Saturday, 31 January, 2004

A painful lesson

Ouch.  I set out on the bike this morning at about 6:30 all bundled up in my cold weather gear.  The temperature was 30 degrees with a light wind from the southeast.  My first stop was the Monument Cafe in Georgetown where I had breakfast with some of the guys from the ham radio club.  I have re-installed the antenna on the bike (using a different mounting method), and was able to make a few contacts on my way up.  After breakfast, it was 10 miles back down to Round Rock to ride with some folks from the Austin Cycling Association.  It didn't warm up like I had expected and everybody doing the 53 mile ride were going too fast for me.  I ended up cold and all alone about 20 miles into it.  I made the mistake of not taking any snacks along, and bonked rather badly after I'd ridden 50 miles.  At that point I was 30 miles from home.  I crawled into the little town of Weir and found a convenience store where I rested and got some food, and then limped the remaining 20 miles home.

I know better than to set out on an 80 mile ride without taking a few energy bars.  I guess that's what these practice rides are for:  to make the mistakes and learn from them so I don't do it during the big ride.  Whatever the case, it was a painful lesson.

Thursday, 29 January, 2004

Writing for publication

I've been giving some thought recently to writing and publishing outside of the computer field.  In the 15 years that I've been writing, everything I've published has been related to computer software.  The only non-computer writing I've done is posted on this Web site, which hardly qualifies as "publishing" in my mind.

Publishing outside of the computer industry presents some interesting challenges for me.  Mind you, I have no dearth of material.  I can write about almost anything, and given a bit of time to research I can even write intelligently about most things.  Even finding a place to submit my writing doesn't pose much of a problem.  A trip to any reasonably well-stocked book store magazine rack proves that it's possible to publish just about anything.  The problem is getting the acquisition editor's attention. That's something I've never had to do.

I had several advantages when I started writing about computer programming.  First, I was in daily contact with the editors of major programming journals (Dr. Dobb's Journal and Computer Language Magazine) on their CompuServe forums.  When I decided on a whim one day in 1988 to put together an article for publication, all I had to do was email a query to Kent Porter, then the technical editor for Dr. Dobb's Journal. Easy as that, my writing career (such as it is) was started.  At the time, the supply and demand equation was highly in my favor: there were lots of people looking for programming articles and very few programmers who had the desire or ability to write them.  A year or two later I had the good fortune to meet and form a friendship with Jeff Duntemann, who was forming PC Techniques magazine.  The computer publishing business at the time was small and everybody knew everybody else, so if I sent a query to anybody in the business chances were that they knew who I was.  I still had to write good stuff, but with a few writing credits to my name, it was reasonably easy to get a new article published.

By following the simple rule of "always query before writing," I can honestly say that I've never had an article rejected.  I've had a few proposals turned down, but every article that I've submitted has been published.  Does that mean I'm some great writer?  Not at all.  It just means that I was incredibly fortunate.  I know that there are plenty of very good articles out there by authors who just can't get an editor's attention.

Which brings me, in a roundabout way, back to where I started.  How do I get an editor's attention?  I figured I'd pick up a copy of Writer's Market (it's a reference book that lists magazines by topic, how much they pay, who to contact and how, etc.) and find just the right outlet for my article.  And there's where I got my first rude shock.  How long has email been an essential tool of business?  I'll be charitable and say five years, although it's probably closer to ten.  Did you know that much of the publishing industry is still dependent on paper for day-to-day communications?  Many entries in Writer's Market say something like:

Mail queries to (address).  Allow four weeks for response to queries. Eight weeks for response to unsolicited manuscripts.

The first time I saw that I just shook my head.  After seeing it dozens of times for many major magazines, I hardly could believe it.  They want me to print a letter, put it in an envelope along with a few clips from my portfolio, and mail it?  Four weeks for them to respond to a query?  All they have to do is look at the article proposal, check their editorial calendar and my clips, and decide whether they want me to write the article.  Total time: 7.3 minutes if they go get coffee while they're thinking about it.  Are they out of their minds?  Why don't they let me email a query along with links to my clip portfolio?  hat would save them (and me!) an incredible amount of time.

It's a good thing I'm not trying to make a living as a freelance writer of magazine articles.  Just the hassle of printing query letters, attaching clips, and tripping down to the post office would dissuade me from the idea.  It's bad enough sending an email query and waiting a day or two while the editor digs out from under whatever he's doing and gets to the email.  Waiting four weeks or more just to find out if the letter got to the editor would drive me insane.  For the time being at least, I'll limit my queries to magazines that understand how to use electronic mail.  To the others: hire a business consultant and have him drag you kicking and screaming into the 90's.

Wednesday, 28 January, 2004

More Visual Basic wonkiness

Item #467 in my ever-growing list of What's Wrong with Visual Basic:

Using line breaks as statement terminators is a terrible idea, especially when the language doesn't define an "inline comment" lexical element.  Why?  Consider this bit of code:

strHtmlStuff = "<tr>" & _
    "<td>Last Name</td>" & _
    "<td>First Name</td>" & _
    ' Age and weight removed pending approval & _
    '"<td>Age</td>" & _
    '"<td>Weight</td>"  & _
    "<td colspan=2>&nbsp;</td>" & _
    "<td>Notified</td>" & _
"</tr>"

The idea here is simple:  I wanted to comment out a few lines of code temporarily.  But you can't do that because the comment character (the apostrophe) means "comment to the end of the line," which makes a complete hash of what I'm trying to do here.  Since the statement ends at the end of the line, everything after the first comment line is considered the start of a new statement.  Big bad compilation error.  Ugly.

This isn't much of a problem when you're developing new code, but when you're maintaining existing code it's often necessary to comment out sections of old code and add remarks that tell why and when the code was removed.  Visual Basic makes this impossible.  It's bad enough that the problem exists in VB 6 and VB Script  It's almost criminal that the problem persists in a "modern" language like Visual Basic .NET.

Monday, 26 January, 2004

Google's calculator

I'm continually impressed by the things I can do with Google.  Today I learned about their calculator, which can do all kinds of magic stuff.  For example, if you enter "2.3 billion acres to square meters" on the Google search line, pressing the Search button will return the answer (9.30776977 x 1012 square meters) as well as a bunch of links to unit conversion calculators, dictionaries of weights and measures, etc.  Dang, that's cool.

Sunday, 25 January, 2004

Absurd musings on weight loss

Debra and I had some friends over for dinner this evening.  We got to talking about my bicycle training and I mentioned that I'd lost over 10 pounds since October.  It seems like whenever somebody mentions losing weight, somebody else will say something to the effect of "You didn't lose it.  You gave it to me!"  As always, my brain analyzed that comment from several viewpoints and came up with an odd idea:  the aggregate weight of the Earth's human population is constant.  I know it's absurd.  But it was fun to toss around for a bit.

Friday, 23 January, 2004

Sleep on it

I suspect everybody has, at one time or another, used the "sleep on it" method of solving a problem.  That is, faced with a difficult problem or decision, you give it some thought before going to sleep and wake up with the answer.  It's one of those things that "everybody knows," but nobody had ever researched.

Researchers at the University of Lubeck in Germany decided to put it to the test.  They devised an experiment in which groups of students were trained to perform a calculation using seven steps.  They weren't taught, though, a little secret that would allow them to perform the calculation almost instantly.  The students were trained, tested, and then retested after eight hours.  Half of the students were allowed to sleep during that eight hour period, and the others were awake.  During retesting, sixty percent of the students who slept discovered the secret rule.  Only 22 percent of the awake crowd discovered the rule.

You might be tempted to give these researchers the "Duh" award for discovering something that "everybody knows."  But it's good to put this kind of anecdotal knowledge to the test of science.  Perhaps researchers can discover the mechanism that makes it work.  From there, it's then possible to begin trying to activate that mechanism without having to crawl into bed and put the lights out.

Wednesday, 21 January, 2004

Juggling makes you smarter?

Researchers at the University of Regensburg in Germany have discovered that learning to juggle can cause changes in the adult brain.  Apparently, mastering juggling increases the amount of "gray matter" in areas of the brain that store and process visual information.  The study apparently proves that new stimuli can alter the brain's structure.  This was previously thought to be impossible.  In addition, brain scans taken three months after the subjects had stopped juggling showed a decrease in the new gray matter.

I'm not sure what all this means.  Does learning to juggle make you smarter?  Can we extend this to mean that learning anything new, not necessarily a complex task requiring hand/eye coordination, create changes in the brain's structure?  It wouldn't surprise me to learn that it does.  The more I read about aging, the more I'm convinced that a large factor in deteriorating mental condition is the lack of new stimuli.  I sum it up as "Keep learning or start losing your mind."

Sunday, 18 January, 2004

Flying cross country in a private plane

In the summer of 1993, I took a trip from Scottsdale to North Dakota and Chicago with Debra, my step-mother, and my brother.  All told, we were gone eight days, four of them spent flying a total of 20 hours in the cabin of a Cessna 210 Turbo.  This was the year of The Big Flood in the Midwest, and we got an excellent view of the flooding in southern Minnesota and much of Iowa.  In fact, we came to speak of Iowa as "Lake Iowa," because so much of it was under water.

One of the highlights of flying cross-country in a private aircraft is stopping at little county or city airports for bathroom, fuel, and food (usually in that order).  The people at these airports are very happy to see an aircraft come in requiring 80 gallons of fuel, and they're more than willing to let the pilot borrow the airport car to go into town for some food.  There's little risk that the pilot will leave a high performance aircraft and run off in a beat up 1964 Chevy Impala.  The airport managers are also very happy to sit down and talk about flying, the weather, local goings-on, and just about anything else with a pilot who flies in.  They'll also help out with directions, finding a place to stay, minor repairs, and anything else they can.

Small airports are like a blast from the past, taking you back to the "kinder, gentler" world of the 1950's that you see on TV.  You don't see a lot of this easy-going and relaxed helpfulness in daily life.  It's usually a cliquish attitude among individuals who share a common hobby or interest:  pilots, serious RVers, touring cyclists, campers at out-of-the-way places, ham radio enthusiasts, etc.  What I find most interesting is that the people who generally exhibit this behavior are not overly social beings, but rather individualists and sometimes downright anti-social to most people.  This quiet conservative kindness and helpfulness is the epitome of "neighborliness," something that city-bred liberals neither understand nor appreciate.

Saturday, 17 January, 2004

The Long Walk

One of my favorite stories of all time is The Long Walk, which Stephen King published under the pseudonym Richard Bachman.  The story is about an annual competition in which 100 teenage boys line up at the Maine/Canada border and begin walking south.  The one who walks the furthest wins The Prize:  everything he wants for the rest of his life.  The catch is that if a contestant falls below 4 MPH for more than about a minute and a half, he's out of the Walk.  The novel reminds me somewhat of Shirley Jackson's The Lottery.

What fascinates me about The Long Walk is that King does a very good job of capturing many thoughts and feelings of endurance athletes:  optimism, acceptance of pain, forming loose and sometimes lasting friendships, despair, catching the "second wind," wishing the other competitors would fold, giving up, and finally just buckling down, turning off the brain, and going.  The book is a bit gruesome in a few places, but I don't want to go into details and spoil the horrible surprise that you discover in the first two dozen pages.  I wouldn't call it an uplifting book by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a wonderful read:  well-paced and full of things that remind me of my toughest endurance events.

Friday, 16 January, 2004

Spaghetti westerns

I've spent the last four days suffering from either a terrible cedar allergy attack, or some sort of flu.  There's not much to do when I'm feeling that way.  Read a mindless novel, surf the Web, or watch old movies is about the extent of my mental capabilities when my head's pounding and I'm hacking and wheezing.  And if that's not bad enough, it plays hell with my bicycle training schedule.

Today I finally sat down and watched The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, the last of the Clint Eastwood/Sergio Leone "spaghetti Westerns."  I picked up all three of them (A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More are the other two) in a set at Target a couple of months back.  I'd seen all three of them before, of course, but it'd been years.  Having now watched all three of them again, I've gained a new appreciation for what Leone did with these three movies:  he redefined the Western.  Prior to the release of A Fistful of Dollars, most Westerns featured a protagonist who was just too good to be true.  The movies were full of moral lessons and sugar coating that made the West look like a civilized place that was just a little bit dirty.  Leone's interpretation is, I think, much closer to reality.

Of the three movies, I liked the second one (For a Few Dollars More) the best.  The addition of Lee Van Cleef works, and many of the rough spots from the first film were worked out.  The last film, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, was too long, a little too silly in places, and overdid it with the "spooky" sound effects and music.  I realize that the characters in all three movies were somewhat over the top, but they were too far over the top in the last movie.  All in all, they're still wonderful movies, and well worth having in your collection.

Thursday, 15 January, 2004

Linus on desktop Linux

In an interview with LinuxWorld Australia, Linux Torvalds talks a little about his expectations for Linux on the desktop in 2004.  He makes a few points that I think bode well for Linux in the near future:

  • With the release of the 2.6 kernel, Linux has some direct desktop rendering support, which will help stability and performance for desktop systems.
  • Having a major player like IBM behind Linux, even though their focus (right now) is on big iron rather than desktops is a Good Thing.
  • Commercial software support for Linux is increasing, but more in the "software and services" space than in software only.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, just quite different from the way that software first appeared for desktop personal computers.

What we don't know right now is whether there's a market for proprietary shrink-wrap software on the Linux desktop.  I think there is room for personal finance packages and some vertical market applications, but I'm not expecting a huge surge in the number of successful Linux-focused software companies.

Tuesday, 13 January, 2004

Mandrake Linux 9.2

I installed Mandrake Linux 9.2 on my Shuttle test machine here.  I had originally planned to test Ximian Desktop 2 on it, but when I went to download Ximian I noticed that they don't support Mandrake.  I'll need to install Red Hat 9 or SuSE 9.0 in order to put Ximian through its paces.

Mandrake 9.2 really is simple to install.  Easier (and faster) than a Windows install, especially when you consider that once you're done with the Mandrake install, you have a full office suite (OpenOffice.org) and many other applications including Ximian Evolution for email, news, contacts, and scheduling.  Evolution is a bit too Outlook-like for my tastes, but I'm going to give it a shot.  My main beef with Outlook XP (I haven't tried the latest version) is the user interface.  It's cluttered, the defaults are mostly opposite of  my preferences, and finding anything in that mess of an Options dialog is damned near impossible.  At first look, Evolution suffers somewhat from a cluttered UI, but their Options dialog is a little less confusing.  Other than looking at Evolution and poking around here and there, I haven't really put the system through its paces.

In my November 2, 2002 entry, I wondered here if I could go Windows-free at home.  Shortly after that I got sidetracked with some major .NET stuff and had to put those plans on hold.  I'll have to maintain a Windows machine so I can continue my .NET Guide writing, and maybe for a few other applications, but this time I'm seriously looking to move most of my work to the Linux platform.  The hard part is deciding on a distribution, and making sure I get all my data across.  As I said before, it's going to be an interesting ride.

Monday, 12 January, 2004

Bicycling update

Last week was kind of an interesting week for riding.  I took Monday off, mostly because when I got up to ride I realized that I had forgotten to plug my battery in to charge overnight.  Riding in the dark without a light is a great way to get hit by a car, or run into a wheel-sized hole.  It was cold enough on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday that I didn't want to go out, so I set up the stationary trainer in the garage, out of the wind.  An hour is about all I can endure on that thing, but I can sure get a good workout in that time.  Weather was better on Friday and I went out for my scheduled 23-mile ride.

I rescheduled Saturday's long ride to Sunday so my friend Jason could join me for part of it.  I rode the 20 miles to his place, and we had a good 40+ mile ride together.  Then I was on my own again for 30 miles.  Total for the day was 92 miles at the same pace as last weekend's 100, but I felt a lot stronger at the end than I did last week.  No nausea this time, but a mild cedar allergy had me a bit congested to start.  This morning I did a slow 18 miles, even though all I really wanted to do when the alarm went off is crawl back in bed.

My scheduled rides are getting longer, and I don't know how I'm going to fit them into my day.  Today's ride was supposed to be 25 miles at a slow pace, but that would mean two full hours on the road.  I'll either have to start getting up earlier in the morning (and 5:00 am is quite early enough already), or start splitting the rides into morning and afternoon. Instead of 2 hours in the morning, probably 1.5 hours in the morning and 1 hour on the trainer in the evening.  That should get me close enough.  I hope.

Saturday, 10 January, 2004

Tuning the antenna

Tom Whiteside, N5TW, one of the members of the local amateur radio club, offered to check out the antenna I made a couple of months ago (November 10, 2003).  I went out to his place with my antenna this morning, and he hooked up his antenna analyzer.  It wasn't pretty.  The antenna was resonating at about 134 MHz, and was just terrible at 144 and above where the amateur 2 meter band is.  We spent some time trimming and otherwise fiddling with the thing, and finally got it tuned to the right frequency range.  I can now hit the local repeater from inside my garage using only 0.5 watts.  Previously, I had to have the radio on its 5 watt setting in order to reliably hit the repeater.

I learned two valuable lessons about antennas.  First, even a poorly-tuned antenna is better than the little "rubber duck" antenna that comes with the hand-held.  Second, a well-tuned antenna is a thing of beauty.  Okay, three lessons:  an antenna analyzer is a good investment if you're building antennas.  Since Ill be home brewing a few, I'll probably pick up one of those analyzers.

Tom, by the way, has quite the amateur radio setup:  four towers each 150 feet tall and containing a total of about 30 antennas.  He has "Beverage" antennas for 160 meters (just above the AM broadcast band) scattered just above the ground, giving reception that is nothing short of astounding.  His shack (one room in the house) is full of radios and gear to control the antenna arrays.  There's quite a lot of stuff there, most of which I just barely understand.

Fortunately, you don't need all that equipment and those big towers to enjoy ham radio.  It's quite possible to contact stations around the world using a very modest station and small almost invisible antennas.  That's the kind of station I'll be building at home, but it's good to see other stations to get an idea of what works.  I'm looking forward to getting started.

Friday, 09 January, 2004

Linux on the desktop progress

Linux on the desktop continues to move forward rapidly.

  • The biggest news recently is that IBM is pushing to convert their internal desktops to Linux by the end of next year.  ZDNet reports the story here.  A follow-up article today has IBM confirming the authenticity of the memo referenced in the original article, but stating that the memo was "taken out of context."  Whether or not IBM is going all-Linux, that they're considering it at all is a huge step forward.
  • If you're interested in the state of Linux on the desktop, you should bookmark the DesktopLinux.com site.
  • I downloaded PCLinuxOS from the PCLinuxOnline site and burned it to CD.  I was hoping to play with it over the weekend, but the way things are going it'll probably be sometime next week.

Lots of other things are happening in this space.  I'll try to get to them in the next couple of weeks.

Thursday, 08 January, 2004

It's not my fault!

From the It's Not My Fault department comes this story about Timothy Dumouchel, a Wisconsin resident who's threatening to sue his cable company "for providing a product that has addicted him, caused his wife's 50 lb. weight gain, and turned his children into 'lazy channel surfers.'"  I thought the idea of blaming fast food companies for making you fat was absurd (see my entry for August 26, 2002), but this one is way beyond anything I could have dreamed up.  I've ranted enough on this particular topic recently, so I'll just say that I got one heck of a good laugh out of Mr. Dumouchel's statement in a complaint filed against Charter Communications:  "I believe that the reason I smoke and drink every day and my wife is overweight is because we watched TV every day for the last four years."  As the article says, "Ya think?"

Wednesday, 07 January, 2004

A little funny

With everybody trying to blame McDonald's, Burger King, Toucan Sam, Tony the Tiger, and anybody or anything except their own bad habits for the Fattening of America, I got to wondering what it'll be like trying to order a Big Mac in a few years.

Tuesday, 06 January, 2004

Exercise and weight loss

Using exercise as a component of weight loss is tricky.  If you do a mild amount of daily exercise, say burning 200 to 300 calories, you'll probably do okay without increasing your food consumption.  Your body can make up maybe 500 calories difference every day by metabolizing stored fat without you feeling hungry or suffering any ill effects.  But if you step up your exercise beyond that point, you will have to start eating more unless you're on one of those 1,000 calorie per day, doctor-supervised crash diets.  When you start exercising more than about 500 calories per day, controlling diet becomes very difficult because the tendency is to satisfy hunger by eating until you're full, which often results in you eating more than you burned during exercise.

For example, I burn approximately 500 calories per hour when I'm cycling at my 100-mile pace.  I burn more when I'm riding hard and less when I'm taking it easy, but if I average out a week it's always right around 500 calories per hour.  Starting this month, I'll be spending 15 to 20 hours a week on the bike.  That's 1-1/2 to 2 hours a day 5 days a week, and a long ride of 7 or 8 hours each weekend.  (I schedule one day off each week.)  It works out to an average of 1,100 to 1,400 calories per day.  Subtract the 500 or so that I want gone to lose an average of a pound per week and I'm still left with a 600 to 900 calorie deficit.  Is it any wonder that I'm always hungry?  The really hard part, though, is limiting myself to those extra 600 to 900 calories rather than stuffing my face until I can't eat any more.

It gets worse.  Feeding is a very important part of long-distance cycling.  The problem is that you can burn energy a whole heck of a lot faster than your body can absorb it.  A fit, well-trained athlete (we're talking a Tour de France rider here) can assimilate 400 or 500 calories per hour.  At my current level of training, I'd be lucky to get half of that.  I could eat that much, certainly, but my body wouldn't process it.  Anything over 200 or 250 calories an hour just sits in my gut and makes me sick.  This is a problem with sports drinks like Gatorade that contain 250 calories or more per liter (see below).  So at my 500 calories per hour pace, I'm running at a 50 or 60 percent deficit.  This is why it's very important to know your anaerobic threshold and to maintain a pace that's below that point.  At aerobic levels, your body can metabolize fat for energy.  Once you go anaerobic, you rely solely on muscle glycogen and blood glucose stores, which at best are about 1,500 calories, or a little under 2 hours worth of energy for me at anaerobic levels.  If you stay aerobic for the most part, going anaerobic for quick sprints or climbing hills, you can go a very long time on your body's fat stores (about 70,000 calories for that mythical 160 pound man) even if you're running a 50% deficit.  Provided, that is, that you maintain the proper levels of hydration and important electrolytes like sodium and potassium.

It gets even worse.  It's very easy to get dehydrated, especially when the temperature is over 80 degrees.  If I train my body, I might get it to assimilate up to two liters of water an hour.  If I drink any more than that, I end up feeling bloated and having to stop every 10 or 15 minutes to release the excess.  The problem is that on a hot day I can lose twice that amount in perspiration and respiration.  This is why it's very important to be well hydrated before an event, and to keep drinking throughout the ride.  "Carbo loading" (building up carbohydrate stores in the days before a major event) helps because your body stores a molecule of water with every molecule of carbohydrate.  Even so, on a hot day it's very important to be cognizant of how much you're sweating, and to back off on your effort if you feel you're going too far into hydration deficit.  Sports drinks can cause a problem here because they're too calorie rich.  People who rely on sports drinks for food and hydration will consume 500 or more calories each hour with their two liters of sports drink and become nauseated after a couple of hours because their bodies can't process all the food.  They correctly deduce that it's the sports drink causing the problem, but then they stop drinking it and become dehydrated.

There's a whole lot to learn when stepping up from 50 to 100 or more miles.  Training your body to digest food and assimilate water while you're exercising is just as important as getting your legs used to pushing the bike and your butt used to sitting in the saddle for hours on end.  I highly recommend The Complete Book of Long-Distance Cycling if you're contemplating such a training program.

Monday, 05 January, 2004

Notes on the fat front

A few notes on the fat front:

  • In a policy statement published in the January issue of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Pediatrics urges administrators to remove soft drinks from schools.  This one sounds like a no-brainer to me. I can't fathom why students should need a soft drink in the middle of the day.  Some schools are fighting the move because they use the money from soft drinks contracts to pay for student activities.  Soft drink vendors also are fighting the move.  According to the AP story, the National Soft Drink Association says that the new policy is misguided and goes too far.  But then, the Association's executive director says "Soft drinks can be part of a balanced lifestyle and are a nice treat."  That's exactly the point.  They should be a treat, not a staple.  I'm speaking from experience on this one.
  • The National Soft Drink Association has a statement in response to the AAP's policy statement.  They make some interesting points, the major one being that although childhood obesity has increased 10 percent since 1980, daily calorie consumption has increased only one percent and physical activity decreased by 13 percent.  I was surprised to learn that only about 25 percent of students take part in daily physical education classes or other organized physical activity.  When I was in grade school, everybody went to gym class.
  • Also reported in this month's issue of Pediatrics is the study "Effects of Fast-Food Consumption on Energy Intake and Diet Quality Among Children in a National Household Survey," in which researchers found that 30 percent of the 6,212 children and adolescents surveyed ate fast food on a given day.  Those who ate fast food consumed more sugar, saturated fat, total carbohydrates, and total calories than those who didn't eat fast food.  The average was about 190 calories more per day, which researchers estimate to result in roughly six pounds of weight gain in a year.  Not surprisingly, the study is consistent with other studies that showed a correlation between fast food consumption and poor diet quality.  It goes too far, though, in suggesting that measures be instituted to limiting marketing of fast food to children.  My standard comment applies:  where are the parents?
  • Fitness clubs are changing their advertising to appeal to a less-fit public.  There's a perception among the majority of the population (60 percent overweight, 30 percent obese) that fitness clubs are only for young, fit people.  Remarks like "I want to get in shape before I join a health club" are apparently common.  So fitness clubs are mixing some larger and older people in with the improbably constructed models and body builder types normally seen in the advertisements.  Note that this isn't an altruistic effort to make everybody healthier.  The fitness industry has a problem:  most people who exercise regularly already belong to a club.  The only way to increase their memberships is to appeal to a wider (double entendre not originally intended, but quite appropriate nonetheless) audience.
  • On a more personal note, my weight this morning was 4 lbs less than what I weighed on Friday, putting me under 180 lbs for the first time in over a year.  I suspect that's mostly due to some dehydration from Saturday's ride and I'll put a couple of pounds back in the next day or two.  Still, I'm slowly losing weight and slimming down noticeably.  I don't know that I can get to my goal of 165 lbs by the end of March, but the most important part is losing the fat.  If I build muscle that negates the weight loss due to fat reduction, I'm okay with that.

Sunday, 04 January, 2004

Century Ride

I had planned to ride 100 miles on Thursday, but changed my plans when we decided to spend New Year's Eve dancing.  Instead, I did it yesterday.  I was a little concerned about my ability to ride that far, considering that the furthest I've ridden since last March is just under 70 miles.  I set out yesterday morning at about 10:30 for 7 hours on the bike.  I managed to do things right this time:  maintained a steady pace, ate regularly, and drank plenty of fluids.  Other than a little nausea from too much Gatorade, I felt pretty good.  After a big plate of spaghetti and a couple of Aleve for the aching legs, I crawled in bed and slept like a rock.  This morning I rode 32 miles to get the kinks out and except for my legs being a little tired, I felt fine.

I'm just a little over halfway through my training program.  I'm confident that if I stick with the program for the next 12 weeks, I'll have no trouble with the ride to south Texas at the end of March.

Friday, 02 January, 2004

RTF Pocket Guide

Author Sean M. Burke contacted me last month about his book RTF Pocket Guide, and was kind enough to have the publisher send me a copy.  RTF (Rich Text Format) is the markup language that Microsoft uses for many different things:  Office applications (including Exchange Server, if you can believe it), the rich text controls in Windows, and the old (really old now) Windows Help all use RTF.  Even in the presence of HTML and XML, RTF serves as a universal text format.  Many non-Microsoft applications support it.

The RTF Pocket Guide explains simple RTF:  the file format and basic commands, and also has a section on creating Windows Help files.  The book doesn't explain everything.  For that you want to study the RTF Specification.  (Oddly, Microsoft says that the current RTF Specification version number is 1.7, but version 1.6 is the latest version available on the site.)  This book will give you the information you need to get started, including a few sample programs written in Perl that generate RTF documents.  Noticeably absent is any information about parsing RTF, but that's understandable considering that the book is not intended to be exhaustive.  All in all, it's a great reference guide that I recommend for anybody who's working with RTF documents.

Thursday, 01 January, 2004

Happy New Year

Debra and I usually go to dinner and then spend a quiet evening at home on New Year's Eve.  We go to bed early and then wake up at midnight when people in the neighborhood start shooting off fireworks.  Last night we did something completely out of character:  following a good sushi dinner we went to a country and western nightclub with some friends for an evening of dancing.  I was the designated driver, so I limited myself to a single glass of champagne at midnight.  We had a great time dancing and talking with friends, and by the time we left at 2:00 there was almost nobody on the road.  I had originally planned to do a long bike ride today, but put it off because we didn't get to bed until 3:00.  I'm not as young as I used to be and I need my sleep.