August 7th, 2014

Soylent: how to make your own

For my final post on my new Soylent experiment I thought I’d give you a little glimpse of how I make a batch of Soylent. The whole process takes maybe five minutes, and makes for three square meals.

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I sometimes add some chocolate, strawberries or other stuff to add some flavour, but that’s optional.

So I’ve been on Soylent for over three weeks now. I think it’s safe to say I won’t be going back to only regular food any time soon. I eat Soylent for breakfast and lunch on most days, and dinner when I don’t want to bother with preparing anything. Grocery shopping has become completely optional, which saves money but more importantly is far more convenient. Also I hardly ever need to wash any dishes anymore. I feel fit and I have more regular and pleasant trips to the toilet than I’ve had in years. I have learned to put my Soylent lunch in the fridge when I get to work in the morning, or else by noon it’ll have spoiled. Other than that I haven’t had any drawbacks to speak off. In conclusion I’m all set to stay on Soylent for years to come.

July 27th, 2014

A Walk in the Park

Methought I walked in a dream
in the park, on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Each man and woman content
in their own world, a story of a lifetime fleetingly glanced,
side by side, a library of books read only by a few.

Yet peace shines through the covers and needs no words.
Enough to walk or rest here, together yet alone,
lifes touching without connecting
as we share a dream outside of time
of a lazy Sunday afternoon that never ended.

July 23rd, 2014

Soylent: days seven and eight

Days seven and eight of my Soylent experience.

Not much to tell about my one week anniversary. More colleagues were interested in the subject, although none of them dared a taste. They looked at soylent.me and some other sites, and tentatively agreed that it might be convenient, but just too weird for their tastes.

On day eight I had another day off work. I finished my last Soylent for breakfast, then headed out to buy some utensils to make it even easier to prepare more. I bought a plastic container to hold the whey protein powder, a funnel so I can fill up a normal bottle with Soylent if I want, and a new pitcher (so far I’ve been storing my Soylent in the fridge in my blender jar). The plastic container turned out to work well, so I’ll pick up more of them to hold the other powders.

Once I’d brought my haul home, I mixed up a fresh batch for lunch. So far I’d been using raspberry-flavoured whey protein powder, but this time I also threw in a sample of peanut-chocolate flavour that I got free with my purchase. Turns out the peanut-chocolate flavour is far stronger, and very tasty. I’ll order that flavour for my next protein powder shipment, but that’ll be a while yet: I still have over 4 kilos of the stuff left, which should last me well into august.

I took my lunch with me in my trusty flask and once again spent most of my day outdoors. The book of the day was Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine. I found it very interesting, but it’s written to disprove popular science about neurological differences between genders, which I didn’t put much faith in to begin with. Still, I was surprised at the research showing how deeply ingrained our conceptions of gender are in our minds. The peanut-chocolate Soylent was tasty at first, but quickly faded into the background. All in all a very fulfilling day.

July 23rd, 2014

Soylent: days five and six

Days five and six of my Soylent experience.

Over the weekend I tried out my new recipe, but it didn’t work very well. I’m guessing that 1900kcal is just too low: I felt slow and weak. So for dinner, I cooked myself a nice tikka masala. It was especially tasty and satisfying after a few days of only Soylent. Now that I’ve tested out living on Soylent alone, I figure from now on I’ll go back to regular dinners whenever I have time to cook properly. And I’ve adjusted my recipe to 2100kcal, the same as the original.

Other than that, it’s been a pretty miserable weekend all-round. The weather is hot, I got sunburn, I could hardly sleep and the house is stifling yet marginally cooler than outside. I’m looking forward to returning to our air-conditioned office come Monday.

July 23rd, 2014

Soylent: day four

Day four of my Soylent experience.

I had to rush to the toilet this morning. I guess the pizza experiment is officially a failure. Maybe I’ll try something a little easier next time, like a nice salad.

Anyway, the recipe I’d been using, tasty and complete v3, got updated to “Complete Food v4“. It drops the hemp protein in favor of pea protein. Great! Here I got all enthusiastic and bought 5 kilos of hemp protein, even though the recipe only calls for 40 grams a day. So that should last me — let me do the math — 125 days. I guess I’ll be sticking with the old recipe for a while longer…

Actually, I’d already made a personal copy of the old recipe and I spent much of last night working on it. I tried shifting the energy intake from mostly carbohydrates to mostly protein and fats. For one thing, I already take in a lot of sugar in my drinks during the day — though I can of course compensate for this simply by putting in a litte less maltodextrin than the recipe actually calls for. For another, some of the research I read on low-protein diets seems plausible.

That’s right! I actually did some research. I created a personal nutrient profile of about 1900 kcal per day from 30% carbs, 30% protein and 40% fat. I tried going for 40% protein, but more of the protein powder combined with the vitamin pill creates a small overdose of folate. Not Earth-shattering, and the jury is still out on the effects of high folate intake, but if I’m putting together a daily diet I might as well try to make it as good as I can.

After that I took some of the interesting new stuff from v4 like flaxseed and also added skimmed milk (fortunately I’m not lactose-intolerant). I figured, from a biological perspective, that milk has to contain some beneficial stuff that may not be tracked yet in the Soylent nutrient list. But getting all this stuff balanced out was a real chore, let me tell you.

I have to say that the Soylent DIY section works like a charm. There’s a few minor usability issues here and there, but for the most part it’s very easy to pull together existing data both on which nutrients you need, and how much of those nutrients each ingredient provides.

So now I have a new recipe. I call this new concoction Powerthirst. If Soylent isn’t afraid to name itself after some horribly bad movie, than I can do the same. I haven’t tried it out yet though: I need to get the new ingredients first.

So for today, I poured myself breakfast and lunch from the chocolate batch I made a couple of days ago. I also drank more water and found that it did wonders. I read last night that some Soylent users forget to hydrate properly since we’re sipping liquid food the whole time. Up to now I’d been feeling a little queasy after the bike trip to work, but not today.

Friday is fish day at the office: somebody takes orders for fried fish and somebody else goes to collect it. I always order the fish fries — which is considered a kid food but what do I care? It’s pretty devoid of nutrients other than fat as well, but that didn’t stop me from ordering it again.

That left me pretty full, and I didn’t finish the whole portion of Soylent I’d brought with me. I did pour one of my colleagues a cup — he’d gotten curious after reading some of the previous entries of this series. He seemed pleasantly surprised. He said he clearly tasted the chocolate, and really not much flavour beside that.

When everybody got ready to leave for the weekend, I noticed there was still a small stack of bananas left. They were still fine now, but they’d probably be tossed out come monday. Since nobody wanted them, I took them home with me and promptly made a banana-Soylent batch for tomorrow.

July 23rd, 2014

Soylent: day three

Day three of my Soylent experience.

It’s starting to get easier to put away half a litre of goo without taking nearly an hour to do it. I started the morning with the first portion of another strawberry batch that I’d mixed the day before, then took the second portion with me to work. I got some mild interest from colleagues.

As it happens, it was my turn to set the lunch table, which is pretty ironic since I don’t sit at it myself any more. My partner in this task had heard of Soylent and was interested in my experiences. I told him how it didn’t taste particularly bad or delicious to me, and how I’d spend less than half an hour so far on all my food this week. He was interested to learn that I mixed my own Soylent: he’d heard that Soylent could be ordered but not that it’s only available in the US for now. I asked whether he’d be interested in some samples from my own batches, and he was.

Coming home from work, I decided on impulse to buy myself a pizza, just to show to myself that I could still deal with regular food as well. But the experience was almost bizarre. Only a week ago, the prospect of a pizza all to myself would have been very enticing to me. Now, it didn’t really hold any attraction. I didn’t dislike the idea, but I seemed to hold it in the no higher regard than stopping on the way to pick up a magazine.

neutral

Things got even stranger when I came home. I had to pre-heat the oven, and wait for it to warm up before putting in the pizza. After a mere three days, this now felt like a useless waste of time. I’m (slightly) hungry, and I could have been sipping my dinner half an hour ago!

When the pizza was finally done, the experience of eating it was more of the same: no dislike, but it wasn’t really doing much for me either. Once I was done, I felt stuffed and heavy. Not an unexpected result from eating a whole pizza by myself, but my recent experience provided me with a new frame of reference that made this whole pizza thing seem… clumsy.

July 23rd, 2014

Soylent: days one and two

Days one and two of my Soylent experience.

I can’t say I was particularly delighted about the taste of my first batch. Must be the hemp protein — it has a very strong flavour. Not that it was disgusting, but it took a while to get it all down. I did think to myself that if this was going to keep up, this was going to be a very short-lived experiment.

Then when I was coming home from work an idea occurred to me. I was mixing up the Soylent, wasn’t I? Then if the taste didn’t agree with me, it was up to me to change it. So I swung by the supermarket for a block of extra-dark hazelnut chocolate and a pound of strawberries. One of these was bound to work.

I’d already prepare my second batch along with the first, and had kept it in the blender jar in the fridge. This turned out to be particularly fortuitous: all I had to do is slice some strawberries in two, drop them in, and re-blend the concoction. It turned out wonderful: this new batch was far from bad — I might even go so far as to call it tasty, though certainly not delicious.

I was still having some trouble with the portion sizes. I had to figure out for myself how much water to add, and I went for 700 ml based on a comment on the recipe I’d been using. Along with over a pound of various powders that left me with a good one-and-a-half litre of Soylent, or half a litre per portion. And even then it was pretty thick stuff. It didn’t take me nearly as long to work through it as my first batch, but each portion still took over half an hour of sipping.

Fortunately this was my day off, so I could afford to take as much time as I wanted. After a leisurely start of the day, sipping Soylent while watching cartoons, I decided to set off on a walk. I took my lunch, a half-litre bidon of Soylent, and an interesting book with me. The weather was fine if a bit hot, so I sat myself down under some trees, sipping, reading, relaxing for hours.

I didn’t think of this as “eating” — it was a new kind of experience. A care-free atmosphere that came from not having to worry at all about what I’ve eaten, what I’m eating, or what I’m going to eat. Focussing in stead on what I’m experiencing, and what I want to experience later. Now I understand what Rob Rhinehart was getting at with “Free your body”.

Today was a light and easy day, without a care in the world.

July 23rd, 2014

Soylent: it’s a convenience, not a regimen

I liked the idea of Soylent as soon as I read about it. A powder that, when added to water and some oils, becomes a nutritionally complete meal that’ll last you a whole day? Sign me up!

soylentNow don’t get me wrong. I don’t dislike food. In fact I love food, and I love to cook. Maybe it’s not even the food so much as the different flavours that you can combine to your heart’s desire. I’ve even been known to post entire photosets to Facebook showing the process of raw ingredients turning into a delicious stew (my speciality).

Back when I was in college I often had some free time during the day, which left me more than enough time and energy for my culinary experiments. But once I started working nine to five that changed quickly. Especially in recent months I’ve been cooking for myself less and less, and have lived on ready-made meals more and more frequently. They were good meals, and tasty — I made sure of that. But the amount of thought that goes into organizing a nutritionally balanced, environmentally responsible and yet tasty diet was, to me at least, more effort than it was worth.

And that was just dinner, the most involved meal of the day. Here in the Netherlands our breakfast and lunch consist overwhelmingly of just one staple item: self-made sandwiches. Now here’s the problem: I don’t like the taste of bread — I never have. On my days off I could try to at least go for the more luxurious offerings: croissants, bagels, nuts-and-fruits buns. But even that wasn’t working. And during working days I was working my way slowly through simple sandwiches alongside my colleagues. It just wasn’t working for me.

It’s not all or nothing

By the time I learned about Soylent there had already been some reviews. Invariably, a journalist would describe how he tried to eat nothing but Soylent for a month but missed the taste and, most of all, the experience of eating regular food too much to make it through. Of course, once they strayed a little bit from the diet they prescribed themselves they felt they’d ‘failed’ and had to give up. From this they’d conclude that Soylent is an interesting idea in theory that just doesn’t work in practice.

I’m pretty sure these guys don’t get it. For one thing, these reviewers would usually describe how much they enjoyed regular food. Now, I might not be the expert here, but to me it doesn’t sound like a very good plan to force yourself into a diet that replaced all regular food when it’s exactly that kind of food that you like so much. Besides, people who deeply enjoy food aren’t exactly Soylent’s target audience, now are they?

But more than that, I think these reviewers are missing the point. Soylent is not a way to ban all regular food for those who “hate food”. It’s not another special diet such as we see pop up every year, especially around beach season. Soylent isn’t only for people who have no taste, or dislike the social experiences that accompany regular food.

Soylent. is. a. convenience.

Soylent replaces those meals that you were never going to put any effort into anyway, and then steps out of the way when it’s not needed. Want to go out to lunch with your business partner? Go ahead! Walking by a fancy restaurant and feel like checking it out? Nothing is stopping you. Coming home after a long day at the office with no energy to do more than heat up a frozen dinner? Soylent is here for you! Get the pitcher out, pour yourself a glass, no waiting, no effort, and no guilt over eating the nutritional equivalent of cardboard.

Once you’ve prepared a batch (good for three square meals), it goes in the fridge overnight. It will keep just fine if you leave it in there for another day or two. So replace the meals you don’t want to bother with, and spend your energy on those you do. This is the easy life that Soylent offers, or at least that is how I see it.

I’ve waited a while to see whether I could get my hands on the finished product but it’ll probably be some time before Soylent is available outside of the US. Not to worry: here’s DIY Soylent, to the rescue. My fellow countrymen have already developed great recipes using locally available ingredients. All that was left for me to do was to order it all up, mix my first batch and it’d be goodbye to hated bread, hello to Soylent breakfast, lunch and possibly dinner for me. Which is exactly what I did.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll detail my experiences and link the posts here. At the time I’m writing this, I’ve already been living care-free on my own Soylent mix for a couple of days, and I have yet to find any reason to quit anytime soon. I’ve even been tweaking the recipe, slowly making it my own. I’m looking forward to seeing where this road will lead, but I don’t expect any dramatic changes to my life. After all, it’s just food…

July 2nd, 2014

Why I hate apps

As a software developer, I like the idea of apps: self-contained pieces of software. I also know how vast the possibilities are. So what frustrates me is how few of those possibilities are being realized.

appsI don’t understand it. My tablet has more power than my PC had only a few years ago, and which is even comparable to modern desktop computers. Hell, my phone has more processing cores than my desktop. And yet for a professional user like myself, my tablet is pretty much useless. And it isn’t because of the hardware, or any other fundamental limitation. The problem is that the design philosophy of apps seems to be that they should do as few things as possible, be as limited in their usefulness as they can be.

Years ago, before the iPad was introduced, this may have made sense. Apps were deployed to platforms that consisted almost exclusively of smartphones. Given a device with very little screen space, no mouse and no hardware keyboard, it seemed only natural that apps should be designed to offer only a select few functions compared to their software application cousins. After all, who wants to run Microsoft Office on their HTC Hero or Nexus One?

But that was then, and this is now. The so called mobile platforms, mainly Android and iOS, are no longer restricted to mobile phones. They’re being used in devices that should be able to replace laptops, or so their developers tell us. This is why I went for the Note 12, even though it was very expensive and was considered far too big to fit the traditional tablet niche. After a few months of use, I can tell you this: even if the Note is ready to replace the laptop, Android is not.

Take software development, for example. In my hubris, I thought I would simply pick up my tablet, which was even dubbed the ‘Note Pro’ for crying out loud, and continue developing my Ruby on Rails application with no more difficulty than on a desktop computer. Boy, was I in for some nasty surprises.

Then I tried writing my next book on my tablet. Fortunately, my options were not as limited here, with Google Docs and Quickoffice (which will soon be discontinued) both available. But still, I did not have the options I would have had on a desktop computer, to my great frustration. Honestly, would the Google Docs app have fallen apart if it offered to save my text in open document format, rather than Google’s own homebrew format? I tried copy-pasting my text to Quickoffice instead (and remember that copy-paste, one of the most basic functions on a PC, only became available to Android and iOS in 2009). It failed: Quickoffice simply couldn’t handle pasting 10 paragraphs of text.

I hate this, precisely because I’m a software developer. I know that I’m not asking for all that much. In fact, the software that supports what I want to do has already been written. If I want to develop software on Windows, OSX or Linux, I can download my trusty Aptana. If I want to write large volumes of text and be able to do my own styling and layout, I can simply get LibreOffice. But because I’m on a “mobile platform”, I’m screwed. Because the great plethora of software applications that mankind has developed over the many decades that PC’s have existed, simply aren’t available on Android or iOS. After all, who would want a 20 function multi-tool? Have this pair of rounded scissors and try not to hurt yourself, there’s a good boy.

October 15th, 2013

On Complexity of Thought

There is a certain state of mind. It is not something you can attain easily. To reach it requires constant work, an insuppressible curiosity, and years of experience. As far as I know, there is no technical term for it. If I had to name it, I would call it “complex thought”.

It is perhaps best contrasted to the typical way of thinking of an adolescent: “I know that there is only one answer; It is my answer, and it is the only correct one.” When we’re young, the answers seem simple and pure, and we marvel that the adults around us do not see it that way.

So here I find myself, years later, and my perspective has turned 180 degrees. If there is one thing I have learned by now, it is that the simple truth is neither simple nor true. Always we are working with incomplete knowledge, never fully understanding. And there are always more ways than one of looking at something, of thinking about it.

For example, let’s take one of the deepest rooted assumptions of western civilization: “All live is sacred.” It is this deep-seated belief that underlies two of the toughest moral issues our society is now facing: euthanasia and abortion. In recent years, we have started to question this assumption. We ask ourselves at which point life stops being sacred, when it can and perhaps must be ended, guilt-free.

The easy approach to thinking about such an issue is to pick one side and blind yourself to any other viewpoint. You pick up one, two, maybe three core arguments and then repeat those arguments in varying forms until the opposition gives in.

In the mindset of complex thought, the problem becomes multi-dimensional. Rather than looking at the surface characteristics, you dig deeper and try to find the root of the problem. First: where are both sides coming from?

One side is leaning heavily on what has for nearly two millennia been the philosophical underpinnings of our world: Christianity. As all life is created by God, it is not for us human beings to decide when to end it. But the story doesn’t start there: the sanctity of life is something that, along with many other things, was inherited from Judaism, going back another millenium. So on the one hand we have an idea that is at least three thousand years old, probably older still. It may be because of this idea that most of the world is now Christian rather than pagan: caring for the sick, monogamy and prohibitions on birth-control, abortion and infanticide were part of why Christians did so much better than Romans and became a dominant force in the empire. Clearly this idea has merit.

The other side of the argument reasons from quality of life. For euthanasia, this means asking whether life spent in constant discomfort is worth the trouble for its own sake. In the case of abortion, it is the prevention of life spent among unready and possibly unfit parents. These things are observable, measurable, empirical. Metaphysical implications need to take a back-seat to what we can know for certain in the here and now. Such thinking is far more recent, popularized by science and first formalized by late 17th century philosophers, notably John Locke. Locke found himself surrounded by extremists among scientists, clergy, and laymen alike, who acted on whatever wild idea came into their minds. He sought to bring reason and moderation by encouraging a distrust of any line of reasoning that did not find its root in provable, observable evidence. This has been at the heart of the overwhelming success of the scientific method. Clearly, there is something to be said for this as well.

Le Penseur

Le Penseur

Besides the mindset of both sides of the argument, there is the framework in which the problem is discussed. What counts as admissible evidence? What are we counting, along what scale? What is the most desirable goal? Within a theological framework, the metaphysical implications are important. Within a scientific framework, they are not. A humanitarian framework focuses on the rights and abilities of the individual, a sociological or political framework looks at everything but the individual.

These are things that a complex thinker considers as a matter of course: history, philosophy, logic, beliefs, causes, primary and secondary effects — the list goes on. Of course, this doesn’t make it easier to make a decision. In fact, it becomes much harder. But that is the way it should be. We live in a universe that is “not just more complicated than we imagine, but more complicated that we can imagine.

As a result, the complex thinker is never completely sure of his or her answer. After all, if there are so many different ways of thinking about the same subject, how can one person claim to have understood them all, united them all to one absolute answer? A complex thinker does not believe in absolutes. She has seen them fail too often.

In fact, the true complex thinker rarely feels the need to settle on a single answer. He does not judge, does not define, does not try to narrow his thinking into a single point. He keeps all the lines open, considers them besides each other. If an answer is required, he can condense his current perspective to one, but it is temporary — something lightly held and easily changed.

A complex thinker needn’t tie herself to one system, one set of values, one way of thinking. Therefore context becomes vastly more important. What is the right thing to do, if there even is such a thing? At one time, it may be dictated by a the golden rule: do onto others as you would have them do unto you. Another time, she may apply the rule of the jungle: the fittest survives for the good of the species. The brain of a complex thinker is always in a storm, but she finds harmony within the storm.


Hopefully I have convinced you that being a complex thinker is something worthy to aspire to. If you feel inclined to pursue this idea, here are a few hints from my own, still growing,experience.

Question your assumptions.

This is not easy to do. Our brains are understandably geared toward preserving energy, and having to think constantly is not something that comes naturally. Especially when the rewards for doing so are not readily apparent. So you have to make it a habit. Teach yourself certain triggers. Whenever you find yourself saying or thinking words like ‘naturally’, ‘everyone knows’ or ‘of-course’, that is when you know that you’ve just based your thinking on an assumption that needs to be examined. For example: Should making money and holding a steady job be my goal in life? Does that give me happiness? If society claims that this is the road I must take, should I believe that without question? What alternatives are there? Do any of them work better for me?

After doing this for a while, you may be surprised to find how deep certain assumptions go. It also helps to be aware of the society you were brought up in, because that will most likely be the source of your deepest assumptions. Study foreign culture, anthropology: bring your own societal values into clearer focus by contrasting them. Study history: learn where your basic ideas came from, in what conditions there first arose and whether they still apply to your situation today.

Don’t invest yourself

Learn to let go. You needn’t tie you self-worth nor your identity to the way you think. Hundreds of years of increasing human understanding, personal freedom, education and modernism have led to this: that you are completely free to believe what you want. So don’t waste that right by using it only once — by finding one belief, one way of thinking for yourself and sticking to that from then on. You are allowed to change your mind. A lot. To the point where you give a different answer to the same question every time it is asked.

Be widely, wildly, impulsively interested

To be a complex thinker, you’ll need to learn about as many ways of thinking as you can. This has to be something you want for yourself: it won’t work if you think of it as work. You’ll need to have an interest, a passion for discovering new things and new perspectives. Vary widely and wildly. Study science, by all means, but study history, psychology and economics as well. Learn about religion, and moral philosophy. Whenever a new subject catches your fancy, seize the opportunity to immersive yourself in a new way of looking at the world.

Whenever you encounter somebody whose point of view you cannot understand, like e.g. a fundamentalist or a religious extremist, your first reaction should not be to judge nor to argue, but to seek understanding. You cannot argue if you cannot understand what you are arguing against. Reserve judgement. Find a good book that explains how this person is thinking and read it. Understand this person, his ideas and the world that gave rise to those ideas. Understand these ideas as intimately as you understand your own.

Cross-fertilize

When you’ve learned all these different perspectives on the same subject, you can compare, contrast and finally integrate. Build your own line of reasoning from what you perceive as the best traits in all the systems you’ve learned. But always remember: the perspective you build is, in the end, always one among many, and not necessarily better than any other. In fact, the word ‘better’ is, you may find, highly problematic and you may want to give up thinking in such terms. Never allow yourself to invest enough in one way of thinking that you can lose sight of others. Hold open all the lines, consider all possibilities, make no judgements unless you have to.


Always be aware that no matter how much you know, how rich your understanding, there is still more that you do not yet know, do not yet understand. From that come two things: A profound humility, that will enable you to come to understand other human beings more fully. And a neverending thirst for more knowledge, deeper understanding, and new perspectives.

Finally, I’ll leave you with the cartoon that started me thinking about complex thinking in the first place. It shows in one image what takes me hundreds of words to describe. May it give you the same intuitive understanding that it gave me. Have a great day, and a better one tomorrow.

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cerial

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