Hello From Kolkata [en]

[fr] En Inde. Des trucs (très) en vrac. Un podcast en français dans les liens.

I’m in India. For a month.

I did it again: didn’t blog immediately about something I wanted to blog about (the rather frightful things I learned about the anti-GMO movement, if you want to know) because of the havoc it wreaked on my facebook wall when I started sharing what I was reading. And as I didn’t blog about that, I didn’t blog about the next thing. And the next.

Steph and Coco

And before I know it I’m leaving for India in two weeks, have students to teach and blogs to grade, and don’t know where to start to write a new blog post.

The weather in Kolkata is OK. The trip to come was exhausting: 20 hours for the flights, add on a bit before and after. I didn’t sleep on the Paris-Mumbai leg because it was “too early”, and spent my four hours of layover in Mumbai domestic airport in a right zombie state. Needless to say there is nowhere there to lie down or curl up, aside from the floor. I particularly appreciated having to go to the domestic airport for my Mumbai-Kolkata flight only to be ferried back to the international airport while boarding, because “Jet Airways flights all leave from the international airport”. But I laughed.

It was a pleasant trip overall. Nearly no queue at immigration. Pleasant interactions with people. And oh my, has Mumbai airport come a long way since my first arrival here over 16 years ago. It was… organized. I followed the signs, followed instructions, just went along with the flow. I’ve grown up too, I guess.

I slept over 12 hours last night. I can’t remember when I did that last. I walked less than 500 steps today, bed to couch and back. I’ve (re)connected with the family pets: Coco the African Grey Parrot, (ex-)Maus the chihuahua-papillon-jack-russel-staffie mix (I can never remember his new Indian name), and the remaining cat, which I’ve decided to call “Minette”, who “gave birth” to two empty amniotic sacs yesterday and is frantically meowing all over the place. Looking for non-existent kittens, or missing her brother, who escaped about a week ago? Hopefully she will calm down soon.

Maus and Minette

I plan to play about with Periscope while I’m here. Everyday life in India seems like a great opportunity to try out live interactive video. Do follow me if you don’t want to miss the fun.

Oh, and don’t panic about the whole “meat causes cancer” thing.

Some random things, listened to recently, and brought to the surface by conversations:

  • Making Sex Offenders Pay — And Pay And Pay And Pay (Freakonomics Radio)
  • Saïd, 10 ans après (Sur Les Docks) — an ex-con, 10 years after, and how hard reinsertion is, when you’re faced with the choice between sleeping outside, unable to get a job, and committing another offense so that you can go back to prison; extremely moving story
  • You Eat What You Are, Part I and Part II (Freakonomics Radio again)
  • When The Boats Arrive (Planet Money) — what happens to the economy when immigrants arrive? it grows, simply;  migrant workers need jobs, of course, but they also very quickly start spending, growing the economy and creating the need for more jobs; the number of available jobs at a given place is not a rigid fixed number

Yep, random, I warned you.

I can now do the Rubik’s cube and have installed Catan on my iDevices, if ever you want to play.

I’ve activated iCloud Photo Library even though I use Lightroom for my “serious” photos. Like the author of the article I just linked to, my iPhone almost never is connected to my Mac anymore. And the photos I need to illustrate blog posts are often photos I’ve just taken with my phone. I end up uploading them to Flickr through the app.

It seems the “photos ecosystem” is slowly getting there, but not quite yet. I’ve just spent a while hunting through my post archives, and I can’t believe I never wrote anything about using Google auto-backup for my photos. At some point I decided to go “all in”, subscribed to 1TB of Google storage, and uploaded my 10+ years of photos there. I loved how it intelligently organized my photos. Well, you know, all the stuff that Google Photos does.

Why am I using the past tense? Because of this: seems automatic upload of a whole bunch of RAW formats has quietly stopped. This is bad. Basically, this paid service is not doing what I chose it for anymore. I hope against reason this will be fixed, but I’m afraid I might be disappointed.

One thing I was not wild about with Google Photos was the inability to spot and process duplicates. And duplication of photos when sharing.

Flickr now has automatic upload and organising. Do I want to try that? Although I dump a lot of stuff in Flickr, I’ve been slack about processing and uploading photos lately. I’m hesitant. Do I want to drown my current albums and photostream in everything I snap? Almost tempted.

I think that’s enough random for now. It’s 10.30 pm and I’m starving, off to the kitchen.

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A Post About Many Things [en]

[fr] Des choses en vrac!

It happened again. As time goes by and things to say pile up, the pile weighs heavy on my fingers and blog posts don’t get written. Been there, done that, will happen again.

First, a heartfelt thanks to all the people who reacted to my post about being single and childless, here and on facebook. Rest assured that I actually rather like the life I have — it’s full of good things. But it’s very different from the one I imagined. I will write more on this, but exactly when and what I am not sure yet. Also, one can grieve not being a mother but not want to adopt or be a single parent. There is a whole spectrum of “child desire”, and it’s not at all as clear-cut as “no way” and “I’ll do anything”. Check out “50 Ways to Not Be a Mother“.

Most of my working hours are devoted to running Open Ears and a series of digital literacy workshops at Sonova. I’m still way behind on my accounting.

Tounsi (and his pal Quintus) went to see an animal behaviour specialist, because I was starting to get really fed up cleaning after Tounsi’s almost daily spraying in the flat (thankfully his pee doesn’t smell too strongly and I’m good at spotting and cleaning). I plan to write a detailed article on the experience in French, but it was fascinating and I regret not going earlier. As of now, spraying is pretty much under control, and I’m in the process of finally chucking and replacing two pieces of furniture which are soiled beyond salvation.

What I learned:

  • outdoor cats can also need stimulation (play, hunting…)
  • even a 20-second “play session” where the cat lifts his head to watch a paper ball but doesn’t chase it can make a difference, if this kind of thing is repeated throughout the day.
  • making cats “work” for their food can be taken much further than feeding balls or mazes: change where the food is all the time (I wouldn’t have dared do that, didn’t know if it was a good idea or not, but it is); hide kibble under upturned yoghurt cups; throw pieces of kibble one by one for the cat to run after (another thing to do “all the time”); use an empty egg-box to make kibble harder to get to; etc. etc.
  • clicker training for things like touching a reluctant cat: my baby steps were way too big and my sessions way too long
  • Feliway spray is way more efficient than the diffusor (at least to stop spraying)
  • cleaning with water (or water and neutral soap) is really not enough, there are products to spray on soiled areas which break down urine molecules (even if you can’t smell anything, the cat can)
  • spraying can simply be a “vicious circle” — it seems to be the case with Tounsi: he sprays in the flat because it’s a habit, and because there are “marking sign-posts” (ie, smell) everywhere

While we’re on the topic of cats, I’m playing cat-rescuer and looking for homes for Capsule and Mystik (together, used to living indoors but that could change) and Erika (has been living outdoors for 5 years but super friendly).

I don’t think I mentioned StartUp podcast or Gimlet Media here yet. Anyway: want great podcasts? Listen to Startup, Reply All, and Mystery Show. And in addition to Invisibilia and those I mention in that article, grab Planet Money (I swear, they make it interesting even for me!), Snap Judgement (great storytelling), and This American Life.

Reading? Spin, Axis, and Vortex, by Robert Charles Wilson.

Something I need to remember to tell people about blogging: write down stuff that’s in your head. It works way better than doing research to write on something you think might be interesting for people.

Procrastinating and generally disorganised, as I am? Two recent articles by James Clear that I like: one on “temptation bundling” to help yourself do stuff while keeping in mind future rewards (delayed gratification, anybody?) and the other on a super simple productivity “method”. I read about it this morning and am going to try it.

Related, but not by Clear: How to Get Yourself to Do Things. Read it, but here’s the takeaway: when you procrastinate, the guilt builds up and you feel worse and worse. But as soon as you start doing it gets better. And so the worst you’ll ever feel about not doing something is just before you start. Understanding this is helping me loads.

Enough for today. More soon, or less soon.

Thanks to Marie-Aude who gave me a nudge to get back to this blog. I’d been in the “omg should write an article” state for weeks, and her little contribution the other day certainly played a role in me putting “write CTTS article” in my list of 6 things for the day. Merci 🙂

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Getting Meals Back Under Control [en]

[fr] Quand j'attends d'avoir trop faim pour me demander ce que je mange, ça se passe mal. Au programme: réfléchir aux repas du lendemain chaque soir.

Many years ago, but still late in life, I realised how big an impact food and meals had on my mood and general ability to function. Looking back, I wonder how I managed to stay in denial so long. For the better part of my adult life, I thought eating was just a matter of calming the feeling of hunger, and the rest would take care of itself. Now, I know better.

Gratin de côtes de bettes

First, when I’m hungry, I do not function well. I disfunction, even. Some people can be hungry and just go along as if they weren’t — not me. My ability to think clearly drowns inside the pain in my stomach (yes, it hurts when I’m hungry, I know it’s not the case for everyone). I have trouble making choices. I become irritable. I get stuck in the rut of whatever it is I’m trying to do, or set off in a frantic search for food.

Second, what I eat matters. It’s not just a question of filling up. I’m not religious about any diet, my belief being simply that you should strive to have a balanced diet — carbs, meat, fat, veggies, grains, mix it all up.

Panier de légumes 2013-10-31

A couple of years ago I started “inverting” my meals. (Thanks, Julien.) You know what they say: have breakfast like an emperor, lunch like a king, dinner like a beggar. It makes sense, I think: when do you need your energy, during the day or at night when you’re sleeping? The way I do this is have a “normal” meal in the morning. As I type this, around 8:30am, I’m eating past and a salad. Nope, I have no trouble doing it. And when you had a light meal in the evening, trust me, you’re hungry enough in the morning to eat more than a croissant. It’s also a question of habit, I guess.

Where does it go wrong? As my life has little routine in it, I easily fall into the trap of waiting until I’m hungry to wonder about food (what will I eat? what’s in the fridge?). By the time I get moving I’m starving, which usually results in a suboptimal meal.

Racines au four

What I’m going to do now to get out of this is:

  • not wait until I’m hungry to start preparing food (use the clock instead)
  • plan my meals for the next day the evening before so I don’t have to make decisions on the spot.

Started today! That was a nice breakfast. Now I’m off to ski 🙂

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Eat.ch and Hundreds of Placeholder Sites? [en]

[fr] Le site eat.ch crée des centaines de "pseudo-sites" pour des restaurants listées dans leur index. Ces "sites" contiennent deux pages, une page d'accueil et une page avec l'adresse du resto, ainsi qu'un lien (sans "nofollow") vers eat.ch. Blackhat SEO ou bien juste pratique limite? D'après moi, on est quand même dans le linkspam, car en agissant ainsi eat.ch crée un nombre artificiel de liens entrants vers leur domaine principal. Ces pseudo-sites font aussi parfois même concurrence au "vrai site" du restaurant en question!

Has anybody noticed what eat.ch are doing? They’re creating hundreds of pretty-much-empty placeholder sites for restaurants in their listing (I’m assuming those businesses paid eat.ch to be listed).

Here’s one example: http://www.allegrotto-pizza.ch/. The site has two pages: the landing page and the address page. It seems to also allow online ordering and a link to the menu, but those links take you directly to the eat.ch directory.

ALLEGROTTO%20PIZZA-%20UND%20INDIAKURIER%20-%20Bederstrasse%20102,%208002,%20Z%C3%83%C2%BCrich%20-%20Restaurant

There are over 200 of these “sites”: http://www.bamboo-rorschach.ch/, http://foodpalace-kurier.ch/, http://www.multi-pizza-fahrwangen.ch/…

Why is this a problem?

First of all, some of these businesses have “real” sites, like my first example, Allegrotto Pizza (this is their “real” site). If eat.ch is charging them for a listing and creating a placeholder site without them realizing, that’s not very cool. If eat.ch is charging them for a website, then it’s not very cool either, as that “website” is little more than a placeholder page for a link to eat.ch. The “eat.ch placeholder site” ends up competing in search ranking with the restaurant’s legit site.

Then, I initially wondered if the whole purpose of these sites was to boost eat.ch’s PageRank. Incoming links from other domains count for quite a bit in PageRank calculation, so with hundreds of little sites all pointing to eat.ch, you can imagine there would be an SEO impact. If I read Google’s webspam info page correctly, this would fall under forbidden practices (ie, “Blackhat SEO”). Somewhere between “parked domains” and “paid links”. Checking the code, however, I noticed that all the links back to eat.ch are rel="nofollow", except the link to the menu. Honest oversight, or a way to sneak through the rules with only one link that “counts” for PageRank, to avoid triggering webspam alerts? Hard to say.

In any case, these placeholder sites drive PageRank, traffic, and online orders to eat.ch, who probably make a cut from any online order through their site. So you can see that even with only one “countable” link to eat.ch, this is a way to boost their business in a debatable way.

So: is what they are doing wrong, or just borderline?

If any SEO experts want to weigh in, please do!

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Poha Recipe [en]

[fr] Ma recette de poha, que je croyais avoir publiée!

For years, people have been asking me for Nisha’s Poha recipe. Here it is — well, my variation of it, because I seem to do it slightly differently (at least the result tastes different).

Poha

 

  • heat oil in pan or karahi
  • half a teaspoon of black mustard seeds and half a teaspoon of cumin seeds (more if you like more, or are cooking big quantities)
  • when the seeds are popping, add curry leaves (anywhere from a dozen leaves to more if you like more)
  • let them sizzle a little, lower the heat
  • add a chopped onion (red if you have that) and green chilli broken in pieces (one chilli, two, three… depends how hot your chillies are and how hot you like your poha)
  • let the onion soften; wash the poha (don’t let it soak, just rinse and drain) — I use roughly two big handfuls for one big serving
  • add a teaspoon of salt (or less), a teaspoon of sugar, a tip of turmeric (upto half a teaspoon, but don’t overdo it), red peanuts and/or frozen green peas/sweet corn
  • mix it all up and leave on low heat 3-5 minutes (for the peanuts mainly)
  • add poha, mix well, turn heat off
  • add chopped coriander leaves
  • serve and sprinkle with lemon/lime juice

Bon appétit!

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Indian Scrambled Eggs Improvisation (Potato, Tomato) [en]

So, just because it was yummy and if I don’t write it down I’ll forget how I did it (and because some of you are jealous of my Indian cooking skillz), here’s what I threw together for lunch. (Words in bold will give you the list of ingredients.)

Indian Scrambled Eggs Improvisation 2

  • slice a medium-sized potato finely (I do it with the peeler)
  • chop some variety of onion in fine slices (I used one small yellow onion and one shallot that was lying around)
  • put a large amount of butter in a pan (+ some cooking oil so it doesn’t go brown), maximum heat (I never lowered the heat till the end)
  • add 1/4 teaspoon of black mustard seeds, 1 teaspoon of whole cumin (not black cumin, eek), and a healthy quantity of curry leaves (10-15 I guess — they freeze very well btw, best way to store them)
  • when all that has crackled for a bit, add potato and onion, salt generously, stir around (and keep on stirring while you continue doing what follows)
  • chop some garlic and a small green chili (freezes well too) rather finely
  • add that in the pan, and half a teaspoon of turmeric (keep stirring!!)
  • chop a tomato (I did one and a half) into rather small pieces
  • when the onions start looking tender and the potato slices start being cooked (shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes in total) add the tomato, and salt again
  • break 4 eggs in a basin (or however many or few you wish), salt, pepper, 1/4 teaspoon of garam masala (mine contains black pepper, cinnamon, black cardamom, and cloves) add chopped coriander leaves (they also freeze well), and beat that all up (don’t forget to keep an eye on the pan, you don’t want anything to burn)
  • by now the mix in the pan should be reasonably dry (if it’s swimming in tomato juice you’re in trouble), so add the eggs, and keep on stirring gently so the eggs start looking like scrambled eggs with lots of nice indian stuff inside
  • when the mixture seems dry enough and edible to you, you’re done!

I’d normally eat this with naan or a chapati or lebanese bread (sometimes easier to get by here), but as I had none available I just used a spoon.

Indian Scrambled Eggs Improvisation 3

Bon appétit!

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Champis vaguement indiens à la Steph [fr]

[en] Tonight's Indian-inspired culinary improvisation with mushrooms.

Allez hop, c’était pas mal bon alors je vous donne la recette (totale impro, donc improvisez par-dessus à votre tour!)

J’avais environ 250g de champignons blancs pour faire ça. Je les ai vaguement lavés (il paraît qu’il faut pas trop laver les champis) et coupés en lamelles.

  • du beurre au fond de la poêle, bien chauffer sans pour autant le cramer
  • un quart de petite cuillère de graines de moutarde noire
  • 30 secondes plus tard, une bonne petite cuillère de graines de cumin d’orient (pas le noir, qui pue l’anis)
  • deux gousses d’aïl écrasées
  • faire rissoler tout ça jusqu’à ce que ça commence à ne plus sentir l’aïl cru
  • une demi-cuillère (toujours petite) de turmeric, rissoler un peu aussi
  • ajouter les champignons, bien touiller pour qu’ils soient aussi uniformément jaunes que possible (pas facile, j’ai pas réussi!)
  • saler les champignons
  • comme ils ne voulaient pas suer et que ça commençait à griller, j’ai déglacé avec un tout petit peu d’eau, et hop, le tour était joué
  • touiller encore, les champignons commencent gentiment à avoir l’air cuits à un moment donné
  • ajouter feuilles de coriandre et jus de citron (pas trop de citron, enfin, selon le goût)
  • chauffer encore une petite minute pour répartir les saveurs et réduire le jus
  • manger!

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Isa and Sam's Birthday Salad [en]

[fr] Salade mêlée faite pour les anniversaires d'Isa et Sam. Tomates, oignon doux, poivron vert, piment vert, maïs, pousses de soja, feta, feuilles de coriandre, et une sauce à base d'huile d'olive et de vinaigre balsamique.

Here we go, another quick and dirty salad recipe:

  • 5 San Marzano tomatoes
  • one large sweet onion
  • one green bell pepper
  • one green chilli pepper (chopped fine!)
  • one box of fresh mung sprouts (blanched)
  • 2 tins of corn
  • 200g of feta cheese
  • a lot of chopped coriander
  • mixed seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, poppy, flax, sesame, buckwheat — Coop sells the mix)
  • dressing: lots of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, some normal vinegar, some lime juice, mustard, tomato concentrate, pepper, salt (enough salt can make the difference between a tasty salad and an unexciting one)

Enjoy!

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On the Road to Being a Healthier Geek [en]

[fr] Il y a un mois environ, une petite conversation avec mon médecin a eu des conséquences remarquables sur mon mode de vie:

  • je mange plus équilibré (pas dur de faire mieux que le régime pizzas)
  • je me déplace plus souvent à pied et je vais vendre ma voiture.
  • Sans rentrer dans tous les détails relatés dans la version anglaise de ce billet, mon médecin a réussi le tour de force de me motiver à faire quelques aménagements dans mon mode de vie, sans me culpabiliser (ce que je faisais déjà bien assez toute seule). J'ai pris conscience que ma mauvaise alimentation et mon manque d'exercice étaient probablement en train d'avoir un impact sur ma santé (physique et psychique), et qu'il n'était pas nécessaire de bouleverser complètement ma vie pour arranger un peu les choses.

    Côté nourriture, j'essaie vraiment de viser 3 repas et 2 collations par jour, avec 5 portions de fruits/légumes (pas si dur si on construit autour), de la viande ou du poisson une fois par jour, moins de féculents et moins de produits laitiers. En gros, les machins verts/rouges/jaunes, c'est la base. Ah oui, et du poisson 3 fois par semaine, c'est bien.

    Puis l'exercice... les fameuses 30 minutes par jour, ce n'est pas si dur si on décide d'aller à pied au centre-ville plutôt que de prendre la voiture ou le bus (Chauderon c'est à 20 minutes de chez moi). Du coup, ma voiture s'empoussière presque sur sa place de parc depuis un mois. J'ai décidé de la vendre, et l'argent ainsi économisé me permettra moult taxis et voitures Mobility...

This is the [long-overdue](http://twitter.com/stephtara/statuses/3927673) post about the groundbreaking chat I had with my doctor about a month ago.

I went through a rather rough patch in November/December. Those months are usually tough for me, but this year was particularly stressful and tiring. Of course, there were objective reasons for that: I started working for myself in the summer, burnt the candle from both ends during my first months of school-less freedom (yay! I can go to bed at 4am and not feel guilty about it!) and generally had a hard time saying no to clients’ requests even if it meant a packed agenda, because, hey, it was stuff I was excited to do **and** it was paying the bills. So yeah, I had every reason to be feeling tired. However, I was a bit concerned about the fact that I didn’t feel less tired even if I got more than enough sleep, and I decided to go to the doctor for a check-up, just in case I was “missing something” by putting the blame on my lifestyle as a freelance consultant.

After taking a blood test (I will now remember to systematically present the person holding the needle with my right arm, as the left one has non-cooperative vein) I sat at my doctor’s desk for a little chat. He asked me what was bringing me there, and I told him the story. He asked me how I was sleeping — not quite enough, but reasonably regular hours and overall good quality. He asked me how I was doing in the food department — and that’s where it suddenly got very interesting.

#### Food

**I’ve known for years that my eating habits are disastrous.** Diet based on pizza, bread, and cheese. Skipping meals. Not enough fruit or veggies. I used to joke about it and say my main source of vegetables was pizza. I’d evaluate my meat intake as roughly ok, but not enough fish — everybody knows you never eat enough fish, and I hardly ate any. The only thing I knew I was doing right was the fluids part: I drink a lot, and most of it (if not all) is tap water (healthier than bottled water around here). I hardly drink any alcohol at all and I don’t smoke.

I told my doctor I’d been gaining weight (it’s not so much the weight itself that bothers me than the fact I feel too tight in some of the clothes I love to wear them anymore), and that during the summer I had tried to eat more veggies, but my effort had collapsed after a few weeks when my life became too busy.

This is where my doctor earns extra bonus points and good karma. Without making me feel more guilty than I was about my unhealthy diet, he managed to encourage me to try and improve things in small steps by explaining to me in what way one’s diet influences general health and well-being, and walking me through a few simple, concrete things I could easily do to eat better.

**A balanced diet is the starting point for all the rest.** When your diet is unbalanced, before getting into the really nasty stuff that shows up in blood tests, you are going to suffer minor hormonal imbalance, for example. This can make you a little more tired, fall ill a little more easily, and introduce subtle imbalance in your neurotransmitter levels. Neurotransmitters? Whee. I had never given thought to the impact food I ate could have on the chemical balance of stuff in my brain, and therefore my mood and general psychological health.

So that would seem to say: “a healthy diet might help me be less tired and in better psychological health” — did I get that right, doc? Now that’s encouraging.

Then he pulled out a food pyramid from a recent presentation he had just given a bunch of professional dancers on nutrition. I’ve found quite a bunch of those pyramids online, but they all seem to be different (here [the closest match I found](http://www.prevention.ch/ima31304.jpg), so I’ll just tell you what I remember of the one he showed me and our discussion.

The bottom of the pyramid is fluids (non-alcoholic). I’m good with that one. The second floor, however, is veggies and fruit (five portions a day). Then cereals, pasta, bread… three portions. Meat/fish/eggs are on the fourth floor (once a day, fish three times a week), sitting next to dairy products (here’s the catch… I can’t remember if it was once or three times a day for those… I suspect once).

Three solid meals a day **and** two snacks is the way to go. Oh my god, how on earth do I squeeze **five** veggie/fruit portions in there (two of them raw)? It’s not that hard, actually:

– orange juice at breakfast = 1 portion
– those little Andros fruit mushes you can buy at Migros = 1 portion
– a fruit for snack = 1 portion (or 2, if I do two snacks)
– stick pizza in oven, [grab a fruit or two, peel, chop up](http://twitter.com/stephtara/statuses/4087943) and stick in a bowl for dessert = 1 potion (leaving them in the fruit basket doesn’t work, I won’t eat them)
– stick pizza in oven, grab a handful of pre-packaged fresh salad (Migros, Coop), add sliced tomato, sprinkle with a mix of pumpkin/sunflower/flax/sesame seeds (Migros), a little oil and vinegar = 1 portion with added [Omega-3](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omega-3_fatty_acid) bonus
– aubergine or other veggie sliced and steamed, add salt/lemon/whatever to taste = 1 portion (my best acquisition over the last year was my [Tefal Steam Cuisine](http://www.tefal.com/All+Products/Cooking+appliances/Steamers/Products/Steam+Cuisine+1000+Easy+Store/Steam+Cuisine+1000+Easy+Store.htm)– easy to use, great for fish, little washing-up after).

The trick is to think about eating as organised around the veggies. Before, I tended to have mono-meals: either a piece of meat, or some pasta, or a huge salad, or a pizza. Now, any of these things would *at least* be accompanied with a salad or fruit.

Three-minute salad One trick I’ve discovered for salads is to **not** prepare them in a salad bowl. It sounds silly, but one of the biggest hassles with food for me is the washing up. I have a bottle of balsamic vinegar which is made to be *sprayed* on things, so I just put the green things on a plate, spray them with balsamic vinegar and add a little oil. One possible result of this effortless process can be seen here in the photo.

Another trick (for fruit, particularly) is **not** to buy packages with 10 kiwis or 6 apples. If I buy two apples and put them in my fruit bowl, I’ll eat them. If I have 6 of them, that’s too much — and I won’t. I also noticed that so-called organic fruit, or simply fruit that you by individually, is more tasty.

Fish three times a week isn’t too difficult to achieve using the steamer (stick fish in steamer, cook five/eight minutes, yum!) — concentrate on the [Omega-3 rich ones](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omega-3_fatty_acid#Fish) like tuna/salmon/sardines. Fresh raw tuna is delicious too, but don’t [overestimate how much you can eat](http://twitter.com/stephtara/statuses/4209283).

One month later, I’m still happy with the improvements I’ve made to my diet. I have to say that the simple fact I “have this food thing under control” has taken away a lot of guilt and stress, and is in itself making me feel much, much better. Of course, it’s not perfect — but my experience with life tells me that striving for perfection is the best way to Not Get Things Done ™. I suspect I don’t usually get my three meals **and** two snacks each day. When I eat out, things go to the dogs (though I do now always order a salad with my pizza). I don’t think I get my five portions of veggie/fruit, it’s probably more around four. Well, you get the idea — but I’m headed in the right direction.

One thing I plan to do is to conjure up some kind of monitoring sheet where I can cross out my veggie portions, meat/fish consumption, meals etc. I tend to have very little awareness of what I’m doing/not doing — for example, I was totally incapable of answering many of my doctor’s questions on what I was/wasn’t eating. So writing it down would allow me to be aware of how regularly I skip meals, for example, or to notice if my fish consumption goes down to once a week or less. I’ll blog the document if I get around to doing it.

#### Exercise

Another painful chapter was opened when my doctor asked “so, what about physical exercise?”

Uh-oh.

What? But, don’t I, like, do [a helluvalot of judo](http://flickr.com/photos/bunny/tags/judo)? What do I have to worry about exercise? Well, the “helluvalot” part might have been true ten years ago, when I was training 4-5 times a week, but for the last years, between things like [injuries](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2004/11/11/correction-cerebrale/), too much work, and [car accidents](http://flickr.com/photos/bunny/tags/accident), it’s more around once a week on average over the year. And, let’s face it, with thirteen years of judo underneath my black belt, I can also go to training and not tire myself out if I’m feeling lazy or out of shape.

So, I need another source of exercise. Leading a [geeky lifestyle](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2006/12/13/ce-soir-scenes-de-menage/) is all very well, but even without being [addicted to the internet](http://www.stoweboyd.com/message/2006/10/internet_addict.html) (it might just be [technological overload](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/02/09/technological-overload-panel/)), one has to agree that sitting in front of a computer all day, many days a week, is not exactly physical exercise, and probably not what the human body was designed for. Specially when you’re working from home and you live alone — trips to the kitchen and the bathroom don’t really add up to very much.

First, as with food, motivation and encouragement: something like cutting the risk of developing breast, stomach or colon cancer by 50%, just by doing 30 minutes of exercise per day. Wow. There are a whole lot of other benefits on your health, of course, but this is the one that struck me. So, 30 minutes a day? Damn, that would mean I have to take “time off” to exercise.

In summer, I go rollerblading by the lake. It’s nice, it’s good exercise (an hour or so from university to Ouchy and back), but it’s not so great when it rains. I need something I can do whatever the weather, says my doctor. Hmmm. I don’t like swimming. Dancing counts, he tells me — I don’t really like dancing either. Walking is ok, if it’s a brisk walk and not a gentle stroll in Ouchy on a Sunday afternoon. Cycling is ideal, he adds, specially on an indoor bike. Well, I have a bit of a space problem — but as he says, it’s all a matter of me deciding how important it is. You can buy a kind of tripod that you can stick a real outdoor bike on to turn it into an indoor bike, so it’s not that expensive (150CHF). Unfortunately, I don’t already own a bicycle.

So I decided to give walking a try. [All the walking I did in San Francisco](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/01/12/im-really-liking-san-francisco/) certainly helped me take the plunge. Minimal duration for the walk to be worth anything is 10 minutes (so 3×10 minutes = 30 minutes, good!) [Café-Café](http://cafecafe.ch) rehearsals, my brother’s place, shopping, post office — all those are 10-15 minutes away. No more taking the car to go there. I tried walking down to town, without taking the bus. Gosh, Place Chauderon is only 20 minutes away! Café de l’Evêché, 30 minutes! That’s about as central as it gets. No more taking the car to go into town either. There’s a bus-stop a minute away from where I live if I’ve done enough walking for the day and don’t want to walk home. And overall, the [Lausanne bus system](http://www.t-l.ch/) is pretty good and can take you more or less anywhere in the city.

One added advantage of walking places is that it means longer commutes (OMG! who would want that!) and allows me to listen to podcasts on the way. I miss the singing-at-the-top-of-my-lungs sessions in the car somewhat, though. Longer commutes are also good because they force me to reduce the pace of my sometimes mad days — I can’t pack meetings or activities wall-to-wall in three different places in and around Lausanne because I think “it’ll just take me five minutes to get there”. I get breathing space, and I get alone-time (time spent on the computer blogging, IMing, Skypeing and IRCing does **not** count as alone-time).

#### Going No-Car

I was telling a friend all this during [LIFT’07](http://www.liftconference.com/2007/), and the fact that my as my car was now spending many a day sitting on my parking space I was certainly not going to get a bigger one, when he flat-out suggested that I sell my car. Yeah, but… I need it to go to my sister’s, to my dad’s, etc. “Rent a car when you need it.” Hmmm, why not, but rental agencies are at the station, which is quite far off… Anyway, I dismissed the idea and enjoyed the rest of the conference.

A few days later, the background process had worked its magic, and I ended up spending a fair amount of time on the [Mobility website](http://mobility.ch/pages/?dom=6), looking up prices and figuring out how it worked. Basically, it’s a web-based car rental service which allows you to book your car, open it with your magnetic card, use it and bring it back — without having to involve another human being. You can also [rent cars from AVIS and Hertz through them at a reduced rate](http://mobility.ch/pages/index.cfm?srv=cms&pg=&dom=6&prub=623&rub=754). And more importantly, they have cars **everywhere**. At the Migros where I usually do my shopping. At the Coop in Prilly. Down the road. Up the road. All within walking distance.

It made sense to have a car when I had to drive daily to Saint-Prex or Bussigny, which is not a practical journey by public transport from my place. But now that I’m not commuting regularly anymore… The amount of money I pour into the car sitting in that parking space could just as well be spent on taxis and rental cars and leave me with extra aeroplane budget.

Bottom line? I’ve taken a four-month Mobility trial subscription, and I’m selling my car for March 9th. I’m losing my license for a month on that date because of my car accident this summer — so it’s a good time.

Thanks for the nudge, [Stowe](http://stoweboyd.com/)! 😉

#### Wrap-Up

I don’t know how many people will have the courage to read through this horribly long post, so here’s a quick wrap-up of what I’ve effortlessly changed about a month ago, and kept up with. All because the importance of a reasonably balanced diet and regular exercise for my (mental and physical) health really sunk in.

– 3 meals a day, plus two snacks (I’m still working on turning my breakfast into a “meal”)
– 5 veggie/fruit portions a day — build the rest of the food around those
– fish 3 times a week if you manage, meat/fish/eggs once a day
– eating frozen or ready-made stuff isn’t disastrous, just add salad/fruit
– commute on foot — many distances aren’t that huge if you take the trouble to try
– if you don’t use your car regularly, it might be more economical to go cab/rental.

More important than the specifics, what’s to note here is a change of attitude. Details are important, of course, as they are often what’s needed to make an intention into Things That Happen (check out GTD again). But alone, they are not sufficient. In my case, it took a few months of feeling rather unwell, and the fact that my doctor **took the trouble** to talk to me about these issues, for me to realise (a) they were important (b) they were probably having an impact on my life right now and (c) I wanted to do something about them.

Today, instead of thinking “what do I feel like eating” or “do I want to go rollerblading/walking”, I think “where am I with my quota of veggies/exercise, and what do I need to eat/do to reach it”. I don’t do it in an obsessive way, mind you. It’s just that food and exercise have become goal-driven, and there are rather effortless things I can do to move towards a goal I find worthwhile — so I do them.

On the road to being healthier geeks!

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Lausanne to Portland [en]

[fr] Récit de mon voyage de Lausanne à Portland, avec des hauts et des bas.

My trip was “interesting”. I got up at 5am, said bye to the cat, and took the bus. I had a really lucky connection (reminded me of the Knight Bus in Harry Potter). Then, another nice surprise at check-in: the longest leg of my journey (London to Seattle) was upgraded to business class. (Don’t ask me how I did it — I didn’t do anything. The flight was full, and then by a combination of a lottery and maybe other things like being a woman travelling alone, I was the lucky one.) Unfortunately, my flight from Seattle to Portland couldn’t be checked in there, as I was flying with a different carrier (Alaska Airlines) which was not associated to British Airways in any way.

There was no queue at passport control. I was in so early that there was no gate indicated for my flight. I did a bit of duty-free window shopping and worked hard at drinking down the huge bottle of water I had bought at the station.

I was copying down my hotel addresses when I discovered that I had left my flight itinerary (with hotel reservation details) at the check-in desk. The guy at the customer desk was incapable of reaching them, so I had little choice but to go back out and come back in again. There were two hours to my flight, so I had plenty of time.

I got my papers back without any trouble, and headed back to passport control. Gasp! the queue was stretching all the way through the shopping area, nearly to the top of the escalator. I queued patiently, calmed down after an initial panicky reaction by the fact the queue was moving along quite fast. I even got back inside shortly before the gate for my flight appeared on the board and I could start queuing for security.

I’m starting to find the way security checks are managed in various airports interesting. For example, I wasn’t asked to remove my boots in Geneva, but I was in London and Seattle. (In Geneva, however, I learnt that my solid silver bracelet was a beeper — now I know to take it off.) I’ve also learnt (after having to empty half my bag in Lisbon) to remove my laptop from my bag straight away (camera and hard drive can stay inside, though).

I had liquids with me this time, but there was no problem at all with them. I had made certain the bottles were 100ml or less, and had packed them neatly into one of the transparent plastic bags provided by the airport. I also had medicines packed separately in my bag, also in a plastic bag, just to be safe. In Seattle, however, this small “medicine-bag” triggered a minor security alert. “Is this your bag? I’m going to have to open it — don’t touch it!” But it was quickly behind.

Upon arriving in Seattle, I was surprised that they X-rayed (and sometimes dug through) incoming luggage.

But I digress. Back to the flight. I made a rather painful mistake on the Geneva-Heathrow leg of my journey. After sitting down in the plane and getting organised (book, iPod, starting to know the drill) I realised I needed to go to the loo. Remember that big bottle I had bought at the station? Well, I managed to finish it (with difficulty) before going through security. 1.5 litres. *And* twice 500ml of lassi-yoghurty stuff which was part of my breakfast.

The other passengers had more or less settled down, but the whole take-off process hadn’t started. As is always the case, the fasten seat-belts sign was on, and I decided I could wait until after take-off and the light went off.

That was the big mistake.

It took a while for us to take off, first. And then, the weather was pretty rough, and it took the pilot and excruciatingly long time to decide it was safe for us to get up and walk around. I think this was one of the worst “gotta pee” episodes in my whole life. I mean, it was really really bad before taking off. So imagine: plane take-off, bumpy ride, and rather quick worsening (if it could get any worse) of the situation, given how fast I had forced myself to drink all that water.

I really thought I was going to have to get up despite the seat-belt light. However, I held on, and the moment the light went off (I’d been staring at it for about 20 minutes) I was out of my seat and trying to negotiate getting past the trolley without having to squeeze between it and a seat (no squeezing, no).

The rest of the flight was uneventful, as was the transfer in Heathrow (I tried going to the Business Class lounge, as the connecting flights lady had pointed me there, but then learnt that I wasn’t entitled to ground goodies as I had been upgraded — just on-flight goodies.)

Ah, business class. I got a seat facing backwards, straight on the wing, by a window. The seats are huge! You can actually make them go so far back that they lie flat — and there is a footrest for the feet. I had barely arrived on board that I was served a glass of fresh orange juice. Yum!

Food was extraordinary. Smoked salmon, warm bread rolls, excellent salad, delicious fish pie (I chose that over the meat, knowing what the British tend to do with steak). Real butter and real cutlery. This is where I regretted not appreciating wine, as it was included.

I also got noodles, a sandwich, and fruit salad when I popped into the kitchen later on as I was hungry. All very nice. The flight attendant who had to put up with me and my appetite (both for food and water) was really very nice.

Sitting as I was with a view on the wing, I got to see exactly how flexible an aeroplane wing is. It really bends up and down quite a bit, particularly during take-off and if the weather is a bit rough. When flying, it curves upwards quite a bit — it really makes you feel the wing is holding the plane up in the air.

After we took off (late), I asked the flight attendant what our new estimated time of arrival in Seattle would be. I had 1h50 to catch my flight to Portland, and I was a bit concerned that I would miss it. She checked, and told me that I’d probably miss it, but that I shouldn’t run into much trouble over there if I explained what had happened — they would transfer me to a later flight.

I prepared to catch a few hours of sleep, and was just about dozing off when the flight attendant gently woke me up to ask for my Seattle-Portland flight number. She told me they would try and send a message to Seattle that I was going to miss my connection and see if anything could be arranged before my arrival. How thoughtful!

Near the end of the flight, she came to tell me that they had indeed managed to get the message through to Seattle, and that I had been booked on later flight. I had just to approach the British Airways attendant who would be in the customs area and she would give me the details. That’s what I call customer service…

I was one of the first out of the plane, as I figured it wouldn’t do for me to get held up in a long queue at immigration if I was to get my new flight. Immigration was a breeze (and seeing the queues that had built up, I was really glad I’d rushed out of the plane).

Luggage was much longer to arrive, though. I watched two airport employees energetically dump excess luggage off the conveyer belt into rather unorderly piles on the floor. I can assure you that this scene of luggage handling will remain engraved in my mind for all packing sessions to come. You do *not* want fragile or delicate stuff in your check-in luggage. Ever.

When my case arrived, I grabbed it and headed for the connecting luggage area (with a little detour through luggage-x-ray-and-do-you-have-plants-or-seeds-in-your-bags security check), as per instructions from the BA ground staff. There were roughly 45 minutes left before my flight (6.30pm local time = 3.30am internal-clock time). And this is where — luckily — the baggage handler noted that my luggage had only been checked in up to Seattle. Well, of course! He went to fetch the attendant while I waited, and she tagged it manually before they put it on the conveyor belt and I ran to catch the three different trains which would take me to the correct terminal.

I got there on time, slept all the way through the bumpy flight on a tiny and very empty plane with propellers (woken up by landing — bump!), and walked zombie-like to the baggage claim area. Long, long walk. Astonishingly, the baggage claim area is outside the secured area (so you follow the one-way streets almost all the way out of the airport before getting to your luggage).

Then, I waited. And waited. And waited. And tried not to fall asleep standing up.

And finally, my flight number disappeared from the belt, and my bag still hadn’t turned up. This journey was becoming increasingly challenging, and I was becoming less and less functional as time went by (8.30pm = 5.30am internal-clock time — over 24 hours since I got up, with 2-3 hours of solid sleep and a bit of dozing off in between).

I headed for the lost baggage desk. The lady there was very nice. Very. She filed a report, and before she had finished told me that my luggage was located, and would be coming over later that evening. She took my details to have it delivered to my hotel, and even offered me a toothbrush if I needed it (this is where I was glad I had packed my essentials in my maximum-size cabin luggage).

I managed to ask her how to get to the place I was staying at (my brain was almost at a standstill, and I was starting to have trouble formulating questions and recording answers by that time) and she gave me some indications. On the way to the cab/bus/whatever stand, I walked past the information desk, and asked again. *Another* very nice lady. She called the hotel for directions, and told me I could take the light train ($2, quite a bit cheaper than the cab).

By then, I’d realised that I’d forgotten all my dollars at home (sorry, Grandma — I’ll go back to the States, promised). Not to worry, the ticket machine takes credit cards, doesn’t it? Well, in theory — but not mine.

I went back to the desk to ask for a cash machine or a place to change money. Uh-oh. Not to be found around here, and particularly not at this time of day. The lady (*very nice*, remember?) gave me a five-dollar bill to get my ticket.

Unfortunately, the machine refused that too, so I was back at the desk for the third time. She told me the machines were often uncooperative, and I should just take my train and explain if there was a ticket check. Now, all this took a long time, because I was starting to be thicker and thicker and slower and slower. Anyway, I thanked her again, and got on my train. Managed to change at the right station (froze a bit in the cold and rain between trains). More or less slept at times on the second train (not easy with the permanent announcements on the loudspeaker). Half-dazed, explained to the guy who wanted my pass why I didn’t have one. He was quite nice, had a look at my ID (“Sweden!”), asked for some details about how I got here (“How long have you been in the country? 7 hours?!”), didn’t write me a ticket (“Next time… Do get a pass…”). Interesting, these guys looked like policemen, not train employees. Cried a bit once that was over (sheer exhaustion). Got off at the right stop.

No, not over yet! I had instructions: cross this street, and when you reach that street, there it is, and this is what it looks like. Straightforward enough. But when I got off the train, my first concern was: which way do I need to start walking? I walked through the rain to the nearest road, and it wasn’t any of the roads included in my directions. I went off in another direction. No luck either. I must have walked around in the dark and cold for about 20 minutes (even rang a doorbell in desperation, but nobody answered) when I saw the next train coming in. I headed back to the station, hoping maybe somebody would be there (I seemed to have really landed in the middle of nowhere).

Oh joy! two human beings were standing at the bus stop. I walked up to them and asked if they could help me. They couldn’t directly, but the girl’s father was arriving with the car to pick them up, and she asked him. He invited me to climb on board with my stuff, and we drove around for a while until we found the place. It was *much* nicer to be in a car with nice people who were taking upon themselves to find the place rather than be walking around in circles along with my rolling-bag in the rain.

Finally — finally! — I had reached my destination, checked in, got some food (frozen muffins with stuff inside them to stick in the microwave), free wifi, and a bed. Good thing I flew in a day early to have a chance to settle down a bit!

*Note: my luggage was there the next morning when I woke up. I’ll add links to [relevant twitters](http://twitter.com/stephtara) later on.

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