Monday, May 20, 2013

Exercise Helper

I was inspired by this article to start an exercise routine.  I liked the idea of a short, high intensity routine that could include both aerobic and strength training. Of course, I didn't think that I'd be able to do it at full intensity right away, so I decided not to really try.  I'd do as much as I was comfortable with, and stop when it was too much, taking significantly longer breaks between exercises than suggested.  And hopefully move up to the full routine when I was able.

But I didn't want to take too long of a break--for example, however long it would take to look up whatever exercise I was supposed to do next.  For that matter, how was I supposed to manage the timing?  Since it was based on short timed bouts rather than number of exercises (which was part of the appeal), I'd have to keep track of the time, which is a little hard to do while doing push-ups.

I decided the proper response was to write a program.  Since I'd been learning Java this past year, I had a pretty good idea how to write a Java program that would do most of what I wanted--show which exercise to do next, and time both the length of the exercise and the break between them (I wanted longer breaks between the exercise, but I still intended to keep it short).  Of course, it would be even better if my program could tell me what the next exercise was without me having to look at the screen.  So I found a Java-based voice synthesizer, Free TTS, and made that part of my program.  I also incorporated the illustrations from the above article.

The result is Exercise Helper.  It tells you what the next exercise is (speaks it out loud, actually), shows you an image which shows you how to perform the exercise, and then counts down the time to start.  Once you start, it times the duration of the exercise, while counting down out loud by ten second intervals (with a 3, 2, 1, done at the end).  And then it moves on to the next exercise.

Screen shot of Exercise Helper, sans figure.

I used the figures from the article, but since I'm not sure I can repost them here, the screenshot above blanks that part out.

Overall, it's a very useful program for me, though I'd have to do some work on it before it would be helpful for others (including the ability to load and store your own set of exercises).

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Dinner at Le Hobbit

Kristin and I spent the last weekend in Quebec city, the capital of the French-speaking province of Quebec, where we saw the sights and went to a lot of nice restaurants.  For the most part, our meals were planned in advance, with dinner at Panache and Pain Beni.  But on Sunday night, we (by which I mean mainly Kristin) decided to walk down Rue Saint-Jean until we found a place that we both liked to eat.  After saying no to a couple of places, we saw a place called Le Hobbit Bistro.  With a name like that we had to check it out.

After looking at the outdoor, chalkboard menu of the specials, Kristin declared it acceptable (as the menu was in French with no English translation), and we decided to eat there.  It was a decidedly better than expected.  The restaurant was mid-price by Quebec standards (meaning it still cost about $100 for two people, admittedly with dessert for one and a glass of wine for the other), but it was also second only to Panache (a top tier restaurant which cost four times as much) in the food.  So I would highly recommend it for anyone in Quebec.  I especially liked the dessert, a Mousse Caramel et Chocolat Noir.

We did ask about the name, and got several different versions, but the one we think is probably true is that back in the 70s, when the place was a bar and artist hangout with live performances and poetry readings, it had a very low ceiling.  That is what earned it the name Le Hobbit.

Monday, May 13, 2013

On Alienated Young Men

There's been a lot of talk recently about what motivated the Marathon bombers.  The assumption is that they were following the dictates of a radical form of Islam, but a lot of people think that it was their sense of alienation that drove them toward that belief system.   A lot of people are wondering what we can do to prevent young men, especially immigrants, from feeling like outsiders.

This is the wrong question.

There are always going to be alienated young men (and women).  Young people often feel like outsiders.  For many of us, it's simply a phase we go through.  I went through a couple of  years of feeling pretty isolated myself, where I lived alone and had a work-from-home job, and barely got out of the house.  I suspect that this was a more extreme form of alienation, a combination of my innate shyness and lack of impetus to get out, than most people ever experience.  It was a very lonely time for me, a time when I would sometimes feel like my life wasn't going anywhere.  And yet, it never occurred to me to lash out.

Some of this was just my nature.  Setbacks don't generally cause me to react with anger or depression.  Which is not to say that I was driven to overcome them.  My most common reaction to setbacks is to do my best to ignore them, using television, video games, and/or books.

But another large component is simply that it would be wrong.  My own belief system is quite emphatic that hurting people is wrong, so my mind is trained not to work that way.

And I wonder if this is part of the problem that we see in the case of not just the Marathon bombers, but others who commit horrific crimes--Sandy Hook, the Aurora movie theater shootings, and others.  The dominant philosophy today is one of postmodernism, that all beliefs are equally valid (or equally invalid).  However, a philosophy like that doesn't carry much weight when you need to decide what's right and what's wrong.  So people turn to other philosophies, ones that have clear lines and a strong code.  But since there's no guidance on how to choose a philosophy, nihilism is just as valid as theism or Platonism or Essentialism.

And when it comes to moral conduct, not all philosophies are created equal.  The problem is that our society wants to enforce moral conduct not with a solid grounding of any belief system, but an appeal to emotion and self-esteem.

This is not to say that there's only one belief system that a society can operate on.  Societies have successfully operated on many different belief systems.  But not all belief systems have successfully been a basis for a society.  And a society based explicitly on a refusal to acknowledge the truth of any belief system seems destined for difficulties.

The problem is that I'm not sure there's a good solution to this problem, not one that would be acceptable in a pluralistic society.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Review of Iron Man 3

Not many plot spoilers below, but I might give away an emotional epiphany or two.

Kristin and I went to see Iron Man 3 on Saturday.  While I greatly enjoyed it, Kristin found the plot confusing: I was surprised at some of the things she didn't follow.  Now my wife's very intelligent and a talented writer, so it had me wondering whether the movie was more confusing than I realized.  It may just be that I have an easier time dealing with leaps of Hollywood and/or comic-book logic, including a very questionable hacking scene, or maybe I got distracted by the pretty explosions and didn't pay as much attention to the plot as she did.  But be aware that the movie may not make much sense to everybody.

Which is a shame, because otherwise it was a lot of fun.  Aside from the aforementioned explosions, there were some nice character notes for Tony and his relationships, especially with Pepper, Rhodey, and the cute kid.  Yes, there's a cute kid.  Surprisingly, his presence doesn't turn the movie saccharine.  Tony Stark is just as abrasive and snarky with the cute kid as with everyone else, and the kid held his own.

Which brings us back to Tony.  Tony Stark dominates the Iron Man movies.  Which isn't too surprising, as he's the main character, but he owns the movies in ways that other main characters, even superheroes, don't.  Villains, like Loki in Thor, can often steal the show, but with the Iron Man movies the villains are bit players, and it's really about Tony and his personal demons.  In the first movie we saw him becoming a hero, while in the second we saw him backslide, as being a hero went to his head. The third movie is a bit different. He's still arrogant and larger than life, which he'll no doubt always be, but he's also more mature.  He met the price of being a hero in The Avengers, and any mention of the events in New York brings on a panic attack.

What brings him resolution is realizing that whether he's fighting without the suit (which he does very effectively) or whether he's using a ton of suits (which he also does by the end), it's not the armored suit that makes him Iron Man.  And that, I thought, was an epiphany he very much needed.