18 February 2007

12 Writing Tips from George Orwell

George Orwell has earned the right to be called one of the finer writers in the English language through such novels as 1984 and Animal Farm, such essays as “Shooting an Elephant,” and his memoir Down and Out in Paris.

George expressed a strong dislike of totalitarian governments in his work, but he was also passionate defender of good writing. Thus, you may want to hear some of George’s writing tips.

A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus:

1.What am I trying to say?
2. What words will express it?
3. What image or idiom will make it clearer?
4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

And he will probably ask himself two more:
1. Could I put it more shortly?
2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

One can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:
1.Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

From “Politics and the English Language” by George Orwell.

14 February 2007

Diet websites ... calorie counting basically

I've said it before, and most diet books will only make this point after taking your $10-30:
1 pound = 3500 calories.
You use calories everyday regardless of exercise (this is your basal rate) ... for me it's 3200-3500 calories/day (it's higher than yours because, well, I'm fatter or taller than you ... the sites below will calculate your basal rate for you based on weight, age, gender, and height - most will also account for your activity level).

Create a calorie deficit (eat fewer calories than you use) each day and you'll lose weight. This isn't easy to do in you head so there are many websites which can help you keep track of what you ate.
Some cost money. Some have better databases of food than others. Here's my list of the top 6:

(1) www.thedailyplate.com - free (but upgradable) tracker with excellent (BEST) food database. This is what I use. The reports are not as good as some other free sites (i.e., fitday), but it's only a small difference, really it gives you more reporting information than you'll have time to evaluate. Their food database can be added to and updated by the community ... when someone else enters a custom food, you can search for it and even add to it's description. This is a big part of the reason that they have such a huge database. Their weight tracking display is easy to use and looks nice enough. Great to see that downward slope!

(2) www.fitday.com - free (can pay for downloadable upgrade), great/simple interface, detailed reports, terrible food database ... but this can be made up for by using www.dietfacts.com which allows you to add foods from it's large database to fitday as "custom foods" with the click of a button. However, even with the additional dietfacts foods, the fitday database is much more limited than thedailyplate.

(3) www.sparkpeople.com - 100% free, excellent reports, community feedback, loads of features. But they won't let you set your loss rate higher than 2 pounds/week (I'm aiming a bit above that so this killed an otherwise excellent site for my purposes). They also have detailed reports, many helpful articles, and a very easy, good looking interface.

(4) www.traineo.com - free and easy to integrate into other community groups (many people have this in their "signature" for other forums they visit. Web 2.0 interface is a little excessive at times, but more often beautifully done. Food database is limited, but better than fitday.

(5) www.calorieking.com - this is a HUGE food database that is free and simple to use. However, their tracking and other services are only available if you're willing to shell out $45/year. Many agree that the cost is worth it for this excellent service, though I think there are such good free alternatives available that the frugal choice is to only use calorieking as a supplement to your other food databases.

(6) www.calorie-count.com - free tracker and adviser, some swear by it, but my review of this site is limited. MASSIVE food database, though many foods have limited nutritional facts available. They also have a helpful community support feature.

Other diet site resources:
Lifehacker 'weighs' in (more generally on lifehacker)
Great article by top-foodie Michael Pollan
Calorie-count.com has an excellent FAQ about weight loss here
What does 200 Calories Look Like?
Calories in many brands of beer

07 February 2007

CNN hitpiece on ... atheists!?!


"The Babel fish," said The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy quietly, "is small, yellow and leech-like, and probably the oddest thing in the Universe. It feeds on brainwave energy not from its carrier but from those around it. It absorbs all unconscious mental frequencies from this brainwave energy to nourish itself with. It then excretes into the mind of its carrier a telepathic matrix formed by combining the conscious thought frequencies with nerve signals picked up from the speech centres of the brain which has supplied them. The practical upshot of all this is that if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language.

The speech patterns you actually hear decode the brainwave matrix which has been fed into your mind by your Babel fish."

"Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mindbogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as the final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God."

"The argument goes something like this: 'I refuse to prove that I exist,' says God, 'for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.'"

"'But,' says Man, 'The Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. QED.'"

"'Oh dear,' says God, 'I hadn't thought of that,' and promptly vanished in a puff of logic."

- Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

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