- In one of my rambles around the Web looking for interestering perspectives on education, I ran across this very insightful (if possibly misnamed) blog post. My take: We are teaching an entire generation that their own blathery opinions are unassailable. Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.
- From Frank Glover comes a link to recent research suggesting that too much artificial light at night correlates with higher risk of breast and prostate cancer. More research is needed, but if the answer is to go to bed early and sleep in a dark room, Carol and I have it covered.
- Rocky Jones’s Silvercup Rocket is well along on its restoration, and this page has both period and recent photos, as well as the best history of the Rocky Jones TV show that I’ve seen anywhere. (Ok, I’m biased–two of the photos are mine!)
- Many people who have read my Hi-Flier Kites article have asked me what sort of paper was used to make the dime-store paper kites of the 1960s. I’ve asked around and tried any number of papers, but now I think I’ve come fairly close with a type of paper made in Germany and called–sunuvugun–“kite paper.” For some reason it’s popular with the Waldorf school crowd, though not for making kites. You can get it in 19 1/2″ X 27 1/2″ sheets, albeit only in 100-sheet lots, from A Toy Garden. That’s a little smaller than the Hi-Flier 30″ kite, but it’ll work. As spring gets a little closer, I’ll make one and report back here.
- What the Waldorf schools do with kite paper is in fact impressive; this Flickr album scrolls through a good many photos of Waldorf traditional origami stars made with kite paper.
- From Bill Higgins comes a link to Low End Mac, a site devoted to older Mac machines, especially pre-OS/X.
- Pete Albrecht sends hope that Maurice Lenell may not be out of business, though their suburban Chicago plant will be razed to make way for yet another damned shopping mall.
- I have several reasons for opposing contact team sports in schools (as opposed to careful weight training and aerobics). This is another one.
- The three things I was afraid of as a six-year-old were robots, mummies, and volcanoes. I’ve made my peace with robots and mummies, but volcanoes still give me the willies, and our Alaskan citizens are watching another one nervously.
- In case I don’t remember to mention it tomorrow or Sunday, Puppy Bowl V on Animal Planet kicks off at 3 PM EST Sunday, 2 PM central, 1 PM Mountain. When you get good and tired of watching spoiled-brat millionaires get the crap beat out of them by other spoiled-brat millionaires, the puppies may be a blessed relief. We never miss it anymore.
I’ve been using removable storage for a long time, and five years ago I moved from Iomega ZIP 250 MB disk cartridges to Cruzer Mini 256 MB thumb drives. I chose the Cruzer Mini line for a slightly weird reason: They fit comfortably in the pencil groove of my Northgate keyboards. Not all thumb drives do, and I’ve found it very convenient to have all of my active removable storage devices sitting there right where I can grab them.
Five years on, and not a single one of the Cruzer Minis has ever given me a lick of trouble, though I destroyed one once by working too fast. SanDisk no longer makes Cruzer Minis, and the ones I have are fairly small, some only 128 MB. This makes for lots of thumb drives lying around; for example, I had to put each one of the five Carl & Jerry books on its own Cruzer. It was time to scout out something else that would fit in my pencil groove, and with considerable delight I discovered the SanDisk Cruzer Micro Skin. They’re shorter than the Cruzer Minis, and a little narrower. No problems keeping them in the groove.
I bought them for their size, and didn’t understand the line’s gimmick until I had one in my hand: The Cruzer Skins are inside a flexible, tough plastic sleeve with an end cap of the same material. The skin and cap fit the metal body of the device very closely, enough so that if you dropped one in the sink the works wouldn’t even get wet if you pulled it out within a few seconds. (I’m guessing that they float, in fact, though I’ll let somebody else do the experiment.) You can remove the sleeve and apply a Brother-style label to the drive body, and then wiggle the sleeve back over it. This protects the label, especially if you drop it in your pocket with your car keys, as I’ve done a time or two. (Brother labels mar very easily.)
They’re yawning huge compared to my five-year-old Cruzer Minis. I recently bought several 4 GB units for $12 each, and an 8 GB (for $20!) to hold all five Carl & Jerry books, including high-res raw scans of all the 300+ illustrations. I’ve been able to consolidate several ongoing book projects from separate 256 MB cartridges onto a single 4 GB unit. The caps don’t fall off; you have to yank them. They don’t come with lanyards, but you know, I have yet to see anybody keep a thumb drive on a lanyard. (A lanyard loop is there at the end of the unit if you want to make your own, like we did at summer camp in 1965.) We’ll see how they hold up over time, but right now, I say highly recommended.
Recapping: After losing five pounds by not eating Cheerios every morning for breakfast, I tried replacing the calories with protein and fat calories to see if those five pounds would return. I deliberately ate more to see if I could accelerate the process, but what I ate more of was limited to eggs, meat, and cheese. It backfired, and I lost two more pounds in ten days.
When I told Carol on the phone that I was down to 148, she told me to knock it off and go back to my Cheerios. So on the 11th day I called a halt to the experiment. Most of the meat and cheese was gone by then, and I’d had to get another dozen eggs and more yogurt. But I started cooking carbs again: primarily rice, and some conventional pasta. Since I was still batching it, I did weird things like having a bowl of Cheerios as my carb course at supper, next to a yummy plate full of formerly frozen shrimp and a side of creamy cole slaw.
That was only about a week ago, and as of this morning, stark naked and dripping wet, I weighed 151. It only took a week of slamming carbs again to gain three pounds. Carol got home last night. I’m a much happier guy, and will be returning to eating like a real human being. The only long-term change is that I’m having an egg for breakfast instead of Cheerios. Keeping my edge all morning has been delicious.
This experience didn’t surprise me too much. I’ve run into the effect before, although I never had the opportunity to do anything quite this gonzo to test it. Back when I was in college, I weighed about 125 pounds and was mostly skin and bones. Over the years I gradually put on weight, as people do. By the time I was 45 I weighed 170, and Carol told me that I was starting to look several months’ pregnant. Then something interesting happened: I threw a bad kidney stone, which forced me to stop drinking three or four Snapple bottled sweetened iced teas every day. I stopped drinking anything but water while the stone was being analyzed, and I lost several pounds almost immediately. This intrigued me, and when I started drinking sodas again, I drank only diet. The weight stayed off, and started drifting slowly downward. (None of this is news to my long-time readers.)
The next event happened a year or so later when I stopped eating rice bowls down at the corner for lunch every day. I switched to sandwiches or pizza (and no longer ate a softball-sized wad of white rice on a daily basis) and lost another slug of weight very quickly. My weight since then has wandered between 155 and 160. Once I started weight training in 2004, it drifted down to 155 and has been remarkably consistent since then…until last summer, when I stopped eating Cheerios for breakfast.
And now the experiment is over. So…what did I learn? Mostly, this: The conventional wisdom that Fat Bad, Carbs Good, is not unassailable, and the whole business is hugely more complex than most people think. It’s not an issue of thermodynamics, as far too many people believe. We do not “burn” calories in the same sense that we burn leaves out in the alley. Metabolism is an enormously complex biological mechanism, one that we still don’t understand as well as we should–or even as well as we think we do.
I was certainly struck by this: Changes happened a lot more quickly than our conventional understanding of calories and weight gain/loss would explain. If it were simply a matter of wadding on weight when we eat more than we burn, or losing weight when we burn more than we eat, it should take a lot longer. A pound, after all, represents 3,500 calories, and my intake deltas were nowhere near large enough to account for the changes I saw as quickly as I saw them, both on the downswing and on the upswing. I’m aware from my reading of the tendency to shed water on low-carb diets. I took care to drink more water than I generally do, and did not notice myself losing any more than usual. Something else must be going on, and while I’m still researching it, I think the answers may lie in a book I read almost by accident a month ago, a book that triggered this whole crazy idea.
(To be continued as soon as I can manage it.)
Recapping Part 1 of this series, yesterday: Back in the summer of 2008 I stopped eating a bowl of Cheerios every morning, to see if I could avoid the “fuzzy” feeling that commenced half an hour after breakfast and lingered for an hour and sometimes longer. Within three weeks, I had lost five pounds. I also lost the fuzzy feeling.
I found this intriguing, since it meshed with a few other things that had happened years earlier when my diet changed abruptly for some reason. (I’ll save the deep history for Part 3.) I read a few books, some of which I will review in the near future. There is a very old and very contrarian position in the health field to the effect that if you eat more carbs, you gain weight, and if you eat less carbs, you lose weight. This seemed to be the case with me, though all the data that I could find had been gathered in the treatment of overweight people. I was not and had never been significantly overweight. (I have never weighed more than 170.) It was a head-scratcher, and the question would have remained purely academic, except that we have known since last fall that Carol was going to be in Chicago for two or three weeks in January. I was going to be cooking for myself and eating alone all that time.
I had lost weight by dropping one daily bowl of Cheerios from my diet. The hypothesis was obvious: Suppose I replaced the calories represented by a bowl of Cheerios with an equivalent number of calories, but from protein and fat. Would I gain the weight back?
I went shopping on the way home from dropping Carol off at the Denver airport. I bought more almonds. I bought a dozen extra-large eggs. I bought lots of cold meat, cube steaks, bratwurst, and frozen shrimp. And cheese, wow: sliced Havarti, a wedge of Romano, grated Parmesan, and a package of those appallingly delicious artificial Swiss-flavored cheese slice substitutes. I bought a big container of creamy cole slaw. I bought several cups of Greek-style high-fat yogurt. I bought a pint of table cream for my coffee. As a coup de gras (heh) I bought half a pound of bacon.
Slightly daunted by all that unapologetic fat, I drew up my courage, and I ate.
Now, a largish bowl of Cheerios with a half cup of 2% milk represents about 150 calories. An extra-large egg is 85 calories; fried in butter brings it up to a little over 90. A tablespoon of cream for my cafe au lait is another 29 calories. 3 oz of Greek-style yogurt gave me 115 calories, over about 85 for the light yogurt I had been eating before, for a calorie delta of 30. It was close to a wash; 150 before; 150 after.
That was breakfast. For lunch I had cold meat and cheese and occasionally an egg, and every couple of days, two strips of bacon. I did a lot of interesting things with the raw materials: I made a handcrafted Bacon Cheese Egg McMuffin. I made a new sort of ham and cheese sandwich, by sandwiching two slices of ham between two slices of Havarti cheese. I did not cut out carbs completely–I like them too much–but one Bays english muffin was it for lunch. For dinner I typically had a cube steak fried in walnut oil, another 3 oz of Greek-style yogurt with blueberries, some Romano cheese, and maybe a few Wheat Thins.
I made buffalo spaghetti sauce, enough for several nights, and served it over whole-wheat capellini. When I didn’t feel like cooking, I just thawed some shrimp and went nuts.
What I did not eat was sugar or refined carbs. I read labels like I generally read only SF, history, and theology, taking notes. There’s at least a smidge of sugar in almost everything, but if it was high-fructose corn syrup, I put it back on the shelf. I had no desserts, and I left the last two boxes of Christmas cookies in the pantry, unopened. I did not eat any potato chips. I did not eat any rice. I did not eat any white pasta. The only bread I ate was from a package of cracked-wheat bratwurst rolls. When I snacked at all, it was on dry roasted almonds.
I did not scrimp. I ate as much as I wanted; in fact, to accelerate the process (given that I only had a little over two weeks to regain my five pounds) I ate as much as I could stand. I probably ate about 25% less in terms of carbs than I generally do, but I ate a lot more protein and fat. I did not change my exercise regimen.
After ten days of this, I tallied the results: I felt great. I was never hungry.
And I had lost two more pounds. Oh, dear. If I wasn’t careful, I would be burned at the steak for heresy.
(To be continued tomorrow.)
Carol’s coming home tomorrow, finally, after two and a half weeks in Chicago helping her mom. This was nothing sudden, and I had had a crazy idea in reserve, at which I hinted in my 2009 plan file, which I posted on New Year’s Eve. Some of you mailed me, puzzled, about this item:
- Eat Less Sugar. Eat More Meat. Lose More Weight. (More on this shortly.)
One woman, whom I’ve known for a number of years, scolded me: “You’re crazy! You don’t need to lose any weight!”
That’s true. I do not need to lose any weight. However, when I do lose weight, I damned well want to know why.
Ok. There is some backstory that I haven’t given you yet. This may take me a couple of days to get through, but I think it’s important. So let’s get underway.
For a number of years now, I’ve weighed 155, and I consider that my ideal weight. I’m 5’9″ tall and lightly built. My blood chemistry is good and I have no major health problems. I walk regularly, and do weight training once a week. This has been my regimen (such that it is) since we moved to Colorado in 2003.
My customary breakfast all this time has been a bowl of Cheerios in 2% milk, and half of a 6 oz cup of fat-free, low-sugar “light” yogurt, mixed with organic blueberries. (The organic is incidental. I don’t care how they were grown; they just taste better.) I’m used to a certain period of muzziness that follows breakfast, and assumed it was just my blood rushing to my stomach. Morning is my productive time for writing, and my post-breakfast fuzzies slowed me down. I resent that, but I considered it inevitable until I read something online about the phenomenon. Eating carbs for breakfast will do that to you. Hmmm. So some months back, I just stopped eating Cheerios in the morning, hoping that I would be mentally sharper until lunch. And wham! It worked. I got a little hungry at 10:30 AM, but I did not lose my edge after breakfast. I was writing more, and better, from 7 AM all the way until noon. So I bought dry-roasted almonds to snack on mid-morning, and kept to the regimen.
Well, something else happened: In about three weeks, I lost five pounds.
I did not think that had five pounds to lose, but I shed another inch of waistline, and had to punch another hole in a couple of my belts. Carol told me she wanted me back at 155. However, I am unwilling to lose my morning edge. It was a bit of a conundrum, but I knew that, come January, I would be batching it again for almost three weeks, eating alone. So a totally outrageous experiment suggested itself…
- From the Words I Didn’t Know Until Yesterday Department: The Ranters were a wild-eyed seventeenth-century religious fringe group, who were perhaps most notable for incorporating nudity into their worship. (Whatever else they might have been, they sure weren’t Catholic.)
- From ditto: In modern urban slang, a “butterface” is a homely girl with a great body, as in, “Every part of her was perfect but her face.”
- And elsewhere on the words front, even William Safire, from whom the scariest words recoil in terror, was unable to determine the origin of that very up-to-date and with-it 90s expression, “it is what it is.” Wikipedia suggests that it was coined by John Locke, circa 1680. So much for being up-to-date.
- From the Microprocessors I Never Heard of Until Yesterday Department: There was an 80376. It was an embedded variant of the 80386 that did not support real mode, but only protected mode, and was produced from 1989 until 1994.
- Much angst is flowing about the blogosphere concerning the Conficker worm, but this is the first page about it that I respect at all. I’ve long since disabled Autorun, and in fact, “autorunning” things is one of the worst ideas in computing since DLLs. Make sure you’ve got that November patch they speak of
- And while we’re talking worms, here’s some news on a piece of malware that comes in on pirated Mac software, evidently with the intent of creating an all-Mac botnet. The dangerous thing here is that a lot of nontechnical people seem to believe that the Mac is immune to malware somehow. OS/X is certainly tougher to infect than Windows, but it can be done, especially when people are sure that it can’t.
- Carol and I launch our Internet-facing apps under a clever mini-utility called DropMyRights, which basically runs such apps with limited user account privileges instead of admin privileges, even if you’re running as admin. Doesn’t work on Win2K, so I have not used it myself until fairly recently, but I installed it on Carol’s XP box probably two years ago, and she has used it daily without any issues since then.
- I have tried and failed to make a Linux utility called KGrubeditor work under my instance of Ubuntu Intrepid. When I attempt to launch it, an item appears in the taskbar for about fifteen seconds before vanishing, and nothing else happens. At least one another person I know has made it work correctly, but I just don’t see what I’m doing wrong. I installed it through Ubuntu’s apt-get shell and saw no errors during the process. If any of you are users and are aware of any trickiness in the utility, I’d love to hear more.
I’m hard at the rewrite of my assembly book, and in going over the chapters closely I realize that I have a lot to do, significantly more than I thought going in. Parts of this book date back to 1988, and the work as a whole was not organized back then the way I would organize it today. So I’m doing more to it than I thought I would, and although that will make for a better book, it’s also eating more of my time. (Expect a few fewer Contra posts over coming months, and perhaps shorter ones.)
I’ve also been using Ubuntu a lot more than I ordinarily do, since the rewrite finally exiles DOS from the discussion except as a historical footnote. I find myself surfacing for a breath now and then, and realizing, I haven’t been in Windows for almost six hours! Crossover Linux has made this possible, since I have Office 2000 and Visio 2000 installed under Ubuntu now, and don’t have to be bouncing between two machines or two partitions to write code and then write about the code.
In the process, I’ve been using Ubuntu more and at more depth than I ever have before. One thing I’m beginning to appreciate is just how easy it is to get software and keep it current, and just how good the software that’s out there really is. That’s changed in ten years. Back in 1999, in order to run NASM under Red Hat I had to download a tar file full of source, unzip it somewhere, and then recompile the whole damned thing. I had no intention of changing the assembler and would have been more than happy with binaries.
It’s different now. With Ubuntu (and I assume most modern distros) you go up to a software repository through a package manager utility, cruise an enormous list of free packages that are available, and check off the stuff you want. Then you click Apply and stand back: The package manager downloads the package and anything that the package depends on, checking first to see if you’ve got any of the prerequisites installed already. Only the stuff you need comes down, and when the smoke clears you have new apps on your app menu, or new libraries tucked in where they’re supposed to go. (Or both.) Wow.
Ubuntu periodically checks to see if updates are available for anything you have installed, and a couple of clicks brings them down and installs them.
I’m sure that not everything that exists is up there, but what’s up there is extremely impressive. If I allowed myself to get distracted, I’d be playing with Gambas and Boa Constructor rather than writing. The Nemiver debugger front end didn’t exist ten years ago, and it will star in the new edition of Assembly Language Step By Step. Most of all, I want to play with Lazarus (the GUI IDE for Free Pascal) and have to slap my hands periodically, or I’d get nothing else done.
The primary barrier to the adoption of the Linux Desktop is unlearning old habits, followed as a distant second by conversion of existing Windows-centric files. There may have been a third barrier somewhere, but I’ve forgotten what it was. There is certainly no shortage of software to get the jobs done.
I read about Michael Arrington’s concept for a low-cost Web tablet back last summer, and was intrigued. Web is useful, but the resolution on this gadget (1024 X 768) would make it ideal for reading PDF ebooks, particularly textbooks and scientific/technical nonfiction with lots of illustrations. Not every type of book can be read on a cellphone, and the sorts of ebooks that require larger displays are getting precious little respect in the gadget world.
But I learned today that the Crunchpad (as the TechCrunch crowd is now informally calling it) has reached the prototype stage. They sound like they’re aimed in the right direction, but remarkably, I see no discussion at all of the device’s usefulness as an ebook reader. (I added a comment to the entry to this effect.) It looks like it can work in portrait mode, and has an accelerometer to sense when it’s been “spun.” Ebook reader utilities are not cycle-hogs, and would add little to the burden on the CPU or SSD storage.
I’m a little queasy about on-screen touch keyboards; I would use the USB port for a “real” keyboard when one is needed. I would also add an externally-accessible SDHC card slot for loading content without waiting for the inevitably slow Wi-Fi link. But beyond that, if the thing can render PDF and CHM ebooks well, I’d buy one like a shot, and pay $300 for it without regret. This is one to keep an eye on.
There was a very funny article by Daniel Akst in the Wall Street Journal this morning, about a very stylish New Yorker who converted his entire family to Macs years ago because, well, they were cool. This is easy to do when you have a good job and you know your co-op will continue to appreciate at the rate of 30% a year forever. However, now that Big Media is reminding us every day that we are being crushed under the worst Depression in world history, even the cool people are buying Windows machines because the cost of cool may far outweigh its benefits.
(By the way, although Dan looks cool–click to his Web site–he is actually a highly insightful writer who could make his reputation by puncturing cool culture as his writer’s mission. Read his stuff. I think he should start by buying a suit and getting a professional publicity photo taken. At least he hasn’t shaved his head, which the majority of cool guys do, especially once they start to go bald.)
There’s nothing wrong with Macs apart from the fact that they cost too much. I have some technical quibbles about the UI–using a one-button mouse was a hideous mistake, founded in Jobs’ condescending view that All Users Are Idiots–but it’s a very solid, well-engineered box, basically a Unix system that has been beaten about the head until it learned some manners. But that’s not why people buy them, and once The New Austerity goes mainstream, either their prices will come down or they will become the next NeXT.
MAKE Magazine regularly runs articles about making furniture out of old cardboard boxes. Odd, though, that I rarely hear anybody say that used computers work just as well as new computers–better, actually, when the new runs Vista and the old runs XP.
And cheap. You want cheap? On eBay right now as I write this, there’s a used 2.8 GHz Dell SX270 with 1 GB of RAM, a keyboard, and a mouse. Starting bid is $89.95, the auction expires in an hour, and there are no bids. I can tell you from personal experience that this is a very good machine, because I have one almost exactly like it in our condo in Des Plaines, and I very happily lay out books on it and process graphics. Add an SX270 Windows install CD (which may cost you $30) and a monitor (which you may already have) and for under $200 you have a machine that is built like a tank and will do anything you need to do. The install CD is BIOS-locked to the model (not the individual machine) and you don’t have to activate it. The only thing it won’t do is be cool.
Interestingly, there are pockets of coolness in the free software world, as I’ve discovered as I’ve kicked into high gear revising my assembly language book to be all-Linux. The cool index of Karsten “Rasterman” Heitzler’s Enlightenment desktop manager is off the charts, and Raster’s been working on it for 12 years now. He himself is one of the coolest geeks I’ve ever met, and he does it without any condescension or venom. (I’ve spoken with him in person on several occasions, though it’s been awhile.) How well it works I won’t know until I try it, but that’s a separate issue. The cool is there. Few people know about it because cool is a proxy for status, and status is a proxy for money. If it doesn’t cost money, and if just anybody can get it, then in our culture it’s almost by definition not cool.
This may change. It may change in weird ways, too. It’s currently cool to live in Manhattan, but once companies move most New York jobs to Iowa, Iowa may have to become cooler. Pockets of uncool places are sometimes cool, like Boulder and Austin, but such cool places are so expensive that they may eventually share New York’s fate. You can buy a three-bedroom bungalow outside of Ogallala, Nebraska for 10% of what a similar house would cost in Santa Cruz, and you’d be closer to the beach than much of Santa Cruz. (It’s a way better beach, too.)
Jobs will eventually follow affordable housing. Are you too cool to live in Nebraska? Heh. We’ll see.
- Don Lancaster sent me a link to the Draganfly, a mighty cool RC/GPS guided helicopter for
aerial photography or police/military applications. MIT has worked out an algorithm for swarming these things, which isn’t too
mind-blowing when you have three or four…but how about a few thousand?
- On the other end of the scale for flying machines, Wired
reports the opening of the Jumbo Hostel, a pulled-from-service 747 jumbo jet that was gutted and fitted out with (small) rooms for Stockholm airport travelers who simply can’t get enough claustrophobia.
- And if you’re looking for something that will not only fly but fly high, there’s the unfortunately named Skylon, to which I call your attention because it reminds me of those Bonestell drawings of the canonical 50’s three-stage orbital rocket, particularly the nose section. Alas, we won’t see it for ten years, which is about how far into the future such things always are. (The only thing farther out is commercial nuclear fusion.)
- Here’s another very spooky atmospheric phenomenon described on Spaceweather. This is not a sundog but a subsun, which is much brighter and I’m guessing a lot more startling.
- Fractal woodburning, anyone?
- While American technical and scientific magazines seem to be cratering right and left, Steve Moulding writes to tell us that Elektor Electronics , a longstanding European publication catering to hobby electronics, will be launching a printed North American edition. It’s unclear how this will differ from the UK edition (which is the only one I’ve ever seen) but anything that helps promote hands-on electronics here is welcome. (There’s not much left on the home front but QEX and Nuts & Volts .)
- And if the loss of paper magazines depresses you, consider that just a few days ago, the last paper player-piano music roll came off the assembly line in Buffalo. Interestingly, brand new player pianos of this sort were being sold well into the 1960s; the family down the street where I grew up had one when I was tweve or so.
- A Japanese chap built himself an automated book scanner using Lego. (!!!) It’s a delightfully Goldbergish contraption that basically holds the scanner upside down and presses an opened book up against the inverted scanner glass, dropping the book between scans to turn the pages. (Watch the video!) Big Pub seems excessively worried about ebooks and feels that their refuge still lies in paper. Maybe not. (I’ll bet I could do up something like this in Meccano, of which I have much. Just another three hours in the day, fersure…)