2011 03 02

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Contents

Feature Cast for 2011-03-02

(00:00:17.070) Intro

(00:02:30.042) Listener Feedback

  • mettaben about wider implications of post-peak resources
  • bram curious about Freedom Box
    • I know I threw the idea out there but it was really off the cuff
    • Right now, the reason we have data centers is economy of scale
    • A rack of machines can support more users because each uses the resources intermittently
    • I think if the Freedom Box could offer similar economies
      • Then it might be a viable alternative
    • It would have to take on as much computing in the home as possible
    • Not just obvious end user tasks, but if it replaced set top boxes, home automation
    • Conversely, it may offer more opportunities not viable at the data center
      • Mostly I am thinking of it tapping into distributed home power generation
      • Based on something like solar, geothermal or home scale biofuels
  • Craig on Google Boat
    • Very much appreciate that info, wasn't obvious from the stories I read
    • If high speed bandwidth to sea steads is doable, why aren't we building them yet?
    • Heat dissipation would be trivial
      • As well as on site energy extraction, either as a variant on geothermal
        • But applied to a deep water column beneath the data center
      • Or extracted from tidal motions
  • Jed had too much to say for me to comment
    • Suffice to say he's thrown a whole bunch more ideas at me
      • In addition for his gratitude for the notions I did consider
    • I may stew on his further suggestions and re-visit the topic later

(00:10:12.236) Hacker Word of the Week: flag

(00:10:57.864) Inner Chapter: Health

  • Listener Jed asked me a while ago for my thoughts on health and exercise
    • From a hacker perspective
    • The activity, or rather physical non-activity, of Hacking presents certain implicit risks
    • Traditionally, it is a sedentary pursuit requiring long stretches at a desk
    • This is exacerbated by the attainment of flow and the strong pull of deep hack mode
    • Many hackers share an ability to sustain focus for extremely long periods of time
    • I wouldn't say that this is an entirely voluntary phenomenon
    • As problem solvers, we often get drawn in by an intriguing puzzle
    • It isn't so much an exertion of will to keep peering at some source code
      • But rather being snared by some gnarly pieces of a potential solution
        • That tease us by being not quite coherent, always begging for a few more edits
          • One more compile
    • The end result is we probably spend more time sitting than we often realize
    • Frequently this is accompanied by mindless eating
    • I don't necessarily mean over-eating but rather eating in a way
      • That presents the least interruption to flow
      • And provides enough fuel, regardless of nutritional quality, to keep going
    • Increasingly medicine is illuminating how much of a recipe for disaster this pattern is
    • Our bodies need movement to stay healthy, to keep up our circulation and metabolism
    • There has even been shown some links between overly sedentary lifestyles
      • And certain forms of cancer
    • The consequences of poor diet should be obvious
      • In terms of a tendency towards obesity and even adult onset diabetes
    • There are likely even longer range effects that are more subtle
      • Such as increasing the risk of heart disease and worsening other conditions
        • Arising primarily from poor exercise habits
  • It is unfortunate that our baseline often ill equips us for additional stresses
    • If we could be left alone to sit and code, the risk would be bad enough
      • But perhaps manageable, at least to a point
    • The reality is that whether we program professionally or as part of a FLOSS project
      • We are exposed incidentally and inevitably to any number of additional stresses
        • With which we have to cope, often at further expense to our health
    • Code can be utterly unyielding as opposed to human situations
    • Stress induced by a coworker, manager or collaborator
      • Can be deflected or managed so as not to increase burden
    • Admittedly, that is often easier said then done, depending on your temperament
    • Arguably the least hassle approach is to be a complete bastard
    • Ignoring any empathic twinges certainly stops the accompanying tension
    • Of course, behaving in this way may be a career limiting move
    • You may glide online with a minimum of emotional hassle
      • But I doubt you are going to be able to garner the support necessary
        • To back any of your decisions or get help from your peers when you need it
    • Setting aside the pathological, either those who are sociopathic
      • Or those who are high functioning autistics
      • I do wonder what the social aptitude is among hackers versus other kinds of people
    • It would be really easy to feed the nerdly stereotype about poor socialization
      • And conclude that social stresses are much greater for lack of ways to handle them
    • Stop and think about it for a minute, though
    • Coding is often an intensely social activity
      • Involving as much shared discussion in a variety of forms as solitary work
      • Whether that is in front of a white board or via a channel on IRC
    • Arguably hackers came up with the very first social games
      • Whether you go all the way back to space war or you think
        • Of the more recently first person shooters that cultivated the idea of LAN parties
    • I don't think hackers are ill equipped to handle social stress
      • Though the ways in which they do so may seem unusual to the non-hacker
    • I stand by my contention, though, that the nature of the work is often an aggravating factor
    • It is likely that any form of engineering shares this quality
    • Any pursuit where the project either works or it doesn't
      • Simply isn't going to respond to our level of frustration
        • The way collaborations that involve other human characteristics might
    • Worse, giving in to irritation may cloud judgment and make it even harder
      • To arrive at the concrete fix needed to implement some new software feature
        • Or fix a nagging bug
  • BREAK
  • I know for my own part, I hate to exercise, one of the simplest solutions to inactivity and stress
    • In the context of some research a few years back about a drug that could simulate exercise
      • I observed that I really didn't care for activity without any purpose
        • Other than to stimulate health
    • It isn't that I don't appreciate the difference between feeling well
      • And succumbing to the various complaints that arise from lack of activity
    • Quite the contrary, I think a good amount of activity each day or even just each week
      • Goes a long way towards offsetting how much time we hackers spend sitting still
    • I just don't find simple routines like running or calisthenics sufficiently mentally engaging
    • They are inherently boring and the things I prefer to do to alleviate boredom
      • Are just not compatible with being up on my feet moving
    • I don't watch a lot of television though I suspect for those who do
      • Plunking a set down in front of some exercise equipment is an attractive idea
    • Audio books and podcasts help but in an odd way the remind me
      • That I cannot do the other things, like gaming, coding or even reading a book
        • That I'd much prefer to do in order to pass the time while doing drudgery
    • As a hacker, I am also used to fairly instant feedback, even on a long term project
    • Appreciating change wrought by exercise takes so much time
      • That I often feel disconnected from the very reason I am active
    • Maybe that is a personal issue, just coming to terms with the slack in the system
      • That what I do one day isn't necessarily going to be felt that day
      • But depends on several successive days of keeping at it
    • I suspect I am not alone in this view
      • And hope to illuminate how we can perhaps better tend to our health
        • By working with our hackish tendencies
  • Many hackers do find ways to improve their health
    • It is not unusual for code monkeys to have strong outside interests
    • Many of them, like video games, are equally technology mediated
      • But sometimes the additional attractors are more physically demanding
    • There are very clearly exerciser regimens and sports
      • That offer a lot of the same attractions as coding and more technical pursuits
    • Jed mentioned biking in his original email to me
      • And I have certainly worked with many, many hackers who enjoy that hobby
    • Bicycles are not so dissimilar from computers, really, in that you can start simple and cheap
      • But can upgrade them piecemeal, based on your needs and interests
    • If you are mechanically inclined, you can even easily do much of the work yourself
    • One friend of mine is very much into competitive racing
      • And his training regimen definitely is very geeky, from my perspective
    • He utilizes sophisticated sensors and equipment that generate a lot of data
    • Working with his coach, they are able to tailor his routines
      • To work on his weaknesses and expand his strength
    • If you have the patience for that level of effort, I imagine it is intensely rewarding
    • Otherwise, there are rewards of course beyond the health benefits
    • If you are in a bike friendly area or have a transit systems that accommodates cyclists
      • You are helping to cut down on emissions and depending on oil based energy
    • I doubt biking is unique in terms of offering an outlet for interest in gadgets
      • Being able to make incremental investments and improvements
      • And offering the opportunity to apply hackish tools like data gathering and analysis
    • I do wonder how much age is a factor in what activities hackers do pursue
    • Younger folks are better able to throw themselves into rigorous endeavors
      • Ones that marry together those traits plus being intensely physically demanding
    • My friend, the competitive cyclist, is definitely on the younger end
    • Some of the other enthusiasts I've known have been older
      • So while they indulge in the gear, they don't partake of the deeper training
    • Those older hackers do seem to be more health conscious
      • Realizing that they need to do something, anything that will keep them more fit
    • I know for my part there was a space of middle years where I didn't feel that youthful zeal
      • Or that anxiety that has set upon me as I age about making sure I get enough exercise
    • Anything you undertake that will age with you is probably a good idea
      • Rather than getting so heavily into one extreme sport or another
        • That you stop the moment your body can't handle the strain
        • Or worse have an incident that damages your health where you no longer have a choice
  • BREAK
  • Focusing on the practice and technique of exercise and diet
    • Can be aided by a few simple notions
    • The trick, I think, is to find regimens that hold similar attraction
      • To your hackerly pursuits like coding, making and modding
    • I've already touched on a few that overlap in terms of hackable gear
    • Look for systems with lots of variables
      • That afford opportunity for experimentation and play
    • Pursuits that offer many levels towards mastery
      • Will also have a staying power, an ability to keep your attention
    • Anything that is technically demanding will fit this bill
    • I've focused on exercise but I have several friends that love to cook
    • I know they are as motivated by the health advantages of preparing their own food
      • As they are by the fun of exploring their creativity
        • And building a mastery at a hands on craft
    • For my own part, the one thing I've come back to most often
      • And am currently studying and practicing is Tai Chi
    • Most martial arts fit well with the ideas I am suggesting
      • But I find some of the simpler, softer styles
        • Can be less intimidating to the neophyte
        • And easier on practitioners as we age
    • I love Tai Chi in particular because it offers so much variety
    • The choreography can be performed in more and less physically demanding ways
    • Running through the form with a focus more on flow than pushing postures
      • Works incredibly well as a calming and focusing meditation
    • I have had the benefit of studying similar but more demanding styles
      • So have been able to play with my own practice
        • To figure out how to get more of a workout
    • The simple fact, though, that this one thing has inspired me
      • To develop a habit where I get ten minutes of focused activity every day
        • Says something about its attraction and staying power
    • My current teacher, in particular, has done an amazing job
      • Exposing all of the elements I can actively work on
        • Which really helps alleviate the boredom to which I am prone
    • He also has taught ways of appreciating even very subtle progress
    • I suppose that is something else to seek out, a good teacher, mentor or guide
      • Who can help you find the hackish in whatever healthy pursuits you undertake
  • Some hackers are modding their primary activity to improve its health impact
    • We have a couple of exercise balls in our workspace
      • Brought in by some of the more health conscious folks
    • As I understand it, sitting on an inflatable ball instead of a chair
      • Actively engages your core muscles pretty much continuously
    • I don't know if you could get to a point where you use such a ball all the time
      • Or if like other exercise getting up to just a set amount a day is enough
    • It seems to me it would be a fairly undemanding change
      • If you need to start some place simple and cheap
    • The fact that it doesn't require time away from your desk is a big attraction
    • I've read about people who take this idea much further
      • Investing in standing desks or even treadmill desks
    • I don't know if these are really any better than a simple exercise ball
    • Wouldn't it really be better to just schedule an exercise break?
    • Regardless, it definitely evinces that hackish mindset
      • Of looking at what otherwise might be seen as a limitation or liability
      • And finding a clever, elegant way to turn it on its head
        • And realize an unexpected but very really benefit

(00:30:13.086) Outro

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