So apparently some of my friends (traditional English-language definition) coordinated some kind of a campaign to become my friends (modern social-networking definition) on facebook.  I received some 15 friend requests in the 11am hour this morning, without having a facebook account.  I actually had to wonder if somehow someone had managed to make an account for me on facebook without my consent, although if they had it was pretty clearly good hearted.

They didn’t.  Or at least, I don’t think they did.  I don’t really know.  But I did go ahead and create an account. There?  Happy?

So far, it’s overwhelming… which I guess it to expected.  Within an hour of signing up, my inbox had basically only facebook notifications visible in it.  Two full screens of messages, about 35 facebook notifications, and two normal legitimate emails.  Most of these are friend confirmations, so presumably those will die down soon once the initial rush is over.  Let’s hope…

Meanwhile, I find the facebook interface easy enough to use (very impressive how quickly it identified all of these “friends” for me) but… overwhelming.  Right now it feels like 30 of my friends are having a party in the room while I’m trying to work.  Not that I can’t see the attraction, but, at the risk of seeming a 21st century high-tech grumpy old man, I’m closing the window for now.

Which of these batteries is actually low?

My family latched on to these battery testers a few years ago, clever little things that gauge the size of your battery and use that to figure out how much power to expect from them, so that they can compare that to how much power they are putting out, thus giving you a reading on how much “juice” is left in them.  Lots of batteries seem to have the same kind of thing built into them these days.  Whatever.

I’ve been noticing something recently: lots of products use multiple batteries (2, 4, whatever).  When the device starts to complain about its batteries being low, I take them out and test them.  Often – usually, I’d say – I find that only one of them is actually low.  Take out four batteries, three of them test perfectly fine, and the fourth is totally dead.  I have to suspect that this isn’t just because the one battery is failing, I think it’s something to do with the physics of batteries.  But, I don’t know what.  And, I could just be wrong.  But, anyone else experience this?

Whatever the case, you might think about checking all of your batteries instead of just throwing them all away when the device they are in says they are low.  Curious to hear if others experience this as well.

Those of you who read (and maybe even enjoyed) my post on the resolution of human perception, please join me in thanking Michael and Michael for bringing this New York Times Article to my attention. David Pogue agrees with me, there’s a limit to how much resolution we can perceive, and by his argument, the maximum resolution for common purposes is even smaller than I expected… And he even ran experiments to back it up! So… wow. Not surprisingly, he’s less philophical about the implications to the relations between humans and machines, and more just about how to be a smart shopper. But hey, I’m in to that, too. :) What’s just a little weird is that he also alludes to that 640K comment falsely attributed to Bill Gates… Hmmm…

Vectren Screen ShotI was please to see that my Natural Gas company, Vectren, has expanded their eBill service to include actual real DATA about consumption patterns. As one who thinks a lot about things like “what is the most efficient way to keep my house a comfortable temperature in the winter?” I love to see that they are drawing me this graph. I hope that in the future it will go back further in time. But I’m particularly pleased that they give the option of downloading the data as a spreadsheet. It’s pretty simplistic, just the dates and numbers in a chart, but… still, I love it! Thanks, Vectren! And I see that it really is using more gas for me to be working at home instead of being at work with the house turned down to 55 F.

Years ago I wrote an email to Kroger suggesting that they make the information that they make collection with their Kroger Plus Card (you know the type) available to the customer in question. I would love to see a history of my shopping. I would love to run queries such as “how much of my food budget am I spending on produce” (or, dare I question it, beer and wine?). They never replied. And they certainly aren’t offering this service. I think it’s a shame. I’m sure they are thinking “we don’t want to give consumers that kind of power, they might change their buying habits. Perhaps. But I suspect most people would never use it. And some of us would probably lean towards buying things at Kroger so that they could include it in their data analysis. So, I present it now publicly as a challenge to all you big SuperMarket companies… the programming should be trivial, simple queries of your huge database. Some of us would really love it. Thanks.

Meanwhile, thanks Vectren.

Michael has a photography magazine in one of his bathrooms that’s about a year old and is touting on its cover the latest-greatest camera, which is a 16.2 Mega-Pixel model. It was thought provoking to see that there, a year old, and wonder, “wow, what resolution are they up to now?”

And then I thought “y’know, I don’t think I need more than the ~7 Mega Pixels I’m getting now.”


A week or two ago, Priscilla and I were chatting about continents. I was telling her the story of participating in a “get to know you”-type game at a party, where I was to tell one truth and one falsehood about myself. I was on the spot, but pretty quickly came up with a good truth that sounded like a falsehood, but was having trouble coming up with a lie that might be true. Quite lamely (in my opinion), I eventually said “I’ve been on three separate continents in my life.” (I’ve actually never left North America, except for Hawaii).

Anyway, she started counting the continents she’d been on, and I was surprised to hear her list “America” as one. I’m mildly ashamed to admit now that I mocked her about this at the time, laughing at the idea that she might consider North and South America to be the same continent. I felt very proud of my recollection since childhood that there are seven continents: North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and Antarctica.

It didn’t take long in our conversation, though, before I realized that I – uh – didn’t have much ground to stand upon. Sue, Beth, and other geology-educated people with whom I’d discussed things like this talk a lot about “plates” and stuff, but I’m not sure how much geologists even believe in continents anymore. And, certainly, I’ve pretty much given up thinking that there’s any geological reason to consider Europe and Asia separate continents. And, as these thoughts were going through my head, Pri was telling me that in Brazil they are taught that North and South America are the same continent. Hmmm…

Well, she later sent me two links to Wikipedia pages, one in Portuguese and one in English. Sure enough, it seems that there is not global consensus on this matter. The English page offers a list of different models of the number of continents that are taught world-wide. It claims that the “geographic community” prefers the six continent model that considers Eurasia to be one continent.

I don’t really have any knowledge that would make me feel comfortable even having an opinion on this subject. (Actually, I do take issue with the Portuguese page’s inclusion of “Artico” as a continent. I don’t think there’s any land there, and whatever we call a continent, I think it should involve land.) However, it does highlight two deeply held beliefs of mine:

  1. What’s real is the world, when we describe it we are just trying to model it with words and concepts.
  2. No matter how simply something was taught to us, it might not true. There might not even be any consensus on the matter. Or, the expert consensus might be contrary to what we learned.

So, don’t be quick to make fun of someone who learned something different than you did. And… question everything.

(Kynthia told me that she once gave an impromptu speech with “question everything” as the subject. Maybe even the title. In any event, it might be one of the extremely rare phrases that would fit on a bumper sticker that I’d be willing to wear on my car.)

Hadn’t noticed this before, but somewhere quasi-recently, google added a feature to its “Personalized Home” page (which for any other web site would have been called “My Google”).  Now you can have Tabs!  Such a simple concept, but it basically means have mutliple My Googles…  This is great for me, because I was being very picky about what to put on there because I was running out of room.  Now I have a page just for blogs, another just for news, and then other stuff like weather and recent searches and stuff.  I like it.

Ha! I was right! For years I’ve been voicing my hypothesis that fruit flies don’t really like fruit, they like microorganisms that eat fruit. My hypothesis for this was the fact that very fresh, unbruised fruit doesn’t seem to attract fruit flies, but rotten fruit, wine, and even vinegar does. Well, WFIU’s *A Moment of Science* agrees, and presumably the scientists who deduced this know more about this stuff than I do. :)

Even after Saturday’s trip to King’s Island with Priscilla, I woke up on Sunday feeling well rested and motivated to go for a bike ride. It seems like something one shouldn’t fight when it happens, so I started looking at my maps. I didn’t want to go back to the route that I’d [failed on last time](, I wanted something new. I’d been wondering recently if I’m just used to all of the reasonable ways to exit Bloomington on a bike. Then I remembered that the collection of trips that I bought from the Bloomington Bicycle Club includes a sheet called “The ins and outs of Bloomington”. So, I studied that. The answer is yes, I am pretty used to all of them, but it’s nice to have a list before you so that you can remember ones you haven’t done in a while and think about where they might go that’s different than places you’ve been before. And so it was that I decided to head north on the West side of Highway 37 (which is sort of the great divide of biking around Bloomington). It looked like I might be able to make it to the White River if I was feeling good, and that sounded like a fun adventure.

Read on for more of the adventure, and more [unbelievably cool stuff one can do with GPS data in this day and age](


I was a chubby kid, but ever since puberty, I’ve been fortunate that the mix of recreational interests that I’ve had have apparently been enough exercise to keep my weight under control, even for as much as I like to eat (and you can read that “as much…” clause in two different ways, both of which are true). I’ve never engaged in exercise specifically for my health, although I’m certainly glad that there are activities that I enjoy doing (dancing, biking, frisbee…) that count as exercise even if I’m doing them for fun. So, I don’t think about my weight that much. I’m lucky.

Having said all of that, I do realize that not being focused on something is a good recipe for letting it get out of one’s control, and memories of having problems with my weight as a child keep me worried that I could have trouble in the future. Fortunately for me, my own father has a theory about healthy weight-management with which I’ve really jumped on board: “I don’t care how much you weigh, but you should weigh that amount every year.” Suppose you gain two pounds per year. That works out to less than three ounces per month, basically imperceptable. But, if you did that for 25 years, you’d weigh 50 pounds more than you do now. I will not feel at all good about my weight in 25 years if I weight 50 pound more than I do now.

So, the theory says, you’ve got to have a baseline that you keep coming back to. You’ve got to make sure that you don’t fall into this imperceptable creep. Once a year you’ve got to weigh the baseline amount. You pick the date. You pick the weight. But, if you’re not there, do something to get there, every year.

Ok. Now, again, I’m not worried about weighing too much now, so I decided a couple of years ago to set my baseline weight a few pounds more than I weighed at that moment. (Out of respect for the idea that one’s weight is a private matter, I shall not give any absolutely numbers in this public forum. Suffice it to say that the baseline was an amount I’d be perfectly comfortable weighing for the rest of my life). So, I signed up for the plan, and started weight myself more often, which turned out to be about once every three months.

What I found was that my weight varied more than I would have expected it to. The first winter after I started paying attention, I was actually a few pounds over my baseline, which surprised me. I thought “I might actually have to go on a diet”. I decided that I’d set my date for the summer, when it’d be easy to convince myself to increase my exercise level, and lots of fresh vegetables are in season.

What I found, though, was that in the Spring, without even trying, I had dropped back down in weight to a few pounds under my baseline. And, I stayed at about that rate until the next winter, when it went up again.

I don’t know how long this has been going on, but this year I felt motivated to pay some attention to it. Somewhere around the beginning of 2006, I found myself weighing about five pound over my baseline. That caused me some concern. I decided I’d reduce my intake of pop (man, what a fast way to ingest calories pop is!) and have been doing that for months. I don’t know how many, but enough that’d I’d weighed myself a couple of times since then (and I’d say never twice within three weeks), and didn’t notice any real change.

Then suddenly, this past week I weighed myself and I was about three pounds under my baseline. So, something like 6-8 pounds lost, with practically no variation in diet or exercise habits. What gives? And the pattern seems pretty clearly defined: every Winter I put on weight, every Spring it comes back off.

So, I can’t help but ask the question: could there be a seasonal thing going on in humans with their weight?

I did a cursory web search, but this is a hard subject to study on the web. The problem, of course, is that it’s hard to get past the countless self-help weight-loss guides and stuff. Basically, I found a lot of articles about the food served at Xmas parties, but practically nothing about biology.

It’s certainly possible that the holidays have something to do with my weight fluctuation. But, it just doesn’t seem that likely. Yes, my family feasts over the holidays, but that’s only a couple of meals, and I certainly do a fair amount of feasting in my normal existence. Yes, I attend holiday parties, but I attend parties all the time, and there’s always fat-filled finger food and alcohol there, and I don’t feel that I indulge any differently in November and December than I do normally. I could be wrong. Maybe I do and don’t realize it.

But, here’s the opposing case. I’m a relatively good sample set for this experiement. I weigh myself on the same scale, and do my best to keep it well zeroed (it is a pretty crappy scale, so that’s one weakness of my research methods). I eat two meals a day with limited snacking. For lunch, I typically eat at one of the many restaurants near where I work, and this is true throughout the year, and they certainly don’t vary their portion sizes in accord with the season. Dinners are more often than not food that I prepared, and I like eating until I feel a sensation of being “full”. Some things change about the kinds of foods that I eat in the Winter vs. the Spring, but I don’t know how much they’d matter. The most obvious thing is that in the Winter I make more soup, which I don’t consider to be at all bad for me. Throughout the year, but especially when vegetables are good, I make a lot of “stir fries” (interpretting that broadly), and while many people think that vegetable oil is not really bad for you, there’s no question that there’s more fat in my home-fried food than there is in soup, right?

As for activity, well, I haven’t been particularly active recently. As I just wrote in a previous post, I biked more in January and February than I did in March and April. I did some serious binge-dancing at the Pigtown Fling in late March, but come on… And besides, I danced just as hard at Winter Warmup in December, and in general my dance habits haven’t changed much.

So, what I’m suggesting (totally without proof) is that there’s something else going on inside me. I’m not suggesting anything supernatural. But, I think scientists tend to model our bodies as machines more than as animals, and I think this evidences itself in attitudes about nutrition and exercise. I do believe that one will lose weight if one burns more calories than one ingests, but it’s hard to know how many calories one is burning. And, in general, I think many people maintain a stable weight even while ingesting more than they burn. One simple possibility would be that we don’t actually digest all that we ingest. Our GI tract could just let some calories pass through us through its involuntary work. And, if it did that, it doesn’t seem at all unresonable to me that it might vary the amount based on the season. Many if not most living things native to non-equatorial regions have some instinctual sense of the season. Why could this not be true of humans? It doesn’t have to be the GI tract thing, that’s just a random speculation. But, my body does all kinds of things in digesting foods, and I don’t understand them, and there would seem to be countless ways that my cells could do different things with the nutrition I present then that would cause fluctuations in my weight.

I don’t know if this is true or not. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. For all I know, it may even be accepted fact among scientists, and I just can’t find their work. I doubt it, though. But, I invite everyone to offer evidence and theory of any kind in support of or opposition to this proto-theory.

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