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The Zero Is Gone

Chiobani.jpg

I think Chobani has figured out that we’re on to them. Therein lies a tale.

Carol and I were shopping at Safeway the other day, and were browsing the yogurt section. Chobani has the most yogurt SKUs at Safeway, and damned near all of them have long been decorated with a huge, garish “0.” This is supposed to be a signal that Chobani yogurt has no fat and is thus healthy. (What it means to me is that the nutritional value in the cup is zero, and I avoid the brand.) What I noticed today at Safeway is that the zero is gone. They’re not making a big deal of their nonfatness anymore. Wow. We won.

Anybody who reads me regularly knows that I lost weight by eating more. No, I didn’t change the Laws of Thermodynamics. What I did is give the lie to the BS that one calorie is like every other calorie, and if you eat more calories, you gain weight. That’s not true. (Really. For the love of science, stop repeating it.) When I switched from eating Cheerios in 2% milk for breakfast and went to an egg fried in butter, I lost weight. Then I began eating two eggs fried in butter, and lost more weight. There’s two parts to the method: 1) Eat less grain and sugar, and 2) eat more fat. It works for most people. You won’t know if it doesn’t work until you try it. (I’ve beaten this to death and yes, I’ll stop now.)

In the decades following WWII, there arose a near-maniacal War on Fat, which was based on dodgy or outright fraudulent science, and won the day when Ancel Keys got the Feds to back him up. Suddenly, 2%, 1%, and skim milk were mandatory, butter was demonized, and (shazam!) the country gained the weight of a minor planet. You’ve heard all this before, from me and others. What most people don’t know is that Big Dairy went along with it. You’d think they would put up a horrible fuss, but they didn’t. Why is an interesting question, but the answer is pretty clear: Alluva sudden, you could separate the cream from milk, sell the cream, and still sell the milk.

This wasn’t always the case. Prior to the War on Fat, skim milk was used in a few recipes or processed into casein (Elmer’s Glue!) and much of the rest was fed to pigs. (What couldn’t be fed to pigs was often just dumped.) People who drank milk wanted whole milk. Cream wasn’t considered dangerous. People put it on their corn flakes, for pete’s sake. Cream was considered the most valuable part of the milk, and we consumed a monumental quantity of it without gaining weight. We picked up the weight in part by eating sugar, which was added to nonfat and lowfat dairy products to make them taste like something. But more to the point, full-fat dairy causes satiation, and low/nonfat dairy does not. That’s why skim milk is fed to pigs: It keeps them eating.

Huge dairy product manufacturers could buy cheaper skim milk, make yogurt or cheese from it, and then claim that these new, 0% products were healthy and desirable. The cost to consumers was about the same as full-fat products. Do the math.

The War on Fat is pretty much over, but old habits die hard. We’re going to be mopping up for decades. The absurdity called fat-free half and half still exists. I still have to shop a little for full-fat yogurt and cottage cheese. (Look for the Big 4, though it’s still small. I expect that 4’s on dairy packaging will grow, if slowly.) We should take some comfort in small victories, like the vanishing of the Big Zero from Chobani yogurt cups. I take even more comfort from the vanishing of the fat from my waistline.

I’m still looking for potato chips fried in lard. Sooner or later, we’ll win that one too.

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

  • Our new concrete gets its sealer coat tomorrow, and once it dries it’ll be (finally!) done. I’ll post a photo. So far we think it’s gorgeous.
  • This article has been shared again and again and again on Facebook, and it caught my attention because it echoes something I wrote about in 2009: That because our stuff is lasting longer, we need less stuff, be it forks or cars. And the cars are piling up…or are they? Alas, the article is nonsense (it did smell a little funny to me) and here’s the point-by-point takedown.
  • Here’s the best detailed article on bacteriophage therapy I’ve seen in quite awhile. It’s a hard read, but a good one. Sooner or later, as antibiotics fail us one by one, we’re going to have to go this way. (Phages look very cool, as well.)
  • The scientific method wins again: We thought we knew the physics behind same-material static electricity. We were wrong. Doubt really does lie at the very heart of science, in that if we don’t doubt what we think we know, we have no chance of finding our mistakes.
  • Now that eggs aren’t evil anymore, it’s worth exploring all the various ways to prepare them. If you like hard-boiled eggs, here’s the best explanation I’ve seen of how to boil them so that they’ll peel easily and without divots.
  • Adobe’s Creative Cloud was down for some time. The issue’s been resolved, but it just confirms my ancient suspicion that putting everything on the cloud is a really bad idea. If I can’t access my software, I can’t work. Pretty much end of story.
  • Blue light keeps you awake. Staying awake shortens your life. So as the day winds down, Turn the Damned Thing Off. Then read a book until you’re sleepy. I recommend any substantial history book, with a special nod to histories of the Byzantine Empire. (Thanks to Dermot Dobson for the link.)
  • This is the company that makes the machines that play the songs on ice cream trucks. Or at least the ones in the UK.

Odd Lots

  • This exploit isn’t new, but may be the most devilish thing I’ve seen in a couple of years: Using the Unicode “right-to-left override” character in a filename to make a .exe file look like a .pdf, a .jpg, .txt, or anything else. Double-click on that PDF, and you’ll get pwned…because it isn’t a PDF.
  • Working 16-hour days and sleeping a couple of hours under your desk may contribute to the high percentage of failures among startups. Basically, people who short on sleep think dumb thoughts and chase dumb ideas. They seem to wear their wilfull sleeplessness like a badge of honor, even as it kills their startups. Or themselves.
  • Note the near-obligatory Ekirch reference in the above article. I’ve still not found much evidence for his theory of “divided sleep” outside of his own book, but the guy gets citations all over the place.
  • This article on food myths is less interesting than the comments, which generally confirm my conclusion (having seen lots of similar comment sections) that nobody really knows what healthy eating is. (Thanks to Roy Harvey for the link.)
  • My own advice runs like this, with no apologies whatsoever to Michael Pollan: Eat food. Not too much. And sometimes plants.
  • Much activity in this realm recently. Bruce Baker sends this link from the New York Times . Comments section very similar. The whole field, in fact, is a virtual food fight. Proving you’re right by insulting your opponents is very in right now, especially on Facebook.
  • Neil Rest sends a link suggesting that exposure to bright light in the morning lowers BMI. Now, I think BMI itself is bogus–the metric doesn’t differentiate between fat and muscle, sheesh!–but if morning sunlight does indeed goose metabolism, getting out in the sun is a good thing. We should be cautious here: It’s been established that losing sleep does promote weight gain, and it’s mostly night people who lose sleep.
  • Name brand diet soda sales are in free-fall. I think that this is less about health and more about cost: People are probably reacting to price hikes from Big Soda over the past couple of years by moving to house brands from Wal-Mart and the major grocery chains.
  • House brands are a fascinating business, and there’s very little out there on how this titanic but virtually invisible industry operates. Who makes the Cheerios that aren’t Cheerios?
  • Is the Internet taking away religious faith? Hardly. What it’s doing is providing secular religions (like political ideology) to satisfy the tribal hunger of the 50% whose disaffiliation from organized religion can’t be explained in other ways. Tribal ideology is cheap (no churches or clergy to support) and once you’ve given yourself permission to hate others who differ from you, it provides the perfect excuse.

Yearwander

Wow. Somehow it got to be a whole new year when I wasn’t quite looking. I’m not unhappy to be shut of 2013, and as usual, I have high hopes for this year to be better. The last of our parents has been released from her suffering, and while I miss them all (especially my father, who died 36 years ago) my idiosyncratic understanding of Catholic theology suggests that they’re all in better shape than I am right now.

Which isn’t to say I’m in bad shape. I had a couple of health problems this year, but nothing horrible. I’ve been able to get my abdominal fat down to almost nothing, and weigh just eight pounds more than I did when I was 24. It still puzzles me just a bit, but I lost that weight by eating more fat. I’ll tell you with confidence that butter makes almost everything taste better except corn flakes.

I scored an interesting if slightly peculiar writing gig this year. It’s been an immense amount of work, not so much in the writing as in the learning. I’ve never done a book–or part of one–with this broad a scope. I’ve touched on a lot of technologies in my career, but touching isn’t understanding, and understanding is the critical path to explaining. I’ve written code in Python and C and ARMv6 assembly. I practically buried myself in ARM doc for most of two months. That felt good in the way you feel good after walking fifteen miles…once you’ve allowed three or four days for the smoke to clear. I now know a great deal more about virtual memory, cache, and memory management units than I might have just touching on things in my usual fashion. Curiosity is an itch. Autodidaction is a systematic itch. And to be systematic, you need deadlines. Trust me on that.

No, I still can’t tell you about the book. It’s going to be late for reasons that aren’t clear even to me. When the embargo breaks, you’ll hear it whereverthehell you are, whether you have an Internet connection or not.

Every year has some bummers. The ACA did us out of a health insurance plan that we liked, but at least in our case it wasn’t cancelled on the spot. We have some time to figure out where we can get a comparable plan, if one exists. (One may not.) It could end up costing us a quarter of our income or more, and we may lose relationships with physicians we’ve known for ten years. I’ll just be called evil for complaining, so I won’t. Anger is the sign of a weak mind, after all. I think one of my correspondents whose insurance was cancelled without warning summed it up in an interesting way: “I’m not going to get angry. I’m going to get even.”

It’s snowing like hell as I write. I would have posted a photo, but as most of you are staring out the window at snow this week (in some places a great deal of it) I doubt it would have been especially interesting. Besides, a couple of hours ago, I could have just said: Imagine yourself inside a ping-pong ball. Open your eyes. In truth, the weather hasn’t been all that bad. The global climate, in fact, has been remarkably benign considering all the dire predictions of the past ten or twelve years, at least once you look at actual stats and not anecdotes or GIGO models. Science works. Back in 2007, Al Gore himself told us that we would have an ice-free arctic by 2013. (Then again, he also said that a couple of kilometers under our feet it was millions of degrees…talk about global warming!) I love the scientific method. You predict, you test, and then you learn something. Sure, I believe in global warming. I’m still unconvinced that it’s entirely a bad thing. (I remember the ’70s. I also remember Arizona.)

I’ve also been doing some experimental research on the psychology of people who jump up and start frothing at the mouth like maniacs the instant they read something somewhere (anywhere!) that conflicts with their tribe’s narrative. That research is ongoing.

I’ve discovered a lot of good things, albeit small ones: Stilton cheese pairs with Middle Sister Rebel Red. Who knew? Python is much better than I remember it, TCL, alas, much worse. And Tkinter, wow. You’re not going to spin a GUI that fast or that easily in C. Green Mountain Coffee Island Coconut beats all, at least all you can get in a K-cup. Carol and I are dunking good bread in good olive oil again, now that Venice Olive Oil Company has a retail shop in Colorado Springs.

Time to go up and start cooking supper. We’re out of egg nog but my Lionel trains are still running. I don’t care if it looks like a ping-pong ball outside. I have my wife, my dogs, my junkbox, and a head that still works more or less as intended. Happy new year to all. Life is good, and getting better. Trust me on that too.

Daywander (Again)

I guess for symmetry’s sake I have to hand you two Daywanders in a row. Blame symmetry if you want; here you go:

It’s (almost) all good news. Carol is improving daily, though still using crutches for long hauls. Her foot hurts when she uses it too much. She’s about to begin physical therapy, which should help. And in three weeks she goes in to get the other one done. We knew this winter was going to be spent mostly at home, though neither of us fully appreciated just how at home we were going to be. Then again, dancing with that girl is as close to heaven as I’ll get on this old Earth. It’s not even three years until our 40th wedding anniversity celebration. Dancing you want? Dancing we’ll give you!

Our Lionel trains are up! It’s been several years, but with a little unexpected help from Jim Strickland, the Camel and the GG-1 are tearing around a longish loop that now surrounds both of our livingroom couches, powered by my formidable Lionel ZW. We put some liver treats in Carol’s 1959 hopper car, and of all the Pack, only Dash was willing to chase the train around and scoop the treats up out of the hopper. He was also the only one willing to grab Louie the Giggling Squirrel from the same hopper.

I find myself renewing an old friendship while writing a chapter on programming. (The book itself is largely about hardware.) Back in the early 1990s I spent a certain amount of time with Tcl/Tk and much enjoyed it. Visual Basic was brand new, and creating GUI apps was still mortal drudgery facilitated by the king of mortally drudgerous languages, C. In 1993, all you got with Tk was Motif. Funny to think of Motif as a bottom-feeder GUI now, when back then it was nothing short of breathtaking. Today Tk gives you native look-and-feel, and there are bindings for just about any language you’d ever want, and there are more computer languages these days than mosquitoes in Minnesota. I’m using a binding for Python called TKinter that basically gives you Tcl/Tk without Tcl. That’s good, since Tcl is a bit of a dud as languages go and the main reason I dropped Tcl/Tk like a hot rock when the Delphi beta wandered in the door at PC Techniques. Python isn’t Pascal but it’s way better than all the toothless C wannabees that represent the sum total of recent language research, especially JavaScript, the Woodrow Wilson of programming languages. If you just can’t bring yourself to use The Kiddie Language without falling into fits on the floor and drowning in the dog’s water bowl, well, Python and TKinter represent the easiest way to lash up a GUI that I’ve ever seen.

Then again, Delphi and Lazarus are just better.

Carol and I got the Christmas cards out today. It didn’t get done last year because Carol’s mom was failing and we knew we had only one more Christmas with her. Between Carol’s foot and my book project it almost didn’t get done this year either, but we’re trying to get back real life as life should be lived. Christmas cards are part of that. No complaints.

Bad news? Not much. I was pulling a pizza out of the oven a couple of nights ago, and fumbled the pan with my gloved right hand. Fearing that dinner was about to go jelly-side-down on the kitchen floor, my reflexes put my un-gloved left hand in the line of fire, and whereas I saved the pizza, it came at the cost of second-degree burns on two fingers and the thumb of my left hand. It’s not bothering me as much today as yesterday, and my typing speed is slowly getting back to my accustomed Thunderin’ Duntemann (Thanks, Fiona!) 100 WPM. But I promise you, the next pizza that gets wonky on me is gonna go jelly-side down, while I stand there and laugh. I may be 61, but I learn.

New featured pairing: Stilton cheese and Middle Sister Rebel Red wine. Very good news.

As most people have already discovered just sticking their noses out the back door, 2013 looks to become one of the ten coldest years in US history. It may not be global, but damn, it’s cooling.

And that, my friends, makes me look to my now-empty snifter of brandy and egg nog beside the monitor. Time for a refill. Long past time, in fact.

Daywander

As the temperature slides back down below zero (F) here, the supper dishes are done, and I lean back to savor the memory of home-made stuffed peppers, and for dessert a good sharp Stilton cheese chased with Middle Sister Rebel Red wine. It was very close to a carb-free meal, consisting of some 85% ground beef with a little rice to thin it out, mixed with salsa and scooped generously into some very Christmas-y red and green pepper halves. Oh, I’ll maybe have a little egg nog later on, the season being what it is.

What the season actually is, is early. I’m not used to below-zero temps two weeks before winter begins. It certainly hasn’t happened in the ten years we’ve lived here. I get screamed at every time I suggest that we may be entering a cooling spell on the Third Rock, but from all I’ve seen in the stats it sure looks that way. At some point my strongly suspected Neanderthal genetics may come in handy.

Carol’s still scooting around the house on her knee walker. She’s improving day by day but there’s still some pain that her surgeon will have to consider when we go back next week. I hung a little canvas pack on the knee walker so she can carry things around. My father brought the pack home from WWII, and it sat in a box in my mother’s attic until we sold her house in 1996. It then sat in a box in my sister’s garage for another ten years, until we unpacked it and I took it home. I have no idea what sort of pack it is, and if you recognize it (see above) give a shout. Now, the other mystery: How could something that old and neglected not smell? It doesn’t. It’s clean and looks almost unused. Whatever my father did with it back in the day, it’s become useful again. He would be pleased if he knew. Someday I hope to tell him.

I turned in a ginormous chaper today for The Book I Still Can’t Tell You About. I’m well over half finished with the gig, and certainly hope the next chapter won’t cast off to 55 book pages all by its lonesome. It’s certainly something to do while waiting for a quick trip outdoors to cease being a near-death experience.

Michael Covington mentioned to me that Lowes is now selling Meccano parts in those marvelous little bins of odd bits in the hardware aisle. I got up there a few days ago to take a look, and it’s true: A company called The Hillman Group provides little bags of zinc-plated steel girders, plates, and brackets, all with the Meccano standard 1/2″ hole spacing, the holes sized to clear an 8-32 bolt. They’re expensive compared to haunting eBay for beat-to-hell and incomplete modern Erector sets, but the parts can be damned handy. Here’s an Arduino-powered cat teaser built from some servos and Hillman parts.

Tomorrow I dive into Chapter 5. Should be easier, as it’s about programming, not hardware. Now, can we ditch this absurd obsession with curly brackets? What part of BEGIN and END don’t you all understand?

Jeff Duntemann’s Metadiet Picobook, Part 6

Wrapping up the series, which began here.

By far, the most contentious issue in weight loss these days has nothing to do with carbs or fat. It’s about the sheer quantity of the stuff that we eat. In one corner are the people who say that one calorie is exactly like every other calorie, and the only thing you have to do to lose weight is to eat fewer calories. In the other corner are people who say that if you eat the right stuff (typically protein, fat, and green vegetables) you can hork down as much as you want and not gain weight.

Who’s right? We don’t know.

We don’t know a great many things about human health. In my view, the ad lib diet question is the biggest single unknown in the whole weight-loss arena. This may be because both sides assume that they’re right (settled science!) and insist that no further research is necessary. Alas, I’m appalled at how little good research there actually is.

But I have noticed something: Carol and I tend to pick up weight when we travel. Part of this may be the fact that we often go home to Chicago on holidays, when there’s loads of snackable sugar around. But it occurs almost any time we’re away for a week or more. When we get home, the weight vanishes over the next several weeks.

Hmmm. When we’re away, we eat at restaurants a lot. When we’re home, we hardly eat at restaurants at all.

I was boggled to learn that many people eat at “sit-down” restaurants four or five times a week. Carol and I eat at restaurants perhaps two or three times a month. Good stats are hard to come by, but this graph (possibly skewed by the nature of the site and its patrons) says a lot. 25% of the respondents confessed to eating out or doing takeout 6-11 times per week. Not per month. Even cutting that in half in an effort to back out selection bias, we still have a quarter of Americans eating restaurant food 12-22 times per month.

Wow.

Note well that I’m not talking about fast-food here. Fast-food meals are fairly small compared to sit-down restaurant meals, and I think their primary contribution to weight gain is unlimited refills on sugared drinks. Writer Tom Naughton tried to get fat eating at McDonald’s for a month and failed. He published his food logs. Morgan Spurlock of Super Size Me fame did the same thing and claimed all kinds of health problems as a result. Spurlock has steadfastly refused to release his food logs (if he indeed ever kept them at all) and so to me his research is “research” and very likely bogus.

Looking carefully at sit-down restaurant meals reveals two things: The portions are very large, and the meals are carb-heavy. Been to Macaroni Grill lately? Egad. You’re looking at a couple of pounds of pasta. Carol and I have also noticed that restaurant pizza has gotten crustier in recent years. Baked potatoes, which I remember as smaller than my fist decades ago, now seem as large as wing-tip shoes. Carbs are cheap. Wheat in particular is cheap, and there are special issues with wheat, as I explained earlier in the series. There is also the natural tendency to eat the whole thing at the restaurant rather than take two-thirds of it home.

If any experiment is possible relating to portion size, it’s this: Stay out of restaurants for a month and see what happens. If you lose some weight, try to do it for another month and see if the trend continues. If it does, don’t panic. It doesn’t mean you have to stay out of restaurants forever. It may mean that you have to cut back, to perhaps one meal a week or so. Say five a month.

My thought on the portion control issue is that portion size does matter, but because it’s so difficult to separate the portion size issue from the carbs issue in restaurant meals, it’s tough to put real numbers to in any reasonable experiment. Eating out less may simply mean eating carbs less, and that’s almost certainly a win.

They don’t state it explicitly, but having looked at the methods of weight-control programs like Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers, I’d say they work because they’re portion-training systems. No, their pre-packaged meals don’t look all that appetizing. They are, however, modest in size and contain enough energy not to shock your body into fat-storage mode. Eating a little less on a regular basis works better than starving yourself for a couple of months and then giving up. Do that and you will gain weight.

Eating smaller portions at home is easier because you control the portions. One trick I’ve seen is just to use smaller plates, so that less food looks like more. Beyond that, it’s just planning. Don’t cut portions in half when you’re getting started. Ramp down slowly. Don’t stop when you feel full. Stop when you no longer feel hungry.

And that’s pretty much all I had in my notes about weight loss. I’ve lost 20+ pounds since 1997, almost all of it from my gut, which is where you want fat the least. I eat low-carb, which for me is mostly low (or no) sugar. I eat high-fat by conventional standards: Butter? Love it. Meat? Lots! Eggs? Every day. By experiment I’ve determined that modest quantities of wheat, potatoes, and rice don’t seem to have the effect on me that they do on many people.

But that’s been the whole point of this series: You cannot generalize about human metabolism. We’re all over the map. You have to do the science to find out what works for you. So do the science. Keep good records. Don’t starve yourself. Be patient. Believe your findings. (That can be tricky when you’re nostril-deep in diet books that all claim to know The Way.)

It’s a peculiar and surprising business. If you learn anything interesting, do let me know.

Jeff Duntemann’s Metadiet Picobook, Part 5

Hypothesis: Eating fat gooses your metabolism, burning body fat.

Experiment: Eat more fat.

Some time back, I reviewed a very old book: A Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public, by William Banting. It was published in 1865, and you can get it for free from Google Books. It’s the earliest I’ve ever seen anyone publish what amounts to an experiment in losing weight. An overweight man got advice from his doctor, tried it, and lost weight. Better still, he published what he ate, and passed out the book (which is more of a pamphlet) to anyone who wanted it. Banting’s diet proved so popular that “to bant” became a Victorian term for what we now call “going low-carb.”

Fast forward to the late 1950s. A physician named Herman Taller, like Banting, got impatient with his own weight. He’d tried the fashionable remedy of his time (counting calories and avoiding fat) without any success. Then, at the encouragement of a fellow researcher, he did something remarkable: He started consuming what could have been as much as 5,000 calories a day, most of it fat. He lost weight.

Also, like Banting, he wrote a book. Calories Don’t Count was published in 1961. Again, like Banting, Taller and his book have been pretty much forgotten. Forgotten, of course, until Gary Taubes redisovered them, and described them both in his 2008 book, Good Calories, Bad Calories.

Taller’s book is mostly of historical interest these days. His science is now 55 years old, and we’ve learned a lot in the meantime. (There are hazards in polyunsaturated fats that we had no clue about in the 50s.) So I don’t recommend it. Taubes’ book picks up the science that Taller began with, and brings it up to the current day. I do recommend Taubes, enthusiastically, and have several times. If you want to know anything at all about human metabolism, he’s your go-to guy.

For this entry, the point I want to make is something that Taubes explained: Going low-carb is an excellent first step. But you can’t just eat protein, or you risk mal de caribou, which is liver overload due to eating almost nothing but protein. You have to eat fat as well. If you’ve reduced your carb intake, eating fat begins a remarkable process: fat mobilization. Your body runs out of convenient carbs in the bloodstream, and begins to burn stored fat for energy. Your metabolism ticks up sharply. You generate more heat. It’s a weird concept, but I did the experiment. It works.

Here’s how: I banished all carbs from my breakfast. No sugar, no grains, no juice, no fruit. What I began eating (and have eaten most days since) is an egg fried in butter, sometimes two. Coffee with cream. Some days (not always) full-fat unsweetened yogurt. An odd thing began to happen. Within twenty minutes to half an hour, I started to sweat under my arms.

I added up the calories, and it was about a wash compared to a bowl of Cheerios. But when I ate Cheerios, I didn’t sweat. I got a little sluggish, in fact, an hour later, in what was literally a Cheerios crash. The key is that I hadn’t eaten any carbs since the previous evening’s meal, and had gone all night without eating anything. By the morning, I was out of carbs. There was nothing to stoke the fires but protein and fat.

As with everything I’ve suggested in this series, it may not work this way for everyone, but the biochemistry seems legit, and it certainly worked for me. Try it. Lose your fear of fat. There’s nothing to it. When I ate more fat, I lost weight, and both my bad cholesterol and triglycerides went through the floor. By conventional measures I’m healthier than I was when I was 45. I credit that to eating more fat. (The kidney stone just pushed me in the right direction.)

Tomorrow: Wrapping up.