Sunday, November 14, 2004

The disruption diet

New Scientist reports that forcing oneself to do uncharacteristic things on a daily basis leads to weight loss (and happiness - of course). ("How to lose weight without even trying, New Scientist, 11 Sep 2004, p 7.) Ben Fletcher of the University of Hertfordshire has apparently devised a scheme whereby volunteers had to pick a word from a contrasting pair every day (reactive/proactive, introvert/extrovert) and try to act that way. The idea is that forcing people to change their routines makes them think harder about the decisions they take.

There may be something to this - I've found that when I'm traveling my appetite decreases. It's probably just jet lag, but perhaps being in unusual situations every day reduces the need to ameliorate ennui through eating.

I couldn't find any publications by Prof. Fletcher on this topic, so this may just be another conviction-powered self-help scheme.

I chanced upon a less self-conscious approach along the same lines on the New Scientist's wonderful Christmas gift site, It's This Diary Will Change Your Life 2005, described by one Amazon reviewer as "Clinically insane but in a funny kind of way." According to Benrik's web site, the 2004 version included such classic life-changing tasks as "today be gay for a day", "today, tattoo a banana" and "today find a way of including the word vortex in all your conversations". The site alleges that it contains material offensive to the IRS, the KKK and the French

Which leads me to think about some paradoxical challenges:
  1. Construct a sentence that offends both George W Bush and Jacques Chirac
  2. Devise the "Eat more ice cream and lose weight" diet (aka the Federal budget)
  3. Find a product that has fewer features than its previous version
Actually, that last one isn't paradoxical; it's simply in the much larger Contradiction in Terms category.

P.S. Now there's a thing: according to Merriam Webster, the word oxymoron comes from Greek oxymoros, "pointedly foolish," oxy-, "sharp" + moros, "dull, stupid, foolish." That's the same oxy- as in oxygen, from the Greek oxus, "sharp, acid".


I sat watching thunderclouds on the horizon yesterday morning. My attention would wander, and when I looked at the clouds again, they'd moved. I couldn't tell what had changed, precisely, but they'd clearly moved. When I'd stare at the clouds trying to following the shifts, nothing seemed to change.

Technology's like that.

When you track it day by day, nothing fundamental seems to be happening - in spite of the breathless hype of the evangelists. I easily become blase, and discount its importance. Then suddenly one looks back and so much has changed: hundreds of megabytes of storage in a finger-sized USB dongle, real-time hyper-realism in video games, a world of blogs.

The world's like that.

Our ability to detect change in real time is severely limited by our senses. We seem to be optimized for stuff moving at the rate of the mythical sabre toothed tiger, and blind to changes on scales longer than months and faster than milliseconds. We've developed technologies to follow those movements, e.g. historiography and sensor processing. But since we don't have an innate grasp for those time scales, it'll always require an effort of will to discern and understand them.

In most cases, we understand change as if hearing a second language.

With effort, we can become more fluent, and some people will have a knack. However, we will always speak with an accent, that is, we are at an innate disadvantage understanding slow changes like cultural shifts, and fast ones like automated hacker attacks.