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Wire Cutters

This animated short from Chapman University in 2014 is spectacular. The video’s original summary description puts it best: “A chance encounter proves fateful for two robots mining on a desolate planet.”

 

Only Connect

Easily one of the best quiz programs on television, UK’s Only Connect asks contestants to determine the connection between four seemingly random clues, revealed one at a time. A sample question from the first series:

  • A hammer and feather
  • Six US flags
  • Eugene Shoemaker’s ashes
  • Two golf balls

The connection? (Wait for it…) “Items left on the moon.”

Some of the questions are esoteric, and some impossible to answer for someone without ample local UK knowledge, but every game has had at least a question or two I was able to take a stab at answering. That’s the gold standard for any sort of quiz shows: it’s possible for the audience to participate, but difficult.

The downside, of course, is there are no reliable sources to watch it in the US. Moving directly to England may be the only rational solution.

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All the Stations

I’ve become a little obsessed with All the Stations, in which a pair of YouTubers are journeying to all 2,563 railway stations in Great Britain. They’re not getting out at every station, but are at terminus stations and major interchanges, so in addition to a lot of footage of railways (and who doesn’t need a lot of footage of railways), you also see local people and landmarks and castles (so many castles).

That settles it. I need to visit these places.

Competitive Dance

My daughter just completed her second year on a competitive dance team. Here’s what I fundamentally didn’t understand about competitive dance before I got to see it from the inside.

There are no rules.

For-profit companies travel from city to city hosting competitions. Each one has its own scoring, its own judging, its own schedule. There is no way to compare results from one competition to another.

Other artistic competitions like cheerleading and figure skating have standard scoring. Dance scoring is completely arbitrary.

There are no winners.

Dancers cannot say simply, “We took first place!” Each dancer performs in many different routines in different categories and possibly even different age levels (depending on the ages of other dancers in the same piece). Each piece is ranked in three or four different ways.

A typical awards ceremony runs over an hour, covering all the combinations of age, number of dancers, and styles of dance. “We took took first place in intermediate small group tap, against one other routine competing in that category, but didn’t rank for any of our other numbers” is about as concise a ranking as will ever be possible.

There is no sharing.

Dance is an artistic expression, but competitive dance must never be shared. Don’t record video. Don’t take pictures. Don’t share anything on social media.

Choreography is guarded like a trade secret, so even when a studio stages something amazing, hardly anyone will ever see it. Middle school band concerts the world over are readily viewable on YouTube, but I’ve seen some truly spectacular dancing in the last year and nobody but me and a handful of spectators in the room at the time will ever get to experience it.

We’re creating great art with the intention of hiding it from the world.

There is only dancing.

There’s a pervasive expectation that dancers are dancers to the exclusion of all other interests. If you want to dance you’ll give up your weekends, your summers, your prom, your family vacation… you’re a dancer first, last, and exclusively.

Surely that’s the perfect mindset for some dancers, but it clashes with the norm for middle school children that many activities are worth trying. Competitive volleyball for an eleven year old takes up only six weeks of the year, but dance for the same age level somehow requires the entire calendar.

There are only dollars.

As an entirely for-profit industry, the costs are astronomical. Plenty of articles about high school sports feature parents griping at the costs climbing to as much as $1,000 for a year — how outrageous!

One year of competitive dance costs $9,000 for only the minimum required activities — plus travel and lodging in California for a full week for a “national” competition. Most dancers do more.

 

Competitive dance was a lot of fun for dancer and parents alike, but it’s nothing at all like any other middle school activity, and indeed nothing at all like I expected walking in the door for the first time.

WeightWatchers

Using the iOS app WeightBot I’ve tracked my weight every day (with some gaps) since 2008. I started out overweight, and you can see in about May of 2009 I decided to do something about it. I made an effort to control my portion sizes (mostly by saying “no fries” when ordering burgers at UGrill). It worked, a little:

2009

I hovered around the “overweight” line for a few months before shooting back up over the summer of 2010. Oops. I also stopped recording my weight quite so consistently for the rest of the year.

2010

And then… WeightWatchers!

2011

Done! I reached my goal in about four months, and then stayed there for the past two years. I took these screenshots from WeightBot after I reached my initial goal, but then 2012 and 2013 look about the same.

The secret? There isn’t one, really. WeightWatchers just asks you to keep track of what you’re eating and not have too much of it. For us, the trick was making healthier choices all day. We buy 1% milk instead of 2% now. We substituted turkey hot dogs for beef. If we go out for a big meal, we balance that with lighter meals earlier in the day, or additional exercise.

Not every substitution was a success. Sugar-free maple syrup is terrible; I’d rather have the full-calorie kind and then go for a run. Most of the time, though, we were just as happy with the lighter alternative. And by constantly making healthier choices, it’s a habit now. Even a full week in Vegas, eating whatever we wanted whenever we wanted it, we each gained only about 1.5 pounds.

It doesn’t feel very impressive to pickup a bag of low-fat shredded cheese, but it sure looks impressive on a graph!

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Hyperlapse

A company called teehan+max has developed an engine for taking Google Street View images and building video time lapses — basically reconstructing what you might have seen if you were aboard Google’s car, perhaps staring at interesting nearby landmarks. The result is this: