L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

being the maunderings of an Englishman on the Côte d'Azur

08 January 2010 Blog Home : All January 2010 Posts : Permalink

20100108 - Friday Olive Tree Blogging

I should have posted this last year but I never got a round tuit until today (when I realized that a CD was good enough as a tuit - ha ha). This is what a hair under 13 litres of oil looks like and is the output of 72 kg of olives picked over 4-5 days from some of our trees.

We had a very good crop this year and I made absolutely no attempt to pick every last olive - in fact I skipped some of our trees and we only really worked on two or three to get almost every last olive from them.
20100108 - Friday Olive Tree Blogging
As always click on the image to see it enlarged and don't forget to visit of the olive tree blogging archives for further reminders of how nice olive trees are.

12 January 2010 Blog Home : All January 2010 Posts : Permalink

Sharp PC-Z1 Netwalker

Sharp PC-Z1(B) NetwalkerWhen Charlie Stross mentioned this product I thought it sounded ideal for me. When I went to Japan I failed in my roll against SHINY! and bought one. I've now been using it for about two months. It is, IMO, almost my ideal pocket-sized computing device and allows me to do all sorts of things, particularly once I did some fairly major downloading and installing.

First things first. What is the Netwalker? Basically it is an original Asus eee on a diet. The original eee 701s had 4gb of disk, 512 Mb of memory and 1024x600 pixel display. The Netwalker has almost the same specs. There are of course differences: the keyboard is smaller (as is the screen), the processor is an ARM core instead of an Intel x86 one, the built-in flash card is MicroSD not SD/MMC and it runs ubuntu 9.04 out of the box instead of Xandros whatever that the eee came with.

The critical difference is the processor. The ARM core means that the Netwalker gets a lot better battery life than an eee on far less battery. It is also slower (not unusably so but "lightning fast" is not an adjective you can use to describe it) and because it is an ARM not everything has been ported across to work. But enough of what I want to do does work so this is not a huge problem. Battery life with wifi disabled seems to be around 8 hours - I'd say it's 5 with wifi on - though that depends a bit on what you are doing. Reading ebooks is definitely a low power consumption task - writing stuff with open office medium and browsing websites with wifi on is a fairly high consumption task. One niggle that I have is that the power management doesn't give you a time estimate for how much longer you can work. Indeed in my setup I've found that when I get the "Battery is critically low" message that means I've got no more than a couple of minutes or so to find a power supply.
Sharp PC-Z1(B) Netwalker Sharp PC-Z1(B) Netwalker Sharp PC-Z1(B) Netwalker Sharp PC-Z1(B) Netwalker
There is another power issue: the power input, which is a rather non-standard 11v with a tiny little cell phone sized input jack, and hence I'm nervous about losing the power supply. I'm sure I will find an alternative sometime but so far I haven't.

The good bits

Sharp PC-Z1(B) NetwalkerMoving on to the good points. This is a real computer, running a real OS and with real connection ports and networking. I can do almost everything on it that I can on my other Ubuntu machines. It is (unsurprisingly) slower than my main machine, and somewhat slower than my netbook, but it is more than adequately fast for what I want to use it for. Since it has a real USB port I can (and have - see right) connected a 1 TByte external drive to it to copy stuff to it and back things up. This is not something you can do with a smartphone, which is I think the device it probably ought to be compared with. Likewise it is easy to run basic networking stuff like SSH and web servers (and Samba servers). It also has perl, python and (untested by me) PHP support as well as MySQL client and server programs. All these are installed using the same Ubuntu package management utility as is found on x86 based computers and thus one can run quite complex web sites and so on. The wifi is only 802.11b/g rather than 802.11n but that doesn't bother me as none of my other computers are capable of anything faster either. The one catch I have found is that the SAMBA client support seems a little iffy. More specifically the mount.cifs command seems to be either AWOL or broken. I'll get onto this a bit later because there is a workaround but it is annoying.

However copying data on and off a device is not terribly interesting on its own more relevantly what can I use it for? Well since, as noted above, it has almost everything in the Ubuntu package library I can surf the web, read NNTP news, download and read ebooks. I can also run open office, various image editing packages (including GIMP in theory), play music and videos and so on. In other words it does almost everything I need and also fits in my pocket. In practice I use it mostly to read ebooks (using FBReader) and listen to music (VLC player) but I have done everything from perl and javascriptPC-Z1 Netwalker vs HTC Hero as ebook reader program development to story writing and expense calculating. As the image on the left shows when it comes to reading the difference in screensize and thus in amount of text seen per page between a smartphone (in this case a HTC Hero running Google Android and Aldiko) and my Shart PC-Z1 Netwalker is notable. The netwalker gives at least twice the screen size making things much more convenient. The advantage is even more pronounced if you have to read a PDF format book/document. The Netwalker displays these entirely legibly whereas phones typically either show you only a portion of the page or make you squint or both.


Apart from the battery low problem mentioned above the gripes all boil down to stuff that is missing and not available/readily findable. On the hardware side this boils down to a lack of ports - I'd like to be able to plug in an external monitor and have a wired ethernet jack and now and then I think a built-in webcam would be nice. I'm not going to gripe about the keyboard since for a computer that is about the same size a paperback book the keyboard is about as good as it gets. It isn't something you can effortlessly touchtype on at 50-100wpm but it is entirely possible to do fast two finger typing which is about all that can be expected. It is possibly to plug in an external USB keyboard if you have one lying around which is nice. Likewise the mouse can be replaced by an external USB one if the internal one (which I find entirely usable) is found to be inconvenient.

On the software side things are trickier. Because the Netwalker has an ARM Core you can't simply download stuff and have it work. In particular Adobe has only given us a fairly primitive version of flash, and as mentioned above there seems to be a problem in the Samba client code. I don't miss the full flash - although it causes firefox to tell me that sites I'm visiting require additional plugins all the time pages seem to load/display faster.

I found that the default Ubuntu install with its gnome desktop irritated me but fortunately it wasn't difficult to fire up synaptic and install Xubuntu instead. This took a while to download but was (IMO) worth it. What is missing completely is a port of the current *buntu - 9.10. This means, unfortunately, that it is next to impossible to run recent versions of calibre as I can't build the dependencies and there seems to be no back port of 0.6.x versons of the program. I'm not wonderfully impressed with the library part of FBreader which I why I wanted calibre but FBreader Similarly there seems to be no Skype, no Google Chrome (or Chromium) and no Seamonkey 2.0.x - I'd say that only the lack of Skype is much concern to me.

Finally - and a gripe which is less serious to me than to most people - the official Netwalker support forums and so on are basically only in Japanese. This makes it a bit tricky to get support although this pocketables forum has some non-Japanese enthusiasts on it. In particular it is difficult to figure out how to safely hack the device to run different OSes and the like and what 3G USB modems it will support.

Tips and Tricks

The first trick was convincing Ubuntu to speak English - this is documented in various places and really didn't take long - though since I can read Japanese I did it without recourse to the manual.
The second trick was installing Java and flash. Java didn't appear to be available before but in researching this article I went back to check and now it is available - install the "default-jre" package in synaptic and you have a perfectly fine OpenJDK (IcedTea) run time.
Flash was installed by downloading the flash-lite plug in from here. But note that if you do

sudo install.sh

you will probably end up with a permissions problem and will need to do some "chmod a+rx "ing of the destination files.
SAMBA networking. For some reason despite installing (and in fact reinstalling to check), I cannot mount samba shares. Some applications can view things using smb:// urls and for those applications this is not a problem, unfortunately mamy applications don't like that and for them a standard path is required. Fortunately there is a work around - install fuse and fusesmb and create a suitable base point following the instuctions that are listed in various places to deal with the problem that used to apply to Xubuntu and its inability to browse Samba networks.


This is probably about as good a pocket device as you can get currently for those people who want to do things without an always on internet. For people who have already switched to or are familiar with (Ubuntu) Linux it is simple to use and Ubuntu these days is easy enough to use that even diehard windows fanatics will be able to use it if they want to.

13 January 2010 Blog Home : All January 2010 Posts : Permalink

Revisiting My Bold Prediction

A year ago - more or less - I made a "Bold Prediction":

During 2009 a member of the Eurozone will seek to leave. I'm going to hedge my bets on which member and on whether they'll manage to pull it off during the year but I predict that one of them will start the process to quit.

I was wrong on that, since no country did publicly announce that they wanted to quit, but I suspect I was just a tad hasty. Greece seems to have been lying with statistics in a way that makes the distortions of climate scientists look like best practice. It is now reported that Greece has overshot its Euro-mandated debt commitments in a big way and that this is coming as a surprise because the Greek politicians insisted that the statistical authorities flat out lie about the state of the economy and government debt.

Now here's a question for the readers of this blog. How many other Eurozone nations might also be fiddling the books? Personally I'm extremely unconvinced about the statistics coming out of Greece's trans-Adriatic neighbor and it wouldn't surprise me if both Spain and Portugal are making economies in their statistical "actualité". I rather doubt Ireland is cooking the books but on the other hand it wouldn't come as a shock (to me) if it turned out that the Belgians turned out to have a bit of a hole in their numbers too.

Which leads to the interesting question of whether it would be the strong nations or the weak ones that would seek to bail out of the Euro. If you are (say) the Netherlands and have a (relatively) healthy economy and survivable levels of government debt you might not want to be forced to pay the same rates for your government borrowing etc. as those irresponsible southern Europeans - and even more you might not want to have to end up subsidizing their lax spending habits by guaranteeing their bonds or something similar.

I was wrong that the Euro would start to break up in 2009 but I'm not even slightly convinced that my overall analysis was incorrect. The Euro, as it is currently composed, looks like a disaster waiting for some hedge fund to short.

14 January 2010 Blog Home : All January 2010 Posts : Permalink

The Future Is Water on Stone

A guest post by Sarah A. Hoyt

Not too long ago I wrote a review of Sarah A Hoyt's new book Darkship Thieves Dark Ship Thieves. Well Sarah's a good internet friend of mine so she asked if she could post something else about the book to drum up sales. I asked her to write something about the background to the book at and what she's produced is a fascinating article about the way that free enterprise always bubbles up even if you try to regulate it away.

I have to say I prefer her metaphor of stone and water to another one which I read today - Norman Tebbit describes the government "carrot and stick" approach to the rest of us:

Our masters these days are willing to use a carrot and stick approach, but they almost always use the stick on the poor old donkey's nose and inflict a terrible indignity on the beast with the carrot at its other end.
But Sarah Hoyt and Lord Tebbit are talking about the much same problem - the problem of how rules and laws have unanticipated consequences and how society can keep working anyway

PS She has also released a free short story set in the same world - but a few hundred years earlier - to whet your appetite and will probably release another one soon.

There is a Portuguese proverb that says “soft water on hard stone, eventually pierces through.”  I understand there is a similar Japanese proverb.  It's quite possible, in fact, that there are similar proverbs in every language.

After all, ever since man has had language, or the ability to change his environment, he's had to deal with those two immutables – water and stone.  And doubtless he's been noticing the same properties.  Put a stone in the course of running water, and the water will go around the stone.  (It is possible of course to build enough of a barrier to deviate the course of water, or to stop it and form a lake.  Though not always permanently – the water reserves the right to return to its bed as soon as an Earthquake or hurricane frees it.  Also, even when you dam it, the water might back up and flood and create a lake – it doesn't just stop and disappear.)  Put stones over the tiniest, softest natural spring, and the water will either find a way between them or, eventually, pierce through a stone and run on, in a slightly different way, but unchanged.

Most science fiction writers, when creating a future world seem to “side” with the stone.  They build worlds based on the laws that will be promulgated, on machineries that are created for specific purposes and which work as advertised, or malfunction as not advertised.

Maybe it is because I have had serious problems with authority ever since I first was kicked out of Kindergarten for refusing to stop talking back to the teacher, but I've always seen history more as the ways the water gets around the stone.  Governments can work with the stream, deviating it where they want it to go.  They can dam it and create a lake.  They can even, for a time, make the stream disappear and go underground.

But given that the stream is economic activity – which in turn leads cultural activity – what no government has ever managed to do is either stop it completely or will it into existence with a command.  In the same way, no government has ever managed to completely and forever stop technology with a law or to will technology into existence (yes, the financing of big projects can speed up a technological breakthrough – maybe, we don't know what would have happened without financing – but no amount of financing can will a technology into existence.  You can, for instance, finance projects on perpetual motion forever and there's very little chance of it coming into being).  Also, no technology, medicine or process has ever been discovered by mankind that has been kind enough to restrict itself to its expected benefits and drawbacks.

Take fire.  Primitive man probably wanted to make meat easier to chew and tastier.  He might have realized it also had some effect of metals.  I very much doubt he could have foreseen the changes that eating cooked meat would create in his dentition, the changes that the more easily absorbed protein would drive in his brain, or the entire industry of metallurgy.

Closer at hand automobiles and the pill have completely changed both sexual mores (which could be expected of the second but not of the first,) population distribution and the female participation in the workforce (which only a few could have predicted from the second) and in the world at large.

So when it came to extrapolating the future for my science fiction novel, I went after these principles.  If I'd been writing forty years ago, I'd have looked at the tendency of government to be ever more stone-like and decided that the water would go around by going to space.  For the moment space colonization seems a forlorn hope.  It will come.  Eventually.  But unless a miracle occurs – and miraculously unexpected discoveries sometimes do happen – we're Earth bound for now.  (I know what the propaganda line is, including the people who tell me we can't go to other planets till we learn to take over this one.  This is New Age nonsense.)

On the other hand, we do have other technologies, that were unforeseen many years ago, technologies that empower the individual and particularly the technologically savvy or trained individual.  Internet is one of those.  My friend Dave Freer and I have spent many an hour talking – over the internet <g>, across the world – about how the internet is making it futile for governments to try to tax the most productive of their workers.  This might have had the desired result – for a time, before punitive taxation destroyed the business – when the production was coming from a factory.  Machinery is not easily uprooted.  Buildings, even less so.  Therefore people would try to bear up and pay up.

But today's worker can work from anywhere in the world.   Unless he's engaged in the physical creation of something – and even then that is sometimes fairly mobile these days – he can connect his computer, upload and process his data and do what he must do from anywhere at all.  The only thing holding the technology back for now are a bundle of old fashioned regulation and the inertia of human relationships.  In the US at least there are all sorts of regulations for people working at home – safety in the work place and such, designed once to protect home piece-workers for sewing companies – forbid employers from simply telling the worker to go home and work.  This will not hold in place forever.  In fact, it is not holding now, when the pressure of economic crisis is causing the water of productivity to find other outlets.  Companies are simply hiring “contractors” who work “for themselves” at home.  And once that's in place, countries that tax their educated workforce highest will find the brain drain running forth like water from a burst dam.

Is it still possible for a government to exact punitive taxation and guide – or prevent – economic activity.  Sure it is.  If most countries are doing it, and there is no good choice.

However, even then it won't hold forever.  Eventually either some country will break ranks, or a new nation – or type of nation – will form.  In my world these were the Seacities, artificial islands, the logical extension of offshore accounts.  The wealthiest and the brightest go there and they flourish in liberty, for a while.  Meanwhile the land states, saddled with impossible social-welfare establishments look for a way out and – in the way of stone which is a fairly dense material not given to doing much that's different form what it's done before – decide what they need are some truly wise rulers.  Which they create by bio-enhancing men.  They create them as administrators and bureaucrats.  They make them all male and incapable of reproducing.  They don't expect them to take over, to become supreme rulers of all the Earth.

And when they're finally overturned, they don't expect them to be smart enough to hide, to go underground, to – somehow – take over again.  (Yes, it does feel, rather like a metaphor, doesn't it?)  They create a world where all economy is heavily regulated and where all bio engineering – the science that created the rulers, themselves – is forbidden. (And therefore used only by those who have the ability to pay for it on the black market.)

However, remember that water always finds a way through the stone.  An offshoot of humanity has found its way to an asteroid, where it refuses to have a government at all, for fear the same will happen as on Earth.  Of course, they can only manage this because they are a very small society, running on tradition and custom.  They will have to grow – water in large quantities must be hemmed in by some stone, to give it a pathway to run in – and become a society of laws.

They are the Darkship Thieves, so named because they obtain their energy from bio-engineered solar collectors orbiting the Earth and because they do so by stealth, avoiding detection by Earth's authorities.  Athena Hera Sinistra, the hero of my novel – and incidentally the daughter of one of Earth's rulers – is about to tumble into their midst and have her entire world turned upside down.

Not that this will stop history, or the interplay of water and stone.  But Athena, most of the time naked and unarmed, is one of those individuals who is perhaps best represented by a stick of dynamite, ready to blow the dam wide open... and let the water flow free.

15 January 2010 Blog Home : All January 2010 Posts : Permalink

20100115 - Friday Olive Tree Blogging

OK not exactly a tree today, just an olive (tree) related picture that amused me. This is Geneva airport where they have an "Olivier" (Olive tree) restaurant. I don't think I've ever actually seen any olive trees in Switzerland - I imagine the winters are too cold - so this is as close as it gets.
20100115 - Friday Olive Tree Blogging
As always click on the image to see it enlarged and don't forget to visit of the olive tree blogging archives for further reminders of how nice olive trees are.

28 January 2010 Blog Home : All January 2010 Posts : Permalink

20100122 Friday Olive Tree Blogging

(accidentally delayed)
A tree by the Aqueduc de Foulon as it passes above Chateauneuf Pre du Lac.
20100122 Friday Olive Tree Blogging
As always click on the image to see it enlarged and don't forget to visit of the olive tree blogging archives for further reminders of how nice olive trees are.
(Somehow forgot to publish this last Friday. It's been sitting in the ready to go position all this time)

28 January 2010 Blog Home : All January 2010 Posts : Permalink

Apple's (Max) iPad

Compare & ContrastSo the tech world is buzzing about the newest Apple thingie the iPad. One thing that struck the more juvenile end of the commentariat (this includes your humble author) is that the name sounds like a feminine hygiene product. Hence the comparison on the left courtesy of Dizzy.

More seriously what is it for? does it live up to the hype and will it be a success? The quick answer to the latter two is "no" and "yes". It couldn't possibly live up to the prelaunch hype so that isn't a great surprise but it is close enough and good enough that I expect it to sell in huge volume anyway.

So to go back to the first question and the related one of why people will buy it. I think the answer is that the iPad is Apple's netbook, and I think Apple agrees as you could tell by Jobs' deliberate slamming of current netbooks. So just in the same way that an iPhone took on the top end smartphones the iPad should take on netbooks and run Apple sanitized versions of the same stuff.

So compare it to something like an Asus Eee PC 1005PE. Battery life is a wash. On the plus side the iPad weighs slightly less (0.7kg vs 1.25) and the screen on the iPad is slightly bigger (1024x768 vs 1024x600). On the minus side storage is way lower (64GB max vs 250GB on the eee) and it doesn't have a webcam or a keyboard - you can buy one at a price to be determined. It also costs rather more - Amazon will sell the eee for $320 whereas the lowest spec iPad is $499. Perhaps worst from the casual punters point of view, the iPad won't browse websites with flash or java support which is going to break things. Not massively but it means special hacks and pages for popular sites such as facebook or youtube. Finally it looks to me like can't connect to USB (or SD etc.) flash drives directly but has to be synced via an external computer. In other words unlike a netbook, and like an iPod or a Kindle, this is really a content sink. It's a thing that you can read, watch or listen to stuff on and you might be able to make notes and annotate things but there's no way you can use this as a primary computer.

This is where the whole concept falls to the ground as far as I'm concerned. My Netwalker is able to do anything the iPad can do (except DRMed stuff) but it can also stand in for my main computer if I want it to. I can share files with people, I can have it set up as a server, I can plug in flash drives and USB hard disks and all sorts of other goodies. I can do practically anything that I use a computer to do (the exceptions are things like running virtual machines or intense graphics editing) and a netbook like the Asus 1005 would even do those things too.

In addition, unlike the iPad, my netbook fits in my pocket and the screen doesn't get smeary so, I will not be buying one.

Finally and this is a real deal breaker to me, there is the issue of control. As noted at LifeHacker, with the iPad, as with the Kindle, you are locked into a closed environment run by a (benevolent) dictator:

The iPad, much like the iPhone, is completely locked down. The user has no control over what she installs on the hardware, short of accepting exactly what Apple has approved for it. From past experience, we know what happens when a completely legitimate application—from a huge company that's actually partnered with Apple—doesn't gel with Apple's business plan. They reject it, and you can't use it. And what recourse does the power user have?

[...] But conceding that Apple's restrictive policies are to credit is sort of like claiming you've cured cancer because you knocked on wood every morning of your life and, as a result, never got cancer. (Sorry for the weak simile.)

What's dangerous about the iPad is that it's much closer to a "real" computer than the iPhone is. If you dock it with the keyboard accessory, it really is just a laptop, probably powered somewhere along the lines of a MacBook Air. And yet this is a computer over which you have absolutely no control. And the question is: If we all continue to buy Apple's locked-down products hand-over-fist (Jobs went so far as to talk about Apple as a mobile device company yesterday), what reason does Apple have not to keep moving forward with that model—a model that, to many, is defective by design.

It isn't just a point for hackery types like me, its a serious philosophical point for everyone. Anyone who is willing to trust that "nanny knows best" is fine with an iPad but anyone who thinks that handing over control of your gadget to some third party is a bad idea should look at alternatives.

A Philosophical Alternative

In addition to the obvious (i.e. the netwalker, kindle and other eInk readers and netbooks) there is one obvious direct competitor: the Touch Book which costs $100 less. The Touch Book looks to be pretty similar to the Netwalker in specs except for being physically larger and having more USB ports. Its also not a million miles from the iPad in raw specs too, but unlike the iPad it has a built in keybaord (like a netbook) but there is the neat option of removing the keyboard for greater portability. I think this might be a winner for some applications athough it suffers from the "doesn't fit in pocket" problem of the iPad and netbooks. Philosophically this does things the complete opposite to Apple - it's totally open software and hardware - and you are encouraged to hack it and modify things.

29 January 2010 Blog Home : All January 2010 Posts : Permalink

20100129 Friday Olive Tree Blogging

The uprooted stump of an olive tree (I'm 99% sure its an ex olive tree but it could be something else... ). Uprooting the stump like this is about the only way to actually kill the tree. If you just chop it down it will sprout from the base.
20100129 - Friday Olive Tree Blogging
In other olive related news there's been all sorts of UK coverage about some people who are growing olives under glass in the UK. You will pardon me if I'm just a trifle amused. The longest article comes from the Daily Mail though there are also reports in the Torygraph, the Wapping Liar, the Mirror and probably all the other papers too.

Essentially these lovely people planted 180 olive trees a few years ago and have just harvested their first decent harvest of 200kg of olives. These 200kg they have now pickled and are selling at the bargain price (ha ha) of £3.50/100g or £35/kilo. I think I should get into the business. I'll have to find some gullible sucker nice organic shopkeeper and I suppose I'd have to drive the car up to deliver my olives to the UK but I reckon I could quite legitimately get away with "Olives from English owned olive trees and hand-picked by English hands" (makes mental note that this will please Japanese spouse since she will be barred from the work).

So instead my approx 70kg of olives netting me 12 L of oil I could have got some £2500 in cash. OK I'd have to give some to the shopkeeper(s) and there would of course be packing, labeling and shipping costs but I guess I'd net somewhere between £1000 and £2000 for about 4 days of labour. Which err actually isn't very much per hour. Lemme see go worst case: £1000/4 = 250. £250/day 8 hours per day = £31.25/hour. OK so that's a good deal more than minimum wage but its rather less than your average plumber charges and a good deal less than I charge for computer related consulting. So maybe I'll just stick to the computing.

As always click on the image to see it enlarged and don't forget to visit of the olive tree blogging archives for further reminders of how nice olive trees are.

29 January 2010 Blog Home : All January 2010 Posts : Permalink

Corpore Sano

In the way that coincidences do seem to occur on teh Intertubes, two bloggers I follow were talking about diet and food this week.

Firstly there's my former boss John GC's Amazing Diet Secrets Revealed!Which talks about following his experience in following The Hacker's Diet and his revelation regarding the "colarie" - the amount of energy in a can of (regular) coke. But I think his real key understanding is that if you eat well and slowly you don't feel the need to eat lots.

Secondly, via Scalzi, there is Deanna Hoak's advice for those of us that work in front of computer screens all day long. And I think it particularly applies to those of us who work from home. Her tip about only having water at the desk is one that I independently hit upon and I think it is particularly sound advice. I also recommend having the water in a smallish mug so that you have to get up and move every half hour or so. Really it's a good thing! and actually helps with concentration.

One thing that neither writer talks about directly is exercise - they leave it as "a good thing".  Me, I'm rather more exercise inclined so I figure I'm going to add some paragraphs on that subject.

The first thing I note is that there is exercise and exercise. Even a little regular exercise is better than no exercise and that you probably don't get massive benefits from lots of exercise (or at least not directly). I have rediscovered a number of times that if you can walk or cycle to/from work most days a week that is sufficient exercise to keep you adequately healthy. And of course for people with longer commutes there is no need to insist on walking/cycling the whole way. Some tricks I have used include walking to a more distant station and parking the car some distance from work and just walking the last kilometer or so. Now that I work mostly from home the trick is that I go out and buy a baguette for lunch most days, a similar trick can be done by people working in offices. Another trick is to always take the stairs not the elevator/escalator. Likewise if parking for going shopping or something similar park further from the entrance instead of next to it.

If you follow these steps you will quickly get to the 20mins/day that experts think is a basic minimum (and quite possibly closer to double that). This level of exercise on its own will knock an inch or so off your waistline even if you don't change your diet.

Then there's serious exercise. The Spouse (aka She Who Must Be Obeyed) has learned to like running so now we do a lot of it - as in 3-4 times a week with typically one each of short (30-45mins), medium (1hour ish) and long run (2 hours plus) each week plus maybe something else. We run pretty hard and are quite fast. Nowadays I quite literally run 1h35 flat half marathons as training runs and we've been known to run 35km (22 miles) on hilly trails at the weekends. This pays off in terms of fitness and achievement - I'm close to maintaining a 4min/km pace (=15km/h) for a half marathon - and it certainly helps my cardiovascular system but it does very little for my weight these days so John is going to remain lighter than me until he goes off his diet. In part because it turns fat into muscle and in part because running like this allows (and requires) me to eat fairly large portions. I can really eat pretty much whatever I want and not worry about the consequences because I burn it off on the runs - this is especially true because we live in a hilly place and so most of our runs include significant changes in altitude and that drastically increases the calories burned.

Finally, on the running note, the Instapundit alerted me to a recent studies about running style. It would seem that its a really good idea to try and run with a midstrike than a heel strike even though most running shoes seem to be designed for the latter. I'm trying to change my stride to more of a toe/mid strike which should help with speed and fitness.