I think I’ve found out why more Americans are obese than in any other developed country. It’s not portion sizes – it’s portion naming.

People generally don’t like to rock the boat – they like to conform. This shouldn’t really be a surprise to most. It also shouldn’t be much of a surprise that restaurants like to up-sell, which means to make you choose something larger than normal for a little extra money.

So what this means is that given the option of a small, medium or large, people wanting to conform or just to get the average meal would pick the medium, without even looking at things like calories, or the sheer bulk of the food.

So my proposal to end the obesity epidemic is to rename the sizes to normal, fatty and uberchubba lardball.

Here’s another interesting post I found on Starbucks’ choice of naming. They say that the smallest size being called “tall” might make the consumer think more about the name and less about the calories or cost. They also suggest that “grande” might make people choose what they think is a more grand beverage.


People are goldfish

I was at a Maroon 5 concert last night and there were so many people taking photos and videos of the show, texting, looking at Facebook, posting stuff to Twitter and Instagram – in fact anything unrelated to simply being satisfied in the moment and enjoying the show. My job involves putting these devices into the hands of people. At one point these devices were critical for safety, communication and business, but now they are just expensive toys.

I watched one woman take a minute long video of her friends that were dancing next to her, then she reviewed the entire video on her phone while her friends were still dancing next to her. ARE YOU REALLY THAT BORED?

It was difficult not to see another in front of me spend the first half of the show trying to get the perfect crappy photo to share online – a blurry far-off shot taken from an angle of 45 degrees from the stage with thousands of heads in the way. WHAT’S THE POINT?

It’s kind of difficult not to notice this phenomenon when it’s all around you. I’ve been waiting in line for food at work and seen people open Facebook, scroll the feed quickly up and down, then exit the app, turn off the screen and turn it back on just 30 seconds later. Repeat and discover that nothing has changed. ARE YOU A GOLDFISH WITH A 30 SECOND MEMORY?

Back to the Past


Everyone has imagined travelling back in time and reliving their childhood with their present memories – right? But the question is, would you actually do it if given the chance?

The rule is that you’d have to go back in time a significant way – no going back to last week just to pick the winning lottery numbers. You’d have to go back at least 10 years.

I thought about this and my immediate response was yes, I’d do this in a heartbeat. But then I started thinking about the downsides. The main two I could think of were having to relive some kind of hardship (like death of a family member or having to sit exams again at school) and missing people who were not in your life back then. Being away from your husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend might be hard on you (the time traveller) but your other half wouldn’t even know you have gone. Imagine meeting them again for the first time when the time came! Maybe you’d even seek them out and meet them earlier, but that might change things.

Next is the question of what you would do if you went back in time. You’d have your present-day memories in your past body so you’d have to be careful not to be branded as crazy, although you could probably pull off being a child prodigy fairly easily. Instead of making massive amounts of money on the stock market, I would prefer to learn a sport, an instrument, and a second language while my physically younger brain is better able to learn. Those are the things that money can’t buy. Most of all I would try really hard to get myself into a better school. I really hated going to school, and it would mean a lot to not feel like those years were wasted.

Would it be irresponsible not to stop terrorist attacks or warn people about natural disasters? In every movie I’ve seen where someone goes back in time and tries to stop things, it never works. Imagine going through September 11th again knowing what is going to happen but being powerless to prevent it. Trying to prevent those things could consume your entire life and would probably land you in prison or a mental hospital.

Would you repeat mistakes or decisions that led to years of pain (like a failed marriage) or make the same mistakes because they brought you to a particular place in life? Would it even matter if you un-did aspects of your previous life since you’d keep the memories?

Turning the World-Wide-Web Upside Down

OK, I admit this is a silly joke (WWW upside down is MMM, yawn) and that it has very little to do with my post, but I like to add some humour into my blog. Not happy? Whatever.

Recently I upgraded my MacBook Pro to Lion, and amongst other things, Apple turned the default scroll direction completely upside down. Dragging up on the touchpad (or mouse) moves the page contents up, just as it does on an iPad. Previously the scroll direction followed the scroll bar, which moves in an opposite direction to the content. Since I’m a heavy user of a tablet, I found it quite nice and kept the setting. However, now I’m completely screwed at work, because I’m always scrolling pages in the wrong direction now. Bah!

Old vs New


I was on a plane not too long ago and someone took a look at my third generation iPod and said “oh my god, that’s so retro, where did you get it”. “Er… 2003,” I replied.

That led me to think about things that get better over time, like classic cars and good wine. Then I thought I would draw up a list of comparisons between the iPod 3rd gen and the iPod Touch. Bear in mind that this list consists of things that make a great music player (and it is fairly lighthearted).

iPod facts

I own both, but rarely use my iPod Touch because I don’t like it. Don’t get me wrong, the Touch is a great portable web browser, calendar, email client and games platform, but it’s a mediocre music player at best. For one thing, there’s no way to turn off the screen lock. You have a dedicated on/off button, but you still have to slide something across the screen to bring up all the music controls (I’m reminded all the time about the double-tap on the button to bring up the music controls, but this is only about 75% reliable, and doesn’t let you switch album or artist). Also, there’s a bug in the playlist system where if you have a playlist with live updating turned on in iTunes, the songs will appear in reverse order in the Touch but not in any other iPod. Turning off this feature will cause the songs to be sorted correctly.

Apple, please focus on sound quality with the next iPod. Since the first generation iPod, sound quality has remained virtually the same. Where is my 24-bit DAC, virtual surround and high-impedance output stage?

Bird Cam

Usually when we go away on holiday, something happens with either the server (power supply fails, Comcast decides to knock it off the Internet) or the security cameras (transmissions mysteriously stop, etc). This holiday was no exception. I noticed after we landed that there appeared to be a large piece of tumbleweed completely blocking the lens. I thought it might have been put there deliberately – and I was right.

I give you exhibit A:

Bird on camera

It built a pretty good nest, but the camera mount couldn’t hold it up and eventually tilted downwards, at which point the bird gave up. There was a single blue egg inside, but sadly it never had a chance because there was a snow storm a couple of days after the bird finished the nest.

For the USA

What was one of the biggest reasons I got rid of my Verizon phone? Aside from the sucky service and terrible battery life, it was because of poor customer service. Not only didn’t they care when I called customer service with my issues, but they were unwilling (or unable) to solve a basic problem for me: my phone couldn’t display dates in UK (dd-mm-yyyy) or ISO (yyyy-mm-dd) formats, and it couldn’t display times in 24 hour. I think it would take a programmer less than 15 minutes to add those as options for future phones. It still wouldn’t work outside the country, though.

I’ve noticed this kind of thing a few times. Today I had to enter some security answers for online credit card access, and a hell of a lot of the pre-defined questions that I have to pick from are solely geared around the USA.

“What high school did so-and-so attend?” – they don’t call it high school in England, but I’ll let it slide as it’s a translation issue.

“When is so-and-so’s birthday (MM/DD)?” – I am not sure why they even need to know the format, since it accepts any string input.

“What is the last name of your 1st grade teacher?” – I can’t remember that far back. Even so, they are not called grades in a lot of other countries, including the UK. Translation issue again, but who remembers that far back? For me, that was 1985!

“What was your favourite college year?” – Questions like these are really problematic to me. Not only are college and university two separate things in England (we have two years of college before we go to university), but asking me what my favourite year was may result in a different answer depending on my mood.

“What’s the name of your elementary school?” – I am still not certain what elementary school is.

“In which city did so-and-so get married?” – City? Many times I am asked what city I am from in England. Addresses don’t work that way in Europe; we don’t all live in or near a city.

“Who did you go to prom with?” – We don’t have prom in England. Oops.

“What state did you first visit (other than the one you were born in)?” – That’s a big assumption! I guess I can still answer this one…

The Forgotten Lefties

I don’t have a photo of this to hand, but CU Boulder attach computer mice in some of their labs to the right side of each keyboard, leaving about 10 inches of cord free. Thanks, CU! You have access ramps for the disabled and want to increase the diversity of your students, but you don’t think about the 10% of your population that is left handed. I don’t know why I felt so mad at the time – I just went to a different lab to do my work. Perhaps it was because I really cannot use a computer as quickly with my right hand (almost, but not quite), and it doesn’t feel at all comfortable.

This brings me onto my next theory – the 50% skill theory. I believe that when we are all born, we each have 100% of skill to allocate between our hands for various sports (some athletes get more than 100%). Left handers get so confused with what to do – do I mirror what the instructor is doing or repeat exactly? As a result, our skill gets split more like 50/50 instead of, say, 80/20 in a regular person. We have equal skill in our hands but neither is particularly good. I have always found that I am terrible in any activity that involves throwing, catching or aiming, so maybe that’s why.

Another thing. When I was in school, we had left handed scissors. You know the type – the blades cross the opposite way. If they have moulded handles, they are moulded to fit the left hand rather than the right. I just cannot use left handed scissors. I hold right-handed scissors in my left hand, but my eye is trained to look at the “cutting” side of the scissors. If I pick up a left-handed pair, I look at the wrong side and my line goes wonky. The funny thing is that I remember when I was about 7, my school bought few left-handed scissors, and they would make┬áme use them, since there were not enough right-handed ones to go around. As a result, my work turned out utterly crap.

Scheduled Maintenance

Why is it necessary to bring down an entire site for hours every weekend to perform scheduled maintenance? I think all bank online account access sites do it, but I rarely ever see online shopping sites doing it. So, what’s the deal? I think it’s another case of unless you are parting with money, they don’t care. It’s pretty simple to switch over to a back-up server while you do an upgrade. Ever notice how you can get through to someone on a sales line quicker than you can get through to support?

Also: Circuit City officially suck. They are closing a local store and liquidating all merchandise. I went tonight and they have a sign saying “everything in store is on sale”. I asked a sales assistant, and they said it includes all display merchandise. I wanted to buy a Canon 40D, but they had none left, and wouldn’t sell me the display copy.

What is Boredom?

Is boredom a good thing or a bad thing? I used to view it as being a bad thing, but now I see it as essential time to relax when you can’t think of anything else you could possibly do at that moment in time. When people are bored, they catch up on TV, clear out the email inbox, and potter around the house. It helps rest your brain from the day’s work and allows you to do those little things you wouldn’t normally have time for. If you’re really bored, you might not even have anything remotely interesting to do and may take a nap!

I have noticed that for perhaps the last four and a half years (since I graduated) that I have had absolutely no moment when I could say I was bored. I have always had something I needed to do, something nagging me at the back of my mind to finish.