New Adventures in Wi-Fi

Personal blog of writer and technologist San Sharma

Naked Wii Fit

Posted on October 16, 2009

I was squeezing into an old pair of trousers when I first realised that I’d gained weight. In fact, it was the third pair I’d tried to squeeze into that day. I thought they too had “shrunk in the wash”, along with my shirts, my jacket and my… watch?

Adjusting its strap, I thought to myself that it was time to lose some weight. The hips don’t lie, as they say, and neither do the scales. As I stood on them, the needle swung wildly to the right and I watched as my toes slowly disappeared beneath the girth of my belly.

What was next to vanish? I shuddered (and wobbled a little bit) at the thought. How did I let myself go?

I’ve been working from home for about four years. And while there are advantages, like not having to commute, it does completely negate the need to exercise. When I was living in Shrewsbury, at least, I’d walk to meetings. Then I moved to London, where I lived in Kilburn, where you had to move quickly or else get mugged. But now that I’m in Hackney with Brook I don’t even have to travel to see her. She comes home after work to find me sprawled on the sofa, deep in a bag of crisps, like an actual coach potato.

But standing on the scales, as I was, eating crisps, I realised that if I couldn’t change my diet I was going to have to do some exercise. And while I might not be tightening my belt, I am tightening the purse strings, so I worked out that buying a Wii Fit was cheaper than buying a good pair of running shoes. Not only that, but it would overcome any awkwardness I’d feel at running with the Olympic hopefuls in Victoria Park. Plus, if there’s anything that’s going to get me into exercise it’s technology, right?

So now, when Brook comes home, she finds me off the couch, out of that crisp packet and onto the Balance Board, swinging my hips around an imaginary hula-hoop, punching the shit out of thin air or hitting the negligible slopes of our front room. I don’t know if she’s any less disturbed.

But, while I might look more ‘bunny boiler’ than ‘gym bunny’, I am actually losing weight! 4 lbs, to be precise. And I’ve got Brooky Wook involved too. The healthy competition has me determined to reach my ideal weight even quicker. Unfortunately, that competition has already closed. The Wii Fit tells Brook that, according to her BMI, if she gets any thinner she’ll be dangerously underweight. So, soon I’ll have the added challenge of trying to lose the pounds while my girlfriend tries to gain them.

Stepping off the Balance Board tonight, however, it looks like I’ve beaten her at her own game, having gained the 4 lbs that I had just yesterday lost. It makes me wonder how heavy my clothes are! Maybe tomorrow, when she comes home, she’ll find me naked atop the Board, lunging at the TV – not necessarily fitter, but having lost weight, all the same. And at least I won’t need to buy new trousers.

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Luddite to lady

Posted on March 24, 2009

I’ve been using Twitter for about three years now and have never, in that time, been approached by anyone urging me to ‘tweet’. In fact, I think the only conversations I’ve had on the topic have been with sceptics, urging me to stop. So, where this fear comes from – that one day soon ‘Tweeps’ all over the world will rise up and force us to open accounts and update them with the oft and ill quoted “I’m having a sandwich” line – is something of a mystery to me.

And, I think, there are two ways of dealing with mysteries; that is, dealing with that which we don’t understand. You can, like the great mystery solvers – Holmes, Marple, Fletcher, Creek – attempt to unravel them. Or you can fear them, run and hide. Or really go for it – galvanise your fear into a pitchfork and torch-waving angry mob. Well, I don’t much like crowds, so I’m going up the Jonathan Creek route with this one. And I’m taking a paddle.

I spent the early part of this weekend politely batting comments from a techno-sceptic on a number of topics, from records versus MP3s to e-book readers versus paperbacks. And I’ll discuss them here, even though I don’t think they’re really versus debates.

But I think there’s a word for the kind of person with whom I was debating and that’s a prosophobe – someone who is afraid of progress. You could say that she was a luddite, a term that has come to mean an opponent of technological progress. It comes from the social movement of 19th century workmen, who destroyed laboursaving machinery and stood against the Industrial Revolution. But since the debate ended with her gently pulling out her iPod nano and not by flinging it across the floor in protest, I don’t think that would be quite fair.

To be fair would be to say that even the luddites would find it difficult to stick to their principles in the 21st century. My prosophobic friend mourned the death of vinyl, but pulled an iPod out of her bag; she derided the Twittersphere in a Facebook status update; and I imagine she wants to take London off the Google Map over this Street View controversy.

As a luddite might realise, that’s a lot to smash up. But a cure for what scares you, as a prosophobe, is to realise not that the new replaces the old but that it lives alongside it. Take, for example, the e-book reader versus the paperback debate.
“It’s just ridiculous,” she said. “What will people put on their shelves?”
“Well, books.” I said. “You can have both.”

Books are, as Stephen Fry reminds us, themselves a technology and one that many called, at their advent, the work of the devil. “They only went and taught people how to make e-book readers, didn’t they?” I said.

As Fry puts it, “You don’t throw away your books when you buy a computer. You keep both. The beauty of living in the present day is you don’t abandon the past. The past co-exists.”

And the future is forged by the curious, not by the fearful. The greatest mystery solvers weren’t Holmes, Marple, Fletcher or even Creek. They were Darwin, Edison, Curie, Obama. And, if they were around today, I reckon, they’d be on Twitter. Obama is.

And, I shouldn’t say this in the same breath, so am I! Follow me at: twitter.com/sansharma

Facebook Chat: A poke too far?

Posted on April 8, 2008

My sister, Suman, is late to the party that is social networking. At 29, she graduated before Facebook became the big man on campus it is today and left high school while MySpace was still a twinkle in Tom Anderson’s eye.

In the last month, she’s joined both networks, muddled them up in her head and failed in her attempts to stay relevant by referring to each as MyFace. (I had to stop her from inviting friends to meet there. It was a conversation I never wanted to have with my sister.)

Just as Suman’s getting to know Facebook (and her friends in a more intimate way than she imagined), I’m trying to distance myself from the social network that’s costing UK business over £130m a day and 233 million hours of ‘lost time’ every month.

I’ll be running for the hills when it rolls out its new instant messaging feature in the next couple of weeks. It’s hitting some networks and the reviews are pretty good, but Facebook’s already given me a second inbox to battle, not to mention another Wall to climb, and I’m terrified that I’ll never keep up with friends, nor will I want to know that they’re getting a sandwich, packing for their holidays or being surprised at the result of a football match, reality TV show or STD test.

It’s hard enough trying to sneak onto Facebook without someone noticing that you haven’t replied to their message (“oh, I haven’t checked,” doesn’t really work). Now its new chat features promise to bring back into fashion a certain keyboard shortcut dance I used to perform when avoiding friends on instant messengers. (If I log on and then off immediately, you’ll know what just happened…)

It’s not too late for my sister, Suman – she’s not yet hooked. However, by making Facebook a more real time experience, its developers are hoping session length will go through the roof. But it might just be the poke that pushes users, like me, over the edge.

Coconut Boy

Posted on February 2, 2008

While other mums worry about their sons turning to drugs, getting their girlfriends pregnant or joining some sort of gang, mine is concerned with matters more spiritual. (Besides, I don’t have a girlfriend, I’m a responsible member of an online community and I just turned down a line of coke because I had a “terrible blocked nose”.) The way my mum sees it, the only road I’m heading down is the one clearly marked, ‘Identity Crisis’.

“Coconut boy,” she calls me. “Brown on the outside, white on the inside.”

While there might, at least, be parts of me that resemble a coconut – brown, covered in hair and full of a white, milky fluid – at this time of the year, when my colour fades, it’s quite easy to ‘lose my roots’ when they’re not so etched onto my face in hues of burnt sienna, sepia and mahogany. I’m invited to fewer dinner parties, considered less effective as a token person of colour, and stopped far less by police men.

It takes just a two hour journey up north and one weekend with my family to bring that muddy colour back to my sweet cheeks and to remind me that my roots don’t stop in Shropshire, but in a land far, far away, to which ex-pat relatives still squint and admire what remains of a changing culture.

I found out this morning that my cousin, a graduate from Kings College London, is in India to get married.
“That’s crazy!” I said. “Has he even met her before?”
“Oh yeah,” my mum replied, nonchalantly. “At the engagement party, I think.”

He’s my second cousin in as many years to go east to find the perfect Indian bride. Some send for the brides to come over to the UK. Others, like my cousin, get married in India with a view to bring their brides home once ‘the paperwork’ is ready.

On the one hand, I think it sort of represents a failure, as if the groom-to-be was no match made in heaven for the British Indian girls he would have seen on the arranged marriage circuit (which I like to imagine is like the selection process of American Idol; Simon Cowell as busty bride-to-be).

On the other hand, it’s like the son or, more often, his parents, look to India for the ‘old fashioned decency’ quickly escaping British Indian girls. (It’s being replaced by ambition, I’m pleased to report.)

What they don’t know – or fail to see – is that the kind of girl that insists on a wedding register at the UK Border & Immigration Agency, is probably pretty ambitious. And that India is going through it’s own (belated) sexual revolution (after ironically triggering western ‘free love’ movements of the 1960s and 1970s, with the rediscovery of its ancient culture of sexual liberalism).

The pursuit and purchase of the ‘perfect Indian bride’ might be more a case for Trading Standards than Border and Immigration control. Ambition and sexual liberalism is completely at odds with the requirements of my cousin, his parents and other British Indians who look to India for ‘old fashioned decency’, as impossible to attain as the ‘impaling on a stake’ position of one of its most old-fashioned texts, the Kama Sutra.

Nevertheless, I wish them luck. If I’m like a coconut, and life a box of chocolates, an arranged marriage is like a curry. It’s hot, it’s exotic, you can pick it up or have it delivered, but soon enough that shit’s going to really hurt.

Juno is pretty cool

Posted on January 23, 2008

Juno

“You’re like the coolest person I’ve ever met,” Ellen Page says to a knobbly knee’d Michael Cera at the climax of Juno. “And you don’t even have to try, you know.”
“I try really hard, actually.”

Juno was Fox Searchlight’s sleeper hit of 2007, grossing over $85 million in the US (after a modest budget of only $7.5 million). It comes out in the UK on February 8th and I was there at its VIP screening at the Soho Hotel in London last week.

Beauty and the Geeks Why am I dressed like a dork?

(If you’re reading this through my RSS feed, you might not get the accompanying picture. In any case, it’s probably a sensible question to ask – and on most occasions.)

My housemate Bill and I were there to help out a friend, whose event management company was putting on the screening. She needed a couple of geeks to dress up as characters from the film, greet guests and pose for pictures.

“You’re like the geekiest guy I know,” she said. “You don’t even have to try.” She was right. I couldn’t claim, like Michael Cera’s character in Juno, that the accolade was the result of any sort of effort. So, of course, I agreed to do it.

Not knowing much about the film however, I was somewhat unprepared for my costume: a sports vest and shorts, pull-up socks, a wrist and headband. Nevertheless, I left my shame with my trousers, in the cloak room, while Bill joked that stripping down to a pair shorts for £50 might be construed as the behaviour of a couple of “smack heads.” We emerged from our dressing room all the same, regretfully sober and ready to face a room full of celebrities.

I joked with British soul singer, Beverley Knight, formed one point of a hip-hop love triangle with So Solid Crew’s Lisa Mafia, even went for a post-screening drink with star of zombie film, 28 Weeks Later (and new best friend), Imogen Poots.

But the real star of the night – it’s not difficult to say – was the movie itself. A sophomore effort from Thank You for Smoking director, Jason Reitman, Juno is a smart, funny and charming teen comedy, with real affection and wit. Go see it when it comes out here on February 8th (or catch it while you still can, if it’s already showing in your country).

It’s got an awesome soundtrack (that I reckon will do for The Mouldy Peaches what Garden State did for The Shins); it moves the plot along without being intrusive (take note, Sondre Lerche). And at one point, at the end of the movie, it sort of becomes the plot.

I won’t ruin the ending for you. But when the film had finished, and we changed back into our own clothes, Bill joked that it felt good to be ‘cool’ again. As he did, I caught myself in the changing room mirror, one hand pushing my glasses up the bridge of my nose, the other, buttoning the cardigan that snuggled under my second-hand blazer. I thought to myself that however hard I try, I’ll never quite be cool. But that was okay.

In the film, Michael Cera’s character got the girl. And there I was at the end of an awesome party, having met some pretty interesting people, £50 better off and about to go for a drink with a movie star? I suppose that is pretty cool.

Catch Juno in the UK on February 8th; find out more on the link below.