Crail from somewhere outside Cellardyke, Fife, Scotland


Crail from somewhere outside Cellardyke, Fife, Scotland


@tdhopper posted his self-measurements of weight loss


a few months back. I recently decided also that I wanted to lose fat-weight—the infamous “I could stand to be a few kilos lighter”—and I think I came up with a more productive way of thinking about my progress: I’m not going to look at the scale at all. I’m just going to count calorie estimates from the treadmill estimator or use online calculators for how much is burned by running / swimming — and calories burned is the only thing I will use: no attempts at eating less.


Also, instead of thinking in terms of weight I’m going to think in terms of volume. Here are some pictures of people holding 5 pounds of fat (2¼ kilos):



As you can see this is a large fraction of a person’s flesh, if their BMI is in the healthy range.

I’m not so fat that I have tens of litres of fat making up my body. Rather if I look at myself and visually “remove 2 litres” that “looks” like it would be very substantial—such a huge volume that, of course it would take weeks of diligent exercise!

But as we know from Mr Hopper’s posts (or I know it from my own experience of weighing myself), the noise is louder than the signal.

The magnitude of daily variation swamps the magnitude of “fundamental” progress.


The goal of counting kcal burned and thinking in terms of volume is to make both the goals and the progress feel more visceral. Everybody knows how to lose weight, the problem is just that one doesn’t do it. Other than simply increasing self-discipline or increasing the mental energy I put towards this goal (neither of which I want to do).

  1. More accurate measurement of my small-scale progress and
  2. Choosing meaningful goals in the first place—not a number grabbed out of the air (“five kilos”—why five?), but rather imagine how much volume has left my muffin-top and how much volume is left—whilst still carrying with me the “larger numbers” associated with kcal fat-loss, than the “small numbers” which characterise litres (gallons ~ 8 lbs) of fat loss.

Here’s my mathematical model of why this is hard in the first place:

  • I take about 100 measurements at roughly the same time but not exactly timepoints <- 1:1e2 + rnorm(1e2,sd=1)
  • the natural variation in weight, in the unit scale of [kcal stored by fat] is on the order of kilos daily.variation <- 1e5 * sin( runif(1,min=-pi/2,max=pi/2) + timepoints)
  • even if I subtracted off my daily fluctuation pattern (Mr Hopper does this by weighing himself at the same time every day), there are apparently other noise factors on the order of half a kilo or perhaps .1 kilo other.variation <- 1e4 * sin( runif(1,min=-pi/2,max=pi/2) + timepoints)

  • the “underlying phenomenon” I’m trying to measure is perhaps on the order of .01 kilos lost per day. Let’s say I lose 1 kilo in 3 weeks, that would be 8000 kcal if I’m good. (i.e., I actually do my workouts and I don’t eat a compensatory extra 8000± kcal). I could model the underlying fat loss as a step function to be more truthful but I’ll use a linear model, saying I lose 100 kcal per measurement (supposing I measure 3 times a day) rather than 700 kcal every time I work out, which is not once a day (that would be the step function). But the catch is, I’m not sure if I’m compensating by eating more. My statistical task is to estimate B, in other words to distinguish if I’m losing weight or not, and how fast I’m losing it (in kcal units, leaving the conversion 8000 kcal ~ 1 kilo as an afterthought), from the signal-swamped data. B<-rnorm(1,mean=100,sd=50); trend<- −B*timepoints
  • Now my job is to estimate B. Is it even positive? (i.e. am I actually losing weight?) In R I just made the variable so I could print(B) but the point is to model why it’s hard to do this from my real data, which is the sum data <- daily.variation   +   other.variation   - B*timepoints
  • This is why I like my idea: measurements of kcal burned on the treadmill is 1000 times more precise than measurements of my bodyweight.

So my overall system is to do “chunks” of 7000 kcal = 1 kilo of fat or 3500 kcal =1 pound of fat. I can stand to do 500–700 kcal per cardio session—about an hour. (I also do an extra +1 kcal for every minute it took me to penalise for low speed: exercise crowds out normal metabolism.) Then it becomes a “long count” up to 3500 or up to 7000. That means 5 cardio sessions (of 770 kcal each) to get up to 1 pound of fat-loss, 7 wimped-out cardio sessions (of 550 kcal each) to reach a pound, and so on. It’s easy enough to “count to 5”. This system makes each one of the 5 be significantly large at the order of magnitude appropriate to convert kcal of exercise to litres of body volume.

Pink Wave by Claire Desjardins



Sine 02b.

Ibon Mainar
via sfmoma


Old Man and Nurse by Wilfrid Wood
via sfmoma


it is not for kings to drink wine,
not for rulers to crave beer,
lest they drink and forget what has been decreed,
and deprive all the oppressed of their rights.
Let beer be for those who are perishing,
wine for those who are in anguish!
Let them drink and forget their poverty
and remember their misery no more.
Psalm 31:4–7

(Source: biblegateway.com)

andrewmaclean says the “Spotify Model”—which we could also call the "newspaper model"—where "consumers" get something they want for free, but are really the product which media outlets are selling to advertisers—is “inevitable”.


Why would this be a more logical way for the world to run than just paying for movies, music, television, journalism, comics, and T-shirts? I’m going to spitball together a slapdash explanation and ask if you can improve on it. Here’s my model:

  1. Three car dealerships each have a big marketing budget. (Why? See 4.)
  2. The only newspaper in town, by charging $2/paper, was accessing 10% of the town—that’s the demand level to just buy the paper.
  3. 999/1000 newspaper readers are not interested in buying a car. But the 1/1000 who has been thinking about buying one, hasn’t decided which dealership to go to.
  4. Each car dealership stands to gain $20,000 from making the sale—and furthermore they’re in competition with each other. If the car-purchaser can be swayed to my dealership instead of yours, once they walk on the lot we have a 90% chance of selling them a car that day.
  5. So it’s worth spending quite a lot of money on ads to win that selling opportunity. At some level the monetary value of influencing 1-in-1000 customers to be more likely to walk onto my lot instead of yours, outweighs the revenue the newspaper was making from $2/pop reader payments.
  6. But why not take the money from both sides? Surely it’s better to have two revenue streams (advertisers + readers) than one? But not if by selling the newspaper for $0 or negative, you can double, triple, dectuple the circulation. If you can stuff the ads down people’s throats by slashing the price or equivalently finding people and putting it in their hands, then you can double, triple, dectuple the advertising revenue (so long as the car dealerships are willing to keep paying for more exposure, even if it’s crappier exposure).
  7. So in this story it all comes down to the fact that people don’t want to pay a lot for newspaper but they will pay a lot for cars. So much more, in fact, that subscription revenue is dwarfed by even 0.1% of the value of influencing the big-ticket purchase decision.
  8. In other words it’s because the demand for big-ticket items is not just one or two orders of magnitude higher than the demand for comics, movies, television episodes, songs, albums, and so on. It’s many orders of magnitude higher. Enough more orders of magnitude to that demand that it more than makes up for the low fraction of interested buyers and the fact that your ad can only influence the customer, not control them.

That’s my half-baked story. Care to critique or improve on it?

> plot( polyroot(choose(131,14:29)) ,pch=19,col='red')
> plot( polyroot(choose(131,14:39)) ,pch=19,col='red')
> plot( polyroot(choose(131,14:59)) ,pch=19,col='red')
> plot( polyroot(choose(131,14:79)) ,pch=19,col='red')
> plot( polyroot(choose(131,14:99)) ,pch=19,col='red')
> plot( polyroot(choose(131,14:119)) ,pch=19,col='red')
> plot( polyroot(choose(131,14:139)) ,pch=19,col='red')

What’s wrong with originality? on PennSound

Poet Tan Lin in an ambient conversation with Charles Bernstein about lies, originality, boredom, appropriation, ….

(Source: rey.sc)