this is the archive for the ‘geek’ category:


a week of powdered food

a while back, we spent a week eating just meal replacements, for the sake of the experiment. i love self-experimenting and stuff like soylent intrigued me… so after some reddit research, we ordered a bunch of jimmy joy and just went for it!

on a monday morning bright and early, we made our first plenny shake with lukewarm water, adjusting the quantities to our daily needs.

i confess the taste was my biggest fear — would it be too sweet? too grainy or gritty? turns out, neither! they all taste vaguely like oatmeal with hints of fruit or chocolate and definitely don’t feel weird or too sweet. the consistency is that of a thickened milkshake, and the best description we could come up with for the taste was “watered-down cerelac” — not a bad thing in my book! we tried all their current flavors: banana, strawberry, chocolate, vanilla, mango, plain and cappuccino (with coffee), and even mixed a bit of leftover powder to make a sort of tutti-frutti flavor. :D they were all ok, some more true to their flavor than others, but never overpowering or off-putting. banana was our favorite, with vanilla and chocolate being close seconds.

we had 3 meals per day and tried to space our meals more or less 5 hours apart, so we could have a break in the middle of the day, and ended up not feeling particularly hungry at any time. turns out, drinking a thick milkshake can be quite filling! we drank ours in the terrace, enjoying the sunshine and getting some extra vitamin D in the process.

so… did we like it? unexpectedly, yes — a lot! :D

after giving it a try, i can definitely understand the allure on different levels, but especially if someone lacks the time, skills or motivation to cook. as every adult who leaves their parent’s home quickly discovers, cooking (and cleaning!) is a time-consuming activity which you end up doing most days of your life. so by not having to shop, cook or clean, one can easily save some time. it also makes it super easy to make sure you get all the nutrition and calories you need (and not more), which can be hard if you’re normally not in control of the things you eat, or you’re always on the go.

actually not having to worry about food, made me realize how much i worried about food on a normal week. even with our very streamlined meals (we mostly eat eggs for breakfast or soup for dinner, for instance), i would randomly find myself thinking about whether i had something prepared, or whether i had remembered to defrost the soup… before reminding myself that i didn’t have to do that.

some friends asked us whether it was boring, and it’s hard to say. i like eating, and i enjoy a good meal, but if i’m being honest, 80% of the meals we eat are nothing to write home about — just a way to get nutrition in our bodies. so eating the same thing over and over for a while doesn’t really bother me — but i guess it could be different for different people.

another thing we were asked was whether it was expensive, and honestly, i don’t think so. i ordered €80’s worth of meal replacements which i thought would last us a week, but we ended up using less than that after adjusting for nutrition, so maybe €70/week would have been a better estimation. my grocery bill for a week of meals for 2 doesn’t usually go that high… but in the end, i don’t think the difference is that significant, especially when you factor in the time saved.

the one thing i didn’t like about it was all the plastic packaging. as someone who shops mostly in the farmer’s market, i’m able to avoid most wrappings and just shove produce into my basket or re-use the same plastic bags until they fall apart. but with meal replacements, that’s impossible and it bothers me. so for now, a compromise: we’re using them as planters for all the cuttings we’re growing at the moment, extending the packaging’s lifespan until they end up in the recycling bin.

the plants seem to like it too! :)

ps – funny enough, on the week we did this experiment, our gas company decided to do some impromptu repairs which left us gas-less for most of the day. no problem though — we didn’t need it!

beeminder

this last tool on the mini-productivity list is admittedly a bit weird, but bear with me because i think it has merit to it. it’s called beeminder, and the tagline is “reminders with a sting“.

so, here’s how it works: you set up a quantifiable goal, and commit yourself to reaching it within a certain amount of time. beeminder plots a nice graphic that shows you the yellow brick road, ie, is the path within which you must stay in, in order to reach that goal. the goals can be anything: read or write a certain amount, go to the gym, reach a certain weight, etc. and there are a number of integrations that import data automatically.

what happens when you don’t stay on the yellow road? that’s where it gets interesting. for every day over the line, beeminder will charge you — the amount is configurable, but increases over time. you don’t have to put in a credit card to give it a try, but it really helps make the threat credible. oh! and you can pause or delete your goals, but any changes you make will only take effect a week from now, to prevent any sneaky weaseling.

here is my “go 100 times to the gym in one year” goal:

i’m well above the threshold and could stay flat for another 42 days until i was charged $5. i’m not planning to de-rail on it, but i like the looming threat on the horizon, combined with the graphic representation of each goal. it’s a neat way to follow your progress and keep yourself in check.

so there you go, this is my trio of productivity tools! they’re a weird bunch, but hey… whatever works, right? :D

ps – do you use any other tools that i should check out?

self-control

the second tip on this mini-productivity list is a bit radical, but if you’re an habitual internet-fueled procrastinator, maybe you’ll appreciate the ruthlessness of the self-control app.

this is the thing: i know there are people who are able to do all the hard things or watch unfazed from a distance as distractions float around them… but i’m definitely not one of them. my mind is a whirlwind of ideas and connections, a place where the instant gratification monkey has both hands firmly on the wheel.

and this is where self-control comes in. the app is really basic: you feed it a blacklist of websites where you don’t want to go, and it blocks them for as long as you’d like. until the timer expires, you won’t be able to access those websites — not even restarting the computer or deleting the app makes it go away. alternatively, you can use it with a whitelist, setting only the websites which you want to be allowed to open for that period of time.

i use it to block all kinds of social media, news sites or search engines where my random thoughts inevitably lead me. i turn it on when it’s still early and i’m filled with good intentions, and set the timer for when i’ll probably need a break. and so in the meantime, whenever a stray thought comes in or i feel an urgent need to know more about the endemic cabbages of kerguelen islands, the browser just refuses the connection and i’m thrown back to work — easy peasy.

it’s a very effective way to “burn your ships” and make sure you don’t have to rely on your own self-control to be focused. the fact that you can’t weasel your way around the restrictions is what makes it work for me — there’s nothing else to do but work, and after a while, it’s easy to get the groove going and forget about the other thoughts.

if you’re easily distracted by all the shiny things online, i heartily recommend it.

habitica!

i don’t exactly feel like i’m qualified to give productivity advice, because i’m a huge procrastinator… but precisely because i’ve had to deal with this for all my life, over the years i’ve discovered a few tricks that help keep me on task and on track. i thought i’d share a few of my favourites this week. first up: habitica! habitica!

habitica is a mix of habit-tracking and to-do list app/site… but, the cool thing about it is that it’s also a role-playing game! every task, daily or good habit that you complete gives you points and rewards that can be used to advance your avatar or swap for other things.

that would be cool in itself, but i find that one of the most effective aspects of the website is that you can join a party and complete quests or battle monsters together with your friends. how do you do these things, you ask? well, by finishing your real life tasks, of course! every item that you tick off your lists hurts the monster you’re currently battling, but if you skip tasks or leave them undone, then the whole party suffers as a result… so the peer pressure to get stuff done is huge!

this mix of punishment, rewards and accountability works really well for me and so over the past year, habitica has slowly replaced my beloved things.

the website feels somewhat old school because of the pixel art, but i actually like that, as it’s less distracting than a proper “game”. and because the project is open-source and has a motivated community behind it, lots of members contribute with art, words or new features — so it feels like there’s always something new to explore or look forward to.

give it a try, if you’d like! and if you end up staying around, let me know and i’ll invite you to our group! :)

the solar towers

we noticed the towers on our first foray into seville, many months ago. they are striking in the distance, gleaming high above the rolling hills of the andalusian landscape. a bit of googling came up with a name, or a couple of them in fact: ps10 and ps20 solar power plants of sanlúcar la mayor.

so intrigued were we by this massive development, that we decided one day we would do a detour to check them out — i even put it on the 101 list. last week was the day we finally did it!

the concept is simple: an array of movable mirrors that reflect the sun into a tower. the mirrors (called heliostats) follow the sun in its path, to maximize the amount of light and heat transferred to the tower. the heat turns water into steam, which is then in turn converted into electricity. it also lights up a lot of dust and water in the air, making it look ethereal … and stinging the occasional animal that flies in the light’s path! :)

the towers produce 10 and 20MW respectively, but the whole complex, which includes the towers and three fields of (normal) solar panels nearby, is said to produce a total of 300 MW — enough to power a city the size of seville. pretty neat, right?

now that the spanish economy has crashed and solar panels’ prices have dropped, these heavily subsidised towers don’t seem to be the most efficient way to generate electricity any longer… still, they’re an impressive show of engineering and ingenuity, and i’m glad we did the detour to explore them! more of these adventures, please.