Pills

While listening to my favorite podcast the other day, one host casually threw out this statement, which is all it takes to infuriate me:

I don't believe in pills

Well good for you. And real fucking good you don't have allergies. Or Pneumonia.

In all fairness, this is a statement that I hear all the time from all sorts of people. It's also a statement that probably shouldn't be taken at face value; I'm sure the host in question was referring to plain headache pills or even vitamin pills. While I'm at it, let me clarify that I harbor a tremendous respect for this particular host, and he does believe in vaccines so he's not a moron. So let's not make this about him. Which is why, in the interest of putting myself in the opposing viewpoint, there are many reasons why you might want to avoid some pills. Multi-vitamin pills may or may not work, and if you eat right: fish, vegetables, meat or chickpeas, you're probably better off without 'em. Also, make sure you get lots of sunlight so you can skip the D-vitamins. It's probably also better to search for the root cause of your headache (did you remember to hydrate?) than to eat a painkiller. Finally, there's a lingering concern that some pills, especially pills involving hormones, have serious side-effects we might not know about until the next generation.

That's all good and well. But the statement still kills me. "I don't believe in pills". Well fuck you: pills can save lives. Pills can cure you. Pills can relieve your pain. Pills can give you a decent life despite chronic illnesses or even ease the passage of someone with a terminal disease. Sure, some of those pills have side-effects, but sometimes you'd rather experience the side-effects than the effects of the illness for which you're eating the pills in the first place. I personally prefer to eat antihistamines and be just a little bit tired all the time over not being able to breathe. In fact, I really love those pills, despite their side-effects, and I sure as hell believe in those pills. Because those pills work.

I'm not out to lambast anyone for this particular brand of ignorance; everyone is entitled to a modicum of stupidity. But I want to shine a light on the fact that saying "I don't believe in pills" makes you sound like a dumb douchebag. It's a simplistic view of life and you could at the very least augment your opinion by clarifying that you prefer not to eat pills if there's a readily available alternative to your particular needs.

Or do you just want me to grind up your pills and put them in some OJ, sport?

Hitch

All my heroes are dead now.

This night, Christopher Hitchens passed. He'd been struggling with cancer for a couple of years, yet he'd kept going despite knowing exactly what was in store for him.

A passing always hits a special part of your body, an organ you did not know was there. It's like losing part of what helped keep your balance. It's going to take some time to find a new balance in absence of that support.

When Arthur C. Clarke passed, he'd lived a lifetime and written more than one lifetimes worth of work. Knowing that, it was somewhat more easy to celebrate his life and work, knowing he'd more than fulfilled his promise. Douglas Adams life, on the other hand, was cut short like now Hitchens was. Surely both Adams and Hitchens have achieved more in their lives than many of us can ever hope to, but it still makes this no less tragic.

Hitch had a profound impact on me. Through his writing and speaking he logically approached the difficulty of the human condition. In no uncertain terms, Hitch managed to make actual sense of what might not have any sense in the first place. Not believing in God is not as easy as it sounds. The notion that this is it and even if you live a life unfulfilled in the end you'll return to the void, that is a hard pill to swallow. Somehow it puts the injustice of the world in an even starker contrast.

Through this, Hitch taught me that what I need to strive for in life is to have more good days than bad days. He taught me what I want for my own deathbed; to have made some impact in the lives of the people I spent it with, to hopefully have been an invisible support to give balance. You were that support to me, Hitch, and like walking a staircase missing a step, I expect to stumble in your absence. I will do my best to find a new balance and help others do so. And I will tell my daughter about you.

The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it — Thucydides

Nitpicky Star Wars Nerds

The Star Wars Blurays are out. I’m not getting them. And not because Darth yells “Nooooooo” or because Greedo shoots first (or whatever). Simply, I’ve seen them enough times now. I’m done. No, not done in that smug, grown-up “Star Wars is for kids” kind of way, trust me I’m as juvenile as ever. I still love lightsabers, I giggle like a schoolgirl whenever someone says “titmouse”, and I listen to the Mega Man 2 soundtrack on repeat. I’m right down with you nerds. I’m just at a point where I’m thinking it’s perhaps time to throw my love on something else.

The amount of energy spent by the Star Wars fan community discussing the Bluray edits is astounding. One fan (or several, I wasn’t paying attention) is taking it upon himself to restore the “non special edition” of Star Wars in HD:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xDMDfUB4Mco

Note how R2s hologram is actually white in the original version, vs. slightly bluish in the “enhanced” version. I totally cancelled my Bluray preorder when I saw this. George Lucas, you ruined my childhood!

That would be me if not for the fact that I discovered other sci-fi television. Turns out, if you have 400 hours to spare, instead of restoring the original version of Star Wars to HD, you could watch every episode of Star Trek ever made! Think about that for a moment.

Don’t get me wrong, Star Wars was good. Especially Empire. That whole Cloud City thing was way better than what they did in Star Trek. Here’s Cloud City:

Cloud_City

And this is Stratos from “The Cloud Minders”:

Kirk_and_Spock_view_Stratos_from_surface

Still, once you’ve seen Cloud City, you’ve seen Cloud City (that is to say, once you’ve seen Cloud City in all three four versions, you’ve seen Cloud City — but don’t worry if you haven’t, they’re pretty much the same save for a tibanna gas refinery). And say what you will about Star Trek, but that Kirk got down with the ladies, even green ones. And not one of them were his sister!

You could also get into Buck Rogers (just pretend season 2 never happened). Listen to them crunchy grooves:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VmxXIS2ot8w

But wait, there’s more. Here’s Erin Grey as Col. Wilma Deering:

erin_gray

… and let’s not forget Pamela Hensley as the evil Princess Ardala. Always trying to score with Buck. Silly girl, didn’t she know Buck preferred good girls? And damsels in distress? And Amazon Women? Occasionally bad girls. But not Ardala! Except of course when he was brainwashed, but that’s another story:

ardala

That may not be a metal bikini, but it sure deserves being restored in HD more than the original Star Wars does.

Next time you get an irresistable urge to spend 400 hours on restoring Star Wars to the way it was meant to be, consider if maybe that time was better spent watching Star Trek or Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (season 1). You could also watch Space 1999. Or UFO. Or even the original Battlestar Galactica — heck, any Glen A. Larson show. You could even watch Patrick Duffy as The Man From Atlantis! Patrick Duffy! (It’s all in this pamphlet).

You must do what you feel is right, of course. But sometimes we must let go of our pride and do what is requested of us. It all starts with a choice. A choice to spend your credits not on more Star Wars. Instead, roll up your blinds and let in the light! Then roll them down again and put on Buck Rogers. Season 1.

The Cupcake Is A Lie

The wife bought cupcakes the other day. Four of them. Really pretty ones from Agnes Cupcakes. "They were delicious", you'd think this blog post would end with, but no. It only begins with "the top half was delicious".

I consider the cupcake a fundamentally flawed design. It's basically a lavishly frosted and decorated muffin. The end result is a messy eat that gets dull as soon as you've devoured the top. It's like starting with the dessert and once you're full you're given dinner. And not even a good dinner. Sure you can try to improve the cupcake design by carving chunks out of the cupcake-bottom, filling them with interesting curds and whatnot. The Wife tried, and as usual she succeeded. But that still means cutting chunks out of a muffin. Muffins deserve better.

The problem is not the muffin itself. The problem is the stark juxtaposition of the brilliantly inviting cupcake-adornment on the one hand, and the muffin on the other hand, which benumbs the latter into a damp, dreary affair. By focusing on beautiful swirls and delicious embellishments, the cupcake design turns the phrase "icing on the cake" on its head. Instead of being the glorious enrichment of an already delicious treat, the icing on the cupcake has become its sole raison d'être. I doubt even a cherry on top would help. To make matters worse, once you're done eating that which you're so obviously meant to eat first, your sugar intake is likely to be at a point where you'll consider simply throwing the cupcake bottom away. A tragic fate in its own right, but an indictment of the cupcake design if there ever was one.

The cupcake design follows a pattern I see all too often these days. It's the razor focus on presentation and appearance over substance and structure. As soon as you scratch the surface, you'll see it's all a thin veneer, a set piece hiding a lack of usability, functionality or even nutritional value. The prettified product may vastly outsell the more substantial, more usable, more functional, more nutritional alternative, but somehow people will not only not notice they're being fooled, when their error becomes apparent they'll pretend their decision was for the better. It's like a cupcake reality distortion field.

I don't readily have an alternative to the cupcake. I don't have a design handy which alleviates the structural issues with said chow. No, I don't have all the answers. Does that mean I shouldn't be allowed to point out apparent problems? I criticise because I love. That's how it's always been. And even if The Cupcake Defence Brigade comes out in full force, it'll still not change the fact that the cupcake is a fundamentally flawed design.

The donut, on the other hand, is an absolutely brilliant design. I wouldn't be surprised if it follows the basic shape of the universe itself.

The Tip Economy

Celebrating the sale of our previous apartment, The Wife and I had dinner at a restaurant yesterday. It was a mid-range price place — not shawarma cheap, not Noma expensive. We were seated and I had a look at the menu. Everything looked good, so when the waiter came, I asked if he could recommend me something. I was surprised to get a snarky response back, as though my indecision not only annoying but offensive.

I like to ask the waiter for recommendations. I have flexible tastebuds, so I can eat and enjoy the weirdest of meals, and when I go to a restaurant I like to eat something new. I’ve had great success with this strategy during my US travels earlier this year. The waiters have been almost universally accommodating, and my inquiries met with the opposite reaction to the Danish waiter. After all, who better to know what’s good than those that serve the menu on a daily basis.

Denmark is not big on tips. For example, tips are already included in taxi-cab fares, so you’re not expected to give extra. Dinners at restaurants are marked up so that even if you don’t give a tip, no-one will look at you with an evil eye (though you are thanked for an extra tip). In fact, you could live a perfectly normal, not-frowned-upon, life in Denmark, not ever giving anyone a tip.

Let me be clear, I do tip when I’m at restaurants. 10% universally, which due to the already marked up prices is a good tip. When I’m in the US I always ask the locals what the comme il faut for tipping is, and I tip the highest percentage I’m told, usually 20%. I tip the Starbucks lady, I tip the taxi driver, I tip the waitress. I do this because I’m told the US is a tip economy, that wages in many walks of the US life are based on the generosity of the clientele. Minimum wage might be viable simply by virtue of the tip. I suppose the master plan of this system is to reward great service with great tips and not so great service with a not so great or no tip at all.

I’ve never been a fan of this system, not because great service doesn’t deserve a good tip, but because I feel it adds a needless amount of complexity to life. And it feels like an institutional form of reward and punishment, on both sides of the fence. Instead of explaining to your Starbucks-barista-with-an-attitude that in fact everyone has bad days but that’s no reason to let it out on you, you just omit the tip. Instead of the tip being the icing on the cake, something you give for extraordinary service, the tip is expected and not giving a tip becomes a negative signal.

On the other hand, I can’t recall having received anything but great service during american adventures, and yesterday I do wish my missing tip would’ve said “hey, dear waiter, next time I ask for a recommendation, please don’t look at me like I peed in your pool”.

I've joined Automattic

Exciting news today! I’ve joined Automattic, the company that makes WordPress.com. I’ll be a full-time design wrangler.

I’ve done some consulting for Automattic in the previous months (most recently with regards to Stats), but the offer to join the company full-time came out of the blue. I wasn’t actually looking for fulltime employment, but the possibility of working with these supremely talented people on improving my favourite platform, while staying in Denmark which is near my favourite country (Sweden), was a combination offer that was simply too good to pass up.

I don’t have any more specifics at the moment, but feel free to question me up in the comments and I’ll try and answer if I can.

Scandinavian After All

In a visit that would turn out to be much more appreciated than was expected, the Girlfriend and I flew to Thailand a few weeks ago. As it turns out, there’s a lot more to that country than meets the eye, certainly enough to merit a travelog.

The stay was just under two weeks at a quite luxurious resort called Evason. Time was spent mostly examining poolscapes, beachscapes and umbrella-drink-scapes. While this certainly makes for delicious if not expensive living, it’s not the part of Thailand I’ll be chronicling. More interesting to me was the profuse friendliness and politeness I was met with mostly everywhere. Having met a plethora of ego elsewhere in the world, this baffled me enough to inquire about. The response was: “this is a good job, I like it”. Smarter than me, this cookie was. A relief to hear also, as it made me feel less like an evil european colonial lord and more like simply another well-treated customer who eventually had a bill to take care of.

The trip from Bangkok airport to the resort was a full three hours in an air-conditioned cab; a trip which kindled more anecdotes than are worth writing about. And here they are. In a city as polluted as Bangkok and a country as warm and moist as Thailand in the rainy season, I suspect an AC set to 18 degrees Celsius is as much an expression of luxury as it is cold inducing. It also helps me explode my CO2 footprint, which I’m sure has been tenfold its usual during the just spent fortnight.

Speaking of C02, I noticed a surprising amount of very large cars. 75% of everyone drove pickup trucks, mostly the Toyota Hilux brand. Another 75% drove SUVs so large they needed an extra rearview mirror. The remaining 50% drove silver sedans that looked just alike. The whole 200% amounted to double the amount of cars I’m used to see. Now you’d think the treehugger in me would bitch at the Thai people for driving gas guzzlers, but in fairness I have no doubt the CO2 footprint of every thai is a mere fraction that of westerners; this was often exemplified by the small crowds gathered on the bed of the pickups.

Interestingly, the assortment of cars also spoke to me of infrastructure, taxation law and the lack of railways. But enough about that. A more interesting observation is the complete absence of well-tasting milk and male baldness. I wonder if there’s a connection there.

At one point we visited Koh Talu, an island modelled after the collective consciousness minds-eye image of paradise. It looks like this:

Bounty_Island_Thailand

We went snorkling here. Saw fish of most colors and shapes. Not in this cave, but just outside it:

Koh_Talu_snorkling

The food was without exception, exceptional. So with no surprises, I’m here to confirm your suspicions that Thai food in Thailand is as good as you’d assume it was. The culinary highlight of the whole trip was a Tom Ka soup which is now my favourite dish in the world. It’s an explosion of foody happiness which everyone in their right minds should try several times in this life or the next. The Pad Thai is not bad either.

Good food, friendly people, lots of sun and beaches. You’d think I’d never want to leave. On the contrary, as good and as welcome as this vacation was, it surprised even me that by the end of it, I longed back for Denmark. After a while, the food starts to taste a bit too boullion, the sun starts to become a bit too scorching and the near-swamp-humidity a bit too taxing. As cold and grey the sky looked as I strode out of the return-plane, I have to admit I twirled my metaphorical cane in happiness. I believe I’m built for the cold, lonely icescapes of the north. And so, I decided I was a scandinavian after all.

Joen_tired_in_Thailand

I call this image “Scandinavian Tristesse”, or “I’m really not as sad as I look”.

My Sicilian Adventure

Last week was spent traveling Italy's football, or as the locals call it, Sicily. The girlfriend and I traveled from Copenhagen to Rome to Catania, the eastern part of Sicily, where we logged into a hotel. A taxi trip from the airport and to our hotel turned out to be not as cheap as we'd hoped. 50€ will buy you just about anything these days, including a Fiat Punto for a whole day. So that's what we did for the remainder of the trip.

fiat-punto

As it turns out, Italians are passionate and their driving skills are insane. Combine the two and you have an intra-city traffic ballet the likes of which will either propel your driving skills to eleven, or (statistically almost as likely) kill you. As of this writing, I have not yet been killed in Italian traffic. Barely.

As seen from above it might seem beautifully orchestrated; cars switching lanes without signaling as such, merging impossibly and never, ever stopping to enjoy the view that is a red light. Three times I tried stopping at the red lights, three times angry sounds of car horns urged me to ignore it. Apparently both red and green means "Go" in Italian.

Remember Lando Calrissians narrow trip through the Death Star in Jedi? That's what Italians do in cars. Every day. (Through cities, not Death Stars).

Even so, driving up the side of Etna, all alone, was worth it.

south-etna-road
south-etna

Aside from being really lousy (or great?) drivers, I can confirm the rumour that Italians make excellent pizzas. We found a really great simple pizzeria at the side of the road towards the hotel and their Diavola, also known as pepperoni pizza, is out of this world excellent. From this day forth I shall only eat that type of pizza.

They also make great ice-cream.

poison
I was very careful not to try the poison.

Overall the trip left us satiated with Italy. Which is a good thing. Visiting off-season, I'm sure, made for a very different experience; there were far less tourists than I imagine visit Catania during the summer. Two recommendations for those of you who ponder a trip to Sicily: get a great hotel and rent a car from day one—pick up and deliver at the airport.