Sydney Festival 2014

It's January in Sydney which means Sydney Festival time. That's when Sydney's centre is transformed for a pretty damn awesome art and culture festival. There's always a stack of awesome gigs, plus free stuff too.

Last night we went to see Bonobo, though not part of the festival. Loads of fun and it's always amazing to see gigs in the Opera House's Concert Hall. One of the great spaces for music.

Next week I'm off to see:

  • Matmos, an experimental electronic band I've followed for years. They did an album inspired by (and using) the sounds of plastic surgery.
  • Hurricane Transcriptions/Laborintus II: Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth has a piece composed after Hurricane Sandy, then Mike Patton tackles a piece by experimental composer Luciano Berio. Patton just gets more and more interesting, and weird, as he continues. Loving his stuff!

Hopefully we'll get a chance to take the kids for a bounce on Stonehenge too.

Jawbone UP! and self quantification

In May last year I started wearing the annoyingly-capitalized Jawbone UP device. It's a wrist band that tracks your movements, syncing the data with an app on your phone. It's part of the whole Quantified Self movement where people measure aspects of themselves and their lifestyle and use the data to optimize.

For me, I thought it looked like a cool piece of tech and I was curious what I'd find out about myself and my activity. Having endured the past 4 years raising young kids, I was particularly interested in my sleep patterns.

The device itself is pretty straightforward. It's a rubberized wrist band with a button on one end and a cap covering a headphone jack at the other. A couple of LEDs shine through to indicate the modes it is in and battery status. Syncing is done by plugging into your phone's headphone jack and opening the app. Newer units use Bluetooth to do this wirelessly, which would be nice. Charging requires a proprietary converter to charge on USB, which is pretty annoying given the ubiquity of the rather small Micro-USB these days. Hopefully wireless syncing devices will have that standard connector in future.

Pressing the button can do a few different things. You switch to "sleep" mode by long-pressing once. It then measures your movements to get an idea of your sleep patterns: how long it takes to get to sleep, how often you wake up and your periods of "light" and "deep" sleep. It divines all this from your movements. Not sure how genuinely accurate this is: I'd love to see a sleep lab study comparison.

Long-pressing the button twice starts logging an activity. You use this for gym workouts or other special exercise periods you want to log. In the app you can define what the activity was and it'll log an average calorie burn for the period.

App UI

So you connect the device to your phone and run the app to sync it. You'd think this would push the data up into some cool web app. You'd be wrong. Everything has to be done through the (shitty) phone app. That's really annoying.

The app itself ignores a lot of Android conventions, like the menu button, which makes it plain annoying. Pinch zoom doesn't work on things like timelines, which is just ridiculous. No, I don't want to just look at "today" thanks, and I don't want to be swiping for another hour to get where I want to.

The limited UI means I didn't get to spend much time with the data itself. That limits the insights you might get. You have to think to open the app and record your mood, or how well rested you feel. So then it's hard to correlate the data with how you feel.

At launch the Android app didn't integrate with other apps. Now it does, though I haven't used it. Not sure if there's some way to suck the data out for your own purposes.

Device failure

A couple of months after buying my device, it stopped holding charge. I'd plug it in and the battery just flat out wouldn't charge, in fact it would lose charge while "charging". The retailer, Exeltek, flat out failed to respond to my return requests. So a big fuck you to those pricks, don't buy from them. Fortunately the Australian distributor were quite good. Though they then had no stock and it took about 7 weeks to get a replacement. Sounds like this isn't an uncommon problem.

Whoops, lost it

Over the Xmas break, while bodysurfing up on the Central Coast, I lost the device. Was flailing my arms around swimming to get onto a wave and the thing popped off, never to be seen again. I tried in vain to find it, but pounding surf and all it was kinda impossible. Doh!

The best feature, not the one they push

My favourite feature of the device is one they don't really advertise strongly. The device has a vibration motor in it, so it can notify you of things. One thing it can notify is an "Idle Alert". You set a time range (08:00-19:00 for me) and a time limit (30 minutes) and if you're inactive for that period, it vibrates. It's a fantastic reminder to get up and move around, something my physio is always reminding me will help fix my back. I really really miss that feature!

Conclusions

So while I wouldn't strongly recommend the device, it's kinda cool and not too ridiculously expensive. They seem somewhat unreliable, and the app UI is annoyingly crap. If you could get the data out, it might be cool.

The wristband thing is vital for me. I don't wear clothes in bed, so the sleep function works best in a wrist band. Fitbit and other devices have a sleep band, but otherwise you have to carry it somehow. That seems clumsy and I'm likely to forget it. A wrist band works much better for me.

The vibrating idle alert is awesome. Does anyone know if other devices do this?

5:2: a diet for greedy people

I've never been a skinny guy. The fittest I've ever been, playing rugby in my mid-teens, I was still chunky bloke. Helped me avoid being bullied. As an adult, my weight has gradually crept up. Finally I've decided to do something about it, mainly because the 5:2 diet came along and appeals to me.

The idea is you can eat anything you like 5 days a week, but for 2 days a week you drastically reduce your calorie intake, 500 kCalories for women and 600 for men. This has an important psychological effect. With a normal diet, high calorie foods you really love are pretty much off limits. This diet means that on fast day you can say to yourself you can eat the thing tomorrow. You won't necessarily eat it (I find my appetite is somewhat lower the day after a fast), and obviously you can't go absolutely nuts and you should aim for normal moderation on non-fast days.

You'll read some stuff about other health benefits from fasting, things like the "repair gene" and the like. I'm dubious. The science behind these claims is only solid for different patterns of fasting: long-term fasts, alternate day fasts and the like. There hasn't been much research into this particular pattern, though the weight loss parts are pretty clear.

For me, I've been doing it since the end of October and in those eight weeks I've lost about eight kilograms. That's about as fast as you want to lose weight in a sustained fashion. Other indicators are also good: I've dropped three belt notches, my "tight" jeans are starting to feel loose, I'm contemplating buying a bunch of new clothes, and my blood pressure was described by my doctor as "perfect" last week, which is awesome.

I think the psychological aspect of this diet makes it really easy to sustain. It takes some planning and being a data nerd I have a spreadsheet to track what I eat and various measurements to track my progress. By planning things in quite a bit of detail, you can focus on bulky but low calorie foods that will fill you up and ward off hunger. I rarely feel particularly hungry. Lunch time I actually have later than normal days, though I do drink a fair whack of caffeine on fast days. By dinner time I'm generally quite hungry, but not for hours beforehand, and if I've chosen good food options I'm not hungry again until morning.

The eight weeks have flown by, Tuesdays and Thursdays are my regular fast days and I've developed a bit of a routine. On fast mornings, I get up and make the kids their breakfast. Then I start my own breakfast of Shakshouka, a North African dish of tomatoes and eggs that I've been eating regularly for a fair while.

While that's simmering, I chop up a huge amount of vegetables, particularly carrots, to eat raw for my lunch. I might pop out into the garden and harvest whatever's going there too, mostly lettuce and rocket. While I'm preparing all this, I weight and write down each piece. Once I get to work I'll look up the calories pm Calorie Count and fill in my spreadsheet, which gives me my calorie budget for dinner.

Shakshouka (~240 kCal, but weight your ingredients)

(This picture is taken pre diet and so it's probably a fair bit bigger and has some other ingredients.)

  • 1 tspn cumin seeds
  • Half an onion, diced
  • 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tspn olive oil
  • 2 eggs
  1.  Dry roast the cumin seeds over low heat until fragrant.
  2. Fry the onion in the oil until soft, add the garlic, tomatoes and 1 tspn water.
  3. Cook gently until softened (about 10 minutes).
  4. Make two hollows in the tomato goop and crack the eggs in.
  5. Cover until the eggs are cooked. Serve.

Dinner is often some simply cooked fish like flathead and some more vegetables, steamed or raw, eaten with the kids. Tuesday nights have become fish night in our household. We've also been enjoying Haemul Paejeon, a Korean prawn pancake, which is ridiculously quick to make and packs a massive amount of flavour. I've also tried out a few other recipes, there's loads on the net.

So I'd have to say I strongly recommend this approach to weight loss. I've been doing it two months and don't feel like I'll stop until I hit the healthy BMI range, which at the current rate will be about February or so. Even then I think I'll go on a maintenance regime, perhaps a fast a week. We'll see how I go over the festive season, there may be some setbacks...

Using a Gandi SSL certificate in AWS Elastic Beanstalk Load Balancer

Wow this was way more painful than it should've been. SSL is hard!

So I followed the instructions from Gandi and ended up with a private key, a certificate signing request, a certificate and an intermediate certificate. To load them into the Load Balancer, you can't do it directly from the Elastic Beanstalk console, instead you go to the EC2 console and look at your Load Balancer. Go to the Listeners tab and add an HTTPS listener, click "Change" on the certificate and upload a new certificate. Here's where I got really stuck. Turns out the private key is in the wrong format.

So....

openssl rsa -in <private key> -out server.key

Use THAT file for the private key, and all is hunky dory.

Don't forget to include the intermediate key too, which you download from Gandi.

Standing desk: Day 1

I've had a few back problems of late, a herniated disk from lifting my daughter basically. My physio suggests that sitting all day is a big problem, so I've decided to experiment with a standing desk.

I was looking at this particular DIY standing desk but saw you couldn't buy the components separately on the Ikea site. Then I realised my existing desk is an Ikea Galant already, and when I tried extending the legs up they do come up to the right height. With a few boxes and books (including two editions of Programming Perl + Learning Perl), I've managed to get a reasonable trial standing desk going.



Today was a bit of an unusual day. I'm coming down with what feels like it's going to be a shocker of a cold, so I ended up going back to bed when Holly woke up and slept through until 11:30. So it's been a bit of a half day. Good idea for the first day of this experiment.

So far so good. I've found myself a bit more able to focus on tasks, and combined with a Pomodoro timer to ensure I give myself breaks (as well as the more traditional "Get Shit Done" reasons for it), I feel okay. My back feels like its done some work today, tired but not sore. That's gotta be a good thing.

I'll keep trying this whenever I'm working from home and report back. If I make it a couple of weeks, I'll buy the Ikea TV unit and bolt it on. Also looking around for a small desk to continue as a sitting desk, so I can quickly switch between the two modes with a KVM switch. Probably clean my shed up a bit too and re-arrange things.

Fuji Xerox ApeosPort-IV C2275 on Ubuntu and Linux Mint

Just to save anyone having to bugger around to set up this printer, it's dead easy. This printer is in HUB Sydney, and I wanted to use it.

Go to the CUPS configure printers thing. Open up Network Printer and click Find. Wait a bit and it'll show up, assuming you're on the same network as the printer. Select it and click Forward.

Select "Generic" and click Forward. Then choose Postscript and the default sub-selection for it and click Forward. Name the printer, click Apply and you're done. That's it!

I was duped by a microparty

My first real job after high school was working for a mail order porn video company. It was a great job, management was very professional and I got really great opportunities after showing aptitude in my work.

I was recently approached by my old boss there to help with digital marketing for the Sex Party, where he's running the national campaign. I've been a Greens member for many, many years so helping another party isn't something I'd normally do, but as a favour I agreed to help sort out the party's web analytics.

Now the Senate preference tickets are out, which is the list that determines where your votes go if you vote Above The Line in the Senate. To my dismay, I discover the Sex Party are preferencing One Notion and the gun nuts above the Greens. That's it for me, no more support whatsoever.

What appears to have happened is that serial microparty deal maker Glenn Druery cut a range of deals that resulted in Sex Party and Wikileaks ultimately passing preferences over to One Notion. Pauline Pantsdown has done some fantastic analysis which describes how the game is played.


Polly Morgan also has some interesting insights. Really interestingly is it seems one person was responsible (and failed) for submitting the voting tickets for five parties, which kind of puts the lie to it!


More disappointment comes with news that anti-gambling campaigner Nick Xenophon has preferenced the two major parties, who have worked together to stymie his proposed gambling reforms, ahead of the only other major party that has supports his goals.

The safest approach this election is to vote 1 Greens above the line in the Senate. If you want to have complete control over your vote, try out the Below The Line site, but be sure you don't mess it up and end up making your ballot informal!

Underbelly Arts

We went out to Cockatoo Island on Sunday to the Underbelly Arts Festival. It was a stunning sunny day and the kids had a fantastic time. Kids seem to immediately understand that "art" just means "play" and get right into it.

No Marque, you can shove your environmental "concerns"

"Due to environmental concerns Marque Restaurant no longer uses bottled mineral water. In this regard we have installed a chilled, filtered, carbonated water system. To support this initiative $5 per person will be added to every bill."

Marque menu

Environmental "concerns" that give you an excuse to add $5 to everyone's bill. Riiiiight.

This is a restaurant that charges $245 per person for food + matching wines, yet they think adding a mandatory $5 so the pampered diners can have water a grade above Sydney's perfectly fine tap. No, you can shove that right up your clacker Marque. I can't stand bottled water, but paying for tap water is even more outrageous. Can I order un-wankified tap and get it free?

Shopping around for a fancy restaurant for our 15th anniversary. Marque just moved off the consideration list.

Our new local: Young Henry, The Cure's a Forest, brisket sandwich and a kid play room

The Henson opened tonight in the old "Henson Park Hotel" premises around the corner, after a short hiccup with their license. They've done a great job, stripping back some of the covers over the original art deco features, installing a kiddie play area, opening out the old back room as a great bistro. We were walking back from the park and thought we'd check it out and decided to stay for dinner. I think we were the first official customers in the place. This is probably the first blog post reviewing it.

Excellent beers on tap: we sampled the Young Henry's Real Ale and Matilda Bay's new Minimum Chips golden lager. Delicious. Dinner for me was a "knuckle sandwich": brisket, pickles, coleslaw on rye. Holly went the brown rice kimchi goreng and the kids had real fish fingers and chips. Yummo! All excellent.

Smokers are confined to a small section of the outdoor area, so you can eat outside without having to breathe that. What's more, the tables in view of the kiddie play area are smoke free and heated. Brilliant!

Welcome to the area Henson. We'll be back for sure. Possibly even tomorrow night if you're gonna have the Australia vs Japan match on...

The photos below are from the Powerhouse Museum and show the pub in 1936.