Friday, 29 February 2008

Interesting Things

Click for larger images.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

A Hideous Mess, As Viewed From The Inside

Tonight it was not the 12:30am Saturday night closing, or the ritual humiliation of minimum-wage work, or the wait for a train that never came, or the hour-long search for a taxi, or the freezing cold. It was the hammering realisation of my own powerlessness in the world.
My life is a hollowed-out shell, unlived and unpopulated, lonely and characterised by escapism and cowardice. My intelligence has not resulted in success, or my education in wealth. I have run away from all the things that make life valuable and good, leaving a string of half-completed satisfactions and conversations which trail off into silence. I have no skill in making life, of building a foundation for gladness or for continuity of any kind.
My hit-and-run existence has lead me to a bleak and desolate place, and my punishment is to be alone with my thoughts.

I am monarch of all I survey;
My right there is none to dispute;
From the centre all round to the sea
I am lord of the fowl and the brute.
O Solitude! where are the charms
That sages have seen in thy face?
Better to dwell in the midst of alarms,
Than reign in this horrible place.

The Solitude of Alexander Selkirk
William Cowper (1731–1800)


Saturday, 23 February 2008

Friday, 22 February 2008

Things I Learned This Week

When a hippo in heat spots a female, he stands in the open and voids his bowels while spinning his tail. This may be where 'the shit hits the fan' came from.

One of my co-workers used to work the carnival circuit for five years with her family. A bunch of carnies, mucking out elephant stalls and shilling hoop toss to gullible country folk. Then last year she got hit by a mail truck. Her cat likes pot and she has a magnesium walking stick.

Platypi are poisonous. Really, really poisonous.

Edison was an asshole who stole a boatload of ideas from other people, notably Tesla. He also publicly electrocuted dogs trying to demonstrate the dangers of AC current compared to his favored DC current (even though AC is actually safer).

All of the computer games I played as a kid turn out to suck. Except Taipan.

Hemingway novels and short stories make for bad films.

Nicholas Cage's worst film of all time is The Wicker Man. Best scene: punches a woman in the face while dressed as a bear. This and other clips here.

HD-DVD is dead.


Wednesday, 13 February 2008

i Has A EeePC

After not spending any money on anything cool for six months, I finally caved and bought an Asus EeePC, a subnotebook with a 7" screen and a weight of a little under 1kg.
It feels satisfyingly weighty for its size, and is finished to feel cool to the touch, like metal. It doesn't fit in even the largest of my coat pockets, and it seems way too small for a satchel-style bag. A lot of the time I just carry it in my hand like a hardcover book.
I've been using it mainly to watch TV shows on the train and when I'm waiting for stuff. The 800x480 screen is slightly taller than widescreen movies.
I installed Windows XP on it as soon as I could, via a 1Gb USB stick, then the drivers which activated the audio, graphics and WiFi capabilities. I bought the model with a 4Gb SSD, and the system takes up about 1.4Gb. The battery lasts more than three hours. It boots from cold in about 40 seconds, and comes out of standby in about three.

Is it a stupid toy? Yes, I suppose that because I have a Core Duo 15" already it's not 100% necessary, but it is insanely portable and I use it in ways that other devices don't really let you do -- I can check my email via WiFi and listen to mp3's while standing at a street corner waiting for a crossing light. Maybe with a $900 cellphone you could do that. A regular laptop: you could, but you'd look like an idiot.

It cost $350, which is the most important thing, considering that Apple and other companies are pushing $2000 machines. It signals inevitable directions for the market: affordability and portability. When technology gets better and cheaper like this, it never goes backwards again. There will be dozens of devices like this by 2009. They will do 90% of what people use computers for.

Here's a graph [scroll down] of the uptake of new technologies in the 20th century: what % of people had what products (TV, VCR, washer, etc). As soon as prices go down, ownership explodes. (Notice that only three-quarters currently have computers, and only two-thirds are online.)

Future plans to make it cooler: 8Gb memory card; GPS receiver; 2Gb RAM card (from 512Mb); protective case.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Weight Loss Through Vigilance

In 2006, from January 1 to December 31, I lost a little over 30kg, going from 107kg to 76.5kg. I relaxed a little in 2007 and stablised at 82kg, but then since I've been travelling my routine went completely out the window. Since I've been in Canada I've put on perhaps 8-10kg. It's time to lose it again.

I worked out a decent system for losing weight which evolved gradually to suit me. Eating is 70% of weight loss, exercise 20%, pills and other tricks about 10%. It's clearly driven by what I'm not putting into my mouth, but my sanity and happiness depends on selecting quality, filling foods to eat; 300 calories of jellybeans for breakfast delivers a different day than 300 calories of bran. <300-calorie>

The main thing I learned was that diet and exercise are results-driven, not enjoyment-driven. Its success comes from following a clear routine, not from seeking variety and novelty like recreational activities do. Thus, meals like breakfast or general snacks could be standardised -- not always the same, but always consistent in terms of calories and major components: bran+banana/bran+NutraSweet/bran+honey/bran+cinnamon. My progress came from being vigilant and consistent, and the loss happened effortlessly.

The times where routine was thrown off were when I mistook dieting for recreation (variety=fun). I eventually realised that certain flashpoints -- supermarket shopping, lunch breaks, unusual bedtimes -- were decision crucibles that had major downstream effects. By controlling these short periods, I could forget about food choices at other times because it was already done; the stuff in the fridge was all fine to eat. I removed ambiguity at other times by making a greenlight menu list for McDonalds and Wendys which I carried in my wallet. I had choices, but they were all confirmed to be good ones. Also for Starbucks, where a Tall Americano is 10 calories, a Venti Latte 290 and the most calorific coffee 760 calories (to compare, a Big Mac is 540).

My exercise routine ran to an hour of weightlifting 2-3 times a week. I adjusted it by lifting high weights and lifting slowly, plus using protein and dextrose before, during and after to maximize my strength and benefit most from the exertion. I integrated as much walking as was reasonable into my everyday activities, and that was all the exercise I did that year.

Almost all weight-loss products are worthless without diet/exercise, as even if they are effective they only add benefits if you are currently losing weight in other ways. The exception to this is the ECA stack which I wrote about in an earlier post, which reduces appetite and heats up your body. These effects both cause weight loss (or limit weight gain) in clinical trials. ECA = Ephedrine, which is illegal in most countries; caffeine, which is an appetite suppressant by itself; and aspirin, which you only really need to add if you're obese and you have a tough time losing weight normally. I'm getting back on the food-control bandwagon for three months. By mid-March my pants will fit properly, and by mid-May I will be back down to 82kg.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Big Names

The Superbowl is tomorrow. It's kind of a big deal over here, although it takes second place to (ice-) hockey. The New England Patriots, based in Boston, have won all of their games this season--18 in a row--which hasn't been done by anyone since 1972. They're up against a New York team, the Giants, who came close to beating them late in the season.

This is Patriots star Tom Brady in a rare moment of abject humiliation.

Calgary has been stunningly cold lately, and my outside excursions have been mainly scurrying between modes of transport/warmth. My fingers have experienced more freeze-defrost cycles than a microwave dinner.

I have an interview for a design job at IBM on Monday, plus I'll be talking with a guy from a real estate firm who took pity on me after seeing a grown man working at the bottom of the video store totem pole.

To make my long commute more bearable, I listen to audiobooks which I download via BitTorrent. I've almost finished the 75 Greatest Books series (most of which are irritatingly religious) and I'm getting more into poetry and non-fiction now. Then there are podcasts like History According To Bob and audio-only versions of Ivy League lectures which are becoming available online.

Google Video has almost a full range of Louis Theroux shows: among the best gonzo journalism pieces in recent history. I've also been watching the canceled show Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip on DVD to get my Aaron Sorkin fix since I finished watching The West Wing.