Saturday, March 22, 2014

A brief hello, or something like that

I think many bloggers have been in the same situation as me in that they think about their blog all the time, but every time it seems like so much effort to post something, even a little thing. So I just want to spend a few minutes to say hello to my reader(s), and to announce to the world (printf("Hello world!")) that I'm still around, or something like that.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The neolithic paleo diet

Some time ago, I came across an article that seemed to imply that some people believe (incorrectly, in the authors' view) that hunter-gatherers expend more energy than modern Westerners, which is why hunter-gatherers are fit while office workers are not. I've always thought instead that the argument was framed in terms of traditional farming societies versus modern society. It's rather astounding how much people back then ate. I remember reading statistics that the average American in the early 1800s ate something like 3000 calories a day, while the recommended caloric intake today is 2000-2400 calories. Considering that the modern diet is much more similar to the traditional diet of agricultural societies (e.g., meat and potatoes, bread and butter, etc.) than it is to the diet of hunter-gatherers even though office workers perform far less physical labor than farmers, it makes more sense to compare modern diets to traditional farming diets rather than to hunter-gatherer diets.

A friend then asked whether it would make sense to simply move away from a traditional farmer-based diet that our ancestors ate to, say, a paleo diet. That got me thinking. Over the past year or so, I've done a decent amount of research into food and diet, including reading Gary Taubes's Good Calories, Bad Calories (a rather technical book debunking "fats are bad" persuasively and promoting "carbs are bad" less persuasively, though I think the evidence for refined sugar being bad is a lot stronger) and Bee Wilson's Consider the Fork (which is mostly a food history book), and rereading Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food and The Omnivore's Dilemma (which I am rereading right now).

One of the points that Taubes makes obliquely is that people who eat traditional diets do not get fat, even though these traditional diets run the gamut of anywhere from Inuits who never eat vegetables to Pacific Islanders who eat lots of starch and fish. Pollan makes this point more explicitly: Some traditional diets are high-fat; others are high-carb. Yet none of them seem to lead to the "diseases of civilization" that we see associated with the Western diet. So while I think a paleo diet wouldn't hurt, I don't think we need to go that far. In other words, as long as you adopt any traditional diet, you should be fine.

The problem, though, is that that is probably harder than it sounds. Our modern society simply does not make it easy. Are you going to have time to cook for yourself every single day? Can you bring your own lunch and eat it in half an hour or less? Traditional diets generally did not consist of prepared sack lunches. And even if you did adopt a traditional diet, how closely do you need to follow it? As Pollan points out, we don't know exactly why traditional diets work. Is it because of their presence, or is it because of the Western diet's absence that people become healthier? If we don't know what particular components make them healthy, then it seems dangerous to pick and choose certain things in a traditional diet. Can we even mix traditional diets? I don't know if I could stand eating the food of only one cuisine for the rest of my life.

And in the case of the paleo diet in particular, what exactly does it consist of? Ignoring the fact that there's no such thing as the one paleo diet that hunter-gatherers around the world followed, I don't think it's even possible for a modern urban Westerner to approximate anything like a true paleolithic diet. The biggest flaw is the fact that it's nearly impossible for somebody today to avoid all domesticated agricultural products. Paleo diet enthusiasts claim that we shouldn't eat grain because that's a neolithic invention. Yes, that's true, but what about "grass-produced meats"? Animal husbandry is another component of the Neolithic Revolution. In fact, not only did hunter-gatherers not eat beef or chicken, but they also did not eat bananas, or lettuce, or broccoli -- at least, not in the way we think of them today. Wild bananas are full of inedible seeds; wild lettuce is very bitter; wild broccoli doesn't even exist. The same goes for apples, which have been selected to be much larger and sweeter than their wild cousins; olive oil, which would not have existed before the Neolithic Era because what little fruit borne by wild olive trees would be small, have little oil, and be surrounded by thorns; and countless other foods. My point isn't simply to attack the paleo diet (although I realize I am doing that), but rather to point out that it's hard to know what a traditional diet actually entails.
Having said all this, I think the easier solution is to focus less on the presence of a traditional diet and more on the absence of the modern Western diet, which seems to be the common thread between any traditional diet, no matter how different they are from each other. This means avoiding (in varying levels of strenuousness) refined sugar, refined grains, and processed foods such as margarine, soy protein isolate, high-fructose corn syrup, and so on. It's hard to avoid these in a modern diet, but at least it's a start.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The past and other detritus, part 2: Makeoutclub

Remember Makeoutclub? I didn't until I saw an article "today" (actually, probably late 2011) that mentioned it in passing.

The first social networking site. I only vaguely remember it now, and I definitely did not have an account. Remember MySpace? Not too long ago (let's say six or seven years ago, which is the equivalent of six or seven decades ago in Internet time), MySpace was the place to be. I find myself a bit incredulous to say this, but I sort of miss MySpace. Well, not MySpace per se, but the fact that at the time MySpace was ascendant, Facebook was actually a place where not everyone and their mom (or their boss, or their neighbor) was on; it was a place just for college students. And then high school students. And then nonstudents. And then moms, bosses, and neighbors. Nowadays, anybody and everybody has a Facebook account. Notwithstanding the exclusivity associated with a site that catered to a particular group, the more prosaic issue is that now that everyone is on Facebook, you can't say anything you want without offending somebody. You can't post embarrassing pictures without your mom, or your boss, or your neighbor finding out. (Not that I ever did or would do any of these things, but allow me to indulge in the possibilities.)

Lately, I've come across articles on what teenagers think about Facebook: In short, not highly. Yesterday, it was Facebook; today, it's Instagram (which is owned by Facebook, luckily for them) and Snapchat (which I hadn't even heard of until recently -- and yet some think it's already passé). Just a few days ago, I learned of Vine, which recently has become the most downloaded video app on iTunes. Some think that Tumblr has surpassed Facebook as teens' most often used social network, perhaps because Tumblr "just seems more intimate and it[']s not really a place of bragging, but more of a place of sharing".

What will tomorrow bring? Will Facebook be around in six years? Probably. MySpace is still around, in a technical sense. Makeoutclub is still around too. Will people be using Facebook? That's a more germane question, and harder to answer. Some Internet companies, believe it or not, are still around six years later. Google, for instance. But Google has never explicitly focused on being cool; it's focused on making good products. Cool is a side effect. Facebook has never given me that feeling. But perhaps through sheer numbers -- over 1 billion users -- Facebook will stick around. As essential and as cool as email.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The past and other detritus, part 1

Given that it's been quite a while since I last posted, I suppose I should mention what's been going on lately -- which I will do mainly by going through my draft posts. (I have plenty of posts between March 2011 and now; in fact, plenty dating from 2010.) This, at the very least, should be pretty interesting to see what was on my mind back then.

Monday, March 4, 2013

2012 Was a Leap Year, Literally

At long last, after many months, nay, years, if one discounts the two entries from 2011, years being technically correct since at least one year has passed since 2010, though of course connotatively perhaps somewhat deceptive in speaking of years, thereby illustrating a deficiency of a proper word in the English language to indicate something longer than months but shorter than years, of waiting, dear reader, I, finally, happily, have returned.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

An Update!

It would be impossible to cover everything well in one post, so instead, I'll comment on various things that have happened recently:

1. Earlier this week, a few people decided to take over a building on campus to protest the education cuts. It must have been a big deal, with three helicopters flying over over the school, but only about 100 people showed up to their National Day of Action to Defend Education out of 30,000+ students.

2. It might not snow here, but it gets cold. Afternoons are around 60, and nights are 45 or so. In other words, it's not cold enough to wear a winter coat, but a little too cold to be comfortable wearing only a sweatshirt.

3. Skateboarding is a popular form of transportation around here. On the other hand, more than once I've seen somebody hurtling down Bancroft on a skateboard, only for their face to have a sudden and unfortunate meeting with the pavement.

4. Considering all the ultra-neurotic people at Boalt, which is supposed to be one of the most laid-back law schools, I wonder where they all came from, since I don't really ever remember meeting any neurotic people at Yale. In fact, the only other Yalie I know of is also pretty laid back.

5. I bought 26 oranges for about $5 a few weeks ago in Chinatown. Produce in Chinatown is so amazingly cheap. I don't know when I might finally eat the last orange.

6. I also bought four lemons for a dollar, except that I didn't know they were lemons. They're the biggest lemons I've ever seen, bigger than an orange. Now I have no idea what to do with them.

7. After months and months of delay, I finally bought a new computer. Then it got recalled. They cancelled my order, but didn't bother cancelling the warranty that came with the computer. Bastards.

8. Besides my computer ordering troubles, I've been having computer troubles with my current laptop. About two or three weeks ago, the computer suddenly started bluescreening constantly. At first, I thought maybe it was a problem with some corrupted OS files. But it wasn't that. I was afraid it was a hard drive failure, but then thought it was the CPU overheating. But it wasn't that, so I thought it was the motherboard failing, which would have been really bad. But it wasn't that, so I thought again that it was the hard drive failing. But the hard drive had no errors. I really had no idea what might be wrong. Finally I decided to test the RAM, and after taking out a stick of RAM, the computer has been running fine since then. Unfortunately, with only half the RAM as before, things are running much more slowly, but at least it isn't bluescreening. In my usual procrastinating manner, I've been putting off buying new RAM, mostly since I haven't completely confirmed that that stick of RAM is defective... even though my computer hasn't been bluescreening since. One day I will get some new RAM, I hope.

9. Gas is higher than ever. Unfortunately, I'm now driving more than ever. Gas is nearly $4 a gallon here, and most places either don't take credit card, or they charge higher prices for using a credit card. So I have to withdraw money from my account constantly. It was pretty rare to see a place on the East Coast do that, but it seems to be pretty common here on the West Coast, or at least in the Bay Area.

10. I still don't have a bed. Or rather, I still don't have a mattress. One day, that might change. One day.

11. I met someone from Cambodia today.

12. Did you know you can file your taxes by phone?

13. I would promise to update more often, but I shouldn't be making promises I can't keep. Under-promise and over-deliver.

Sunday, January 16, 2011