Back From the Dead (Thankfully not Literally…)

Wow, it’s been 2 and a half years since my last post (not including the draft post I discovered from 2 years ago), talk about a lapse in posting.  There have been some major upheavals in my life over the last 12 months or so, starting with me resigning from my job, followed by a stint in hospital shortly after with a brain haemorrhage and fractured vertebrae.  Consequently I’ve spent quite some time recovering, plus thinking about exactly what I want to do with my life now.

Having the haemorrhage has made me deal with things like how Ive been dealing with ongoing depression and stress in my life.  Being out of work has been a mixed blessing, as it’s made things tough for us financially, but I’ve been able to take a deep breather, metaphorically speaking, and deal with the side effects of being in an unpleasant work situation.

On the positive side, I’ve made some quite significant steps forward with recovering from depression, and for the first time in over 2 years I actually feel like I am making some progress.  Yes, things are still tough to deal with at times, I still have down days, and I don’t always deal with stress particularly well.  But I have enough really good days to know that the bad days aren’t here permanently, I’m better able to deal with the way my mind works when I’m feeling down, and there’s a lot less stress in my life than say 12 months ago.

So, I’ve decided to revive my blog, with the plan to write about a few new topics.  Firstly, there’s my newly discovered hobby of radio controlled quad copters.  Then there’s my old hobby of war gaming.  Then there’s my new interest in online stock trading.  I’ll be posting about all of those things in the near future.


Archevore Diet – Stage 1

Last week I posted about the Archevore Diet, and how I planned to follow it.  It’s a bit over a week since I posted, and the experience so far has been rather different to what I expected.  The first stage is to deal with any non food addictions, and get good sleep.

When I first thought about it, I had a mixed reaction.  The addiction part was going to be easy, I don’t smoke or do drugs, and I rarely drink more than one drink every day or so.  Sleep, on the other hand, I knew was going to be a problem, after all I’m a father of a new born, not getting enough sleep is part of the territory there.

However, I’ve discovered that things aren’t always as they seem.  For starters, I’d thought that the sleep and addictions were two separate problems, but it turns out (at least for me) that the two are intertwined a bit.  What I hadn’t taken into account was computers and me.

Now, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I have an all out addiction to computers, technology and the Internet, but I do like using them.  And while I don’t get the shakes if I can’t check my email, it was pointed out to me during the week that I tend to sit down at the computer as a bit of a default response if I have nothing to do.  So, while I can live without the computer, I do tend to use it quite a bit.

The sleep issue is quite simple, you can’t have a new born and not have an interrupted night’s sleep.  The thing is, I don’t see this as such an insurmountable problem now.  Firstly, there is such a thing as Polyphasic Sleep, which is basically a fancy way of saying that you sleep several times a day, rather than just once.  The most hard-core version of this uses six short naps every four hours, but there are other easier to follow methods.

What’s interesting about polyphasic sleep is that research has suggested that humans probably evolved to use polyphasic sleep, in particular a kind called Segmented SleepStudies have shown that if humans are left to use only natural light, their sleep pattern changes to a distinct pattern of sleeping for a few hours, followed by an hour or so of wakefulness, followed by another few hours of sleep.

So, I can use this to my advantage.  I don’t have to get a solid 8 hours’ sleep (in fact, I probably shouldn’t, even), I can get away with several shorter sleeps, as long as I just get enough.  This is where the computer use pops its head up again.

It’s all well and good to say that I’ll have a nap, get up and feed the baby, and then get some more sleep, but the computer complicates things.  It’s quite noticeable that I find it harder to fall asleep after using the computer.  It makes sense, all that light from the monitor is going to make my body think it’s day time, rather than night, with subsequent difficulties sleeping.

I was already aware of this issue, and had installed a utility on my computer which changes the colour temperature of the display based on the time of day.  To be honest, it works quite well, but it can’t help with the demands of keeping a new born baby happy.  So, I’ll be limiting my computer use before I want to sleep in an attempt to get a better amount of sleep.

I’m feeling hopeful that a reduction in computer use, and a concerted effort to take a nap between feeds of an evening will help me get stage one of the Archevore diet sorted out.  The next stage will be harder, cutting out sugar, and caloric drinks.  I’m fully expecting to struggle with sugar, as I think it’s probably the worst, and hardest addiction to kick.

The Winds of Change…

It’s 5 months to the day since my last post, and boy have things changed for me.  My wife and I have moved out of our house and are preparing to sell it, we’ve had a baby boy, and in the process have spent a lot of time in and out of hospital.  I don’t think I could have predicted any of this happening (well, except for the baby, we’ve known about that since early in the year…).

One thing that has to change for me is my lifestyle.  I promised myself that I’d try and live healthy when our baby arrived.  Well, actually I promised my self I’d be living healthy before he arrived, but with all the stuff we’ve been dealing with over the last few months that went out the window.  Regardless, we have a new baby, and I want to be able to keep up with him in a few years time, so that means getting healthy now, no excuses.

A couple of years ago I discovered The Primal Blueprint, and some good success losing weight and getting fitter following it.   Unfortunately for me I went off the rails about a year ago, and have been struggling to get back to eating the way I want to.  I’ve still been reading about Primal/Paleo diets, and one site I found was Archevore.  The Archevore Diet is the brainchild of Kurt Harris MD, and is essentially a Paleo diet, but approached through a series of steps.

The twelve stages of the Archevore Diet are as follows:
1. Get plenty of sleep and deal with any non-food addictions.
2. Eliminate sugar and all caloric drinks.
3. Eliminate gluten grains and wheat flour.
4. Eliminate seed oils
5. No snacking, 2 or 3 meals a day is best.
6. Whole foods from animals.
7. Choose fuels from the EM2.
8. Make sure you are Vitamin D replete.
9. Vegetables and fruits
10. Get proper exercise
11. Avoid eating excessive amounts of fruit.
12. If you are allergic to milk protein or concerned about theoretical risks of casein, you can stick to butter and avoid milk, cream and soft cheeses.

This approach appeals to me as it sounds like it will make changing my lifestyle easier to manage.  I think part of the problem I’ve had in the past has simply been the magnitude of the changes required to follow a Paleo diet.  With this step by step idea, I can deal with the changes in smaller increments.

So, as of today, I’m starting the process of changing my lifestyle.  As I tackle each step I’ll post it up here, along with any progress reports between steps.

Adventures in Astronomy…

It’s been an exciting week in astronomy.  The big event was the transit of Venus, where Venus traveled across the face of the sun as seen from here on earth.  You could be excused for thinking that this might happen fairly frequently, and thus not be worth getting excited about, but that’s not the case.

As it happens, due to some peculiarities about the orbits of Earth and Venus, we only see a transit of Venus happen fairly infrequently.  We see two transits about 8 years apart, and then nothing for over 100 years.  This transit this week was the last one until 2117, a gap of 105 years.  So, unless there’s a fairly major medical breakthrough, none of us currently on the planet will see another one in our lifetimes.

I considered taking some or all of the day off from work to go look through telescopes to see it, but my conscience, and the need to fix stuff for a customer got the better of me. Instead I satisfied myself by watching a live Internet feed of the event. While I guess it’s not the same as seeing the transit through a scope, at least I did get to see it.

I think perhaps that watching the transit on a computer may have been a little less exciting than seeing it live through a telescope, and it got me thinking about an event which sparked my interest in Astronomy.  Back in 1986, I was lucky enough to see Halley’s Comet (and boy do I feel old when I realise that it was 26 years ago…).  I was in primary school at the time, and we learned1 a bit about the comet, and a few bits and pieces about astronomy.

I can remember bugging my dad to take me outside to see the comet at some ungodly hour of the morning, and while the small fuzzy blob I saw wasn’t anywhere near as spectacular as the pictures I’d seen, it was still enough to spark what has been an ongoing interest ever since.  I can’t help but wonder if the transit of Venus has had the same effect on a new generation of budding astronomers.

About Time…

Late last week I was searching the ‘Net, trying to see if there was any chance of finding amateur astronomers near me that I could meet up with.  I’d tried the Astronomical Society of Tasmania, with limited success.  The site had information about past meetings nearby, but the last one was almost 2 years ago.  I was beginning to think that perhaps they’d all been abducted by aliens or something.

I struck pay-dirt on Friday, when I noticed that the list of events had been updated to include a statewide meet up, and it was being held a short distance from me.  Score!  I hastily made plans to go after I finished work on Saturday.

Saturday came, with the first thick fog of the year.  The rest of the day was pretty cloudy, but the forecast was for a clear night, so I crossed my fingers, and hoped for the best.  I headed out to the observing site mid afternoon, and arrived about 4pm.

I wandered around, looking in awe at the collection of telescopes already set up.  I was a bit nervous, truth be told, as I knew nobody there, so I just said hi to the first person who wasn’t in the middle of setting up their scope, and introduced myself.  Turns out, I’d no need to be nervous, as everyone was incredibly friendly.

The observing session was just what the doctor had ordered.  While I enjoy getting my scope out by myself, it’s an entirely different experience to be able to do it as part of a group.  As part of a group, you can call on the knowledge of other people, something I found invaluable.

Highlights of the night for me were:
1) Getting my telescope correctly collimated, which improved the views I was getting to the point where it felt like I had a different telescope.
2) Meeting other people who share the same interests, and being able to share their knowledge (it’s safe to say that I learned more in one night about practical astronomy than I’ve learned elsewhere).
3) Being able to pass on my knowledge to others.

The worst bit about this is that I’m determined to purchase a much larger telescope so that I’ll be able to see faint objects a lot easier.  Of course, having tried a few different telescopes and eyepieces, I have a much better idea of what I want to buy, it’s just a case of finding it at the right price.  Well, that and actually saving the money for it first, too…

Our Place in the Universe.

I chanced upon a fascinating video while reading an astronomy forum this morning.  In 1996 and 2004, astronomers using the Hubble space telescope pointed it at two apparently blank areas of sky for over 10 days each time.  The results they got are nothing more than amazing.

Rather than getting a blank picture, what they recorded was over 3000 galaxies in the 1996 image, and over 10000 galaxies in the second.  This video has a run down of the results, and what they mean.  Even more impressively, the astronomers measured the red shift of the galaxies, and used the data to create a 3d representation of the space these galaxies inhabit.

It’s worth noting that the area of sky imaged in each case was incredibly tiny (likened to the area covered by a grain of sand held at arms length), meaning that there are a mind boggling number of galaxies throughout our universe.

Word of the Day: Akrasia

A few weeks back I learned a new word: akrasia, thanks to this article on Mark’s Daily Apple.  Akrasia means to act against your own better judgement, something I’ve had a rather painful lesson about recently.  Last week, for the first time in 12 months, I decided to go for a mountain bike ride.

Now, I wasn’t expecting to just be able to jump back on my bike and ride around like I used to, but I was not prepared for how much I suffered on what was quite a short ride.  Apparently I’ve got quite unfit over the last year (and also, my MTB skills now suck even more than they did before…).  Well, I guess that was to be expected, I haven’t exactly been doing a lot of exercise and haven’t been riding off road at all.

The article on akrasia was still fresh in my mind, and I began to think of all the little things that I’d been doing that were hurting my health and fitness.  Let’s start with breakfast.  Normally we wouldn’t have bread in the house, but we’ve had some for toast for my wife.  Of course, being the enlightened person I am, I know that bread isn’t the best thing to be eating, breakfast or not, so of course, I’d stick to either a smoothie or bacon and eggs, wouldn’t I?  Of course not, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this post.

There’s something about toast for breakfast that just calls to me.  Perhaps it’s just 30 years of brainwashing, but if there’s bread in the house, then without fail I’ll be having toast for breakfast.  And what’s worse, I won’t be topping it with scrambled eggs, no, I’ll slather it with jam that is jam-packed (sorry…) with sugar.  A breakfast like that is just setting myself up to fail.

I normally manage to do a bit better with lunch, and I normally have something healthy, but of course, with such a carb laden breakfast, by the time lunch rolls around, I’m getting cravings for carbs, and I have been succumbing to the temptation to indulge in some sort of sugary snack during the afternoon.  The same thing then happens around tea time, and results in me having some sort of snack during the night.  All of this snacking etc has been adding up, of course, and is why I’m in such poor shape now.

What I’m finding interesting is my reaction to this knowledge.  I’m aware that I’ve been making bad decisions, I’m painfully aware of the effect those decisions have been having on my life, and I have a better understanding of why I’ve been making those bad decisions.  I guess the question is whether or not this knowledge is gong to be of any help in changing my lifestyle.

The good thing is that since this minor revelation, I’ve been consciously trying to make better decisions about my food and exercise.  I’m not having toast for breakfast every day any more, I’m riding my bike places rather than driving.  Apparently this is having a positive effect, as when I weighed myself this week on a whim, I’d lost 3 kilos.  The challenge now is to keep this positive trend going, and not to crash in a big heap if something derails me along the way.

How to do Customer Service

Well, it’ds been a while since my last post (yeah, I’m a slack-arse, but to be fair, the last couple of months have been hectic…), so I thought I’d kick things off again with a complete turn around from my last post.  Rather than share a crappy customer service experience, I’ll share what has been quite possibly the best service I’ve experienced from a retailer anywhere, either on line or in a real shop.

Last year I discovered Yerba Mate, and while I initially made it in a coffee press, I’d been itching to make it the traditional way, with a gourd and bombilla (which is a metal drinking straw).  Having found a place online, that sold everything I needed, I gave my lovely wife a not-so-subtle hint, and she got me the gourd and bombilla for my birthday last year.  Well, things being what they were last year, I never actually got around to trying the gourd until 6 months later.

Gourds for Yerba Mate need to be cured, they’re made from something similar to pumpkins, dried and hollowed out.  Before you use one, any excess pulp needs to be cleaned out, and the gourd soaked with hot water.  It was as I was doing this to my gourd that I discovered that it was leaking from some of the carved decoration on the gourd.  Bugger…

So, I jump on the Yerba Mate Australia website, and send off an email, explaining the situation.  I had a response the next day, and despite not having the email confirmation of the order, and it being six months since the gourd was purchased, the kind people there were more than happy to replace the gourd.  But, it gets better.  Apparently they only had a few of the gourd I had left in stock, and they were rather large, so they offered to replace it with a new leather covered glass gourd they’d just got in stock.  So, I replied, and said that the glass gourd looked fantastic, and a week or so later I had it in my hands.

So, what could have been a less than happy situation ended up working out quite well.  The folks over at Yerba Mate Australia have definitely won me over as a repeat customer, and I’ll be heading back to purchase some more mate when I run out.  Thumbs up to them for such tip-top service.

How not to do Customer Service

My wife and I took the opportunity  of traveling down to Strahan on the west coast for a few days.  We were quite excited about the cottage we were staying in, an old chapel dating from the 1870s.  On the Strahan Colonial Cottages website it looked like a very romantic spot, the ideal place for a few quiet days away.

Well, when we arrived our initial impressions were favourable, the cottage did have a romantic air to it, and we settled in for the next few days.  Well, apparently this was too good to be true, and our experience soon turned sour.  The problems started on the first night, when the smoke alarm went off shortly after midnight, and got worse from there.

I won’t go into the full details of our problems just yet, but the list of problems we had is as follows:

  • Smoke alarm prevented sleep from midnight till after 5:30am.
  • When we tried to contact someone about the problem with the smoke alarm, we were unable to get through to anyone (we were told the next morning that they person whose contact details we had was unavailable that night, due to working elsewhere)
  • After an electrician was called in to fix the issue with the smoke alarm (a flat battery), the smoke alarm was removed entirely, leaving no smoke alarm in the cottage.
  • The “king size” bed advertised on the web site was in fact two smaller beds pushed together, and which moved apart when the bed was used, leaving a gap between them to roll into during the night.
  • When we made the bed after our second night’s stay, we found cockroaches in the bedding
  • Light fittings in the cottage did not have bulbs
  • Out of three remotes for electrical equipment in the cottage, only one had working batteries

Sure, some of those problems are only minor, but the fact that we had them tends to indicate that the people running the place aren’t taking care of it.  I would have thought that things like missing light bulbs or flat batteries would be dealt with quickly, rather than being left for multiple guests to deal with (based on feedback in the guest book).  With this in mind, I sent a very restrained email to the operators, outlining the problems we had, and requesting a refund (we’d left a day early after finding the cockroaches).  This is the email I sent:


My wife and I stayed in the Church cottage from 26/12/11 to 29/12/11, and I would like to pass on some feedback about our experience.  From the first night our experience was, to be frank, quite unpleasant.  What we expected to be a king size bed in fact turned out to be two separate beds pushed together, which moved apart, as we found out shortly after going to bed, making for an uncomfortable night’s sleep.

In addition to this, the smoke alarm fitted in the cottage went off around midnight, and proceeded to go off periodically until about 5:30 in the morning, with anywhere from 30 minutes to 5 minutes between alarms.  We resorted to trying to sleep, unsuccessfully, downstairs on the couches, as the volume of the alarm was at least tolerable down there.  We attempted to contact someone at around 3am in order to get the alarm fixed, but was unable to contact anyone.

When we finally spoke to Russell the next morning he informed us that he would have been uncontactable, due to working elsewhere.  Russell advised us that he would arrange for an electrician to fix the alarm for us, and when we returned to the cottage later that morning, we arrived just as the electrician was leaving.  He advised us that the issue with the alarm was a flat battery.  After the electrician had left, I noticed that the alarm had not had a battery replaced, as I assumed, but had in fact been removed entirely, leaving the cottage with no smoke alarm at all.

Following the previous night’s brief period of uncomfortable sleep in the upstairs bed prior to the problem with the smoke alarm, my wife and I took advantage of the fold down double bed downstairs.  While this allowed a more comfortable night’s sleep, we were shocked to find, when we made the bed the following morning, that there were two cockroaches in the bedding.  This was enough to put us off the rest of our stay, and we made the decision to leave a day early, rather than continue our stay.

In addition to these rather major problems, there were a number of other issues which detracted from our stay.  We attempted to use the DVD player and TV, and discovered that out of 3 remotes (for the TV, Stereo and DVD player), that only one remote had a working set of batteries.  Also, we discovered on the first night that the kitchen had a light globe missing from the light fitting from beside the stove.  We ended up taking a globe from another light fitting in order to have enough light to be able to see properly while in the kitchen area.

Based on the information and photos available on the cottage’s website, we expected accommodation of a considerably higher standard than what we experienced.  Given the unsatisfactory nature of the time we spent in the cottage, I would appreciate being refunded the amount that we paid.  I look forward to hearing back from you at your earliest convenience.”

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting the operators to give us a refund for all three nights, but I thought that they might have the decency to perhaps refund us for one night.  As it turns out, I couldn’t have been further off the mark.  This morning, I received the following reply from the operators:

“Wow. you just got  married  and this  is  the way  you see  the  world,  did you  not  read  the  guest  book 99%  happy  people,  yes  there  is  always 1%  and  you  must  be  one  of  them,  Well  I  checked  location  of smoke alarm  myself,  and  it  could  have  been  reached,  so  simply taking  the  battery  out  yourself  would  have  helped ,   the  world  is full  of  worse  things  than  cockroaches  so  if  that  totally  ruined your  holiday  I  so  feel  sorry  for  you,  Apparently  you  abused  the electrician  ,  a  dear  man  who  goes  out  of  his  way  for  all  in strahan ,  I  had  a  basket  of  chocolates fudge  etc  to  give  you  but after  <name removed>  spoke  to  you  he  said  not  to  give  them  to  you
We  do  our  best  to  help  our  guest  and  after  all  the  cottages  are COLONIAL  thats  why  people  choose  them  and  not   BEST  AND WESTERNS,etc,   and  <name removed>  did  let  you  stay  for  $195  per  night  as it  is $230  per  night  he  was  doing  something  completely  un neccesary,
ther  will  be  no  refund  ,   <name removed> .   think  you  cancelled  original dates  and  <name removed>  changed  dates  for  you   to  busiest  time  of  year to  help  you, ( especially  considering we  have a   NO CANCELLATION.POLICY)”

So, that’s apparently how the people who run Strahan Colonial Cottages believe customers should be treated.  There are a few things that concern me with this response.  For starters, they’ve glossed over the fact that the smoke alarm wasn’t functioning properly, and their solution to the issue is apparently to just disable the alarm.  Also, they’ve ignored the fact that the solution to a flat battery was to remove the alarm entirely.

I’ve responded to this email this morning, resisting the urge to make a smart arse response.  I’ll be interested to see when/if I get a response from them, and if I do, what they have to say…

Getting Back to Basics…

Just recently I’ve been thinking that I really should stop being such a lazy bastard, and actually get out and take some photos.  I’d been really enthusiastic about photography, right up until the time when my fantastic Mamiya 645 decided to stop working.  Since then, I’ve not really had the urge to go out and take photos.

It’s been nearly two years since my Mamiya stopped working, and even though I’ve got the service manuals, and have a rough idea of what’s wrong, and how to fix it, I just haven’t got around to fixing that damn camera.  Mind you, that’s partly because I’m kind of cautious about taking the camera apart, but I’m going to have to do it eventually.  Still, having one camera out of action is a pretty crappy excuse for not taking any photos.

So, anyway, my interest in photography has been rekindled of late, thanks to a couple of my co-workers buying new digital cameras.  My fiancé and I have also been thinking about buying a new camera, with the ability to shoot HD video, so I’ve been looking around for what’s new these days.  After a bit of Googling, it pretty much became clear that the choice was down to Nikon or Canon.

I’ve not used Nikon cameras before, but I’ve used several Canons over the years, and haven’t had any complaints, so the decision has been pretty much made to go with a Canon of some description.  Of course, now the tricky question is which specific camera to buy.  It came down to 3 options, basic digital SLR, advanced dSLR, or advanced full-frame dSLR.

Given that we’re wanting this camera more for video, and I’ll be using it for stills as a bonus, the choice seemed fairly obvious.  The Canon 60D seems to get glowing reviews for people wanting to use it for video.  Of course, I would have liked to go for the 5D Mk II, but the extra $2000 it cost put it way out of reach.

In the course of looking at accessories, I got pointed towards Ken Rockwell’s site, where he reviews cameras and lenses, among other things.  With the aid of his reviews of Canon’s EF series of lenses, I managed to save myself several hundred dollars by picking the best lens for the camera, rather than just the best lens that Canon make.

While I was browsing the site, I found a wealth of information about photography in general.  My attention was grabbed by Ken’s repeated insistence that cameras have very little to do with the quality of any photograph, and that the major influence on whether a photograph will be good or not is all down to the photographer’s vision.  Several times he’s made the point that current cameras are actually making it herder to take good photos, what with all their bells and whistles.

One piece of advice was to limit the amount of gear you take with you, rather than lug several zoom lenses around, Ken suggests just taking one or two fixed lenses.  It seemed like a good exercise in making myself look for good photos, rather than just snapping haphazardly, as I have tended to do in the past.  At the same time, I’ve also just retrieved my collection of film from my parent’s fridge, a year and a half after moving out.

So, it seemed like a good time to start messing around with photography again.  I’ve taken Ken’s advice to heart, and gone for the simplest piece of kit I can lay my hands on, my venerable Agfa Clack.  The Clack was manufactured in the late 50s to mid 60s, so is around 50 years old now.  It has no aperture adjustment, a built in yellow filter for sunny days, one shutter speed and a B setting, and is designed to take ISO 50 black and white film.  I’ve tried colour reversal film in it quite successfully, but it does need a ND filter to work properly.

I’ve chosen to use some ISO 320 Kodak Tri-X Pan black and white film, as I’m able to develop that myself without any great trouble.  So, the challenge has been laid down.  I have a film with 12* 8 exposures , a camera with virtually no adjustments, and a neutral density filter to compensate for the fact that I’m using film with over 2 stops difference than what was intended for the camera.  Can I actually take some good photos with this thing?  I guess I’ll see…

* Whoops, apparently it’s been too long since I shot medium format film, and I’ve forgotten how many shots can be taken with each size…