Something to Read When You're Bored

Japanese Television Rocks
April 7, 2008, 10:27 am
Filed under: Entertainment

It’s videos like this one that make me wonder if there is any bizarre television show concept left that the Japanese haven’t already put on TV. I think what really makes this one work for me is how seriously they seem to be taking the competition. Enjoy!

Vodpod videos no longer available. from posted with vodpod


Crazy Vehicles
April 7, 2008, 8:52 am
Filed under: Neat Stuff | Tags: , ,

I keep coming across pictures of some pretty striking forms of transportation. Here are the three that made the strongest impression:

A crazy adaptation of an old green truck into a raft for cuban refugees – the barrels provide buoyancy and supposedly they’ve rigged it so the truck motor is powering a propeller.

In Pakistan they evidently love decorating tour vehicles with the most outlandishly ornate decorations conceivable. Apparently it started out with just a flourish here and there and then people started trying to outdo one another. This is the result:

And finally in Japan they have what are called ‘Decorata’ – trucks covered in chrome, neon lights, and anything else shiny and flashy they can find. Apparently this truck-decorating trend really took off after a 1970’s movie featuring a costumed truck driver who drove one of these crazy rigs all over Japan. These totally remind me of the Transformers movie.

(added 4/8/08):

I just found another example of a great crazy vehicle.  A farmer in China made this amphibious vehicle, it’s the same basic idea as those ride the ducks tour boat/trucks but a nice cozy size for family outings:

April 4, 2008, 7:47 pm
Filed under: Interesting | Tags: , , , , ,

Another fascinating world happening I recently learned about is the use of pack animals to bring books to remote villages in developing countries. In Venezuela they’re using mules (locally referred to as bibliomulas) to reach outlying areas, and in northern Kenya there are camel bookmobiles delivering the same service to nomadic tribes.

The program in Venezuela is provided by the University of Momboy, where they place a lot of focus on community-oriented programs. There’s a neat BBC article where they describe how excited the kids all get when the mules arrive (they all shout ‘Bibilomu-u-u-u-las’) , and how they are even beginning to leverage wireless technology by equipping the mules with laptops and projectors. The part that really blew my mind was when they mentioned plans to install wireless modems under the bananna trees – what a crazy mash-up of cultures. But it sounds like the Bibliomulas are making a lot of positive differences in the community, even beyond the improvements in literacy. They’re increasing environmental awareness, connecting communities and helping to support the local economy. Pretty amazing, I think.

The program in Kenya is similar, using camels rather than mules but accomplishing the same sort of thing. This program appears to be more dependent on donations to keep the program going, and I can’t help but think how cool it would feel to donate old books to a cause like this one (if you’re interested in donating, there’s a site for that too).

Masha Hamilton, an author who has traveled with the camel bookmobile, describes the experience:

The actual Camel Bookmobile brings books to semi-nomadic people in Northeastern Kenya who live with the most minimal of possessions, suffering from chronic poverty and periodic drought. I visited the region during a period of drought and made several hours-long walks through the African bush with the bookmobile. I cannot describe how moving it was to see the people, particularly children, crowding around as the traveling librarians set up straw mats under an acacia tree and spread out the books. The excitement is palpable.

The Camel Bookmobile books are primarily in English. The children are taught the language in outdoor “classrooms” under acacia trees for the younger students, indoor classrooms for the older students. They particularly like children’s storybooks, though all fiction is also sought-after, as well as books about math and astronomy, biology and other sciences. As you can imagine, the camel library always needs more books — the trip is hard on books and, as these are a semi-nomadic people known as pastoralists, not all volumes are returned.

This area, Northeast Kenya near the unstable border with Somalia, is definitely a region in transition. Due to years of drought and famine, the elders (many of whom still feel romantically attached to their nomadic lifestyles) are recognizing that their children must be educated, so the demand on the camel library is growing. Illiteracy rates in this region are put at 85 percent. Among adults outside the towns, my guess is that it is higher than that. We in the West have so many books; just mailing a single one to the camel library, if done five-hundred times, would have enormous impact.

The Camel Bookmobile librarians told me their patrons also really appreciate the sense of connection they get when a book is signed from a particular place and person. It widens their understanding of the world. So send a favorite book or two, sign your donations with your name and city, and add a note if you wish.

Masha’s site also includes a transcript of sorts capturing how the village teacher and his wife each react to the influence of the bookmobile. I thought it was a pretty interesting portrayal of cultural differences and how the effort might also have some unintended impacts.

All in all, it feels nice to learn about things going on in the world that are actually good, doesn’t it?

More Neat Stuff
April 4, 2008, 11:16 am
Filed under: Entertainment | Tags:

I’ve been looking at more trend stuff at work in the last few days and I’ve found a bunch more cool stuff that I think is totally blog-worthy. I don’t have time to write about all of it right now, but for the moment here’s a website I discovered that I found myself quickly getting hooked on – super short summaries of movies via Movie-a-Minute. They write entertaining mini-scripts summarizing the plots of movies, here are a bunch of my favorites:

Pretty Woman

Julia Roberts: I’m a hooker, but I don’t kiss on the lips.

Richard Gere: I have a lot of money.

Julia Roberts: (smooch)


The Sixth Sense

Haley Joel Osment: I see dead people.

Bruce Willis: Try talking to them.

Haley Joel Osment: It worked.


Top Gun

(There are LOTS of JETS.)

Tom Cruise: I am handsome and cool.

Val Kilmer: No, I am handsome and cool.

(They get all moody with each other.)

Tom Cruise: I almost got you killed, so now we’re friends.

Val Kilmer: Yes. I like you.


Good Will Hunting

Matt Damon: I’m smart, but so what? Let’s start fights and pick up chicks.

Robin Williams: If you push people away, they can’t be close to you.

Matt Damon: SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP you fixed me thank you I love you. (cries)


Everyone Says I Love You

Woody Allen: I’m neurotic.

Audience: We know.

Woody Allen: Yes, but this time I’m going to sing about it. (bursts into song)



John Travolta: I like you, but you’re not cool enough.

Olivia Newton-John: What if I dress like a slut?

John Travolta: Now that you’re not who you are, I can love you for who I wanted you to be.



NASA: An asteroid is coming. We are in trouble.

Nerd: You must blow it up from the inside. Probably.

NASA: Let’s teach drillers to be astronauts, on account of drilling is too hard for astronauts to learn.

Bruce Willis: Instead for a ninjillion dollars, we will only do it if we don’t have to pay taxes anymore, because audiences can relate to that.

Audience: I can relate to that. Therefore, I love it.


Grosse Pointe Blank

John Cusack: I have a lot of angst about killing a lot of people. (Kills a lot of people. Gets angst.)

I am so glad I am reunited with my lost high school sweetheart. (Presumably stops killing people. Presumably stops getting angst.)



Dennis Hopper: I will blow up the elevator.

Keanu Reeves: Oh no. Not the elevator. (saves elevator)

Dennis Hopper: I will blow up the bus.

Keanu Reeves: Oh no. Not the bus. (saves bus)

Dennis Hopper: I will blow up the subway.

Keanu Reeves: Oh no. Not the subway. (saves subway)


I’ll add more of my fascinating trend-hunting finds soon!



I made it 3 months!
April 1, 2008, 2:32 pm
Filed under: Athletic

As of last night at 10pm (when my dance rehearsal ended) I have officially earned my new housecleaning services by exercising every day for three months! Good thing too because my new cleaning lady, Misty, is scheduled for tomorrow. Here’s the breakdown for my final month of exercise for the sake of avoiding housework:

  • I ran 14 times, went to 5 rowing classes and 4 dance rehearsals, went swimming 3 times, went on 4 walks, did yoga 4 times, did 2 strength workouts, and went snowboarding once.  That’s a total of 37 workouts, which tells you that six times in the last month I was crazy enough to do two workouts in one day.
  • I spent a total of 2,435 minutes exercising, or just over 40 hours
  • My average workout length was about 1 hour and 6 minutes, mostly due to long dance rehearsals (2 and a half hours) and rowing classes (2 hours)
  • I ran a total of 64 miles and my longest run was 13 miles, which I accidentally did on Saturday when I was supposed to go ten. At least now I know that I’ll be ready for my half marathon at the beginning of May. I’d say that was also my most hardcore workout (although there were some hill workouts that felt pretty brutal too).
  • My most fun workouts were the rowing classes, which I definitely hope to keep up during the spring and summer (dance rehearsals are a lot of fun too, but rowing was more novel).

I’m so used to working out every day that now it would feel strange not to do it anymore. I think I’ll make it my next goal to go another three months and then see how I feel about continuing for the rest of the year. The tricky part will be keeping up the workout schedule while I’m in China for most of May (woohoo! I’m going to China!!!) I guess if I can pull that off another 7 months after that won’t seem like much of a challenge.

Easter with the Family
March 30, 2008, 9:22 pm
Filed under: Life

My Aunt Carol just sent out her photos from last weekend when she and my Grandma Peggy came to visit for Easter.  It was a good solid Montesano weekend, complete with rainy dog walks, an easter egg hunt, playing with the baby, fresh daffodils, tons of delicious food, and extra fun getting to visit with relatives.  This photo is of my Dad and I trying on hats which, upside down, had been our easter baskets.


There are more photos from our weekend on Aunt Carol’s flickr page, including some very cute shots of my Niece in her Easter finest.

Do you know why you eat?
March 19, 2008, 6:36 pm
Filed under: Food, Interesting | Tags: ,

This morning one of my coworkers (Rich) laughed at me when I told him I was covering up the stack of cookies he brought in because seeing them made me want to eat them. I defended my actions by informing him that there have been studies documenting the phenomenon of food visibility increasing consumption, but I still didn’t get the impression he believed me. So I of course decided to do some digging and prove to him that my snickerdoodle concealing behavior was not absurd.

The article I found on the subject was pretty fascinating. It was published this January in a journal sponsored by the CDC and it discusses food visibility, as well as many other factors we tend to be unaware of, all of which influence what, when, and how much we eat. The basic argument the article makes is that eating is an automatic behavior – something we do without really making a conscious decision to – and that consequently it may be more effective to change environmental factors that effect eating behaviors than to depend on conscious choice for determining what we eat. Here are some of the findings that really made an impression on me (these are quotes verbatim from the article):

People served larger portions simply eat more food, regardless of their body weight and regardless of the food item, meal setting, or timing of other meals; and the temptation to eat food at hand is so strong that human beings eat more even if the food tastes bad.

The amount of food consumed increases as the effort to eat it decreases, even if the differences in effort are tiny (the example they gave of this was a bowl of candy within reach, rather than a few feet away)

The mere sight of food can stimulate people to eat (Take that Rich!)

The longer the meal, the more people eat. The amount of food people eat is directly and strongly related to the number of people sharing the meal, with food consumption increasing by 28% when one other person is present and increasing steadily to 71% when the number of companions is six or more.

The article also discussed findings about how humans are unconsciously influenced by environmental factors in general, which can impact human behavior in all sorts of ways, including how we eat. Here are the highlights (some slightly paraphrased by me):

Environmental perceptions occur without awareness, and many behavioral responses similarly occur without awareness or conscious thought.

Behavioral responses to environmental stimuli can be influenced by priming – the manipulation of decisions and judgments by the previous presentation of words, concepts, or images that are not perceived as being related to the task at hand. (an example of this was a study where subjects who were shown a happy face drank more fruit-flavored drink and rated it more favorably than subjects who were shown an angry face)

Another determinant of how human beings respond to their environment is salience, that is, how much it attracts their attention. Research has shown that when the amount of shelf space for a consumer item is doubled in grocery stores, sales of that item increase by about 40%. Sales also increase when special displays and end-aisle displays are used and when items are placed at eye level.

I know this is getting pretty long, but here’s where it really starts to get interesting, when they describe how eating can be viewed as an automatic behavior, rather than something we do by conscious choice:

[examples of automatic behaviors] Humans smile or laugh when amused, frown when annoyed, become startled when surprised by a loud noise, and tense their muscles when threatened, all without making any conscious decision or being aware of the behavior. In conversation people copy others’ mannerisms, such as smiling, rubbing their face, and shaking their feet, regardless of whether they are acquainted with the other people and without the slightest recognition that they are copying them.

Studies on food consumption indicate that eating should be viewed as an automatic behavior; people are generally not aware of how much they are eating.

Evidence that eating begins without conscious intent can be taken from both the tendency to eat any food that is in sight or at arm’s length, as well as the finding that people are more likely to eat simply because it is mealtime than because they are hungry.

Once people initiate eating, they usually continue until the food is gone or until some other external occurrence changes the situation.

The natural trajectory of eating – that is, what takes place without conscious effort – is for it to continue. Effort is not required to continue eating when food is present; effort is required to refrain from eating when food is present.

The amount of effort required to refrain from eating when food is present is substantial, and it is nearly impossible to sustain over the long term.

Okay, here’s the part that really kinda blew my mind:

In general, human self-control over automatic behaviors is limited. Self-control tires like a muscle and taxes our ability to perform other tasks. And just as refusing food depletes a person’s mental reserves, tasks requiring mental effort can reduce the ability to resist the temptation of food. (this explains why I eat like crazy when I’m stressed out)

Because people are unaware of automatic behaviors, they are also unaware that the behaviors are not under control; people tend to fabricate reasons to explain their behaviors, typically choosing the most plausible, culturally acceptable theories.

And finally, to wrap it all up, here’s the entire closing paragraph from the section about automatic behaviors:

If the behavior of eating were automatic, one would predict that it would favor foods that are most available and most visible and that require the least effort to eat — such as precooked and prepackaged foods and beverages that can be eaten without utensils. In fact, the foods that have shown the greatest increase in sales in the past quarter century meet this description: soft drinks, salty snacks, French fries, and pizza.

Okay, so now you probably don’t even need to read the article after my excessive summing-up, but I just found it all too fascinating to leave anything out. Now I’m really thinking about how I might be able to improve my eating habits by adjusting environmental factors instead of depending on my self-control muscles which evidently are bound to eventually get worn out and give up anyway. I also thought this take on things might help out Margaret, who was more than a little disturbed after reading a Scientific American article that convinced her she’s a food addict. Turns out we all are, yay!