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Probably most people reading this have heard of Soylent, the powdered meal replacement currently the fashion with computer programmery types. These may look like either diet shakes or protein shakes favoured by body builders, however they are probably much better for you than either of those as they aim for a totally nutritionally balanced meal replacement, so exactly 100% RDA of everything nutritious plus exactly 100% of RDA calories. Albeit, of course, that they are the epitome of utterly processed food - they are quite literally a bag of powdered chemicals mixed together, McDonaldisation taken to its logical extreme.
Nevertheless, they do appeal because they offer very easy portion and snack control and have the ultimate convenience factor. Readers may remember that this time last year after getting back some scary blood work from the tests for the causes of the RSI which began last year, I embarked on the Exante Diet which is a nutritionally balanced meal replacement with about 210 calories per meal to try and shift the weight I brought back from Canada.
And indeed, there was substantial success. My weight fell, energy levels improved, and bloods improved markedly - not as anaemic, and much reduced cholesterol. However I began to realise this was going to become a permanent thing now I'm older and my metabolism has slowed again, especially so long as my commute is walking into the office and as a result of which I sometimes don't leave the house for five or six days with a corresponding lack of motion or exercise, especially since Christmas with the 60+ hour weeks. And Exante changed their formula in 2015, making it much more artificially sweeter. As we now know as of last year that artificial sweeteners cause type II diabetes due to modification of the gut flora, I thought it best I get off the diet food and onto something better for you, and it would help if it were also cheaper.
This time last year Soylent was the only game in town, however as I type this Soylent clones have multiplied (see http://synectar.sk/en/soylent-alternatives-around-the-world-part-1/ for a long list and review of each). Which is especially good for us Europeans as Soylent won't readily supply outside the US. Enter Joylent, a budget Dutch mass market alternative to Soylent.
Joylent in Summer 2014 was identical to Soylent back then, but since the recipes have diverged. Soylent is now onto its fourth formulation, it originally required you to mix in essential (omega) amino acids held in separate oil bottles but its fourth formulation replaced those with powdered oils which aren't as bioavailable, but then you simply overcompensate the supply. Joylent as of Nov 2014 also no longer needs mixing with bottles of oil, the fats are bound to flaxseed and maltodextrin, a complex carbohydrate, and come bound in the powder. Joylent is quite a bit cheaper than Soylent and that shows in the ingredients. It uses soyflour and maltodextrin instead of the more expensive rice flour and isomaltulose, and generally has a much more simple list of ingredients:
* oatflour (short carbohydrates) * soyflour (protein) * whey protein (protein) * maltodextrin (long carbohydrates, fats binder) * vitamin powder (everything not provided by the other ingredients to match RDA) * ground flaxseed (omegas) * flash-dried fruit powder (flavouring) * cacao powder (flavouring)
As you can see, no artificial sweeteners nor thickeners - this stuff isn't pretending to be anything it is not.
The body loading of this formulation is unfortunately relatively high. I tried it out for a few days before vacation and I found it less easy to digest than the Exante food simulants. However, I was chugging 600 ml at a time which definitely leaves you feeling very full with a bit of heartburn, so from tomorrow I'm splitting that into two separate lots of 300 ml for breakfast and lunch and we'll see how that fares. As a comparator, each of those 300 ml portions is about 350 calories, so far more than the Exante diet meals and I'm hoping the 5pm light headedness from hunger will be gone as of tomorrow onwards.
So, the big question most ask: what does the stuff taste like? It's not unpleasant, though there is a very fine balance of how much water to add against the effect on taste. Add slightly too little water, and it gets a vague sweet and chalky taste, these being the maltodextrin and the soy flour. Which isn't unpleasant either actually. Megan had some and also thought it not unpleasant. Like with eating the same thing every day though, it does get boring quickly, but I'll supplement it with some fresh fruit such as an orange as a kind of dessert.
And don't get me wrong, I still am taking dinner as normal. Some people go on this stuff and nothing else, and then find their teeth and jaw go weird from the lack of chewing. People forget that eating isn't just about calories and vitamins and fibre. I like my food, so I'll be retaining dinner as normal, just using the Joylent to reign in my non-dinner calories to 700-800 per day.
Sunday 12th April 2015: 4.03am. Our vacation according to Google. We stayed in a different hotel each night, each had something distinctively good about it as one would expect given we chose from internet rankings only the very top rated locations (8.5 out of 10 or higher):
Ballyrobin Country Lodge in Aldergrove Northern Ireland: the most affordable stay of our trip at less than 100 euro. Punched far above its weight, here was as good as others costing twice as much. No pool, spa or anything like that though, which was fine actually as we were all exhausted and slept surprisingly well on what was as good a bed as places costing four times more.
The Adelphi Portrush: Flawless execution at a reasonable price. It's nothing special, except in the lack of mistakes most hotels make in that price category - for example the breakfast was as good as any hotel I've ever stayed at, and most hotels screw something up especially the bacon in the cooked breakfast, followed by the toast which hotels also struggle with getting right. Clara did love the giant two room space though, this was by far the biggest of our vacation. If they had a pool they would beat everybody else for the price paid I think, though dinner was only better than average though very affordable, indeed one of the cheapest of our vacation despite me getting fillet steak for which they only charge twenty quid.
Castlegrove in Letterkenny: If you like staying in old mansion houses as the nobility lived in this is as good as any in Ireland. Dinner was very hearty fare, typical of places like the old mansion Longford House just next to us here in Mallow.
Lough Eske Solis in Donegal: this was very good, but also cost more than twice anywhere else about 480 euro. And yet they still made a number of small and silly, given the price, mistakes. I also object to the 40% price premium they added to everything - we spent more on the bar here than anywhere else despite drinking the least of anywhere. And the dinner was silly expensive at 160 euro for nothing better than anywhere else. Way overpriced for what it was.
Westport Plaza in Westport, County Mayo: it was funny being here after Lough Eske because it had all the same facilities, in fact exactly so - pool, spa, jacuzzi, sauna plus a bigger, if not quite as nice, room. In fact I'd rate the dinner here better than Lough Eske but almost exactly half the price. The stay was just not executed as well, nor as well as the Adelphi, this is a chain staffed by people who don't pretend to love their jobs and you knew it. Total bill was nearly half that of Lough Eske though, and to be honest Lough Eske isn't worth the doubling of cost, as much as Lough Eske tries to not feel like an impersonal hotel chain, it doesn't quite get there - the staff won't veer from the script they've been told to start conversations with and that leaves you constantly feeling that they are only talking to you because it's their job and if they aren't seen to start conversations with you they'd get in trouble. Which doesn't leave a positive impression on you for obvious reasons.
It does make you wonder what happens when you double the nightly rate again. On the way back home we stopped for tea at Ashford Castle which is a 500 euro a night establishment favoured by celebrities - indeed the hoi palloi aren't allowed closer than the moat (yes the castle has a moat!), to get past that you need to be staying there. And I suspect it's a bit like getting into Google's offices - hard to get into, but once inside it's little but a few press friendly gimmicks and otherwise it's just yet another tech multinational trying very hard to not be like the others, but not really getting there despite the volumes of money expended. I therefore suspect that hotels are a bit like wine, the first doubling of price is worth exponentially more than the second doubling of price.
I think this will be our last touring vacation. It was surprisingly stressful constantly checking in and out and racing to meet fixed times to be somewhere or be ready for something, not helped by eating too much rich food too late in the evening and therefore not sleeping well. We all are far more tired now than when we left, indeed Megan is quite sick from exhaustion, and that isn't the point of a vacation. Clara also dislikes too much change at once and got upset from Lough Eske onwards and was very obviously overjoyed to return home. Next time we'll try a single affordable location with pool as Clara loves that and stay there for a period not exceeding four nights. We might actually return feeling refreshed instead of exhausted!
Some of the views of Lough Mask on the way home from Westport in County Mayo which was our last night of vacation. An Atlantic front was closing in, so we were losing the great weather we had all week.
Probably the fanciest hotel of this vacation, this is indeed a very nice hotel in Donegal indeed. Stunning scenery, onsite massage, swimming pool, gym, rainfall showers, and each room is more like a self contained flat. Two restaurants, both excellent. We went somewhere like this during our engagement in Galway which was excellent and Galway's only five star hotel, but this so far is better I think. And cheaper, though this is semi off season and Galway was high season.
On the way between Derry and the hotel in Letterkenny we thought we'd have a look at a 5th century mountain fort, formerly a high kings location. You can see five counties from it, and the weather this week so far made the view spectacular.
Last night was surprisingly restful for a hotel in Aldergrove which is where Belfast International Airport lives, we aren't tired today which is a huge help. Tonight is one of our fancy hotel nights at the Adelphi Portrush. As you can see we have two rooms in our rental and I think Clara is the happiest of the three of us with the space to explore as you can also see. Unfortunately we need to leave early tomorrow so we won't really get the chance to enjoy the luxury, but we have other fancy hotel nights to come yet - two have swimming pools which Clara really likes. And so will I I think, with the prep for conference I've fallen behind on the fitness and exercise recently.
Earlier today at that world famous "the Irish rope bridge" as if there is only the one of them. Still, nice to get some air outside away from a computer for once, as it's a good hike to get to the bridge
Monday 6th April 2015: 10.59pm. I thought traveling with babies got easier as they aged. Turns out actually they need more entertaining as they age. First day of real vacation down and we are exhausted!
Saturday 4th April 2015: 8.36pm. Just emailed off the very early outline of a white paper proposing APIs for asynchronous file byte range locking on Linux and POSIX ... and with that, I am now on "true vacation" rather than the past two weeks of "not earning money but still working as if I was vacation" preparing for my C++ Now conference presentation. Man, those two weeks just evaporated as if they were nothing ... in truth, I spent the majority of the time either catching up on sleep or looking after Clara rather than doing conference prep like I should have done.
Still, I did clear many backlogs as well. I think there was something like 1,500 emails awaiting my attention, and no less than three of my open source libraries (non-AFIO) had fix patchsets contributed, some of which had been unprocessed since Christmas which was bad - I hadn't thought that AFIO v1.3 would have taken three months of course. And I fixed the power light on the dev workstation, finally bought some new shoes as I'd been walking around in ones with broken soles for months prior (fine when it's dry, unpleasant when it's raining).
Oh, and I got round to replacing my Exante diet which I've been on as a replacement for breakfast and lunch for a year now, they recently made the meal replacements a lot "sweeter" (artificially, of course) which rather ruined them for me, so I researched an alternative which has more calories (no longer need to lose as much weight), is much cheaper and doesn't try to pretend (poorly) to be real food. That replacement is "Joylent", the most popular European alternative to "Soylent", and I'll almost certainly write about it here when I get back from our vacation away.
Speaking of which, we're off to the Mallow races tomorrow and then to Donegal, Mayo and Galway for the remainder of the week. Actual real vacation. Let's hope the weather holds up!
See the glowing red power button on my dev workstation below? It's red when the computer is sleeping and blue, like the rest of the panel, when the computer is running. That's been a two month long odyssey to implement :), plus I ended up spending €50 on a power LED, rather considerably more than I had hoped.
Anyway, just in case anyone else has their power LED - or any other LED - suddenly die on them let me tell you what you actually need to fix this. You will need:
1. A RGB common cathode LED which have four pins, preferably with a forward voltage of 3.3v and ultra bright (14000 mcd). I ended up buying fifty (yes, fifty) of these from Amazon for £3 after I foolishly wasted €12 at Maplin buying a crappy "super bright" LED with some resistors and cable. Their "super bright" LED barely made 3000 mcd :(
Speaking of drive resistors, you don't need those for motherboards as motherboards already have LED driving resistors. I didn't know this as it's not documented anywhere, so I ended up buying a 1200 resistor pack I didn't need in the end from Amazon for £5 :(
2. 2.54mm Breadboard jumper wires, these usually come in packs and you want the all female kind. 40 for £2.
3. Breadboard mount pins, these come in long rows with a plastic spacer, same as the panel connection pins sticking up from your motherboard. Hundreds for £2.
4. Pack of heat shrink tubing of 1mm to 8mm, preferably with adhesive. This stuff is surprisingly hard to find at a decent price, I ended up ordering from DealExtreme in China which added a month of waiting. Still, from DealExtreme it was only €3 for 5m of various diameters, and besides, heat shrink tubing is very useful to have around, it has a multitude of uses.
5. Heat source. As I was ordering from DealExtreme anyway, I picked up two cheap turbine type refillable lighters/creme brulee type burner device, the ones with the long blue very hot jet engine type flame. Each cost €5 or so.
What I then did was to shrink the 1mm tubing onto each of the four pins coming out of the LED to stop them electrically contacting anything, and then attached four of the breadboard jumper wires, using more heat shrink tubing to hold everything in place. As the leads were short, I used the pins to bridge to another four breadboard wires, again using heat shrink to lock everything into place (you can see that in the third picture). Finally, I simply wired up the ground, suspend pin and power pin to the correct pins on the motherboard and voila, we have a new dual colour power LED. And all without soldering, which I find tedious.
The Antec Solo case below takes standard 5mm LEDs and has a clippable LED holder, so it's very easy to replace. But then it was an expensive case designed for a lifetime use (and is so amazingly silent, I just love that case - the machine is so quiet I can't tell if it's on without the power LED, hence the need to replace the failed one). Other cases may not be so easy to modify like this. Also, only very recent motherboards have the pins for dual colour power LEDs, so check that too.
The key points to take away are that (a) normal LEDs from Maplin are crap and just not bright enough, plus their markup is ridiculous (b) you don't need driver resistors for motherboards as they're already on there, just connect the naked LED though do try for the 3.3v forward voltage kind, else probably a small additional resistor would be wise (c) once you have the equipment, this is a very easy mod and it leaves zero doubt your machine is either on or sleeping or off.
Anyway, after all that waiting around, I am pleased. I had been accidentally turning off the computer because sometimes it takes a while to wake from sleep, and hitting the power button a second time does an emergency shutdown. That was losing me work :(
Added 50% to the value of our fifteen year old car with this hideously expensive new car seat for Clara which ought to last her till she is four. As you can see, it faces backwards - this is one of the extended rear facing toddler seats so expensive in Britain and Ireland as we don't have a tradition of facing toddlers backwards here, unlike in Europe where in some countries it is illegal for them to face forwards before age five (facing backwards is five times safer for toddlers). Anyway the price differential between the cheapest extended rear facing seat and this rotating one was only forty euro, so for that I figured it is worth the convenience and lack of back strain. Plus you can feed her easily from the back seat now while the car is moving as it rotates 360 degrees. Still, I can't say I like being price gouged for safety, in 2018 extended rear facing seats become mandatory in all of Europe, and they are far cheaper in Europe than here. Problem is delivery costs, seats are heavy and bulky, so mail order makes no sense :( Still all said it is a very nice seat, top tier Anglo-German manufacturer. And Clara seems to like it, it has a multi stage recline so she can lie back and sleep without her head falling forwards.
Monday 23rd March 2015: 12.24am. Cloud node hanged itself again today, this being the second time this week :(. This was after me doing a lot of work removing anything which could be the cause the previous two times. I thought back to when all this began happening and realised it was about when I upgraded to FreeNAS 9.3 for the ZFS store. Which adds NFSv4 support. Which could be why the hangs are very likely to occur during the weekly (Sunday) backup of all the VMs. So, just spent the last three hours stripping out all mention of NFS anywhere on the VMs on the cloud node, replacing them with Samba mounts which as usual are a pain in the ass to get the security working for, but I think it's done now and it all appears to be working. Let's see if stability returns, because every time the node hangs it costs me a minimum of an hour and more usually several, and I'd really rather do other things than fret about catastrophic data loss twice a week :(
So why have I just opened a bottle of Inis and Gunn beer at ten to five am? Well I just shipped v1.3 of proposed Boost AFIO after six never ending weeks of working till 5am night after night somehow achieved with a job and a family and without me getting sick for once (last year it was RSI, thankfully held at bay so far this year). My thanks to Megan for putting up with it for so much longer than either of us expected, and me being a grump from the lack of sleep. And Clara I'm going to be waking you up in the mornings again soon, though definitely not tomorrow morning!!! Oh, and to those people with emails stuck in the 1400 email backlog since Christmas, I'll get to you within a week now.
Monday 16th March 2015: 6.57am. Six weeks have now passed with me staying up till 5am each night on top of the day job working on proposed Boost AFIO to finish it to a release quality for the v1.3 release. Probably 200 extra hours invested or so now on what was supposed to be almost ready to go, absolutely crazy. I had originally thought maybe a week or two maximum so get it out the door, I was in fact very wrong. Anyway tonight I "finished" the Windows release, all unit tests are green, regression benchmarks calculated and documentation finished. I assume some one of Linux, FreeBSD or OS X won't work tonight on Jenkins, so tomorrow night I'll get stuck into those too. Who knows, might finally release v1.3 tomorrow ... And then I'm going to sleep for a week I think. I am utterly worn out.
Monday 16th March 2015: 12.39am. Cloud node hanged itself for a second time recently today. Network got stuck again, which makes it very hard to shutdown or reboot and you end up having to pull the plug which always makes me very nervous, especially when watching the fsck repair the damage to your drives during boot :(. Removed all virtio network drivers in all the virtual machines to see if that makes a difference. That used to cause system hangs like this back when I first got this node, then that problem went away for a while, now it looks to be back. We'll see if the old fix still works.
Thursday 12th March 2015: 8.56pm. Megan and Clara are away till Sunday. I have a release of a Boost library to finish by then. It's already only six weeks behind schedule ... Bleh!
Tuesday 10th March 2015: 12.27am. Rather irritated to discover that Amazon UK will no longer sell you bulk cheap nappies unless you subscribe to their Prime service :(. Don't get me wrong, there is absolutely no way they weren't making a loss by the time they had sent a large box to Ireland from the UK for Super Saver Free Delivery when the nappies cost less than £20 and the last time I tried sending a similar sized box from here to the UK cost me €40 with An Post, but still it was convenient and cheap. Next best is dedicated trips to Aldi to stuff the car with nappies during one of their special offer weeks. Not as good, but I suppose at least nappies aren't perishable. The only trouble now is where to store the damn things :(
This is our new water filter which replaces an Aqua Optima jug (a cheaper variant of a Brita jug) as I personally find our tap water quite unpleasant (though nothing like as bad as in Madrid or Waterloo Canada in the summer when the reservoirs were low). That our tap water should not be beautiful is surprising as the water is pumped from a 60m borehole into the bedrock literally just outside our house, and it comes through Devionian Old Red Sandstone and ought to be as pure as you get, with the only likely risk being nitrates and pesticides from the surrounding agriculture. It is in fact felt to be so pure by the government they only bother chlorinating it, so no fluoride, no de-flocculation (Aluminium), nor anything else is done to it. The government tests it four times a year, and it's not failed in ten years despite that most of the rest of the country has at some point (traditionally E. coli and cryptosporidium were a big problem in Irish municipal water, as they fixed those during the 2000s more recently the problems are lead and trihalomethanes, none of these have ever been a problem for our borehole supply in the past decade). Despite all this, I find the water to be as chlorinated as a swimming pool (despite the government testing claiming it to be low) and even if you stand it to let the chlorine boil off, I find it still tastes brackish and stale. In short, I find it unpleasant any way you look at it and it bothers me enough to spend money on fixing it.
The Aqua Optima filter we had this past year comes with 12 months of filters from Amazon for £20, and as such is excellent bang for the buck. It's a granulated activated carbon and ion exchange medium, and can remove up to 80% of stuff including chlorine, some heavy metals and hardness. It noticeably improved the water, but in the end like with all such jugs the water flows too quickly though the medium to really pull out enough of the icky stuff to really render the water palatable. That said, it has done well for the past year. I'd recommend it even though it isn't as good as a Brita filter, but it's half the cost.
The new filter below is in a whole different league however, and is in fact world famous as the filter used by the UN, NGOs and armies around the world to handle microbiologically unsafe water such as from roofs, streams, lakes etc with no need for electricity. It is enormously overkill for our needs, but it's nice to know that our water could be riddled with cholera or typhoid and 99.99% of those are NSF certified to be removed in the output. The ceramic filters are still made by the same company today in England which first commercialised them in 1827, and they consist of a very fine porous ceramic which physically blocks anything larger than half a micrometre from passing through.
As you will see below, the filter consists of two stainless steel chambers, or basically two pots one atop the other. The ceramic filters are the four white things and they simply screw into the bottom of the top pot with rubber washers to make them watertight. Every night you fill the top pot and it'll spend the next four to five hours very slowly dripping into the bottom pot which has a tap. The whole thing contains ten litres, and so far has been about enough for a day of household water usage including cooking.
The model of filter I bought below are the Doulton Super Sterasyl's which cost about €30 each. These have an additional activated carbon core inside the ceramic, and because filtration flow is less a litre per hour, the activated carbon gets plenty of time to work on the water. The result is (I summarise from a number of sources of lab results):
* > 95% reduction of Chlorine and Mercury and polyaromatic hydrocarbons.
* > 85% reduction of all the most commonly used herbicides and pesticides (lindane, heptachlor, dieldrin, DDT, aroclor, atrazine, simzine).
* > 50% reduction of phenols and trihalomethanes.
* > 35% of Uranium.
* > 20% of Copper, Arsenic, Lead.
* > 10% of Cadmium and Cesium.
* Negligible effect on Aluminium or Strontium or Fluoride or Salt.
If you need to filter well water which might have lots of heavy metals, they have a model of filter (the ATC) with an additional ion exchange resin which captures > 95% of metals, but also substantially softens the water by replacing the metal and calcium ions with sodium and potassium ones. These also cost quite a bit more, and definitely aren't needed in our case. Moreover, I wanted to preserve the hardness of our water as it ought to make the water taste much nicer, albeit at the cost of furring up our kettle and coffee maker.
So, is a €160 water filter worth it compared to a €30 Aqua Optima jug? Personally speaking, I find the difference enormous. The water from this filter is slightly better than typical bottled water (a bit fresher, crisper) but not as good as water coming straight from a spring, like bottled water this is a bit flat. This isn't surprising, as a lot of bottled water is just filtered tap water using the exact method I'm using, perhaps even using filters by the same company (they are one of the world's largest suppliers of industrial ceramic water filters, in fact if you have under counter or all home water filtering, the chances are good it's a rebranded Doulton filter). So on the water quality, this is excellent, and we as a family (including Clara) have noticeably increased our drinking of water as now it's tasty. Indeed, just whilst writing this I have drunk three large glasses of it, the only downside really is the constant need to visit the toilet :)
The other test will be longevity of the filter i.e. running costs. The survivalist forums I trawled for info on water filters love these filters, specifically the Doulton ceramics instead of any other manufacturer like Berkey or Pur (note that Berkey's white filters are actually Doulton). Apparently they clean easily with a toothbrush, are extremely durable, and if fed unchlorinated water a single set easily lasts ten years. They also don't need priming, reverse pumping, pressure cleaning or other maintenance hard to do after society has collapsed, plus everyone mentioned how the water output tasted nice and not metallic like say the Berkey Black filter which filters out a lot more stuff little of which is ever found in running surface water, but costs a fortune and requires a lot of regular maintenance. Even the Czech and Swiss survivalists (for some reason in Europe that's where our survivalists mostly live) love Doulton according to Google Translate of their forums, and in fact I bought this filter from a Dutch online vendor who mainly supplies European survivalists (his price was much better than anyone in the UK, plus he was priced in Euros, which auto cuts 3% of exchange fees you pay when purchasing in Sterling).
We're coming to the end of our purchasing spree now - as you may have noticed, we've bought a lot of durable goods since Christmas all sensible stuff like a television, a freezer and a vacuum cleaner. This is because the tax year ended for us and we ended up paying €6k to the government in taxes having budgeted for slightly more, and we both received a small windfall thanks to the taxes and accounts falling out that way, a quarter of which has gone on durable goods, a quarter on bills like heating oil and the remainder is going to get banked, probably in prize bonds as bank accounts are paying less than inflation. My contract with Maidsafe ends later this month, if they should not renew for another six months then I'll be back to the unemployment line, so keeping a cash reserve is always wise in this line of work. That said, I think end of contract vacation will probably be in Donegal next month for a few days. Let's hope we get the weather!