Health Month 2008

Every year, Rick Webb and his fellow Barbarians take an incredible health pledge for a month to clear their systems of the unwholesome indiscretions of the holiday season. This involves no alcohol, no caffeine, no fat, and a laundry list of other rules. The fun commences after Keith Butters birthday, January 5, or the following Monday should his birthday fall on a weekend (i.e. this coming Monday at 12:01am).

I’m in. Scratch the caffeine clause. Add swimming 4 times/week.

If you’d like to take part, or just show your support, join the Health Month Facebook group. Wish us luck, we’ll need it.

On hypothermia

On days like today (high of 20°F in New York City), I often wonder how close I am to hypothermia. Wikipedia defines three stages of a cooling body temperature:

  • Stage 1 (1-2°C below normal body temperature): light shivering and goosebumps (which are ineffective in humans)
  • Stage 2 (2-4°C below normal body temperature): with strong shivering, pale skin and blue extremities
  • Stage 3 (8°C below normal body temperature): puffy blue skin, cognitive failures, “terminal burrowing,” “paradoxical undressing,” and eventually death

The verdict: keep your head covered and don’t fall in the water when it’s butt cold outside. If you take off all your clothes and start burrowing, the end is probably near.

Sony Ericsson’s annoying auto-keylock patent

Have you ever spent hours looking for the auto-keypad-locking feature on your Nokia phone? Wondering why you have to manually engage the lock function on a Blackberry? It turns out that Sony-Ericsson has a patent on the “activation and automatic inactivation of keys on a mobile telephone terminal keypad.” Please Sony and Ericsson, for the love of god, and the eradication of pocket-dialing, give this patent up.

Some overdue updates

I have the unhealthy expectation that Facebook = Reality, and sometimes I forget that not everyone has a news feed (or reads theirs every day). In case you missed them, here are some recent events in my life:

  • I got engaged to my lovely girlfriend
  • I started a new job as a research scientist at Facebook
  • I found out that my cholesterol is astronomically high

These are, of course, in some order of importance. More on each of these in due time, but I should state a few caveats to quell the fidgeting audience:

  • We do not have a date yet, we’re currently in engagement-celebration mode
  • My new job is roughly like my old job, except at Facebook instead of Yahoo!
  • Thanks to exercise and some dietary changes, my cholesterol seems to be in check for the time being

Happy New Year! See you in 2008.

The no-corn-syrup diet

If you’ve read The Omnivore’s Dilemma or anything else by Michael Pollen, then you are aware of just how ubiquitous high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is. Every can of Coke, dollop of Heinz Ketchup and Fig Newton is full of the stuff. It’s hard to avoid, but it’s also pretty easy to identify on a long list of ingredients. It’s usually towards the beginning.

Pollen’s piece “Unhappy Meals” in the New York Times Magazine identifies how very different America is for eating processed foods, and how it is affecting our health. In this essay refers to “food” as anything that is whole and unprocessed and claims that we should “eat food, not too much, and mostly vegetables.” I think this statement can be easily visualized in the following Venn diagram:

Venn Diagram
Edible products

So all of you detox, Atkins and South Beach dieters, I have a new one for you: the No-Corn-Syrup Dietâ„¢. It’s extremely simple and will have a dramatic impact on your ability to consume things that are processed and bad for you. Here’s how it works:

  1. Read the ingredients of everything you plan to eat. If it contains high-fructose corn syrup, don’t eat it

If these things don’t have a list of ingredients, then you’re either eating “food” or you’re in a foreign country. In either case, you’re probably ok. If you’re unsure about whether the restaurant you’re eating at uses HFCS, ask. Tell them you have an allergy and you’ll either need to find a new restaurant or be pleasantly surprised that some places still cook with “food.”

And the best part about this diet? I won’t charge you a cent for it. It’s yours absolutely free. You can take the money you would have spent on a diet book and invest it into the “food” you’re going to eat, because unfortunately it’s going to cost you more than the processed stuff. But you’ll be happier, and healthier. Sometimes it’s good to invest in your body.

The polite umbrella

It’s days like this, where the unexpected rain forces exceptional stress on the public transit system and thousands of unhappy commuters bump into each other, wishing they had their summer back and that the world was a little more civil. A little more like this:

The Polite Umbrella is an art project by Joo Youn Paek that allows a nice person to adapt the shape of their umbrella and respect personal space by pulling on some strings on the handle. I think they should be mandatory in New York.

Today I cancelled my MySpace account

I’m not one for being rash and I am not particularly worried about privacy online. I used Friendster frequently for a couple of years and I remember when people’s accounts started mentioning “moving to MySpace because it’s better,” and frankly I can not remember for the life of me what the argument was. Nonetheless, I eventually created an account for myself and all of my musical identities, and I befriended some 50 or so people which were at least 50% musical entities.

I never really “got” MySpace. Not many of my friends use it regularly, except those who enjoy dating and of course those with bands. I’ve always been a bit embarrassed by the site design and the resulting profile pages that people create there. I still use it to promote my music and I see the value as a publishing tool and media hosting service. However, for the last year I have not logged in to MySpace under my own identity once, and I receive at least 10 spam friend invitations per month.

So today I cancelled my MySpace account.

Unlike so many web brands that I identify with (Flickr, Upcoming,, and Facebook, to name a few), I see no long term value for remaining a MySpace member. Here’s my reasoning:

  • It’s not easy to do anything
  • There aren’t any services provided that aren’t available elsewhere
  • I don’t need to be a member to take advantage of their media
  • There aren’t any members with whom I could not communicate otherwise
  • I’m not looking to find people to date

Which leaves me with zero reasons to remain a member. So long MySpace, and thanks for all the free webcam girls.

iPhone activation: It’s all in the UI

iPhoneYou waited in line, possibly overnight. You spent over $500 (not including accessories). You canceled all of your Friday night social obligations and went directly home to play with your new (and possibly only) friend, the iPhone. You plug it in and wait for the magic to happen, and for any number of reasons, your phone is not activated after 20 minutes, and you’re in AT&T limbo. You spend all weekend pulling your hair out and calling every AT&T number you can find.

This was the experience of thousands of new iPhone users this past weekend, and it has resulted in a similar number of complaints, legal threats, and overall user disappointment in both AT&T and Apple. How could this snafu arise? How could AT&T not have dealt with it? After being one of these estranged users myself, I believe the entire debacle could have been avoided by changing two user interfaces in the iTunes activation process. If you had a problem activating, you’re in one of two camps:

  • Ported number: You’re on a different carrier but you have long since ported your phone number. You get any number of messages about your number being “ineligible.” In order to port your number to AT&T, you’ll need to pretend you still live in the same zip code that you first registered your phone in.
  • Old AT&T customer: Even though you’re a current AT&T customer, you’ve recently been using an old AT&T SIM card (blue, pre-Cingular), and your account must be updated before the activation can take place. In other words, even though you think you’re a current AT&T subscriber, you’re not.

If you were in either of these two situations, you probably ended up seeing this screen during your activation:

Michael Sharon's final activation

Which of course did not result in an email for at least 24 hours. Also in both cases, simply changing the activation dialog could have avoided all of these problems. Here’s how a majority of these cases could have been alleviated:

  1. For people porting their numbers, a warning dialog could have alerted them to use the zip code where their phone was originally registered. The same dialog should appear on the billing information page.
  2. On the initial plan selection page, a warning dialog could have alerted old AT&T users (blue accounts) that they need to call customer support before activating their iPhone

I’m sure these two bugs were exacerbated by the utter secrecy of the project, but some simple QA or contingency planning could have averted thousands of people’s frustration. In any event, if you have either of these problems, rest assured, the actual registration process works very smoothly if you correct these UI flaws. Something tells me from this interface that Apple was not responsible for designing the activation process:

This person record requires harvesting
“This person record requires harvesting”

But that doesn’t mean their QA teams couldn’t have made it Apple friendly. And please, do that today so future users don’t have to suffer the same problems we did. Take that from someone who activated their phone 3 times and 48 hours later before finally second-guessing the interface correctly.

Update: As Anil aptly points out, “person records” are a common dialog element in the iPod installation process.

Kobayashi vs. Chestnut: final showdown?

It’s almost Independence Day, and you know what that means… INTERNATIONAL HOT DOG EATING CONTEST. This age-old battle has been dominated by Takeru Kobayashi for the past 6 years, but his closest call came from a rookie named Joey Chestnut at last year’s contest.

Since then, Kobayashi has started suffering from debilitating jaw pain while Chestnut broke the world record on the road to the international contest, gobbling 59 1/2 hot dogs in Arizona, a full 8 more than Kobayashi’s record. Check this video of Chestnut wolfing down hamburgers in a preliminary for the Krystal Square Off:

I did not realize there was such an undertone of nationalism embedded in this competition. And of course Kobayashi went on to win the Krystal hamburger eating contest, barely edging out Chestnut. With a lot of speculation in the air, Kobayashi’s manager (eaters have managers?) has guaranteed that he’ll be in Brooklyn next Wednesday. Well, my manager says I will too.