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Quotations

06 Mar 2015

Quotation marks were first cut in the middle of the sixteenth century, and by the seventeenth, some printers liked to use them profusely. In books from the Baroque and Romantic periods, quotation marks are sometimes repeated at the beginning of every line of a long quotation. When these distractions were finally omitted, the space they had occupied was frequently retained. This is the origin of the indented block quotation.

(From The Elements of Typographic Style)

Joylent

Created: 05 Feb 2015

Modified: 13 Jul 2015

Last Friday I received my first batch of Joylent, which is like Soylent, only the J stands for “Europe.” I’d ordered the “variety pack” with 15 meals, which means 5 bags with differently flavored powder: vanilla, banana, chocolate, and strawberry.

I was one of the people who fell in love with Soylent when it was still a Kickstarter and you couldn’t order it yet, not even in America. I can enjoy food in a social setting, and there are some things that taste pleasant, but generally, I’m not a big fan of food. Some people find cooking relaxing — I find it emotionally draining. There are too many things going on, you have to be careful not to touch anything or you’ll burn your fingers, and the food will get horribly burned, too, if you stop stirring for half a second. Hence I just end up eating toast with cheese or Nutella or something, 99% of the time, and then I keep biting the inside of my mouth instead of the food, so everything tastes like blood anyway.

If drinking three glasses of gray liquid every day could make all that go away and the only price was that it didn’t taste as exciting? That would be fantastic.

So I opened the first package, vanilla, and took in the kind of un-vanilla-y smell of the enormously large quantity of powder. If you’re used to two spoons of protein powder in ≈450ml of milk or water, this will be a bit of a shock. And it doesn’t just look like a lot of powder, you can tell while you’re drinking it, too, because there’s not enough water to dissolve it all. I’m not going to lie: the first mouthful of that stuff was really disgusting. But I didn’t let that stop me.

While I continued to drink and did my best not to throw up all over the kitchen table, my hunger did start to fade, though I did eat other stuff as well because let’s be serious, 2100 calories for a full day? I haven’t tracked this with great accuracy, but I’m pretty sure I can eat at least 2500 calories and still lose weight.

Trying the next flavor, banana, on the second day, I realized my initial disgust may have been due, in part, to the fact that vanilla flavored Joylent tastes infinitely worse than any of the other kinds. Banana is better, chocolate is better still, and strawberry is about the same as chocolate. Of course it still feels like mud, but I got used to that surprisingly quickly.

My digestion wasn’t super excited about this whole experiment, but as long as I ate some solid food at some point during the day (which I was doing anyway, lest I starve) it seemed to work out fine. Also, it’s not like my digestion is super excited about anything. Maybe I should see a doctor about that. Okay, before everyone starts shouting “TMI, TMI!”, let’s move on to something more fun.

Things you can do to put more joy in Joylent

  • Mix it with orange juice. Seriously, this is amazing. (I tried this with vanilla or banana, if I remember correctly.)
  • Put the protein powder you still have lying around in so you get more protein, better taste, and more calories at the same time. This way, after the gym, instead of drinking a protein shake and eating dinner, you can combine both into one!
  • Put the Joylent in the fridge for an hour before you drink it. I feel like this helps dissolve the powder better, or masks the powdery texture more, but this may be a placebo. In any case, it’s much more pleasant to drink it cold than lukewarm.
  • Mix in some flavored soy milk. I like to put chocolate soy milk into chocolate Joylent.

These were just the things I tried in the short time where this experiment went on. I’m sure there are a million other things you can do.

So, am I going to buy more?

At first it looked very much like I wasn’t even going to finish the 5 bags I had bought, but as soon as I went back to normal food, I started craving Joylent because the whole process just sucks so much less. First of all it’s faster to make and consume, and second of all, you know how after lunch you just want to sleep for an hour? That doesn’t seem to happen with Joylent.1 The hunger just goes away quietly after some time, while I’m still able to stay awake and think.

In conclusion, nutrition is not a solved problem, but at least I don’t have to use the toaster so often anymore.

  1. Update: After further experimentation, I have to report that, actually, it does. 

The Power of Dimensions

27 Jan 2015

I suspect the majority of people who have any use for this already know about it and use it daily, but I have only recently realized how cool this is.

You know how you always forget what the relationship between c, λ, and ν is? Like, they give you the energy of a photon and you’re supposed to calculate the wavelength? You know E = h ν, but now you have to figure out how to convert the frequency to a wavelength. Now, instead of looking the formula up on Wikipedia, how about using dimensional analysis? You write down the unit of λ, which is m, and then you only need to figure out how to construct that unit with a speed and a frequency. Speed is m s–1 and frequency is s–1, so to cancel the seconds out, you divide the speed by the frequency and get m s–1 s = m, from which you can easily see that λ must be c / ν. And you’re done.

Another good example is when you have an exponential function or a sine or cosine. You know the argument for these functions must be dimensionless, so if you’re not sure what factors you have to put into the argument, you can just keep throwing stuff in there until all the units cancel and it’ll probably be right.

Or if you want to sanity check your calculations you need only look at your dimensions. When you see a sum of, say, a length and an area, you know you’ve done something wrong.

The same applies of course to the other kind of dimension — the one in vectors. When you try to put a three dimensional vector in an exponential function, you have a problem. You’re probably missing another vector to form a dot product with. Or if you’re trying to add a vector and a scalar, again, you know you’re missing something.

It seems pretty simple, but I was surprised how useful this is once you get the hang of it.

2014. Progress

08 Jan 2015

[I’m posting this a bit late, so if you’re confused by things like “this year” and “next year,” imagine I posted this on Dec 31, 2014, 23:59:59.]

At the beginning of this year, the mere thought of speaking in front of a group of people literally scared me to death. I can now present a homework problem I have not spent a huge amount of thought on in the most sloppy way possible, be told in front of everyone that I did everything wrong, trip over something on the way back to my seat, and take it all without a sweat.

Finally, we’re making progress. Nino: 1, his brain: 0.

Apparently Facebook thinks my year was all about the celebration of grumpy potatoes.
Apparently Facebook thinks my year was all about the celebration of grumpy potatoes.

The year is coming to a close and everyone is doing yearly reviews, so I decided to create my own. I used the 8760 hours template and ended up with a text that is around 6,000 words long1 and contains pretty much everything that happened this past year, including many unpublishable details. This is a much shorter version that doesn’t have that problem and is hopefully less boring than the original for everyone who isn’t me.

The past

While 2014 was certainly not a good year, I think I can safely say it was the best one I’ve had, so far.

I learned a lot of new things, both about my field of study and about life in general, and, as I described above, I made a lot of progress on improving my mental health and confidence. I’ve managed to keep my depressive episodes to a minimum and, in an attempt to be a bit more agenty, I even moved out of my parents’ house and into a small place close to my university. On top of all that, financially, I’m in as good a position as someone without an income can hope to be.

The “not good” part of the year mostly revolved around school: In 2013 I’d discovered for the first time, that I am able to pass exams if I study enough. So, in 2014, I thought, I would just keep doing that and have the best grades in the world and everything would be amazing. After four exams I barely passed and one I postponed for another year because I was too distracted to focus, that optimism quickly vanished.

Over the course of the year I tried several techniques I read about on the internet to increase my productivity, and some worked for a while, which led me to announce numerous times to my friends and family, that I’d finally solved my productivity issues and it would all be smooth sailing from now on. Sadly, I kept being wrong. The fact that I always tried so many new things made my therapist very happy, but it was still frustrating that no lasting benefit ever came from the attempts.

The present and future

Over the last few weeks, things have been getting better again. To maintain some of that momentum, I sat down and had a good think about what I wanted to do with my life, since, maybe, having long-term goals would help motivate me to be more effective now. These are the main goals I came up with for 2015:

Studying

Wherever I choose to go after I finish my bachelor’s degree, better grades would probably increase my chances, since many schools, surprisingly, won’t accept students with bad grades. Therefore I commit to only producing grades that start with a “1,” starting next semester (that’s like an A(±), for all my millions of international readers). I’m not sure how hard this will be but I feel like my brain should be capable enough to make this reasonably possible, with some preparation.

Additionally, I will finish 10 textbooks. I don’t think I’ve ever actually read a textbook from start to finish, but this seems like a reasonable number to learn some new things. Also I think I read a similar number somewhere else so I’m sure this is a good idea.

Writing

I’m not a fantastic writer, and since it seems like writing would be a good skill to have, I’ll try to write at least 60,000 words this year and get into a habit of doing at least one pomo of writing per day. If this works well enough, I might even post more stuff on this site.

Miscellaneous

A few months ago I started doing mindfulness meditation and that was kind of fun, so I’ll try to keep doing a 10 –20 minute session every day.

In addition to that, I’ll go back to writing journals / daily reviews, and weekly reviews. I did the daily reviews for a while last year and it helped my brain stay sane, but I stopped when I figured out how to do the same without writing. Now that I’m having a more goal-oriented year, I’d like to have more content to base my next yearly review on, so I’ll start again. The weekly reviews are intended to give me more of a big-picture view and track my overall progress toward my goals. We’ll see how that goes.

Lastly, I have an extremely embarrassing habit, that I desperately need to get rid of. It looks a bit similar to this (maybe don’t click that link if you’re eating), and if I still haven’t stopped that shit by next December, I’ll give out 100 €. I’ll do a big raffle and everything. It’ll be amazing. But seriously. Why is this so hard.


And that’s it. Let’s make 2015 the best year yet.

  1. Fun fact: My review of 2014 is the longest document I have ever written in my entire life, with the second place being a school report for a 2-week internship, which was around 2,200 words. Also, the school report took me about 2 months and help from my mother to complete, while the review took me like 5 days. This is also the reason why I need to point out the enormous length of the yearly review every time I talk about it.

Kindle Typography

08 Oct 2014

For years customers have been asking, practically begging, for hyphenation and an option for left-aligned text. Now (a few weeks ago), Amazon has announced the new generation of their ereader, the Kindle Voyage. And apparently it still lacks both features. Wohoo.

Let’s talk about hyphenation first. I feel like this is the more important of the two, because you’d really want hyphenation no matter how the text is aligned. I do think that Amazon should implement auto-hyphenation, but on the other hand, I am kind of puzzled why publishers don’t provide hyphenation themselves, especially for books with lots of uncommon words, where auto-hyphenation would fail anyway. I run every book not bought through Amazon (because I’m too lazy to figure out how to break the DRM) through the hyphenation plugin in Calibre, which takes like five seconds and produces really good results that don’t interfere with search or dictionary lookups or annotations. As hard as it is to believe, it actually works — I’ve been reading hyphenated stuff every day for weeks now, and it’s amazing. The obvious trade-off is that you have to store about 500kb extra in a 5mb book, but the Kindle file format is so size-inefficient compared to epub that that shouldn’t matter anyway.

This is at font size 4, so if you're not nearly blind, you should be able to get even better results by turning the size down a step or two.
This is at font size 4, so if you're not nearly blind, you should be able to get even better results by turning the size down a step or two.

Now, about the left-alignment problem. I have to admit, I actually like justified text. I’m fine with left-aligned text on the web and on home-printed documents, but I think (for the most part) books should be justified. Especially on the Kindle — I’m not sure why — left-aligned text looks kind of weird. I’ve tried it with and without hyphenation, and I’ve always felt like I’m looking at a cheap homemade document instead of an actual book. So even now, with all the terrible, awful, hideous gaps in the text, I still kind of prefer the status quo to the “fully-justified text needs to die”-mentality you see on the web these days. Also, in my experience, with hyphenation, justified text looks perfectly adequate.

That said, it’s completely baffling to me why they don’t give users the option to choose whichever alignment they prefer. The only reason I can think of is that non-tech-savvy authors upload their impossible-to-parse Word files to KDP and Amazon isn’t confident they can detect which parts of the text should be affected by the setting and which shouldn’t. But even that doesn’t seem overly plausible.

Humanity has figured out how to make printed books look awesome. It can’t be that hard to make ebooks look okay.

Home

27 Sep 2014

It’s 21:30; I’m alone in my room. The doorbell rings, six or seven times in hurried succession. I freeze. I was about to go to sleep, but now I can’t. I put all my clothes back on, turn off the lights, and don’t move, try not to make a sound. I tell myself nothing bad is going to happen, but my pulse won’t slow down.

I wonder who is at the door. I don’t get surprise visitors. If the people at the door wanted to visit someone else in the house, they could ring their doorbell. If they lived somewhere in the building, they could use a key. The janitor doesn’t work that late, and besides, this was the front door of the house, not the door to my room. He knocks before entering my room, but he uses his key for the other door; so it’s not him, either. It’s way too late in the night for someone like that survey-woman who showed up earlier today. I contemplate using the intercom to ask who’s there, but I’m too scared. I pretend I’m not home.

A while later, I can hear the buzzing of the lock through the staircase, followed by voices and footsteps. I try not to breathe until there’s silence again. Then I wait for a few more minutes and go to bed, still afraid. My heart beats so violently I can feel it throughout my entire body.

Consciously, I know that I’m pretty safe where I am. Even when I go outside, my chances of getting into serious trouble are extremely slim. All this is just in my head. And I can live with an irrational fear of being robbed and beaten whenever I leave the house after dark, but when I can’t feel safe in my own home anymore, that’s another story. I need this one place to be my sanctuary, where no one can get to me, no matter what.

Maybe one day I’ll figure out how not to be so afraid of everything, and maybe then it’ll be okay when people ring my doorbell unannounced. But that day has not come yet. Right now, I’m scared to death every time that happens, and I can’t do anything about it—except whinge about it a lot, of course.

The Last Old Man’s Ghost Colony War Brigades

18 Aug 2014

My fanfiction/review-type-thing of the first 3 Old Man’s War books.

Spoilers.

Old Man’s War

In the beginning there was that annoying guy, but then he died, and the rest was just lots of explosions and it was really exciting.

The Ghost Brigades

“But it’s not what Jared wanted, is it?” Sagan said. “He knew his consciousness had been recorded. He could have asked me to try to save it. He didn’t.”

Then they decide to do it anyway, and Jared says, “Thank goodness you revived me. Between all the exploding things and people dying I totally forgot that my consciousness had been recorded. I thought I would have to sacrifice myself, but this is so much better!”

The Last Colony

So John talks to General Rybicki, and he’s like,

“And because you didn’t survey this planet well enough to know it has its own goddamned intelligent species, seven of my colonists have died in the last three days.”

And then the General should have said, “Oh, yea, we noticed they were here, but then we kinda forgot about them; that’s why we didn’t tell you.”

And then John should have said, “Oh, well, we’ll just forget about them, too, then,” because after that the only other occasion this comes up is when John asks Gau what he’s going to do with them and Gau says, “Meh, dunno,” and then forgets about it as well.


Other than that the books were pretty entertaining, though.