Thursday, February 12, 2009
I ask you: How difficult is it to manufacture a proper urinal?
Apparently, pretty damn difficult if you're the Crane Plumbing company.
Long-time readers (are there any of you left?) may recall that I once had a dream to write a book about urinal etiquette and trivia, so over the years I've kept an eye out for urinal details. I can tell you without hesitation that Crane makes the worst urinals going.
Their biggest problem lies in the sheer sloppiness of their design. The inferior hydro-mechanics of Crane models leads to frequent splash-back problems. This produces a fine urine mist whose are effects are (usually) invisible but which causes an especially nasty damp sensation on the trousers.
On the other hand, American Standard: now, there's a fine urinating experience for you. I don't know what it is - I'm not an engineer - but something about the subtle fold-back ridges running along the edges of American Standards seems to act like a magic force field preventing all splash-back. While Cranes often leave you feeling sullied, American Standards consistently deliver that refreshed feeling that one expects from using a well-designed urinal.
The worst part about this is that there probably isn't much accountability. I don't expect that Crane gets many letters telling them "Your urinals suck!", and even if they did they probably wouldn't take them seriously. Do they have any sort of customer satisfaction metrics? Do they do any sort of focus testing for new models? Have they even made a new model since the '50s? I seriously doubt it.
At work, they just switched from American Standard to Crane, so this is all top-of-mind for me at the moment.
posted by Mentok @ 2:14 PM, ,
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
I always worry when an Oscar nominee gets hyped too much or becomes too much of a media darling in the build-up to the awards. I often find that, for a movie to be regarded as a Great Movie tm by the general public, it has to be a rather blunt instrument, if you know what I mean. My fears about this were worsened when Mrs. Mentok (who's seen at least as many movies as I have) called Slumdog Millionaire "cliched" after she'd seen it.
Slumdog Millionaire is cliched and it is a bit of a blunt instrument, but it's still a good movie and well worth seeing. I think of the movie as a bait and switch: they use the bait of a very conventional Bollywood-style love story to trick you into watching a series of rather shocking stories about life in India's slums.
I expect the plot is familiar to everyone by now: an impoverished, uneducated call centre employee, accused of cheating on the Indian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, proves his innocence by recounting the stories of how he learned the answers. These stories fit into the framework of a sort of love triangle story involving the contestant's morally corrupt (but fiercely loyal) brother and a girl with whom they have been friends since childhood.
I won't give you a spoiler, but you'd have to have been living in a cave since before the invention of radio not to be able to figure out how it all ends up. If the story was set in North America instead of India, no one would take much notice of it.
The plot, however, is entirely secondary to the stark images of grinding poverty. The filth and deprivation are disgusting, and the depths to which greed, hunger and lust can drag the human spirit are horrifying. Yet, it is also inspiring to watch the unconquerable spirit of survival and the ability of children to play and laugh in the face of the worst conditions.
Another thing I liked about the story is that demystified life in India. You hear so many hippy types moon about how Indian people are so much more spiritual, less materialistic and more fundamentally happy than Westerners. This movie shows the gritty realities of Indian life - greed, exploitation, crime, violence, tribalism, classism, corruption. What do you know - the same flaws the rest of the species has. The only time "spirituality" (if you can call it that) rears its head is when we're shown an insane, bloody clash between Hindu and Muslim slum dwellers that leaves half the slum in flaming ruins. Through all of this, the movie also reaffirms our better natures - our capacities for love, loyalty and selflessness - which allow us to occasionally behave better than quarelsome apes.
I enjoyed the movie and recommend it, but it isn't the sort of film you'll want to watch over and over.
posted by Mentok @ 1:33 PM, ,
Monday, February 02, 2009
It's funny the reaction you get from people when you tell them you've gone on the South Beach Diet:
"Oh, God, why would you do that?" "It's not healthy you know." "You don't need a stupid fad diet." "You'll just gain it all back as soon as you go off it."
Let me answer the first question. Why would I do that? Because I was starting to get desperate. After quitting smoking almost three years ago, I put on quite a bit of weight that I wasn't happy about. I wasn't obese or anything, but I'd certainly gotten chunkier and wasn't at all comfortable with it.
Last year, I resolved to fix that. I didn't believe in diets, so I worked hard at fixing it with exercise. Ruthlessly disciplined. Four to six hours a week, on a program designed by a personal trainer. Weight training, cardio, horribly painful abs work. Careful monitoring of heart rates to ensure optimal exercise level. The whole nine yards.
After twelve months of that, I'd lost maybe five pounds out of the forty I was looking to lose. To call it frustrating would be an understatement. Sure, my heart and lungs were in better shape, but my waistline definitely wasn't.
So I turned to diet. After (in my view) basically wasting the previous year, I wanted fast results. The South Beach Diet promised that.
Designed by cardiologist Dr. Arthur Agatston, the South Beach Diet seems to have gotten lumped in the category "crazy unhealthy fad diet" along with Atkins or the grapefruit diet. Some of this criticism is fair, but mostly it isn't. The diet has a certain Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality.
On the Dr. Jekyll side: the ultimate message of South Beach is that you should eat lots and lots of a variety of vegetables and fruits and moderate portions of lean meats. Limit consumption of fats, sugars and carbs, but don't eliminate them because they're essential for proper nutrition. When you eat carbs, lean towards "good carbs" such as whole grain breads. Avoid refined sugars and carbs.
Is there a nutritionist anywhere in the world who would argue with that message?
But that is end state of the diet, the so-called Phase Three of its three stages. It starts off with the monstrous Phase One, an essentially zero-carb, zero-sugar (including fruit) two week endurance test that is pure Atkins lunacy, except that Agatston's plan is low fat and doesn't encourage people to binge on proteins quite like Atkins does.
Make no mistake, near-zero carbs is a distinctly unnatural way to eat. These people who go on Atkins long term must be out of their minds. I started off scoffing at reports of side-effects, but before the end of the first week I was scouring online forums for tips on dealing with headaches, dizziness and gastro-intestinal difficulties.
Agatston presents the two-week carb fast as a detox period to help break the typical North American addiction to sugar and carbs. After the detox, his goal is to reeducate dieters to eat and appreciate "good carbs" and stay away from refined sugars.
I give this detox notion some credit. After Phase One, I found my tastebuds had changed. I tasted some Bull's Eye barbecue sauce (my favourite brand) but it now tasted weird, as if someone had taken a half-full bottle of sauce and topped it up with corn syrup. Reading the ingredients, I found that this is essentially what they do. The top ingredient in barbecue sauce is sugar, ahead of tomato paste! Previously, my tastebuds had been too desensitized to notice that.
But, despite these detox benefits, there is no doubt that Phase One is not a feasible long-term diet. Agatston sort of acknowledges this, but he's kind of vague about it. He just sort of gently encourages dieters to move on to other phases. I don't think either Agatson or his nutty, cult-like followers are definitive enough in saying "Don't even think about staying on Phase One longer than two weeks! It's unhealthy!" And that is a serious ethical flaw in my books.
Still, I've gained a lot of better habits from the diet. I'm eating way more vegetables, drinking way more water and I'm making choices about sugars and carbs much more intelligently.
And I've lost a lot: I've been on for three weeks (halfway through the transitional Phase Two) and I'm down 14 pounds and almost five inches off my gut - and still dropping!
Will I be able to keep it off? Who knows. People love - love! - to sneer in my face with stories about some friend or coworker of theirs who went on South Beach but put it all back on "as soon as they started eating normally."
Well, you know what? I know lots of people who have lost weight on nutritionist-revered Weight Watchers who have put it all back on as soon as they started eating "normally."
If "eating normally" means a typical North American diet super-high in carbs, refined sugars and fats, then no shit you're going to put weight back on if you go back to eating like that.
For all of its ethical pitfalls, South Beach has helped me reprogram my eating habits and I think that will be permanent, or at least long term.
Ultimate recommendation: if you're in a hurry to drop a few pounds for a special event (e.g. a wedding), you could do worse than South Beach Phase One. It's healthier (barely) than Atkins.
But I think most people should avoid Phase One and jump straight to Phase Two or Three. Or just do Weight Watchers. Potato - potatoe (mmm... potatoes!)
posted by Mentok @ 9:52 AM, ,