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By Jack Ganssle

Fat Boys

Published 1/14/02

For the first time scientists have observed the physical basis of memory (http://www.eetimes.com/story/technology/OEG20011217S0047). Short term memories come from filaments that grow to strengthen neuronic cell walls. The growth of synapses between neurons yields long term recollections.

So I figure that all the learning associated with programming, reading USENET, and surfing the web must create an awful lot of extra brain mass. Weight. When the scale accuses you of an additional five pounds, well, smile and realize that's simply an indicator of your extra smarts.

Or maybe not. An interesting article (http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2001/0112.farley.cohen.html) claims that sending emails for 5 minutes a day instead of walking to your colleagues' offices porks up an extra pound a year. I don't know about you, but I spend far more than those 5 daily minutes doing email. Drink a single can of Coke every day and you may pick up 8 pounds a year. The article doesn't talk about Twinkies, pizza, or any of the other essentials of software development, but the tone is clear: working in front of a computer is hazardous to your waistline.

The digital economy exacerbates the problem. Many of us work from home. I don't even have to get dressed or walk to the car most mornings. Just stumble out of bed, flip the coffee maker on, and about zero calories later plop in front of the computer, exhausted from the effort. Bits come streaming in from the high speed `net connection. Heft a dictionary off the shelf? No way. That means standing up. It's faster and easier to click over to dictionary.com.

Have you ever noticed how well we design our offices? The phone, printer, and stereo are all within arm's reach. No need to move much to get to any vital resource. The astonishing efficiency of our personal spaces again minimizes energy expenditures and maxes secretarial spread.

The local gyms are full of folks sweating off those extra pounds, doing artificial exercise routines to atone for sedentary lives. In his 1930's book "Fatu-Hiva" Thor Heyerdahl abandoned Western society and moved to a South Sea island to live a life of simplicity. He makes some funny comments about deskbound people rowing boats that go nowhere, riding stationary bicycles, and walking treadmills to make up for a life mediated by internal combustion engines.

But even 70 years after Heyerdahl's book Americans still exercise little. Only some 15% tell pollsters they work out regularly. Most of us - including me - find the thought of jogging or any form of aerobic activity quite dreary. Given a choice I'll surf over to slashdot.com instead any day.

We're programmed to seek and stockpiles calories for potential hard times. As the previously-mentioned article says, "the few people who truly overcome their body's natural desire to eat have a psychiatric disorder: anorexia nervosa." So it's in our genes.

We can "eat better". but probably won't. Some pundits suggest banning junk food. I'm told the famous Atkins diet requires spurning caffeine. Without the sugar and coffee I'm toast. If these ideas catch on programming productivity will plummet.

Me, I'm going for a walk. Right after this cookie and Coke.