Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Human Machine and the Neglect Cycle

My innards look something like this.
When I was writing my earlier inexpert articles on nutrition, I frequently likened the human body to a machine, which isn't entirely inaccurate. While there are some differences, the basic rules of mechanics apply, particularly when it comes to fuel and maintainance.

Humans suffer any of a broad variety of physical and mental breakdowns over time, from acute problems to more chronic ones. Today's bad posture is tonight and tomorrow's back problems, bad shoulders, and overall "age-brokenness". Today's bad diet could very well be tomorrow's Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

I find myself particularly aware of when I am and am not fatigued, partly because the job demands a fairly reliable high-energy, and partly because fatigue can also be a symptom of my own idiosyncratic chemical imbalances.

Recently, I went through changes in my life that dramatically impacted my fatigue level. I reduced my overall activity level from five-times-daily full-hour aerobic activity (not counting for the anerobic exercises of being employed) down to a piteous ten minutes. At the same time, I rather dramatically (and foolishly) reduced my caloric intake by a good 20% and went off of caffine cold-turkey, down from a habit of double-dosing on energy drinks first thing in the morning.

The resultant month-long experiment has been a tremendous burden and I found myself having serious doubts about what I was doing - in all aspects. Being literally too tired to care has its definite disadvantages.

I'm feeling better now. To some degree I think my body has adjusted, but it shouldn't have had to. I consume far less than I should calorically, even at my reduced activity level. The nutrient balance is so far out of whack I often wonder how it's possible I function at all. I became severely ill for about a week, and in one 24-hour stretch I slept for about 18 of them.

I'm more or less back to normal now - mostly because I've let softer forms of caffeine back into my life and consume an unabashed quantity of empty sugar calories - but the continuation of the easy fatigue and the other help problems has inspired me to write about patterns of neglect.

We, that is to say humans who are in a position to be healthy and yet aren't, habitually neglect ourselves.  For me, as with all other behaviours, this is a somewhat cyclic process, though there are certainly some aspects of health I neglect more than others, and on the whole I think the neglect probably wins out over the otherwise. I'm a socially-anxious homebody who prefers the company of books and pixels over the company of other noisy humans (when I'm not the society-starved extrovert who spends and spends and spends just to keep my friends company for a few hours), after all.

Then periodically, something comes along and causes us to give a damn. We take a stab at resetting our diets onto healthy patterns, maybe go for a walk, run, or cycle now and again. Take up a sport. Try freakin' yoga. Whatever.

Then, as our focus wains and we realize superhero training montages are only possible in the movies, we lose our interest in our latest health initiatives and go back to assaulting our bodies with casual neglect.

I think, to change that, you'd need to make a few changes:

  • Bad Diet Habits are Good Diet Habits-in-Waiting. Every craving has a healthier alternative, and the example I usually use for that is that a furious craving for fruity candy is almost always slain by fruits. It's easier mentally to think of diet adjustments less in terms of what you're trying not to do, and more in terms of what you are doing.
  • Ditto for Exercise. You aren't a couch potato. You're training for your sport/activity of choice. I think humans in general and people in my mindset in particular have a fear or aversion to being seen as novices in a particular craft, which is odd, because I've always considered the position of the novice very endearing and the pursuit of expertise a noble effort - one of the most human drives, in fact.
  • Game it. It bears repeating that humans like to win at things. That's why we think of physical activity and sport as synonyms - they often are. So keep score. Chart your times, or your reps, or which targets in your nutritional system of choice you hit. (N.B.: A lot of different nutritional guides have been published by numerous countries that are very interesting in their design. As with everything the truth is in the results, but many of these alternatives are worthy of pursuit if you, like me, can't actually be bothered tracking each individual neutrient). You'll then have a useful tool to gauge your progress toward goals, which is also important.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Life In The Lapse I : Syncretic Decay

(Let me appologize in advance for the quality of grammer here. I am bound to typing on a badly-damaged touchscreen for a few more days.)

It should come as no surprise to anyone that I am a member of the Choose Your Own generation. We come from an entertainment culture of games and books so open-ended that clear interpretations are entirely subjective. As a result, we ourselves take things in pieces.

For me, at least, religion is no different. A brain fuelled by critical thought on every available topic leaves little room for rote orthodoxy. In the months following my conversion, I grew increasingly heterodox, as I dropped doctrinal positions I knew in my heart to be false - in a manner of speaking.

I replaced thed doctrines with new ones - often borrowed from the world's other religions - to try and make sense of issues I have only half-understood. It probably wouldn't surprise anyone that the geneartion of infalibility produced an attitude of unaccountability, but there you are.

Still, from time to time, I feel a call back to orthodox Catholicism. Perhaps not radical orthodoxy as grows prevelant in the Catholic blogging community. I think simpy accepting the dictates of the Catechism should suffice.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

An Announcement Long in Coming

This seems to be a suitably recent photo.
So while those of you who are also friends with me on facebook have already long known what I'm about to tell you, as are those who know me or The Katherine in person (these groups are not identical), there's quite a few of you out there who I hope are still reading who haven't been told.

Back in April, on our 7th dating anniversary at a cosy little sushi restaurant downtown here, Katherine and I got engaged to be married.

There aren't many details to be had besides that just yet, but I'm sure I'll be too excited to not keep you posted!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Polymath Approach

Vault 29 owns this photo of my work.
One of the things I like most in life is the development of skills. I hesitate to say I am an expert in anything - whenever I become convinced I have attained some level of mastery in this hobby or that ability, the universe conspires to forcibly remind me that I'm going to likely be a student forever.

My current sous-chef (that is to say, under whom I work, not who works under me), actually, has a favoured saying in the family regarding such things, namely, "if you are the smartest person in a room, you are in the wrong room". Granted, he usually says this while actively being the smartest person in the room - but tales from the workplace are past-tense now that Anthony Bourdain wrote his Kitchen Confidential.

Something I fail to capitalize on, however, is the idea that all the numerous individual skills and talents I daily hone can be taken together. While this is somewhat obvious in the fusion of my business and culinary training in the rekindled desire to open a restaurant of my own one day, being as I am a mad man in a hurry to grow grey.

However, it's taken until relatively recently to realize that sometimes the lessons from one profession, or indeed one hobby, can be taken together with the goals and lessons of another. For some time, the Katherine has been expounding upon the virtues of her powerful design systems and extensive training, while I sit here in my obstinate refusal to admit that Word is not perfectly adequate for all tasks.

This comes in a number of forms - it's basically an extension of the idea that no man is an island, only applied to skills - but I think the true inventiveness is in the overlap. The visual arts impact the culinary in more ways than cute menu photography. Colour theory works as well on the plate as on canvas. A good understanding of growing conditions and labour involvement leads to a better understanding of the true value of food. Spreadsheets are remarkably useful in the kitchen both at home and at work. And so on.

Mostly, though, the whole concept is good for filling a page or two, while I wait to make a much larger announcement tomorrow.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Seven Quick Takes: Take-Noko!

--- 1 ---
Urban Exploration Phototime
The fact that I'm doing a link-up of any sort pretty well tells you I'm not very good at coming up with ideas on the fly anymore. Truth be told I spent most of my mental energy on retaining a number of things I promised myself (and have been told by wiser folk than I) not to hold on to anymore. While I'm pleased to learn my memory is much more voluminous than I give it credit for, I'd really rather use it for other things. I suppose the only thing for that would be to finally offload some of the memory-kruft into other formats. Speaking as someone equipped with a reasonably broad pallet of paper-based and digital storage media, you'd think I'd be able to get a handle on all this junk... but no, not so much.

--- 2 ---
Over a year ago now, I had a particularly bad week at the old Pet Store, where i used to work at the time, as many of you will remember. There was a spree of bad luck involving a number of digital devices - my phone and my iPod Classic among them. Screens were broken, nasty words spoken to nobody in particular, and the up and down of it is that I wound up with no real motivation to replace them.

It wasn't that I wasn't replacing broken things. I have replaced, since then, several pairs of headphones (including a very expensive computer headset I use for doing audio-video work and gaming, the five minutes a week I have to myself). But the thing is, I have always been bad with my electronics, since I was very young. I suppose a factor in that might have been my generation (I had a freakin' palm pilot in 1999. When I would have been in the fourth or fifth grade. That's messed up), but the factors don't mitigate the problem.

I figured if I could go a year, limping along with equipment that was in less-than-perfect condition, I could make do. The iPod was a relatively easy fix - set single playlists of a manageable length and change them out when they get boring. The phone itself was a non-issue. I can't always see the screen as well, but the touch functionalities still worked fine, and I could still bank, hammer out a text message, or dial as I saw fit. It wasn't until recently, when dust and moisture started being able to get their way into the phone, that the broken glass really became an issue. If it wasn't for that, honestly I would have waited another year, until my contract expires and I can get a new phone at reduced cost.

Now, I'll probably do an early upgrade - renewing my contract on new terms - or buy a used phone of a similar model. The iPod itself as simply stopped working altogether. The four or five days I went without it were so torturous that I'm borrowing a spare one of The Lady's until I can replace it, or at least ween myself off of having total audio control.

--- 3 ---
Fredericton, where I now live and have for several months, was recently struck by the tail-end of Tropical Storm Arthur. This is not an unusual occurence in this part of Canada, and in fact, living closer to the ocean as I used to, I became rather used to the odd bit of high winds and heavy rains that such storms represented. That's why I was surprised to not only lose power on the day of the storm (a Saturday), but to not get it back until Tuesday of the following week. While I freely admit that nothing in my fridge was quite so "correct" as I would have liked it to be, the loss of a few pounds of salmon, half a pork tenderline, a bit of leftover roast duck, and all told about another $80 worth of condiments, long-storage dairy, and other munchables was sort of an unexpected kick in the gut.

The part of the storm I can't stop laughing about, though: Literally two nights before, I threw out my best-and-only piezoelectric flashlight because some impact or another had cracked the casing in a way that rendered it inoperable. They say it never rains...

--- 4 ---
Beautiful work patio often leads to late nights after-hours.
I just can't get enough of this new game I've been playing. It's supremely irritating when my brain does this sort of thing, in some ways, though there is a great and satisfying itch in the childlike enthusiasm for the latest whateverthehell has my attention now.

I suppose in large part I have been overly luxurious. I was rather showered in books at my birthday, but the lucky chance of cheaply acquiring the recent Bravely Default (Nintendo 3DS by SquareEnix) was surprisingly welcome. The game is very good and I recommend it to fans of classic RPGs. It turns away from Square's millenial fascination with ATB-style systems to take a trip down memory lane to turn-based, but also includes some interesting new features to take advantage of the 3DS's sleep mode, passive wireless functionality, and Augmented Reality architecture. Very good title.

--- 5 ---
In one of those never-say-never moments, I've learned I actually have some level of skill in pastries - just so long as no actual pastry is involved. My day-to-day work, until very recently, was entirely concerned in the perparation of small, bite-sized desserts. Vault 29 has me, after consulting with a few highly-qualified chefs, making their desserts-in-miniature. So I've acquired some real chops when it comes to no-bake cheesecake, fresh lemon curd, vegan desserts, chocolate mousse, panna cotta, and, of late, Key Lime Pie.

It's almost a shame that I won't be doing pastries much longer, though I never really intended to be a pastry cook forever. Still, having a section of my own to run independently and with a minimum of supervision, and rather a lot of lattitude as far as creative control, has been really, really good for the ol' mental health.

--- 6 ---
I've taken to eating breakfast again! Neat trick - if you eat breakfasts that are good cold, there's absolutely no reason not to make it the day before. Lately: Lemon Greek-Style Yogurt, Grapefruit, mini-doughnut and water.

Also, gigantic fan of random beverages - today I had the juices from a somewhat-too-juicy berry compote cut with soda water.

--- 7 ---
Apart from bravely default - of which I've played about an hour this week, I really haven't had much time for any other gaming. Any other free time has been eaten with plans for a big move that's upcoming, or recouperating from being alive with beer and books.

Lately: The Lord of the Rings, and a lovely little HP Lovecraft anthology.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Intersection of Negative Time and Negative Inspiration

Key Lime Pie Again
Truth be told, I shouldn't be writing this article.

It started with a sort of a stream-of-consciousness-type event where I was thinking to myself of ways to improve my handle times in the kitchen.

Then it morphed into political musings on some various Canadian situations that don't have much appeal outside of the fourty or so people that I know who can actually name a senator (tip: I don't know mine).

Then it sort of tapered off, and I realized I had nothing to say. I still don't have much to say, but I think that's because, by and large, I don't have much to think about.

As a general rule, whether they followed the original theme and purpose of this blog at all or not, the posts here have been about, well, something. Mostly that's because it's easier to write about something rather than nothing. Partly, it was out of a misguided attempt to brand myself as an essayist of some amateur stripe. That's not to say that the essay isn't a format that I, as a writer, have in my toolbelt. It's just not one I often use.

Truth be told, I've mostly been avoiding writing here because I don't know what to write about. I'm in a weird spot, where my ideas are all currently being picked-up, re-examined, and tested for conciseness and internal-consistancy. It's sort of like being in college all over again - in fact, it seems like every two years or so, I spend my time trying to reinvent myself, with mixed results. It leads to cool things like not wearing trenchcoats anymore or learning me some history and Latin. It also leads to a lot of stupid moments, bad hair, and experiences that leave you wondering whether you're glad you had them or not.

I think this page is going to take on a more personal tone in the weeks and months to come, since talking about such things is therapeutic whether anyone listens or not - and we all know someone who can use a little therapy.

Either way, watch this space.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Thoughts on Turning 24

Gotta Bring Back This Hair
Those who know me fairly well that my usual response when asked for my age is "Uhh...", and a vacant expression while I haul off mentally and do the math. Sometime in the last little while, I aged up, and it seems like the higher that number gets up out the teens, the less I care.

While I am (for nifty mathmatical reasons) somewhat interested in what turning twenty-five is going to look like, I simply have no real inspiration to devote any mental energy to the idea. Or any other idea.

I've written about maturity and all that before, and I'm not going to go too deeply into that, either, since it's a whole lot of pontificating, ego-stroking and amusement solely to the author. I realize that I have a relatively low readership, but since I've mostly (half-heartedly) tried to make this a weeabu all-about-my-life blog, talking about the ways I do or don't fit my (largely arbitrary) definition of maturity seems to be a faux pas.

Mostly, I haven't really had time to put my thoughts in order on the matter of my age. I haven't had the time to put my thoughts in order on anything! We're so busy at the vault, working out our kinks in scheduling and just plugging along with what the industry calls New Restaurant Syndrome - that unhappy condition of having unanticipated voids in your production process concurrent with unusually high demand for your services. It's the sort of thing that makes the days long, the batteries low, but the wallets happy.

And given a few other issues I'm not going to get directly into, keeping the wallet happy is almost always a good thing. You just can't lose your sight along the way.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Farm-to-Table, Restaurant Setup, and Flaccid Asperagus

It don't get fresher!
 While it's post hoc ergo propter hoc to even suggest the correlation as causation, it just so happens that I now live in a city of which university students are a major demographic - and because they're such a driver on the market, we have a fairly well-settled farmer's market.

Now, I could go a long way out of my way and explain why that particular run-on sentence makes, well, sense, but that's out-of-the-way.

A major part of the awesomeness of the farmer's market isn't the ability to acquire things I can get at the supermarkets - it's the ability to acquire the things that I can't. Duck eggs, brioche, promises nobody intends to keep...

What I was surprised to find, though, were the butchers offering farm-to-table meats. Fresh produce I was expecting, as well as a weekly supply of the sort of greasy delights that qualify as carnival food... but supremely, ultimately fresh meats is a new one to me.

Now again, the main problem is that I simply don't have the time for the market. You need to get in very early to get the really good stuff, and that leaves me with getting about 4 hours sleep. Plus, let be honest, the costs aren't comparable. It's worthwhile for things like free-run Duck Eggs, Rabbit, or those peculiar fishes which, in spite of being in season, are not at the local Sobeys. But for everything else, the convenience of the supermarkets is just too much to bear.

Now, having said that, there very much is a quality differential, which ties into our next topic. For all its minor setbacks and waiting, the process of launching the Vault has actually been deeply inspiring insofar as tweaking my own restaurant designs. Obviously, I'm a few years away from my own launch. I've still got to go off and finish my Red Seal, never mind pulling down a few years of experience besides. In that respect, the plans I've been making for several years now are all highly tenative - mostly concerning themselves with matters of style, rather than outright figures.

That having all been said, the experience of having access to all this very good food has been a major motivating factor in my decision to build relationships as directly as possible with growers and producers themselves. Not out of any real hatred for the middle men, but more out of a desire to keep everything as local as possible. After all, restaurants as an industry have impressively large greenhouse gas footprints. It would be nice to minimize that, where possible.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Different Approach

So I should start the day with an apology - I seem to recall having promised more frequent posts. Obviously, that hasn't been happening. If you saw the kind of hours we're putting in at Vault 29, you'd know why.

So, if history has shown us anything, it's that I usually come here to talk about what I'm working on. When I was running the show over at the pet store, I posted a lot about fish. When I was selling tea, I talked a lot about tea.

I've also talked a lot about different ways of taking the concept of diet. It shouldn't surprise anyone that humanity as a whole or western culture specifically is consumed in the analysis of what we're eating. I just got done with the posts on nutrition which were a little heavy with references to the human biological machine.

The thing is, humans in general, and my generation pretty specifically, eat a whole lot of junk food. We know it's junk, and its inequities compared to "real" food (however we define that) are beyond dispute, but we eat it anyway. The last month or so has been fuelled by cans of sugary caffine tinged with flavours that are supposed to remind me of fruits, bags of sugary confetti, and greasy, quickly-scarfed meals from the local burger-slinger. That I work in the higher end of the Bar spectrum of cuisines seems not to be a factor - I need to eat quickly, and I need energy density.

Thing is, when you eat like that you find yourself rather rapidly deteriorating in health, if you can be bothered to pay attention to your own health. You might not have time to map out specific nutritional requirements - requirements I happen to know I am meeting regardless, thanks to a steady stream of multi-vitamins.

The obvious fact in all of this is that there's more to food than merely hitting your chemical requirements. Food has a role in mental health, at the very least.

So what I'm thinking of doing is just cutting out the nonsense completely. I mean, obviously that's not perfectly possible - or even very feasible, considering just how often it's the case that I really do only have 15 minutes to cook and eat a meal. But I can certainly do a lot better than I have been.

So what's real food look like? I don't know, but we'll see.

Friday, May 23, 2014

On My Shelf and My Plate

So the idea has sprung to mind that I wanted to discuss a few things I have in my culinary library that probably aren't in yours. Everyone's at least heard of the Joy of Cooking and a few of the more famous Chefs all have their books out, but I have a few (shall we say) niche titles I think need to get a wider spread.

The first is the instant go-to: On Cooking, specifically the 4th Canadian Edition. This book was my textbook in college and will probably be my touchstone for the years of apprenticeship to come. While the recipes inside are all rather staid and either common classics or somewhat-passe trends, the true value of the book is its focus on technique and theory over individual recipes, and for that it's rather invaluable, because it puts you in a position to actually write the recipes. Oh, and as an added bonus, it correctly lists all recipes in mass units (imperial AND metric) rather than volume units. Most professional cooks in Canada will obviously have heard of this book, but there are plenty of non-professional cooks who take the trade at least as seriously and I imagine you could use the knowledge contained within rather aggressively.

The second niche cookbook on my shelf is the exceptionally well-done Tide's Table by Ross and Willa Mavis, and if you're trying to figure out why the name of the book sounds familiar, that's because that was actually the dining room that I ran and the associated kitchen I managed while working for Ross and Willa briefly at Inn on the Cove - before it closed its doors, of course. The book, which was a wonderful book I would have happily bought had it not been given to me for my birthday, was the book on which a lot of our menu hung at Tide. Not only that, it's a pretty good distillation of what Atlantic Canadian cuisine really is, at least on the homegrown level. There are some necessary items I would say are not in the book if you want to call it the true bible of Atlantic Canadian cuisine, but its accessibility and relative completion are major, major selling points. I'm not sure Ross and Will are still in the business at all, either, so now that I am thinking about it, the copy I have may be among the last copies ever sold.

Busting UFOs

Feasting on Hearts! Literally!
So it's been shown a few times before that I have a pretty damn near infinite capacity to entertain myself, and while entertaining myself is rarely productive in the sense of getting me closer to the consumerist nirvana of a house and a car and a hefty 401k that doesn't quite cancel out the debts caused by the first two, it's generally productive in the sense that something is produced.

Whether it's the entirely sub-par work of the Zaxton Space Program or the hilariously terrible work of various minecraft projects, continuing the work from last November's NaNoWriMo (an event misnamed if ever there was), I can usually at least be bothered to do [i]something[/i]. Hell, in the past I've entertained myself by making videos and posts about fish. FISH. On a blog that started as a philosophy blog, and like most blogs, is now more a personal screed than any sort of coherent content.

So when I was faced unexpectedly with nearly a month's unwarranted and unpaid vacation, did I do something logical like pick up where I left off on my book, pre-write a small library of posts for the four blogs under my control, or even follow the technically-true defintion of productivity by working on the business plan I won't be needing this decade?

Nope! I spent short work week's worth of hours investigating one single ridiculously shaky report of an Unidentified Flying Object in Malaysia. Not because I believe in aliens in the crossing-the-gulf-of-the-cosmos sense, or because it was particularly well-reported, or even because I placed any emotional weight behind the setting.

I did it because it was that or continue working on my evolving DnD campaign and this seemed like the least hopelessly wasteful use of the brain that my brain actually allowed me to do!

Okay, so earlier this month the indisputably niche blog The Object Report reported on a sighting in Malaysia of a very large and very dramatic flying object sighting near one of the busiest buildings in Kyala Lampur. The article came with two "High Resolution" photographs presented by two different sources.

Now, the very first thing I want to address is that the article takes this photographic evidence, whatever its merit (which I will get into), and then extrapolates it to support the conjecture of a bunch of other alien-human interaction such as a co-breeding problem, which is absurd on the face even if it wasn't a complete non sequitur fallacy.

Now, the only purportedly original photograph on the article (credited to witness Chong) that was available is part of a set that the blogger, one Agent D, claims to have independently verified as "definitely from a cellular phone camera" and "not processed or manipulated by photoshop". My own analysis, which is considerable (when you get engaged to a graphic designer, you tend to develop an interest in photographic analysis), only determined that the photo had been artificially stripped of metadata - either the sort of data that would allow you to positively identify it as a camera shot was never part of the photo, or had been removed. Beyond that, there was nothing I could identify as being overtly shoppy, but that really just means that anyone with an interest in photoshopping the images was better than I am at his forgery roll.

The main problem is the location. The article claims that the appearance happened at about 1230 local. Right in the middle of lunch, at the tallest building in the world, only two people were equipped with working cameras. Oh, and those two people both failed to realize that their cellphones could take video instead of photographs.

Now, I wanted to use the images in the article, and I'm fairly certain I could have under fair use, but I didn't, because the authors of the article (the probable owners of the images I did analysis on) weren't courteous enough to respond to my email for permission and comment.

However, if Agent D happens to be reading this, he should be expecting a call from A Cell rather soon.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Examining Arms Rights

Don't currently arm myself, so...
So there's a few nations in the world where their citizens have either de jure or de facto rights to arm themselves, and since the United States of America is one of those countries, and their overall cultural dominance in the western sphere, while inexplicable, is palpable, most discussions of the subject centre around the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.

Now, I want to get into an arms rights discussion without being dragged into the absolute mire that is the seeming inability of literally anyone who lives south of Washington, DC to correctly interpret the phrase "a well organized militia". This can be relatively difficult to do because most of the people on the internet seem to be either American or confused about what laws are relevant when you're discussing something on its own merits.

Then I remembered I operate a blog owned by google over which I have relatively complete creative control.

The Saga Continues

Canadian Politics
My American viewers are probably somewhat less annoyed with me for the moment, since I'm not boring them with our politics and certainly not antagonizing them with theirs. That's not because nothing has been happening - we have lots to talk about, from the closure of my province's last abortion clinic to the absolutely ludicrous relationship my southern cousins have with firearms and the terrifying way that a secession crisis in Ukraine that was bolstered by US interests is rapidly becoming a problem for all of NATO.

But I can't talk about those things, because first Canada has to figuratively and literally clean house. Toronto, which most Canadians will never be to, is the forth or fifth most populous city in North America and commands unusual attention both at home and abroad - recently largely because Mayor Rob Ford is an admitted alcoholic with substance abuse issues.

While I can't condemn alcoholism or addiction given their nature as mental illnesses, I can certainly condemn lawbreaking and untoward behaviour. An exciting development last night (today?) was that Ford is taking a Leav of Absense to deal with his issues, so I am putting everyone on notice: This month, there will be politics.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Back in... White?

Not Blowing Smoke
So, I had absolutely nothing official to go on when I had ordered in a new set of knives - I was basically tired of dealing with half-rate toy knives from the major department retailers and I longed to return to the world of steel that can actually be sharp.

But, today, I had the unusual (for me) and exciting task of going to a local commercial dealer to pick up that most ubiquitous of tradesman's garments - a white, double-breasted jacket.

This is because I am very pleased to announce that I am resuming my apprenticeship by forming part of the opening team at Vault 29, a new restaurant that's going to be opening in the downtown area around the middle of may.

This is particularly exciting as it involves the settling of a few old scores by mostly refusing to keep score, which is a personal triumph all things considered.

So yeah, watch this space.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Shades of Grey: Truth Resisting Simplicity Edition

My investigation of religious traditions, such as it has been, generally focuses on the theology of the now. This is for two reasons - I exist in a results-oriented domain wherein I prefer things to be demonstrable rather than not, and I have the intellectual equivalent of an allergy to creation stories.

Now, I should be clear - I like creation stories. Their a fascinating insight into various cultures, but the surprising number and, frankly, difference between the creation stories infects me with a general sense that all creation stories are at least a little bit false at worse, or pure allegory at best.

For example, I am a baptized and confirmed catholic in spite of the usual social anxieties that have prevented my going to more than a small handful of masses since then and quite a few ideological differences with the church doctrine - this is why laymen should perhaps not read the catechism and certainly a subject for another time. I'm also not the perfect catholic for reasons I've talked about before (see the Shiboleth post), but also because I have a tendency toward syncreticism. In spite of this, I take the Genesis account anything but literally and essentially consider the whole work a lesson on the pervasiveness of the Divine Directive, right up until the Adam and Eve account of the Garden, which is obviously allegorical but I'm still nailing down precisely for what.

Now, before I go any further I'm not going to go full-blown skeptic and explain exactly why a six-day creation myth doesn't jive with my understanding of reality, nor am I going to go on a tear and rail against the importance of having one belief over another, because I have two fundamental beliefs as part of my Grand Assumptions: Truth resists simplicity, and grey is more than a shade.

I am not a cosmologist. I know we've talked about such things as the composition and early history of the universe before, but I would be engaging in a game of pretend if I said I fully understand the concept. Those on the bleeding edge of the science don't understand everything (remember: if science had all the answers, it would stop) and I am certainly not among them.

What I do know, is that there's a few assumptions we need to check about time and space. Firstly, I should say that I subscribe to the Big Bang cosmological model and specifically to a variant of that model that states that space-time - with all of the requisite matter and energy - existed at a compressed singularity-state. This doesn't sound as silly as it is if you understand mass-energy equivalence.

I'm also talking about a singularity in at least four dimensions - we know that the main four (horizontal, vertical, depth, and time) have been expanding since the birth of the universe. Questions of "before" the Bang don't make sense at all in a scientific bent and can be answered only with religion, if at all, and questions of the aftermath have measurable, testable answers. I therefore believe the correct answer is somewhere in the middle.

It's not just cosmology - I'm the same way with the evolution-versus-intelligent-design debate. The tree of life is a pretty compelling argument and the way I see it is either that God is lazy and hates reinventing the wheel or that there's a genetic algorithm at work here, and since life has reinvented the wheel on more than one occasion (wings being a good, if not crude, example) I'm intending to select the latter.

Now, a genetic algorithm is this really, really cool piece of emerging applied computer science where the programmer-type individual provides some base characteristic variables (say, some design metrics for a quadrupedal robot) and some environmental variables (gravity and what not), then devises a metric for testing these simulated designs. The initial designs are tested in simulation and then the ones that best suit the metrics are retained while the ones that worse are discarded. Random variation is introduced between generations of designs with the best continually retained and the worst continually removed and after several testing generations you suddenly have a design far superior to whatever the original intelligently-designed device was.

Now it's not hard to draw parallels to actual natural selection and it's really not hard to demonstrate abiogenesis being a thing (the precursor chemistry is rather trivial to model if not somewhat difficult to execute, which is why spontaneous generation is a thing, and also why we see a tree of life rather than like, a forest). Abiogenesis is covered by the root constants that cover everything else from the laws of thermodynamics to the Cosmological Constant.

It's not hard to imagine at all a universe where god sets the properties and then presses play. After all, if he's really a timeless, omnipotent being, it doesn't matter to him that it takes billions of years for anything interesting to happen.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Hows and Whys of Minecraft and the Other Sandbox Games

Improbable Machine, Not yet complete.
So people who are somehow monitoring my RAM usage have probably noticed I log about 100% time on minecraft that my computer is up. That's mostly because Gliesse, my main computer which I use for all of my gaming as well as all of my writing and banking and just about everything else I compute for anymore is also the computer that hosts the Gliesse minecraft server. By the way the Gliesse server is a public server which you can get credentialed for by contacting me and is running the Attack of the B-Team modpack, version 1.0.10.

So the question arises then which is: why do I care so much about minecraft however many years after it came out that I not only log probably about eight hours a week of actually sitting down and playing the damn thing but also keep a tower running around the clock just so that I can have a server to play on and the answer is: those are two questions.

So the first thing I can say about minecraft is that it's part of an evolving culture of sandbox games and as a kid-at-heart I very much like to play in the sandbox. I like minecraft for the same reason that I (poorly) curated a massive collection of different lego sets - I like to make things.

So by now you're thinking that you know, it's been three or four years, surely you've done everything you can do in the game, right? Well no, not really. Sandbox games aren't objective based (although minecraft can have objectives depending on the game mode and map type) unless your way of thinking is objective based. Even if I sit down with a list of objectives like I recently did and say "Okay, I am going to build a castle with these features and include this functionality and so on", I can always make new objectives.

Further, I have what is called the hackish nature, which has various definitions but can commonly be said is the desire to do the most with the available. While I'm never first-on-market with a device in minecraft (mostly because I play casually), I will often come up with an idea semi-independently that adds functionality to the game which doesn't natively exist.

For example, if you are playing in the survival gamemode but you like to build things you want to collect resources in as efficient a manner as possible. If you like to build things out of wood the conventional wisdom is that you must chop down trees and the only way to chop down trees natively in the game is to grab an axe and manually chop them down, a process only marginally less tedious than mining a branch mine. However, it is actually possible to build a machine if you know what you're doing that will push the trees in front of explosives and those explosives will break up the logs and then the machine will collect the log parts and reserve them as wood for your later use all while planting and growing the subsequent generation of trees. I am still working on the overall design but I know that others have done it and so I want to do it because I hate mining for trees!

And that's why I love sandbox games like minecraft and kerbal and others, because minecraft's redstone is a form of formal logic and kerbal teaches orbital mechanics and I can pretend to be and do and go wherever the hell I want and sometimes that's just more fun than writing.

14,000 Pageviews

So while I was working on avoiding the dazzlingly boring reality of the fact that I work for a living, and simultaneously avoiding the reality that at some point in the next week or so I am going to have to come to terms with the idea that the antisocial are unreliable and the borderline sociopathic are irresponsible and I will, at some point, have to clean up after others, I logged into blogger.

Now, this is not an unusual keystroke for me to make and it is, in fact, a keystroke, or at least a series - alt-shift ntb has the fantastic property of opening a new chrome browser tab to the blogger dashboard if your computer has the same general configuration as mine. I come to blogger something like 20 or thirty times a day, mostly just to close it immediately, but also because I have a few different blogs on my reading list like A Woman's Place and Crescent's Edge and a few others which have mostly lapsed, and these are places where I occasionally direct my brain when I'm not watching youtube or otherwise wasting time on the internet.

However when I logged into blogger this morning for the first time ever in order to check my reading list and browse for comments since I don't have email notification turned on, I noticed that An Auditor and a Gentleman is at precisely 14,000 views. Before I go on coming up with complex justifications for thanking people I want to geek out and have some fun with statistics. Firstly - it has been 1,041 days since the first post so if you are counting that's an average of about 13 hits/day... actually, it's closer to 14 but I don't like rounding up.

So the first post on Auditor and a Gentleman was the thesis statement that explains the subtitle and is, these days, largely ignored which was called The Idea, and The Method. Perhaps unsurprisingly this was one of the least-viewed articles ever, at least in terms of direct views, and it shouldn't come as a galloping shock to anyone that it's so ignored here I didn't even remember writing it. It's difficult to define the least-viewed post of all time because there are so many that nobody directly viewed at all - I have a bad habit of forgetting to use the page-break tags and therefore most people seem to just read directly from the homepage, so there's that.

Now, if you want the most viewed page of all time that is my post on Tie-Dye, or Synsipilium Cichlids. In fact, by and large my most popular pages are all either my tea reviews (which have stopped given my recent decline in availability of good, fresh teas and the slow transition to coffee) and my fish care sheets, which have more or less stopped because writing them makes me want to take up aquaculture again and I simply don't have the space or money. It's a little bit like sending me to a restaurant and telling me not to eat anything.

In fact, all of the top ten posts are either tea or fish related except for two: Faith is the True Shibboleth, and A New Kind of Spam.

Now, onto the thanks: thank you all of you who check in every day or have subscribed by either adding me to your own readerlists or to your RSS feeds or however you're keeping track.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Last of the Nutrition - Vitamins, Minerals, Antioxidants, and Living Critters!

So until now and apart from the brief mention of ethanol and caffine, I've been pretty good about not mentioning drugs. However, since someone did ask about it, I might or might not do a secondary series on the topic. As it happens though, drugs aren't nutrients. They affect the operation of the human biochemical machine but they don't really count.

Having said that, we have a lot to talk about this time around, because the "other" category of nutrition is actually pretty complex. As you might imagine the body uses a ton of different elements in its construction and you can't just take in pure forms of the elements (generally) in order to achieve growth and function.

The first thing we have to talk about is vitamins. There are, if I remember correctly, 13 vitamins. These aren't 13 individual chemicals but actually 13 categories into which chemicals called vitamers are sorted depending on biological activity. 4 of the vitamins are soluble in fat which is one of the reasons why a fat-free diet won't work and the other 9 are soluble in water which is why we have to consume so much of it.

As something of an aside, you are basically hydrated if your urine is very pale or clear. The usual rules of thumb for how many glasses of water a day to drink vary as widely as how many calories a day to consume and so I will refrain from posting any guidelines apart from that metric.

Now, your 13 vitamins are A, B1, B2, B3, B6, B7, B9, B12, C, D, E and K. For each vitamin there is a maximum and minimum daily intake guideline, an associated underdose and overdose syndrome, and different food sources. As a general rule unless you are otherwise unhealthy or for some reason cannot physically eat enough food to obtain each of the vitamins or for some strange reason do not have access or are allergic to whole categories of foods you should not need to supplement your vitamin intake. As a matter of fact, Vitamin D can by synthesized by your body under UVB exposure.

The different vitamins all have different effects on the body and prioritizing them, say, to achieve a particular effect over what you would achieve by consuming merely the daily requirement may be one vector by which you can tune your diet to tune your body. For example, I tend to supplement vitamin E in winter and take more foods with vitamin E in the rest of the seasons because it plays a role in regulating mood, and there is a seasonal component to my otherwise regular up-down cycle of biploarity.

In addition to some vitamins being soluble in fat and some being soluble in water, all of the vitamins are affected by cooking and different vitamins respond to different cooking methods in different ways. A fantastic table of these effects is found on wikipedia, but there's a few general rules of thumb: losses are greater for boiling than steaming and with the exception of B2 vitamins are more available to the body in the raw food than after cooking.

Having said that, this isn't an argument that all diets should be raw food diets any more than my personal preference in tuna preparation is that all tuna dishes should be nigirizushi.

Rocking On

After your vitamins come your minerals, which can be divided into two categories based basically upon bodily need, your macrominerals and your trace elements. For the vast majority of these elements, your body really wants the ions. Fortunately, ionization happens readily in aqueous solution and your body is 70% water for the ions to be dissolved into so we've got that part covered. Excess minerals are among the excreted substances in urine which a humorous person could suppose would allow you to call your urinary tract an ion cannon but I personally think we're above bathroom humour here.

Your macrominerals are: calcium (important for bone health), Chlorine (more specifically, chloride ions), Magnesium (which is particular important as Magnesium is a key component of ATP which is the chemical that transfers energy around your body); Phosphorous (in ATP, DNA, and Bones); Potassium (regulating electrolyte balance), Sodium (which your body needs because it is used in muscle control which is kind of important for things like having a heart-rate and, you know, doing things); and Sulfur, which is a component of pretty much all of the amino acids both essential and otherwise.

Now, you can overconsume the macro-minerals and sodium over-consumption is particularly problematic which is why it's one of those nasty words and why you're seeing so many processed foods bragging about low sodium content. If you're otherwise healthy, however, there's no good reason to remove it from your diet completely, but you may want to stay below about 2.5 grams per day which is quite a bit more than you need but still below the range where it causes hypertension.

After that come the trace elements which are all essential, mostly because your body can't produce elements from lighter elements - as cool as your body is, it doesn't really work with nuclear chemistry that often. We need cobalt, copper, chromium, iodine, iron, manganese, molybendum, selenium, zinc, and maybe vanadium (we haven't decided that one yet).

Now, of those I would suggest that they are all important but particularly iodine (which most people only obtain through iodized table salt now that we aren't so big on the organ meats) as it prevents glandular dysfunctions, iron as it moves oxygen around the body, chromium which allows your body to process sugars, and manganese which lets your body actually do things with the oxygen its moving around are the most important, but again, you need all of them. Trace minerals are the ones most often low on the diet so I strongly recommend investigating your consumption and then supplementing the ones you're lacking if necessary.

That's All, Right?

Well, no, not really. There are some other dietary components that aren't as established in the zeitgeist but nonetheless are becoming increasingly important in our understanding of human nutrition.

Antioxidants which either prevent the formation of free radicals during metabolism or absorb them all up (thereby preventing cell damage) are becoming increasingly popular in recent years. I've spoken about them before here in my tea reviews and while I don't pay the most attention to them I've learned that they have been clinically demonstrated to have some good health effects, though clinical trials have shown them to be minor and that over-supplementation can be harmful. Your body can actually produce quite a few of these compounds on its own with enough the the precursors Glutathione and Vitamin C. There are thousands of different antioxidant compounds of dietary relevance and tracking your consumption is largely impossible based just on that complexity, but it should be noted that variety in foods that are rich in antioxidants like colourful fruits and vegetables is better than an antioxidant pill.

One subgroup of about 4,000 antioxidants are the phytochemicals (like the polyphenols) which are, like antioxidants in general, sufficiently complicated that no one phytochemical can be said to be preferred by the body over any other. In point of fact there's some evidence to suggest that useful phytochemical intake comes only from diet and that supplementation is essential a waste of money with zero clinical benefit. Antioxidants and Phytochemicals are the bleeding edge of nutritional science and we really don't know much about it but this is where the developments will be coming from.

The last thing I want to talk about is the stuff that is living inside of you. Believe it or not not everything we eat is dead and nor should it be. Your GI tract in particular is practically a nation of different species of organisms from Lactobaccilicus to E coli, all of which are necessary for a happy, healthy you. The exact species and proportions are being studied and do vary according to age, but there are circumstances in which getting more - by eating live-culture foods like yogurt or by supplementation - is advisable, such as after courses of antibiotics. Dietary Fiber also plays a role in the health of your gut flora which then goes on to regulate certain other aspects of your life such as how much of your time you waste playing angry birds on your phone in the john.

For the record, I hate angry birds.

Gut Flora, as it's called, performs a number of functions for you. Complex carbohydrates are broken down into more managable forms by fermentation, which reduces the amount of food you have to eat to reach a caloric break-even point and also produces that other uncomfrotable waste produce - flatulence.

There's some evidence that some of the species of Gut Flora, which use your GI Tract's mucus lining as their growth substrate, actively protect that lining and even prevent certain forms of injury to that lining from forming, which would otherwise be very painful.

Furthermore, because your body has a colony of bacteria already inside of it that's eating up all the things bacteria like to eat up, the gut flora have a competative advantage over pathogenic bacteria that would otherwise make you sick. This is not unlike the way that a well-planted fish tank is less susceptible to algae blooms, in fact, it works on the very same mechanism. In fact, maintaining a healthy internal ecosystem can be so useful that it can even prevent or help to control irritable bowel syndrome.

So while, yes, some strains and species of bacteria are harmful to you, so are some varieties of virtually everything else. If anything over the last few weeks we've learned that there are no good foods or bad foods, only better foods and worse foods. Even the worse foods aren't really verboten. Your body doesn't actually acknowledge the human compartmentalization of time and even circadian patterns of sleep and eating are mutable as we're going to see in a few posts when I talk about polyphasic sleep. While large swings in nutrition are ill-advisable as anyone whose gone from one type of diet to another can probably tell you, diversions from your diet on occasion won't actually hurt you as badly as some people believe, and on a psychological level would probably do you some good.

I mean, of the four major human experiences - death, food, sex and other humans, only death is more ubiquitous than eating. By our very nature we are obsessed with and concerned with only eating enough not only to survive but to reproduce. And while I can and others have survived very well on diets made entirely of single-flavour elements such as the Great American Meat and Potatoes paradigm or the relatively new Soylent Smoothie synthetic diet, the happiest people I know are all the ones who eat the most differently. The human brain is, after all, thirsty for experience, and whether we crave variety in having scalloped potatos this week instead of mashed or always having some kind of cake for dessert on sunday dinner or it's bouncing from sushi to pasta to brioche to burgers to salads over the run of a weekend, variety is the cliched seasoning of life and, what's more, we've just seen that there's nutritional benefits to it as well.

Fun With Nutrition - The Carbohydrates

For those of you who are finding this tedious, you can relax: We're very nearly done.

First, though, I do want to talk about the much-maligned carbohydrates, the nutrient most fashionable to avoid before we all found out about trans fats. Like most fashions, these things go in cycles, and I'm finding more and more people who are returning to the habit of avoiding carbohydrates in their diet.

Like I talked about before, the human body requires a certain number of calories per day to be a living human body and a certain amount more to maintain weight. Fats are by far the most energy-dense foods at about 37 kilojoules per gram, which doesn't mean much to you until I convert it to dietary calories (9 kcal/gram).

Now, you might think that a high-fat, high-protein diet could avoid carbs completely and meet your dietary requirements, and you'd have the peculiar-sounding but very common quality of being both right and wrong in the same motion. The Atkins Diet worked by replacing carbs with all the fats and protein that the dieter could want. And it worked, because your calories were far below what your body wanted and so you entered the various metabolic states where your body ate itself - first your lipids, then your proteins.

This was essentially a way of starving yourself safely, which I suppose can be said of all diet-only weightloss methods, but nonetheless it was (and still is) a popular one.

However, through much of human history, and indeed today, the only way to produce enough food that everyone in a given society was getting enough calories without everyone being farmers was to rely to some extent on carbohydrates. This was why we have the phrase daily bread and the Irish Potato Famine was a big deal and why most of Asia has such a heavy culinary reliance on rice.

Carbohydrates are a class of organic compounds (like most of the nutrients, but not all) that have the particular property of being entirely composed of hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon, not at all unlike fossil fuels. They typically, but not always, have a formula that satisfies the condition Cm(H2O)n, which doesn't mean much to most of you but to me it tells me that if you oxidize your average carbohydrate in the presence of gaseous oxygen your waste products will be Carbon Dioxide and Water, probably vapour if you're doing pure combustion.

Carbohydrates are important in the diet because after fat and ethanol (the alcohol which is least toxic and therefore humanity's overwhelming drug of choice after caffeine) they have the greatest energy density per gram, about the same as proteins. The difference is that carbohydrates are both easier for your body to digest (and therefore preferred in dietary terms), and also easier for humans to produce (which is why we have amber waves of grain instead of palamino waves of beef).

These two factors mean that you're going to see a lot of carbohydrates in your diet. Carbohydrates are your sugars and your starches and the distinction is that the sugars have simple molecular structures while the starches are complex. Both are important and both must be moderated but as a general rule is that 55%-75% of your caloric intake comes from carbohydrates, though the WHO recommends that no more than 10% of the same intake of food energy come from sugars.

So, big bowl of pasta, good, drinking a two-litre bottle of root beer all by yourself on a thrice-weekly basis, bad.

Now, studies on carbohydrate restricted diets are far from extensive and really, to make conclusive statements the one or the other on whether or not cutting the carbs out of your diet is good or bad for you is, at this point, more opinion than science, but I can tell you that your options for foods will be broader and your task of balancing the other essential nutrients easier if you leave the carbs on the table. Having said that, the carbohydrates themselves are not essential nutrients - the few that are used to do things in the body other than catabolysis can be built from amino acids, which your body will do in like, an eyeblink, without you even needing to realize you're doing it.

By the way, while this has nothing to do with the root question of carbohydrates I will be releasing, along with the next post, a fancy-pants excel spreadsheet that first calculates your roughly-specific nutritional needs and then allows you to track them. The first edition will require some ability to research food contents but if it is sufficiently popular I may release a second edition with a database of common foods already loaded in.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Nutrition Series: In Defence of Fat

Fat is about all
Rabbits have goin' for 'em.
So, as it happens, I forgot to mention that fats were even a part of nutrition, falling into a sort of mental trap my generation has essentially been drip fed - namely, that fat is unhealthy, full-stop.

For the sake of full disclosure I should amend my usual reminder I'm not a medical professional with another reminder that I work in the culinary field, and that my present employer demonstrates particular lack of concern for the fat components of their meals.

With that in mind though, I'm going to articulate what I can about the realities of fats in human nutrition without overall bias, and I'm going to begin by discussing the types of fat.

In chemical terms (and remembering that humans are complicated chemical factories for turning chemicals into other chemicals (primarily those needed to construct other little humans) fats are triglycerides. While the actual chemistry gets pretty complicated, you can basically group fats into three varieties: saturdated, unsaturated, and transfats.

Saturated Fats are, by definition, those fats in which the fatty acid chains making up the overall fat molecule are sufficiently charged with hyrdogen, that is to say they are saturated with respect to hydrogen content. They differentiate from Unsaturated fats in this way (monounsaturated fats have one chain lacking in hydrogen, polyunsaturated have a plural of chains). This changes the melting point of the fats as well as the energy released by their combustion (and though no fire is involved, the metabolism of substances into energy for the body is analogous to a combustion reaction). The differentiation in melting point provides some way to understand the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats at a glance - saturated fats are more likely, in general, to be solid at room temperature, while other fats tend to be oils.

Transfats are fats in which the molecular structure has been somewhat rearranged in a rather complicated-to-explain way, and since my audience isn't a group of organic chemists and I understand it only on the very surface level, I'm not going to try. What is important to remember is that the research currently supports a link between transfat consumption and coronary heart disease. Hydrogenation is one of a few chemical processes that converts cis-fats to trans-fats, and so I usually recommend avoiding hydrogenated products and therefore usually avoid consuming solid margarine - liquid margarine is a bit of a different animal.

Now, fat serves a few roles in the body. It's one of the two components of the production of cholesterol (the other being protein), and no discussion of fat would be complete without mentioning this first-cousin. Cholesterol comes in two main varieties: HDL and LDL (that is, high and low density). Cholesterol is both consumed in some foods (chiefly cheese, eggs, and meats), and synthesized in the body using fat and protein. Cholesterol regulates the permeability and consistency of animal cells, including yours, so there's a good reason to keep it in the system. It's also a precursor for a bunch of other chemicals that keep the manmachine running. Also generalizing, you prefer your body to contain more HDL than LDL. By maintaining the same chalorie intake, you can:

  • replace dietary carbohydrates with unsaturated fats to lower the LDL and overall cholesterol levels (increasing HDL);
  • replace the same with saturated fats raise all levels across the board;
  • replace the same with trans fats to raise LDL and reduce HDL.
Having LDL in excess of LDL increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Stewed Beef Heart
In addition, quite a few vitamins (A, D, E, and K) can only be digested, absorbed, and transported in conjunction with fats. Essential Fatty Acids are (obviously) components of Fats which I'll discuss in a moment. Fat insulates body organs against physical shock and is a component of every cell of your body in the phospholipid bi-layer shell that contains them. There is, in fact, an immune response for storing chemical and biological threats in fatty tissue until they can be excreted by other means. For these reason, a fat-free diet is just as dangerous as fat overconsumption.

Going back to the Fatty Acids: there are two essential fatty acids, which we call Omega-3 and Omega-6. These are considered essential in humans because we lack the proper enzymes (desaturase) to produce them ourselves. Both these acids are found in fish and shellfish, flaxseed, hemp seed, soya oil, canola ouil, and quite a few seeds. Some egg products make claims to elevated Omega-3 or Omega-6 acids as well. Your body uses these for all manner of things, and some research which I find particularly interesting has suggested that a high intake of Omega-3 can decrease clinical depression symptoms in humans. The work on the matter was published in the Australia and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry and was conducted by Reed et al. (Use PMID 15777365).

So, how much fat is enough? I have been taught (and usually use) the measure of 32.5 grams per 1000 calories of intake and the assumption that no more than 10 of those grams should be saturated. Since this is all about optimizing nutrition for optimizing bodily performance, I reiterate my general dislike for trans fats in general and therefore advise you to avoid them.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

More Fun with Nutrition: Protein isn't a Thing!

Tuna is a decent protein source!
So, as you probably saw last time, I've been talking about nutrition, and for a number of reasons not the least of which is that they're the usually the feature element of a meal, I want to start our discussion on specifics with a few notes about protein.

First of which, and this is the chemist in me being peadantic, protein is not a nutrient. Proteins are the major building blocks of life - they're what you and everything you eat is made from on a chemical level - but the individual proteins are too specific. Instead, your body breaks them into the 22 amino acids that are their component parts, and then uses those amino acids to build up the proteins it uses to do human body things.

This is where the opportunity to optimize comes in. Instead of consuming the recommended amount of protein: .8 grams of fat per kilogram of body weight - I did the conversion because I couldn't stand that ludicrous formula from last time - consume the best amino acids. The amount of protein you need is going to go up with your activity level and with conditions like pregnancy and lactation. Obviously you should consult a medical expert over such things.

Of the 22 Acids there are several that are essential in adults: Histidine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Tryptophan, and Valine. Google's spell-check insists that none of those things exist, but I assure you, they are real amino acids. Who, while your body can use all amino acids, prioritize these nine.

Histidine is used by the body for a number of things and is found mostly in meats (beef is richest, but all the farm animals contain it). The highest concentrations are seen in game meats for reasons passing understanding. It is also found in legumes and nuts, particularly in soy, so yes, with the right diet, there's no reason you couldn't be vegan and get enough histidine without supplementation.

Isoleucine is chiefly found in eggs, soy protein, and seaweed. Having said that, it is stockpiled in animals (which can't produce it naturally) so turkey, lamb, cheese, and fish are all good sources as well. Leucine, a chemical relative, shares the trate that it cannot be made by animals: you need to find that in your diet. While meats are the best sources, it's also in your legumes.

Lysine helps with your body's energy production and is chiefly found in fish, though it is also present in beef and, to a lesser extent, your legumes and cheeses.

... In point of fact, all of the essential amino acids can be obtained from either plant or animal sources, though you will have difficulties obtaining Methionine (used for some protein construction inside the body) and Phenylalanine (present in milk and some neurotransmitters) if you are following a strictly-vegan diet.

As with all things, moderation is the key, and unless you're trying to get overly obsessive-compulsive with your amino acid balance, merely eating a variety of protein-bearing foods that total up to your daily intake every day will be enough to keep you running smoothly.

Monday, March 31, 2014

A Crash Course on College-Level Nutrition in Humans - Introduction (Nutrient Groupings)

Tools of the Trade!
Of late, I have come more and more to think of the human body as a machine. In many ways I'm something of an optimizationalist - while I don't always take the most utilitarian path to a goal, I tend to get the most utility out of whatever I can.

Ironically, this has never extended so far as my body (unless you count the brain, which I am fond of hacking as often as humanly possible and in every way I can).

The primary ways to optimize the performance of the human body is, as everyone knows, diet and exercise, and since I happen to be somewhere between apprentice and journeyman in the former, I thought it might be helpful if I sat down with you all and put together a few short primers on the human body's nutritional requirements.

Now, a few disclaimers are in order - first of all I'm not a medical professional in any regard. I have a 2-year diploma in Hospitality and Tourism Management in which Nutrition was a component. Secondly, there are no one-size-fits-all answers in nutrition. Due to factors of genetics, current body condition, desired body condition, allergies and sensitivities, metabolic rates, and probably some other things I haven't even thought of yet, there is no ideal diet.

With that in mind, let's begin by separating the subject of nutrition into a few general fields.

The way we measure food energy is in the Calorie. Now, there's a difference between the dietary Calories listed on your food's packaging (or in an ingredient directory) and the actual calories used in chemistry to determine the chemical energy of a substance, but the long and short of it is that big-C calories are what you're tracking, and that your body is going to need a number of them. Going under your daily calorie balance is a way to lose weight, though you will eventually kill yourself this way. Calories are the fuel your organs need to function. Keep that in mind. Depending on various factors, the number you need will vary. Calculators exist for this function. Using the math, I've worked out that to maintain my current body weight at my current activity level I need about 2200 calories per day - this is actually a bit of a high number but based on experience it's rather accurate. Also in my experience, going more than 20% below your maintenance caloric intake leads to immediate and readily-felt energy problems.

The first group of actual nutrients worth discussing is what people commonly refer to as protein - protein is actually absorbed into the body as amino acids, some of which the body can produce naturally from other materials and some of which you must obtain from a dietary or supplementary source. Amino acids can be found in anything that was once alive - animal or plant - and their general composition and balance is just as important as the gross protein intake, which should be at about .5 grams per pound of body weight (I know, I hate that formula too), assuming you are reasonably fit and active. The more active you are (which is to say, the harder you train), the more you will need, and it's best to get them from a variety of sources. The next article will go into proteins in detail.

After that, one supposes, come your carbohydrates, of which there are simple and complex varieties. The main use of carbohydrates is bumping up the caloric intake of a given meal. Accordingly, the main carbohydrate source in any meal or snack is going to be the "starchy" component - the bread, pasta, potatoes, rice, or what have you, though I throw a gigantic asterisk after this because all foods contain them to one degree or another.

What follows of course are the Vitamins and Minerals that are ultimately trace elements in your diet, typically measured in mg doses or smaller, which your body uses for various functions.

Expect to see the next article, protein, very soon, and remember  - potatoes are dietary grains!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Value of the Safety Valve

My life feels like it does this on a daily basis.
Whether it's a biproduct of some hitherto-undiagnosed anxiety disorder or simply a facet of my usually-manic nature, I'm never quite sure I have a handle on things, and the instant it appears I do not I have a tendency to panic. And while I can stave off the worst effects of that sort of panic by either focusing on the immediate task at hand or forcing a prayer, nothing that gives my mind a few extra seconds of clarity actually stops the physical symptoms of the panic. To see me wide-eyed and flush is to see me working 99 shifts of 100, and it's not necessarily because I'm bad at my job.

It's actually a compounding issue of mine: I hate changes of plan and I can't read people. Accordingly, being told we're running out of X often sounds more accusatory than advisory and no amount of reminding myself that there's laws of thermodynamics that define the maximum speed at which I can cook something seems to stave off the feeling that the person asking for the chicken strips or ~90gram beef patties feels like I'm not doing my job well enough.

Fortunately the typical reaction after the fact is to laugh at the panic and congratulate myself for a job well done, but even then, it takes the more enjoyable parts of my job (those rare facets where I'm actually transforming food into edible food) and attaches to them a cost - I'm free to work my favourite positions of the kitchen whenever possible, but I'm going to shred my heart and stress my brain in doing so.

And, ultimately, that's perfectly fine. Something we have to remember is that, unless you believe in perfect predestination, nothing is under control. The universe is a messy and chaotic place and the unpredictability of quantum mechanics is enough that even the most brilliant of human minds could not perfectly plan out fifteen minutes, let alone a whole day. Moreover, business is a balancing act in which you must carefully ensure you have just barely enough staff to get the job done without having so many persons on board that people can stand around during a rush and waste time.

The trick, in my view, to managing the stress from your Really Fun Job, is to play at least as hard as you work. And it doesn't matter whether you're heaping on hours in the book room, logging some screen time, or whatever it is you do - just make sure you keep the house in order too.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Gentleman has a Freezer - Return of Food Posts

I seem to have a thing for larger appliances - first there was the 55 gallon fish tank, and now there is the deep freeze.

Okay, granted, the deep freeze is not mine. But it's there, and it's big, and there's more than enough room for the four of us to share equitably.

As you know, I like to make as much as I can get away with from scratch - lord knows given time, space, and energy, I'd probably even cultivate at least a few of the vegetables. This is time consuming though, and I'll be the first to admit that I, like many people, am the first to shrug off eating entirely some days, if eating is much more complicated than "set it and forget it."

The solution to this for most people is to load up on pizza pockets and kraft dinner. For me, though, I like a little more control, and so I have endeavored to freezer cook for a time.

It'll be a few days before I can start in earnest, but I hope to share a few recipes with you, once I get them nailed down. For comparison's sake, I'll work out the actual per-serving costs too, and compare them to the local prices for commercial equivalents, should they exist.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Pride of the Worker: Lessons from a Month of Flipping Burgers

While I would like to spend some time writing about a few political issues, gloating about the olympic hockey results, or excoriating on the virtues of this or that field of scientific research, I've had this idea knocking around in my head for weeks, and I feel like it's time to give vent to it so that I can carry on about my business - these days, pretending to go to space and building laboratories to Mad Science. As I announced a while back, I'm actually gainfully employed now (though the gainful part of this is arguable, as I've unfortunately accumulated quite a bit of debt in the process of becoming gainfully employed). As it turns out, and true to my own self-justification for accepting the position in the first place, working in the fast-food industry has quite a bit to offer anybody willing to learn.

Before I begin, I have to explain learning, since it seems to be a foreign subject to some. Learning is not the process of being taught, even if being taught makes learning naturally more easy than otherwise. The lessons of fast-food, both those that apply to my stated goal of real-food and life in general for the rest of you, don't come in the training period, at least not with instructions, high-lighters, and a test afterward. If I can shamelessly crib John Green:

"The test will measure whether you are informed, engaged, and productive citizen of the world, and it will take place in schools and bars and hospitals and dorm rooms and in places of worship. You will be tested on first dates, in job interviews, while watching football, and while scrolling through your Twitter feed. The test will judge your ability to think about things other than celebrity marriages, whether you'll be easily persuaded by empty political rhetoric, and whether you'll be able to place your life and your community in a broader context. The test will last your entire life, and it will be comprise of the millions of decisions that, when taken together, will make your life yours. And everything, everything, will be on it."

Okay, so most of you probably know that I am a generally explosive person. If my internet rhetoric wasn't a clear enough hint I can be a little firey, I'm relatively certain that I've actually said as much. And therein lies the first lesson of Fast Food. No matter your level within the company or the faults involved, every problem, every situation is transient. It exists no matter who is responsible for it existing and its resolution is straightforward and out of your hands. Chicken takes X minutes to deep fry correctly. A 4-oz beef patty will take so many seconds to cook, and you can toast a bun only as fast as you can toast a bun. This is not an excuse for actual laziness or inattention and it certainly doesn't remove any fault that may happen to fall upon you - but it is an escape from the stress of being faulted.

The X minutes it takes for Product A to cook have long been a particular annoyance of mine when I am waiting for something. In cooking in general, fast-food or otherwise,  proper preparation is essential to serve customers in a timely fashion, and failure to be properly prepared is only compounded by the realization that everyone is waiting on you to finish Product A so that they can make Order 1. Understanding, however, that the delay is simply how that goes, alleviates a great amount of the pressure.

And, related to the same observation, the place you lay the blame in a team setting does not have any impact whatever on fixing the problem at hand, at least not in the immediate term. To keep the Fast Food theme going, if the counter staff suddenly shout back into the kitchen with, "I need an Artery Clogger Y", and your response is "No you don't, I made everything you rang in!", that doesn't change the fact that counter needs whatever they asked for. They may have dropped it, you may have missed it, it might have been given to the wrong customer or labelled improperly or whatever. The time you take to argue about why they don't have whatever they have is a waste of energy and good attitude, not to mention time, since you probably won't be making what you're missing while you're arguing about whose fault it is. Counter genuinely needs whatever they just asked you for. Send it up there. If a customer calls back and says "Hey, my asperagus was undercooked" and you're responsible for cooking the asperagus, the correct response isn't to puff out your chest and state that your asperagus is perfect and anyone who wants it more thoroughly cooked must be mental. The correct response is to overcook the damn asperagus and feel silently, silently mind you, responsible for knowing how to enjoy the vegetable properly.

No amount of prior preparation can make up for communication in the kitchen - if you find yourself in a position of preparation for another person's position, no matter how on point you think they are, encourage them to keep you posted on how much of what they have. Since you probably can't hold a dozen or more items in your head all at once, and prepare them all, and keep an eye on every order that comes in to mentally subtract from the amount you have prepared already, encourage them to tell you when they are out of chateaubriand or frisee lettuce or tennis balls or whatever. And likewise, if you are in a position where you have a prep cook, call your levels.

Please and Thank You are the equivalent of fuel additives - you get no extra speed or responsiveness from your team compared to shouting, but it runs that much the cleaner.

Similarly, nobody can multitask... unless you're playing with timers. The timer is a friend of yours and you should entertain the idea of using it. I've gone from being able to do one thing at a time to (functionally) being able to do about as many as I have timers for, just by overlapping the tasks. That'll be a keeper when I open the restaurant, though I'll have to make them something less annoying - I'm thinking open kitchen.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

A Work in Progress

The new, and temporary, bedstudy.
Howdy gang!

Alright, as promised, we're going through some changes here on the blog, and I thought I would take a moment to walk you through the changes being made in greater detail than I've been hinting at in the past.

The first major change, which some of you might have noticed from the link up in the tab-bar, is the addition of an affiliates page. This is not, as is the norm in a blogging world largely controlled by Tumblr, a list of websites I like... well, two exceptions to that, sort of. You'll see when you go there. Instead, the affiliates page is a list of sites directly affiliated with this one and with each other, mostly by virtue of all being largely overseen, edited, written, and otherwise made to function as websites by yours truly. So that's up there in the tab bar if you are interested.

The next change is to go so far as to say that I cannot possibly keep doing everything I have been doing at A&G being put out by one website. A few posts ago I mentioned the kind of material I intend to keep posting here and that has yet to change. What IS changing is that I will no longer be posting here solo. Over the next few days I hope to be able to name names, but expect to hear about one or two extra authors being added to this little family.

Now, because of that, it's only fair if the posts that pertain only to my personal life and no broader topics get re-homed. The cooking and pet care details will also get re-homed, and those are pages I hope to ad to the affiliates list in the not-to-distant future, as time and work schedules allow. However, quite some time ago I stated that I would never delete an article, and so far that is holding true, which means that the older articles will remain here.

Hopefully, this is the last "here's some changes" post I'm going to have to do before we can get back to our regular scheduled programming. G'night and godspeed!