Joho the Blog » misc

November 25, 2015

My fling with Soylent, the scientifical "food"

I think I have some odd eating quirks. I don’t mean the fact that I’ve been vegetarian for 35+ years. It’s that I don’t like vegetables and I exhibit some possibly compulsive behavior about food.

Maybe 7 or 8 years ago (which probably means 10 years ago) I had put on a ton of weight. I had weighed 165 lbs. when I got married, but about 20-25 years later I had fattened myself up to 220+. My blood sugar control system was responding in the predictable way. My doctor diagnosed me as pre-diabetic.

So, I stopped eating things with added sugar and went on a low glycemic index diet. Over the course of maybe six months I lost about forty pounds. Even at 183 lbs., I was fat, but I was no longer a fat fuck. More like “Oh, he’s an American.” The weight loss, change in diet, and intermittent exercise dropped my blood sugar levels, and for at least the past five years they’ve been well below the diabetes threshold. I am no longer pre-diabetic. My doctor counts me as a success story.

“I got fat by eating with a child’s tastes and an adult’s permission.”I got fat by eating with a child’s tastes and an adult’s permission. Worse, if left at a table with a food that can be consumed in small amounts, I will eat one peanut or bread shred every 90 seconds until nothing’s left. Compulsively.

On the other hand, I am also very disciplined about food, which I think is just another way my compulsiveness manifests itself. So, I’ve eaten the same breakfast every day since my diagnosis. Every day. And it’s a fine breakfast: no-fat unsweetened yogurt with walnuts, sunflower seeds, and a little cut-up fruit stirred in. Every day. (I do allow myself exceptions during our two weeks of vacation.)

Dinner I eat with my wife. Weekdays she cooks. I cook on weekends. There’s a relatively small set of things we like, and that’s what we eat. A lot of it is carb heavy, but it’s just one meal a day, I eat in moderation, and my blood work says I can afford it.

But lunch has been a problem for years. I work at home these days, which means around noon I’m poking around the fridge. Egg whites have been one go-to meal, but I don’t like them all that much and they’re not very filling. A sandwich has too much bread. I like leftovers, but they’re often too carby.

So lunch is always a problem. It is why, I believe, I’ve gained back ten pounds over the years. That’s not bad given, well, everything. And I weirdly thought that I’d gained about twenty-five pounds until I finally weighed myself six weeks ago — so I apparently suffer from body dysmorphism also.

I needed to address lunch.“ I decided to use my compulsive personality as my secret super-power.” I decided to use my compulsive personality as my secret super-power.

I had been reading about Soylent, a perfectly engineered food replacement (or thus is the goal). I like the idea of a community of food hackers arguing about exactly which micro-ingredients are needed. Soylent is a commercial company offering its version. With version 2.0, it comes in convenient liquid form, shipped in plain white bottles. Four hundred calories. Glycemically ok, according to the site.

I have found my lunch.

You can apparently live on Soylent. Five bottles a day gives you 2,000 perfectly-balanced calories. (That’d cost you about $12.50/day, although you could make your own for far less.) But I’m just looking for a repetitive, never-think-about-it, healthy-enough lunch. So, “I’ve been drinking a bottle of Soylent every day”I’ve been drinking a bottle of Soylent every day between 12:00 and 12:30 in the afternoon.

Someone on Reddit, I think, described the taste well: It’s like the milk after you’ve eaten the Cheerios. I hate milk because it comes from inside cows, and Soylent is a little too close to how I remember milk tasting. So, I’ve been mixing it with a tablespoon of Hershey’s dark chocolate baking power (10 cals) and one packet of fake sugar. I actually look forward to it.

Yes, I know egg whites come from inside chickens, which makes me squeamish both because of the cruelty with which even “free range” chickens are treated, and because it is a slimy fluid that comes from inside a chicken. But I am a hypocrite, so shoot me. (I like honey even less because it comes from inside a bug. I’ve seen the insides of bugs. How does anyone eat that?)

Soylent is not intended to be a weight-loss product. A bottle has more than twice the calories of a Nutrisystem shake. But I have in my life done Nutrisystem and it’s deeply unsatisfying. One of their shakes doesn’t last long enough, and it’s jacked with fake everything. “Nutrisystem is jacked with fake everything”Soylent is, I’m pretty sure, actually good for me. And it keeps me going until around 4pm, when a half an apple will take me the rest of the way to dinner. Since starting on Soylent, I’ve lost 8 pounds, getting me close to where I plateaued when I did my big weight loss after the pre-diabetes diagnosis.

Although Soylent is definitely not a low-carb “food,” my blood sugar seems to be doing well with it. I’ve seen no spikes in my home tests after a Soylent lunch. Obviously, your blood sugar mileage may vary.

I’m not tempted to replace more of my meals with Soylent. One a day seems to be doing the trick for me, keeping in mind that I was looking for a way to be more compulsive about eating.

Soylent: The perfect non-food for compulsives! (, you can have that tagline for free.)

No, I will not be having Soylent tomorrow, Thanksgiving, for lunch. I may be slightly compulsive, but I’m not crazy. (Of course, I won’t be having turkey either.)

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, y’all!


November 18, 2015

Quiet blog

This has been one of the longest stretches of non-blogging for me since I stopped blogging every freaking day in around 2010.

In part it’s because I’ve been traveling — to Mexico City for a library conference I blogged about, to Penn State for a talk at the new and really interesting Center for Humanities and Information, to Atlanta to talk at a Deloitte internal Knowledge Management get-together. (I’ve decided to mention my speaking more often in my blog to remind people that this is something I do. For the past twenty years I’ve barely ever mentioned it because it felt like bragging. It still does. Sorry.)

But it’s not really the traveling that’s kept me non-blogging. It’s that I’m in a weirdly hyperactive brain state. There’s too much to think about. Some ideas I’ve been trying to nail down — or, more exactly, tie to other ideas and wrangle into words — have kept my brain from settling. I’ve been doing a lot of writing, but almost all of it is fodder for re-writing.

Mainly what I’ve been thinking about is the way in which our idea of how the future works has been changing under our noses. I’m getting very close (I hope) to having a book proposal on that topic. But I’m not there yet. The ideas feel like they almost work together, but they don’t yet. Maybe they won’t ever. Maybe they’re bad ideas. Most of my ideas are, and some would say they all are.

It’s a weird state, waiting for a phase change.

I’ll let you know.

In the meantime, here’s something encouraging about the world.


November 11, 2015

Unlocking Keynote's hidden frames

For some reason, Apple Keynote continues to ship with many more frames than it lets you use. (Frames are called Picture Frames when you click on the Border dropdown menu in the Format panel.) You can get Keynote to list these hidden frames if you’re willing to mess around with a file that might break Keynote.

Please nod your head to indicate that you’ve read and understood the above warning.

The first thing to do is to find the hidden files. For Keynote 6.6 (the latest version), they’re here:


To get there you have to select Keynote in your Applications folder and right-click on it, or do what you have to in order to get the popup menu. Choose “Show Package Contents” and navigate to the Frames folder.

Screen capture of frames UI

In that folder is a file named FrameInspectorLayoutInfo.plist. Make a copy of it as a backup and put it some place safe.

Nod your head to indicate that you have done that. I mean it.

Open the original of that file in a text editor of your choice. (If you’re comfortable editing plists in Xcode, use that. It’s easier.) This is an XML file that lists all the frames that will show up when you choose Picture Frame from the Border dropdown. (To see them, you have to click the tiny triangle to the right of the thumbnail view Keynote provides of the Picture Frame you’ve chosen.)

You can see the available frames in the Frames folder in Finder where you found the file you’re currently editing. To add a frame, you add it to the list called “Asset Scales” that is the first half of the file, and you add it again to the list called “Display Order” that is the second half. But you add it differently in each.

Asset Scales expects an entry of this form:

<key>Spiralbook Creme</key>

Please note that I DO NOT KNOW WHAT THAT SECOND LINE MEANS. So I’ve just been copy-pasting it and replacing the name of the frame. It does not work for some frames (e.g., Venetian 3), which results in a blank spot in the menu of available frames…but if you click on that blank space, for some of them you get the frame anyway. In the sample file I’m providing, I have not included any frames with that problem. (Asset Scales probably specifies how to display the thumbnail version of the frame. It just doesn’t work for all of them, and I don’t know why.)

The Display Order list does what it sounds like: it controls the order of the layout of the thumbnails you can choose from. It does not have to be the same as the order of the frames in the Asset Scales list. It expects entries in this form:

<string>Spiralbook Creme</string>

Make a typo and you’ll have a blank spot where a thumbnail is supposed to be, and that blank spot won’t do anything.

Now save the file; it will likely ask you for permission first. Reload Keynote. Enjoy your new frames.

I’m posting a version of the replacement file here. I’ve only added about half of the frames so far because I’m lazy. I’ll add more over time.

Nod your head if you agree not to blame me for screwing up your Mac.

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November 8, 2015

"Bridge of Spies" and Spielberg's American heroes

Bridge of Spies” continues Steven Spielberg‘s conscious (?) attempt to refashion what it means to be an American hero. It’s impeccably made, beautifully acted, and a compelling story. It’s more muted than Spielberg at his most exuberant (Jurassic Park, Jaws, Tintin), but it was a good night out at the movies.

And once again it’s Spielberg giving us the counterpoint to the cartoon heroism of Indiana Jones. It’s Spielberg being Frank Capra (e.g., Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) and Tom Hanks being Jimmy Stewart — both with a defining ambiguity. As in Schindler’s List, Munich, Saving Private Ryan, Amistad and Lincoln, to be moral is to be morally conflicted, which for Spielberg is a big step up from being right. As in Amistad and Lincoln, to be an American hero is to take the Constitutional promise of equality under the law as what binds us into a nation, and then to be conflicted about its application. In particular, it is to worry about the conflict between the rule of law that one has accepted as constitutive of the nation and the exceptional worth of every individual. It is the exact opposite of Indy facing the crazy swordmaster, shrugging his shoulders, and shooting him from a distance, and walking away. Tom Hanks never shrugs his shoulders in a Spielberg movie.



By the way, when it says at the beginning that it’s based on true events (truthy spoilers here), it’s not some wild fictionalization. All the major elements are true. Knowing that makes the movie more interesting.

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October 20, 2015

How the Berkman Fellows program works

The Ford Foundation was wondering what it could learn from the success of the Berkman fellows program, and Berkman asked me to write it. It’s titled “Fifteen Lessons from the Berkman Fellows Program,” and it’s just been posted [pdf].

And, yes, as someone on the Berkman mailing list pointed out, we should have done this in listicle form, adding “And #6 will change your life!”

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October 19, 2015

Seven questions for Chock Full o’ Nuts

  1. Who buys this?

  2. Why did I buy it?

  3. Why would any major store give it shelf space?

  4. Can someone please get its lying jingle out of my head? (“Better coffee a millionaire’s money can’t buy.”)

  5. Can someone please get its bitter tastelessness out of my mouth?

  6. In ten years when I am about to give it another try, would someone please send me a link to this post?


Photo linked to a 404 page at WNYC by Sheri at who posted it with a CC license, saying that WNYC published it “with permission,” which doesn’t mean that it can be republished without permission, but who knows at this point? So if this is your goddamn “intellectual property” I am sooooo sorry for depriving you of all the money you were going to make from this glorious piece of work. Also, thank you.


October 16, 2015

A victory for fair use

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals today upheld the decision that permits Google Books to scan and index books to make them searchable and for data mining. The court agreed that this is fair use. It also generalized the prior court’s finding so now libraries can also scan their own collection, so long as they provide access as limited as Google Books does. Woohoo!

Here’s the surprisingly readable decision [pdf].

The Authors Guild has now vowed it’s going to appeal to the Supreme Court. But I don’t get it.

Not that this necessarily matters to the legal case, but has the Authors Guild been able to attribute any actual damage to Google Books? Their site today says:

America owes its thriving literary culture to copyright protection. It is because of that success that today we take copyright incentives for granted, and that courts as respected as the Second Circuit are unable to see the damaging effect that uses such as Google’s will have on authors’ potential income.

If Google Books hasn’t produced any visible damage so far, shouldn’t that count as evidence that “uses such as Google’s” are unlikely to damage the interests of AG’s constituency?

In a longer piece on its site, the AG says:

Google Books will indeed harm the market for books,


Further, if Google’s doing so is fair use, then it sets a precedent allowing anyone to digitize books for similar purposes, which inevitably will lead to widespread, free, and unrestricted availability of books online.

But at this point, eleven years after the beginning of the suit, shouldn’t they be able to demonstrate some of that inevitable harm? Did the prior ruling lead to any increase in the unrestricted availability of free books online?

Haven’t we tested The Authors Guild’s hypothesis?

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October 15, 2015

Samuel Butler's early technodeterminism

“If all machines were to be annihilated at one moment, so that not a knife nor lever nor rag of clothing nor anything whatsoever were left to man but his bare body alone that he was born with, and if all knowledge of mechanical laws were taken from him so that he could make no more machines, and all machine-made food destroyed so that the race of man should be left as it were naked upon a desert island, we should become extinct in six weeks. A few miserable individuals might linger, but even these in a year or two would become worse than monkeys. Man’s very soul is due to the machines; it is a machine-made thing: he thinks as he thinks, and feels as he feels, through the work that machines have wrought upon him, and their existence is quite as much a sine quâ non for his, as his for theirs.”

Samuel Butler, Erewhon, Chapter XXIV, 1872.

This is less rhapsodic than it may seem, for it continues:

“This fact precludes us from proposing the complete annihilation of machinery, but surely it indicates that we should destroy as many of them as we can possibly dispense with, lest they should tyrannise over us even more completely.”

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September 30, 2015

The miracle of the one network

The Open University of Catalania just posted a very brief article of mine about the importance of the fact that Big Data is also Networked Big Data. Upon reading it in “print” I see that I buried the lede.

The amazing thing is that the same network that connects our machines also connects us. This enables a seamless conversation: “if you can get at the data, you can get at people talking about the data”if you can get at the data, you can get at people talking about the data.

Not only does the same network connect the data and the people making sense of the data, but layers of interoperability have grown on top of it. Increasingly the data is accessible in ways that make it easier and easier for humans to mash it up. And, of course, the sense that humans make of those mashups gets expressed in ways that are interoperable for humans: in language, with links.

That we take this awesomeness for granted makes that awesomeness awesome.

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September 20, 2015

One of these things is not the same

To judge by the plaints of educators and employers the pressing danger of the republic is inaccuracy: the school-boy does not know how to add, nor the biological assistant to dissect, nor the graduate student in history to tell a story truly. We know that the daily press has little regard for truth, because every evening paper is constantly convicting every morning rival of falsehood. Public speakers make up their anecdotes and distil wrong deductions into the minds of their hearers; the records of Congress are full of speeches that were never spoken, and omit much of the raciness of actual debate.

That’s the opening paragraph of “Imagination in History” by Albert Bushnell Hart, published in 1910. Replace “every evening newspaper” with “every news medium” and to bring this paragraph up to date we’d only have to drop the assumption that there’s actual debate in Congress.

A source of consolation or a reason to despair?

Since Hart’s article’s point is that this complaint goes back centuries when it comes to the study of history. E.g.,

  • “The Middle Ages much enjoyed fabricating the ancients.”

  • “The eighteenth century is the golden age of imaginary historians…”

  • “Of the multitude of forgeries in the nineteenth century the palm goes to the French artist in vellum, Lucas, who fairly carried on a jobbing trade in spurious letters. Among the 27,000…”

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