Mike Beversluis

Friday, July 31, 2009

“Being eaten alive by hyenas is less painful than you would think.”

Herter’s magnum opus, though, was “Bull Cook,” a wild mix of recipes, unsourced claims and unhinged philosophy that went through at least 15 editions between 1960 and 1970. Herter claimed one million copies sold; Brown guesses it was closer to 100,000. Either number is impressive, and the wild curveball of the book’s opening lines remains unmatchedin American literature: “I will start with meats, fish, eggs, soups and sauces, sandwiches, vegetables, the art of French frying, desserts, how to dress game, how to properly sharpen a knife, how to make wines and beer, how to make French soap and also what to do in case of hydrogen or cobalt bomb attack, keeping as much in alphabetical order as possible.”


Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Professor Model

These coconut headphones are genius.

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Let's make a linear curve fit through one data point...

Megan McArdle posted the other day about the obesity "crisis", and continued on today with somewhat strident language:

3. We don't have any good way to make people shorter, but we do know how to make them lose weight.

Actually, this is rubbish: we don't know how to lose weight. Some of the things Paul Campos is saying about obesity are controversial, but this isn't. Every single study which has attempted to make overweight people get thin without very risky surgery has failed completely and utterly. Fewer than 1% of patients ever keep the weight off.

Now, being fat is not the end of the world, as I was gradually discovering more and more over the last few years. Fat may be a bit of an exaggeration, but "fleshy" is probably about right. In the euphemism of so many online dating profiles, I was "average". That's all fine and good, but I disagree that it's a proven fact that you cannot loose weight, since that is what I have done, fairly slowly, this year. Yes, it's unlikely that dieters on average will succeed (I've seen 95% elsewhere), and yes people yo-yo diet, but I have sought to avoid this through data analysis. Let me illustrate: Here is a graph of my measured weight over the last few months:

The black curve is the raw measurement and the red is a 10-day exponentially-weighted moving average. The month of February was a baseline measurement. After that, I ate an average of 1650 calories per day, which resulted in losing about 1.5 lb per week for the last five months. This is a moderate pace, and fits within the FDA's guidelines for weight loss rates. The total amount may seem large, but at 6'5", the 30 lbs here represents about 3 inches around my waist. About a month after starting the diet, I also started a mild exercise program which totals about 100 minutes per week. This has been enough for slight fitness improvement, but as you can estimate, it didn't really affect my weight loss. That's expected, since that much exercise works out to about 600 calories per week, which is small compared to the average 5200 calorie loss. My main interest was to not lose muscle during this dieting process, and so far, that's held true. Actually, I've gained muscle, so this data underestimates my fat loss.

I have been followed the method outlined in the Hacker's Diet, which simply involves counting calories. I've been doing this online with the rather nice site FitDay, which allows you to estimate your nutritional intake in a few minutes. I used Hacker's Diet online to record my weight each morning because I liked the built-in smoothing, which has been critical for a continued sense of improvement. There is noise in the daily measurements, and it can be difficult to appreciate the steady 0.2 lb trend when things fluctuate +/-2lb. This idea is outlined in that online text, but having done it this long, I will tell you it makes a huge motivational difference to see that the trend is still moving down.

This allowed me to stop using appetite, or more accurately, stop using the feeling of fullness, to signal when to start or stop eating. A ~700 calorie deficit is roughly equivalent to skipping a meal, so basically I sharply downsized my lunch, and cut out eating out, snacks and beer. I have not been 100% strict about this, more like 75%. I usually follow it on the work week, and then ease up a little on the weekends. The day's activities during work make it easier to eat less. These excursions are not binges, but are usually about what I ate during my baseline.

What I've found is that this time, while not exactly fun, hasn't been hard either. I don't have the strong hunger pain that McArdle describes. Contrary to most dieting advice, I have found it's easier to fast for part of the day than it is to eat a little throughout the day - I'm about as hungry at lunch if I haven't eaten yet as I am if I had breakfast. In fact, eating breakfast makes me hungrier at lunch. Once the topic is broached, though, I have also tried to fill up on bulky, low-calorie food like fruits and vegetables. Since I have a sweet tooth, I've used pinapple and non-fat yogurts to substitute for candy and ice-cream. I've switched to leaner cuts of meat, and like frozen shrimp as an easy low-fat protein.

So far my metabolism has been fairly steady, but her point about minumum sustainable weights might have some validity, so I'm curious if this will change now that I am back to my old college weight. I wasn't extra-lean then, so I'm going to try and continue for another few months and see what happens. According to her, my metabolism should drop down to zero, and I should be starving hungry all of the time, dreaming of cheeseburgers (which hasn't happened yet either)(because I have had some during this period) but I suspect that mixing up my daily intake has kept my body from going into a stong starvation mode. I think part of the results from her cited studies was due to crash dieting. Most weight gain is gradual, and I think if you keep the weight loss gradual, you are less likely to invoke these strong metabolic responses. To make a comparison, it's like suggesting that no-one can become a jogger unless they can immediately run a competitive marathon. Baby steps, Bob, baby steps. But perhaps it's also affected by total bodyfat and not just a daily calory deficit. We shall see.

This is where data analysis is very helpful, since I can measure small long-term changes. I'd esitmate that my resolution is on the order of 0.1lb per month, so that you can easily pull out a gradual shift. The downside of this is that I will need to keep recording my weight daily, and most likely keep recording my food intake too. But to tell the truth, doing so online has been very easy. The upshot is that since getting here has been surprisingly easy, I'm very confident that I will be able to maintain this lower weight.

So, I think it's very possible for most people to succeed dieting, relatively painlessly, by using data processing. As silly or trite as that may sound, tools do make a difference. I would guess that some people would be much hungrier than I when losing 1.5 lb per week, but that suggests a lower rate of weight loss should be tolerable. I did find it much harder to lose 1.6 lbs than 1.4 lbs per week, so this should be tailored to the individual's comfort to ensure long-term discipline. Unless something is physically wrong, which is probably <5% of the population, they should be comfortable, if not thrilled, with a zero-weight gain diet, so there should exist a tolerable deficit point, even if it was only 0.2 lb per week.

Now, having said all that - McArdle is absolutely right about both the obnoxious moral tenor of the conversation, and with the surprising (to me) lack of health problems for overweight people. There is little affect of even rather high-obesity on life expetancy - it starts to really ramp up over 35-40, so I'd have to weigh over 300 lbs. As I now stand, I have traversed an entire BMI range, and my long-term health expectancy is dominated by other factors. I'm still happy I did it, and I think people who want to for asthetic reasons, without need for expensive diet plans or health clubs, by using measurements to replace their appetites in an age of overabundant calories.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Cosmology's always good for a laugh, but keep it in the solar system if you want to get taken seriously...

Five interesting astronomy anomalies

I'm going to reveal the depths of my ignorance here, but I don't worry about cosmology too much, since it's hard to repeat the experiment, and besides that, the universe doesn't really care if you think it makes sense or not. Even if it probably does.

Anyway, the above article points out a bunch of very interesting anomalies of bodies within the solar system. I hadn't heard about the increasing Earth/Sun distances before - that's kinda cool. In the end, all of these problems may stay within the ballpark, so to speak, but I'm sure a few clever fellows will take their hacks and try to invent something new in Classical Mechanics.

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McMahon gets the double heh

Sneak peek at the new Apple Tablet design


How to get hired in today's tough economy.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Bolting Godzilla together

Gearhead Gnarliness: Speedhunters visits the Nissan GT-R assembly line.

I wasn't crazy about the car's looks initially, but a guy in my neighborhood bought one, and having seen it rolling down the road, it works. And even more so than a wouldn't kick it out of bed way. The brakes really are the size of man-hole covers. I'll take my in red please, and sacrilege! I'd repaint the wheels bright silver.

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News you can use

How to guess the number of M&M's in a jar. (Hint, 0.7 ml and 66%)

Homework problem - jelly beans?


Monday, July 27, 2009

Coolography 13

They're like the '32 Ford of boats, no?


A SR-71 heads up the hill

Imagine finding that box under the Christmas tree. I think I swiped this from the awesome x planes.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Coolography 12

Apollo Lunar Module Control Panel


Monday, July 20, 2009


Saturn V's were awesome.

It's amazing to go down to the Air and Space Museum here in DC and look at those space capsules. My car is orders of magnitude more advanced than those things. Unbelievable.

Anyway, I've seen a couple of posts wondering why we haven't gone back, and wouldn't it be neat, etc. That's nuts. The only reason we went there in the first place was to put the Rooskies in their place, and that's the only way it ever made monetary sense, if you want to call it that. And as long as we're using rocket technology even remotely close to what we've had for the last 40 years, it still makes little economic sense. Along that line, they're talking about letting the space station fall into the Pacific in a year or two because it too is a giant money pit.

But that bit of anti-manned space exploration vitriol aside, Saturn V's are awesome.


XKCD hits it on the nose. In all fairness to Microsoft, I've had about as much success in estimating the time to complete any of my own projects too.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The case for autism

Tyler Cowen writes an interesting article on the advantages of autism, something that isn't presented in the usual cluck-clucking:

Autism as Academic Paradigm

Thinking back on history, maybe you've wondered how it was that American colleges and universities could ever have contributed to racist discourse. But Princeton and many other institutions kept out Jews, and "academic" defenses of slavery, segregation, and eugenics were commonplace until broader social changes rendered such views unacceptable.

The sad truth is that dehumanizing ideologies are still with us in the modern university, although they take very different forms. Prime examples include the unacceptable ways we sometimes talk and think about the autism spectrum.

A few years ago, Michael L. Ganz, who teaches at the Harvard School of Public Health, published an essay titled "Costs of Autism in the United States." Nowhere in the essay does he consider whether autistic people have brought benefits to the human race. Can you imagine a comparable essay titled: "Costs of Native Americans"? Ganz might think that autism is strictly a disease, but he never mentions or rebuts the fact that a great number of autistics reject this view and find it insulting.


I've cited some of the more obvious examples, but the underlying biases are much more deeply rooted. A lot of people at colleges are aware of dealing with autism (and Asperger's syndrome; I will refer generally to the autism spectrum) in their "special needs" programs. The more complex reality is that there is a lot more autism in higher education than most of us realize. It's not just "special needs" students but also our valedictorians, our faculty members, and yes — sometimes — our administrators.

That last sentence is not some kind of cheap laugh line about the many dysfunctional features of higher education. Autism is often described as a disease or a plague, but when it comes to the American college or university, autism is often a competitive advantage rather than a problem to be solved. One reason American academe is so strong is because it mobilizes the strengths and talents of people on the autistic spectrum so effectively. In spite of some of the harmful rhetoric, the on-the-ground reality is that autistics have been very good for colleges, and colleges have been very good for autistics.

Working in academic research, it's been interesting to see the sort of cold war that goes on between the professors/scientists/engineers and managers/business guys. In any lengthy stalemate, there is some strength to either position (or both are equally weak, kumbaya my lord). This why the folks over at the Harvard Business Review endlessly rattle on about emotional intelligence, and I think they have a point. You may want Dilbert designing your widgets, but you do not want him running the show, as any college faculty meeting will show.

In any case, I think Cohen makes some very good points, and perhaps the goal shouldn't be to reduce or "fix" autism, or that it's increasing presence is a crisis, but rather recognize their virtues and channel them effectively.

On a very tangential note, this reminds me a lot of the Money Ball philosophy in baseball, in which the goal is to use cheap players whose skills go unharolded due to a social bias to efficiently win. In baseball, certain statistics are glamorous - like RBI's or ERA or Saves, despite the fact that they correlate poorly with skill or contributions to wins. You can pay a lot less per win if you achieve them with average hitters with tremendous defense skills.

This may not directly apply to autistics vs everyone else, because even within highly autistic cultures, like academia, there is poor evaluation - e.g., paper citations if your real interest is in intellectual achievement.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Coolography 11

Delftware sidecar motorcycle edition.



Real, but rather funny, science paper abstracts: NCBI ROFL. (National Center for Biotechnology Information)

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Monday, July 13, 2009

So I woke up in a bathtub filled with ice with a note to get immediate medical attention

Virginia Postrel wrote a great essay about the long kidney donor list, where many people die while waiting, and proposes paying donors to alleviate this. Which is a classic repugnant transaction, as you're only supposed to give organs to your loved ones for free or if you crash your motorcycle, etc. But (A), our current system is worse in practice, and (B) it already exists for medical tourists, who can go to the right clinic abroad to meet up with some third-world donor. So it seems inevitable. However, if you're going to advocate such a practice, I couldn't help but ask myself how much it would take to get me to donate.

My informal poll at work suggested no one there wanted to, although it's not quite fair to spring that question on someone over the water cooler. I think it's different if there's a real offer - both ways. Someone showing up with a suitcase full of money is a bit tangible than a number pulled out of thin air, but sitting down for the anesthesia is just as serious. Myself - I'd have to look into the long-term risks, but if the procedure really is as low-risk as she makes out, I would be tempted for a much lower number than infinity - somewhere in the range of "capital".

Finally, it'd be a lot different for me if the need was less critical and the donation more debilitating - having someone volunteer to give up a cornea, for instance, would be too far. Or so I think.


I hate the 80's


Coolography 10

Coolography unsafe at any speed-edition (alternatively, F-Ralph Nader edition)


How do trains stay on their tracks?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Coolography Nove

Much more


Thursday, July 09, 2009

Hopefully one of a lengthy series

Esoteric Comic #1

The smartest thing ever?

Well, not really, but still: Keychain key.

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The dumbest thing ever?

That can't possibly be true, can it? The shadow seems to be in the right place, but... wow.

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A nifty microscopic composite image of an ant. And happily, GigaPan does not have a natural language interface. Many more such images here at the Nano GigaPan blog.

(Excuse my minor tick* - electron microscopes and microscopists tend to label images by magnification, e.g., 250X - I dislike that. Since the microscope has some fixed display size, this kinda makes sense, but even then not really. Are you supposed to get a ruler out, hold it up to the screen, and then divide by the magnification? And for some resized image on the web, the label is meaningless. It would be better to put in a scale bar on each image, or label it by the feature resolution in any image, limited either by the microscope resolution or the pixel size. End rant)

*ha ha, not an ant.

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Look on Wolfram Alpha's works, ye mighty, and despair

The problem with "smart" tools: Wolfram Alpha and hubristic user interfaces.

There's a long dissertation on the fatal flaw of Alpha, which is its wildly unpredictable natural language control, but the lesson which has always resonated with me is this:

At a more mundane level, however, we may ask: how do these obvious disasters come about? Man is flawed and hubris is eternal, of course. But really. Why, year after year, does the software industry piss away zillions of dollars, and repeatedly infuriate whatever gods there be, butting its head against this wall like a salmon trying to climb Boulder Dam? Why on earth do these mistakes continue to be designed, implemented, and shipped? By smart, smart people?

The simple answer is that both academia and the industry are, to a substantial extent, driven by hype. Hype gets press, and hype also gets funding. The press (Inquirer and Register excepted) is not a critical audience. The NSF is an even less critical audience - at least, for projects it is already pursuing. Again, if abject failure were an obstacle to continued funding, most of "computer science" would have ceased to exist sometime in the '90s. Instead, Professor Hearst will no doubt be able to pursue her ambitious goals until a comfortable retirement in the 2030s. Long live science!

Science is supposed to be rational, but people are limitedly so, and so much of "science" isn't. Nota Bene, I might be too cynical here, see the post below.


Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Top Gear is awesome

Love the random John Woo slow-motion bits, but the bug-eyed helpless passenger expressions are priceless.

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A liar won't believe in anyone else



Sunday, July 05, 2009

Round and round we go

"Most of the change we think we see in life is due to truths being in and out of favor."

Robert Frost

Two paths, etc etc.


Gimme shelter

Cool ceilings

They happened to include the DC metro, e.g.,

However, IMHO, the newly reopened courtyard at the National Portrait Gallery is a nicer DC ceiling:

One of my favorite museums, and a nice spot for a bit of lunch or coffee.


Coolography 8

1969 Lamborghini Factory Photos
, featuring the all-time desert island top-ten most beautiful car Miura.


Coolography 7

And that, gentlemen, is how one jumps a motorcycle.


Friday, July 03, 2009

Mmmmm... Picasso

"A high-brow is someone who looks at a sausage and thinks of Picasso."
A. P. Herbert


Black and White-Face?

Is it just me, or does this cross a line?

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Coolography 6

White roof edition.

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They would need a hell of a Yagi

Incidentally, today is the anniversary of Marconi's 1897 radio patent, so the earliest radio transmissions are more than 100 light years out by now.

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