What a virus!

Have had a terrible week. There’s some sort of incredibly persistent virus going around, and I caught it (as already mentioned). Luckily, work was light — I had several lesson cancelations — so I could sleep a lot. (Just like a healthy adolescent!) I’m finally getting better. But I would have never believed that one human nose could produce so much mucus. I must’ve increased the tissue manufacturers’ monthly profits by at least a couple of percentage points all by myself.

I made my weight-loss goal by a tenth of a kilogram: 87.9 kg (193.8 lb). Now it’s going to get harder, I fear, especially if I don’t have the unwelcome help of powerful viruses. Well, I’d rather have to diet than suffer this lousy cold, or flu, or whatever it is.


Still on track … by cheating

I have a really lousy cold, which I suspect is pretty typical for a seventeen-year-old. (I seem to remember having colds pretty frequently the first time I was that age.) This virus is leaving me unwilling to blog or do just about anything, though I am getting some good banjo practice in. (Remember, I’ve decided that taking up a new musical instrument is an admirable thing to do when you are seventeen.)

When I was about 14, I was the second fattest kid in my class and had been for some years. I endured lots of “fatso” taunts — though by modern standards I wasn’t so overweight (not that “modern standards” are right). Then, around the winter of 1970-71, my Mom and I (and just about all of Kansas City) got a terrible flu. I remember how lucky we were to have my mother’s boyfriend — my future stepfather — who brought us Chinese take-out and helped us in many other ways. However, it was a terrible experience … except for one thing.

I lost a pile of weight and didn’t gain it back for years! Of course, being an adolescent, I held on to my “fatso” complex for many of those years. I think it was probably such a part of my still incomplete self-identity that I didn’t dare to let go of it.

Now I’m repeating the story, in miniature. This cold has left me pretty hungerless, so without any real work I’ve lost a kilo and a half since last Wednesday; I’m now at 87.5 kg (192.9 lb). Great, but I think the powerful drug I am taking (a popular cold remedy called Frenadol, which leaves me feeling drunk) has something of a diuretic effect. I had to get up to pee about eight times last night. So maybe most of what I’ve lost is water. But, hey, I’m not complaining.

My goal for next Wednesday is 88.0 kg (194.0 lb). Should be easy….


Just a short note to fulfill my promise (already broken once) to weigh myself every Wednesday and tell the entire Internet about my triumph or humiliation. This week, by some miracle, it’s a triumph. As I stood on our digital bathroom scale, it swung up and down between 89.3 kilos and 89.1. But when it had stabilized, it read 89.1. THIS WAS MY GOAL for this week! I assure you I stood straight on the scale, not trying to influence the result — at least not consciously. (I guess everybody knows that, with a little experimenting, you can usually figure out a way to shift your weight on the scale to get you a lower number.)

Eighty-nine point one kilograms (or 196.4 lb). Yay! Next Wednesday’s goal is 88.5….

Memory progress

One of the things I like about being a seventeen-year-old again is that I can permit myself to learn things that are of general use, with no immediately apparent practical application. If you choose your projects carefully, they can make the rest of your life easier and/or more rewarding, no matter what you eventually find yourself doing.

For example, one such project, which I did complete successfully back when I was seventeen for the first time, was learning to TOUCH-TYPE. This skill has served me well — extremely well — over the years, especially since computers became omnipresent. Of course, at the time I studied it, I was aware that touch-typing would be a useful skill, but I had no idea just HOW useful it would turn out to be.

Sure, you can learn to type pretty fast with the hunt-and-peck method, but you have to look at the keyboard while you’re doing it, and in any case you can ALWAYS type faster when you know how to touch-type properly. Have you ever had a good idea which you put off developing because it would require some serious time at the keyboard? This never happens to me. I can type almost as fast as I can think — at least when I’m thinking carefully — which means I can put my best thoughts down on “paper” with very little effort. And, since I don’t have to look at the keyboard, I can constantly read what I have written and refine it. The benefits are enormous. (I am not the only person to feel this way. It is easy to find people on the Internet extolling the virtues of typing skills.

Anyway, one such general skill I wish I had developed 41 years ago is MEMORY. I actually have a pretty good memory (except for geography and history), but I am not talking about natural memory. I am referring to systematic ways of remembering things you have consciously decided to memorize.

For years I have had a book by Harry Lorayne called “Instant Mind Power”, which I found on a remainder shelf somewhere. (It so happens that my copy was printed in 1967, well before I was seventeen!) Among the “mind power” techniques it covers is a number-memorizing system known as the Major System, which I briefly described in an earlier post. On a couple of occasions I have half-heartedly tried to learn it, but I’ve never really mastered it. This time I am really giving it my all. Thus far I have passed through four stages:

  1. Learning the sounds associated with each digit, plus some short words to associate with those sounds in numbers from 1-20.
  2. Making a list of words for ALL the two-digit numbers, which I can recall when I need them by sounding out the desired consonants. For example, if I see the number 67, I think, “Let’s see, SH or CH or J plus a vowel plus K or G …, umm, ah, CHALK.”
  3. Learning these words IN ORDER, using a fantastic story. This makes them easier to recall, especially when I need them in numerical order.
  4. (my present stage) REALLY memorizing these two-digit number-words, so that I don’t have to waste time sounding them out or remembering the story. I should see “67” and immediately think “CHALK”. Learning the system at such an automatic level is a little like learning to touch-type really well: Since it’s so much faster, I am more likely to use it, which means I will get still faster at it. A virtuous circle!

(Some people REALLY take this system to extremes, creating and memorizing a list of all 1000 three-digit numbers. I have no plans to take it that far.)

Like most people, I already have images associated with many numbers. For example, I know that “73” means “best regards” for ham radio operators, “43” is a brand of liqueur and “(19)84” is the title of one of my favorite books. These numbers, which already have concrete meaning for me, are easy to associate with my new number-words. For example, I see “84” and immediately think of George Orwell’s dreary London on FIRE (F + R = 84) (even though this didn’t happen in the book).

For those numbers which I already have associated with something concrete, this works very well, but there still remain about a third of the numbers below 100 for which I can think of no particular association. For example, the number “47” means nothing extra-numerical to me (except that it’s one of several primes), so if I want to associate it with ROCK (R + K = 47), I don’t really have a strategy, apart lots of repetition. I supposed I could look up “1947” in Wikipedia and find lots of things which happened that year (in fact I just did). But anything I find will be a NEW association to learn, so I might as well just try to remember that “47 = ROCK” without further ado.

The numbers I am learning are 0-9, 00-09 and 10-100. I have made 111 flashcards, which are very helpful. (You have to print them on both sides of the page, so it is advisable to use thick paper. And I used A4 paper, so if your paper is American “letter” size — 8½ × 11 inches — you’ll probably have to reformat them a bit.) I use the flashcards to study at home, but when I walk the dog, I have an even better opportunity to practice my numbers: Spanish automobile license plates have four digits (plus some letters, which I ignore), and the streets of Seville are FULL of parked cars. As I walk past them I try to come up with two words for each plate. I see 2045 and immediately think “NOSE-RAIL”. If I see 2047, however, I have only one “instant word” prepared, so it takes longer. I have to think “NOSE, and then R + K/G which must be … um … ROCK.” (Incidentally, since starting this practice, I have noticed that for some reason there are an inordinate number of “89”s in my neighborhood.)

The only downside is that I am getting behind on my podcast listening, which is normally what I do on my dog walks. Oh, and I have to be careful not to stare too long at the car license tags or people will start to think I’m from the CIA or something. 🙂

A sensual place to live

It’s been a pretty nice couple of weeks. Semana Santa (Holy Week) was fun — my wife and I did quite a bit of walking around Seville to see the processions, which are spectacular. You’ve got to be here to really appreciate it. Being crammed together with strangers in narrow streets is something Anglo-Saxon types generally try to avoid, but Sevillians are not as bothered by having their personal space invaded. They are friendly, tolerant people, and it is unusual to see someone here who is really aggressive (though a newcomer might think they are, judging from the high decibel level of their conversation).

For a 17-year-old Sevillian, Semana Santa is an opportunity to go out with friends and range all over Seville till the wee hours. I remember experiencing this sort of feeling in the States, but one night a year (Halloween). You feel free, the city is yours, and there is no parental supervision. I can see why even non-religious people here adore Semana Santa — it is associated with so many good memories for them.

And it is a very sensual experience. Even though I have lived here for a couple of decades, I am still frequently surprised by how lovely Seville can be. If a city can be feminine, Seville is. The orange trees which fill the city come into blossom around this time, filling the air with sweetness, and when the Holy Week processions are going the air is filled with incense too. If you aren’t too Anglo-Saxon (or old) to enjoy it, you do your best to see the processions in narrow streets where you are cheek to jowl with people you don’t know.


Spaniards, and especially Andalusians, are very clean people — I have heard that soap consumption in this area is one of the highest in Europe — and they add their own perfume and cologne to the mix of scents in the city. The processions and the pasos (floats) are visually impressive, and the music is very special. Before coming to Seville, I had always associated trumpets in their highest register with a sort of macho aggressiveness. I would never have expected them to be appropriate music to accompany a statue of Jesus Christ being being carried in a solemn procession at about one mile an hour. But once I heard the cornetas here (cornetas are a kind of trumpet with only one or two valves) wailing away with their unique vibrato, I was converted.

There’s been other stuff going on this past fortnight which kept me from blogging, but I won’t go into it all. I have started (or rather re-started) another project which I think is appropriate for a seventeen-year-old: I am trying to learn to play the banjo. I’ve got a blog about it: Trumpet to Banjo (I used to play the trumpet).

Oh, and I weighed myself today, having skipped a week. I am now at 90.1 kg (198.6 lb), which is half a kilogram behind schedule. If I want to get back on track I’ll have to lose a whole kilo this week. I may be 17 years old again, but for some reason I seem to burn calories more slowly than I did the first time I was 17. No more between-meals snacks for me….

Semana Santa in Seville

We’re in the middle of the weird week in Seville. If you’re at all interested in how they celebrate Holy Week here, you can find hundreds of places on the Web that describe it very well from all sorts of points of view.

Holy Week always affects me emotionally, or at least has done so since I moved to Seville. There’s something adolescent about being so affected, but I don’t find this a bad thing, even though I do suffer a bit from something like butterflies in my stomach. (Hey, being adolescent is what this is all about, right?)

I can’t write much at the moment, but I do want to mention that I had my weekly weighing. I gained some back from last week but am still on schedule to get back to my (approximate) 17-year-old weight by October. Today I was 90.7 kg = 200.0 lbs.

Brain changing

Today is the first Wednesday since I decided to get back to my proper weight for a seventeen-year-old (or, indeed, for a fifty-eight-year-old). Just before lunch today I weighed 90.2 kg, which is 198.8 lb. Hurrah! I’m under 200 pounds, which I hope I will never top again. At this weight I am two weeks ahead of the schedule posted a week ago, which is nice but not surprising. It’s always easy to lose weight at the beginning of a diet.

By the way, 90.2 is POISON (P/B…S/Z…N) in the Major System, which I described briefly in my last post. I am still studying this system with a 17-year-old’s passion. At the moment I am memorizing “peg words” for all the numbers from 0 to 9 and 00 to 100.

It’s not actually necessary to memorize peg words; you can simply create the words whenever you need them. But it is faster when you already have a list of words in your head. And when you make up a complete list in advance, you have time to reflect and choose more memorable peg words than you might be able to improvise. Not all peg words are equally useful. For example,  “lily” (55) is easier to visualize than, say, “lowly” (55).

I want to regain and reinforce one of the characteristics I find most charming in adolescents: their enthusiasm. Of course, there are also things which they are completely uninterested in — in my case it was biology class — but the things they consider important are REALLY important to them. Teenagers are delightfully innocent, even as they try to appear sophisticated, and when they like something they don’t hide the fact that they REALLY like it. I miss that. I still enjoy hearing young people discussing their favorite music, movies, restaurants, whatever — they are so emotionally involved.

This ability to throw oneself completely into a new passion must be useful for something; otherwise we wouldn’t have it. My theory is that it is an unconscious learning strategy: if you really involve yourself in a project (like changing your own brain), you can finish it quickly and move on.

Does the idea of changing one’s own brain sound strange? Not to me….

Is this just an excuse to get healthy?

I’ve been reading what I’ve written (someone has to!), and I find myself thinking, “Why is this guy insisting on going back to seventeen? How is this idea any different from just (1) picking up good habits he should have acquired years ago and (2) trying to feel younger?”

I won’t deny that good habits and feeling younger are a big part of the whole project. However, I think there’s a qualitative difference. I want to redo my seventeenth year, not just feel healthier and more energetic. (Okay, so technically my seventeenth year was the one that ENDED on my seventeenth birthday. When you’re seventeen it’s actually your eighteenth year. Whatever.) The motivation for the changes in my life and/or attitude will be based on what a seventeen-year-old should do, not on what a fifty-eight-year-old should. Luckily, what’s good for a seventeen-year-old is generally also good for a fifty-eight-year-old….

One thing you do (or should do) when you’re seventeen is to learn general “life skills”, things that will be useful in a variety of contexts over the rest of your life. Things like touch-typing, a foreign language, a musical instrument. Reaching an acceptable level doesn’t take too long — maybe a year or two — and the skill learned can be useful for the rest of your life.

The life skill I have decided to take on is one I tried years ago and never got very far with. I will IMPROVE MY MEMORY. There are lots of memory systems out there, mostly based on similar techniques, and they really do work. Sure, we have smart phones now to remember things for us, but they can only partly replace our own personal in-head RAM.

I am starting by learning to associate words with numbers. It is a very old technique, sometimes called the Major System. If you have a number you want to memorize, you replace each digit with a specific consonant sound:

  • 0 → S or Z
  • 1 → T or D
  • 2 → N
  • 3 → M
  • 4 → R
  • 5 → L
  • 6 → J, SH or CH
  • 7 → K
  • 8 → F or V
  • 9 → P or B

Then you upgrade this string of consonants to a word or string of words by adding vowels. For example, you change 32 to MN, and then add a vowel to make MOON. (Or you could use MONEY or MENU or MAINE or AMMONIA if you prefer.) Most of us find words easier remember than numbers, especially if the numbers are long. For example, METOR-TAIL-PINK is an easy way to remember pi to 7 decimal places. (Linguistic note: Although I live in Spain and speak Spanish fluently, I am finding this system much easier to use in English, as the variety of consonants used in all positions is much richer.) There’s a ton more information on the Web. If you’re interested, you can start with the Wikipedia article.

And that’s my blog posting for the NOSE of March NEWS-TOWEL….

Seventeen-year-old body

First step: I wasn’t overweight at 17, but I sure am now. I want more energy, and I don’t want diabetes. So, along with my ideal attitude, I need to return to my ideal weight. Here are some values I found on the Internet for a man whose height is 178 cm (5’10”):

  • Robinson formula (1983): 71.1 kg (157 lbs)
  • Miller formula (1983): 70.4 kg (155 lbs)
  • Devine formula (1974): 73.2 kg (161 lbs)
  • Hamwi formula (1964): 75.2 kg (166 lbs)
  • WHO’s Healthy BMI Range (for a 58-year-old): 58.6-79.2 kg (129-175 lbs)
  • WHO’s Healthy BMI Range (for a 17-year-old): 56.1-78.9 kb (124-174 lbs)

Let’s go for 75 kg (165 lb). Today, after going to the toilet, cutting my fingernails and exhaling as much as I could, I weighed 91.8 kg. That means I have to lose about 16.8 kg (37 lbs). Apparently, a reasonable rate of weight loss is 1 to 2 pounds a week, so it should take me (ideally) between 19 and 37 weeks.

My next birthday is on Wednesday, October 21st, thirty-one weeks from now. I’ll weigh myself every Wednesday, and try to hit 75.0000 kg on my birthday (my 18th birthday?). If all goes according to plan — there’s nothing wrong with being optimistic, is there? — this should be my progress:

Date Desired weight Actual weight
kg lbs kg lbs
18-Mar 91.8 202.4 91.8 202.4
25-Mar 91.3 201.2
01-Apr 90.7 200.0
08-Apr 90.2 198.8
15-Apr 89.6 197.6
22-Apr 89.1 196.4
29-Apr 88.5 195.2
06-May 88.0 194.0
13-May 87.5 192.8
20-May 86.9 191.6
27-May 86.4 190.4
03-Jun 85.8 189.2
10-Jun 85.3 188.0
17-Jun 84.8 186.9
24-Jun 84.2 185.7
01-Jul 83.7 184.5
08-Jul 83.1 183.3
15-Jul 82.6 182.1
22-Jul 82.0 180.9
29-Jul 81.5 179.7
05-Aug 81.0 178.5
12-Aug 80.4 177.3
19-Aug 79.9 176.1
26-Aug 79.3 174.9
02-Sep 78.8 173.7
09-Sep 78.3 172.5
16-Sep 77.7 171.3
23-Sep 77.2 170.1
30-Sep 76.6 168.9
07-Oct 76.1 167.7
14-Oct 75.5 166.5
21-Oct 75.0 165.3

Might I be setting myself up for public embarrassment? Hey, that’s a tired old man’s attitude! It’ll be GREAT! I’m gonna LOVE weighing what a seventeen-year-old should weigh.

It was(n’t) a very good year….

It’s ironic, actually, that I should choose the age of 17 to return to. When I was 17 the first time, it was in many ways the worst year of my life. I had acne and bad posture and a lousy self-image; I hadn’t had sex yet and could think of little else; I was frequently sullen on the outside and depressed on the inside. Two months before I turned 18, on my first day of college, my stepfather died suddenly and left my mother alone, just when SHE had presumably been counting on starting the best years of her own life. Her depression was terrible for her and pretty rough on me too.

I can’t fix any of that, and I have no reason to expect this year to be a bed of roses. Who knows, maybe I am tempting the evil eye by going back to that year. Well, if history repeats itself and things turn to crap for me, at least it will give a nice symmetry to this literary masterpiece….