Life Advice

I follow the crew and Adam Savage on their web site and on YouTube with reasonable regularity.  This week has been focused on the San Diego ComicCon which, while interesting in its own way, has shown me that I really have little desire to go to a ComicCon.  That said I was watching Adam and friends in their panel discussion today.  As expected most questions were around Adam’s Myth Busters experiences.  At the very end though, 44 minutes into the 52 minute segment, the panel all take a turn offering advice to a young woman looking to start a new vocation.  Adam Savage, Alton Brown, Chris Hadfield, Andy Weir, and Phil Plait offer their takes on what life is and how one lives it.  I couldn’t agree with them more.  Girls, pay attention…

Guess what, you’re going to die

I recently read an article called You are going to die on the website Evidence Based Fitness.  This article is a couple of years old already but I just became aware of it. It totally reflects my own philosophy.

My wife and I have been rolling our eyes at food studies for years already, ever since the saccharine studies.  For those unaware of these, the studies “proved” saccharine caused cancer. In reality, to consume as much saccharine as they pumped into the lab rats to cause cancer you would have to drink a diet soda every six minute for the rest of your life.  Now decades later saccharine is back. I have looked sideways at these studies ever since.

I am a proponent of eating naturally. Evolution got us here, so eat like your body was built to.  We are omnivores. Eggs would have been a valuable foodstuff to Caveman Mel. No, he wouldn’t have eaten 6 a day, every day.  He could never have gathered that many.  Simple.

Same with meat.  Meat has been a major component in Hunter Gatherer Mel’s diet.  Sorry to hurt anyone’s vegan, veggie, PETA feelings but that is the reality.  Humans eat meat.  Your body was built to process meat. It’s not a bad thing and removing meat from your diet is unnatural.  Yes, you can do it, but you are not eating the way you were constructed to.  Luckily for you humans are adaptable omnivores.  

I also relate to the comments the author makes about life length and life style.  Length of life is unimportant for me.  I can’t control it, it is a complete unknown, and the even someone with the “healthiest” lifestyle could be hit by a bus tomorrow.  What IS important is quality of life.  You like hiking in the outdoors? Then getting in shape is a natural part of your quality lifestyle. You’ll be happier when you can get to the top of that hill.  

The message I most appreciated is stop fretting.  If nothing else your physical health will be better as a result of your better mental health. 

You’re going to die, get over it already.

Economics of buying versus renting music

If you could go through my listening history for the past few days you would see this

Daytime working music:

  • Opera (Songza)
  • Marathon Dire Straits session (Deezer)
  • Vallenato and grupero (Deezer)
  • 50’s UK  (iTunes radio)
  • Kraftwerk and Jean Michel Jare (Rdio)

Evening vegging tunes:

  • Standup routines (Sirius Radio)
  • Guitar covers (YouTube)
  • Folk roots (Songza)
  • Radio plays (Sirius Radio)

Conspicuously absent is any music played from my actual owned collection.  All of my listening has been streaming service based.  Hmm.  So I have several hundred albums in a shelf on the wall or stored in media players and I listen to none of it.  

My brother and I are both using subscription based services.  He is an Rdio user and I am trying Deezer.  It’s a tough call between them.  Very similar user interfaces, almost identical libraries.  It may come down to pricing, in which case Rdio has an edge with their family plan.

I’ve always shied away from these services  in the past because I hated having nothing when you end your subscription. Let’s do some math.

Say I have 300 CDs and I paid an average of $20 for each. I have made a $6000 investment in music.  Average monthly subscription fee in Canada is $10. If I had spent my money on subscriptions I would be able to be a member for 600 months for the same money.  That’s 50 years!  That’s essentially a lifetime.  And my library is 25 million songs, not 1200 like it is on CD. 

Pretty compelling I think.  Especially when I look at what I actually do when I listen.  It’s not pulling out a disc, it’s not even firing up iTunes to play a song out of my library.  

Now I just need to decide which one. I have a grandfathered lifetime Sirius subscription but Sirius has its place, and it’s not for everything.  It needs to be something I can call up an artist on demand, not just curated playlists.  Same issue with Songza; useful and I use it too but again, it has its place.  Actually, Songza place seems to be my woodshop.  Not sure why that is…

Spotify is the favorite of many but I’ve tried it and sorry, can’t stand the interface.  Soundcloud is just the new MySpace.  Good to go there to look for new non commercial artists but it can’t be the main option.  At the moment it’s either Deezer and Rdio.

I see you…and hear you…and smell you…and…

Do a search for open office floor plans and you will get back a long list of articles and studies on how these concepts are doomed to failure.  Distractions both auditory and visual are the main problems identified, but personality and work styles are equally important reasons. They are acknowledged productivity killers.  Yet despite all the press around how it doesn’t work companies continue to adopt open offices.

Mine too I’m afraid.  I lose my office in two weeks.  I lose my walls.  I lose my view over the river valley.  I lose my discussion side table and guest chair.  I lose most of my office furniture.  I get instead six feet of work surface, a chair, and 42″ walls.  With a moderate lean I sit within handshaking distance of five other people.  It would be six, but one workspace is vacant.


There is no complaining about it. There is no changing the decision.  This train has left the station.  My colleagues and I are resigned to trying to make the best of it.

I can take some solice in the fact that over my 30 odd years on the job I have had some of the best office space in the company for at least half of the time.  I would argue at times I had the best office in the company, including the president’s.  A bit smaller maybe but when you considered the location, the views, the amenities, I definitely had some great offices.  Even the president never had a pool table just down the hall like I did for a few years.  A little yin for the yang maybe.

Invest an hour into your psyche

I just finished reading the graphic novel Daytripper after seeing it on one of those “top 25 you must” lists a friend sent me.  I will not repeat what everyone else has already said.  There are far better reviews in the interwebs than I could do.  I will say I agree with them.


I hope to discuss it in more detail with this friend, and I am curious to see if he took the same thing from it I did.  I need to read it again before we have that talk.  I have so many thoughts I can’t yet put into words.  My response to the book was more emotional than intellectual. I felt it rather than understood it. Not sure if that makes sense or if it just makes me sound like a loon.

I guess what I mean is I know what I took away from the book but I could not say if it is the same thing the authors intended or the same as most others.  The description that keeps coming to mind is second derivative –  I am reacting not to the obvious message but to the implications of the message.

Yeah, I know, this is making no sense.  Go read the book.  After you read it play this tune and reflect on what you read and what you take from it.  Trust me, it will be worth it.

Skype Translation Halfway There

I watched the Microsoft video on Skype’s new Translator feature.  According to Microsoft it is a big leap in voice translation, thanks to the move to deep neural networks for speech recognition.  The video shows a German and an English speaker having a Skype call and Skype translating and synthesizing the speech in their respective native language.  All very cool and as the video states all very Star Trek.

It made me think about the speech recognition technologies I presently use.  Anyone who has access to such services has probably at one point shared a laugh with a friend or coworker over the latest voice to text faux pas.  Who hasn’t heard “Hey, look at what <insert service provider / technology brand name here> thinks you said”  They can be as hilarious as auto-correct mistakes on your cell phone.

I sure hope that the new Translator feature performs more reliably.  Can you image watching the the screen and seeing the reaction of the person you are talking to when Skype translates your  “mountain biker and trails” to “mountain biker entrails”.  In English you can easily see the mistake, but in German it is not so obvious -> “mountainbiker und wanderwegen” becomes “mountainbiker eingeweide”.

What struck me the most in the video was the apparent lack of progress in speech synthesis.  It sounds like they are still using the same voice engine that shipped with Windows XP.  This alone makes me look slightly askance at the new feature.  A sexy new thing like real time voice translation really deserves a better speech engine than that.  Something that sounds a bit more lifelike.  It really is not that much better sounding than the phone based technology we had in the 1980’s. Anyone else remember trying to program a Heathkit HERO robot to talk? No, just me?  Well, never mind then.  Cool stuff in the 80’s, lame today.

Archie is Killed??

Archie Andrews is going to be killed off this summer in the Life with Archie series, after which the series will end.

Not sure what I think about that.  I never read the Life with Archie series.  It is his life as an adult, after the high school years.  It is purposely made as a hypothetical storyline.  I didn’t read it because I am not interested in how his character develops and changes over a multi-year or in this case multi-generational story.  I understand that after a while writers run out of ideas and start to look for ways to open up new subplots.  I think that is why shows sometimes die a slow death.

Adding new characters into an ensemble cast rarely works to revitalize a show.  Yes there are exceptions, Law and Order being a perfect example.  The reason that works is because the show’s formula does not change as the actors do.  They follow the same basic building blocks when developing new scripts.  When I sit down to watch I know what I am getting, and I like that or I wouldn’t be turing it on in the first place.

Cases where it doesn’t work are when you take an existing character and change their behaviours in an attempt to show “growth”.  Seriously, nobody wanted to see Ross and Rachel EVER get together.  It would break one of the fundamental chemistries in the show.  Spin offs often fail for the same reason.  Archie Bunker without Edith was, well, not Archie Bunker.  You could have made up an entirely new character to own the bar and wrote the same scripts.  Making it a spin off was just a cheap marketing ploy looking to leverage the brand.

Far better to end a show on a high note than to change it too much.   Leave us wanting more and let the show run in syndication for decades.  Seinfeld, The Closer, even Faulty Towers all ended at or near their peak viewership.  The Closer wrapped up when it was cable TV’s highest rated drama.  We’ll have to see whether the spin off (Major Crimes) is a success.  I believe it will be as the writers seem to be holding true to the character’s personalities and the original’s formula.

Back to Archie Andrews.  Archie is supposed to be all about the high school years.  It is the jalopy, the malt shop, the getting in trouble with Mr. Lodge.  A grown up Archie is not Archie,  its some other guy who only looks like Archie.  So go ahead and kill the doppelgänger.  As much as I think getting killed is out of place in an Archie comic, you should have never created grown up Archie in the first place.


New Tunes

Since Apple included streaming internet radio as part of iTunes I have switched my habits as they relate to workplace music.  I used to spend most of my time at work on Songza or directly plugged into the streams of a couple of my old favorites like Radio Paradise. At home I use Sirius Radio or Songza depending where I am and what I am doing.

At work iTunes has now become the main source.  Especially two stations from Ireland. Both of these are labeled as Golden Oldies, one for 50’s songs and one for 60’s songs.  What I really like the best about them is they tap into  the recording industry practice at the time of having many artists record the same song.  These stations play many of the songs you all know and (hopefully) love but as recorded by other artists than we expect.  How about Unchained Melody but by Jimmy Young instead of The Righteous Brothers?  

The second aspect I like about these stations are they play songs from artists we are more familiar with but songs that never really made the North American charts. Lots of UK charted songs that many listeners here will not know.  It’s kind of like one of my other favourite pastimes, random Youtube surfing.  You never know what you will find next to broaden your net horizons.