Secular Asceticism

I am not a religious man but I have found, at times, that periods of abstinence/asceticism can be good for one's body and spirit. Of course, as with any abstinence regimen, what one is abstaining from and the reasons for the undertaking play a very large part in what one can get out of it.

This month marks the second time that I have undertaken a month of asceticism; the first having been March of 2009. Last time, I took a straight edge approach, abstaining from caffeine, alcohol, and all other psychoactive substances. This year, I am repeating the same abstention of caffeine, alcohol, and drugs but adding high-fructose corn syrup.

As I mentioned, I feel that the what and why of any ascetic regimen plays a large part in what one gets from the experience. My first bout of asceticism, last year, was prompted by the feeling that my caffeine consumption had reached unreasonable levels and, if the degree of caffeine withdrawal that I went through at that time was any indication, I was correct in my feeling. At the time, I decided that if I was going to go off caffeine for a month, cold-turkey, I might as well do the same with any other mind-altering substance. This time, my reasoning is largely derived from the feeling of homeostasis obtained during my last run of asceticism. I am adding high-fructose corn syrup this time around because I am under the (marginally scientific) impression that high-fructose corn syrup is unhealthy to consume and do not normally maintain any level of awareness over its consumption.

As we're nearing the end of my first week of abstention, I can report on some of the specifics of the experience thus far:

  • Caffeine - Oh, how I miss caffeine; I am an addict and I crave my fix. Actually, as of today, I find myself craving caffeine far less than I did even yesterday. Thankfully, this year, my caffeine consumption was far lower before the undertaking than last year. Last time, I had monstrously intense migraines for nearly a week due to caffeine withdrawal; this time, I had moderate migraines on day two (Sunday) but the major symptoms had cleared by day three (Monday). Cravings, as I mentioned, are subsiding and I hope to be back to baseline sometime next week.
  • Alcohol - Abstaining from alcohol is mostly a social nuisance for me. I usually drink socially, as is the case with a great many, if not all, of my friends. On its own giving up alcohol isn't a huge deal but, when one's abstention from caffeine and high-fructose corn syrup means that you can't even have "just a Coke," things get annoying. Abstaining from alcohol also makes me aware of the frequency with which I will go to the fridge for something to drink and grab a beer; this has largely been replaced by grabbing a glass of milk or Ovaltine (thankfully free of high-fructose corn syrup).
  • Drugs - Not really a substantive change, mostly here to round out the list and allow the classification to be simplified to psychoactive substances and high-fructose corn syrup for discussion purposes.
  • High fructose corn-syrup - Fuck! This shit is in everything! High-fructose corn syrup is really hard to avoid; I'm sure that I'm missing things that contain this stuff. I went into a gas station mart on Saturday to get a beverage and the only things that I could find without caffeine or high-fructose corn syrup were water, milk, and Diet Sprite. I didn't put ketchup on my french fries at lunch today because ketchup contains high-fructose corn syrup. For Christ's sake, they even put high-fructose corn syrup in Saltine's. The addition of high-fructose corn syrup to my abstention list is both maddening and somewhat enlightening.

That's where we're at for now; I'll keep you posted as the month goes on.

As of 04/03/2010, I am 27

So as to be totally clear, \(27 = 3^3 = 3*3*3\), which is to say this is pretty much the threeest birthday that I'm going to have until either ever or arguably 54 years from now. Three being my favorite number, presumably, makes today somewhat noteworthy in a numerological sense. That is all.

A cute geometry problem

I came across a cute geometry problem recently and I would like to pass it along.


Problem Statement

If the sides of the square are of unit length and all curves are circular arcs, what is the area of the highlighted region?

Although substantially easier with the use of calculus or trigonometry, this problem can be solved entirely with basic geometry (no weird laws you might have forgotten since high school are necessary).

I have derived a geometric solution, which follows, but I highly recommend trying to do it yourself first.

Read more…

HOWTO: unlock your N900 and turn it into a 3G modem

After reading the recent Boing Boing post about HOWTO unlock your Nexus One and turn it into a 3G modem, I thought it might be worth putting together a similar set of instructions for the Nokia N900.

Some notes before we begin:

  1. This is a supported use of your phone.
  2. There is no risk of bricking your phone.
  3. This does not wipe your phone.
  4. You don't need to back anything up before starting.

Install Bluetooth Dial-Up Networking support

  1. Open the Application Manager
  2. Install the "Bluetooth Dial-Up Networking" Application

Tether your computer

Palm Pre tagline: a critique

I keep seeing the same advertisement for the Palm Pre on the sides of buses; the advertisement says: "Life moves fast. Don't miss a thing."

I understand what they are trying to say and it is a very good tagline for what they are trying to market but, whenever I see it, I can't help but think that it speaks to a sad fact of our current culture.

I wish that I could say one thing to everyone that this tagline appeals to: Not everything matters. Relax.

Barefooting for the win

A couple months ago, I bought a pair of Vibram FiveFingers shoes, specifically a pair of KSOs. I've been wearing the shoes pretty regularly and, to be entirely honest, they are probably the most comfortable shoes that I have ever worn. The shoes don't provide support in the way typical shoes do so it takes some getting used to and rebuilding strength in muscles that have been under-utilized since childhood. Once your feet get used to the FiveFingers, it becomes a truly fantastic experience to rediscover walking, jogging, sprinting, and the like.

Additionally, recent research shows that barefoot running is low impact in a way that shod running is not. Apparently, running barefoot changes your gait, which I can anecdotally confirm.

Worth noting, in the negatives column, you cannot wear traditional socks with FiveFingers and they will start to smell if you wear them regularly without socks. FiveFingers shoes are machine washable, which is an option, or one can purchase toe socks from Injini (or others), which is the solution that I've chosen. Sadly, the toe socks solution is somewhat expensive but, for me, I'm sufficiently hooked on my FiveFingers that it's worth it to me.

Linguistic Complexification

There exist wondrous peculiarities to language, which allow for some truly bizarre linguistic constructs. As an individual who generally revels in confusion, discord and chaos, in addition to the use of parenthetical clauses and preambles, I am, of course, thrilled by linguistic constructs that either work in spite of seeming not to or don't work in spite of seeming to.

In doing a spot of research while writing this particular post, I happened to discover that wikipedia has a pretty great list of linguistic example sentences, which I highly recommend mining for entertainment purposes.

Preamble aside, I have two particular constructs that I want to mention, one a sentence and the other a phrase:

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.
That is, that that is is, that that is not is not is that it it is. That is, that that is is that that is not is not. Is that it? It is.

The latter of these two, I mention because its use in a recent episode of Rocketboom, which I've taken to watching, brought it to my mind. The former, I have known and loved for a while and mention because I have not done so in this space prior to now. There are, of course, plenty of other sentences that I enjoy for similar reasons, some involving "had" or "that", that were excluded for the sake of brevity.

Please feel free to return your seats to their upright position and your televisions to the regularly scheduled program.

Well, there go the aughts

I guess that we've finished a decade and moved into a new one. On account of predictions are fun, I'll give you a few that are all but guaranteed to come true in the following decade:

  • We'll all get personal jetpacks.
  • Hoverboards will make it to market.
  • Everyone will start driving flying cars.
  • Jesus Christ will return to us.
  • Skynet will be born.
  • We will reach the singularity.

This is just a few of the wonderful things that are going to happen within the next decade; I'm really looking forward to all the fun.

Happy new decade!

Woods Hole, MIT, Virgin America; it's a small world

Yesterday, in returning from a week long, Christmas related stint in my home state of Massachusetts, I had a particularly intriguing synchronicity.

I was flying Virgin America, which is an excellent airline but that's an entire discussion of its own right. As a matter of good fortune, I was flying Main Cabin Select, which provides, amongst other things, the option of checking in through the First Class line. The regular line was proceeding rather quickly and a young lady behind me in line made a comment to the effect of it seeming a mistake to be in the First Class line. My motivations being as they are, I took a few moments to chat with this nice young lady but didn't make it far before it was my turn to go forward and check my baggage.

Conversations cut short are unfortunate but such things happen. I proceeded through security, got to the gate, waited a while and boarded the plane where who should end up in the seat next to me but the very same young woman who had been behind me in line. This was a pleasant coincidence but not terribly surprising insofar as there are not very many Main Cabin Select seats on any given plane. Shortly after taking her seat, this young woman says to me, "nice ring" and, as I glance over, it turns out that she's an MIT graduate as well; there's a pleasant extra level to this coincidence and a good source for conversation topics.

As we're chatting about various things, this young woman (who I am going to refer to as Margaret because it's easier than continuing to use qualified generic nouns), mentions that she was on the crew team and I mentioned that I had been on the sailing team. Somehow, in discussing sailing, I mentioned spending summers on Cape Cod, which raised the question of where. My answer, of course, is Woods Hole and, lo and behold, Margaret's family also has a place in Woods Hole. I should note that Woods Hole is a very small town and it's quite rare that I encounter someone in Woods Hole that I have not met before, especially someone within 5 years of my own age. As a result, rather unsurprisingly, it turns out that Margaret and I have at least a dozen mutual acquaintances and friends.

Overall, it was a fantastically surprising coincidence; so much so that it makes me wish that Mr. Data were on hand to tell me what the odds of the coincidence were. Certainly there exist certain biases to correct for, which make it such that the coincidence isn't purely random but I am not terribly inclined to enumerate all of the non-random factors that may have contributed. Why such a coincidence happened, I can't say, but it did, and that's great. The end result is that I've narrowed the gap of people that I don't know in Woods Hole and made a connection with a pleasant new person in this world.