Category Archives: Personal

Cults and Putters (Atkins, Day 3)

I’m finally over my early, extremely negative reaction to the Atkins book. It took a few days, but I’m now able to view it with the sense of humour that it requires (not to say invites).


Because, taken literally, Atkins isn’t a diet. Nor is it a “Nutritional Approach”. What it really is, if you take it seriously, is a cult.

The book is written in the style of a tent revival, complete with inspiring little stories of people who have lost tremendous amounts of weight and gained astonishing degrees of self-confidence on the program. There are buzzwords (“ketosis”, “OWL”) and medical diagnoses (“hyperinsulism”) which are applied to practically everyone in the population. Some of the ideas that got my goat were:

  • Low fat diets are BAD because cavemen didn’t eat that way.
  • The entire medical establishment is either stupid or actively evil not to recognise the greatness of Atkins
  • So’s the FDA
  • The Atkins diet cures diabetes, and Dr. Atkins would be doing a disservice to mankind not to promote it.
  • You are intolerant of the foods you gain weight on. Many Italians are intolerant of pasta, for instance. (Surely you gain weight on foods you digest efficiently? What a strange definition of intolerance!)

There’s even a chapter on evangelism, called “Spreading the Word”. It advises Atkinsites on how to save their poor deluded low-fat dieting friends from the endless trap of hyperinsulism and high-carb diets.

I find the idea that Atkins is a return to the pre-agrarian diet particularly bizzare. Cavemen probably did eat a lot of meat, vegetables, nuts and fruit rather than starches. However, they also must have had wild weight fluctuations depending on the season (the weight gain associated with SAD is a legacy of this). Are we proposing to return to that, too? Atkins wants us to eat like cavemen in summer all year round, but that is no more natural than eating like Medieval peasants, or modern day Westerners.


There was a study done a few years ago where they compared weight loss among a variety of diets, from Weight Watchers to Atkins. What the study revealed is that if you use up more calories than you take in, you lose weight. No magic formula, no fad, no revival tent literature can change that basic physiological fact. We diet to change the ratio of input to output, and a successful diet is one that allows us to change the ratio for the long term.

What Atkins is, really, is a diet. It’s a way to do all kinds of thinking about food, to spend lots of intellectual and emotional energy on food, without eating so much of it. Furthermore, it’s a fad diet. Every time you turn around, you bump into an Atkinsite.

Like all diets, Atkins is a psychological tool. Golfers who find their putting going wrong buy new putters to solve the problem. The new putters may be no better than the old ones, but the change breaks bad habits and gives the golfer something external to blame for the problem. Martin and I have gone a bit wrong in our relationship to food. This diet is just a different putter.


“Thirty-three. This was the year they got Him.”

Thanks, Mom. I was already thinking that.

All my Christian friends have taken their 33rd birthdays pretty heavily. Not midlife-crisis heavily, talking about death all of the time like a fifty year old, but hard nonetheless. It’s natural, if you strive to model yourself on Jesus, to ask the difficult questions now. In particular, the really hard one.

If I died now, what will I have done? Will it be enough?

Nobody expects me to die this year, much less rise from the dead. But whenever you hear of a contemporary dying (usually a celebrity), you ask yourself these questions. It’s kind of the reverse of my stocktake at the end of last year.

OK, this is what I have received. What have I given back?

I don’t know. I have a half-share in the birth and raising of Alex, who I hope will leave the world a better place than he finds it. That’s something. I try to be a loving wife, a good friend, smart and competent at work, a responsible citizen and a compassionate stranger. I buy fairtrade and take public transport instead of owning a car. I argue for peace in times of war, and for justice in times of greed.

But is it enough?

The Prisoners Problem

Martin has got me involved in the Prisoner Problem. As a software tester by vocation as well as profession, I’ve been his gadfly, pointing out the flaw in his solution.

Continuing the gadfly/software tester/push the limits theme, I would like to propose a solution.

In addition to randomly flipping switches, each prisoner writes his name on the wall of the room when he visits it. Since the warden promised not to let anyone in the room except when the prisoners are there, the names won’t be erased or added to without the prisoners’ knowledge. When all the names are there, then they’ve all visited the room.

Illegal? Nope. The warden says nothing about doing anything else when visiting the room, as long as they flip one and only one switch.

Wrong? Of course. But what are a bunch of dumb lags to do?

Bookweb Redux

Last year, I started up the Bookweb to document some of the bookbinding work I’ve been doing. After an enormous amount of effort, I created one small area, describing an experiment in spine construction. Then I got wrapped up in, erm, binding books.

So now I’ve taken a week or two to add some more to the site, and to impose a bit more structure on it. I’ve added book reviews, spurred on by my father’s gift of four excellent binding books. And now I’ve finally got my information on equipment, describing how I have made many of my pieces of equipment myself.

Now all I need to do is add a gallery of my best work. If I can find the time between bindings!

Check it out!

I’m Rich

Rich, I tell you!

No, no, I didn’t win the lottery.

Last night (Sunday, December 29) was the annual Almost New Year’s party of one of our dearest friends from our university days. And after living so long in a country that doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, I find I have moved the date of my annual stock-taking, the day that I count my blessings and review the past year. Now I do it at Paul’s party. This has the added advantage of moving the stocktake after the solstice, when the balance of the year has shifted toward the light, when I know [Seasonal Affective Disorder|my mood] will get better now before it gets worse again.

Here’s this year’s tally:

· We are all healthy, sound in body and mind.
Oh, yes, we all three of us get ill from time to time. I have a cold as I type, Alex has been coughing nights, and Martin isn’t doing too hot either. But these are passing things.
· We have a nice house
It’s pleasant, on a good street, with good neighbours. The mortgage is affordable, and will remain affordable even if interest rates go up.
· We have secure, well-paid jobs in these times of redundancy.
I hope I’m not tempting fate by saying this. But we’ve both survived one round of redundancies in our workplaces. We’re even paid enough to be able to work part-time and still have enough money for our needs and our desires. We are, to use the phrase of one of my former colleagues, hardcover book rich.
· We have time
Working part-time means we each spend entire days with Alex. I get two days a week with him, Martin one.
We even have time to spend on our hobbies. Martin does web-type stuff and plays the drums, and I bind books.
· We have love
Martin and I are heading for our tenth anniversary. The years have not always been easy – no long-term relationship is universally smooth. But even in the worst times, we have never stopped loving each other.
Now we have Alex, not yet two, and we love him more than we can express. He loves us too, though he does not yet understand the concept.
We have loving families – brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, a whole network of relatives. We may disagree from time to time, but that never gets in the way of the love that ties us together by marriage and blood.
And we have dear, dear friends, some we see often and some we see less than once a year. (A fair number of them came to Paul’s party.) I have friends I have never met in the flesh, but still am enriched by (and ones that, I hope, I enrich).

And so many things that we have, that so much of the world lacks, don’t even make it on the list. Our water is safe to drink, we have plentiful food (more than plentiful – I need to lose weight). Our home is safe from confiscation and our health from epidemic disease. We have a voice in our governance, and the right to say what we please in public. Realistically, we fear no violence in our daily lives. We even have access to cheap public transport and good quality health care.

What can I say? We are rich.

Ah, autumn…

The days are growing perceptibly shorter now, for all that the temperature has stayed relatively warm. And the quality of the day is changing – the sunlight seems paler, dimmer, weaker. Colours do not shine so brightly in it. I can feel myself growing paler along with the sun.

Last weekend, the leaden feeling in my limbs and the pit of my stomach grew too strong to ignore. I had to get out the light box. I resented it bitterly, even as the light lifted my depression. September is too soon to feel this way. And in the back of my head is an uncomfortable calculation. If I need the light three months before the year end, I’ll probably need it three months after the year end as well. That’s half the year chained to the light box, prisoner of my [Seasonal Affective Disorder|SAD].

I have just received a light visor, which should reduce the “chained down” feeling by allowing me to go about my daily life. And I’ve just bought a desk lamp for work, where the illumination is too dim to keep me awake. The last three winters, I was working (when I was working) in a building where desk lamps were available, and they made a world of difference to me. The building I’m in, though much better located, doesn’t have desk lamps. I could have requested one from my line manager and played the disability card to bolster my argument. But it seemed simpler to buy my own, and the cost (£10, including a spare bulb) was not exactly prohibitive.

But starting light therapy has its own price. My body was just settling down for a nice winter’s hibernation. I’d even gained a couple of kilos to feed off of during the long sleep. Then, suddenly, the bright lights came on, and my brain was jerked rudely awake. My metabolism is struggling to cope. Symptoms of that struggle include:

  • rampant insomnia
    It’s taking me a long time to fall asleep at night, and I’m waking more easily. It’s true that I’ve been staying up to finish the bookbinding stuff I wanted to put onto sunpig. What’s different now is that when I go to bed, no matter how tired I am, I can’t get to sleep. Even sleeping pills are having very little effect.
  • exhaustion
    Insomnia and staying up late contribute to this, of course. But the tiredness is deeper-seated than that. I simply have no energy, and struggle to get through the tasks of the day.
  • headaches
    The first week of light therapy is always accompanied by a dull headache. It’s never blinding or throbbing, which is fortunate, because it’s also resistant to painkillers.
  • body temperature fluctuations
    I’ve only just realised that this is probably related to the light therapy. It strikes mostly at night, when I’m trying to sleep. I start overheating, which contributes to the insomnia.

So why do I keep up with the lights? Because all of these symptoms are much, much better than the mortal depression I suffer without light therapy. Most of the effects will go away or diminish after the first week. I may struggle to get through the transition, I may bitterly resent the restrictions my [Seasonal Affective Disorder|SAD] places on my life in winter, but the alternative is worse.

Don’t believe me? Ask Martin.

Do we LOOK like Batman and Robin?

Lindsay (one of my colleagues) and I went off to do some cache maintenance at lunchtime. We wanted to find out who had logged The Other Leith Walk, put a travel bug in it then come back within our lunch hour. A chance to have a nice walk, a pleasant chat, nothing much.

On our way, we passed a little girl sitting on a bench with her mother kneeling in front of her. I only noticed them because the mother was being very affectionate, stroking the girl’s hair. Their bikes were beside them.

So we get there, but there are pedestrians. We’re standing by the tree, looking up at it & trying to figure out what species it is to kill the time, when a lady stops. “Excuse me,” she says, “but is there something going on up in that tree?” She’s peering into the branches. “Some kind of rare bird nest or something? I’m sure I saw people here yesterday too, and one of them had a camera. Or maybe it was further along.”

Uh, oh, I thought. One set of cachers, who found it yesterday, had a camera. Were they indiscreet? Does she suspect?

We said that we were just trying to figure out what kind of tree it was, and that we didn’t know anything about any rare birds round there. She seemed convinced that it was just coincidence, and went on. Then I inspected the cache, found out that Silver Fox and crustyloafer found it, and left the travel bug in. Reading the log, seeing how enthusiastic the other cachers (crustyloafer and his brother), I was encouraged. Maybe we’ll get another active cacher in Edinburgh.

I’m not really that worried that the cache will be plundered. It is very well hidden, actually, despite how close it is to the path. Still, I think I shall do another visit fairly soon just to be sure.

Then we were walking back when we come across an elderly gentleman trying to hold two bikes (an adult’s and a child’s) upright while leaning on his cane, looking anxiously up and down the path. He was just past the spot where we’d seen the mother and daughter, and he stopped us and asked for help. Apparently, the daughter had fallen quite badly off her bike, and the mother had called an ambulance. He had been passing by, and had offered to take their bikes to his house for safekeeping, but his offer had been more chivalrous than practical. He would have struggled to get one home, let alone the two.

So we walked the bikes back to his house nearby, and carried them up the stairs and into the common hallway where they would be safe. We all nodded smugly at each other, conscious of how good of citizens we were, and Lindsay and I rushed off, coming toward being late back to our desks.

But there must have been something about us – some indefineable Batman-and-Robinishness. We were walking up the hill past Canonmills, debating where to get food, when a Spanish woman stopped us because she couldn’t get her key to turn in her front lock. Neither could we, though we both tried (I think she was at the wrong house).

Good things come in threes, they say. We managed to avoid that. We were just about back to work when a confused-looking Japanese woman tried to cach our eyes. But then another woman passed her, and got ensnared instead. We passed them as the local was explaining that there wasn’t a Texaco anywhere nearby, but that Tesco’s was right over there…

After all that, we were only 5 minutes late back.

Signs and Secrets

Originally entered as a daylog on everything2 for July 8, 2002

Spent lunchtime today double checking the GPS co-ordinates for my second geocache. I am mildly hooked on caching (insofar as I can be in this city, avec toddler & sans car). Cachers tend to be drivers, and even those caches in a town are almost completely devoid of public transport information. So my caching activities are pretty much restricted to Edinburgh, which has three caches in town (by next week, there will be four). I’ve visited one, and will be looking for another on the 11th.

I constructed the third one myself over the last four months. I’m actually quite proud of it. It maps out a six-stage walk through Edinburgh’s Old Town in the footsteps of Burke and Hare. As the searchers go from place to place, they have to look for numbers carven on gravestones, into buildings, and on plaques. The numbers then assemble to make up the GPS co-ordinates for a final location where there’s a grim historical relic. The cache has an E2 connection as well. One fellow noder, nine9, helped me pick some of the locations, and two others (fuzzy_and_blue and Jongleur helped Mom test it. Only one other person has hunted it thus far (Silver Fox, Edinburgh’s only other geocacher), but I’m hoping people will come up for the Edinburgh Festival and spend an afternoon on it.

This second cache is less public — it’s on a footpath that is not at all obvious from the streets nearby. I think non-locals will have trouble finding their way onto the path. Martin and I didn’t realise it was there when we first moved to a flat three blocks from it. Once we found it, I used to walk home from work that way in the summers. It was a secret place, hidden from the main flow of Edinburgh traffic, and I was sorry to abandon it when we moved again. It’s also the gateway to other secret places, such as Warriston Cemetery, with its population of, erm, romantically inclined men.

While I was out scouting for the cache location, I saw my first warchalking mark. Martin told me where it was. I’d walked right by it on July 6, and would have done again if I didn’t know what it meant.

It all makes me wonder what other things are stashed along the path, in holes in the walls and under rocks. What else is hidden around Edinburgh? What of all the graffiti and scribbling on walls is more than it seems? It’s the fascination of spying, of tradecraft but there’s something deeper.

I partake, to some extent, of those family characteristics that get diagnosed as Asperger’s syndrome when they occur in full measure. Some of that is an inability to read the signs, to find the secrets of other people. After all the trouble I have with social interactions, I’ve come to like secrets I can unravel. I wish I could find the GPS location of a hidden agenda, or a glossary of the markings that advertise the truth.

June and lovin’ it

I’m aware that I don’t blog enough. Martin’s always got something new up, and my last log is from March. Sheesh.

The thing is, when it’s winter, I’m struggling to cope with the ordinary demands of life. Commenting on the way things are going, or even standing back far enough to observe how they’re doing, is low on the list. I’m just too tired.

Then summer comes, and I’m doing all the things I couldn’t do during the dark time. And somehow, I get so absorbed in all the things that are going on that once again I can’t step back and describe them. I seem to be too busy.

Now is a good example. My mother’s over for a fortnight, getting her Alex time in. As with my Dad’s visit in January, Martin and I aren’t taking any time off. But we’ve taken Alex out of his nursery for the time she’s over. So I’m being a working Mom, a daughter, and a hostess all at once.

Plus I’m binding her a blank book as a birthday present. We’ve already been to the tannery to pick out the leather for the covers, and I’m most of the way through the bind.

But even when we don’t have visitors, we’re pretty busy. Not that I’m complaining – I only “work” (for pay) 3 days a week. Martin works 4. We both get to spend a lot of time and energy on Alex. On the one hand, it can be hard work – he’s well into toddlerhood, walking all over the place, demanding things to play with, and throwing the odd (brief, mercifully) tantrum when he is denied. On the other hand, time with Alex is tremendously rewarding, whether he’s sitting at his little table typing on a spare keyboard (just like Mom!), or sorting pebbles in the front garden. And he socialises well, riding in the backpack as I go around town or do lunch with family and friends. He’s even helped me with a geocache I’ll be posting soon. There’s a lot of hard work in there, but when he turns to me and gives me a huge kiss, I can’t seem to mind.

The days I spend at work are rewarding as well. I’m in a department I like, working with people I enjoy dealing with, on a steep learning curve. I can even wear black – unlike my previous department, where I felt too gothic, I’m rarely the only one all in black now. There are stressful times, but all in all, I find the work days flying by.

My current hobby – bookbinding – takes up a good deal of time as well. I’m entirely self-taught so far, and after six months I’m finally producing things that I’m willing to give away without apology. They’re still not perfect, but I no longer feel my recipients are being charitable by taking the books I bind. I bind for the pleasure of making things, of creating something beautiful. Being able to give them away is a bonus, and keeps me from drowning in blank and rebound books.

And somewhere in there, in hugs at the sink and long chats after the lights are out at night, I still have time to be amazed at the man I married. We spend a lot more time as comrades in nappies rather than smitten lovers now, but watching the way he delights in Alex is just another way of falling in love with him.

So this is a busy time, but every aspect of it holds some reward. And I have to get my joy in quick, like a grasshopper, before the winter pares me back to the bare minimum.

All change

It’s the beginning of March, and life looks so different than it did in December.

Not the politics. Don’t even get me started on politics. No, it’s the rest of life that has changed.

First of all, it’s getting lighter. The weather may still be wintry, but the days are longer. The difference in my energy levels is dramatic; it’s like the difference in a coffee addict between waking and finishing the first cup. My brain no longer feels wrapped in cotton wool, and I can think again. The payoff is all around me, in my relationships with Martin and Alex, in the way I run the house, in my work.

Work. There’s another area of change. I’ve been back at work since the new year, but I haven’t truly settled in. I’m doing a three-month stint in my old department. After Easter, I’ll be changing divisions within the Bank, moving to a team I worked with during Y2K. It promises to be a challenging time, with a steep learning curve. I should be intimidated, but every time I think about the work, and the people, I smile. I feel like a runner at the starting gate.

Going back to work has changed the shape of my life enormously. I’m only working three days a week, Monday – Wednesday. But those days are really tightly scheduled. My focus has to be on getting everything done that needs doing, getting enough light to stay sane, then going to bed early enough to get the sleep I need. It’s like being a hamster on a wheel. How do full-time working mothers do it?

Still, the working time has its rewards. Martin has Wednesdays off, so Alex is in day care for the first two days each week. He is has settled in well, but he does miss us while we’re away. So every day he’s at nursery, I pick him up (Martin does the dropoffs, I do the pickups) and take him home, and all he wants to do for the first half hour is cuddle me, flirt with me, and play with my earrings. It’s an enormously rewarding time, like having a whole day’s attention in a short spell.

One of the real pleasures of the last two months has been the learning curve with my bookbinding. Martin got me a couple of books on the topic for Christmas (at my request), and since then, I’ve been binding non-stop. (See the previous entry for a list of what I’ve done) In addition to the books themselves, I’ve made a lot of the hardware I need, including two different types of book press.

I can hardly wait to see what spring will bring.