Last week’s weight: 220 lbs.
This week’s weight: 220 lbs.
De-bigulation stalled at 22% complete, due to 48-hour Taco Bell/Ben&Jerrys incident.

I’ve got a bad habit of not really eating anything (a cup of coffee, an Odwalla bar) up until it’s time to get on the train and go home at 3:10PM. By then I’m a highly-tuned eating machine and I’m ready to start yelling when I eat, like Cookie Monster: “HOMF! HOMF! AAAAARGH!” Thursday, I hadn’t really had anything at all until afternoon (dumb idea, I know), and I had 24 points to burn. Six hours later, I was on the far side of 66 points, groaning like Templeton the Rat after a trip through the fairgrounds.

Now, I’m not really ashamed of myself — I wasn’t, like, sitting in my car and crying while I ate three supersized number ten meals, or anything — but I’m starting to realize that one of the main reasons I was skinny in college was that I didn’t have any money. Now that I’m a Rich White Man with a wallet stuffed with oof, I’d better not have my eat on when I walk past Taco Bell, or I’m gonna do some damage.

Okay, my wallet isn’t really STUFFED with spondulix (except compared to college), but ten bucks is enough to halt your Weight Watchers progress for the day, and then when you bring home Ben&Jerry’s for your beautiful wife who has a cold and needs a treat — and you don’t have the iron willpower that comes from a couple days’ momentum — why then, you eat the other half of that pint of mint chocolate chip, don’t you? Yeah. Yeah, you do. And you go ahead and go for the tuna melt the next day, with the fudge brownie afterwards.

I’m reminding myself that this is a long-term project, and that these will just be blips unless I let them derail me for good. Which I hope doesn’t happen; looking at all that camping equipment that’s gone unused since 2003 makes me want to get outdoors more, and not in a puffy, sweaty, my-waistband-gets-tight-when-I-tie-my-shoes kind of way!


The “before” picture of my volcano lair. I hope.

I want to line everything up and paint numbers on the floor under each vehicle, as if it were a Secret Underground Base of Operations.
One of the most wonderful things about living in West Chester is having an honest-to-goodness garage to keep stuff in. It’s actually a separate building, the garage, which of course gives me delusions of grandeur. Yesterday, I got a chance to hang two of an eventual six shoplights, which I hope will start the process of transformation from fairly ordinary frowzy cinderblock space into the gleaming Teutonic rocket lab from Moonraker.

The contents of the garage are a promising start. Besides a lawn mower, a broadcast lawn fertilizer spreader, and several rakes, the garage currently contains:

  • Various bits and pieces (the 1946 naval searchlight tripod, the 1986 Eiki 16MM projector) for the Guerilla Drive-In,
  • A framed Dr. Cube poster from Kaiju Big Battel in 2001,
  • Neoprene, glue, two-part foam, and other bits and pieces left over from the moribund Retropod project;
  • The Ultimate Water Gun (now guns) in winter storage.
  • Kate’s Mom’s Austin Healey, which classes up any garage. Also good for stylish getaways.
  • Kate’s awesome Honda CB360T.
  • A croquet set in a flash wooden box, a wedding present from Genevieve and Francesco. (Fifty additional bragging points if your croquet set is a gift from an actual British expat.)
  • My BMW 1977 R100/7 motorcycle/sidecar outfit, which is good for stylish entrances. Right now, the gas tank is getting re-lined in Maryland. Having the tank off makes the bike look absurdly dejected.
  • Enough camping gear to outfit a brigade (a nylon-clad hippy brigade), which hasn’t seen the light of day since I last aired it out in 2003.

Once all the lights are up, the next step will be to clean everything out briefly so I can wash and maybe paint the walls. I’d love to plan some kind of event that would use all the gear simultaneously, though it’s hard to imagine how to combine camping, croquet, and a bright red Austin Healey in a way that doesn’t involve heavy, heavy drinking. Any suggestions?

The “before” picture of my volcano lair. I hope.

Make: “the brilliant John Young”

Ave Nero!  I mean, Nerd! Nos Qui wedgie-turi te Salutat!
Ahh, what better use of the “General Bragging” category? Yesterday, nerd-clique-captain Phillip Torrone of Make magazine referred to me as… excuse me while I enter a <blockquote> tag to properly set this off:

“…the brilliant John Young.”

Yes, that’s right. Make referred to me as “the brilliant John Young.” [emphasis not mine, those italics just happened, I swear.] “the brilliant John Young.” [seriously, I don’t know what’s happening, that word is just jumping off the page, all by itself.]

That’s going straight on my resume, so now I am one step closer to being in the company of giants.

Make: “the brilliant John Young”

Vote my mother in law for PA State Representative

slightly crosseyed headshots FOR JUSTICE!
My mother-in-law, Barbara McIlvaine Smith, has re-entered politics to run for the Pennsylvania State Legislature this year. Barb last ran for this position in 2004, and achieved the highest-ever share (over 45%) against an entrenched Republican incumbent with a tenure of over 30 years.

Here’s why I’m voting for Barb (and it’s not just because she’s my mother-in-law; as a million jokes attest, that can cut both ways):

  • She’s smart and reasonable. After being a Republican for 30 years, Barb switched parties when she felt like the Republican party had moved away from what she cared about: Fiscal responsibility good, partisan social agenda bad, environment and education incredibly important. I trust her to do the right thing — fight tax increases when there’s an alternative, vote to raise taxes when that’s the fiscally responsible thing to do (and I’ve seen her do both.)
  • She figures stuff out for her own damn self. She’s been on West Chester Borough Council for four years, which has all the excitement of being a dorm RA, plus you get to field all the complaints of being a department store return clerk in January. She listens patiently, then goes and checks out what the problem is. She rides around in cop cars (okay, that actually sounds fun.) She puts on a reflective vest at the crack of dawn and rides the trash truck to see first-hand what people are putting out on the curb (every politician would do this for a photo op, but Barb worked TWO FULL FREAKING SHIFTS in order to become clue-ful about what’s actually happening in the borough.)
  • In local and state politics, what I want is someone smart who will go see what the problem is, then try to do the right thing about it: take clear action when clear action can be taken, compromise when compromise is called for. It’s hard, hard work and it requires someone with a level head on their shoulders to form their own opinion, then just, you know, work on it. I have total faith that Barb will do an excellent job in Harrisburg.

You should immediately go over to her website and enter your email address to get campaign updates. Especially because Barb won’t be relying much on the Harrisburg house democratic party’s help this year, since RANT ABOUT DUMBASSES OMITTED FOR NOW.

If you’re a Republican, you should totally vote for Barb too. Barb’s more like the good old days of republicanism that you remember than the freaky-ass neocon place that the party has gotten to. This is state politics, not national — read her position on the issues, and I’m confident that you’ll find her more in line with the reasons you became an R in the first place.

Vote my mother in law for PA State Representative

Andale, mas pequeno!

Starting weight: 230 lbs
Current weight: 220 lbs
Target weight: 185 lbs
Re-de-bigulation complete
Overall debigulation: 22% complete

Okay, so far so good, I guess: I’m back on track, having reached the lowest weight I hit last year, the lowest (for me) since college. Which is definitely a qualified measure of success, since the highest weight I hit in college (216) caused me to have conniptions and embark on a three-month stairmaster crusade in order to get back to 185 then. Which I was able to do, mostly because Earlham had one of those stairmasters that looks like a pulpit where you’re actually climbing stairs and you’re up above everyone else, continually climbing climbing climbing (very evocative), which I did for 45 minutes a day for three months. So getting back to my “OMG CONNIPTION!” weight is not a bad thing, but definitely not time to start resting on my laurels yet, especially since there’s no stairmasters on Amtrak. Though I am looking for a DVD copy of the 1991 Tamilee Webb Abs of Steel video. Don’t laugh. Okay, fine, laugh, but that video was badass. Not that I’m going to do it on the train; I thought I might do it in the evening to get my metabolism up. Though the shrieks of pain might wake the baby.

Anyhow, the summer of, uh… 1994? I went to Newfoundland to help build a house with my brother Sam. Over the course of that next year, I put on a lot of weight — when I went back to Trinity the next year, I walked through the front door and the Bellows exclaimed (imagine a rolling Newfie accent) “John, my son, you look like the old Elvis!” (It’s impossible to take offense in a Newfie kitchen: nobody gives a damn what your weight is, they’re just happy to see you; you could walk through the door with a second head on your shoulders and they’d simply clap you on the back and say “Ah, John! How are you? So, what’s that rig for then?”)

Anyhow, I’ve been at the “old Elvis” weight for over ten years now, and the Union Theological Seminary entrance photo (1994, young Elvis weight) — which is also on my Citibank credit card, so I see it often — was starting to look like a distant memory. Hopefully, no more!

Andale, mas pequeno!

The Voice of Binky as philosophical muffin arbiter

The Meyers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator, which was part of the very air I breathed during my childhood, classifies personality into four binaries: (I)ntrovert and (E)xtrovert, i(N)tuitive and (S)ensing, (T)hinking and (F)eeling, (P)ercieving and (J)udging. (I’m a fairly strong INTP, which is news to nobody.)

The process of dividing things into binaries, then assigning things placements on that scale, of course, is already a pretty rationalist way of thinking about things. Like the goofy philosophy-major T-shirt: “There are two kinds of people in the world: those that think there are two people in the world, and those that don’t.” (Obligatory ThinkGeek reference)

My own philosophical schism — and by philosophical, I suppose I mean the inner framework that I use to decide what’s important to me, and how I’m going to weigh values when making choices — is kind of hung up between two places, which I’ll oversimplify here (not that I could get it right if I had the space):
The Stoics (Seneca, Marcus Aurelius): “You must control your desires! Control your desires, and you won’t live in a state of frustration and disappointment!”
The Epicureans (Epictetus) “Your desire for pleasure and tranquility is good! Arrange your life so that you can achieve this state of happiness.”

When I have a choice to make, I usually hear from both camps.

To this, I’ll add a third incredibly important formative influence from my childhood, a Roz Chast cartoon from the New Yorker (click to zoom, new window):

Okay, here’s how Binky is applied in my case. I’M HUNGRY A LOT OF THE TIME, which causes you to rethink your values. WHY am I not eating that 10-point Au Bon Pain cranberry muffin, the one right there by stairway 3? Right, so I won’t cringe when I see pictures of myself (yes, I know I am not a ham beast, but I’m not skinny, either.) But… aren’t I really being unrealistic about this weight-loss project?

“Stick to your 26 points for victory!” says my inner stoic, appearing in miniature on my right shoulder dressed like a narrow spinster in a Salvation Army uniform. “By controlling your intake of food, you control your weight, and therefore your destiny! It’s simple!” But then, in a small puff of smoke on my left shoulder comes my inner epicurean, played by Socrates from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, except he’s wearing wraparound shades and a turned-up collar like the cool kids from an eighties movie (hey, I can’t explain it either):
“Come on, you know, if you’re too hard on yourself now, you’ll just quit after a few weeks. Just eat the muffin” he says, his eyes turning into spinning whirlpools superimposed over the terminator shades: “Eat it, you know that the idea of mastery over desire is the product of an overly neoplatonic interpretation of the stoic agenda introduced by that rotter Descartes, John, and it doesn’t take into account the realities of being human.”
I start to weaken, thinking of the three dollars in my wallet that could buy that there cranberry muffin, and Socrates presses his advantage: “Haven’t I seen you reading the phenomenological work of Alison Jaggar, pointing out the dangers of nonmaterialistic dualities that don’t value or respect the needs of the corporeal body? E-e-e-e-e-at the muf-f-f-f-innn. Heidegger is here, and he says ‘eat the muffin’ too.”

Then I just think of Binky, and go “fuck it, I’m not eating that muffin.” Whew! Thanks, clown.

The Voice of Binky as philosophical muffin arbiter

No good deed goes unpunished

Starting weight: 230 lbs
Target weight: 185 lbs
Current weight: 222 lbs
De-re-bigulation in progress
Overall de-bigulation: 18% complete

So each fifty calories, or each twelve grams of fat, in a food comprises one Weight Watchers “point”, according to their sekrit formula. (I reverse-engineered their Javascript, but it turns out that you can just read their patent application.) This is an open secret; I mention it simply to be able to point out that it’s not much. A slice of bread is two points, fer Chrissakes. Bread. Two points.

The more weight you lose, the more Weight Watchers’ implacable software reduces your target point total. Just this morning, I saw the good news that my new year’s fatty assault is working so far. Hurrah! But I get the news that, were I to offend Cardinal Richielieu and get thrown in some kind of dank, nitred French dungeon, I’d now have to eat only some of the delicious crusty bread they throw into my oubliette each day, otherwise I’d come out at the end of fifty years as soft and middle manager-y as I went in.

Damn you, Weight Watchers, cruel taksmasters! Damn you, Richielieu, and your delicious crusty French bread (2 points/restaurant slice), maybe with some butter (1 point/tsp), or some olive oil for dipping (1 point/tsp)!

No good deed goes unpunished

History in real time?

So I’ve got a bee in my bonnet about creating a site that provides synchronized access to history. In other words, an RSS time machine. Today being Friday, January 6, 2006, for example, if you went to the site you could see and subscribe to any of these feeds:
Newspapers and Periodicals

  • Today in the New York Times (1905): Front page stories from the New York Times on Friday, January 6, 1905
  • …or any of these years, since these are all the years that have the same weekdays as 2006: 1905, 1911, 1922, 1933, 1939, 1950, 1961, 1967, or 1978.
  • Same deal for other newspapers, like the Friday, January 6, 1905 issue of Puck


  • “Today” in the journals of Lewis and Clark, Samuel Pepys, or Henry David Thoreau
  • The ones above have already been done (and done well), so I wouldn’t want to try and steal their thunder, but find other serially-created journals and diaries that haven’t been published. What’s out there?
  • …The daily log of my great-grandmother Anna Thomas’ grand tour in 1900? (I’d link to it, but it’s awaiting restoration from my damn-fool blundering)
  • …The journal of Marco Polo?
  • …The ship’s log of the Beagle, or Nelson’s flagship?
  • …The journal of one of the Victorian generals in the Crimean War?

Now, you might ask (I’ve already asked myself): how would this be different than the existing historical document sites out there? The short answer is: in the way you read it — in real time. Instead of going to the site and browsing all the material at once, you’d subscribe to a particular thread in your Bloglines feed (or whatever your RSS reader is) and just get the info piecemeal every day. You’d be reading in synch with the time it was created — subscribing to a periodical from history just like the original readers would. I’m wondering what it would be like to spend a year (or five years, or twenty years), living alongside a historical figure or news source.

What if you had a “headline news for today” from 100 years ago that just, you know… lived alongside you? at Westtown, we liked to go down to the microfiche collection and look up the oldest Times issues there, and laugh at the story leaders: “Man almost falls into hole!” (that’s an actual story, by the way.) I’m guessing that, at first, the stories and entries wouldn’t make any sense at all, but what if you just had that feed in your mix for a year? Would you start looking forward to see what happens to Boss Tweed? Would you worry about whether the twins are going to recover from the influenza? Would you feel triumphant when Lewis and Clark reach the sea?

I’d love your suggestions for domain names: “realtimehistory.com?” (damn, that’s taken), “synchronistory.com?” (worst. URL. evar) and especially for good candidates for publishing. I’ve added the likely candidates that I’ve been able to find through two hours of googling at this Backpack page, and would love to know about others. What would be more interesting to see — big historical events consumed in real time (“relive” the depression?) — or reading the daily life of folks whose lives were congruent to yours?

History in real time?

I am become Shiva, stubber of toes

oops: the actual command I used to munge all my files.
You laugh, when you hear the stories of the hunters who freeze to death each year, when you read that they were 100 miles from the nearest road, out there with nothing buth a cheese sandwich and a stadium blanket. “It’s Darwin at work”, you think, and pride yourself YOU’LL never do something as dumb as that.

And then you almost blow your friends’ hand off in college with fireworks, realize the monumentally stupid thing you were doing (throwing roman candle rounds by hand after — dear god — SHORTENING THE FUSES so they’ll go off in midair), and realize the series of small, “stupid with a little ‘s'” decisions that have aggregated into STUPID WITH A CAPITAL S and now you and Matt Foot (the captain of the college baseball team, and the star pitcher) are blinking at each other over Matt’s hand, which is black and smoking but totally unharmed and realizing it’s a good thing he didn’t close his fingers around the HUGE BALL OF STUPIDITY that you managed to arrive at through baby steps that were individually just pretty dumb.

So anyway, I set a shell script loose on my entire www folder, containing ten websites, WITHOUT BACKING IT UP FIRST. Like, AT ALL. “What?” you say. “What kind of an idiot are you?” Well, the kind of idiot that asked his web provider about getting backups started, was told by them that they were developing a new backup prodct, and come back in two months, so I, um… forgot all about it. “Well, schmuck”, the uncharitable among you will say, “how come you didn’t put an archive command in your daily cron jobs, which would have at least backed up everything to a different folder?” Yeah, that would have been a good idea, wouldn’t it? “Well, at least”, say those of you intent on driving it home, “at least why didn’t you FOR CHRISTSAKES BACKUP THE DIRECTORY BEFORE YOU RAN A RECURSIVE, FILE-MODIFYING SHELL SCRIPT ON IT?” Probably because it just didn’t occur to me that gawk would touch binary files as well as text files, and I certainly didn’t expect it to truncate every file in those set of folders to 4096 bytes, which is what happened. (Yes, yes, I KNOW that the reason for backups is because you have to expect the unexpected. Who knew that there would be a half-inch of slow fuse attached to three inches of quickfuse?) So all the HTML files and images on my website (and Kate’s, which I feel REALLY bad about, and is my one real regret), were arbitrarily shortened to 4K.

Many of the image files are in old migration archives that I made at various times, and I can try waking up old, mothballed laptops to find them. [Update: yeah, it turns out that I have a backup from December 2004, which is about two-thirds of my images.]
The text files I can mostly reconstruct from the snapshots taken at archive.org, which will work fairly well since the pages not in my blog have a low rate of change. And all the text in my blogs is fine, since that lives in a mySQL database, not in the filesystem. So the net result is that my blog is mostly okay (just with munged images), but my other project work is pretty badly messed up.

It is oddly cathartic, in a way, though. The Retropod and the Ultimate Water Gun (which were what got most of my traffic) are old news, Internet-tily speaking, and so I’ll be happy to replace those with smaller sites that are mostly about pictures. The Guerilla Drive-In site was tiny, so that’ll be easy to replace. And a lot of the auxiliary content (“all about my trip to Kaiju Big Battel!”) had an enthusiastic “lookit me, lookit me!” tone that I was gradually getting a little uncomfortable with, like I was still walking around in my high school varsity jacket. So I’ll actually be pretty happy to rescue the “lookit me!” stuff, but make it less front-and center. Since today is my (wait for it, wait for it) thirty-fifth birthday (hurrah!), it seems like a pretty good time to turn over a new leaf on the site.

I am become Shiva, stubber of toes