Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sugar is poison

Those latest adds by the Corn Refiner's Association which are trying to "rebrand" high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) as the same as sugar scare me. Why would they spend so much telling me it is "safe" if it were actually safe? I know, I'm a skeptic.
Last night, I thought I'd try and educate myself about this. Here is what I found out.
Sucrose is normal granulated sugar, the stuff we put in coffee or on cereal. Sucrose is made up of two other sugars in equal proportions -- Glucose and Fructose -- which are bonded together. When you eat table sugar (Sucrose), your body breaks it down into Glucose and Fructose.
Glucose is the energy of life. It is in rice, pasta, grains, etc. It can be metabolized (used) by muscles, but is mostly broken down in the liver and stored until you burn it off (or, if you don't burn it off, it is turned into fat). Fructose, on the other hand, can only be metabolized by the liver. But there are a bunch of other nasty things that Fructose does.
Fructose is found mostly in fruit (but fruit contains fibre which mitigates some of its bad effects). Fructose does not create an insulin response, which is why it is used by diabetics as a sweetener. Fructose creates uric acid which causes gout and hypertension. Fructose is more readily turned into fat than Glucose. A good analogy for Fructose is another carbohydrate, Ethanol, or booze. Ethanol is fine in small quantities but in large quantities, it causes toxic effects on the liver and your body. Fructose acts in exactly the same way, but without the buzz. Fructose, like Ethanol, is a poison! With all poisons, it is dosage that determines toxicity.
Okay, so what is High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) and why is it so bad? Well, HFCS is just Glucose (corn syrup) and Fructose, typically in exactly the same proportion as they are found in Sucrose (table sugar). They just aren't bonded together, which really doesn't mean anything because as soon as Sucrose hits your small intestine, it is broken apart. Look at the image above. The top (Glucose Fructose) is HFCS and the bottom (Sucrose) is table sugar. They are the same. Your body treats them the same. So what is the big deal? Here's the thing: it isn't that HFCS is worse than sugar, it is that sugar is really bad and HFCS is the same as it.
The real problem is HFCS is really cheap so it is put in everything to make it taste better. Here is a good analogy. Image table sugar is rat poison. In the past, it used to sit in a bowl on your table and you'd put it in coffee or on porridge or in baking. But if you didn't put it in stuff you wouldn't eat it. You could control your intake. But now, the rat poison is in everything: bread, juice, pop, cereal, anything processed. So if you don't put rat poison in your coffee, who cares, because you are getting it in everything else you eat. That is what makes HFCS so dangerous, is that there is no escaping it.
Sugar is poison, whatever the form.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Trendy Computer Hair Imaging

This is the greatest name for a business. My guess is you bring in a photo of your favourite computer so you can find out what he'd look like in an Edward wig. (Needless to say, I prefer Jacob.)

Speaking of "computer hair", take a look at me in the corner. Of course, my hair can't be considered "trendy" anymore, as that picture of me was taken at my grad party in 1990. It takes a lot of hair spray to keep that much hair up. I just can't afford it.

My 20th high school reunion was last weekend. It is amazing how you can just pick up where you left off with people. The reunion was very well done but I think I drank too much tequila. Thankfully, tequila is made from cactii, so I had no hangover.

So back to T.C.H.I. If I had hair, I might check it out to reward them for having such a brave name. Seriously, service is so bad in Calgary that trying a business based on their name is just as likely as anything else to lead to good service.

A few weeks ago, I wanted to buy a new car stereo. Our 2006 Kia was made just before ipod jacks were standard, so we need an FM receiver to listen to mp3s. So rather than buy a new car that has an ipod jack standard (hahaha, just kidding ... um ... cough cough) I wanted to just get a new stereo.

I go into Future Shop and spend 20 minutes looking at different models. I'm surprised that three salesmen are not humping my leg, so I decide to go look at TVs instead. Right around the corner are 5 -- count them FIVE -- associates standing around bs-ing. I go to Best Buy and a very nice associate helps me almost immediately. He points out the Sony stereo is on sale and includes installation. "Bag it up," I say. (What? "Bag it up" isn't in style any more. Wow!) So the kid looks in the computer and then declares that he doesn't have a dash kit for my model of car. Okay. So what does that mean? "You could look on the internet for one," he says and then just stands there. I guess this means I'm going to be leaving with all the money I came in with.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Poor impulse control

I just recently bought a new high definition TV (HDTV). TV buying can be daunting and complicated, so I thought I'd go through the things I learned in my hunt.

Only a year ago, I bought a 46" LCD Toshiba TV for $1600 at Visions. One of the main reasons we got it was it had an "upscaler", which allegedly made standard definition (SD) inputs (like from a DVD player) look high definition (HD). It worked okay, but we started watching more movies on our Blu-ray player and HD cable, so it because less and less useful.

It was fine, but the feature that I really coveted was called Smoothing. Sony calls it "Motion Flow" and Samsung calls it "Auto Motion Plus". Before I explain what Smoothing is, I have to explain how TV signals work.

Motion pictures are filmed at a rate of 24 frames per second (fps). Every second, 24 unique frames flash before your eyes. Television is broadcast at 60 fps. Since 60 is not divisible by 24, when movies are shown on TV they have to do something called 3:2 pulldown. What it means is the first frame is shown twice, the second frame is shown three-times, the third frame is shown twice, etc. See below for an example:

[A] [A] [B] [B] [B] [C] [C] [D] [D] [D] ...

3:2 pulldown can result in a flickery and blurry effect which is typically called judder. TV manufacturers have tried to combat this by increasing the frame rate of HDTVs to 120 fps (more commonly called 120 Hz). 120 is dividable by 24, so each movie frame is shown 5 times.

This can only fix the picture so much. Just flashing the same picture 5 times may make it slightly clearer, but it doesn't change the fact that it is the same picture. This is where Smoothing comes in.

Smoothing software in the TV tries to predict what the image would look like between two frames. So if a golf ball is on one side of the screen in one frame, and then on the other in the next, the Smoothing software tries to create a new frame with the ball in the middle. Smoothing tends to make film look more like video. It is very visible when the camera pans slowly across a scene. It also makes computer-animated movies look hyper-real.

Smoothing tends to only be available on higher end TVs. Sony and Samsung (the top two LCD TV manufacturers) each had TVs with the feature that I was looking at but they were about $2400. If I had better impulse control, I'd wait until September or January, which are the best times to buy TVs. But I walked into a Walmart last week. Right in the middle of a bank of TVs I saw the beautiful glassy image of a TV with Smoothing enabled. They were showing Avatar and even though I don't really like that movie, I stood there for 20 minutes, totally ignoring the three phone calls Karen made to my cell phone. (I swear, honey, I did not hear my phone ringing.) I couldn't believe the incredible smooth image on a 47" TV that was only $1000. I did a little bit of research on the brand (no-name Vizio) to make sure it wasn't a total dog, and then picked it up on the weekend.

It was the wife and my 11th anniversary, so it is really a gift to us. Your welcome, Karen.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Monkey & who?

Take a look at the picture to your left. You just got 10% dumber.

This calendar, whimsically named "Monkey & Me" has one problem. There is not a damn monkey to be seen. The animals on the cover are CHIMPANZEES. Let's list the differences between monkeys and chimps.

Monkeys have tails.
Chimps have human-like ears.
Monkeys throw feces.
Chimps can use tools.

It is really difficult to mix them up. Chimps sometimes EAT monkeys! Come on!

For the longest time, I thought that bears and gorillas were related. Not first cousins or anything, but when you put them on the animal tree, they were close. People like my wife have teased me about this. I had no idea where I got this stupid idea until I was watching an old episode of The Little Rascals. In it, they capture a "bear" in the woods, and the "bear" is being played by a guy in a gorilla suit. They say "bear", I see gorilla, and I'm 1% mentally handicapped for 20 years. This is serious business. Calendars like the one above can cause real mental harm.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Gay Marriage and Abortion

These are very serious and controversial issues. I will not talk about them at all. Instead, I'll talk about some other issues which concern me.


In Canada, it is illegal to charge more than 60% yearly in interest. But every day, thousands of Canadians are charged much higher rates at payday loan companies like Money Mart and Cash Money. The maximum amount these companies can charge in interest and "fees" is 0.13% per day. For example, if you borrow $1000 you can only be charged $1.28 per day! These stores get around the law by adding fees to the transaction, in addition to the interest rate, which can drive the actual annual interest rate up into the thousands of percent.

Payday loan companies pray on the poor and those who may not understand how punishing compound interest is. They must be regulated nationally.

Statistics and Surveys

There is a subject I think requires more explanation in school. That is Statistics.

Almost every day, we are exposed to some survey in the media. But we should not treat them as all the same. Surveys are only valid if 1) they are random, 2) enough people participate, 3) the questions are good.

First, many surveys aren't truly random. Telephone surveys can be slightly biased because they only survey people who own phones, have their number in a phone book, and (more importantly) agree to participate in the survey. Internet surveys are terrible because only people who are truly passionate tend to respond.

Second, the more people who participate, the more accurate the survey. But keep in mind the actual population size. 100 people surveyed may be fine to know the opinion of Kia drivers but not to know the opinion of all Canadians.

Third, the questions need to be clear, not-loaded, and unbiased. For example, "Should it be illegal to beat your child?" will give different results than "Do you think the government should be able to tell you how to discipline your child?". This is why it is important to look at the source of the survey if the results look wonky.

Finally, what do those margin of error statements mean (e.g., plus or minus 5 percentage points, 19 out of 20 times)? The first number is accuracy and the second is repeatability. Accuracy is how close the survey is to the actual opinion of the population being surveyed. Repeatability means if they did the survey again, how likely are they to get that same accuracy. Luckily, the repeatability on most surveys is 95% (19 out of 20 times) so looking at the percentage accuracy is a good judge of the survey.

Surveys are just one part of statistics. Many people confuse correlation and causation (e.g., most prisoners are smokers, but that doesn't mean most smokers are criminals) and put far too much weight on anecdotal evidence (e.g., violent crime has steadily decreased since the 70's, but people still yearn for the "good ol' days").

Okay, there I'm done. Oh right, I hate ads before movies. Yeah. Okay, now I'm done.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Goodbye Noughties

It is 2010, and I thought it would be fun to look back at what blighted the Noughties.


The highest grossing movie of all time, Transformers II, is practically unwatchable due to what I like to call, "Visual Tourettes". This decade saw one of the worst gimicks in movies catch on: the shaky cam.

Shaky cam has been used sparingly in the past for two reasons:
1. To give a amateur documentary feel (e.g., Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield). Note the "amateur". No good documentarian would have that much trouble holding the camera steady. Its not like the camera is balanced on their head.
2. To shoot fight scenes in movies where the director was too lazy to actually train his actors. Shaking the camera hides the fact that punches are landing 3 feet from the other guys face. A perfect example is Bourne Identity vs. Bourne Ultimatum and Bourne Supremacy. The former has good fight scenes where you know what is going on. The latter would be better viewed while riding the Tilt-a-Whirl.

Two ridiculous things that must be mentioned:
A) Shaky cam in CG shots. The robots fighting in Transformers look like a bike and a garbage can rolling down a hill.
B) Shaky cam in scenes when nothing is happening. The hero may be faxing a letter and for no apparent reason, the camera is bobbing and weaving like a drunk got ahold of it.
C) Shaky cam to simulate POV shots of people running. Next time you go for a run, see if everything looks shaky. People's eyes naturally focus on a point, and will adjust as you run. Things might look shaky if you're running down the street with your hair on fire.

I hope this "technique" dies off because many many good movies have been destroyed due to these ADD cameramen.


Three shoe styles have come out this decade which need to be called out.

Uggs - Never has a shoe had a more appropriate name. To be fair, these shoes don't look terrible when new. After a while, these things slouch and begin to look like kid's nasty winter boots. And women will wear this things with tucked in sweat pants, rolled up jeans, or with mini-skirts. I know, I know, they are comfortable, but you look like you robbed a hobo.

Crocs - Better living through chemistry! Crocs, plastic bags, and water bottles are not biodegradable. They also share something else in common: they shouldn't be worn on your feet.

Fitness Shoes (eg., MBT anti-shoe, Sketchers Shape-ups) - These shoes are so mind-bogglingly ugly that I thought I'd make them the symbol of the year. These are like wearing a pair of rocking chairs on your feet. I had some weird shoes growing up (Reebok Pumps that actually pumped up, shoes with springs in them to make you jump higher) but the only fitness you'll get wearing these Frankenstein shoes is running away from people with pitchforks chasing you.

Okay, that's it. Those are my two nitpicks for an otherwise good decade. Of course, if you wear or like any of the things I talked about, I wasn't talking about you.