On Saturday, my mother turned 65. As is typical for 65-year-old women, she wanted to go sky diving. So we spent the weekend with her in a rented house on the beach south of Galveston. And she jumped out of a perfectly good airplane, as they say.
Despite clouds and occasional rain, we spent quite a few hours on the beach, which felt great. Even after a couple of late nights, a little bit too much beer, and way too many cinnamon rolls, I feel quite recharged. Which got me wondering why beach time is so enjoyable.
The first two things that jump to my mind when I think about a good day on the beach are being so hot I want to jump in the ocean, and the salty, humid air. But if overbearing heat and humidity were all it took to make a person feel great, then every day anywhere in south Texas between April and November would be paradise. Which it isn’t.
So what gives? At least two things, I think, which are the first two sections this week. And there’s a few more goodies to fill up your “To Read/Watch/Listen To” list for the next few days.
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The first reason a day at the beach feels so good is maybe the first thing you’d guess: the sun.
Sun exposure is a huge deal. As meat-only diet advocate (yes, you read that right) Dr. Kevin Stock points out in this article [~13 minute read], humans evolved under pretty much constant sun exposure for millions of years. What are the chances that we don’t have a few built-in mechanisms for taking advantage of all that sunlight?
Dr. Stock mentions a few things our bodies produce when we’re in the sun that seem pretty important: melanin, vitamin D, nitric oxide, and serotonin.
Melanin is natural sunscreen — it absorbs and dissipates 99.9%+ of UV radiation — and humans just so happen to instinctively associate increased melanin (i.e., being tan) with health and attractiveness.
Vitamin D deficiency is associated with pretty much every chronic illness there is, and studies show that basically anyone that doesn’t work outside is deficient. There is also evidence that taking it in pill form doesn’t really work, because there are other parts of the complex sun exposure process that work together, including some we probably don’t fully understand.
Nitric oxide lowers blood pressure and increases circulation (including specifically the kind of circulation you may or may not use a little blue pill to help stimulate).
Serotonin is called the happy chemical. Look up how pretty much any drug you take to make you “feel” better works, and chances are it will involve serotonin receptors. This is probably why you start to feel “good” almost immediately when you get to the beach, or any time you let yourself enjoy a sunny day.
Dr. Stock’s article is about all this, and about how sunscreen is probably preventing us from enjoying these benefits even when we do get out into the sun. Including this head scratcher: regular sun exposure actually decreases your risk of melanoma.
His advice, which I tend to subscribe to, is this: Get as much sun as you can without getting sunburned.
Caution: This is not a particularly well-written piece, which makes it an exception to the standards I generally adhere to for recommendations in this newsletter (i.e., they have to be startlingly awesome). This guy is passionate, but not exactly gunning for a Pulitzer. But he’s also good about linking to real research to support his claims. And in the end, I think that despite some rambling and a pretty terrible narrative structure, he ends up being fairly convincing on the other side of a debate most of us didn’t even realize had an other side. So check it out, and let me know whether you’re buying what he’s selling.
The second reason the beach makes us feel good is less obvious. The sun is up there staring us in the face, but there’s an invisible thing going on in the air that also might play a big part in why I’m smiling right now.
That thing is negative ions, which sounds exactly like the sort of thing your zealot of a yoga instructor might mention at some point.
Negative ions? Really?
Get a load of these two true facts:
Waterfalls, thunderstorms, and crashing surf on the beach all create tons of negative ions in the air.
There is actually an enormous body of scientific literature describing the positive health and mood benefits of negative ions.
I don’t want to give too much of it away, but science and learning YouTube channel Veritasium put out a fascinating walk through the science and what it might mean [~15 minute watch].
This channel is not what you might think of when you hear the word YouTube. It’s more like an independent version of NOVA on PBS.
Definitely watch it before you run out and buy a negative ion generator or a salt lamp (and if you own a negative ion generator, probably turn that off).
I’ll be honest. I am very tempted by this modern flat-screen TV built into a piece of free-standing furniture that looks like a ‘50s-era cabinet television.
Journalism is obviously in trouble. The combination of the 24-hour cable news channel and the internet has been a one-two punch that has made real reporting harder than ever to make money at.
But is it impossible?
The folks at Deadspin, a division of the former Gawker media empire that is nominally a sports outlet but in reality something much more diverse (and more valuable), would say no.
After a very rich, very insecure man sued Gawker out of existence [~11 minute read], Deadspin and the rest of the portfolio (Gizmodo, Lifehacker, Jezebel, and a few others) were eventually sold to media conglomerate Univision. That didn’t work all that well, and it was sold again pretty recently (along with The Onion) to a private equity firm called Great Hill Partners.
Great Hill combined the old Gawker properties and The Onion into a new company called G/O Media, and the guy at the head of the venture — former Forbes executive Jim Spanfeller — is apparently kind of a dick. This has just lead to the editor-in-chief at Deadspin quitting to go to work for Wired, and her farewell essay is definitely worth a read [~11 minute read].
The narrative in the world of journalism is that owners and publishers want to make money, while journalists could care less and just want to think about ethics all day, and that is the cause of all the conflict. But Megan Greenwell’s story makes it clear that the truth is more interesting. At least in the case of Deadspin, the journalists would tell you they know how to make money, but the owners are too stupid, too stubborn, too shortsighted, or too full of hubris to let it happen.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading on how to run companies well over the past couple of years (shout out to Traction, which I’m about ¾ done with and seems very uncharacteristically good for the genre), and one thing I keep being struck by is that very few people actually know what they’re doing, and the size of their company or bank account is not a very reliable indicator one way or the other.
Success, even wild success, tends to come from someone understanding one specific thing very very well. But that specific thing is almost never business in general, and that means that as soon as that person jumps into their next venture, they flounder. Perhaps the Peter Principle applies to private equity fund managers as well.
And with that, I bid you adieu. I hope your week is as good as it gets.
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