Monthly Archives: September 2008

Falling behind in consumer broadband?

I usually tend to not take too seriously a lot of the comments about how the US is so far behind in consumer internet access speeds, because they are usually comparing with countries where the suburbs are at least as densely populated as our cities.

However, it seems to me that in some ways, affordable, consumer-grade internet access speeds may have plateaued. While they (DSL and cable providers) keep providing somewhat faster downstream speeds, the upstream speed on anything reasonably priced seems to be 768 kbits/second or less.

These thoughts crossed my mind as I’d been copying some digital photos into Amazon S3 so as to have an extra backup copy, over our 256 kbps upstream on the DSL (yes, we’re cheap.)

Gradually, back to running

Last weekend, I reached a milestone in the weight loss, my weight dropped below 200 pounds. (That’s about 9 pounds in a month and a half — this low-carb thing continues to work nicely.) It was particularly significant, because I had told myself that I would allow myself to start running again when I got down to that weight.

Due to slightly flatter than average feet, I’ve tended to have more overuse injuries from running in the past. Regular weight lifting helped prevent it, but when you’re overweight, high-impact activity like running is that much more troublesome. Additionally, I’ve gradually grown skeptical of the wisdom of treating these symptoms with ever-more-restrictive “motion control” shoes. I definitely had found that in my experience, some less restrictive trail running shoes caused me less trouble than my earlier pair of (road) running shoes — however, that could have been merely due to the more uneven and somewhat softer surfaces I was running on — the former develops strength in the lower leg that perfectly flat pavement does not.

So, this past Tuesday, I went for a short run, a hilly 2 mile trail loop in the Presidio. But, I took things one step further. I did something I’d been itching to do for months — I ran it in the Vibram Fivefingers KSO shoes which I’ve so enjoyed walking in.

The experience was challenging, but worth repeating. My first observation was “You cannot hit your heel hard on hard surfaces.” My second observation was that trails that consist of hard-packed clay with a few stones scattered on the surface are more harsh to the nearly-bare foot than clean asphalt. Overall though, I think that it was a good choice. Making it something I had to do gently prevented me from running too hard on the first run in many months.

I had stiff, sore calves for over two days afterwards, but it was just a feeling of muscle soreness, not injury. Aside from that, I didn’t experience any unpleasant side effects in my feet and lower legs. I’ll probably go for a run in the Fivefingers again, though I probably will only do it once a week.

My new Opensolaris fileserver, preparations

In what little free time I’ve had lately, I’ve been migrating my home fileserver over to Opensolaris. This is for two reasons. First, I’m quite impressed with ZFS. Knowing what I know now about disk failure, I want scrubbing (periodic verification that disk contents are really what you think they are.) Also, the zfs and zpool commands seem a lot more sane than the commands that manipulate the Linux software RAID (md) system. Second, I wanted to replace some of the hardware. The current set of drives is over 3.5 years old, and I could replace those 5 drives with a much simpler mirror of two 1TB drives and get the same capacity (which I still haven’t filled up.)

First I dealt with the issue of “It doesn’t even support my hardware!” Well, actually, it supported all my hardware except my VIA SATA controller card and the on-board SATA controller. After a lot of frustration, I found out from a friend that Opensolaris does support the incredibly-cheap cards based on the SiI3114 chipset, and many people have had good experiences with them. The only other thing that I needed support for in my server which wasn’t supported out-of-the-box was the Marvel Yukon PCI gigabit ethernet that was built-in to the motherboard. There is a driver available from

So far so good. I ordered my 1TB drives, two 4 port SATA cards based on the SiI3114 (never hurts to have more SATA ports, and I think for the best reliability I want to split mirrors across the two SATA cards. I also decided that, since I wanted to put the root pool on a different disk from the data pool, instead of putting it on a cruddy old IDE disk I had around, I’d try installing the rpool on a mirror of 8GB CompactFlash cards. So, I ordered 2 CF to SATA adapters off Ebay from some guy in Hong Kong. But, I was feeling impatient, so when I ordered my CF cards elsewhere, I also ordered a dual CF to IDE adapter.

In my next post, I’ll detail all I went through getting Opensolaris installed and my new hardware set up.

Low carb

For slightly over a month, I’ve been experimenting with a reduced carbohydrate intake.

While I’ve never been a noticeably fat person, I’ve ranged from 15 to 35 pounds overweight for most of my adult life, ever since going off to college and gaining the “freshman fifteen”. And, at times, I’d been running a total of thirty or forty miles per week, but this never yielded anything but very, very gradual results.

It helps to keep an eye on weight, but you still need methods to affect it.

I don’t do well at mere calorie restriction — because you’re always hungry, and as a result, you can only do it with strict measurement and logging. And this becomes somewhat difficult — not everything comes in a package with “Nutrition Facts”, nor are you eating something in clearly defined units if you get something to eat at a non-chain restaurant. Also, it encourages me to be a perfectionist about it, which is so difficult that I give up in frustration within a day or so.

In the past 3 months, as I began to put more mileage in on the bicycle, I did begin to slowly lose weight, however, even with a somewhat smaller lunch and far less junkfood, the rate was relatively slow — a pound or two a month.

At the beginning of August, I was feeling that it was time to take this endeavor to a new level. I’d had a conversation over dinner the night before with a friend of ours about low-carbohydrate diets. Since then, I’ve composed my diet of “anything but grains, starchy vegetables, and sugars, with the exception of bike rides and cheat meals.” I’ve been eating plenty of protein and fat. I have enough of a knowledge of food to do this fairly sensibly and easily — though it has had me preparing lunch instead of getting some random carry-out food with coworkers, and it has also required me to take a much more active role in preparing dinner, but I’m happy with that.

I’ve had quite nice results from the scale. In that first month, my weight has gone down about 5 pounds, my bodyfat has gone down about 1.25% (though that is a via a notoriously inaccurate method.) The other thing that is interesting, physically, is that it seems to have reduced a lot of common inflammatory responses. For example, my nasal allergy symptoms seem to be greatly reduced. Also, my somewhat acne-prone skin is much better.

There was an initial period of crankiness while I adapted to the low blood sugar levels, as commonly experienced by people who start low-carb diets. But, I got over that. I also found athletic activities (biking and weight lifting) initially more difficult, but as my approach has been to eat some carbohydrates right before, during, and after such activities, it’s actually been fairly easy. As time goes on, though, I find I can do more and more with depleted carbohydrate reserves — it seems like there is an adaptation process going on.

And on the good side, fat and protein make you feel full, even when you’re eating less than a maintenance level of calorie intake.

About a week after starting this, my quest for information led me to a nice piece of science journalism, Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes. It’s an interesting book about two things: the accepted hypothesis of the past half-century for the cause (dietary fat) of heart disease and related diseases, and the evidence that many of these diseases (among others) may actually be caused by excess consumption of refined carbohydrates. I highly recommend this book.