I recently joined Fitocracy, a social-networking site where you can log your workouts for your friends to see (and comment on and praise— the UI has it as “giving props”). It doesn’t keep track of calories for you (or have a nifty GPS app) like Endomondo, but it does have a motivation system based in video games. One aspect is that it awards you experience points, both for your activities (e.g.: an hour of vinyasa-flow yoga is worth 180 points), and for milestones (it gives you 20 points the first time you do much swimming, 50 points when you put in some distance, 200 points the first time you break 750m) it labels as “quests”. And, like all role-playing games, you level up when you get enough experience points. (There are also “achievements” corresponding to video game trophies, such as “I Seem to be Lost”, which is awarded when your lifetime running distance goes over 20 miles. I haven’t earned one yet, so I don’t know if they come with experience points.)

It’s still in beta— I can invite you, if you wish— and doesn’t have anything fancy to go with the leveling up. But it gives both the “I want to level up!” gamer motivation as well as the “I want to keep up with my friends” social one, which is a good start. If you’re already on there, I’m mithriltabby.

And forty minutes of sitting zazen is worth two points, so you can use it to keep track of how much meditation you do as well.

Catching up on video blogs, I ran into this TED Talk from Tan Le of Emotiv. Quite impressive.
Let’s see if LJ can handle embeds from TED )
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A few Sundays ago, [livejournal.com profile] obsessivewoman encouraged me to camp out in the early morning to pick up a Wii Balance Board and Wii Fit. (Went to my local Best Buy with a good book, got their at 8:30 and there were already half a dozen people ahead of me in line. More people trickled in after a while, and the line was around the corner by the time the employees came out at 10:30 and handed us tickets. The store opened at 11:00 and people came in to ransack their entire supply of 28 Wiis and 27 Wii Fits.)

Wii Fit is a very different experience from yourself!fitness and Eyetoy: Kinetic. The other games give you an entire workout, with warmup, exercises, and cooldown; you can exercise a bit of control over what you’re getting at the beginning, but once you’ve started, you’re committed to it. Wii Fit is more the buffet style of exercise: it gives you a collection of four categories of exercise (yoga, strength training, aerobics, and balance), and exercises that last from 1–3 minutes (which you can gradually increase up to 10 minutes as you continue to play the game and unlock more exercises and extended play). It’s up to you to handle your own warmup and cooldown. I usually start with yoga until I feel like I’ve limbered up everything I’ll be using in the aerobics exercises.

The buffet style is very good at getting the “just one more turn” syndrome to make you apply your gaming addiction to exercise. Every exercise has a score, even the yoga (which is usually grading you on how well you kept your balance through a pose). Do you want to go back and try again to better your score? Or that of someone else who’s been using your Wii and has their name on the high score list?

The yoga and strength exercises are correlated, so if I do Warrior in yoga, it’ll suggest I do Lunges in strength to match. Doing workouts in one category will tend to open up new options in others; when you start Wii Fit, it only has about a dozen exercises, but over a couple of weeks it’s easy to get it to make most of them available. The aerobics have a good variety as well: a couple of hula hoop games, a couple of running games, a couple of stepping games, and a rhythm boxing one that uses the Wiimote and nunchuk.

The place where it really shines is the balance games, which put the most fun into the gameplay. They’re just minigames, but they’re still a good deal of fun, with things like a ski slalom, a “tilt the board to drop balls through a hole” game, and even a whimsical one where you tilt an iceberg to make a penguin slide around catching fish. There are plenty of Balance Board games in development, and We Ski is already available.

It also encourages you to weigh in every day and take a balance test to see how well you’re doing, and it calculates your “Wii Fit Age” based on how well you do in the balance tests. I recommend doing this after a few yoga exercises and a balance game, but before doing the aerobics; this gets your brain into the mode of controlling a Wii Balance Board, but your muscles haven’t gotten tired yet.

[livejournal.com profile] obsessivewoman says I could have one in the library.
Being Slothman means being easily bored by repetition. This is an advantage for recognizing places to make software more efficient, but makes it challenging to find an exercise routine that captures my attention— and being lazy doesn’t burn many calories. Aikido is great when my schedule permits, but since [livejournal.com profile] obsessivewoman needs to get to bed early and get up early, being out until 8 in the evening doesn’t work well for having much time together during the week. I tried yourself!fitness for a while, which was pretty good, but a workout video that changes the routine daily is still just a workout video.

My latest routine has been EyeToy: Kinetic. This is a workout game for the Playstation 2 that uses the EyeToy, which is a USB-based camera that plugs into the PS2’s front panel. EyeToy games recognize motion and map it onto the screen, where you can interact with virtual objects. In the case of EyeToy: Kinetic, it has three kinds of games that give you a workout: cardio, combat, and “mind and body”. Cardio games last ten minutes and keep you moving around, dodging some objects and touching others. Combat games last three minutes and require more intense strikes and ducking, and can be exhausting. “Mind and body” games work more on balance and smooth motion, and are the only ones that don’t leave me drenched in sweat.

It also has some modes that put three windows on the screen, one showing the EyeToy view and two showing different angles on your virtual trainer demonstrating the exercises you should be doing; these are not interactive. The system always puts you through warmup and cooldown sequences from this repertoire, and it also has ones for working out your upper body, lower body, and abdominals, and some yoga, tai chi, and meditation sequences as well.

The nice thing about the workout is that live interaction is much more engaging than just trying to match up with a virtual trainer on screen. (It also grades you on your performance, A–F, as a source of motivation.) The EyeToy isn’t very smart about image motion recognition, though; it can’t distinguish between your own motion, that of your shadow, or of a ceiling fan in the background. It needs fairly high contrast, too; I changed my workout outfit to a white shirt and light grey sweatpants so I’ll stand out against most of the background of the living room, but wear a black biking glove on my right hand to stand out against the white wall. Direct sunlight will completely white it out; during early morning workouts, I need to put a black banner in front of the peaked window in my east wall. (That was a fairly cheap solution involving PVC pipe, a couple of yards of duckcloth, and a hot melt glue gun.)

Overall, I’d say it’s good value for $45 (including the game disc and the EyeToy camera). It runs just fine on the PS3 as well.

In the Frasassi cave system in Italy, scientists have found biofilms full of sulfur-consuming bacteria that eat hydrogen sulfide and excrete sulfuric acid. These can then erode the limestone walls of caves. If you’re the sort of game master who likes to brush up on geology before sending a scenario into a cave system, this could be a useful source of inspiration. (If elves can culture trees into cities, shouldn’t dark elves be able to herd biofilms to sculpt their caves?)
It’s now possible to induce a suntan without ultraviolet light; it’s working in mice already, and is likely to be applicable to humans. While it might be useful as a way to stave off skin cancer, I also wonder about other possibilities. Anyone remember the series of Bloom County strips where Oliver Wendell Jones invented a device that could turn anybody temporarily black? Just think of the fun you could have messing with others’ perceptions of race!
My darling [livejournal.com profile] obsessivewoman got me a handy piece of software called ReaderWare for my last birthday, which can use a CueCat bar code scanner to identify books, music, and videos. In a fit of getting organized, I used it to catalogue my CD collection and my video collection. With those lesser tasks accomplished, I turned to cataloguing all the books in Maine Coon Manor.

Turns out that the two of us have accumulated over 6,000 of them.

Last year, [livejournal.com profile] hypothermya introduced me to a rather interesting Web 2.0 site called LibraryThing. I had a go at entering a few books, but I just didn’t have the stomach for the daunting task of entering it all by hand. After getting my 3000+ works of fiction into the ReaderWare database, though, I checked back at LibraryThing, and discovered that they have a bulk upload feature that takes ISBNs. So I dumped the whole database up there.

ISBNs are not entirely unique identifiers, so it’s necessary to go over these things with a fine tooth comb. I’ve also been collecting relevant hyperlinks such as author home pages, weblogs, and wikipedia pages, though those are only in my ReaderWare database as there’s no useful way to put them on LibraryThing as yet. And I’ve finally finished my first pass through my fiction section, and I think I have at least 99% of the books in the house now in the database. (Next thing to do is to start tagging all the works that have won or been finalists for various awards.)

You can look at my LibraryThing profile, see the linear catalogue, or try the author cloud or tag cloud as alternative ways of navigating the collection. Feedback from my manga-literate friends on the manga collection is particularly welcome; I’ve been going by Wikipedia’s notions of shōnen and shōjo, but would appreciate the insight of the connoisseurs. [livejournal.com profile] obsessivewoman’s collection is mostly tagged cookbook and mystery; she hasn’t had as much time to get into the detailed tagging as I have.

The Sunlight Foundation’s Sunlight Labs project are working on some nifty technology to make it easy to stay informed about what our elected officials are up to; check out Popup Politicians. Open the Future ([livejournal.com profile] openthefuture) thinks they’ll have versions linking to sites like They Rule and Exxon Secrets soon.
A recent article in Wired discusses the recent creation from Tesla Motors: a $100,000 all-electric sportscar called the Tesla Roadster. At those prices, it’s a status symbol: “My penis is large and environmentally friendly!” The really interesting part is the underlying technology: the expensive R&D is all done by established technology companies investing in making better batteries for laptops and cellphones. Tesla Motors is just spinning off the fruits of that R&D into electric cars, and developing the expertise in that narrow field. And they think they might have a reasonably-priced electric sedan in 2008.
...and shriek, and writhe...

(From twosixteen on flickr via Blue Glow via Pharyngula.)

mithriltabby: Graffito depicting a penguin with logo "born to pop root" (Hack)
( Jun. 1st, 2006 12:23 pm)
The NPA-NXX Geolocator is pretty handy for looking up the locations of phone numbers in the US. It’s not always accurate; it puts [livejournal.com profile] obsessivewoman’s day job in San Francisco.

And in the spirit of Rock Scissors Paper Spock Lizard, someone came up with a 25-gesture version of rock-paper-scissors called RPS-25 which has some really hilarious ways of describing the outcomes (“alien vaporizes dragon”). I should figure out a way of breaking up the big 5×5 table into something that can fit on a Palm screen...

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mithriltabby: Graffito depicting a penguin with logo "born to pop root" (Hack)
( May. 21st, 2006 11:44 am)
The Bodypad is a game controller that works by strapping sensors onto your elbows and knees to determine your body movement, and holding a pair of handles for hand movement. It’s mostly used for fighting, dance, and sport games. It just recognizes arm and leg movements and pulling triggers on the handles, and movements on each side can be mapped to the four action buttons on a standard game controller; this means you can hook up leg movements to “kick” and arm movements to “punch”, but you can’t make your left leg control the onscreen character delivering a left-legged kick unless that’s a separate button in the game. There’s a directional pad on the left handle for movement and L1-L2-R1-R2 on the right handle, but no equivalent of the analog sticks. It’s only around $70, including shipping.

Now, something that can recognize things like crouching, ducking, leaning, turning, and jumping would be really interesting, as that would let me play games like Ratchet & Clank using relevant body motions, but that’s probably a little ways off. Question for video gamers out there: do any fighting games for the Playstation 2 have an interesting storyline (more than just “I must defeat a bunch of enemies in a tournament so I get the prize I want to save my family/the world/etc.”) that would draw someone into a fighting game?

slothman's Rapleaf Score RapLeaf are setting up a reputation management service for general commerce. I’ve syndicated their blog at [livejournal.com profile] rapleaf.
[livejournal.com profile] divertimento, I thought you’d like this article in this month’s Wired about the Dynalifter, which is a hybrid of a blimp and fixed-wing aircraft. Not as stately as a dirigible, but it doesn’t need a docking tower, and it’s a lot more efficient on fuel.
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Polyphasic sleep is apparently a way to train your body to sleep efficiently— getting straight to the important patterns without all that lazing around. Game-wise, I think it’s a significant discount on the points because polyphasic sleepers have both a social stigma and a metabolic penalty if they miss their naps. An article on it at lifehack.org says good to know, do not implement it yet, and I’m inclined to agree.

But it would give me a chance to do more reading, or take up an MMORPG...

Update: The dangers of hacking sleep.

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[livejournal.com profile] weregamer, you might find this article on The Culture War: How new media keeps corrupting our children a useful one to add to your collection of data to print out, roll up, and swat across the nose of people trying to demonize videogames.
(Discovered this in IEEE Spectrum.) The StressEraser is a specialized biofeedback device that monitors the activity of your vagus nerve by its effects on your pulse rate. It’s down to $299 from the $399 reported in the article, but that’s still a bit pricy. I’m curious as to how the use of this widget relates to traditional meditation techniques...
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