, but mountain men are revered. The valley is Jornet’s home for the few months each year when he is not traveling. I met him there on a stormy morning in December, when he drove his dented Peugeot van into a parking lot at the edge of town, stepped out and offered a shy handshake. He is slight and unremarkable in the deceptive way of a Tour de France cyclist — he’s 5-foot-6 and 125 pounds — with the burnished complexion of years spent above the tree line and a thatch of black hair that, when sprung from a ski hat, has a slightly blendered look.

via Becoming the All-Terrain Human –


Mary Roach on Studying How Humans Chew and Eat –

March 28, 2013 Leave a comment

The Marvels in Your Mouth


Published: March 25, 2013 17 Comments









WAGENINGEN, THE NETHERLANDS — When I told people I was traveling to Food Valley, I described it as the Silicon Valley of eating. At this cluster of universities and research facilities, nearly 15,000 scientists are dedicated to improving — or, depending on your sentiments about processed food, compromising — the quality of our meals.

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David Plunkert

Gulp! The Quiz

Chew, swallow, digest, repeat. Take this quiz to learn some of the amazing things that go on in your gut.

Science Times Podcast

Henry Fountain on how science is tracking the meteor that exploded over Russia back to its source; Mary Roach on our fascinating guts; Denise Grady on a novel treatment for some cancers of the blood.


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8:00A Meteor’s Data Trail

11:22Journey on the Alimentary Canal

9:07Using the Body to Fight Cancer


The Mouth’s Guard (March 26, 2013)

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Do you have a question for Mary Roach about the wonders of chewing, swallowing and other aspects of human eating? Post a question for her here and she will answer a selection in an upcoming video interview on

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At the time I made the Silicon Valley comparison, I did not expect to be served actual silicone.

But here I am, in the Restaurant of the Future, a cafeteria at Wageningen University where hidden cameras record diners as they make decisions about what to eat. And here it is, a bowl of rubbery white cubes the size of salad croutons. Andries van der Bilt has brought them from his lab in the brusquely named Department of Head and Neck, at the nearby University Medical Center Utrecht.

“You chew them,” he said.

The cubes are made of a trademarked product called Comfort Putty, more typically used in its unhardened form for taking dental impressions. Dr. Van der Bilt isn’t a dentist, however. He is an oral physiologist, and he likely knows more about chewing than anyone else in the world. He uses the cubes to quantify “masticatory performance” — how effectively a person chews.

I take a cube from the bowl. If you ever, as a child, chewed on a whimsical pencil eraser in the shape of, say, an animal or a piece of fruit, then you have tasted this dish.

“I’m sorry.” Dr. Van der Bilt winces. “It’s quite old.” As though fresh silicone might be better.

Dr. Van der Bilt and his colleagues have laid claim to a strange, occasionally repugnant patch of scientific ground. They study the mouth — more specifically, its role as the human food processor. Their findings have opened up new insights into quite a few things that most of us do every day but would rather not think about.

The way you chew, for example, is as unique and consistent as the way you walk or fold your shirts. There are fast chewers and slow chewers, long chewers and short chewers, right-chewing people and left-chewing people. Some of us chew straight up and down, and others chew side-to-side, like cows. Your oral processing habits are a physiological fingerprint.

via Mary Roach on Studying How Humans Chew and Eat –

Gun deaths shaped by race in America

March 28, 2013 Leave a comment

Gun deaths are shaped by race in America. Whites are far more likely to shoot themselves, and African Americans are far more likely to be shot by someone else.The statistical difference is dramatic, according to a Washington Post analysis of data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A white person is five times as likely to commit suicide with a gun as to be shot with a gun; for each African American who uses a gun to commit suicide, five are killed by other people with guns. Where a person lives matters, too. Gun deaths in urban areas are much more likely to be homicides, while suicide is far and away the dominant form of gun death in rural areas. States with the most guns per capita, such as Montana and Wyoming, have the highest suicide rates; states with low gun ownership rates, such as Massachusetts and New York, have far fewer suicides per capita.Suicides and homicides are highly charged human dramas. Both acts shatter families, friends and sometimes communities. But the reactions are as different as black and white, and those differences shape the nation’s divided attitudes toward gun control.For instance, African Americans tend to be stronger backers of tough gun controls than whites. A Washington Post-ABC News poll this month found that about three-quarters of blacks support stronger controls, compared with about half of whites. The poll also found that two-thirds of city dwellers support stronger gun controls, while only about a third of rural residents back them.

via Gun deaths shaped by race in America.

McDonald’s No. 1 Overall, But Doesn’t Rank With Millennials | News – Advertising Age

March 27, 2013 Leave a comment

McDonald’s may be the country’s No. 1 fast-food chain and one of its most-beloved brands, but when it comes to millennials, the Golden Arches says it doesn’t even rank among the demographic’s top 10 restaurant chains.

It’s enough of a concern that McDonald’s is launching its biggest product of the year, McWrap, to court a huge and influential cohort that values choice and customization. According to NPD Group, there are 59 million people ages 23 to 36 in the U.S. — the range it defines as millennials.

McDonald’s McWrap

McDonald’s isn’t the only major marketer trying to reach millennials. Everyone from Coke and Gatorade to brewers and media companies are struggling to understand this group. There’s even confusion about just who millennials are in terms of age range (restaurant consultant Technomic counts them as 19-to-34-year-olds; McDonald’s, in an internal memo obtained by Advertising Age, classifies them as ages 18 to 32). Size estimates for this demographic group range anywhere from 59 million to 80 million.

via McDonald’s No. 1 Overall, But Doesn’t Rank With Millennials | News – Advertising Age.

Scott Adams Blog: The Management-free Organization 03/25/2013

March 27, 2013 Leave a comment

So here’s my summary: Management only exists to compensate for its own poor hiring decisions. The Internet makes it easier to locate and then work with capable partners. Therefore, the need for management will shrink – at least for some types of businesses – because entrepreneurs have the tools to make fewer hiring mistakes in the first place.

Management won’t entirely go away, but as technology makes it easier to form competent teams without at least one disruptive or worthless worker in the group, the need for management will continue to decline.

via Scott Adams Blog: The Management-free Organization 03/25/2013.

What Causes Hearing Loss –

March 27, 2013 Leave a comment

After poor service, noise is the second leading complaint about restaurants. Proprietors believe that people spend more on food and drink in bustling eateries, and many have created new venues or retrofitted old ones to maximize sound levels.

When I’m told about a new restaurant, my first question is, “Is it noisy?” My friends and I will never return to one in which the racket makes it impossible to converse with tablemates. Perhaps the young diners the restaurateurs covet “talk” by texting.

The ears are fragile instruments. When sound waves enter the ear, they cause the eardrum to vibrate. The vibrations are transmitted to the cochlea, in the inner ear, where fluid carries them to neatly organized rows of hair cells. These in turn stimulate auditory nerve fibers, each attuned to a different frequency. These impulses travel via the auditory nerve to the brain, where they are interpreted as, say, words, music or an approaching vehicle.

Damage to this delicate apparatus results from both volume and length of exposure to sound. Very loud noises, or chronic exposure to sound even when it is not particularly loud, can wreak havoc on hair cells, causing them to become disarranged and to degenerate.

via What Causes Hearing Loss –

It’s Personal –

March 27, 2013 Leave a comment

It’s Personal

To the editor:

In Mr. Keller’s article [States Gone Wild, Monday, March 25] he repeatedly mentions his strong aversion to restrictive abortion rules…Has Mr. Keller previously shared his rationale for this strong opinion? For example, is it based on his interpretation of the Constitution or perhaps a personal understanding of when life commences. I ask if he might consider replying to this inquiry with a succinct summary of his position. Thank you.

This will not be “succinct,” or simple, or likely to satisfy anyone who can reduce abortion to a slogan.

The closest thing I have to a guiding text on the subject of abortion is not a volume of constitutional law or a summary of the latest biological research on the origins of life. It is a black, three-ring binder containing hundreds of letters from readers who lived and suffered with the subject.

The letters arrived in response to a column called “Charlie’s Ghost,” which The Times published on June 29, 2002. It recounted the decision my wife and I made to end a badly troubled pregnancy, and the strong countervailing emotions that decision entailed.

The letters poured in, intimate and candid and heartfelt, full of experience and mercifully short of political cant or judgment. There were stories from parents who had given birth to children with the direst physical or mental defects; some rejoiced in the sacrifice, some lamented that this decision had brought misery to their families. There were letters from parents who had terminated pregnancies gone wrong; some were at peace with that choice, others never fully overcame the sense of guilt. If that volume of letters has a theme, it is something like: the heart grades on the curve.

via It’s Personal –