Friday, December 31, 2010

Free Soap!

There's just something nice about a hotel room.

Technically it's just a poorly equipped, overpriced apartment, but somehow having that little room set aside for you is an incredible treat. You relish the experience, tossing down your bags with great flourish and stretching out on a bed just big enough to be considered a double. You inventory the room: chairs, table, tv, coffee pot, tiny fridge (exquisite!).

And then you turn on the TV. My mother never understood this part when I went on vacation as a kid, and asked why we traveled so far if we were just going to watch television we could see at home. She never understood that you have to "settle into" a vacation. You need that moment to claim your new space, kick the tires and open her up a little. Only once you're fully at home can you enjoy a single thing outside that window, with its super-heavy blackout curtains.

Oh look, the number for the nearest pizza chain. Gonna give them a call later, aren't you? Yes, pizza delivered directly to your new little domain. What royalty you are.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Dear Santa Claus,

First of all, let me commend you on your free toy program. It's a fine, charitable idea that has benefited millions. However, the rules governing your allotment system have always seemed a bit vague to me, so there are a few points I'd like some clarification on.

1. What, exactly, do you mean by "naughty" and "nice"? Is this morality scale working on absolutes, or more of a relativist system where culture and environment are taken into account?

2. How far does "nice" credit accrue, and does your Christmas morning pay out accordingly? I guess what I'm really asking is, "If I do enough charity work, will you turn me into Spiderman?" Just let me know, I can make the time.

3. Speaking of credits, is rollover something we need to worry about? Does the new year start fresh, or does a certain amount of naughty/nice still apply? And does the new year start on Jan 1, or once the current year presents are delivered?

4. Do you get Christmas presents? What about your wife, and the elves? And who would deliver them to you? Taking presents to all those kids seems pretty "nice," so I imagine you must get some crazy stuff.

So when you get a chance, please clarify these points for me.* I'll be happy to write up the details in a GoogleDoc, so you can include it as a faq whenever you get a webpage going.

*Please note that answers to these questions do not constitute a gift.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Awkward Garden

I have nothing against Olive Garden: it's tasty, it's reasonable, and the level of service is pretty consistent. For chain restaurants, you can't do much better. If you said "How about hitting up the OG for dinner?" I'd probably say "yes," if only because I love Andes mints.*

But I'd feel weird about it.

I always feel a little uncomfortable in that place, because it occupies the center of a social nexus. OG is a chain, and a corporate entity, but steps its presentation up a notch from most in that field. I mean we all know the place isn't a "real" Italian restaurant, but any given 'Garden is definitely a classier experience than your average Applebee's or Chili's. And that's exactly why it's so weird.

If I walk in wearing jeans and a t-shirt, I feel like I should be more dressed up. If I walk in dressed up, I feel awkward sitting in the waiting area next to a guy in overalls. Which one of us is inappropriately dressed, Olive Garden? If this was a burger joint it'd be no big deal—the relaxed motif would give us level protocol ground. But your bottles of wine and stone exterior have forced me to shuffle my feet, wishing I'd shaved before I left the house.

*Which is why I love going there with people who don't like them.

Friday, December 10, 2010

And the Fury

Live music is like the movie "Chicken Run." I never feel motivated to watch it, but once I do I'm surprised how much I enjoy the experience.

Some would say that live performance is definitive, that recording and replaying is a hollow, lifeless imitation. I'll save that intellectual position for the guys at the poetry jams who walk up to the mic and say "this is not my voice, this is an electronic interpretation of my voice." Those guys would know better about the supposed purity of live performance, and are more comfortable being immediately disliked.

But there is something special about seeing someone play their own music, and I don't know that it has much to do with the sound itself.

-As with sports, martial arts demonstrations, and dances, being reminded what human beings are capable of is pretty incredible. When you listen to a recording, that simply doesn't register the same way: you are dealing with the sound alone, not the sound and the person making it.
-It's hard to be a jerk in person. When you only encounter the art and not the artist, you can be more critical. Listening live robs you of that emotional distance.
-Watching someone sing their music, like hearing a person read their writing, lets you in on the subtle inflections and body language they use. A lot of people say that Citizen Cope, for instance, doesn't write enough lyrics, instead endlessly repeating his choruses. It wasn't until I saw him live that I realized he uses lyrics like a mantra, a point of meditation that he repeats in a trance state.

But not all art forms have the option for live versions. There are book readings, but they aren't common. Movies and TV let us see the actors involved, but no one else, and since we're not in the same room as any of them it isn't the same. Even in a restaurant, the chef generally stays in the kitchen. Music, then, is fairly unique in that we have so many opportunities to encounter the people responsible for it.*

*Unless you count Twitter.

Friday, December 3, 2010

And then nap.

As we've discussed before, cats are like tiny superheroes. For their particular environment, they are the most incredible physical creature to be found.

But I guess, when your life includes the constant threat of being snuggled by a larger being, who fails to recognize what a terrifying predator you are, karma has to send some serious stuff your way.

And that's why the best part of having a cat is watching it flip the hell out for no particular reason. If they weren't so fast, sleek, and agile, cats hitting their regular crazy time would just look kind of desperate and scary. But the incredible gifts nature has given them turn those tiny kitty brain fluxes into pure hilarity.

So much happens so fast when your cat goes nuts, it's primal hunter brain suddenly turning on and venting all the stored energy of sleeping 19 hours a day. Generally it goes something like this:

"What's that noise? I haven't been in the other room in a while. This room is weird, I should go back to that other room. Is there something under the floor? I have a TAIL! There's that noise again! What if the carpet were lava? JUMP!"*

*Which constitutes about a quarter of a second of a cat's "buggin' out" time.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Traveling through Time Trax

The best part of Netflix and Hulu is not that they provide vast riches of content, but how they serve as media time-capsules. Digging through their collective libraries is a bizarre and wonderful way to pour over cultural touchstones of your youth: the good, the bad, the incredibly bizarre . . . all there together.

They have POLE POSITION! Yeah, you forgot about that, didn't you? They took a video game where you drove a car on a race track and somehow extrapolated a story about kids solving crimes with their artificially intelligent cars.

The 80's really had a thing for human/machine stories like that. I know you're going "Knight Rider" right now, but I'm not going to let you. I'm gonna make you think about Airwolf, and realize that it actually wasn't awesome. No. It was garbage, and you loved it as much as I did.

And speaking of disappointing: Inspector Gadget. Remember what a great show that was? Yeah, only it wasn't. That animation must have cost them tens of dollars to produce.

I think we need to cleanse the palate here, so your head doesn't swim too much from all these let-downs. While you can't find much of the series, there is an Animaniacs movie on Netflix, and it holds up quite well. Fun, light-hearted comedy that's surprisingly sophisticated for a kids show. Just amazing. I'm adding the DVD's to my wishlist right now.

Jim Henson's the Storyteller? Oh yeah, we've got all that. The weird thing is that I've remembered the pilot episode, in detail, ever since I saw the original broadcast. It's about a guy who gives away his last biscuit and gets a magic sack that he uses to get a bunch of demons out of a castle and then later trap death . . . who's this little white bald thing, for some reason? I don't know what to tell you, but please watch it, I need it to be bouncing around someone else's head too, so I don't feel (as) crazy.*

*I'm honestly just glad I have evidence that this episode is real, and aired on television. I stopped talking about it because most people thought I'd dreamed it.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Ok, so Harry Potter 7, part WHAT.

I made it out to the midnight showing of Harry Potter 7, Part 1 last night, which is really the ideal scenario for properly enjoying a franchise dripping with hardcore fans. The environment was buzzing with enthusiasm for the latest installment, creating an audience that I knew would be reacting to every little nuance of the what the crap was that trailer? Are they really making a movie called "Cowboys and Aliens"? Seriously?*

In many ways, book seven is the hardest treatment to tackle, even when broken into two parts. Pacing is always an issue when the leisurely stroll of a novel has to be boiled into three hours or less, and that's especially a problem with Deathly Hallows, where much of that stroll is three characters going camping and trying to figure out what to do. Overall though, I think the film adaptation does a good was that Daniel Craig? That was Daniel Craig right? I mean Harrison Ford, fine, after Indy 4 he might as well do a "Cowboys and Aliens," but Daniel Craig has plenty of career and integrity left. What is he doing?

The reason Potter 7-1 holds up is that it uses not only action beats to keep things moving, but also I mean Stephen Speilburg isn't that surprising, he'd put aliens in a movie about ancient Rome, he puts aliens on his cereal every morning. Remarkably, the writers occasionally do Rowling's characters more justice than she does, and manage to I just kept waiting for that trailer to become a joke. I sat there waiting for the gag moment, where one of the aliens would burp or something, but it never happened.

So, in summary I HAVE NO IDEA what happened in Deathly Hallows, part 1.

*REALLY?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Photosensitive


I think Wikipedia is pretty cool, in general, and I'd say I use it on a daily basis. Despite the rolled eyes of so many who say it's unreliable since anyone can edit it, Wikipedia offers a ton of information, with citations, and it's the only place you can go read an in depth article on light saber fighting styles.

That being the case, I'm thinking I'll probably donate this year in their annual fund raising drive, as requested by the appeal mentioned above.

But . . . I have to ask . . . what the hell is with that picture*?

Why is he so serious? Is that supposed to show us how desperate he is for our donations? I'm not sure I want to see that every time I want to look up the list of 30 Rock episodes. It kinda makes me uncomfortable, him up there staring at me.

"Come on Sam. Hit the link. You're always here looking up processor models, and you never contribute a thing."

And maybe that's the problem right there, it seems like he might have his "Dad face" on.

"I'm not angry that you're reading about locations in the Harry Potter books. I'm disappointed."

Actually, now that I look at it a little closer, he just looks uncomfortable. I think maybe Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales just really needs to pee. They should replace the text on the picture with that in mind.

Please read:
A personal appeal from
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales
who refuses to go to the bathroom until you donate.

*John Ritter's cousin is constipated. Please give Wikipedia some money.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Wonderful Wizard of OP

Running a Minecraft server has been fun, but it's also brought about some of the weirdest instant messages I've ever received. Being an "op" (short for "operator") means that I've agreed to play god to this digital world, balancing out the bugs in a universe's early Alpha version. As such, the people inhabiting that reality occasionally offer up their "prayers," by which I mean "Google Chats," requesting my intervention.

What do they ask for? Here are some examples:

Oct 16 -
I am trapped
I am deep, out of picks
and even though I lit the way
I cannot find my way out

Oct 31-
Ok, time to turn the monsters off now
they spawn like crazy now
you cannot get away or even have a chance

Nov.5-
please warp me somewhere
I fell out the bottom of the world and am stuck

I doubt the Minecraft developers realize what a strange religious experiment they've created- much the same way Eve Online has become an unlikely political microcosm. But it seems appropriate that all the op's powers are wielded through the talk command, literally speaking to effect changes in the world.

I hope it doesn't sound like I'm going mad with power here, but keep in mind: I CAN CREATE INFINITE DYNAMITE.*

*The wise man builds his house upon the rock, the foolish man builds his house upon the sand. The man who builds his house out of dynamite . . . your op is keeping an eye on him, just keep your distance.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Unique Individuals

The thing is, a lot of those birds don't even seem all that angry.


I mean yeah, that yellow bird, he's mad. He might be a bit too mad in fact, like maybe this whole egg situation is just a convenient excuse for him to vent some unresolved issues. So I guess that's legitimate anger, even if it's less about those pigs and more about his relationship with his father.

Red bird might be a little angry, but mostly he seems to be there out of a sense of obligation. I've got a feeling yellow bird talked him into it, calling him a coward and stuff like that until he grudgingly agreed to come along.


But blue bird? Blue bird isn't angry because blue bird has no idea what's going on. And he never has. He honestly just saw that big slingshot and, in his compromised state, thought it sounded like fun. Either that or yellow bird promised him some Cheeto's.

You could make the case that black bird is angry, he certainly seems to enjoy his role in all of this. But that's the thing, he enjoys it. I think black bird may simply be a psychopath. He's going to blow something up no matter what, this is just a good opportunity.

White bird seems like he's just scared out of his mind. White bird just wants to go home, and flies away with genuine relieve each time his attack is done.* Yellow bird threatened him, that's the only explanation.

Green bird is pretty clearly a weirdo. He's basically that kid from school who would occasionally show up wearing one of his mom's hats, or something. And he wouldn't explain or even reference it, cause he just loved that everyone found it strange. I'm not even sure what he's doing here, probably just knew it was good public place to show off how much of a weirdo he is. He's going to grow some kind of crazy mustache, trust me on this.

*Also, does anyone else find it weird that he drops eggs? I mean, isn't the whole point that they're trying to save eggs? How many eggs is it okay for him to plop on the ground in the service of saving the stolen ones?


Friday, October 22, 2010

Tree of Knowledge (Beta)

So . . . how can I NOT talk about Minecraft this week.

Minecraft is an independently developed game about exploring a gigantic open world. The graphics are simple and blocky, but what it lacks up close it makes up for in sheer scope.

This is a world that goes forever. You can walk and swim as far as you want, and the game will keep generating new space for you to inhabit.

And that's why you can get incredibly lost.

But the game's vastness isn't just on the surface. By combining the materials you collect you can create new objects, from simple picks and shovels to torches that can be flipped on and off with a wall switch. And all of it is only the beginning.

Minecraft is currently in "alpha" state, the software equivalent of a rough draft. By the time it's finished there's no telling the kinds of things that will be possible. I just hope the future versions are compatible with the world we've been at work on.

That's right, "we." I knew as soon as I saw Minecraft that it was something I wanted as a multiplayer experience, so I setup my own server for the game. And gradually various friends came to it, knocking on my IP address and asking if they could live on the spare desktop in my home office.

And just look at what they've built:
*






The last few constitute the beginnings of "town," the area we're working on together. It's been amazing watching the work of individuals gradually come together to refine this virtual place. With complete authorial power over the landscape, we are gradually making it our own.

Given the incomplete state of the software, I can't help but think of it as a kind of digital Eden. Though the magnitude of it all is impressive, the rules governing the world are strange and incomplete. An update to the server software would represent an incredible shift in reality. One update in particular.

In any place of darkness, monsters spawn. For now they offer no threat, since all damage is turned off in the server software until the bugs with it are worked out. When that gets changed, original sin comes to our world, and we will need to be ready.

*Hehe, I made a big tower.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Radio Silence

I'm not trying to be antisocial. That's not what this is.

I just don't understand the desire to chatter on, ensuring that the sound of talking fills every single moment of life, even the somewhat awkward moments like this one. Can't this just be a little personal time? Can't we just stand here in silent reflection for this one moment during the day?

And anyway, isn't it the least bit weird for you to talk right now? Shouldn't you have other, more important things to focus on? I mean I know the process is fairly automatic, but anything that can go wrong deserves your attention, no matter how simple or familiar it is. Why don't you handle that situation, and we'll talk afterwards?

Because again, it's not an antisocial thing. I'm not Mmhmm-ing your little quips because I don't like you, or even don't want to talk to you.

I just don't want to talk to you at a urinal.*

*Also, why are you always in here when I am? Do you pee like, thirty times a day? Or are we just on eerily similar whiz-schedules.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Storytime!

Andrew was . . . well, Andrew was a monster.

Now, when I say that, I don't mean that Andrew was "monstrous." He did not commit monstrous acts. He did not hurt people. I don't mean it that way.

No, when I say that Andrew was a monster, I mean that he was nine feet tall, green, had rows of horns growing down his back, and had enormous dinosaur-like claws for hands and feet.

I guess you'd say that I mean "monster" in the "literal" sense.

I'm explaining this up front for a reason, because otherwise you'd go through this story thinking that he was a regular human being. There are a couple of things that might make you get that impression:

1. Andrew lived across the hall from me. Like in an apartment. An apartment just like mine. Nine foot tall green guy, getting up everyday and hitting that light switch with his terrifying claw.

2. No one but me ever seemed to notice that Andrew was a monster. I mean he knew of course. It's hard to miss the fact that the whole world is designed around creatures who cannot crush tree trunks like they were aluminum cans and do not eternally smoulder. I don't know what the rest of the world's problem was. When I see an enormous creature down the street, with glowing eyes and breathing that sounds like thunderclaps, I don't wonder if he played college football. I wonder where I'm going to hide.

3. As a direct result of #2, Andrew had a job and did many things that a normal person would do. He simply did them with the added challenge of being a natural abomination.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Amazing Gamer Blogs!

Paperboy (1984) was quite an experience.

I'm sure it was an easy sell to most parents: a nice wholesome game about delivering newspapers-very TV Land. But the gentle motif and cartoony cover art of a happy kid tossing out papers doesn't communicate several realities about the game:

1. It's positively teeming with bizarre crap, painting a typical suburban street as a terrifying death trap.
2. It leads you to run your paper route in gangster fashion, keeping your customers in line while punishing those who aren't on your side.
3. It is brutally difficult, the way only games of that era are. It demands precision control, timing, and reflexes, and there are multiple ways to fail.




So let's start by going over the many ways you can die in Paperboy.

You can run into fences, trees, skateboarders, dogs, break dancers (it was the 80's) and children on big wheels. Sounds normal enough right?

You can also be run over by a car, hit by a runaway lawn mower, or fall down an open manhole. Each day you also have to cross 2 streets, which are used exclusively by speeding motorcyclists who seem to have no regard for human life.

Think that all seems a little weird?

You can also be beaten by crazy old women, some of whom are your subscribers, when they come running after you with rolling pins. Also, random tiny tornadoes will sometime chase you down the street. Oh, and then there's Death* himself. Yeah, the Grim Reaper. He's there, just hanging out, and will personally come to collect your soul.

WHAT STREET IS THIS!?

Not content to make you dodge the afterlife at every turn, Paperboy also made you attend to your crappy job whipping newspapers. And you'd better do it right, because the required subscriber number goes up everyday, and the customers are picky. If that paper isn't on the doorstep or directly in the mailbox, even for one day, then forget it. Apparently having the news isn't worthwhile if it takes any extra effort. And don't you dare think about breaking a window . . .

. . . unless, of course, it's on a red "non-subscriber" house (and yeah, apparently canceling your newspaper sub puts you into a weird place, and you paint your whole house red overnight). You get extra points for every broken window or damaged piece of property in a non-subscriber yard, so feel free to pepper those houses with random throws. They dropped their subscription, and deserve to suffer.

And if you manage to dodge death in your little nightmare world, plus keep enough of those picky customers happy for a full week**, you know what you get? Your name in the paper. That's it.**

Paperboy in summary: Work is hard and punishing, no one appreciates you and even inanimate objects are out to get you. Good luck, sucker.

*In addition, a lot of the houses seem to have tombstones in front of them. The game is weirdly morbid.

**And what happens the next week? Does the subscriber limit keep going up, until the poor kid is run ragged delivering papers to most of the developed world?

***A fact I know because of my father, the only person I know who has beaten the game.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Maybe not the answer you were looking for

-Ugh, Mondays. Can't we just fast forward to the weekend?

-Yes.

-What?

-Yes, we can "fast forward" to the weekend. Using an unholy machine built with reckless abandon for the laws of nature, or failing that an ancient deity who's very name warps the dimensions of this reality, we can corrupt all the temporal space between now and Friday at 5PM. Doing so will extract an unfathomable amount of the finite energy, leaving us in a threadbare universe that seems poisoned to its core. Humanity will shamble about, forever certain that something is wrong but too drained of life force to recognize the change, let alone foolishly attempt to fix it.

But then maybe I'm taking you too literally. Since the names of our days and the length of a week are mostly arbitrary, we could just "fast forward" by collectively declaring today "Friday," so that the weekend would begin immediately. Of course, all human industry and endeavors rest soundly on widely accepted standards of time, so throwing out the better part of a work week would have devastating consequences for economies world wide. The monetary and employment repercussions would likely be felt for generations.

So yeah, we could jump ahead to Friday, if that would make you happy. Just decide what you're more comfortable with: destroying our already delicate economic systems or leaving everything that will ever be to float in a sea of un-time.

Oh, and in either case, the ultimate punchline is that you won't be any happier. With nothing but leisure time, you'll drift about without purpose, unable to appreciate free time with no work to give it value.

-Why aren't you normal?

-No idea.*

*Seriously, none.

Friday, September 17, 2010

What you actually need to know about working in IT support

1. Never set up a client's computer without getting them to decide where they want everything. No matter how logical you think a setup is, the client will invariably want it arranged a completely different way. 
2. Always carry a keyboard, hard drive, or pci device with you when you walk around the building. It's a simple way to communicate the message, "I'm very busy working with things you don't understand, no matter how many computer game boxes you may occasionally see on my desk."

3. Always face your monitors away from the door, so no one see you slacking off with a computer game.*

4. Never let you office get completely cleared of spare equipment. Once it's empty, people will begin dropping off their old stuff and your office will fill right back up. Spread things out so that there's just enough space to move around, and no one can use you as a junkyard.

5. Always have ear buds and something to listen to. You're going to spend a certain amount of time in people's offices, and if you have to listen to them chatting up co-workers about how they don't like Mondays, they wish it was the weekend, and what they may or may not do for dinner, you will go crazy.

6. Always write your blog posts on company time.

*Not that I've ever done this. Ever.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Riddle.exe

A lot of education is disposing of the "magic" of things.

When we look at a vast field of study that we don't understand, our natural reaction is to treat it as un-understandable—so great and complex that it might as well be arcane in nature. You hear a scientist giving a lecture, you shake your head at terms and concepts you don't get. You watch a martial artist break a board, and without an understanding of the technique (and the relatively low strength of pine when pressure is applied that way) it seems like he's done the impossible. You read a book, you wonder where the author gets his ideas.

So when you teach, you work to convince the student that there is no "magic," that even very complex ideas can be grasped, wrangled, and tamed. In effect, all teachers teach their students the same thing: how very much we are all capable of.

The problem with teaching people about computers, though, is that (as much as I hate to admit it) they actually have a lot in common with magic.

Where else but in computer code do words have such immediate power? A web address might as well be "abracadabra" or "lumos" for all that it can bring you. But since, on a low level, all the words are translated into numbers, perhaps we're really talking about arithmancy.* I imagine Professor Vector of Hogwarts would have done just as well at MIT, had she chosen that path. And since computers are so literal, so bound by the code that runs them, they can wait for a thousand years, a latter day Sphinx, for the right response.

*No wonder gesture-based controls keep getting explored. We feel like we should be using wands.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Moratorium

A few things that we need to put an end to in media:*

Things named Pandora - We need to cut this one off right now. It was bad enough when Splinter Cell came up with its ridiculous sequel title, but now it's also in Avatar, in Borderlands, and also an internet music service. It's been done guys, you're not clever by naming something Pandora. Not everything can unleash all the evils of mankind, sorry.

Greek Letters - Hey, you learned something from being in a fraternity! Awesome. Guess what? People have been using those for a really long time. And I mean a really long time. You have been preempted by math. But I'll give you a free pass on "alpha" and "delta," since those can be in reference to a phonetic alphabet. Oh, that reminds me, you've also been preempted by the word "alphabet."

Plots to kill all the world leaders - Why does every supervillian think this will "throw the world into chaos"? Do all the nations of the world have absolutely no contingency plans for the loss of their leaders? I feel pretty confident that most political structures of any complexity aren't relying on a single "keystone" human life.

Plots that will "Unite the World" - It's great that you want to make your villain sympathetic, but can't you do better than "I only did it to unite Earth"? I've got news for you, bad crap happens all the time, and the world doesn't unite. There's no uniting at all. We just keep on fighting.

*Also, blog posts that are just lists of thing. That has to stop.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Progression

When Hulu announced their Plus plan, I heard the same conversation at least 3 times.

"Hulu Plus still has ads? I'm not paying to watch ads!"
"Well you've paid for cable right? And that has ads."
"Oh yeah . . . "

I think we'd have to score that exchange:
Haters: 1
Keepin' it Real: 0

But it is weird, when you think about it, paying someone to show you ads. So why do we accept it so willingly with cable TV?

The fact is, for a long time most media was one-way communication. There was no way for viewers to give feedback, to stop one show and go to another. Ads could be a part of the experience because the users had no other choice.

But the internet is all about choice, it's entirely driven by the choices of the viewer. So once something is online, we have different expectations about how it's presented.

How interesting then, that Hulu (which is owned by TV Networks) contains traditional ads, while other services like Netflix Instant (which is in the DVD business, where users have more control of the content) do not. 

I think this is called a paradigm shift.

Friday, August 20, 2010

I might have made most of these up

You may know that a 50th anniversary traditionally means a gift of gold, while the 25th is silver. And you may even know that paper is for a one-year anniversary. But did you know that there are even sub-year gift designations?

1 year-paper anniversary
9 months-ice cream
6 months-fish
3 months-coffee mug
1 month-silly dance
3 weeks-bread
2 weeks-action figure
1 week-compliment
1 day-funny joke
12 hours-compliment
1 hour-wave
30 minutes-fist pound
1 minute - high five*

*Usually while walking out of the church, that's why you never see it. But watch the time closely during the reception, you'll see the bride and groom discretely fist pound.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Buggin' OUT!

I don't think I need to justify my position if I say that "kittens are adorable." Most of the internet that you're using to read these words is supported by a solid tier of cute feline content, and most modern routers are built with a protocol that prioritizes kitty media and pushes it out on its own frequency.

Ok, that last bit I probably made up.

But I've realized something from watching these two grow up:



One of the reasons that kittens are so cute is that they're basically little superheroes. Like Peter Parker waking up the morning after the spider bite, kittens come into this world with incredible powers that they have absolutely no idea how to use.* In a few months, a kitten will become the dominant predator of its environment—fast, agile, stealthy, adaptable—the complete package. As a species, it's clear that house cats have done a bit of min-maxing, sacrificing intelligence and size for a comprehensive suite of movement abilities. Then there's the heightened hearing, night vision, retractable climbing claws—superheroes wish they had that kind of tech. The only reason cats can't shoot webs is that they used up their last ability slot with that thing where they flip over in mid-air.

But until a kitten gains control over their powers, they're basically just little hilarity factories.
Jumping up onto the pass-through window for the first time? Not quite buddy!
Taking a hair-pin turn around a door frame? Bonk! Mew!
What just went "splash"? Oh, right, left the toilet open.

Lesson learned kitten.

*With great power comes great responsibility. And here, that responsibility is defined as "end the lives of as many bugs as possible."

Friday, August 6, 2010

Na-na-naaa, Na-na-naaa, Na-na-naaaaaaa

If you were born after 1987, you likely never saw a movie called "The Never Ending Story."

If you were born between 1975 and 1987, you likely gasped when you read the sentence above.

If you were born before 1975, you likely just wondered why anyone would gasp over that weird, awful children's movie.

Stories that involve escapism tend to wield a powerful hold (with big, strong hands I guess), and this is an escapist story about the escapism of stories, so if you saw the movie when you were the right age to identify with Bastian then I guess you're bound to love it.

Now as it happens, we live in the future, so if you'd like to experience a cultural fixture of the "NES Generation" (and here I'm using that to stand for both "Never Ending Story" and "Nintendo Entertainment System") you may do so right now on YouTube. Go on. It's ok. I'll just be here, deconstructing my childhood beat-for-beat.



Some thoughts on watching the film now, all these years later.

I know I said it was "awful," and it kinda is, but to be fair there's some good stuff here. First of all, when Bastian says "I had another dream Dad, about Mom," there's a pretty incredible emotional beat. We don't need any more explanation. One line into the movie and we instantly know who this kid is, what he's dealing with, and how strained his relationship with his father is. That's eloquence itself. And you know what really brings it home? Gerald McRaney, there in the background, stopping right before cracking that egg. That pause sells the whole moment.

That being said . . . does Bastian's dad really crack an egg into a blender full of orange juice, then drink it? Ugh. So gross. And while we're on the subject, doesn't it seem like a lot of 80's movies had scenes with a character drinking raw eggs? I know Rocky did, and I'm thinking maybe the older brother in Goonies as well. Was that how you showed that a character was a big strong guy back then?

Another aspect of NES that really stands up is the large scale puppetry. Before I revisited the movie I doubted whether Morla, Rock Biter, and Gmork were going to look as good as I remembered, but they're all stunning even today.

Generally I'm not in the "it was better the way they used to do it," "old man shaking his fist" camp, but I have to admit that CG versions of those characters wouldn't be as good as these. The designer's craftsmanship was simply too fine, their work too polished by the challenges of physical materials.

But um . . . Falcor I do have to take up with them. He um . . . He looks kind of phallic okay I said it now let's move on.

Of course I couldn't mention those enormous characters without giving a nod to the excellent actors that gave them voices. Or rather, actor. Yeah, they were all done by the same guy, Alan Oppenheimer, and if the NES Genners will take a moment to review the man's resume, I think they'll find that they love him dearly.*

One final tidbit about the film, it left an interesting linguistic mark on the NES generation. I have always thought of an "oracle" as a statue. The whole time I was reading about the "Oracle at Delphi" in Greek mythology, I imagined it as a big stone carving. But it wasn't, the Oracle at Delphi was a person as oracles usually are. So why do the NES Genners get it wrong? Because they were introduced to the word by The Never Ending Story, which includes a "Southern Oracle" that's represented by a pair of huge statues.

*Because he was also Skeletor!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Random Play All (over again)

-There are certain word combinations that are very difficult to say, and make you sound as though your tongue has gone numb. I call these "Numb Tongue Terms."

One example of a "Numb Tongue Term" is the phrase "Numb Tongue Term."

-Take NyQuil if you want to sleep. Take DayQuil if you want to stay awake. Take both if you want to see some crazy ****!

-Why does Jack Johnson come up on my Pandora station no matter what I start it with? Does Jack Johnson own Pandora? Or are his songs some kind of musical nexus, the perfect average of all sound?

-If you search Google for "jkekuii8377  -0-0=====cklsjk n\\\]" it should come up with
Did you mean: how do I keep my cat off of my keyboard?


-Dog fighting is a hideous, barbaric practice. Puppy fighting, on the other hand, is hilarious and the puppies don't even get hurt-in fact they have a really good time. So we just need a way to score puppy fighting so that idiots can gamble on it.

-The Mac versus PC debate, Playstation/Xbox/Wii debate, and all other format debates have ended. The winner in each was "Shut Up."

-Know why everyone talks about iPhones and Android Phones, but no one seems to talk about Palm Pilots anymore? Cause somethings just go out of stylus.*

*I'm sorry

Friday, July 23, 2010

I need some answers.

To walk through a toy store now, you'd think that Lego is nothing but a branding template.

Those little bricks can be formed into anything, but apparently the most profitable thing to make with them is Star Wars ships and Harry Potter sets.

And I guess I can't really talk, having recently added a Lego Star Destroyer to my Amazon wish list. I get why people would enjoy combining their favorite franchise with toy bricks, and I get that they've got a business to run.

But for me, and for many people of my generation. Lego meant something else.

Lego meant Futuron.

Lego meant the monorail.



This set represented one of the best Christmas presents of my young life. I can't tell you how many times since I've heard someone say "You had the monorail? I always wanted the monorail."*

Yet when I watch that video, I don't feel nostalgic. I don't think about my own set, buried somewhere in a trunk in my parent's basement.

I think something else entirely.

"Wow, that base makes no sense."

Why, exactly, would those two little outposts need a monorail? First of all, there's only two of them. If you only need to connect two places, you don't make a loop. You make a line. Because that's what makes sense.

Second, why does the loop go so far out on either side? I'm fairly sure that any one of those little yellow dudes could just walk over to the other base faster than they could ride the train.

It's like if we were designing a transport system between New York City and Atlanta, and we decided that the most efficient method would be a big circle of freeway that went through Missouri on one side, and out into the Atlantic ocean on the other.

And another thing, why is that one base so tall? There's barely any room to stand up there, let alone unload crap from a train car. I've seen painters scaffoldings that were positively roomy by comparison.

Look Lego, these are pressing questions. Put down the tiny plastic wands you're designing, set aside the video games, and make me a new monorail that's some kind of reasonable.

. . . also more Blacktron and Space Police. Thanks.

*If it makes anyone feel any better, that set was a double edged sword. It was easily the most fragile and difficult to fix set I ever played with.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Sam OS

:listen.exe "Want to have lunch today?" -gary

Loading context file "gary" from memory . . . . . . . done

Beginning scan . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Grammatical structure: acceptable
Sarcasm: clear
Emotional content: neutral
Video game references: none
Alterations to normal speech pattern that could indicate an early zombie virus infection: clean

Beginning response calculation . . . .

Checking original statement for . . .

"That's what she said" jokes: no valid interpretation
"Your mom" jokes: 1 candidate "Your mom wants to have lunch today."
Accessing candidate . . . . 2% humor
Recommended action: abandon

Checks complete.

Weighing decision: approved

Suggested response: "Okay"

Checking response candidate for joke counter-statements . . . approved:statement is white-listed

speak.exe "Okay"

end*

--------------------------------

Sam: Okay

Gary: Why does it always take you so long to answer?*

Sam: . . . . . Why does it always take your mom so long to answer?

*Ever see a crazy person muttering to himself? That's what happens when you don't terminate your code.

Friday, July 9, 2010

*ring* (again)

*ring*

-Hello?

-Hello sir, I'm calling from Charter Communications. Did you know that we now offer phone service in addition to cable?

-Really? That's interesting. Did you know that cell phones were invented a long time ago?

-I, uh, excuse me?

-Cell phones. They're like hard line phones, except they're not completely obsolete. All the land line benefits, none of the drawbacks. You can put one in your pocket and carry it anywhere, it's great!

-Well, sir, a cell phone may be "great" for when you're on-the-go, but we can offer you a line directly to your home . . .

-Yeah, see, when I'm at home I still use my cell. It doesn't stop working when I walk through the door. That's a factor your company probably should've thought about before expanding their operation into this gasping, outdated technology.

-But, wouldn't you like to have a hard line as a backup? What if your cell phone isn't working?

-Hmmm, interesting thought. Maybe I should get a "backup" phone line. And while you're at it, can you get me an abacus just in case my calculator stops working? Oh wait, my calculator, much like my cell, pretty much always works.

-But what if your cell phone battery goes dead?

-Well . . . yeah, I guess then I could use a hard line phone.

-Exactly.

-Course I'd have to be at home to do that, and if I'm at home I could always, you know, PLUG MY CELLPHONE IN.

-But what if there's some kind of natural disaster, and the cell towers are down? What are you going to do then?

-Ok, let me see if I understand your hypothetical situation here. There's been a natural disaster of some magnitude, and despite being violent enough to bring down all the cell towers near my home, it hasn't affected the hard lines at all. And these are the same hard lines that go out whenever there's so much as a bad thunderstorm. Is that what you're proposing?

-Well, . . . it may sound unlikely, but it could happen. You never know.

-Of course it could. But I'm still not sure I want to pay a few hundred dollars a year as insurance against whatever alien signal-jamming orb that'd be required for that incredibly specific, unlikely scenario.

-Oh but it's not so expensive, I can get you a phone line very cheaply by bundling it with your cable tv service.

-I don't have TV service.*

-You don't? Did you know that Charter offers more high-resomolution HD channels . . .

-Really? That's interesting, did you know that Netflix and Hulu exist?

-*click*

*So I pay a monthly fee for the service, and nearly one-third of it is ads. And I can only see the shows at certain times, unless I want to set something up to capture them. And even then I can only watch them at home.

It only made sense when there was no alternative.

Friday, July 2, 2010

A Thoughtful Review of Some Atari 2600 Game Art

Artists for Atari 2600 game boxes were basically professional liars.

I mean I don't fault them for it, certainly pasting the box with a picture of the actual graphics wouldn't have done much to move those cartridges. I understand they had to spice it up a little, sell the sizzle to sell the sausage.*

But that being said, they took this:


And resolved it to this:

That . . . that is something of a jump, sir. I believe you may have misled a few purchasers of your product with that on the cover.

Combat, one of my first favorite games, committed similar sins with its rather artistic interpretation:



I can assure you, from first hand experience, that the actual game did not quite capture the excitement implied above. And by "not quite," I mean this:



Some games tried to be honest, though, and included at least a bit of the actual game on the box. The most notable example is Pac-Man:

But that juxtaposition of art and game just shows how really, truly bizarre the "narrative" is here. Seriously, what kind of drug-induced stupor led to this generational icon? A yellow thing that tries to eat a bunch of pellets, all the while being chased by ghosts, except sometimes he gets the right kind of pellet and can eat the ghosts so they turn into floating eyeballs.

And sometimes there's fruit.

Pac-Man is a lot like the original "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory." Only when you go back to it after years of fond memories do you realize that it was all just someone's acid trip.

Of course, no conversation of 2600 games would be complete without the most notorious (-ly bad) of them all, "E.T.". Strangely, I find this to be the most genuine box art of the era:



Just look at their faces. Those blank, droopy eyes. The hopeful, yet confused gaze. That's truth in advertising, itself

Because that's exactly what you look like while playing that game.

*
"Buzz Aldrin has lost his sandwich, prepare to . . . fire a circle at some blocks."

Friday, June 25, 2010

Whisper media

It's rude to whisper.

Why? Well that part is complicated.

It's obvious why it's rude to burp: you're subjecting people to something they don't want to hear.
It's obvious why it's rude to interrupt someone: you're treating them as though they are unimportant, and being disrespectful.

But whispering to the person next to you isn't doing either of those things. You're not subjecting the group to anything, and you're not interfering with their speaking.

Some would say that whispering is rude because it gives the impression that you're talking about another person in the room. But that theory doesn't hold up, because we have a similar negative reaction to any "1 to 1" communication in a public venue, even if the communication isn't "whispered," or otherwise obscured.

For instance, it's rude to discuss topics that the group isn't in on. Even though everyone can hear the discussion, and are free to talk amongst themselves, they take it personally that a private conversation is going on in their presence. The classic example of this is "shop-talk," where people that work together talk about their jobs in social settings.

The real problem, then, isn't one of paranoia. It's an issue of "us" and "them."

When you "whisper," you draw a line in the social sand. By creating private communication in the midst of public communication, you inadvertently create a class structure. You've made a distinction between people, which is something people often resent.

Which brings me, quite naturally, to the Walkman.

Technology provides lots of new opportunities for 1:1 communication, and each time a new one pops up we have to reconcile it socially. When cell phones became common there was something of a backlash against them, if you used your cell in public people thought you were self-important.

Portable music devices (which, as time goes on, are also portable video devices) are an interesting case of 1:1 communication. Traditionally, entertainment has been communal in nature because the only efficient way to send it out was to a group. But as technology advances, entertainment has become more personal.*

And I wonder how we'll reconcile it.

*Except for reading, which has always been a 1:1 thing. Imagine how bad it must have been when the skill of reading became common! Not only was a person engaging in a 1:1 communication, it was a form of expression that many people couldn't interpret.

Friday, June 18, 2010

My Experience Watching the Sony E3 2010 Press Conference, Explained with the Medical "Pain Scale"




Oh boy, the Sony E3 Press Conference!
I'm hoping to see some cool games for
Playstation Move, some new Team ICO
content, maybe even a PSP2!

This is gonna be one heck of a show!

Okay, some 3D stuff. I don't really care
about 3D, and it costs way too much
for a 3D rig right now.

But I guess that's cool, they're trying new things.

Alright, Playstation Move time! Let's
see some titles!

A wizard game? Hmmm, looks a little
rough, but that's a good concept.
What else you got?

Oh . . . golf.

Wow, golf demo is still going huh?

I mean it's not even a new game, just
a patch for a current game. Uh huh,
you swing the thing and it moves the
other thing, we got it. Thanks.


Here we go! New game announcement!

"Heroes on the Move" So it's like a
Smash Brothers for Playstation? That's
a great ide . . . oh it's over already.

So, . . . no real details?

And what the hell was that? They trotted
out the actor from their advertising,
had him rehash the opening scene of
Patton, then showed us their new PSP
ad campaign?

Commercials? That's an announcement?!
That's what you have to show?

Little Big Planet 2 will let me make stuff.
Awesome. First of all, I already knew that.
Second, I want to play games, not make them.

And Playstation Plus? Wow. How come the only features in it that I care about seem like the kind of thing that should be built in for free?

Exclusive content for multi-platform games, huh?
Is that the new feather in your cap?

Listen. "Exclusive content" means "we signed a
a deal to keep someone else from having
this." It's not really a benefit to me, its
a punishment for someone else.

And here, "someone else" means "many of my friends."

Do I even like video games? I can't remember
anymore. There are probably better uses of my time. Maybe I should go outside . . . start Living. You know what I mean? Get myself in really goodshape, maybe go on a hike or something. That sounds nice.

Whelp, now my brain has melted. Yup. Just mush
now. Caaaaaaaaaaan't really focus. Urrrrrrrr!

If I didn't know better, I'd say they were talking
about a new Twisted Metal, but it's probably just a delusion brought on by two solid hours of watching Sony meander through the most boring
presentation of video games ever conceived.

Prediction for game of the year, 2011? The game where I bang two sticks together and laugh at the sound they make, because watching this has made me crazy.*

*But not this crazy

Friday, June 11, 2010

The FUTURE!

Despite what skeptics say, it's quite clear that the Mayans predicted incredible things for the year 2012! The Mayans, as we all know, are the ultimate authority on future events, since they lived a long time ago and wrote stuff. Their findings are supported by other valid researchers, such as the Aztecs, this new age writer guy I heard about, the BCS computer rankings*, and the internet!

So what will 2012 hold for us? Find out in:

"2012, HOLY CRAP YOU GUYS"

In 2012 . . . The world will enter a golden age of humanity! But it won't matter because . . .

In 2012 . . . The world will be destroyed by a rogue planet!

In 2012 . . . The rogue planet will itself be destroyed when Earth's magnetic poles flip!

In 2012 . . . Survivors will have to throw away their compasses, or else like . . . they'll have to keep remembering that it's the other way! It will mess with people!

In 2012 . . . The magnetic reversal will catapult Earth, which will already be destroyed, through the center of the universe!

In 2012 . . . The center of the universe will immediately enter a golden age, then be destroyed by a rogue planet!

In 2012 . . . That rogue planet will be destroyed by a Mayan god!

In 2012 . . . The Mayan god will come in the form of a rogue planet!

In 2012 . . . Woooooooooooooooo!*

*Also considered a pseudoscience.


Friday, June 4, 2010

Sam's guide to weight loss: Part 5, Steady Burn

"If you want something to happen, begin by creating an environment where it can happen"

That's where we started, and it's where we now end.

Are we products of our environment? Or do we get to determine who we are?

Yes. Yes to both.

Your Environment (capital E - meaning the physical and social environments around you, the environment of your physical body and health, your internal psychological environment, all of it) is always going to shape you. However, you have the power to act on that Environment.

As such, you have the power to author who you are, and who you will be. But to do it effectively, you have to let go of the idea that it's as simple as a decision.

The reason people have trouble losing weight, the reason they get so frustrated by it, is because they're trying to start a fire while standing in water. We are convinced that failure is a function of flaws, that if we can't accomplish something it's because of our own personal weaknesses.

If you are overweight, it's probably because your Environment made it easy for you to become that way. If you struggle with losing weight, it's probably because that Environment is fighting you.

And It may, in theory, be possible to overcome that Environment by sheer force of will, but isn't that demanding too much of yourself?

It may, in theory, be possible to start a fire with damp wood on wet ground. But if you tried it, you'd just wind up frustrated and dejected.

Sound familiar?

This isn't a quick fix. It's difficult*, and anyone that tries to tell you otherwise probably has something to sell. But it can be done. And you know what?

It's worth it.

*Believe me, I know it is.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Sam's guide to weight loss: Part 4, Fanning the flames

I think the "Shake Weight" commercials may be definitive proof of my long-held theory:

"The exercise equipment industry is a running joke, perpetrated on the public by designers who like making people perform ridiculous physical feats."

The truth is that you don't need much at all to be in shape. You can become a perfectly healthy, fit person without spending a dime on equipment, or even a gym.

Just as with dieting, you need to let go of the idea that there's some "magic" to working out. Any physical activity burns calories, so important thing isn't finding the "most efficient way," to work out, but to find the way that works best for you. And the best way, in my opinion, is the easiest way.

"If you want to exercise, make it as easy as possible for you to do so."

Just like with eating poorly, your inactivity probably has a lot of causes that don't relate any personal defects. With many of the people I know, the real problem is that they set out on an exercise plan that are too difficult to stay motivated on.

-Don't start a plan that's too hard for you. If you aren't used to doing cardio, you're not going to be able to start running 3 miles everyday. A better plan is to run a quarter or half mile each day, then increase the distance when you feel like you've got some extra energy.

-Don't pick something that's a logistical hassle for you. Let's say you start a gym membership to lose some weight. How much time does that involve? You've got to come home from school/work, change into workout clothes, drive to the gym, do your routine, then drive home to shower and change clothes again. Even best case scenario, that's probably an extra 30 minute commitment that isn't the workout itself.

That extra hassle makes a difference. Not only do you have to be motivated enough to work out, you also have to be motivated enough to do all that extra stuff.

-Don't choose workouts that are boring! If you hate the activity, that's another motivational barrier. There are plenty of ways to exercise that you'll enjoy, or at least be able to combine with things that you enjoy.

-The "hassle" and "hate" factors can offset one another. If you like the activity, it's worth more hassle. If it's less hassle, you don't need to enjoy it as much.

So with those points in mind, I'd like you to try a very simple plan. It requires no special equipment, wastes no time with preparation, is easy on your body, and is easy to enjoy.

-Take a 45 minute walk everyday.

Doesn't seem like enough, does it? How can you ever hope to lose weight with something so simple?

Well guess what. For most people, that walk will burn around 200 calories. If you're watching your caloric intake and holding it steady, that 200 calorie difference means you're going to start dropping weight at a a nice, healthy pace.*

But maybe you have loftier goals than what a walking routine can provide. I understand. But why not start with this? It will get you used to regular activity, and the weight you lose will make any future workout programs easier on you.

A few notes before you begin:

1. Check your shoes. You'd be surprised how many aches and pains you have may be caused by worn out footwear. And since you're going to be walking more than usual, it's especially important.

2. Keep watching your calories! One of the great revelations of my dieting was that working out makes you hungrier. If you don't keep track of your calories, you end up eating more and compensating for all that exercise. One really good idea-keep some fresh carrots or other veggies around as a post workout snack.

3. Stretch after your walks. You'll be warm and loose from the activity, so it's a good time to do this. It will make you feel better and help you wind down.

4. Keep it from being boring. Take someone with you, or bring music/podcasts/audiobooks.


*Not to mention the psychological benefits.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Sam's guide to weight loss: Part 3, Ignition

With your body rested, your mind aware, finally we're ready to talk more specifically about eating. First, though, we need to add one more item to awareness: knowing your estimated daily caloric intake. You can get this information from a number of sources online. They may vary a bit, but it's a ballpark number anyway. Here's one from the Mayo Clinic. Once you know what you (generally) need to maintain your weight, you can begin trying to take in a little less than that each day.

As you continue keeping a weight and food journal, you'll be able to tune your daily calories up or down based on your results. Important piece of advice here: you shouldn't be losing more than a couple of pounds per week. Any more than that is unhealthy.

So why should manage your diet using calories, rather than fat or carbs?

1. It doesn't matter. You can absolutely lose weight by reducing calories, people have been doing it for a long time, and that's how I did it.
2. I think taking out a specific dietary element leads you to eat a more limited, less healthy diet. Reducing calories can be done across the board, without unbalancing variety.
3. There's no good reason to believe that low fat/carb diets are any faster or better. The body of research on this kind of thing is quite muddled. If you read much beyond the headline of a "Low Carb Diets are the Best!" article, you''ll find that the data leaves lot of room for interpretation. (When I'm done with the principle articles in this series, I'll probably write a supplement about dieting misinformation.)

And you know what? That's basically it. The fastest weight loss I ever achieved came from adding these simple elements-sleeping right, monitoring weight, counting and reducing daily calories-into my life. That's all you need.

But, of course, the real difficulty is holding yourself to those rules. It can be very difficult, and when your smoldering initial efforts die out (and you eat a pint of ice cream one night), it can leave you wondering what the "real secret" to weight loss is.

What makes it so hard? Let's go back to my original thesis:

"If you want something to happen, begin by creating an environment where it can happen"

If your environment doesn't support a strictly controlled diet, it's very difficult to keep one. And that's why it's time to recognize something: there are reasons that you eat poorly, and they don't have anything to do with you being lazy or undisciplined.

Examples:

1. Habit-A lot of people are simply in the habit of eating too much junk food. Seeing a movie? Stop at the candy counter. Taking a car trip? Get a soda from the gas station. Out at a restaurant? Let's look at the desert menu!*
2. Boredom-Food can be something to do, a form of stimulus when there's nothing else of interest going on.
3. Anxiety/Depression/etc. - Like alcohol or nicotine, food acts as a form of medication for many people with psychological problems. And just as alcoholics are treated for those underlying issues, it's really difficult to lose weight if you don't deal with (or at least acknowledge) the emotional background of your eating habits.

"If you want to lose weight, figure out why you don't eat well."

New assignments-

-Start looking back at your food journal. Look for patterns in your eating, especially when you eat sweets.
-Remove all sweets from your home, making it more difficult for you to have access to them.
-Go completely off sweets (candy, cookies, soda, ice cream, anything with a significant amount of sugar) for a couple of weeks.

It's not necessary to completely avoid sweets to lose weight. However, cutting yourself off from them can be very revealing. You'll realize how often you "reach" for those things, and gain some insight into when/why you go to them.

*Labor Day? Time for some donuts!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Sam's guide to weight loss: Part 2, The Tipi

Feeling rested? I hope so. If not, it's ok, because that brings us to another tenant of my philosophy:

"Accept that you won't always stick to the plan. You are not perfect, and it's unfair to expect it of yourself. Don't use individual failures as an excuse to give up, use them as an excuse to work harder."

Success is not a steady upward slope. It's a jagged, volatile line where, over the course of time, the gains are greater than the losses. If you don't understand that, your mental and spiritual environment isn't right for accomplishing anything.

That lesson is particularly important today, since this one has a lot to do with noticing your failures!

Keeping with the fire metaphor, this post is about building the "tipi," the structure that keeps the fire together. For weight loss, your tipi is built from awareness.

Awareness is an important principle in many philosophies, so you see it everywhere. The Zen story of the Tiger and the Strawberry, the old Irish tale of "the music of what happens," even the incredible reasonings of Sherlock Holmes, they all preach the power of awareness.

But awareness is a tricky thing to get a handle on. While humans are quite good, sometimes too good, at finding associations between things, it's difficult "see" those associations over long periods of time.

My sleep advice is a perfect example:

If you don't get enough sleep, you don't feel like working out and you're more likely to eat poorly, right? It makes perfect sense. But because those things are separated by an extra domino (your mood) you probably never caught the connection.

And if that little bit of causality was so difficult to "see," it's going to be even harder to lose weight if you can't observe the nebulous interactions of your lifestyle and your body. The best mental environment for losing weight is one where you can observe those interactions easily.

"If you want to lose weight, increase your awareness: track your weight along with the things that influence it."

This concept is an essential part, probably the most important part, of this series. It requires very little, but has a profound effect. It's quite likely that you'll lose weight just by doing this weeks assignment. Awareness is simply that powerful.

Here are your tasks:

-Weigh yourself exactly once a day, every day, and log the result.
1.Do not obsess over this number. You are not being scored on anything, so there's no reason to "cheat" the scale (Example: Drinking less water during the day will make the number come out lower, but it's bad for you and doesn't actually help anything.)
2.Aim for consistency, so the weight you record will be meaningful. Weigh in wearing the same clothes, at the same time of day. The best time (for reasons I'll get into later) is first thing in the morning, before you eat, drink, or shower.
3.The measurement doesn't even have to be "accurate" in an absolute sense. Even if the scale is off by 2 pounds, it will still register the change in your weight correctly, and the change is what we're really interested in.
4.Do not avoid your scale! If you ate too much yesterday, it's going to be reflected when you weigh in. Accept it. Don't avoid the scale for a day so you won't have to see the high number. If you do that, you're losing the awareness that we're after. Seeing your habits reflected is the whole point.
5.Remember always that the goal is awareness of how your weight is changing, not getting a "prize" of a lower number or a "punishment" of a higher one. You are weighing in to help yourself "see" what's going on.

-Log everything you eat, along with the (at least approximate) calories.
1. We'll get further into diet next time, but for now just do this much. It's not as time consuming as you'd think either. Here's the method that worked well for me: Get some index cards and pick one up on your way out the door each morning. Write down every item that you eat in a day, along with the calories, if you know them. If you don't know the calories, look them up later and add them in. Write the date on your card and file it away somewhere. (You could also put your scale results on these cards.)
2.You don't have to aim for a particular number of calories (yet). I just want you to become aware of what you're eating, and be able to see it over a period of time.
3.Don't worry about any other factors besides calories (fat, carbs, etc). I'll talk about that later too.

Why are these habits so important, even more important than sticking to a diet or exercise routine? How is it that people lose weight from doing this, even without ascribing to a particular diet? Simple.

-It's easier to resist another helping of dinner if your weight was a little high this morning.
-You're less likely to get dessert if there's a card in your pocket reminding you that you had a donut after lunch.
-There's no better encouragement for getting a little exercise in than thinking "I've eaten pretty good today, if I take a walk tonight it might bring tomorrow's weigh-in down a bit. That'd be nice."

So next week, I want to see 7 index cards or journal entries from you*, and don't slack off on your sleep.

*Figure of speech, do not actually send me these.



Friday, May 7, 2010

Sam's guide to weight loss: Part 1, Kindling

"If you want something to happen, begin by creating an environment where it can happen"

Remember that statement, because it's very important. It is the guiding principle of everything I have to teach you in this series.

Example: Imagine how you'd build a fire. You'd gather dry wood, sorting it into light kindling and heavy logs. You'd get some paper to get the flames burning quickly. You'd arrange everything so that the smoke could escape and fresh air could get in. You would, in short, create fire by creating an environment where fire can happen. Only once that environment was prepared would you concern yourself with flame.

Yet when it comes to weight loss, most people spend their time trying to pick a brand of lighter. They read articles and books about this or that diet, they watch news reports about "how to get the most out of your power walking" or worse "why exercise won't help you lose weight." And they're always asking people like me, people who have been through it and lost a significant amount of weight, the same ridiculous question: "What's your secret?"

And the only answer I can give amounts to "stop trying to build a fire in a pool."

-Stop trying to follow an exercise routine that your body isn't ready for
-Stop trying to follow a diet when you've got a bowl of candy on your coffee table
-Stop trying to lose weight without getting enough sleep

Did I throw you with that last one? Then you're my audience. Here is your first lesson, a corollary to my thesis.

"If you're trying to lose weight, start by getting more sleep."

Before you begin a new diet, before you start going to the gym more, do this one thing. Don't skip it. Don't think that you'll work on it along the way. Do it FIRST.

Why?

-A well rested person has energy and endurance. If you haven't had enough sleep, you won't have much luck following a workout routine.
-A well rested person has willpower. If you haven't had enough sleep, you don't have the mental energy to resist temptations.
-A well rested person has a more positive outlook. Being tired makes you grouchy, irritable, and negative. When you feel that way, you're more likely to think things like "Screw it, I'm having a cupcake, it'll make me feel better" or "I'm not working out today, it's not like it matters. I'm never going to lose weight." These thoughts are destructive to you and your weight loss. Being rested may not stop the dark thoughts, but it sure makes them quieter.

Adequate sleep, in other words, creates an environment in your mind and body that is conducive to weight loss. It dries out the kindling.

Let me emphasize again that you shouldn't skip this step. I know it's tempting. Our tendency is to read this sort of "health class" advice with a kind of "Yeah, yeah, I know I really should" mentality. You know it's important but you want me to get on to the part about actually losing weight.

And that's the kind of thinking I have to break you of.

This is not a "tip" that will "help" you lose weight. This is how you actually do it. If you are trying anything else without doing this, you are striking matches and dropping them to the ground, hoping to start a fire. They may burn for a bit, may even light a scattered leaf or two. But if you really want to do this, we're going to need good kindling. If you can't manage something as simple as altering your sleep habits, what's the rest of it good for?

You've got a week. I need 56 solid hours of sleep from you. Do whatever you have to (within reason): reduce your caffeine intake, skip out of the party early, miss your favorite show so you have time to shower and brush your teeth.

Do your best, and I'll see you back here next Friday.*

*That is unless you're reading this after the series is finished, and can just read on to the next post. Screw you, future-man!