A Certain Lack of Focus

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Political Rage

I just heard on NPR that Senator McCain has requested the Presidential debates be postponed on account of the economy. He has also requested, on account of a stomach ache, that he be excused from gym.

Senator McCain, if you are elected in November, will you also postpone the Presidency in times of economic crisis? These debates are so essential exactly because of the current state of the economy. Participating in the Presidential debates in no way impacts the steps congress is taking (or not taking) in reaction to the bank failures. What exactly is McCain intending to do for the economy while he's avoiding talking about it in front of a national audience?

If Senator McCain is not ready to discuss the economy on Friday, I have no faith that he'll be ready to act in the economy's best interest in January.

The presidential debates, now more than ever, must go forward. What will be said on Friday is every bit as pressing as the futile congressional bickering over a doubtful buyout that will increase our federal debt by 700 billion dollars.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Real Living on a Diet

If you're following my blog at this point, you probably know me in person, and you probably know I've been on a diet for a while. One of the curses in any diet attempt is the pitfall of eating out. Especially while traveling. It seems like even when you think you're being good, you gain weight while traveling.

Probably that's because you aren't being as good as you think. Things that seem healthy might be loaded with calories and things that really are healthy might surprise you. One tip I've heard from Weight Watchers and other diet sources is to ask for a box at the beginning of the meal. I pretty much always do that when I eat out now, unless I'm sharing with someone. BTW, if you're sharing two dishes, even if one is a salad, it doesn't count as a half portion anymore.

SteakCutting your meal in half from the get-go can certainly help, but even half a meal can be upwards from 1000 calories depending on what you order. Don't assume it's healthy just because you're eating less of it. Yeah, and salads are OFTEN more than 1000 calories just by themselves.

A tip I got from South Beach is to swallow a spoonful of Metamucil (mmm fiber) five minutes before meals so you'll feel full. Personally, I find that idea repulsive, but hey, whatever works.

Snacks are a big help. and I usually take granola bars and fruit leathers (kinda like fruit rollups that are actually made of fruit) to keep us going during the day. On South Beach fruit leathers are completely out and granola bars are limited to the South Beach granola bars (which are GROSS) so I usually stick with nuts. Yes, I do count them out. 30 of the little ones like pistachios and peanuts, 12-15 of bigger ones like walnuts and cashews. Surprisingly, that's usually enough to make me happy. Snacks should help keep you from feeling like you need to inhale your dinner.

Here's one tip I came up with on my own: figure out what your ACTUAL caloric intake should be. The FDA, or whoever it is that makes recommendations, claims that average daily intake should be 2000 calories. This is total crap.

First of all, 2000 calories is probably a good average intake for a MAN from the 1960s. We're generally less active now so some guys might be around 2000 (and athletic guys will be above) but I'm betting most guys are a little bit below that. That, mind you, is to maintain weight. If you're actually trying to lose weight you should be eating less. And unfortunately it's not even CLOSE for women, we need far fewer calories in general to maintain weight. There are online calorie counters all over the place that can tell you about how many calories you need. It's good to get a ballpark of that before you start estimating how many calories you should spend for a meal.

The most helpful thing I've found for traveling on a diet is chain restaurants. I know it's completely counter intuitive, but bear with me. This also applies to eating out locally, though in that case you can usually afford to test your favorite places to see ones have you gaining weight and which do less damage. The trick is that many chain restaurants have their nutrition information online so even though the majority of their meals may be atrocious, you can pick over it ahead of time and fine those one or two items that are healthy. Deciding what you're going to eat ahead of time does take out some of the excitement, but it also cuts back on the temptation to get something REALLY bad, because hey, it's not like there's anything healthy on the menu, right?

Here are some menus I've found online: P.F. Chang's, Bob Evans, Ruby Tuesday, Denny's, Macaroni Grill, and Chilis. As far as I know Applebees, TGIFridays, and Outback don't provide nutritional information, so while they may have acceptable food on their menus, I'd just avoid them since you can't be sure. Olive Garden ONLY provides nutritional information on their "healthy" items, and that information is incomplete (it doesn't tell you calories or fat for low-carb items and doesn't tell you carbs for low fat items. SHADY) so I'd travel with care there, and make sure to limit your portion sizes. As for all the rest, many of them are in pdf format, which I'm pretty sure is a ploy to discourage people to get there, but never mind. It also means they're very easy to PRINT. And then tuck into your travel journal, so wherever you go, you have a few things you know you can eat. Be careful to notice that most meals sneakily don't include sides, so you have to add those in too. I usually aim for no more than 500 calories for my big meal, maybe 300 for a smaller meal. That is going to vary.

It's not perfect. When I'm traveling I don't even bother to worry about salt or carbs, I'm just looking at my net calorie intake. Planning ahead helps a lot though, it can keep you from throwing up your hands and giving up, and, if you actually follow your pre-picked meal, you might even lose a pound instead of gaining five.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Wangston's Law

Earlier today I was listening to Weekend America on NPR. There was an interesting segment, a short amusement driven piece, about something called Wangston's Law.

Wangston's Law states that: Humans should not waste their time discussing any question that can be answered by a robot (google, wikipedia, etc.)

This "law" is actually invented by some guy (not named Wangston) who pulls it up at parties whenever he thinks the conversation is too mundane. I guess it's an interesting idea. His point, I think, is that we should focus our energy on higher pursuits and let the matrix handle the easy stuff.

matt with three computersThe way I see it, we should take the opposite approach. In these days where (relatively) accurate information is available, from anywhere, within seconds, it seems like a shame to not find out the answers whenever you can. If the thought: I wonder... ever enters your head, why aren't you typing it into a toolbar window? In a way, both ideas are promoting the same thing. Wangston's law wants us to work on a higher level mentally, and so do I. Only I think the best way to enrich our brains is to fill it with as much information as possible. We really have a ways to go before we run out of room.

Matt and I actually have a rule to that effect. Whenever one of us says "I wonder" we try to write down the question and look it up later. When I get an iphone the later part will go away (Matt's got a smartphone but often questions occur to us while he's driving). The extremely obvious theory behind the rule is that if we do this, we'll learn new things all the time. We don't follow it perfectly, but we've already learned many things we never would have known. For example:

Dolphins sleep with half their brain at a time.

Swallows mate in flight.

The movie Apollo 13 did all the null-gravity scenes the same way astronauts train for it: steep diving airplanes.

Will any of this information ever come in handy? Who knows. If it's so easy to find out though, why shouldn't I try to know more than I did yesterday? True, useless information is not particularly helpful, and in some cases it might actually be harmful. I see a big difference though, in filling up on unnecessary information for the sake of knowing it (as with rote memorization) and learning things because they interest you. Obviously the things Matt and I look up do interest us, or we wouldn't be asking the question. So I want to propose that the rule Matt and I (sometimes) follow should be another law, to counteract Wangston's Law.

Wanker's Law: Humans should take advantage of the ease of information provided by robots (google, wiki, etc.) whenever a question arises.

Why Wanker's Law? Because it all comes down to mental masturbation. Humans as a group won't follow either law. Individuals are generally not motivated to learn. We love to discuss over-discussed topics like who won American Idol, because it's easier than contemplating the mysteries of life. Meanwhile we're far to lazy, intellectually, to type every question into google. It's not that pushing the buttons is too much work, it's just that we aren't used to exerting the effort of keeping a question in our mind long enough to look for the answer.