Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Narrowly averted BIG DEBT

I have some nice stuff - especially since I like to see big numbers in my bank account and not on my credit card bill but lately, I had a bug about buying stuff. Maybe I felt the need to reward myself for something so far undiscovered or I was just bored. Two things came up for consideration and the weirdest thing is that I like what I have even though I was on the front edge when I purchased (sort of like picking Beta instead of a VHS player)

The first up on the block for upgrading was Luigi (my Omnia 2). When I last upgraded, there were apps for Audible, ereader, Slingbox, etc that were only available for WM so it made sense to get a WM phone. And I really like Luigi. Huge screen, fast, lots of memory, camera flash; what could happen to change my mind? Well MS announced that nothing on WM7 would work on WM 6.5 and below.

Luigi's new clothes - much cheaper than new phone
 Most developers instantly stopped producing updated software. Yes old apps still work for WM and I can use web pages but stand alone apps are popular for a reason. I really noticed when I started using Google Reader. I never got into RSS feeds but I really like how Google Reader lets me flip through blogs of interest. Using the webpage really sucks on Luigi. I thought maybe I should get a new Samsung Galaxy S. Hmmm. Crisis averted! I was looking through OpenMarket and found speeed reader Now I have an icon on my main page for both Twitter (MoTweets) and Google Reader. Combined with my other stuff I can't even start to need a new smart phone.

That was the cheap crisis.
Passat is more practical than our other drive

I thought I might like a different car. I have a '06 Passat with 4motion. It's pretty awesome. When I first saw the VW Passat on the street, I loved it. When I decided to trade in my GTI I took the opportunity to check out a mildly used one. It's green with beige leather. It has lights that turn when you go round corners; a lane change mode on the turn signal (1 touch, 3 flashes), sat nav and those 30 cool things they added to the Passat. I checked the specs and yesss they upgraded the engine to actually have performance. I drove into the city with one car and came home with another.

But I had seen the BMW Gran Turismo in New Scientist and really liked the styling (other than the pedestrian friendly front end). I've seen another sweet BMW, the X6. Then Honda came out with the Crosstour. Not really hot on the front end but we have a dealership in town advertising 0.9% financing and I'm liking Norden a lot less than I did when I had my GTI. So I test drove the Honda. Nice drive but not nicer than my car. I feel like I'm giving up a lot of luxe features for a newer vehicle. Then I checked the balance of my car loan. Another crisis averted! I washed and cleaned my Passat and it's like new. In a couple years I may trade it for an Acura ZDX if I could ever get used to *that* front end. If VW has something similar I could also head look at it too at a different dealership.

I'm glad my cheap side came through again. Truly none of the cars I could afford evoke as much emotion as my Passat did. While I would like the X6, I had to get my Passat flat-bedded to the city because of a steering column lock failure (yay warranty; yay failing in the garage). The truck driver said he hauls lots of BMWs in. Beemers - still finicky after all these years.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

I loved this season of Dr. Who

I haven't really settled down with a theme for the blog other than I'm getting old:) so I thought I would lighten up with some TV chatter. Dr. Who used to be shown late on Saturday night on PBS; we watched it to relax while at tech school. Until recently, the new series was shown on CBC and pretty well pre-empted at the drop of a hat. Still I managed to see a most of the shows with Rose as the companion and the last couple of season with David Tennant on BBC Canada. Now it's being shown on Space where it's always belonged - yay.

I've been watching the current season on Saturday and the previous seasons on weeknights. It's really interesting to see how different the doctors are. The 9th Doctor didn't actually seem to like humans - more like he was watching a train wreck. The 10th Doctor was coloured by his love of Rose. I read somewhere that Tennant was the emo Doctor and I have to agree. When he wasn't being crazy he was sad. He did seem to get over it when Donna was his companion but I found the 10th doctor to be bitter and unlikeable in his last season (4 specials) so was more than ready for #11.

For a lot of viewers (certainly the ones commenting on io9) this was the first Doctor that was younger than them and they wondered how it would be pulled off. Well the Doctors are generally good actors so that should be the first hint. I was waiting eagerly for the season to begin and have to say this was a very good season and here's why.

Solid writing and acting - Matt Smith quickly created a character that was similar enough for continuity yet different enough. The episodes had enough mix of stand alone adventure and arc stories. Amy and Rory are a great companion team and much more equal in importance that past teams because Amy does love Rory not the Doctor. Perhaps some viewers couldn't relate to Amy and Rory because of gender role reversal - usually it the man who seems nonchalant towards their partner and goes adventuring while the woman that is along because of the emotional connection.

The season finale was great the way that shows for the US/Canada should emulate. If anything happened (ie. entire crew killed by an asteroid) the season could stand on it's own. Had this been a US production the penultimate episode would have been the season ender and the season finale would have been the first show of the 2nd season. This is much better. I mention io9 earlier and their article on the season finale prompted this post. To wrap up I just wanted to reply to some of the question points in the article and comments and how they were resolved to me.

*Doctor saves the world with a time paradox - to me he was using a tool that let him move in the confined space of the diminishing universe. Had he taken the TARDIS that would have created a big paradox because it was exploding.
*Importance of Amy's wedding day - she had to remember the Doctor. That was also where she was supposed to be. The whole thing with Rory was she had to focus on that relationship because it was the jump off for remembering the rest of the universe.
*This doctor still seems to be settling into himself. Instead of just going on adventures with a companion, almost right away he has to deal with something totally unknown, a crack in the universe. Now that I'm watching the previous seasons I can see what a departure this is.
* The deal with the stars is they were the first things to go from the perspective of earth. Most people don't look at them anyway so it does point out how special Amy is.

The Doctor took a big risk to get the universe rebooted. While he did everything he could to get Amy to remember him there was always a possibility that she wouldn't. And what a great way to touch on previous episodes without doing the "letters home" thing that Stargate does. I really looking forward to the next season.

Lastly thanks Charlie Anders. I've enjoyed reading your recaps and even with the spoilers it really whetted my desire to watch the show rather than thinking I knew all I needed to.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Smell, scent or stink

I get inspired by the strangest things. On an open thread kicked off by the Old Spice commercial people started talking about how far away you should be able to smell perfume then it roamed onto the smell of cigarette smoke.

I am very sensitive to perfumes but I really like them so I explore different ways of wearing them. One time I tried a perfumed hair mousse. Tip - if you are sensitive to scents, don't put a bunch in your hair. It made me nauseous and took me quite awhile to figure out the source of my illness. Luckily a quick shower fixed me right up. I have tried and chucked several products and have settled on a compromise. All my cosmetics and hair products are unscented or low scented. I use shower soaps are by Philosophy because they have lots of variety but the perfume doesn't stick to my skin or hair.Scented body lotions are okay as long as I wash my hands after putting them on.  I have found a couple of perfumes that work with my body chemistry so if I'm using a spray I don't use it on my wrists or head area. I also really like rollerballs for control.

I'm a big fan of small scent foot print. I like to smell my perfume occasionally but don't think anyone else should be able to unless they are standing very close to me. I'm okay with larger foot prints in large spaces with reasonable ventilation (locker rooms, labs etc). I'm not okay at all with them in workout situations and end up moving away from that person.

And what about cigarette smoke, it may seem different but it isn't to me. I used to smoke and I realize that it's a legal activity, yada yada. Where I live there is no smoking in enclosed public places, including bars, restaurants and casinos and I work in a non smoking facility. I don't care if other people choose to smoke as long as I don't have to breathe their second hand smoke much but I am surprised at how far the smell can carry and linger. I won't buy a house that was owed by a smoker and scrutinized my current vehicle (a used Passat) carefully. I love that car but had it been owed by a smoker I would have passed.

How noticeable is smoke to me? Someone smoked in their vehicle with their window down and and I could smell it in my car. I can smell smoke when there is a smoker in a vehicle in front of me. I can definitely smell when someone has just had a smoke and when a smoker has been in a room (not smoking in it, being in it) I am appalled that I thought my parents didn't smell smoke on me when I was illicitly smoking. I guess they were picking their battles.

And what about the Old Spice guy? What a voice and those videos looked like they would be fun to shoot. Old Spice itself? Sorry, too smelly. highly scented body wash and deodorant is just as icky on guys as gals to me.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The lazy days of summer

Summer is a difficult time for me. In the winter I do a variety of exercise classes ranging from step aerobics to pilates to yoga. This builds cardiac health, muscle tone and flexibility and, most importantly, I have a lot of friends that work out so it's a great way to socialize. In summer I walk to work if it's not raining, golf and take only a couple of classes for fun. In the past it's been yoga but for now it's Zumba which is way more fun than I thought it would be. Since I totally change my activities I lose some muscle tone and, dare I say it, gain some weight.

This summer has been hard as there's been quite a bit of stress at work (not sure why exactly) and has marked the return of stress eating. For the first time in ages I had an whole small DQ Blizzard in one sitting and a regular onion rings on a different occasion. The horror! The weirdest part is the effect on my self image. Naturally the first place to loose tone is my tummy so I have this irrational image of me as a much bigger person even though my regular clothes still fit albeit a little differently than in the winter. Note to self - pretty well everyone looks large if they stand less than a foot away from a mirror. Get over it.

I give myself a pass in the summer because I know I'll be active again in the fall. This fall could be different though because I seem to have a chronic i-band injury that's made it difficult to keep up my exercise routine. Work out too hard and it creeps into lower back pain. The main thing for me to remember is that it's not my weight by my metabolic and cardiac fitness that matters.

I mentioned before that I read the Obesity Panacea blog. I would rather be effective than indulge in wishful thinking and these guys report on the latest research.

If I'm going to exercise for cardiac health, go hard. I've never understood that fat burning zone thing because if I stay if it I feel like I'm just coasting. The group leader where I exercise moved away from the heart rate charts to "how hard to feel that you've worked" way of assessing effort. Aim for a 7 or 8 (10 being near death). This year I'm planning on doing Bootcamp and Zumba (haven't you danced hard for an hour? It's work!) for most of my cardiac work outs. I'm also going back to yoga for flexibility.

New research has shown that how full your fat cells are determines your metabolic fitness. As long as they are not bursting you're ok. So you can be metabolically healthy without a low weight. That's good to know. Still, I want to eat "right". A higher fiber breakfast should last longer and could help burn calories more efficiently. I weigh myself every morning and if I drift up a kilo in a couple of weeks I scrutinize my eating to see where the junk food has crept in. Personal finding - those 100 calorie snacks are killers. I suppose they are better than eating a bag of chips but I can eat a much wider variety of snack items (a few pretzels, sliced strawberries and a caramel for instance) and stay under that 100 cal.

This winter will be interesting as I try to maintain fitness levels while making some changes to exercise styles to accommodate the payback for an active youth.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

oooo- implosion at The Intersection too

After Pepsigate at Scienceblogs, I decided to get science news/opinion more from the Discover blogs network. Now that I am I remember why I didn't make this a primary source before. I love reading Bad Astronomy and most of the other blogs but The Intersection just seemed to get weirder and weirder as Chris Mooney got off the topic of science reporting and into the badness of "New Atheists"

I admit that when I first heard of the New Atheist (NA) movement I thought it was kind of dumb - why does one have to declare that s/he doesn't believe in a specific version of god, religion is a private thing? Well in the US it's not a private thing. Evangelicals continuously try to insert God into everything regardless of relevance and insist that it trumps reality. Why can't New Atheists be nicer? I'm not a tactful person but since I'm Canadian I'm automatically nice (ha, ha). After going to a few sites like Pharyngula I could easily see why the bloggers come across as abrasive. They are outspoken, the commentators are even more outspoken and there is always someone dragging tired religious tropes into conversations about science, ethics or both. After repeating yourself a few billion times, you get abrupt - with the anonymity of being on line you can get really obnoxious in your abruptness. People are really eager to interpret actions negatively because for many, not believing in their God is threatening in itself. But I've not seen video from talks by Dawkins, Myers or any of the other high profile NAs that show them being disrespectful, or even impatient, of questioners. Actually I have been encouraged to examine my belief system and get up-to-date with several science areas.

How is this relevant? I stopped reading The Intersection after this post and scrolling through comments. Let me get this right, some guy (I'll call him LIAR) claims to have seem some scientists being insulting to religious folks and this comment gets elevated to the subject of a blog post? Really? LIAR is make further claims about systematic rudeness of non-believing scientists toward the non-scientists they are supposed to be educating/working with. Surely there would be some surreptitious video of a conversation - after all this is the Youtube generation - but nope. Nothing. Now it turns out that not only was the story made up(!?!) but many of the comments following the post were by LIAR using different names! And a website connected to LIAR was also blogged by one person using several names.

Mooney has gone public with this which is good but his focus is on whether the person exists and protecting that person's RL reputation from what was done on the Internet. Nowhere does Mooney recognize that his really big problem is that he didn't actually check on the reality of the claim the LIAR made. Not saying people aren't people (and thus sometimes obnoxious) but that when people are doing work related things they tend to have a work related face on so the whole story never rang true for me.

So what now. Disco blog networks isn't perfect and some of my favorite bloggers are on the scienceblogs network. So back I go.

Friday, July 9, 2010

My internet has changed!

There was a big implosion at Scienceblogs about the inclusion of a blog by Pepsico about called "Food Frontiers". Pepsico was going to pay for the privilege of hosting its blog on the site. It wasn't introduced to the existing bloggers well and bystanders got to see, and chime in on, the messy admin stuff usually kept behind the scenes. No surprise that a science librarian would have a thoughtful viewpoint with great overview of the kerfuffle.

Zuska looked at an equivalent media decision made by Ms.Magazine when they accepted advertising. Apparently Scienceblogs didn't make the same kind of thoughtful assessment of the effect of this particular advertising stream then bowed to the pressure from bloggers and readers. To an outsider, skepticism appears to be reserved for religion, corporations and conservatives. Pepsico is corporate therefore bad and should be summarily expelled before posting anything of substance.

The person writing an opinion piece in the Guardian explained why she threw this out to the wider world. Seed has shown a pattern of lack of integrity in terms of editorial content for both Seed and the Scienceblogs network. This explains rapid exodus of bloggers, who seemed on the edge of leaving in any case, as well as the lack of following any kind of pre-existing media rules about how to integrate paid with free blogs with full disclosure.

I thought the blog sounded interesting. Ideally the researchers would have time during work to blog about anything that was not confidential research, PR people could ensure that researchers read/answer more specific comments and we could all learn how food research is done. Pepsico brand includes fruit drinks and Quaker Oats. Like it or not food for the masses is big industry* now. The food industry does a lot of research into preservation, added nutrient value and should fund more basic research. With the right people this could have been window into a world we don't usually see.

As for science news. Scienceblogs was starting to be kind of American echo chamber for me. It seems like several bloggers would comment in the same way on the same topic. Lots of the writers moved on to Discovery Magazine's blog network so I have too. And I listened to my first Dr Kiki Science Hour and loved it. Sometimes you have to be shoved out of your comfort zone.

*disclosure, I work for a multi-national agri-business.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Smartphones again

I read on my twitter feed that WM7 may roll out sooner than later. The way MS is loosing mobile base they really should be out in time for the new school year – late August to early September if they want to recoup any market share. But what do I know, I'm just a user that is happy with the versatility of WM 6.5 and the variety of places to get apps. 

But this is not the “Why MS Why are you abandoning geeks for WM7” rant. I know why, the masses are geeks.

This is the - is it ethical to let people have sorta smart phones like iPhones without including a fairly extensive chat about costs and features – rant  prompted by this article .

I don't have a lot of sympathy for this guy with his $8K cell phone bill. How can you take your phone out of country without checking out how much it will cost? Marketplace (CBC) aired a show, in December of 2009, called Canada's Worse Cellphone Bill where they polled a bunch of people who racked up huge charges and how they have little recourse. And it's not as if Virgin Mobile is hiding information. Look it's part of the main header when you check out plans.

and they did him the favour of cutting him off when they noticed so he only incurred 3 days of charges instead of 7 he wanted to.

Do I think this is a hard lesson, absolutely I think the consequences are out of line with the actions and yet ... I cannot believe I am defending a corporation. If cell phone providers are expected to  excuse all these overages by people who can't read contracts and stay within their plan, how can costs drop for the rest of us?  One occurance I can see negotiating but people aren't going to complain about a single accidental overage.

So what can you do? I got Luigi because I wanted to take him places. So far he's been to the South Pacific and the US.

When I went to the South Pacific I got a local SIM card so I could make calls and text. I could also use the GPS, connect up to WiFi networks for internet use and use my regular e-book and audible software. Did I mention I'm running WM 6.5 and can do all this?

When I went to the US I did the simple thing, I just turned off the phone element and used it as a PDA. Had I been somewhere with free WiFi I would have connected up but I was busy so I was happy to just take a few notes, add stuff to my calendar and start some rough spreadsheets and outlines for docs when I got home.

Should providers tell you about roaming charges, long distance and the penalties of going over your plan? Yes they should and I think they do a reasonably good job. I've gotten the talk every time I've changed plans, what's included, what's not, don't tether as it's very expensive. It's just that people aren't listening. They're all excited about their new toy and all the stuff it can do. Perhaps they should re-iterate the information on each bill or include cost saving tips or something. Or just not sell someone a phone without give a course and quiz first :)