Monthly Archives: December 2010

Four-Hour Body Reviewed

Preamble

Tim Ferriss is a hustler and a cheat. These days, this is admirably referred to as marketing geniuuus. Why these behaviors become acceptable when they’re done at scale is debatable, but probably due to rampant consumerism, a poor understanding of capitalism, and the secretly held notion that if one must be tricked, let it be by an elaborate trick that plays on universally justifiable desires (money, family, safety, appearance). Because nobody wants to spend too long shamefully explaining why and how they were outwitted. OK, now we can talk about books.

Four (Big Muscles Remix)

I spent 15 minutes recreating Tim's favicon scaled up, then I spent 2 minutes ruining it with muscles.

The Book Review

As if you didn’t already know from The Internet, The Four-Hour Body (FHB) is the second book by Tim Ferriss, and is somewhat of a sequel to his fairly popular Four-Hour Workweek. Two different arenas, one equation: thinking outside the box yields unexpectedly reliable and portable success. One book is for time and money, the other for appearances and health. Here is the advertised list of problems FHB will fix:

  • How to prevent fat gain while bingeing (X-mas, holidays, weekends)
  • How to increase fat-loss 300% with a few bags of ice
  • How Tim gained 34 pounds of muscle in 28 days, without steroids, and in four hours of total gym time
  • How to sleep 2 hours per day and feel fully rested
  • How to produce 15-minute female orgasms
  • How to triple testosterone and double sperm count
  • How to go from running 5 kilometers to 50 kilometers in 12 weeks
  • How to reverse “permanent” injuries
  • How to add 150+ pounds to your lifts in 6 months
  • How to pay for a beach vacation with one hospital visit

I know it looks like it’s falling apart at the end and I’m making fun, but that’s the real list. And “that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

Praise

  • FHB reads well (for me) – This is because it reads like — and, to some degree, is — a collection of blog posts. Clearly dressed up, but tastes the same. That’s not a bad thing, either; the book is supposed to be easily digestible. If it was any less straightforward, Tim couldn’t have written it.
  • Tim’s not half bad at supplements – Tim covers diet, exercise, and supplements. Of those three, if I had to pick a Jeopardy topic, I’d pick supplements. He’s name-dropped most of the currently accepted and speculatively exciting supplements.
  • In general, good fundamentals – The first few chapters cover some pretty respectable advice. Of course, I can say this because this isn’t the first place I’ve encountered it, but nevertheless, the diet and exercise basics are sound. Kettlebells, legumes, slowing down your eating, drinking more water, walking after meals, lots of stuff that you’ve probably heard here and there if you’ve ever made a conscious effort to get/stay healthy.

Criticism

  • Dude frequently takes it too far – Go back and read that summary list again. Now imagine each of those items is the endpoint of some reasonable bit of advice. It may be true, but it’s borderline dangerous to test. Plus there’s almost a hint of boasting/him daring you to try. It’s either that or a brief handwave that if you do all of the things in the book together, in the combination that works best for you, you’ll enjoy aforementioned effect.
  • Bad science – There’s a line in the beginning of the book where he says that he’ll teach you how to recognize the bad science and bad advice. Then the rest of the book is 10:1 anecdotes to academia. Granted, anecdotes are much less dry, if a bit predictable in favoring Tim’s practices, but they are not science and they definitely remind me of Jenny Craig.
  • Bay Area references – This is really minor, as the two points above really summarize my complaints about the content, but Tim mentions specific restaurants and specific locations in the Bay Area all throughout the book. Part of me thinks he or his editor wanted “stories” and so they needed to make the setting real. He mentions various alcohols by name, too. The book is probably better for it, but it seems very overt to me and makes me wonder how residents around the country will read it. Does it add mystique? Or does it alienate?

Conclusion

Well, I know that I will be trying out a few techniques. I’ve always been interested in maximizing health and minimizing work (hence the supplement research). Lately I’ve eased up on the last objective, so it’s a good time to try new things.

But is it a good book? Is it the health book for you? All in all, I would say that if you can ignore some of the insanity and focus on the message, it could be worth the $14, provided you are already pretty interested in this type of thing. That way, you have a bit of healthy skepticism and previous understanding in the area. It’s clearly written and organized and it incorporates a lot of modern knowledge in one spot. Still, I would not say it is a safe or engaging first step and it does not offer any replacement for discipline and motivation. I can definitely say that without those, this book is just as worthless as the others. If you think that you’d like the book, give me a shout and I can lend you my copy.

Ending, as we started, on the author: in my eyes, just as TV infomercial presenters gain a certain kind of celebrity, so has our Mr. Ferriss. The information presented in the book is indelibly his; it bears his all-too-direct marketing stamp, his signature form of enthusiastic and confident misinformation. While reading, try not to think about him too hard; you’ll probably just make yourself sad.

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Gentoo Love: Intro to Portage Sets

A few quick gentoo tips before we get to the instructional material.

  1. Emerge world as often as you can. Once a week is probably a good frequency.
  2. Unless you’ve got a rock solid track record emerging world, don’t do it when you are really tired.
  3. In the best interest of the above, and your sanity, minimize the number of tilde keywords you have unmasked. I got all adventurous with one of my servers some years ago and there’s no good exit strategy. Sometimes it’s a pride point, other times, just pain.
  4. Don’t unmerge zlib. Just don’t, even if you are planning to put it right back. Pretty much nothing can run without it. Not portage, and not make, so you can’t get it back really. If you did, just copy libz.so (and symlinks) from another machine (probably of the same architecture).
  5. Also, don’t run eclean. It will break a lot of ebuilds and can’t even do that particularly well.

Getting setsy with portage

One of the main disadvantages of portage is the generally poor grouping of related packages. There are:

  • Package Categories (media-libs, dev-python, etc.) – These are pretty great, except when a package’s category changes and some ebuilds don’t pick up on that change. There is some way for portage people to redirect old ebuilds to new packages, but it has failed me more than once. Also, package categories don’t speak much to dependencies (not that they should). Portage/ebuild people decide on these, though the project maintainers might have some say.
  • Meta Packages (kde-meta) – Not many of these, but they seem to mostly be a dependency container. They are fine for installing, if a bit opaque, but they can be terrible for uninstalling. I’ve uninstalled old metas that left their obsolete and orphaned packages strewn about (kde 4.2 stuff). These are made by the project maintainers, I think.
  • “Profiles”(world, system) – Not a great name (maybe the wrong name?), but these aren’t as helpful and commonly used as they should be. Emerging world is definitely useful, but there could be a more granular operation between individual packages and ALL PACKAGES. These are generally automatically constructed for the user, though the user can do some manual editing.
Portage Screenshot

Oh KDE, you slay me.

Enter sets

Sets are basically like profiles, but the user gets a lot more control. They are groups of packages that can be reference like:

emerge --ask --update @my-set

You’ve got to admit that’s nicer than doing something like this.

Now when I said “Enter sets,” I meant… almost. Sets are only available in portage 2.2+. So the first step is to get that. Before that, I want to mention that it is technically still in alpha and a broken portage can make it hard to revert to a working portage. Nevertheless, so far it works fine for me and a lot of others have been using it since early 2009. In /etc/portage/package.unmask, add:

>=sys-apps/portage-2.2.0_alpha8

And in /etc/portage/package.keywords add:

sys-apps/portage ~*

Now, just emerge --ask portage and make sure it’s gonna pull in 2.2.

Your first set

Long story short, the format of the most basic user sets is just like the world file under /var/lib/portage/world. Just make a file with a list of packages, one per line, and put that file under /etc/portage/sets. For example, a set of scripting languages:


dev-lang/nodejs
dev-lang/php
=dev-lang/python-3.1.3
>=dev-lang/ruby-1.8.7_p249-r2
dev-lang/tcl

Now you can refer to that list of package like:

emerge --ask --update --deep @my-scripting-set

It may be prudent to prefix your sets so they don’t conflict with any other packages.

How to really clean up your system

By now you’ve probably seen the light, but I’m going to share one of my favorite uses so far to drive the point home. Say you’ve let your system go for a while, and you’ve accumulated some packages. Maybe you’ve switched from Gnome to KDE or maybe all the way to xmonad; regardless there is cruft to be removed. Here’s how you clean that stuff the Right Way:

  1. Update your gentoolkit and portage
  2. equery for some packages to remove and save the list:

    equery list kde-*/* > ~/kde_installed_packages_12122010

  3. Review the result and format properly. equery gives specific versions by defaults, so we’re just gonna throw ‘=’ in front of every line to make them valid package atoms. We’ll use sed:

    sed ':a;N;$!ba;s/\n/\n=/g' ~/my-kde-set

    You’ll have to manually add one more equal sign for the first line, but that should work.

  4. Review the result and move the file into place:

    mv ~/my-kde-set /etc/portage/sets/

  5. Depclean and unmerge:

    emerge --depclean --ask --verbose @my-kde-set

Ah, so fresh and so clean. You should move the set file out of the /etc/portage/sets directory now.

Conclusion

Sets fill a much-lamented (by me) gap in portage. They add organizational power without removing fine-grained control, without which Gentoo would not be Gentoo. My only concern is
Why did this take so long? Given that this is basically how ‘world’ has always worked and we’re well into version 2, we should have had this ages ago. Also, sets are really not that complex or tailored to package management, I wonder if archlinux or some other distro has solved this better. Of course, I’ve only scratched the surface, and there’s a lot more you can do with sets, it seems. For a good starting point, you can do a search on sets.conf.


P.S. The screenshot above was brought to you by ImageMagick:

import -window root ~/screenshot.png