To the Library, and Step on It!

Encomiums sprang up all over the Web today following the news of the suicide of David Foster Wallace, who wrote Infinite Jest, a book which I love deeply and which had a profound influence on my first (incomplete and unpublished (except for Scribd)) novel, Sparkwood and 21. At that time, I wanted to be a combination of Wallace, James Joyce, and Neal Stephenson. Today, I don't have time to be so ambitious. Even more than Thomas Pynchon, Wallace opened up my latent creativity and I felt the freedom to let it flow. It is an experience I'll always cherish, even though the book remains largely a partial-birth abortion. Without Infinite Jest, it wouldn't have happened.

Words on his passing can be found in Slate, Omnivoracious, Wired, Cosmic Variance, the New Yorker, and Time.

The secret of Infinite Jest for me, its core conceit, is that it is the object that is described in the title. James Incandenza's movie literally entertains its audience to death. Anyone who watches it is mesmerized into a stupor and dies in corporeal neglect. A well-executed comment on the state of the world, in which sacrifice many other perfectly fine and logical pursuits in order to be entertained. Boredom, its most basic minimalist form, having nothing to watch, nothing to play with, to text, to touch, to listen to, more than ever, is the worse possible state of being (I am as guilty of this problem as anyone). So, we will turn to anything, even the most putrid and vile entertainments for the sake of the distraction. This is the message of the book, told in tennis academy where apocalyptic games are played and dictionaries memorized and in halfway houses.

But, and this the major but... The novel itself is an attempt to outentertain anything it describes or the culture it characterizes. It pummels you with its wit. There are laugh-out-loud moments on every page and an endless reservoir of inventiveness. Its barrage of jokes is exhausting. Its exceeds everything it is critiquing. It becomes Infinite Jest, at the end it feels as if it just keeps going that thousands more pages in waiting, but it is being merciful to the reader, releasing them even as Don Gately is subdued to a last entertainment.

I have one quick other observation about the novel. It is the child of technology and it probably wouldn't have been possible with the computer. It is the most expansive work of fiction not done on pen and paper or typewriter (this is my theory). The computer is endless, infinite page. It feels like Wallace took this as a challenge and tried to fill it.

Of course, one of the seminal moments of Infinite Jest is a suicide, by microwave. It is one of the most hilarious, poignant, disturbing scenes in the book, when Wallace describes how the genius patriarch of the novel, James Incandenza, managed to seal his head in the microwave and turn it on. James was the tortured, inventive ghost haunting the book. It is sad to see Wallace follow his own invention so literally.

David Foster Wallace, thank you. Without you, so many thoughts would still be locked in my head.

Obesity: Is nutritional confusion part of the problem?

While waiting at the doctor's waiting room yesterday, I browsed a few old issues of TIME. I read the issue with a cover section on childhood obesity in-depth (the lead story is here). The article listed a number of factors as contributors to the problem, all of which I find compelling. An additional factor I would list (and have mentioned before) is the deflating value of nutritional information. People are deluged with contradictory information about proper nutrition and many older people have never recovered "food panics" which later turned out to be false alarms. Obviously, the media have greatly exasperated this problem by trumpeting any new food study that arrives and under-reporting when updated studies undercut sensational findings.

For instance, the Instapundit provided these links to studies about coffee and eggs. Eggs especially have been derided so thoroughly that the fears originally raised about them in the 1980's linger still. I have made them a cornerstone in my improved daily food menu. Two-a-day. I believe they have played a key-role in helping me to lose 4o pounds. Plus, I believe they are improving my health and energy.

Of course, their aid in my weight-loss is boosted by a highly-publicized study comparing three diet approaches, low-carb, low-fat, and Mediterranean. The low-fat fared the poorest, while the other two were similar in their improvements in cholesterol and weight loss. The conventional wisdom for a long time has been low-fat is critical to preventing heart disease. However, there has been burgeoning discussion that fat and cholesterol are not necessarily connected.

Where does leave a parent trying to feed their children? I wouldn't recommended a pure Atkins diet. But, I wouldn't worry about a lots of protein and a healthy dose fat in their normal diet if you increase fruits and vegetables and decrease sugars and calories. The trouble is that I think many parents have heard so much different information that they simply give-up trying to create a balanced or sensible diet. As TIME pointed out though, poverty and location are the major factors, but nutrition misinformation should not be ignored as an issue.

Where have you been?

Well, needless to say, I've been ignoring my blogging duties. Why? I've been busy trying to "fitter, happier, more productive" as you can see from this post over at my scale. Brief update: Still on course and still enjoying the WiiFit (241.8). Also, really glad to have Mad Men back, enjoyed Step-Brothers immensely, great Brian Greene video here, and a really thought-provoking David Brooks talk here. I have also been working on my book, meanwhile an old book of mine is now on a "hotlist." As the Sports Guy might say, good times. I will try to post more diligently in the coming weeks.

Down the Rabbit Hole

My wife's seizures follow a mysterious internal clock, one governed by its own rhythms that on of their face don't seem to follow any we are familiar with. It has been obvious to us for years now that her seizures are brought by hormonal changes. However, they do not occur on a monthly cycle. Instead, the clock strikes about every six weeks.

We know in general now when they are about the happen. Still, when the alarm sounds, that first moment when the switch clicks somewhere deep in her brain, its always the same. Its always a surprise and its always terrifying. I am much more calm and able to handle the moments that follow. We have a pretty good system and a miracle medicine (Diastat) that clamps down on the seizures and has saved us for many harrowing emergency room visits. Still, I never get used to the start of it.

Tonight, we were watching the Red Wings game and she fell asleep. A few moments later, I sensed something change. I turned to her and eyes were wide open, her pupils blazing. Everytime, it slowly dawns on me. "What?" at first and then "Oh, s***". Down the rabbit hole and more missing time between us. She will be gone for a few days and not quite herself.

One of my favorite sayings is "Wherever you go, there you are." Right now, she's not there. Her body is here, but she is somewhere else. I can't wait for her to come back, to have her with me until the alarm sounds again.

Hand Drying: The New Frontier

According to the Center for Disease Control, if you do not practice proper hand drying, you might as well not wash your hands:
Wet hands have been know to transfer pathogens much more readily than dry hands or hands not washed at all. The residual moisture determines the level of
bacterial and viral transfer following hand washing. Careful hand drying
is a critical factor for bacterial transfer to skin, food and environmental

However, while hand drying seems like a simple task, drying with a towel or paper wipes never seems to do the trick. In addition, paper wipes are extremely wasteful and easily add up to mess in public bathrooms. Drying is the Achilles Heel of hand hygiene and I don't think people realize the importance of it. To improve hygiene, the key will be to take the work and time out of it. But, I think we're winning the war on hand drying.

That's why I flipping out about the revolution in drying technology. The first major leap forward that I came in contact with is the Xlerator, which packs air speeds which make your skin ripple and is a vast improvement over the slow and tedious hand dryer. I've encountered these in a few places, but you may find one at a Target store.

The Xlerator has been eclipsed though. During a weekend trip to the movies, I came in contact with the perfect hand dryer: The Dyson Airblade. The unique, simple, and fascinating design features the high air speeds, but also dries both sides of you hand at once. It is simply an amazing and so utterly simple a concept. But, if these catch on, the Airblade could save lives.

Wired goes Nuclear

Wired highlights the upside of Nuclear Power. Check out the link to the map showing carbon emissions. I wish Michigan was brighter. Also, this book by Gwyneth Cravens appears to a very intriguing survey of the subject. Cravens is a former nuclear opponent who was convinced that it is a better option than global warming. Cravens tells her story at this Long Now seminar.

Free Speech Alert: Don't Throw "Cult" Around Loosely

Great Britain has taken an aggressive approach to limiting speech critical of religion. The Instapundit provides a fresh example. Freedom of religion is fine, but not at the expense of freedom of speech. Let's pray that this sort of thing does not happen here.