Sunday, January 30, 2011

Thank you, Jack LaLanne!

Fitness legend Jack LaLanne passed on this week leaving behind the entire TV/video fitness business as a legacy.  I'm sure I am but one of countless others who can say The Jack LaLanne show changed my life.

It feels strange saying that a TV show made a difference in my life, but it's true.  I had tried to exercise consistently for years, but never saw any real results out of it.  I had gone to gyms, which didn't stick because there was too much wasted time.  I had used expensive equipment, which never really worked.  And then, I don't even remember how, I found reruns of The Jack LaLanne Show back when they were airing on ESPN Classic.

Yes, the show is of a different time.  Yes, viewed through today's eyes it could be considered condescending or even sexist.  To do so would be to miss the point entirely, like reading Doyle's Holmes stories and seeing only the undercurrent of racism.  What I saw was a man showing off simple exercises that required little or no equipment beyond a chair or towel.  This was not some P90X fad aimed to make fit people ripped, this was a show aimed at people like me who were starting at the bottom and just wanted to be in better shape.  And Jack presented more than just exercises on the show, he gave motivational speeches and preached on the importance of good nutrition, and he ended with a song or a blessing.

The real revelation for me was how little the message of fitness and nutrition has changed since the 50s.  The simple things that Jack preached are the same ones we hear today from Michael PollanJamie Oliver and Michelle Obama.  Except... Jamie and Michelle are focused on the children, in a sense having given up on the adults.  Jack believed that everyone, young or old, man or woman, could better their lives through relatively simple means.

The best tribute I can offer Mr. LaLanne is to say that thanks to the start his show gave me, I am in better shape at 35 than I was at 20, and God willing I will be better still at 50.

Watching the Watchers: Egypt and the Internet Kill Switch

It surprised me that the news headlines coming out of the turmoil in Egypt were so focused on the angle of the government attempting to "shut off" the Internet.  I suppose it shouldn't have.  China routinely censors the 'net, and some powerful regime was bound to try more drastic communications control sooner or later.  The inter-networked personal computer really has been the beginning of a new age, and the ramifications are only beginning to shake out.  Luckily for those of us who value free speech, it seems controlling the network isn't easy.  ArsTechnica takes a look at the technical side of the cutoff, while Lifehacker looks at how people can get around such restrictions.  (The latter even mentions some sort of archaic acoustic modulator-demodulator technology.)  Such things are important to keep an eye on.  After all, some argue that the U.S. government would like to have the option of an Internet kill switch, for the public good of course.

The Object Oriented Lament

William Woody pens an excellent argument decrying excess when coding. He's focused on the Java language, but I've certainly seen this type of behavior in C++ and other OO languages as well. It goes back to my number one goal when coding. Remember, the sanity you save may be your own.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Watching the Watchers: Computers, Imagination, and Wall Street

Money.  We all need it to some level.  We all want it at another, much higher one. It may not be able to buy happiness, but it sure as heck can buy peace of mind along many of the axes adults have to travel. And the key to the money in the U.S. is the stock market.  Interestingly, the problem with the money in the U.S. is also the stock market. The recent downturn remains an astonishing example of just how far away from the capital our capitalist society has moved. Like they are in so many facets of our lives, computers have become pervasive in the trading game. So much so that the majority of trades are now done without any human intervention. Thanks to new data centers in New Jersey, Wall Street isn't really even the hub of trading anymore.

If the economy is a shared delusion, and it is, what are the implications. Is pointing out the obvious imbalance between the "institutional" investors and people something that would affect this illusion? How do we tell if the assurances of people in those businesses, who have every reason to believe their own stories, are really correct that it benefits everyone? Even if it does benefit everyone, just not equitably, is that simply good business? Can our government, already failing in their regulatory roles across several industries, really keep an eye on the system?

I believe the relevant Star Wars quote is: "She'll hold together. Hear me baby? Hold together!"

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Pandemic Leads to Panimmunity?

If you suffered through a round of the H1N1 flu last year, you may have gotten a big bonus along with your misery: really good immunity to all manner of flu viruses.  Apparently in fighting off the H1N1 strain the body produces antibodies that are effective against a wide variety of flues, so many that scientists see the potential to help create a single universal flu vaccine instead of having to guess the proper strains every year.  They are also going to be testing to see if people who were vaccinated but did not catch the flu have the same immune response.  If so, then the H1N1 pandemic might be one of the best things that happened last year.

The Daily Show Reacts to the Arizona Shootings

The Daily Show presents a thoughtful reaction to the recent shootings in Arizona.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Global Warming A-Go-Go

Sigh. I am more tired of global warming than any other political subject save one.  And yes, it's beyond clear that global warming has ceased being a scientific discussion and become a political straw man.  The recently leaked Fox News editorial memo neatly illustrates both the political problem and the issue of how the media relates to scientists.  I'm reminded of Issac Asimov's fictional mathematician Hari Seldon being called to task for predicting the fall of the Galactic Empire in Foundation:
Q: Can you prove this mathematics is valid?

A: Only to another mathematician.

Q: (with a smile) Your claim then, is that your truth is of so esoteric a nature that it is beyond the understanding of a plain man. It seems to me truth should be clearer than that, less mysterious, more open to the mind.

A: It presents no difficulties to some minds. The physics of energy transfer, which we know as thermodynamics, has been clear and true through all the history of man since the mythical ages, yet there may be people present who would find it impossible to design a power engine. People of high intelligence, too.
In the age of the Internet, we should all be aware just how dangerous it is to allow any criticism to invalidate an argument.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Looking Back at 2010

Around the office the buzzword "lessons learned" indicates a look back at what worked and what didn't.  Looking back on 2010, I can see myself struggling with many of the same issues I've had in the past, but I did manage to learn a lesson or two along the way.

First lesson of 2010: It turns out that seeking new perspectives usually doesn't require as much effort as you think it does.  Twitter turns out to be a pretty neat service for following bite-sized nuggets of opinion, especially if you don't stick to circles you are used to.  As a strong introvert, I would never enjoy doing improv, or so I thought until I gave it a try.  And some of the lessons it can teach are things I seriously need to learn.  And of course the Internet lurks out there with more than you wanted to know about most everything you can think of.

Second lesson of 2010: If it doesn't really need to get done, it's OK to not get it done.  To a first approximation, all adults have more things to do than we have time and energy to do them with.  I have a bad habit of setting goals for myself, not meeting them, and then feeling bad about it.  The real truth is that once I've met my obligations, work and commitments to other people, nobody cares what I do with my time but me.  And if I don't care enough to do a particular task right now, it will still be there waiting for me tomorrow.  Life's too short to worry about all the recreational things you don't get done.  It's just indulging in what the Internet calls a "first-world problem."

Third lesson of 2010: Exercise actually does help with stress levels.  As with all repetitive tasks, finding the proper combination of motivation and enjoyment is key.  I finally ditched my uncomfortable, back-aggrivating exercise bike for a mini-elliptical, which allowed me to exercise while watching TED presentations, Tekzilla, or nerd-sports.  Adding in the extra incentive of getting to watch interesting or fun Internet programming was enough to allow me to nearly double the number of days I exercise.  It has made a noticeable difference, which helps create a positive feedback loop.

Finally, a bit of a look forward.  I'm not much for new-year's resolutions, but I have spotted a trend in my life, and I think I need to embrace it: the time has come to embrace the non-physical.  I'm not talking about hugging ghosts, I'm talking about digital distribution.  My computer gaming habits went down that rabbit hole several years ago.  My recent e-book reader purchase has caused my book reading to follow that path as well.  I think it's time to let go of my insistence on buying CDs as well.  And if a season set of BluRay disks costs the same as, for example, four months or more of Netflix subscription, why not consider if that's a better alternative to buying and storing them myself?

Pause and consider 2010, what lessons stick out for you?