Sunday, July 31, 2011

Survival Guide: Coconut Trees (In Rarotonga)

Climbing coconut trees, opening coconuts, eating coconuts - some of my recent experiences in Rarotonga and a few ideas for further experimentation.

I’ll try to keep this short and sharp as there is a lot of material to cover. I only want to inspire you and to start you off on the path for exploration so that when you visit Rarotonga you too can climb the coconut trees and eat of the bounty!

Climbing Coconut Trees
Find a tree with a gentle lean as this will make it a little easier. A tree with lovely green coconuts and a trunk about a foot in diameter is the best place to start. All you really have to do is to walk your feet up the tree trunk in a tight crouch while holding the other side of the trunk from your body. As your feet get closer to your hands, move your hands up a little and then repeat. Like a monkey climbing a pole. Experiment with what works for you and remember to be aware of your fatigue levels so that you can get down safely.

The hardest part is that your arms get very tired, very fast. I’ve seen video clips of people climbing using a rope (often made from coconut fibre) around their hands and the tree to make it easier on the arms. You can see that I’ve used some green palm leaves roughly woven together for this purpose. I tested my makeshift rope by looping it over a beam and bouncing my weight up and down to see if it would break. This was total overkill, but 10+ meters up and you don’t really want it to break!

Ideas for further testing that I didn’t try but would like to were numerous. The main one is to make a loop of rope for my feet to hold them a fixed distance apart to push on the tree trunk. The rope in this case is on the same side of the trunk as my body and provides friction on the trunk so I can push better with my feet and with less energy used to try and keep my feet in place.

Also, a larger rope would be nice. One that can go around the trunk and my body so that I can lean back and let go with my hands to work at the coconuts or haul a cutting device (a machete or sharpened stick) up into the tree.

The challenge I set myself was to use as much natural material as I could, though I still wanted to have some success at the end of the day. I successfully demonstrated the proof of concept (getting up a tree in position to get some coconuts) to my satisfaction, so I allowed myself to get some fresh coconuts with a little “cheating” but in a safer way. The most energy efficient way to get a coconut down, apart from waiting for it to drop (normally happens when ants have been at the nut, ruining it anyway) is to use a really long stick and something tall to stand on. The really fresh, green, coconuts will be hard to get this way as they “hang on” pretty well.

I leaned a pallet against the shortest tree I could find and wedged a long stick into a bunch of coconuts. I then levered and shook the bunch until one or two dropped off. I had to make sure that they weren’t going to fall on me as they came down. apparently more people die from falling coconuts than from shark attacks in the world! Something to remember if you are on a tropical island!

Here is a YouTube clip of someone successfully climbing a tree before I briefly mention how to open and eat a coconut:

Opening and Eating a Coconut
A machete or a sharp rock will be incredible helpful at this point.

The outer husk or the coconut is very tough and fibrous. The best way to get inside seems to be to use your sharp implement to break into the fibre along the length of the husk in the direction the fibres run. You can cut away at the end of the coconut where it was attached to the tree to loosen the ends of the fibres and then wedge a stick into the gap between the outer fibre and inner nut, using the inserted stick to lever the husk away.
A sharpened stick stuck in the ground with pointy end up will work well if you hit your coconut husk into it. If you can get enough leverage with your bare hands on the loosened fibres you will be able to pull the husk free in strips.

The simple machete method is to cut directly across the fibres on an angle towards the top of the coconut (where it was attached to the tree). You keep turning the coconut to cut away the entire husk around the top of the nut and then poke something through the three small holes in the coconut to drink or drain the juice. Sometimes the juice is a little but fizzy but I haven’t been able to find out why (whether from natural fermentation or heat effects in the tropical climate). Fizzy coconut water doesn’t seem to cause any ill effects, though I’d like to know more about this phenomena. You can see the pressure that some coconuts are under from the video of Chris below as he opens a coconut.

If you get to the coconut water (there is no “milk” - coconut milk is apparently normal milk filtered through coconut flesh) then you will work out the rest. The water is refreshing and a good sports drink, the flesh is tasty and nice to eat raw or just cooled. I drained about 750 millilitres of water from each coconut and a large bowl full of flesh. Not bad for a meal in a survival situation I think, and just one afternoon of careful coconut harvesting can easily land you with a weeks supply of emergency food/water if you know what you are doing. I would still try and fish or find something to get a more balanced diet, but at least you won’t starve.

How to open a coconut using a rock and a twig in less than a minute:

Further information:
Coconuts on Wikipedia
Machete Reviews and Buying Guide (a machete is a larger heavy blade that uses the weight of the blade to do the cutting - kind of blunt force cutting almost!)
Coconut Chris (from Hawaii) tending his coconut palms

Monday, July 11, 2011

Pleasure - 2 Ways to Enjoy

There are two ways to enjoy something pleasurable. Or perhaps it is better to say that there are two ways that we can find pleasure in our experiences.
First is by overloading the senses with an increasing amount of pleasure. For example, as a chocolate lover, you might be driven to consume the richest and tastiest samples or to consume great quantities. If you seek pleasure through overloading the senses, then you will eventually (and quickly) come to the end of your ability to increase your pleasure. From a scientific point of view you have used up all of the chemicals in the chemical receptors of your taste buds. This will result in you experiencing little to no flavour despite having more of your treat.

Second is by taking the time to appreciate the details. For example, chocolate can also be enjoyed in small quantities but with even more pleasure than through overdosing. Noticing the precise balance of flavour, smells, texture, how it changes the way blood flows around your mouth and the rest of your body (you can feel a surge of blood and chemicals of pleasure as it melts in your mouth if you observe yourself carefully). These things might reveal that your "special" brand is not really as nice as you thought and that it really only had more of the addictive sugar/sweet to fool you into thinking it was tastier.

These two methods can apply to the repetition that is required for learning a new skill. As you notice more detail in what you are learning you will find a greater appreciation and joy in improving. Simply doing something more often, or louder, or harder, will not necessarily increase enjoyment. Noticing more details and refining will yield much greater results for your personal pleasure in the long run.

Taking this a step or two further, we can:
  1. Notice how refined the most successful people are in the parts of their lives for which they are known. Some are known for excess, but these are not lasting successes. The longest lasting popular music, for example, is technically much better than the rest.
  2. When trying to eat less, during a period of weight-loss or for maintaining, we can eat slowly to savour the tastes of our meals and thus eat less to feel fulfilled.
  3. Consider the destructive excesses of our own lives and how they might have corrupted a form of pleasure which can be refined, e.g. food, alcohol, sexual addictions
  4. Seek out friends who are not exceedingly excessive in their personality in order to preserve your energy levels
What are some of the ways that you can reduce, or have reduced, harmful excess in your life? Is there a time and a place for excess?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Annihilation: Is this a Biblical Doctrine?

The following is a response to Dr Glenn Peoples on his blog. Glenn believes that annihilationism is a biblical doctrine and I disagree. Annihilation doctrine says that there is no conscious everlasting punishment in hell and that everlasting refers to death being "without end". They believe that this doctrine is biblical and fulfills any requirements of justice and again, I disagree.

What I am impressed with is Glenn's ability to argue a point rationally and with clear reasoning. This alone is worth the time to engage with him I think. This is something that we need to promote in society.

A final note, and one that I hope will not see my points as taken any less seriously, I have trouble working out the proper usage of the terms annihilation and annihilationism! I hope I haven't been painful for anyone to read because of this.

Hi Glenn (and others)

I first want to say that, after discovering and reviewing some of the material on your site, I appreciate and am thankful for your focus on original thinking, and for your desire that people have a deeply personal understanding of important matters. Having said that, I disagree with your position on annihilation.

As time allows, I hope to engage with enough of the material that you (and others) reference in order to give your position a fair hearing. For now though, I want to raise two or three points. If these have been dealt with elsewhere, feel free to provide a link/reference so that I am not wasting your valuable time. Recently getting married has led me to appreciate others’ time much more, as the amount of my own that I have to devote to these issues has become much more scarce!

Firstly, I would like to mention Matthew chapter 11 as a passage that seems to have a lot more weight on the issue of degrees of punishment. Jesus says that it will be more tolerable for some. While I believe that this is not necessarily an argument for or against annihilation, it does seem to be much stronger than the passage you’ve used. I’ve also never come across Luke 12 as a passage with any real weight in the argument.

Second, I think that reducing the issue of punishment/reward to one of “having life or not having life” is overly simplified, and even misses the point when scripture refers to life and death in the context of eternity. If death is permanent and final, without the “spiritual” component of pain or torment, then the direct opposite of this would seem to be life without the spiritual component of joy and completed sanctification. The gains of salvation would seem to be reduced to mere immortality and the issue of what happens during that version of everlasting life seems separated from the biblical concept of everlasting life.

Finally, the position of annihilation seems to me to present a lower view of the majesty of God than that which I find presented in scripture. I don’t say that to offend, but to show that I do consider this an important enough issue for Christians to work out together. I am sure you have just as high a view of God as I do, but I do not think that annihilation supports such a high view. Justice, in at least part of the biblical sense of the word, has a clear meaning of balancing the books. The magnitude of the crime demands an appropriate magnitude of punishment. Not so much from the angle that sin is really bad, but because the sin (or any level) is against a really holy God; that is why conscious punishment without end makes more sense to me. I’ve totally understated just how bad sin is and more importantly just how holy God is, but hopefully I’ve still communicated that it is the holiness that I think demands a greater sense of punishment by those being punished.

The comparison to an earthly court, in particular life imprisonment versus the death penalty, has been used to try and justify annihilation as meeting the requirements of justice. I think this argument presents a misunderstanding of true justice and the role of the legal/penal system. Scripture offers us hope that true and ultimate justice will be served by God on Judgment day. Our earthly systems of justice attempt to copy this, not the other way around. As such, our earthly systems are limited to merely representing in a physical sense the death of the wicked. Because of this, we cannot properly relate a flawed, man-made, physical system to the perfect system administered by a perfect Creator. I could say much more on this but the hints are there enough for you to ponder this further.

Thank you for such an open and valuable forum on this, and other issues. I apologise for the lack of detail in my words. Time and mental energy being scarce, I hope you will forgive me.


You can read the full blog post and comments here: