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Annoying shutter noise in Android camera

When I first got my Android phone a few months ago, there was an option to turn off the annoying click noise that happened when you took a picture with the camera.

With some recent updates to Donut from Cupcake (or maybe even some backported Eclair updates in the Cyanogen rooted mod—not sure), that option has somehow disappeared from the camera settings. Frustrating. The only thing worse than lacking basic functionality in an interface is taking away fuctionality that had previously been there.

I did quite a bit of Google searching to find out if anyone else had this problem. Basically most people either didn’t have the problem or had no solution to it. One person suggested an app called Snap Photo. I installed the app, saw there was an option to disable the clicking shutter noise, but the noise was still there even when I selected that option. Another person suggested turning off the phone volume, taking the picture, and then turning the volume back up. An effective workaround but quite a bit of hassle, don’t you think?

After browsing through quite a few options in the Android Market, I finally stumbled upon an app called simply Sound Manager. It was perfect. It allows you to fine-tune the volume so you can keep the ringer, media, and other volumes at normal levels and then turn off the system volume, which is responsible for that annoying click noise. There you have it: Sound Manager.

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Found a great theme for Cyanogen Android mod

After having rooted (or “jailbroken”) my T-Mobile MyTouch 3G, for a while I was using Cyanogen’s Android mod until it got the cease-and-desist letter from Google. At that point, Cyanogen began working on a legally conservative version of his mod, and I wanted something to use in the meantime, so I switched to Dwang’s donut mod. Dwang’s mod is super speedy and great. Unfortunately, it is good only for the short-term… until Google sends Dwang a cease-and-desist letter.

So after Cyanogen released a stable version of the Google-compliant rooted Android mod, I wanted to give it a shot. It isn’t quite as speedy as Dwang’s mod, but it’s usable, and I like that no lawsuit is going to suddenly bring it to an end (it has long-term sustainability).

So I then went on a quest to find a good theme for this new version of Cyanogen’s mod. I tried out a Ubuntu theme and a Hero theme, and I looked at a bunch of other themes that appeared to be too gaudy for me.

Finally, I stumbled upon the Little Big Planet theme. I remember my wife playing this game on the PS3. At the time I thought the little sack guy was cute in a demented sort of way. So I flashed the theme, and I like it. For those of you who are curious (and who do not want to create a login for the XDA Developers forum just to see screenshots), here is what the theme icons look like:


I think I can live with this theme for a while.

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Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality Uncategorized

Turns out Jimmy Carter was right

Of course not all of the Obama hate is race-related, but a good deal of it is, and here’s a great example:
Secret Service probes anti-Obama message at Lakeville golf course

What Carter was wrong about was thinking it’s all about the South. This was in Massachusetts.

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Impressed with Karmic Koala beta

Ubuntu Linux gets released twice a year—once in the spring, once in the fall. The releases are numbered to indicate the month of release. Most spring releases (with the exception of Ubuntu 6.06, also known as Dapper) were released in April (5.04, 7.04, 8.04, 9.04), and all fall releases so far were released in October (4.10, 5.10, 6.10, 7.10, 8.10).

I’ve always been a bigger fan of the April releases than of the October ones. That’s changed with this next release (9.10) nicknamed Karmic Koala. I just installed the beta release (it had gone through six alpha releases previously), and all the standard disclaimers apply, of course (if you install beta, you do so at your own risk, don’t use it on a production machine, you may lose data, blah blah blah. There is no warranty, real or implied.) Nevertheless, I’ve generally found (with few exceptions) that Ubuntu beta releases are more or less stable. I haven’t had anything catastrophic happen with a beta Ubuntu release (your mileage may vary).

And I like this October one. I think Ubuntu is finally heading in the direction Mark Shuttleworth has said for years that it should head in. It’s focusing on usability. It’s focusing on looking better. It’s focusing on hardware compatibility and working out a lot of the little bugs that make a big difference.

Speed
With the last release (Jaunty, 9.04), boot time was a little over a minute from the moment I pressed the power button to being actually able to use the system (that’s what I consider boot time, not when you see your desktop). With Karmic (9.10), boot time is only 37 seconds. It’s not the 10 seconds some people have been touting (and, yes, I have a solid state drive, too). Still very impressive.

More importantly, the interface is more responsive. I don’t know how to do actual timing benchmarks. I’m sure the difference is just a matter of milliseconds, but it feels much snappier. There is no lag switching windows or clicking on a button. In Jaunty, there would be a barely noticeable delay in rendering when simply closing a tab in Firefox and having the next tab appear in focus. In Karmic, no delay at all. It’s nearly instantaneous (not as fast as Chromium, but for all intents and purposes fast enough). I’m using a crappy Intel Atom processor, by the way.

Appearance
Aesthetics is, to a large degree, subjective. Nevertheless, there are certain visual implementations in interfaces that are in vogue in the corporate and consumer computing worlds, and I think Ubuntu is moving in a good direction here. The boot-up is so fast that there isn’t even a loading boot screen (there is in the live CD session, though, and it looks nice). The icons are much cooler-looking. It’s pretty clear, though, that much has been copied from Mac OS X, including the applets for wireless and power management, which now have a simple light-gray iconization instead of pixelated blue bars and complicated graphics that don’t always render well.

One gripe I have is that there is still text displayed during bootup. Granted, if you want text displayed during bootup (some kind of verbose mode), that’s good. The default should have only graphics, though. The Grub boot menu is all text (white text on black background), and then there are little boot messages that scroll by very quickly (visible for only a couple of seconds). I’m hoping that’ll be fixed in Ubuntu 10.04.

Along with the Macification of icons, there is also the simplification/Macification of the interface. System > Administration > Login Window no longer brings up a multi-tabbed preferences window with lots of options. It now has basically two options (autologin or not, show the screen to log in or not). System > Preferences > Sound shows a sound dialogue that looks an almost exact carbon copy of the Mac sound preferences dialogue.

Most importantly, the new Ubuntu Software Center is even easier to use than Add/Remove or Synaptic. It just puts all the options in your face and filters things quickly. You don’t have to mark things for installation and then apply. You just click to install each item, and it does it right away. The progress bar is inline instead of a new pop-up window. It just seems fast.

Hardware Recognition
Jaunty was pretty good at recognizing hardware. There was a little regression, though, that made it so that certain Intel sound chips didn’t work and Alsa had to be recompiled from source… oh, and for my set-up anyway, PulseAudio (the default sound management system) always had to be uninstalled to get sound to work. There was also a bug that had wireless take “forever” (between 30 seconds and a minute) to come back after resume from suspend (or “sleep”).

In Karmic, sound worked with PulseAudio (I just had to change the input from Microphone 1 to Line-In), wireless worked after resume within seconds, and everything else worked, too (no regressions for screen resolution, power management, or hotkey recognition, etc.).

One little bug (which I filed) is that the hardware drivers for Broadcom 4312 install fine during the live CD session, but once you install Karmic, the drivers need to be uninstalled and reinstalled to work, and then only after a reboot. Hoping that gets fixed before final release.

Conclusion
Overall, this is a totally awesome Ubuntu release. If my friends would just stop using iPod Touches and iPhones (or if Apple would play nice with other systems or port iTunes to Linux), then I could actually recommend Linux to people.

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A month with the MyTouch 3G and Android

I love my phone. I think it’s great, and I don’t regret purchasing it (though had I known Oprah was going to let me have $100 off the purchase price had I waited a few weeks, I probably would have waited).

That said, I think T-Mobile did a lousy job launching this product. On the bus, I see people with iPhones and Blackberries. I even see quite a few folks with G1 phones (the first Android phone T-Mobile released here in the US). I have seen zero other MyTouch users out there. Why is this? Well, there are a few factors involved:

  • Pricing. Most people don’t realize they’d ultimately save money on a smartphone using T-Mobile as opposed to AT&T. They look at the price tag of the initial subsidized phone purchase instead of how much the total of a two-year contract will be paying X dollars per month. So with the iPhone 3GS the “same” price and sexier-looking, a lot of people might favor the iPhone over the MyTouch, even though they’re paying more over the course of two years. T-Mobile should have subsidized the initial purchase price more by offering the phone at US$99 instead and maybe charging a little more per month for the phone contract. Lowering the price now to US$149 is too little too late. It also does no favors to the people who bought the MyTouch 3G the first month it was out.
  • Advertising. So there were some skydivers in San Francisco on launch day for the MyTouch… uh, apparently. I didn’t see any. No one I know who works in San Francisco mentioned anything about them. I don’t really see how skydivers are even a good advertisement for a smartphone, anyway. Oh, and then a month after release, some random commercials show up with Whoopi Goldberg and… and two guys whom I guess are probably famous, but I don’t recognize them. Oprah offers some $100-off promotion, and yet sales still don’t skyrocket. Maybe Oprah’s better for book sales?
  • Branding. MyTouch? Really? In other countries, it’s called the HTC Magic. Sometimes it’s referred to as Sapphire. MyTouch? Oh, do you want to see my MyTouch? That just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? How about a better naming scheme? The Hero sounds great. The Palm Pre sounds great. The iPhone sounds great. The Blackberry Storm sounds great. The MyTouch 3G… not as slick-sounding.
  • Speaker placement. Okay, I know you could make the case this is HTC’s fault and not T-Mobile’s, but if Sprint can get HTC to remove the “chin” on the HTC Hero for the US release, why couldn’t T-Mobile have gotten HTC to move the speaker to the front of the phone? If I’m watching a YouTube video on the front of my phone, I don’t want sound coming out the back of the phone. If I am listening to my T-Mobile or Google Voice visual voicemails on speaker, I don’t want to press the message on the front and then turn the phone over to listen to it. This is about the dumbest engineering I’ve ever seen. Did some industrial designer out there actually think a speaker on the back of a phone was a good idea? I can still hear it, yes, but not as well as if it had been on the front of the phone. This has to be my absolute #1 annoyance with the MyTouch 3G.
  • Differentiation. Even though the iPhone is in many ways a superior phone, there are actually some cool things my phone can do that my wife’s iPhone can’t. You can have a contact (like a wrong number who keeps calling you) go straight to voicemail. Your phone comes with a little bag. Google Voice? Android has an app for that. iPhone doesn’t. Instead, the ad campaign for the MyTouch focused too much on trying to get people to buy skins for the phone and repeating vague phrases about making the phone “customizable” without giving a lot of concrete examples. How about just saying “Want a picture of your cute cat behind your apps? The MyTouch has that”? Or even “Works with Linux, Windows, and Mac OS X” or “Doesn’t require specialized software to transfer music.”

The worst part is really the timing, though. Yes, I’m an impatient sort who wanted to see the G1 first before buying the second-generation Android phone (the MyTouch 3G). A lot of people go for third-generation or even fourth-generation. The buzz has been that the Hero is supposed to be the best Android phone, and Sprint recently announced they’d be selling the Hero. Verizon is apparently going to have an Android phone as well. There are lots of Google Android phones on the horizon. Launching the MyTouch right before the Hero was not a savvy move on the part of T-Mobile’s marketing department.

All that said as an explanation for why others don’t have a MyTouch 3G, I still have one myself. And I like it. And I generally like T-Mobile. Its service is much better than the Sprint service I used for years. I actually have coverage. Sure, customer service isn’t available 24 hours (it should be), but when I called after stupidly PUK-locking my sim card, I got through to a customer service representative quickly, and he was very helpful (he also had the same first name as me, which was funny). And, of course, the price per month for a reasonable number of minutes (I don’t talk much) and an unlimited data plan is only a little more than half what my wife pays for her iPhone plan with AT&T.

Google has some Android issues to iron out certainly.

I think the biggest problem with Android right now is web browsing. There are a lot of great things about all the different web browsers available on Android, but there is no one web browser that is fully satisfactory.

Browser is the name of the default web browser Android comes with. It also is the best browser available for Android right now. Its one (and huge) shortcoming is its insistence on refreshing pages every time you switch windows or wake the display up from sleep. You can read all about it here (I’m not the only user who has a problem with this behavior). This kind of behavior completely defeats the purpose of having the ability to load links in background windows. It also doesn’t recognize that users of phones are often on Edge or 3G networks and not necessarily connected to a fast wireless connection. And even if we are, why reload the whole page? Do you really think the page has changed that much in the last two minutes? Shouldn’t you leave it up to the user to decide when to refresh the page?

Other than that major deficiency, Browser functions well. Pressing the search button brings up the search screen, you have the ability to load tabs in the background, the keyboard recognizes if you’re typing in a URL bar or in a regular form and will include or omit the .com button as appropriate. The double-tap zoom works great. First of all, the browser is pretty good about squeezing pages into a narrow format, but even if it doesn’t, you can double-tap on a paragraph and the size will automatically adjust to fit the paragraph to the width of your phone. This is a lot easier than pinching the webpage with two fingers to try to adjust the zoom to the right size (nevertheless, I’m glad rooted versions of Android include multi-touch).

Steel is a very popular browser among Android enthusiasts. Great things about it are its speed (it downloads pages a lot faster than Browser does and, more importantly, does not auto-refresh them for you), its fullscreen mode… and that’s it. Two really annoying things about Steel are the search button not bringing up the URL bar, and the Menu key bringing you directly to settings instead of to a menu of other options (and window management). Worse yet, there is no option to open links in background windows.

Coco Browser uses tabs but will display tabs even if you have only one tab open. It also doesn’t allow you to access the address bar directly or go directly to search. To get to a new page directly, you have to open a new tab and then close the old tab. After I realized this, I gave up on Coco very quickly.

Opera is probably a great browser if you have a hard-key QWERTY keyboard on your phone, but it sucks for phones that have only touchscreen keyboards. That’s all I have to say about that.

Some hackers have created a specialized version of Browser called Better Browser. It allows you to use the regular browser in fullscreen mode. Unfortunately, it changes the double-tap zoom behavior to zoom in and out to an arbitrary degree. I like the default Browser’s double-tap to zoom-to-fit instead.

I’d love to see Google fix the Browser or port over Chromium. It’d also be great if Firefox created an Android browser, or if Opera recognized that touchscreen keyboard phones could benefit from a properly tweaked Opera Mini.

All in due time. Meanwhile, I’m just waiting for pages that have already loaded to autorefresh…

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Why I’m not a fan of Google’s cease-and-desist letter to Cyanogen

Those of you who follow my blog or are Ubuntu Forums members may know that I often come to the defense of Google. There is a lot of Google-bashing out there. It seems to now be the cool thing to do. I almost laughed out loud when there were blog posts framing the Apple rejection of the Google Voice app as “David and Goliath” with Google being the Goliath!

I generally like Google because Google generally favors open source and open standards, and even does quite a bit of funding for open source. They have not, in the past, engaged in any of the vendor lock-in practices that Microsoft and Apple have. It is annoying if you have a Hotmail account and can’t use a regular email client like Thunderbird with it. It’s annoying if you can’t install a Google Voice app because Apple tells you what can and cannot be installed on your iPhone (and, unlike in Android, the iPhone doesn’t have an override option to say “I understand the risks of installing this third-party unapproved app but just want to do it anyway”).

I have a rooted Android phone. The term rooted in this case is a bit misleading. It isn’t a regular Android installation that has somehow been modified to allow me root access (so I can install apps like wifi tethering). It actually is a special rooted Android ROM I had to replace my regular Android installation with.

The folks who make these ROMs are volunteers who just want to make the most of what Google has advertised as an open platform. One of the most famous is a developer who goes by the nickname Cyanogen. I tried a few ROMS and Cyanogen’s was definitely the best.

He thought he was being careful. He thought (I’m paraphrasing here), “Well, I’ve modified the open source components of Android. The Google proprietary binaries (YouTube app, Google Maps app, GMail app, etc.) I haven’t modified. I’m redistributing these only to people who already have Google-branded phones. It shouldn’t be a problem.”

Well, apparently, he was wrong. Google thought it was a big problem, despite the fact that only a few tens of thousands of people were using Cyanogen’s ROM. Google sent him a cease-and-desist letter, claiming he did not have the right to redistribute Google’s proprietary apps in a modified ROM.

Is Google within its legal right to do this? Certainly.

Is this a good idea for Google to do this? Absolutely not. Here are the reasons why:

  • If you look at the billions of people in the world and the millions of Android phone users, only a comparatively small number of people were using Cyanogen’s ROM. This cease-and-desist letter actually brings only more publicity to ROMs (which will continue to exist but now will have to go underground).
  • Google is pissing off the very people who have been the most vocal proponents of Android. These are people who can not only help develop the platform software-wise but can advocate for friends and family to buy Android phones in lieu of iPhones or Blackberries.
  • Even though what Cyanogen was doing may have been legally wrong, it was morally right. He was not stealing money from Google or hurting Google’s business model. Google does sell those “free” apps to phone manufacturers. But Cyanogen was creating the mod specifically for phones that had regular Google Android on them anyway.
  • The real clincher for me is the fact that Google Android has been touted by Google as open source. Yes, technically the OS itself (which is based on a Linux kernel) is open source, but Cyanogen and some other ROM developers have pointed out that the way Android is, it’s basically useless without the core apps (Android Market, Google Contacts syncing, etc.).

My hope is that, for Google PR’s sake, Google undertakes the following follow-up actions:

  • Offer Cyanogen a job working for Google Android
  • Work on releasing a barebones Android framework that is completely open source but also at least basically functional.
  • Provide a way for Android users to actually root their phones without replacing the standard OS with a custom ROM. The wifi tethering app, for example, is hosted by Google. Well, what good is the wifi tethering app from Google if it can’t be used? What good is an “open source” operating system if it requires proprietary components to function?

I haven’t completely turned against Google. I do think they’re still doing a lot of good work, and they’re still more open than Microsoft and Apple. Nevertheless, this incident has left a sour taste in my mouth, and I can’t really enthusiastically recommend Android phones to people now. I like Android still personally. But it no longer has the same open source appeal it used to. So if a friend or family member asks if she should get an iPhone, I’m just going to have to say “Why not?”

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That’ll teach me not to use an experimental ROM

Every alpha or beta release of software comes with a disclaimer of sorts—basically that you shouldn’t expect the software to be stable and you shouldn’t trust it for your main productivity. But it’s hard to know how seriously to take such disclaimers.

GMail was in beta testing for years before finally being released. And almost the whole time it was in beta, plenty of users were using it as their main email account.

In the past, I’ve used alpha and beta releases of Ubuntu Linux and have had only minor problems (an application crashing every now and then)—actually nothing that I didn’t also occasionally experience with so-called “stable” official releases.

Then again, ReactOS comes with a disclaimer that it’s alpha software, and that disclaimer should be taken seriously. I tried to use ReactOS, and it basically just froze up after every reboot. It was virtually unusable. Anyone interested in ReactOS for serious productivity would be better off using Wine in Linux.

Very shortly after I got my MyTouch 3G Android phone (also known as the HTC Magic), I installed a custom ROM on it called Cyanogen. It’s a very popular rooted ROM to install. I’d used that for months, and it was great. Recently, out of curiosity, I tried out the latest “experimental” (not “stable”) ROM from Cyanogen. For a couple of hours, it seemed good. Then I plugged it in to charge it for the night. In the morning, the screen was dead. There was a light on at the top. But any button I pressed appeared to do nothing. I was in a minor panic. Had I bricked my phone? Did I totally destroy it?

So I took out the battery, put it back in, powered up my phone in recovery mode and flashed back the latest Nandroid backup, and everything was good. I’m back on stable Cyanogen, and I think that’s where I’m going to stay!

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Yes Means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power & A World Without Rape

I’m a big fan of Jessica Valenti. Unfortunately, there is a limitation any one writer inherently faces being only one writer—the lack of multiple perspectives. So I was very pleased to finally read Yes Means Yes!, which is an anthology she co-edited (and contributed one essay to).

The essays vary widely in terms of nuance, tone of voice, degree of feminist radicalism, and gender/sexuality (male, female, trans-gender).

I was a little disappointed that the essay entitled “Real Sex Education” (by someone who works for Planned Parenthood, at least part-time) contained this factual misinformation:

[I]n discussing intercourse and pregnancy, you can’t escape the male orgasm. It has to exist for pregnancy to happen.

Um, what?

The “withdrawal method” has long been known to be ineffective as birth control. From Planned Parenthood’s own website:

Even if a man pulls out in time, pregnancy can still happen. Some experts believe that pre-ejaculate, or pre-cum, can pick up enough sperm left in the urethra from a previous ejaculation to cause pregnancy. If a man urinates between ejaculations before having sex again, it will help clear the urethra of sperm and may increase the effectiveness of withdrawal.

Male orgasm does not have to exist for pregnancy to happen.

Other than that—lovely book. I particularly enjoyed Margaret Cho’s introduction, Millar’s “Toward a Performance Model of Sex,” Harris’ “A Woman’s Worth,” Harding’s “How Do You Fuck a Fat Woman?” Corrina’s “An Immodest Proposal,” Serano’s “Why Nice Guys Finish Last,” Higginbotham’s “Sex Worth Fighting For,” Valenti’s “Purely Rape: The Myth of Sexual Purity and How It Reinforces Rape Culture,” and the multi-authored “Who’re You Calling a Whore?: A Conversation with Three Sex Workers on Sexuality, Empowerment, and the Industry.”

Lots of perspectives, lots of agendas. Many of the essays will make you think. It’s almost impossible to agree with all of them—I think that’s what makes this book great. There are some essays I can see even the most avidly self-professed anti-feminists agreeing with, and there are a few that even I, as a self-professed radical feminist, found on the fringes of radicalism. That’s good. I like that kind of diversity.

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Clearing up some confusion about Google Voice

I’ve been using Google Voice for about a week now, and I’m really impressed by it—the concept and the implementation. The implementation could still use a little polish, but Google Voice also isn’t officially released to the general public yet. Based on my limited experiences with it, I thought I’d clear up some confusion about Google Voice.

Is Google Voice a VoIP (voice over IP) application?
No, it isn’t. I’ve even seen some “news” outlets get this bit wrong. A VoIP application like Skype allows you to make a phone call for free (or for a low cost) over a high-speed internet connection. For VoIP to work, all you need is an internet connection—you don’t need a phone.

Google Voice doesn’t work that way. If you make a call with GV, you need an actual phone to make the call.

Google Voice allows you to have one phone number that can mask itself as being various real phones (sort of like how a www.somesite.com address masks the real four-number IP address behind it). It also allows you fine-tuned control over how things get redirected. One contact could ring three or four of your phones every time she calls your GV number. Another contact could ring only one phone. And still another contact may go straight to voicemail or even be blocked entirely. You can have customized voicemails for different types of people who call the same number.

In this way, it’s better to think of Google Voice as a gatekeeper for your phones than a replacement for them (as VoIP is, in a way).

If I know someone who has Google Voice, can I ask her for an invitation, since GV is currently invite-only?
Nope. When Google first launched GMail, it was on an invite-only basis, but you could get an invitation from anyone who had a GMail account. The rollout for GV seems to be different. You need an invitation directly from Google. If you have a GV account, you do not automatically get invitations to send out to other prospective GV users.

What does unchecking phone numbers do?
As far as I can tell, having a validated phone number and unchecking it does not mean the number cannot be used by GV but only that it won’t be used by default. For example, if you have a mobile number, a home number, and a work number, and only the mobile number is checked, you can still set it up so that one or two of your contacts will ring through to your home and/or work number when they call your GV number. It’s just that anyone else not specified to ring through to those will ring only the checked number(s).

What’s the difference between call screening and call presentation?
I find both options kind of annoying, actually. Call screening forces callers to say who they are before the call will be connected to you. If you don’t want to annoy people calling you, make sure your Contacts list is comprehensive and enable it only for blocked numbers and not unknown ones.

Call presentation is annoying for you, as opposed to the person calling you. It seems quite redundant for me, actually. If someone is in your Contacts list, she should already show up in caller ID if it’s your cell phone you use primarily (I guess it’d be handy if you mostly use a landline). When you answer the call, instead of immediately being connected to the calling party, you hear an announcement of who’s calling you, and then you get to decide if you want to take the call or not.

What’s the caller ID option?
This confused me at first. The little tooltip says

By default, Google Voice displays the caller ID of your caller. You can also choose to display your Google number as the caller ID, so you know you received the call on your Google number.

I thought this meant your GV number would display as your number to the person you’re calling, but it actually means it’ll display to you as the number of the person calling you.

In other words, let’s say your Google number is 212-555-1234 and the number of the person calling you is 212-555-5678. If you activate the caller ID option, any time anyone calls you, the number will appear as 212-555-1234—or that you’re calling yourself! If you deactivate the caller ID option, the number will appear as whatever the caller’s number is (212-555-5678, in this example).

There is a separate setting you can use in the Google Voice app to say you want the number to appear as coming from your GV number even if you’re dialing from your mobile phone (this app is available only for Android and Blackberry right now—sorry, iPhone users, but Apple isn’t playing nice here).

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Paul Campos’ The Obesity Myth

I just read an eye-opener called The Obesity Myth (by Paul Campos). In some ways, its thesis is quite obvious, but it also flies in the face of everything Americans have been told for the past 30+ years. Campos goes into quite a bit of detail debunking myths about obesity existing as an epidemic or disease, about BMI having any scientific or health value, about weight loss as an end goal making people healthier, or about studies actually showing overweight to be worse than underweight.

Sometimes I think he overlooks certain bits of truth in the anti-obesity propaganda that he alludes to without mentioning them explicitly. I just chalk that up to leaning into the wind so as not to be blown over. It’s great to stand up straight, but if there is a strong force pushing you in one direction, sometimes you have to push back just to be standing and not moving forward (or backwards).

Likewise, in this situation, there are so many messages the media, your friends and family, and the government send you every day about fat being bad and fat leading directly to bad health, that it makes sense to downplay any truth (however slight or indirect) there is in those myths, just to make way for other truths that so often get ignored.

Campos’ scholarship goes to great lengths to show how the available studies actually show that slight underweight correlates with bad health than significant overweight. He also makes a great case that yo-yo dieting is worse than just plain overweight or obesity.

Oddly enough, the penultimate chapter in his book talks about how he lost almost 70 lbs. while writing the book. Even though he spends considerable time theorizing as to why he lost the weight, the how he explains quite simply as exercising more (from only about 12 miles a week of casual running to 40 miles a week of serious training for road races).

There are many messages to take to heart from Campos’ book. There is a lot of unnecessary fat shaming in America. BMI is not a scientific indicator of health. Losing weight should not be a goal unto itself. If it does happen, it should be an accidental side effect of a healthy lifestyle (exercising regularly, eating properly). Nevertheless, the fact remains that exercise does very often lead to weight loss. I don’t think people should exercise to lose weight, but I think if people exercise more, most of them will lose weight. It doesn’t mean that a heavier person exercising X amount will end up looking the same as a lighter person exercising X amount.

Campos relates a story about how he spotted a fat runner in a road race speeding past a whole bunch of thin runners. That story is amusing for two reasons: 1. It shows that being thin doesn’t mean you are healthier or physically stronger, and I think that was his point in sharing the story, but also 2. It shows that being a fat fast runner is the exception and not the norm; otherwise he wouldn’t be surprised by the sight of that runner beating the other runners.

As a former serious (and now off-and-on) runner myself, I know running seriously (as Campos’ own story also shows) makes you lose weight. Unfortunately, some people run in order to lose weight instead of in order to be healthier or stronger, and I think this is why Campos doesn’t talk a lot in his book about how exercising does often lead to weight loss.

Weight loss should never be the goal.

If you exercise and eat right and you don’t lose weight, it shouldn’t matter. Exercise and healthy eating should be enough to make you healthy, and an active “overweight” person is usually healthier than an inactive underweight person. As someone who has satellite cable TV, a fast wireless internet connection, a soft and warm cat, and a comfortable couch, I can tell you it’s very tempting to live a sedentary lifestyle no matter what weight you are (and I am not currently overweight by anyone’s standards). But if I step on a scale, it’s just out of curiosity (I don’t own one, so it’s usually if I’m staying in a hotel or at a friend’s house in another city)—I don’t have a certain target weight. As long as I know I’m exercising five days a week and not putting a ton of junk food in my body, I feel pretty good about things, and I think if all Americans took that attitude, we’d still have a lot of “overweight” people, but we’d have a lot fewer health problems.

Unfortunately, people are still judging each other and themselves by size alone and not by exercise and eating habits. Of course, it’d be great if people would stop judging each other so much on physical appearance anyway…