Helio Mag

News about fun stuff

The problem with sugar

obesity problemMichael Bloomberg who used to be mayor of New York, has been very successful with regard to health issues and implementing policy that help protect people from abuses from various food companies. In particular he is the one who started a movement against trans fats, which are hydrogenated oils often used in deep fryers. Nowadays these dangerous cholesterol spiking oils are practically banned in the USA.

But when it came to fighting sugars, Michael Bloomberg faced an uphill battle and he could not get similar laws to be applied. He targeted large sodas as these beverages contains various sugary content and have been credited for the rise in obesity all over the world. It is not just about natural sugars but industrialized varieties are also part of the problem, like high fructose corn syrups.

Banning these products is not an option as such attempt would be met by a barrage of contest reminiscent of the Prohibition. But something must be done. According to specialists a tax on sugar or products with excess sugary content would be hard to monitor and very unpopular. The only way would be to modify the regulation about labeling. Most ingredients of food products have a daily limit, such as cholesterol, fiber of fat, but there is none for sugar. This is due to lobbying by the large soft drink companies.

But experts believe that the total sugar content (both natural sweetener like stevia and artifical sweetness enhancer) could be reduced by as much as 75% without changing the taste of these beverages. The burden will be in the hands of the US Food and Drug Administration, which is in charge of the process for food labeling. Even though drink companies are selling more and more low-calorie or even zero-calorie items, these are the ones with large quantities of natural and artificial sweeteners.

One of the issues is that consumers are not aware of how much sugar they are eating every day, as more than 50% of added sugar intake comes from solid food, such as buns, hanburger, barbecue sauce, meat, cereal, yoghurt, etc. As these food items should not have sugar in them, but they do thanks for the food industry.

One of main targets a few years ago was high-fructose corn syrup, but the concern seems to have faded away so that companies which replaced it with natural sugar are now putting it back. One reason is that there are various types of sugars at play and labels are not clear about it. For example food industry experts do not agree if natural sugar and artificial sweetener should be all treated the same way or if they should be differentiated on the package labels.

In all the consumers are certainly misinformed one way or the other. If we were aware of all the sugar we eat on a daily basis from such processed food, we may reconsider what we buy and what we eat. Not only is the world facing an obesity epidemic (not just the USA), but diabetes is also on the rise with millions of people suffering from it. And excess sugar intake (natural or not) is clearly the main culprit.

The benefits of aerobics

aerobicsAerobics is a very dynamic sport where quick movements are performed on some rhythmic music. This discipline works mostly the lower body muscles, but it also strengthens and tones the bust.

One hour of practice can burn between 600 and 1000 calories depending on the intensity of the effort and the weight of the person. This activity is recommended for beginners and those who have back, knee or quadriceps tendons problems.

What are the benefits of this form of exercise to your health? Whatever your age, your weight or athletic ability, aerobics is good for you. When your body adapts to regular aerobic workouts, you will become stronger and more effective. Doing aerobic exercise can help you feel better and enjoy life to the fullest. Are are some good reasons to do regular aerobics.

Lose the extra pounds. Following a healthy, balanced diet and doing aerobic exercise can help you lose weight and not take those extra pounds.

Increase your stamina. Aerobic exercise can tire you in the short term. But in the long run you get more endurance and get less tired during physical exertion.

Avoid viral diseases. Your active aerobics will make your immune system stronger. This makes you less likely to be contaminated with minor viral illnesses such as colds and flus.

Reduce health risks. Fitness and aerobics reduce the risk of many diseases, including obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart attacks and certain types of cancer. Also doing aerobic exercises that involve holding a weight, such as walking (which is the weight of your body), reduces the risk of ostéropose.

Manage chronic diseases. Fitness and aerobics help to lower blood pressure and control blood sugar. If you have already had a heart attack, doing aerobic exercise helps prevent further attacks.

Strengthen your heart. A stronger heart does not necessarily need to beat faster. A stronger heart also pumps blood more efficiently, which improves blood circulation flowing to all parts of your body.

Keep your arteries clean. Aerobic exercise increases HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol) and lowers LDL (bad cholesterol). The potential result? Less accumulation of plaque in your arteries.

Boost your mood. Fitness and aerobics can help relieve the gloom of depression, reduce the stress and anxiety and help you relax, all to improve your mood.

Stay active and independent as you age. Aerobics keeps your muscles strong, which can help maintain your mobility when you get older. Fitness and aerobics can also keep your mind sharp. Aerobics at least 30 minutes 3 days a week seems to reduce cognitive decline in older people. The people doing aerobic exercise regularly seem to live longer than those who do not regularly.

Fitness and aerobics are physical activities without danger to most people, but sometimes it is important to first get approval from your doctor, especially if you have a chronic illness. When you are ready to start doing aerobics, start slowly. You could walk 5 minutes in the morning and 5 minutes in the evening. The next day, add a few minutes each session walking. Increase the speed a bit too. Soon, you can walk to a brisk pace for at least 30 minutes a day, and then reap all the benefits of regular aerobic activity.

Skiing, aerobic dance (such as Zumba for example), swimming, biking, jogging, rowing or doing the elliptical and stair climbing are other aerobic options. If you have a health problem that limits your ability to do aerobic exercise, ask your doctor about alternatives. If you have arthritis, for example, the exercises performed in the water can make you enjoy the benefits of aerobic activity without putting strain on your joints.

Language and logic

Man, I don’t know what it is about LW (Ludwig Wittgenstein), but it seems like the man’s name is mentioned in just about every philosophy book, especially when the topic concerns language. He’s almost as ubiquitous as Hume who I discovered to be much more astute than previously assumed. He wrote a major book and entered college at the ripe age of eleven, a fact I somehow missed before.

Today, at a large bookstore, I spent roughly two hours through three sections, psychology, web development and philosophy. I learned a little here and there about this and that. So, I walked over to the philosophy section after reading about AJAX and AI, and decided to see what philosophers, old and new, had to say about the relationship between language and logic. I thought I might have something. Now, I have something. And it’s big. It’s a monster. It’s a herculean monster. It might even be a sisyphean herculean monster, which are rare, indeed. The only problem is that I’m sort of skipping ahead of myself and it’s possible that my intuition is misguided and short-sight. Something other than right.

Anyhow, so, I started digging into one philosopher after another, finding good ideas here or there, excellent ideas in spells. The trick with philosophers, you see, especially ancient Greek philosophers, is that, if you’re looking for something specific, you sometimes have to read in chunks, extracting important chunks of data while bypassing the verbosity, like using a sieve at an archaeological dig. Yes, knowledge is digging. You just need finer and finer sieves the deeper you go. But don’t try this with postmodern philosophers; you’ll only get your hands dirty. Or bloody.

Anyhow, I extracted a few semi-precious ideas, deductions, what have you, placed them where they belong alongside other ideas, deductions, what have you, and, then, when what do my wondering eyes should appear but Ludwig’s Blue and Brown Books.

I could not have found a better book. I didn’t buy it. That’s dessert. Dessert’s later. Finishing the broccoli. With cheese. What I did do, however, was read the mind of someone who very likely “got it.” He very likely saw the connection like a composer sees his composition, all at once, in his head, complete. LW’s trick was to find a way to explain it. Whereof you don’t know how to explain something, thereof keep your trap shut. A trap. A game. Say cheese!

Anyhow, so, here is what I found more enlightening than bodhisattva. Let’s say Wittgenstein was sitting on a plane of enlightenment known affectionately as Siddhartha Gautama’s bald spot. And what he found might very well settle the score between descriptivist and direct reference theorists. It seems nihilistic, but I don’t think it is underneath. It’s basic. It’s a matter of looking at reality from the perspective of what we know about how we know anything about reality with no credit for preconceptions.

In his Blue and Brown Books, Wittgenstein gives an example of looking at a swatch of paint on a barn door. He says that when we think of this swatch, it is as if we have drawn a black chalk outline around it. The point is that we take what is already in our heads and project it onto what we see, giving us a picture of reality from an aggregate of what we know about it.

Wittgenstein then notes that this makes it unnecessary to have a “sample” of our thoughts present when thinking about something the sample represents. A name is its own referent. I’m making this bold because, if you remember nothing else, remember this. LW says that we do not have thoughts about things but to things. Making sense of something means comparing what we experience with what we already know.

In this light, then, the reference debate between descriptivist and direct reference theorists can be differently interpreted. A name represents an object, idea, emotion, quality, etc., and each is, in turn, represented by a predetermined, finite conceptualization. One can refer to conceptualization as a description, sense impression, reference, or whatever, but, whatever name you give it, it consists of mental abstraction, which can be broken down and concretized.

That’s what I remember from what I read. If that’s way off base, I apologize. I don’t think it is, though. And, like I mentioned earlier, I don’t think this makes LW a nihilist in the least. I think it makes him a hero. I think so, anyways. Lots to digest. No firm convictions. Chomsky might be right, after all, in opining that formal languages and natural languages are completely different. That’s sort of what LW thought, too, if I understand him properly. Maybe that’s the fatalistic part.

A humorous historic perspective on the internet

DARPANET, NSFNET—noticing a trend? And if you’re not satisfied with how fast your Net connection is, think again—your text messages zoom around about sixty thousand times faster than they did back in the days of these dozers. Anyway an especially smart guy named Vint Cerf (now there’s a name straight from a science fiction book) and some of his computer-oriented pals came up with a way for all these networks to talk to each other. A common language.

He probably wanted everyone to call it the “VINTERNET”, or maybe something super-nerdy like “TCP/IP Protocol” …oh wait, he did call it that. But no one wants to say “can you send me that via TCP/IP PROTOCOL?” because that answer’s always going to be “do what?” So people started calling it the “Internet.” Or the Net. How did it work? By cutting all information into little packages, and addressing each and every little package.

Sounds simple enough, but from Vint Cerf working all this out to Jane Shmoe ordering her first pair of stockings from Amazon.com? We’re talking about 20 years. From those stockings arriving to Jane reminiscing about them on her online video diary? Another 10. That’s now. Is that really the whole story? TCP whatever and then you have the Internet? No. Because the way the Net talks will change, but it will still be the Net. And however much it’s going to change, and change the world, it’s probably going to run on one much more basic idea than TCP etcetera. An idea that got pretty well worked out, oh, about 301 years ago.

When you argue with your cable company about how slow your Web pages are uploading? You’re talking bits. Megabits. Kilobits. Bits. That’s where it started. Germany. Way, way back in the day. THE BiT OK. Once upon a time, there was a mathematician with the biggest hair in all of Germany and possibly in all of the civilized world. His name was Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. In 1705 he published a paper about “bits,” and from that moment, the Internet was probably all just a matter of time. Lebniz had this notion (pretty much useless back in 1697, mind you) that you could reduce any math to just ones and zeroes and it would still work. No more one two three four, but on, off, on on on, off off. Forever.

Of all the inventions that had to happen for your phone to give you e-mail access, or your car to show you a live updated traffic map to the megamall, this is the biggie, this is the one that hasn’t changed one bit—ouch, I mean one iota—since its invention. It’s the basis of all modern computing. By the time Vint Cerf was figuring out a way to cut information into packets that knew where they ought to go, binary logic was rote memory from his first computer science class.

rakeback games
But now here’s the philosophical part. And Leibniz would have wanted it this way. Because he would say he didn’t invent binary numbers, he would say he discovered them, like an explorer discovering an island. And historians would back him up—other people had figured this out before, like thousands of years before. But it’s pretty safe to say that he’s the one the guys who built the first computers were reading. The thing is, he thought he’d discovered something truly fundamental about the universe, like fire, or electricity… And maybe he did. Think of it this way: “Computers” as we think of them might just be a flash in the proverbial pan of history, compared with the Net.

The Internet is taking over a lot of the duties computers used to have—your life is virtualizing as we speak. Your phone does most of the things you used to need a computer to do, and your computer will soon need the Internet to even function. Think about games for example. First you could play all sorts of games on your computer, but then the Web introduced multi-players games like Texas Holdem, and millions of players have used a titan poker bonus code to play online poker for real money. But nowadays people are using their phone to play these games, and they can enjoy that from almost anywhere as they do not need an Internet connection.

In fact, it was when cell phones switched from old-school “analog” (the digital age’s equivalent of shouting really loud) technologies to digital that they started working a lot better, and the line between the “Internet,” your “phone” and “a computer” got a whole lot blurrier. Everything is going online and the idea of being offline, at any time, will get more distant and strange with every passing month…or day, really. It won’t disappear, but the context will change.

Imagine a world where “I saw it on the Internet” is as archaic as “I lit the room using electricity.” Right? The Internet will soon be this fundamental. Our context is shifting, our perspective is in radical flux. We’re in the middle of something that by any measure is just getting started. Thinking about Leibniz, with his wig collection and his exquisite handwriting, filling up a thousand quill-ink pages on “bits,” might give a little perspective on the Net—or it might make you woozy. Or both. But Leibniz’ “bits” were the first flag on the information moon. They mark the beginning of the new territory, the information-space where everything that can be turned into bits, will be. Thank you for reading. We now return you to the history in progress.

Mobile games

Today, you can go to Helsinki, Finland, to catch a glimpse of the future of the “mobile surveillance” playing field. An erudite ex-Nokia researcher by the name of Jyri Engeström has recently assembled a small team to develop a mobile social software startup: Jaiku.

Jaiku takes over your phone’s buddy list and default screen and presents unprecedented levels of personal mobile disclosure. Seated on a blanket in the grass during a rural picnic, Engeström excitedly demonstrates a working prototype—his buddy list, with greatly expanded information: “By glancing at my phone, I know a lot of things about my close friends.” Engeström begins to read from his screen: “I know Teemu is on his way home from work in a part of Helsinki called Haaga.

He’s probably on the bus because there are many people around him.” Engeström knows this because Jaiku reads local Bluetooth device signatures to see if other people (friends or strangers) are in the vicinity. He continues: “Mika has been home from work for about an hour and his girlfriend is out. And they can see that I’m working on my laptop at our summer place in Fiskars.”

Keeping tabs on your friends is, in a way, a more intimate parallel to government Big Brother surveillance: “sousveillance,” researcher Steve Mann calls it. Engeström explained the appeal of this level of personal information sharing: “I think rich presence is a good thing because it makes you feel closer to the people you care about. For instance, I don’t see my mom as often as I’d like, but now she knows that I’m OK, and I feel good knowing she can see what I’m up to even if I don’t call her every day.”

With this software, your buddy list knows where you are—they might join you if they’re able. Friends might ask you to run errands for them as you’re on the road. Your location and status provides a constant performance, and a constant invitation to others.

Everyone in your buddy list knows where you are, and even a bit of what you’re doing: that’s the sort of awareness present in today’s massive multiplayer online games. In environments like World of Warcraft, players can see their list of friends, where they are in the world, what their immediate status is. With a layer of fiction added on top, software like Jaiku could turn all of mobile life into that kind of virtual environment: a multiplayer online game you play—just by living. Instead of waiting in line at the pizza parlor, you are preparing to do battle for the liberation of Hibernia. Instead of driving home from school, you are carrying an important telegram for the galactic trade ministry.

Why bother? Because without that layer of fun, real-time information disclosure could seem invasive, or even creepy, at least at first. Abstraction and metaphor would allow people to experiment with their personal data trail without being too specific. If the game takes place as you’re using your device, then you accrue experience and items just from moving and communicating. If the game caught on, you might find yourself going out of your way to boost certain statistics—“I’m showing up as a member of the Santa Monica gang; I better put some more time in Echo Park.”

Or maybe your avatar isn’t you, but your pet instead. Picture a Tamagotchi in your mobile device where your creature is fed passively through the data you consume and process. If you frequent a certain restaurant, your data pet would be fed that food, and so it would dress like that cuisine (a sombrero, lederhosen, salwar kameez). If you attend a Mos Def concert, your data pet would be seen listening to his hip-hop collection. As these data pets take on your characteristics, you can send them out into the world to mingle with other avatars. Picture your souvenir-laden data pet bumping into other data pets: checking out someone’s data pet to see where they had been, and doing a bit of surrogate data pet show and tell.

So much of what we do with technology is social. That time people spend on MySpace, e-mailing, chatting—it’s become the primary way in which we stay connected. And the level of intimacy is constantly evolving. Already you can see a kind of casual exhibitionism on photo-sharing sites and social networking sites: “Here I am eating this crazy food.” “Here I was so drunk visiting our mutual friend.” With systems like Jaiku, and the games that could be built on top of this type of surveillance, moving around and making calls could literally be transformed into a type of performance piece.

It may be awhile before we are technically able to share all this real-time data through our mobile devices. Some services still seem to have enough trouble with picture messages, let alone constant status updates. Besides, this kind of active online life drains batteries and eats through data-plan megabytes. And it’s not clear that all folks will be comfortable with this level of personal disclosure, at least not without some strong privacy controls that take time to learn and deploy. Technical and privacy barriers aside, software like Jaiku shows us what mobile phones are for. Remember when phones used to belong to houses? You called someone’s house and hoped they were there. Then there were phones in cars! Now we have phones on people, and we’re likely only to become more connected.

The result? With a mobile device, you are already part of a braintrust: one of many experts scattered around the globe, waiting to solve problems. Think about it—you can contact so many other people who have their phone in their pockets: priests, politicians, performers, professionals. Some farmer in the Philippines could drunk dial you right now and ask for relationship advice. What good can that do? Warren Ellis had an idea: he wrote the comic book Global Frequency, where all manner of folks around the world carry special mobile devices so they might be called in to solve global problems.

You might not be a nuclear physicist, ready to defuse a bomb, but you could play one on your mobile phone. Using technology like Jaiku, we can build Global Frequency-type games: shared objectives for teams of people. With these kinds of games, we learn to solve problems, and prototype the collective future: where we are plugged in to each other wherever we are.

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