Monthly Archives: November 2013

50 amazing photos taken at just the right moment

This will make you smile. And I’m just glad it didn’t come from Buzzfeed.

“The 50 Pictures in Perfect Timing”

I still suspect one or two of those might have been photoshopped (and some of them were definitely planned), but it’s a great set and there are some pretty incredible shots in there.

How you can build a standing desk on the cheap

If you’re big into ergonomics (ie treating your body right at work or at home), you may know what a standing desk is. Humans are not meant to be sitting all day, yet many of us do, and it does awful things to our backs and general health. What’s even scarier is that it doesn’t matter how active we are the rest of the time when we aren’t sitting. Even if you are a triathlete, if you sit for hours a day, it’s not good for you.

One solution to this problem is a “standing desk”. Basically, it involves elevating your keyboard, mouse and monitor so that they are at a comfortable position for you to use when standing. Emilie from Puttylike to the rescue! She has found a very cheap and workable solution (around $20) compared to the “official” version which will run you $600. The cheap solution may not be as elegant, but it still totally works and hey, who doesn’t like to save $580 dollars? I have tried this crudely at home, and the only problem with it is that it takes time to get used to. My legs could only handle about 2 hours max of standing still before they would get sore and tired.

For the last 2 years I actually have been using a yoga ball chair at work (and at home) for a better way to sit when I have to sit. I had the same problem, at first I couldn’t handle it for more than 15 or 20 minutes at a time, then I could handle 1-2 hours, then 4, then 6, and after 6 months, I was using it full time. It looks kinda silly, but I love it.

As for the yoga ball chair, the ball itself is very cheap (you can get one for $20 from Walmart), but the plastic wheeled base that it mounts into is not, and I don’t know if you can find a cheap version anywhere. It seems custom made and when you consider the price tag of the complete unit (which I was willing to pay), the base costs about $90. Admittedly a rip-off but as I said, I don’t know where else I could get something like that without having it custom made, which would have been expensive anyway. And without the base, it’s much harder to sit on the ball because you not only have to sit up straight but you also have to keep yourself from rolling around, which is extra exertion and extra distraction (at work). The base keeps you in one spot (it has wheels on the bottom so it does roll like a normal computer chair) and basically makes it so only your core is really doing any work (which is the point). I also find that sitting on essentially an air cushion takes a lot of pressure off your spine/tailbone.

Now, even the most comfortable office chairs I have sat on with the most padding, eventually my tailbone starts to hurt. And they encourage slouching which weakens your back and core muscles and contributes to muscle tightness (which may or may not later require massage therapy or chiro visits to help relieve). I’ve never had that problem on this ball chair. It is very comfortable once you get used to it.

Also, check out this resource from Tim Ferriss, also centered around ergonomics and productivity and health improvements at work. Both yoga balls and standing desks are featured as well as other things.

Meet Claudette Colvin, the real Rosa Parks

I was just reminded of this and wanted to post it for those who don’t know.

You’ve probably heard of Rosa Parks, the African American woman who refused to give up her seat on the bus decades ago that kicked off the civil rights movement.

What you may not know is that she wasn’t the first. Nine months prior to this incident, a pregnant unwed 16 year old girl named Claudette Colvin did the same thing. Obviously even these days, being a pregnant unwed teenage girl is a big deal, so imagine how much bigger of a deal it was back then (1955). I have heard it said that this is the reason Claudette was not made the poster child for civil rights, because no one at that time would have accepted it. Rosa Parks was a more viable candidate.

Just thought you might like to know about that little bit of history.

Take what you need

A little inspiration.

Give what you can, and…

take what you need

Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

This is what a scientist looks like

I attended an event last week that I have not had a chance to write about in any detail yet, but a comment was made by the presenter that reminded me of this blog I heard about on a podcast.

The presenter was saying “when you google “scientist”, you always get one of two images – either a white guy with glasses and a labcoat, or a mad scientist”. He was dismayed that the public generally thought a “scientist” had a very specific look and would not think to consider something different.

Enter This Is What a Scientist Looks Like. Real people, real scientists, most of them not in a lab coat, and even plenty of women! All hope is not lost!

Movember and “Manning Up”

I came across a couple of items this week related to men and being a man that handily challenge the concept and turn your attention to some important and seldom talked about issues related to the concept.

First is a video challening the idea of the phrase “man up”. Some excellent beat poetry:

Next is an article written by a muslim man (Riaz Sayani-Mulji) about Movember. I really appreciated the perspective he gives, rightfully pointing out how Movember is really a “white bro” centric thing, and sadly/shamefully, said white bros have taken something that is supposed to be positive, and turned it into yet another thing they can discriminate and be king sh** about.

I highly recommend reading the whole thing, but here are some excerpts:

Yet my moustache wasn’t looked upon too kindly by my predominantly white classmates — I remember being laughed at for what some had deemed my “Paki stache.”

Living in a post-9/11 Canada rampant with Islamophobia, I was hesitant to grow facial hair. I had already been called a “terrorist” enough as a clean-shaven, brown-skinned young man — the idea of growing more facial hair, and giving strangers even more of a reason to do things like shout “Go back to Afghanistan” from their cars while I crossed the street, was out of the question.

We live in a society that likes to separate gender into two categories — or binaries — which stipulate specific roles and characteristics to each of them. So if women have even small amounts of facial hair, like moustaches, sideburns or goatees, they endure ridicule and shaming as a result.

When we consider that women of colour are more likely to have this facial hair be visible, or are coming from cultural contexts where facial hair on women is the norm and thus don’t take steps to remove it the way Western women might, it highlights how facial hair can be such a triggering subject along the lines of race.

And this shaming is exacerbated during Movember, with some “Mo Bros” openly jeering at women with facial hair and demanding that Movember be for men only [emphasis added].

Not to mention that the realities of “man” and “woman” aren’t reducible to gender binaries. For cis-people, where gendered experience easily maps onto their sexed body, Movember might not seem so threatening. But for trans people, what if they decide to grow a moustache — how are they included in Movember? Or how about a trans woman with testicles — are they allowed to participate?

Another reason why I don’t participate in Movember is because growing a moustache is such a strong symbol of masculinity in our society. Masculinity, or what it means to be a “real man,” is directly connected to the idea of dominance over women.

Just look at how Movember is promoted — it’s common to hear, “sluts should do anything for a Mo Bro,” or something along those lines, giving me the impression that some of the men participating in Movember tend to be the same ones at house parties, nightclubs and in dorm rooms ignoring consent and committing acts of sexual assault and rape.

So if growing a moustache is a part of masculinity, and if this masculinity includes things like not caring about consent, what does that imply for Movember? Is Movember contributing to rape culture, by re-enforcing this idea of what it means to be a “real man?”

Even though it’s nearly the end of Movember, and we’ll be seeing a lot fewer moustaches around, please start to think about some of the issues I’ve raised, especially if they’re true for your “Mo community.” It’s time to seriously consider why you grow the moustache, and the impact you’re having by participating in Movember.

I hate to be a downer, but I think he has some very valid and legitimate points and much like how clicking “like” on a charity facebook page doesn’t do anything to actually help the targets of that charity, growing a moustache doesn’t really do a whole lot to actually fight cancer. While raising awareness IS good and important (certainly!), we have a problem in our society where that’s largely ALL we do – raise awareness, talk about things in passing, but never actually directly act or contribute. I’m guilty of this too, for the record. Even just throwing 10 bucks at a charity and thinking we’ve “done our part” isn’t really right. Statistics suggest that in many cases, only a small fraction of donations actually go to helping the cause. Here is more info on why donating to charities isn’t such a great thing.

I think everyone needs to step up a bit more. We all grow moustaches but we still hold up the macho facade of being tough guys who don’t need to go see a doctor and get checked out.

We can do better, folks. We can and we must. And we shall.

Everything you ever wanted to know about batteries in 8 minutes

Just watched this video this morning, it gives you the history of batteries, how they work, where they’re at now and where they might be going in the future.

Well worth the 8 minutes to watch in my humble opinion.

What charitable cause is most important to you, and why?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the subject of education lately, as it has become apparent to me that so many of the problems in society are largely due to lack of knowledge. The more people know, the more well-informed decisions they can make.

A question I have been thinking about lately, that I have been running by a few people to see what they think, is “should a certain level or standard of education be mandatory, and if so, how should it be regulated and by whom?”. I feel that a certain standard or level should be mandatory, it’s the second half of the question that is tricky.

Just this morning I found this recent video by the vlogbrothers which really made me smile. I’ve never seen anything like this before and it seems like a darn good idea!

John talks about having viewers upload videos talking about their favourite charities and why they think those charities deserve more support, and at the end of the project the community decides together which charities will in fact receive additional support from viewer donations.

One thing that caught my attention was when John mentioned “charities to combat illiteracy”. That caught my attention because I had completely forgotten about the fact that in order to learn, you kind of do need to be able to read. It’s something I take largely for granted (and I read A LOT), but once it was put back into my awareness it jumped to the front of the line for me as far as importance goes. People who can’t read are certainly limited and disadvantaged in this world. My own father is only semi-literate, and I’ve seen how he has struggled with this. At an even higher level, if you can barely read, you have little to no hope of being able to catch subtle wording in for instance, political reporting or news, you are far more likely to not be able to parse what you read to separate the truth from the BS and be able to ask good follow-up questions.

As far as other charities go, I have donated to Open Media, I have supported United by Blue (not specifically a charity, but a non-profit org) and Because I am a girl, among others.

So check out the Foundation to Decrease Worldsuck and consider getting involved however you can.

The Bystander Effect, and how to diffuse it

Last night I had been listening to the Joe Rogan Experience podcast (#410, guest Sam Harris) and they had been talking about how if something bad is happening in a crowd of people, like someone is being beaten, no one will act because everyone is waiting for someone else to make the first move, similarly when there is a car accident or something like that, everyone assumes someone else has called 911 and no one actually does it. I’ve even heard it recommended that in these situations, you should ask the other people around you who also witnessed it, if any of them have called 911 or not. Don’t just assume.

This, as I found out, is called “the bystander effect”.

One of my co-workers, who is a cognitive science student, had this to say:

Did they talk about the famous Kitty Genovese murder back in the 1960s? They call it the “bystander effect” and have been able to replicate it in studies, such as the Latane and Darley smoke in the room study. The more people around, the less likely someone is going to take action. The more ambiguous the situation, the less likely someone is to take action.

I won’t speak for everyone, but I know when I am watching a video (whether TV/Movie, or a home video) of a tense or stressful situation, I tend to think “If I was in that situation, I would do X!”, but then when we actually end up in these situations in real life, we tend to freeze, just like the people in the home videos. It gives me a new found appreciation for emergency medical servicemen and servicewomen.

As for how to deal with the bystander effect, a friend of mine who studied criminology had this to say:

The best way to overcome the bystander effect is to start assigning specific duties to specific people. For example, “you, blue shirt. Call the ambulance. You, green dress, there is a defibrillator on the wall, get it for me.” By putting the onus on them specifically, it gets them moving.

Of course, the problem here is that someone still needs to step up and start giving those orders in the first place. But once you get the ball rolling, people will get with the program. It almost makes me think that we should do something akin to personal fire drills where every once in a while we test ourselves randomly on a difficult situation to keep ourselves at least a little bit mentally prepared to act when the time comes.

I actually did end up in one of these situations years ago, I witnesses what seemed to be a woman in a abusive relationship with his girlfriend, they had stopped at a gas station I was at and she was clearly very scared and distressed. I actually tried to distract the guy and told her to run but she was so shell-shocked that she didn’t get far before he went and grabbed her to stuff her back in his car. None of the other people there did anything. I ran into the gas station to get the phone to call 911 (the shop keeper even yelled at me for taking it outside to try and get the license plate number, he thought I was going to run away with his phone, never mind the arguably abducted woman outside). The guy ultimately got away, but at least I tried. I remember the operator telling me “you did the right thing”. To this day I wish I had used my cell phone instead (didn’t think of it in the spur of the moment, might have even been on pay as you go back then) and gotten in my car and followed him. I don’t even know if that woman is still alive. It haunts me a little bit.

Have you ever had an experience like that? What did you do?

Milk, Lavender and Sleep

Today at work, I was telling a co-worker how the last few nights I have slept the full 8 hours, but not felt fully refreshed. Admittedly there are some temperature regulation issues in my apartment (that I have minimal control over) that usually mean I either wake up freezing or sweating, but beyond that, lately I seem to maybe not be sleeping as deeply?

My co-worker suggested I drink a glass of warm milk, and I decided to investigate the validity of that suggestion, because I don’t know why milk, let alone warm milk, would make me sleepy. Here’s what I found on The New York Times website:

According to age-old wisdom, milk is chock full of tryptophan, the sleep-inducing amino acid that is also well known for its presence in another food thought to have sedative effects, turkey. But whether milk can induce sleep is debatable, and studies suggest that if it does, the effect has little to do with tryptophan.

To have any soporific effect, tryptophan has to cross the blood-brain barrier. And in the presence of other amino acids, it ends up fighting — largely unsuccessfully — to move across. One study by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology demonstrated this in 2003. The study, which was published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, showed that eating protein-rich foods — like milk — decreased the ability of tryptophan to enter the brain.

The trick, the study showed, is to eat foods high in carbohydrates, which stimulate the release of insulin. Insulin, in turn, makes it easier for tryptophan to enter the brain.

But surveys have found that many people swear by milk as a sleep aid, and that may have something to do with psychology. Scientists say the routine of drinking a glass of milk before bed can be as soothing as a favorite old blanket.

A glass of warm milk may make you drowsy, but not because of tryptophan.

My co-worker then suggested I get some lavender. I looked into this as well, because I don’t really know much about lavender except that it’s usually found in bathrooms, or as a dish soap scent. Here’s what I found:

Lavender is a flowering plant in the mint family. Its aroma has been shown in human studies “to slow down heart rate, slow blood pressure and put you in a parasympathetic state, which is a relaxed state,” says University of Miami School of Medicine scientist Tiffany Field, who has studied the effects of lavender on relaxation and sleep.

Overall, though, lavender is gaining some respect in scientific circles. When brain waves were monitored in a lab in a 31-person sleep study in 2005 at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., whiffs of lavender in vials changed the quality of sleep compared with distilled water smelled as a control by the same subjects on another night. “When people sniffed the lavender before bedtime, it increased their amount of deep sleep, or slow-wave sleep,” says researcher Namni Goel, now at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia. Subjects who breathed the lavender, administered intermittently for a total of eight minutes at bedtime, reported feeling more vigorous in the morning than during the night when water was sniffed, the study said.

So, it seems like Lavender is a winner, and milk less so – needing to be combined with carbs for optimal results.

That’s what I learned today. Now I need to go find some lavender!