Caffeine, Meditation and mood

I've been feeling happier and more alert over the past two months. My life has been mostly stable this year, and I can be pretty sure that my improved feelings are due to one or both of these two changes:

I reduced my caffeine use from the equivalent of about 100 mg per day to one cup of weak green tea in the morning (10 to 20mg?) after reading that "deep sleep quality seems to stay effected for days after even single doses of caffeine.". I had previously assumed that most of the effects of caffeine wore of after about 8 hours with me, and that if it didn't affect how quickly I fell asleep, it probably wasn't affecting my sleep. I now suspect that it was causing me to wake up too early in the morning (although I think this started in the past few years, so something else combined with caffeine was probably responsible).

At roughly the same time as I reduced my caffeine use, I started trying meditation after reading good things about it at LessWrong. I'm disappointed at how hard it seems to be to learn (it seems to take increasing willpower to avoid having my mind cluttered with the usual mundane thoughts, much like after losing weight it takes a lot of willpower to avoid gaining it back), and I'm not noticing the benefits described on LessWrong (I've found that books on positive psychology have had more effect, although those effects developed slowly enough that I should be patient with meditation). But I suspect it's improving my mood in some subtle way. I need to experiment more.

Time-release Caffeine

I recommend GreenCoffex time-release caffeine capsules as a way of producing steady levels of caffeine on busy days when it's inconvenient to consume caffeine multiple times. It releases 200 mg over a period of 8 hours.

Switching brands helps break endowment effect?

For a long time I watched CNBC intermittently while the stock market was open, while being mildly concerned that news selected to appeal to a large audience was causing me to pay too much attention to useless ideas. Those concerns were partly influenced by an experiment done by Andreassen where subjects trading stocks did worse if they saw a constant stream of news than if they saw no news once they started trading. These inconclusive thoughts left me continuing to follow my rather ingrained habits.

Last year my cable company added a Bloomberg channel. Bloomberg appears to be slightly better than CNBC, so I switched to watching Bloomberg.

Then I stopped watching them. I can't identify any new thoughts which caused me to stop watching, so it's hard to avoid the conclusion that I acted irrationally at some point. The best explanation I can come up with is that as long as I was following a fixed routine, the mental effort needed to abandon the routine prevented me from changing. Switching to Bloomberg was much easier because it didn't seem like much of a change, and didn't require admitting that I'd been making a mistake. But since I hadn't developed an attachment to Bloomberg, it was easier to stop watching it.

I've since given up cable/broadcast TV entirely, and use Netflix and Comedy Central's website as replacements. I'm quite satisfied with the change.


I had a fairly pleasant afternoon at Ephemerisle on Saturday. It bore some resemblance to a miniature Burning Man, but with more anarchy and less art.

The warm weather that was expected to be an advantage to holding it in the delta now was replaced just before the start of the event by an abnormally sudden transition to cool winds more characteristic of November. I gather the stronger than normal winds caused some problems with anchors holding. Anchoring is a complex function of wind, vessel size, bottom texture, how much anchor line you let out, and how patient you are at trial and error. I gather that anchoring problems prevented houseboats from tying up to the main platform as originally planned.

I had hesitated to go due to rumors of loud music, but it wasn't loud (possibly due to people being too occupied with more important infrastructure). Since vessels were more spread out than anticipated, there probably would have been a relatively quiet place if there had been loud music, but being spread out also meant that people were more isolated from each other than I expected.

It is likely that bigger and better festivals will happen in the next few years, but scaling up to thousands of people is likely to require starting over largely from scratch with a very different approach.

After reading that someone was bringing "Sea Boots" to walk on water, I put in my car some forms I made 7 years ago, which would enable me to crudely walk on water. I had designed them in hopes of being able to skate on water, but they failed miserably at generating enough speed for that. I didn't get them to the festival due to limited room in the boat that took me there, and I didn't see the person with the Sea Boots. Maybe next year.

I've Moved

I recently moved from Mountain View to San Bruno. Partly because I've been socializing more with people in the San Francisco area and less in the south bay, and partly because my Mountain View apartment was too warm on summer evenings (I'm now just at the edge of the fog most summer days). The time I've spent moving and discarding stuff not worth moving has been one of the reasons I've been silent here recently.


I've given up on Tianeptine. I couldn't duplicate the benefits I felt in the first week. I haven't been sleeping very well over the past month, and I suspect that Tianeptine is contributing to that. It didn't seem to cause me to sleep unusually badly on any one day, but it seemed that I couldn't get more than about 7.5 hours of sleep even when I need more to make up for having slept poorly on previous nights. Going to bed earlier mainly causes me to wake up earlier (as in well before sunrise). It's hard to tell how much of a connection there is between Tianeptine and my sleep patterns, and it's time consuming to test it further since there's something like a 4 to 8 day delay between changing doses and observing results. I felt that it modestly increased my libido, but that doesn't seem important enough to justify further attempts to find a good dosage.


I started using Tianeptine on Wednesday of last week, initially at a dose of 1/2 tablet 3 times a day, and increasing to 2.5 tablets a day on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. For most of that time it seemed to have mildly positive and fairly consistent effects on my mood. Late this Wednesday I started feeling a bit strange - mainly a mild headache that I think would have been unlikely without tianeptine, also a vague feeling that I was less aware of what was going on around me. So I've reduced my dose to a total of 2 tablets a day (spread over 3 doses), and feel more normal now (but am seeing fewer signs that I'm getting any benefits). I'm a little concerned that it may be causing my mind to wander in ways that will hinder my conversational abilities. I suspect I'll experiment a fair amount with altering doses between 1.5 and 2 tablets a day for a while before making any definite decision on whether it's worthwhile.

It's strange that types of drugs with opposite effects on serotonin can both be classified as antidepressants. But it's unlikely that changes to serotonin are the only way these drugs function.

Vibram Five Fingers

I got a pair of Vibram Five Fingers shoes, and tried them out hiking about 6 miles last weekend near Sierra Hot Springs, mostly on dirt roads, with a bit of bushwhacking. They work pretty much as advertised - they feel closer to walking barefoot than to walking in traditional hiking boots, with occasional discomfort from stepping on small stones, but much less discomfort than I'd get barefooted.

One concern I have about using them for longer periods is that my right foot is noticeably longer than my left. My left foot matches on of the shoe sizes quite well, but my right foot is in between that size and the next larger size. It's unclear whether that will cause problems for my right foot. They have more size choices than most shoes, but size problems seem more conspicuous than with most shoes.

Note that they're not a close substitute for sandals or slippers because it takes some time to put them on (getting the toes in the right place).

I've spent too much time hiking and finding stock market opportunities over the past month and a half to write much here, but that should change next week.

Netflix and Stumbling on Happiness

I was rethinking the advice in Stumbling on Happiness recently, and realized that most of my choices about what movies to watch were based on using descriptions of the movies' content to imagine how I would feel about them, with little effort to inform myself about how much others enjoyed them (i.e. I was doing the exact opposite of what Stumbling on Happiness advises).

I haven't noticed enough correlation between my friends tastes in movies and mine. I realized that Netflix has a recommendation system that makes a serious effort to personalize movie advice in a way that I would trust more than I trust the alternatives.

I had been avoiding Netflix because I had been watching movies infrequently enough that Netflix looked more expensive than buying movies, and the Netflix model reduces my flexibility to decide at the last minute what to watch. But the message from Stumbling on Happiness convinced me that those downsides were unimportant compared to sophisticated means of predicting whether I'd like a movie.

So far I've watched two entertaining movies that I would have otherwise overlooked (Hogfather, and You Can't Take It With You). For both movies I'm unimpressed by the occasional moralizing messages, but was able to mostly ignore the pretenses that the movies were anything more than entertainment. I seem to be watching movies more frequently as a result of using Netflix, so my cost per movie concerns now look mistaken.

Are there other areas where I ought to be making similar changes? For books, I already rely fairly heavily on feedback from people who have read the books. For hiking trails, I want more new trails than I can find advice about (few people know more about bay area trails than I), so I don't see an alternative to sometimes reading maps and trying new areas I see that way. I should rely a bit more on advice about restaurants, but the differences between restaurants aren't big enough for me to put much effort into finding new ones. For food I buy in stores, I don't use enough advice - does anyone know a good source that I should look at?

Waterfalls web page

I've started a web page for little known bay area waterfalls that I intend to build up over the next few years into a list that will rival existing sources of information about bay area waterfalls (at least in quantity of waterfalls, if not in beauty). The current style of the web page isn't very easy to use, and I'll eventually turn it into something more organized and understandable.