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February 27, 2008

Prog-rock bands get a lot of flack for being all "flutes and fairies" and mellotron symphonic pomposity. That's sometimes true, but put this in your workout mix and see if you get some extra reps: SAGA's "On the Loose" (from Worlds Apart) live on German TV. I'm reminded of prog-metal giants Dream Theater, except this was written in 1981. Nice crunchy guitar thanks to largely overlooked guitar hero Ian Crichton, and some excellent driving beats too. (P.S. note kitschy 1992-era "synth-heavy prog band on European tour" fashion choices...)

So now Worlds Apart and Silent Knight are back on my Amazon wish list since they seem to have been among the CDs stolen out of my car back in 1999.

February 20, 2008

San Francisco has two seasons: sunny and rainy. Rainy season lasts from about November to March, and if it isn't raining, it's overcast. Having vacationed last February in Seattle, I can say that the same general impression applies: beautiful city, nice people, but depressing due to the weather.

To combat the feelings of mild depression and low energy that come from cold and gloomy weather, I've been doing a few things. Turning on lights doesn't seem to help, but I'm not anywhere near the extreme brightness recommended for light therapy; those "light boxes" are expensive and seem really impractical. Right now we're moving toward the cheap (subsidized in California) $1 compact fluorescent bulbs; the lamp next to my desk has a 100W-equivalent (1850 lumens) 23W compact fluorescent bulb in it. Add that to four recessed light cans in the ceiling and another lamp by Kim's desk (halogen, which will be replaced with a normal lamp and fluorescent bulb soon) and it's not so gloomy in here.

Keeping the room warm (as opposed to bundling up a lot) definitely helps me to want to be active. We recently got a fancier space heater, since the one we had was doing a poor job of heating the whole room and keeping the temperature stable. Enter the Vornado DVTH whose design specifically addresses the temperature equilibrium issue and the air circulation issue. It only heats one room, and more notably, it emits an quite audible buzzing sound, but we strap on the headphones and listen to music all day anyway so it's easy for us to ignore that. (Thanks to Faisal for the recommendation.)

Finally, the real help for me has come from a combination of L-Tyrosine and flax seed oil. Tyrosine is an amino acid that is a precursor to dopamine and epinephrine (a.k.a. adrenaline), and is recommended in the fascinating book Healing ADD: The Breakthrough Program That Allows You to See and Heal the 6 Types of ADD. Flax seed oil is a source of alpha-linolenic acid ("ALA", an omega-3 fatty acid) which can be metabolized into DHA, which in turn has been associated with serotonin production (which is itself a precursor of melatonin, which may be familiar to you as the hormone you take to combat jet lag). It may seem pretty farfetched but I figure that since this is in my diet anyway and there is some scientific testing behind the association between omega-3 and SAD and tyrosine and ADHD, the worst I'd be doing would be wasting money on pills containing stuff I already got enough of; on the other hand, there's reason to believe they might work. Well, they did; I did a couple of one day on / one day off tests with the tyrosine and flax seed oil pills (1 500mg tyrosine capsule, 1 1000mg flax seed oil capsule), and I could clearly tell the difference. Interestingly, one or the other seemed to have far less effect than the two together.

Some more reading led me to believe that DHA is the specific omega-3 fatty acid associated with SAD relief. Unfortunately, flax seed oil is low in DHA, and ALA is not well converted in the body into DHA. So basically vegetarians either need to eat a lot of quinoa (which I think is perfectly reasonable since it's cheap, tasty, easy to integrate into familiar dishes, and highly nutritious in other ways), or take algae-derived DHA supplements. Non vegetarians have an easier time of it, because fish oil contains lots of DHA (the fish eat those DHA-making algae, so you get the DHA either way).

You might be asking yourself why this is necessary - ancestral humans didn't know any of this stuff, and they seemed to survive pretty well. Well, consider two things: preservation, and diet. Ancestral humans ate all sorts of random foods, in very unprocessed form, including things like whole grains and fish, and they didn't put them in a box and ship them around the world to sit on a shelf for months or years. Essential fatty acids spoil quickly, which is why flax seed oil in liquid form has to be refrigerated and even then only lasts a short time before going rancid. Enter hydrogenation, which makes trans fats that don't spoil and taste fantastic, but are very unhealthy. So now that trans fats are out of fashion, vegetable oils once high in ALA are being bred for low ALA content. And as beef and salmon are farm-raised, their intake of omega-3 fatty acids (from grass and algae, respectively) is falling.

Clearly, it'd be better to eat a very balanced diet, and Kim is helping me with that, but until somebody makes that task a lot easier, I'm sticking with targeted supplements, and the magic of quinoa (which contains ALA, DHA, and Phenylalanine, a precursor of Tyrosine).

February 19, 2008

Peeve: electrocution entails death. The non fatal version is called electric shock.

Interesting: Netflix, Citing a Clear Signal From the Industry, Will Carry High-Def DVDs Only in Blu-ray Format. Toshiba Announces Discontinuation of HD DVD Businesses.

Where is All the Oil Money Going? (biased at the end, but fascinating info about how the money is being spent)

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center (at Dulles Airport): the Enola gay, Enterprise, and an SR-71? Awesome!

Microsoft values Yahoo Visitors at $1,200 Each. I have to agree (for once) with Dvorak (from TWIT episode 130): Yahoo would just be another lead boot for Microsoft to strap on.

Scary: More on Société Générale from Marc Andreesen.

Funny: The Illustrated President, Time Breakdown of Modern Web Design, How the LOTR Should Have Ended.