Categories
Life

A Year’s Worth of Exercise

A year ago I weighed 352 lbs and decided to change my life. A year ago I had been “trying” to lose weight for several months only to be continually derailed. Derailed or sabotaged. A year ago I didn’t know how hard this was going to be. A year ago I didn’t know how good “this” felt.

Here is my journey over the past year, sharing how I shed and lost my weight thus far.

The Work

“Do or do not, there is no try.”

The workouts began simply, I walked on the treadmill. Not a casual stroll though, I cranked it up to a fast walk (up to 4mph) which quickly had me sweating, and I did that for 30-45 minutes. I did this nearly every night for the first few weeks. Every evening after work or morning after getting up on the weekend I would head to the apartment complex gym and use the treadmill. I found that I really enjoyed walking on the treadmill and reading e-books, so that was my way of passing the time. Simply walking fast attained much of the results you see here. Well, walking fast and eating less crap (but not zero crap.) I’ll talk about food later.

Along with walking one of the things I was most excited about in Seattle was going hiking. I don’t have complete tracking but I did a fair bit of day hiking around Seattle and logged over 40 miles of hikes for the year.

When Summer arrived in Seattle, the weather turned gorgeous and I decided to take advantage of my short commute to work (just over 2 miles) and bike to work. Biking was nice, the ride to work was easy with a large downhill to give me lots of momentum to start, and only one uphill segment for an overpass near the office. The ride home was the bear because of the giant hill and it took a few weeks before I was capable of biking up it. With biking though I laid off the walking, so progress slowed.

Then in September I went to the gym to see how far I could run, I expected to get to a half mile and stop, but then I reached the distance and kept going. I hit 0.75 miles and kept going. Then I hit a mile and hit stop out of shock. As I said in the post ‘Learning to Run‘ – as far as I know, I never ran a full mile before, ever. That was a big milestone for me, but it also was such an accomplishment that I let my foot off the gas and despite attaining a new level, saw a backslide.

This led me to set the goal for November to do my “RuMiDaMo” where I ran a mile for everyday of the month. I felt it was fitting since November was already a month of challenges such as NaNoWriMo and Movember. That was an awesome challenge and really felt like a new level.

After that month of daily runs I discovered I had upped my ability to running a full two miles. But with that came a concern about pushing too hard, so I slacked off a bit and took to running roughly three times a week, but without it being everyday I missed more runs and again felt my progress slow.

And that’s where I am, in a year I went from walking 2-3 miles to being able to run 2 miles.

The Food

“One should eat to live, not live to eat.”

For this first year, I made strides to simply “eat better.” I cut way back on non-diet sodas, at least cutting those calories if not all the other crap. Largely I set my diet around the following two anchors:

Breakfast was a smoothie. Its contents varied a bit, but the core of it was a banana and strawberry smoothie. Eventually I came to the final concoction which I’m quite happy with. The final recipe is: Spinach, Strawberry, Banana, dry oatmeal, and whey protein with milk. The whey protein helps it hold me through the morning.

I also relied on a morning snack of almonds, I keep in the desk at work. Almonds are potentially high calorie so you have to manage the quantity you eat, but they are also very good for you.

For lunch I relied on a noodle bowl. This is one of those “the devil you know” sort of things. This lunch is “fine” in terms of healthiness, but it accomplished some very important things:

  1. Be quick to prepare
  2. Be cheap
  3. Be tasty
  4. Hold me through the afternoon

The noodle bowl was a store bought (from Trader Joe’s initially, though we’ve since found it at Fred Meyers) under the brand Annie Chun’s Teriyaki bowl. Basically an upscale ramen bowl. To that I add broccoli and chicken.

Dinner was the shared meal with my wife, so it was much more fluid. We ate whatever we wanted (within reason). Pizza, meat loaf, sometimes chili, or we would go out and eat sushi etc.

And through out all of that I still battled with my sweet tooth and my penchant for gorging. In many ways it is an addiction for me. Hand me a giant bucket of popcorn and a movie and I’ll do my best to plow through it. Giant bag of Starburst? Yep. Basket of snacks for a two hour meeting? I better sit as far from it as possible. Doughnuts? NOM.

I would say my success was largely accomplished despite my food habits. Sure I made strides to improve it, but I would say I still have a fair ways to go.

The Result

“However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”

So here we are, it’s time to show the cards. I present to you, a side by side of change.

weightloss

A few notes:

  1. Sorry for the watermark but it’s necessary as I learned. Websites, fitness sites, and spam sites, love gobbling up the side by side progress photos and not giving credit or presenting them as evidence for whatever they’re selling. I had a side by side I shared earlier this year posted to MSN without credit to me (or others in the list).
  2. The right photo is actually a few days ago, and a few pounds heavier but I don’t think you’d see a 2 lb. difference. It was also taken after a two mile run so pardon the horrible look on my face.

Now for the nitty-gritty. I weighed myself 86 times over this past year. Allowing me to share this chart of progress with you all.

 

chart

 

Some stats:

  • Total weight lost so far – 67.8 lbs
  • Average weight lost per day – 0.19lbs (1.33 lbs / week)
  • Best month – January 2012, lost 17 lbs
  • Worst month – October, due to a work trip that complete derailed my progress

You’ll see that there are numerous points on this chart which go up and not down. This was not a simple downward journey, many times I’d misstep and pay for it on the scale. The thing to understand is that fitness is a war that’s only over once you declare it over, until that day it’s just a series of battles. And you can lose an infinite number of battles so long as you keep trying you can still win the war. As you’ll see, despite the numerous jumps in weight, I won this year’s war. Just keep on working and fighting.

The Future

“Change your life today. Don’t gamble on the future, act now, without delay.”

My goal for 2012 was to lose 75 lbs, I think my goal for 2013 is to lose a total of 40lbs, but I’ll actually lose more as I add muscle.

I’ve been tracking my body fat percentage for much of last year making use of a handheld device which measures it. It’s far from perfect and those results are far less interesting given that I haven’t tracked it for all of 2012. I’ll be tracking it continuously for 2013 and hope to really see marked change on it for next year.

One thing lacking from this past year was weight training. I did a little but nothing major and never set down to make it a core element of my workout. I will begin adding it to the workouts for 2013. I’m also going to begin doing road races, though only casually. I had hoped to do them in 2012 but obviously did not. My first road 5k is the St. Pat’s Dash here in Seattle. I’m also eyeing the Run For Your Lives race up here in August and possibly a Mud Run. I’m eager to resume hiking once the weather cooperates and hopefully do some overnight trips with some friends! Along with that I’d love to start doing other stuff like rock wall climbing and maybe adding a martial art to the list (there’s a Krav Maga studio near the house.)

Eating-wise I am eager to turn it up to the next level. I think the smoothie breakfast is good though I may refine it some more. My main focus is to experiment and research other lunch meals that are healthier. I’m setting a 30 day challenge for January where I drink nothing but water (or milk with morning smoothie.) Water can be by itself or as tea, but I’ll cut out all sodas completely for 30 days. Should be interesting.

The Thanks

This progress wouldn’t have been possible without my support team. At the heart of that team is my wife who has been supportive the whole way even going so far to be the pushy coach to make sure I hit my goals and didn’t miss workouts.

Along with her though are two very important people, my younger sister Charlotte and my brother Adam. With them as major motivators who also spent this year exercising and sharing our progress with each other they are the main driver behind my continued success and indeed for getting this ball rolling.

Also all of my Facebook friends and Twitter followers who cheered me on and joined me in this journey as I’ve posted about it.

Thanks to you all, I’m eager to update you all again down the road! Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off for a run.

Categories
Technology

Launch Calibre when you Connect Your Nook

Update 6/11/2018: This post was originally written in 2012. Things have changed, and I don’t know how much of this is still relevant.


Calibre is an open-source e-book library manager, it catalogs, indexes, and organizes my e-books. It’s like the robotic bookshelf I never had. Want to show me all the works of Isaac Asimov that I own? What about books that contain the word ‘pinkerton’? In addition to that, and perhaps most importantly, it lets me track and manage the books on my Nook Simple Touch. For people who create ebooks, it is also useful to those ventures, but that’s irrelevant to this mission.

Did I mention that Calibre is 100% free (as in beer!)?

I’ve had a Nook for over two years now, and for that entire time, I’ve searched for a free way to get my Windows to launch Calibre automatically when I plugged the Nook in. I tried a number of things and never got it to work. A few nights ago I stumbled across the solution, and it was built into Windows 7 the whole time. I happened across this post on SuperUser. The author of this post has a very different goal than mine, he wants to auto-sync a USB flash drive, so he suggests an app called SyncToy. I don’t need the syncing, I just need the launch capabilities. And this post showed me the way.

You can go read the post I found and figure it out yourself, but if you’d rather stay here then read on as I’ll provide you with my step by step instructions on how to do this on your own Windows 7 machine (these instructions are likely invalid for other versions of Windows.)

Things required for this tutorial
1. Windows 7
2. Calibre software already installed (this is not a tutorial for how to use Calibre)
3. Nook e-reader (Or any other e-reader you plug into Windows 7, but mine is done using a Nook Simple Touch.)
4. USB cable to connect Nook e-reader.

Warning: As with all of these projects, your mileage may vary. We’re not doing anything inherently dangerous, but I just want to be clear that I offer no further support or guarantee for your computers. If your computer explodes, creates a black hole and sucks you and your office into it, or otherwise goes haywire – I am not held responsible.

Alright, with those things out of the way, here we go!

1. Click the Windows logo in the lower left corner and start typing ‘Computer Management’ at some point in that sentence you should see it pop up as an option at the top. Note, you’ll need admin rights on your machine.

calibre-step-1

2. It will launch the application, which looks something like this.

calibre-step-2

3. In that left column navigate down the tree as follows:

  • Click the arrow to the left of “Event Viewer”
  • Click the arrow to the left of “Applications and Services Logs”
  • Click the arrow to the left of “Microsoft”
  • Click the arrow to the left of “Windows”
  • Click the arrow to the left of “DriverFrameworks-UserMode”
  • Click on “Operational”

It should reveal a page which looks similar to this:

step3

4. So what you’re looking at here is the log of all the things you plugged into the USB ports on your machine, so picking out which one is your e-book reader can be a bit difficult. So let’s clear the log. On the right column of the screen, the fourth option from the top is ‘Clear Log…’ – click that and then click the middle button labeled ‘Clear.’ We could save the log but there really isn’t a reason to.

step4

step4b

5. Now that the log is cleared, let’s plug in our Nook and see what appears. Go ahead and plug your Nook into your computer using its Micro-USB cable. (If you don’t know how to do this, you shouldn’t be following this tutorial. Exit now.) Once it’s plugged in your screen will likely fill again with events as your computer fires off a series of actions relating to the newly connected Nook. You’re going to click one and select the top most log entry (this is the last one which ran.) For me this is ‘Event ID’ 2101, but your number may vary. (I’ve censored some unique data about my machine and Nook, ignore the grey boxes.)

step5

6. Now that you’ve selected that top row entry, go to the menu bar at the top and click on ‘Action’ and then go down to ‘Attach Task to this Event’

step6

7. Change the name for the event to something you’re recognize, I chose ‘Launch Calibre’ and click ‘Next’ button.

step7

8. On the “When an Event is Logged” view, click the ‘Next’ button. On the ‘Action’ view, confirm that ‘Start a program is selected’ and click the ‘Next’ button. On the newly added ‘Start a program’ view on the left menu, you need to put in the link to where Calibre is saved. For me, it looks like this: “C:\Program Files\Calibre2\calibre.exe” – Once it’s in the ‘Program/script’ text field, click Next.

step8

9. Click the ‘Finish’ button.

step9

And that’s it! You click the OK button on the next modal. Now to test it, exit out of the Computer Management software. Disconnect and count to 5, then reconnect the Nook to your machine. Once you reconnect, after two or three seconds your computer should recognize the device and launch your installation of Calibre.

Hopefully you’re in business!

Categories
Working Out

30 Days of Miles

I started November calling it RuMiDaMo as a play on NaNoWriMo but after a week or so I dropped the name and just shared tweets and Facebook posts about my daily runs. What I expected was a decline in response and interest by my friends, I thought people would start tuning the posts out as they began going “There goes Trick again, going for another run.” What I found though was that while a few would tune me out, others would follow along, celebrating each milestone and victory right there with me. In fact, a handful would be inspired to launch their own month challenges, much like how I was originally inspired by Google’s Matt Cutts.

So, for everyday of November, I ran a mile. I did this using treadmills available to me, I never ran a mile on pavement outside. And I did this for a few reasons:

  1. I had to limit my excuses. If I was going to run outside, then I needed the weather to cooperate and Seattle is not exactly known for ideal running weather.
  2. I had to limit my risk of injury. Treadmills are less exercise than running on pavement because the ground is always perfectly flat. Your foot is never surprised by a rock or a shift in the pavement. And for this month, that was ideal because I was scared of not finishing my 30 days.
  3. I had never run like this before, so I needed to minimize variables. This wasn’t a lab test, but I wanted to do the same thing for 30 days, not find new running routes or test my limits beyond the scope I laid out.

So, for thirty days, I faithfully made my way to a gym either at home, at the office, or in a hotel, and I knocked out a mile run with a warm-up and cool-down period. As much as I maintained the status quo for 30 days, there were a few deviations or changes worth noting:

Longest distance run: 1.5 miles (see below)

The second day of the month I got overambitious and decided to run a mile and a half, which I was able to do. But I paid for it as I slowed down my pace for the next three days to ensure I didn’t overdo it and have to stop early on my challenge. But I know I could do 1.5 miles then, so I had to wonder after 30 days how far I could run. This was really a big thing because it became a constant struggle for the next four weeks to hold myself to my mission of a mile a day. Discovering a new personal best wasn’t worth, at the time, putting the 30 day streak at risk.

Best mile: 10:10 (5.9 mph)

For my final daily run I pushed myself and cranked out a respectable 10:10 mile which ended with me doing 7 mph for the final 1/8th of a mile, compared to my slow and steady 5.5 mph which I use for most of my runs, 7 mph felt blistering and left me gasping for air as I crossed the finish.

Most snafus: 3

In one run I had the following happen: shoelace came untied, accidental stop button trigger, and phone dropped onto treadmill. I had to stop the run three times to rectify these, but I faithfully made sure I hit my mile without issue, padding the distance a little to allow for the time it took the treadmill to come back up to speed.

Starting Weight: 295.4 lbs

Prior to my first run, I weighed in at 295.4 lbs. I wasn’t going into this with the intent goal of burning calories, but I was curious to see what effect it had on weight loss.

Finishing Weight: 284.4 lbs

Despite a work trip which caused me to regain some lost weight, and this month having the holiday of gluttony, my first weigh in after my 30th run put my weight loss at 11 lbs for the month. Not too shabby!

 

So what’s next? People wanted to know if I was going to continue running everyday, or if I was going to run further, etc. And the answer is that I happily took December 1st off of exercising. My plan is to continue to run, though I’ll be running further and thus taking days off to rest and not overwork my muscles. I’ll also be adding in weights again, probably in the form of some kettlebell exercises. But, who knows, we’ll see! I still have a fair bit more weight to lose until I’m happy, so the trek continues.

Now it just has more running in it.

Update: After a weekend of rest, I went for a run yesterday and churned out two miles. The longest I’ve ever done and, honestly, longer than I ever thought I would do. Don’t get me wrong, it was a really difficult run, and I won’t be pushing past that distance for a bit.

Categories
Technology

Enter the Nexus

It is only fitting that I wrote the majority of this post about my Nexus 7 using my Nexus 7, and I largely did it in the airport after churning on my review for a few weeks. From my brain to my thumbs onto digital paper of my Google Drive by way of my Nexus 7 before being transferred over to my WordPress blog.

TL;DR

I am quite happy, and I wager quite heavily that I am happier than I would have been with an iPad mini. The tablet is slick, responsive, and quite capable.

The Why

I bought the Nexus 7 the same day that the 32GB version went on sale. It arrived on my stoop 2 days later. I chose the Nexus 7 for a few reasons, largest of which was the level of integration available to Google but also because while I enjoy my iPhone I was dissatisfied with iOS and its limitations. Having used the wife’s iPad I felt I wanted the smaller form factor, so the Nexus 7 leapt to the top of potential candidate systems. I explored both the Kindle and the Nook tablets but felt unimpressed. When I compared price to hardware, the Nexus 7 won the battle.

My Technology

I feel it’s disingenuous to give you my review of the tablet without also introducing you to the world of technology I am swath in. The Nexus works for me and I think it will work for most of you, but also understanding how I use it and why I use it is important for others to know so they can draw similarities from my experience.

A few weeks ago my personal laptop bit the dust. At the time I decided that my new technology paradigm revolved around a powerful desktop capable of gaming, coding, and being a home server while my mobility would be driven by a tablet. With the Nexus 7 I have put this system into place and so my personal technology breakdown looks as follows:

  • Work laptop – only used for work related projects
  • Desktop PC – Custom built tower courtesy of NewEgg.
  • iPhone 4s – my primary phone, it remains attached to me from the moment I wake to when I set it with the next day’s alarm.
  • Nexus 7 tablet – the most junior member of this squad but quickly becoming my invaluable piece of technology.
  • Nook Simple Touch eReader – My personal library. With so much of my day spent staring at projected light and screens I really enjoy reading on an e-ink display.

I won’t be giving a hardware review of the N7, there are plenty of those available online already, instead this post is meant to show you what I think about it by showing you my work flow and processes.

How I Use It

The majority of my use on the Nexus 7 is as another vessel by which to consume media. I watch YouTube, TED Talks, and movies. I listen to music and podcasts. I read news, blogs, books, social media and comics. I even wrote a simple script which generates what amounts to my own personal morning newspaper. I named it the Trick Dispatch, and is something I’ll be blogging about in the future after I improve the content and process.

But, with all the media consumption, I also use my Nexus 7 to do a fair amount of content generation. Largely through writing, such as this blog post or in meetings at work where I write notes and manage my task lists. Thus far I have found SwiftKey as a keyboard the most ideal, though it is far from perfect and I’m always looking for new options, including possibly buying a bluetooth keyboard for tasks beyond casual work or note taking. I haven’t yet made the leap to cloud based development, so anytime I tweak this blog’s design I do it on my desktop. However, I did have an interesting idea for an Android app tied to that idea…

Rooting

Rooting the Nexus 7, while not a single-button action, is very straight-forward. The tutorials out there made the process quite painless and easy to do.

The Complaints

My primary complaint around the Nexus 7 is that there are still some serious holes in the apps available for Android, or in the quality of apps for Android. For some, there is simply no parallel between what is available on iOS. The most clear example I can provide is iOS’s Tweetbot Twitter client. No Twitter client, free or paid, on Android comes close to the feel and experience of Tweetbot. They’re either clunky, poorly designed with their UI, or just incomplete in terms of functionality. Admittedly, I probably rate in the power user range when it comes to Twitter, but this is definitely one area that converts from iOS to Android will feel pain. That said, the availability of apps for both iOS and Android has improved dramatically since I left Android behind. It is obviously still not 100%, with companies opting for iOS rather than Android when forced to choose, but it’s now the minority of big companies which don’t support both.

Secondly I find the lack of a quality rear-facing camera frustrating, especially since I rely on the Nexus in my meetings. I know, as my friend Brian said, Google doesn’t want Nexus 7 users standing in concerts holding up their tablets to snap photos – I get that. But I do wish I could just snap photos of whiteboards in meetings, or of documents for emailing etc. Dealbreaker? Not for me. But it is frustrating.

So What’s Next?

Now that I have a tablet I am quite happy with, I find myself wondering what the next piece of technology I will lust over is. One thing I’d like to get is a fitness tracker of some sort, whether it is FitBit, Nike Fuelband, or one of the other options out there. As exercise has risen as an activity I do regularly, I am wishing to dive into a more “quantified self” sort of tracking for it. We’ll see!

Categories
Working Out

Fought and Won

I stepped on the scale this morning and was crestfallen to see my weight had risen by a handful of pounds after my recent business trip, despite my daily runs continuing. The gain can be attributed to poor eating which accompanies that sort of trip. Despite nearly 70 lbs of weight lost thus far, the gain of just a handful of pounds feels gut wrenching for me. It feels like I lost the war despite my progress.

It was then that this fantastic quote from West Wing jumped out at me during my lunch break:

Don’t you ever forget the battles you’ve fought and won. – Pres. Bartlet

This quote is from President Bartlet (Martin Sheen), to Leo McGarry (John Spencer), concerning the news of Leo’s history of drug problems about to come to light in the press, during Episode 11 of Season 1. While the situation is vastly different than anything I’ve experienced, it still resonates deeply with me.

I think one of the major problems that people struggle with when it comes to lifestyle changes of all kinds, but especially in health, is that they see it all as one giant battle rather than a war. The complete journey from couch potato to born-again athlete is not a single drawn out battle, it’s a long, entrenched, war.

The difference is that a war is made up of a number of battles, with the winner of the war possibly losing multiple battles. So as soon as someone sees a failure they feel the war is lost, rather than seeing it as just a setback in the war as a whole.

Everybody’s got plans… until they get hit.

I don’t know if that quote should truly be attributed to Mike Tyson or not, but it is, and it’s relevant here. Often people focus on the best case scenario and so when the results deviate they get frustrated, or scared, and throw in the towel. They think they’re knocked out when instead they are just knocked down.

When you get knocked down its time to get back up. No matter how many times you get knocked down you, especially while fighting to lose weight, have to keep fighting.

For all of November I have been fighting a battle everyday by aiming to run a mile everyday. I chose to do it for two primary reasons:

  1. Build the mental fortitude and strength that forces me to run everyday without missing one.
  2. Test myself and see if I was actually capable of doing it.

As of this posting I have just one more mile to run to hit my goal thus succeeding on both counts, winning both battles in this war.

Remember that it was just three months ago when I discovered I could run a mile and so that first point was the main thing holding me back from running more. I needed to learn how to run through pain, tiredness, and learn to ignore my brain when it begs me to stop.

Top photo ‘Apollonius, Boxer at Rest‘ courtesy of profzucker on Flickr. Photo of a boxer provided by the Boston Public Library.

Categories
Life

How Jayne Saved My Christmas

This past weekend the Science channel held a Firefly marathon they called ‘Browncoats Unite’ which included an hour long interview with the cast and crew, now ten years since the show aired. This gave fans of the show a glimpse back and the interviewed cast members to reveal some of the deeper stories and inner workings of their beloved characters. My wonderful wife spotted this special roughly three months ago and marked it on the calendar to ensure she recorded it for me because she knew how much I love Firefly.

Firefly, for me, holds a very special place in my heart. Among the copious Sci-Fi shows and books in my life, as well as the SyFy series, Firefly is on a rung all its own. Is it the perfect show? No. But it is one of the universes I especially enjoy exploring.

I was among the many fans introduced to the show after it was already cancelled. My friends Sam and Tolena introduced me to it. I recall that I was dubious of it based on the premise but after they showed me the first episode I was hooked and asked to borrow their DVDs. It’s worth noting that Sam and Tolena also introduced me to a few other great TV shows such as Coupling (The BBC version) and Wonderfalls.

I cut my Sci-Fi teeth on Heinlein and Herbert but I also grew up a die-hard fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I would race home after school and plant myself in front of the TV, enduring the Rosie O’Donnell show which led into TNG at 4pm. Then for an hour I would lose myself in the adventures of the Enterprise, Jean-Luc Picard, Q and of course Data. (By the way, if you don’t follow @TNG_S8, you really should. It’s excellent.) And then, the show was gone, 4pm was another show, Sliders I think. I never really fell in love with Voyager or Enterprise, so there were years where I turned back to books and movies for my Sci-fi fix. My love for space opera was unseated by cyberpunk and The Matrix. But I still held a deep passion for space operas with their starships, their crews, and the adventures they could go on. Firefly struck all of these chords and provided me with a show I was really missing at the time.

I think it was during a phone call I mentioned the show to my dad, saying I thought he would really love it. I guess he made a note of it and picked up the DVDs at Best Buy or something at the time. Maybe I ordered them for him as a birthday gift, I’m not sure. In any case, he watched it with mom, and they both fell in love with it too.

Now, one of the episodes of Firefly, episode 12 is titled “The Message.” This episode, of all of the show’s short series of episodes, is especially important to me. In this episode Jayne, the tough burly warrior of the ship, receives a gift from his mother. It’s a knit cap and a letter from ‘Ma Cobb,’ his mom. The hat isn’t exactly the definition of high fashion, it’s yellow, orange and red and as he puts it on there are pieces of hay sticking out of it. He wears it through the end of the episode, so happy with this gift from his mom.

I asked mom to make one of the hats. The hats have become one of the show’s signature pieces of regalia for fans at conventions, wearing the hat makes you immediately identifiable to other fans as sure as a lightsaber or a Starfleet comm badge.

I got my hat from mom just a few weeks later and proudly wore it around the campus as the winter weather settled in overhead.

Mom, being the enterprising sort she was, realized that if I wanted one then other nerds on the web probably wanted one. And indeed there were a number of people selling Jayne hats. So she began making them and selling them online.

Both of my parents have an entrepreneurial streak. For much of my life Mom wrote a newsletter about organization called “The Get Organized! News”. Dad ran a computer business, “sep Computers.” We were Geek Squad before there was Geek Squad.

So, mom’s foray into the hat business wasn’t altogether unsurprising but it turned into a very important thing because this was around the time that dad’s computer business was sputtering, competitors were impeding and consumers were getting smart enough that he was getting squeezed out. So mom, over the course of I think four months, sold over 100 of these hats. With each hat she hand wrote the letter from Ma Cobb, and included pieces of hay stuck in the hat. Those hat sales ended up making Christmas possible that year, otherwise the budgets would have been too tight and it would have meant an especially lean year for us.

I have two versions of the hat. The first one she ever made, as well as an updated one that she made after refining her technique and the yarn colors she used.

At one point, I had hoped to give one of my two hats to Adam Baldwin, a token of thanks for the part he played in all of this. I know it’s silly, he’s an actor and this is a character he played. He has no idea who I am or who my family is. But for the next few years our paths never crossed. He didn’t come to Dragon*Con, and I didn’t go to any other cons he would be at. It seemed important to me to let him know my story in all of the Firefly fandom. That time has passed though, now I have just one hat the other lost over the years, and I treasure this hat a great deal.

That’s how it was for me and my family. Firefly came into our lives and enriched it with the characters, but also for one winter, financially as my mom became Ma Cobb to 100 lucky people. Now that mom is gone, I treasure so many things I got from her, but this is perhaps one of my favorites.

Categories
Working Out

#RuMiDaMo

It was roughly four months ago when I discovered that my fitness level had reached the point where I could run a mile without stopping. That was a major achievement for me, and it represented an achievement so large that I ended up, slacking off, and idling in my life changing and weightless.

Enter November. The month of amateur novel writing, unshaven heathen, and turkeys. And now running a mile every day.

This month I will be hitting the gym and running at least a mile everyday for the entire month. I figure if Dean Karnazes can run a marathon every day for 50 days, I can do some hard-to-find fraction of the work and do a mile a day.

I posted about it largely as a joke, giving it the name “TriRuMiDaMo” (Trick-Runs-a-Mile-Daily-Month) to spoof NaNoWriMo, and after a few people responded that they liked the idea and were going to join in, I have officially renamed it “RuMiDaMo” (Run-a-Mile-Daily-Month.)

This also represents the first time that running has been a major part of my weightloss. Sure I’ve done it some, but never more than 2-3 times a week. So we will see how this impacts my body!

I’ll post back once I finish the month and let you all know how I do!

//Trick

P.S. – Apparently yesterday, Steve over at Nerd Fitness posted about walking everyday. GMTA it seems!

Categories
Work

Dear Future Self

Going through the files on my Google Drive, I came across this gem. A note I wrote myself when I came to Seattle to interview with Wizards of the Coast. The file was titled “Dear Future Self.”

Enjoy!

Dear future self,

If you’ve followed your own instructions you’re reading this the morning of the interview, after being dressed and about to walk out the door. Knowing you as I do, I’d like to remind you of a few things:

  1. You’re awesome. No matter the outcome of the interview.
  2. This job is yours already, like Hitch said, they’ve already flown you across the country, now it’s up to you to not screw it up.
  3. Be yourself, you’re killer in interviews.
  4. Be calm and patient. Consider questions before diving into answers.
  5. Be confident but not cocky. Smile, don’t smirk.

You’ve got this. Now fold this up, put it in your pocket and call your wife to get the smile on your face.

— Past self

Categories
Technology

Investigating Cutting the Cord

I grew up watching television.

I remember clearly coming home from middle school and claiming the television so I could watch Star Trek: The Next Generation and other shows. Heck, I even watched Seinfeld when I was in middle school, though I didn’t really get it. Katie, my wife, is much the same. A child raised on TV. So the idea of dropping our beloved cable connection is something of a challenge to even comprehend. But a conversation with a cable-less friend drove me to do some investigating. And you all can reap the benefits.

Katie and I have talked about cutting cable before, our desire to minimize costs being the primary reason. The main thing holding us back is our shared love for sports. Both of us have fathers who dearly loved sports and instilled in us the same fervent love. So the threat of not being able to catch a football game, or watch the NBA shoot hoops has caused us to sit back and refuse the idea.

But in truth I hadn’t looked into whether it was a solvable problem or not. I just took for granted that it was unsolvable or too expensive.

So this week I began pricing out what it would cost to watch sports via the Internet. The numbers are surprisingly varied.

Sports

To watch the NFL, you have a few options. If you’re unable to get satellite TV then there is the DirecTV NFL Sunday Ticket $250 option from DirecTV, but this only gives you the 1pm and 4pm Sunday games, you don’t get Sunday Night Football, MNF, or any other football games. Another option, if you’re willing to wait until the day after, is the NFL’s Game Rewind for just $39.99, and then adding the post season the price goes to $69.99.

If you fancy basketball, the NBA has two options, the NBA League Pass has a $180 option which lets you watch all games by all teams, there is also a cheaper option at $120 which allows you to subscribe to just 5 teams.

MLB.tv is perhaps the most advanced for digital offerings of sports. I was initially confused as they listed the price as $25 or $20. But this is the price for the remaining part of the baseball season. I couldn’t find it listed currently but I’m told the price for the complete season is $120. Of those listed here, this is the only one I have any experience with. I had a trial of it back when I was in college. I was never a huge baseball fan, well that’s not true, I loved baseball as a kid. But then their strike happened and I fell forever out of love with the game. Now I only enjoy going to a game live. Anyways, I had the trial and I watched some games with it, but baseball has not been must-see for me so it was just a “nice to have” sort of thing.

Another one which is of interest to me and Katie is Major League Soccer. MLS Live is $60 for the full season. All the games for all the teams.

Katie and I also love watching European soccer games such as the Barclay’s Premier League, La Liga, etc. And for that I found FoxSoccer2Go, which is $170, but provides Barclay’s Premier League as well as a other international soccer leagues.

For those of you who enjoy Hockey, the NHL provides an option called NHL Gamecenter. I couldn’t find any pricing information on their website, so I don’t know what it costs but it’s there.

While we’re on sports that aren’t my fancy, I looked and sure enough NASCAR has an option too called Race View.

 

A Note About Blackouts

For most sports, this is an important caveat. These sports are almost universally affected by black outs, meaning that if you live in the same town as your preferred sports team then you may not be able to watch the games. Policies for blackouts vary from league to league, so definitely do some research into it!

For us it’s not a big issue as Katie and I now live in Seattle and our only local team is the MLS Sounders who we could pick up via an HD antenna. Otherwise our teams are all elsewhere in the country (Orlando, St. Louis, and Atlanta), thus minimizing the chance of this affecting us. But obviously we are in the minority and most people live in the city of their chosen teams.

 

Entertainment

Now let’s talk about the sources for more general entertainment. There are three primary options in my mind: Netflix, Amazon Prime and HuluPlus.

Amazon Prime ($70) – While originally started as an option to get free two-day shipping on Amazon, they have since expanded it to include a hefty library of digital content. We’re already subscribers to Amazon Prime. Their library is sizable but not perfect.

Netflix ($8/month) – There are of course more expensive options if you want to rent regular DVDs but $8 a month is for the digital only option. That comes out to $96 a year. They’re the current kings of offering and services in this arena, and they’re who Amazon are battling with their digital video offerings.

Third in this race is HuluPlus which matches Netflix’s pricing of $8/month, or $96/year. I’ve never really looked into HuluPlus but it has some unique offerings including their own content.

There are some complications in terms of entertainment television we enjoy, such as HBO. HBO has some of the most exciting and addictive content on TV right now and yet there is no way to get the content or their online offering HBOGO without having a cable account to tie it to. Yet? Maybe?

 

How Much Would We Save?

So looking over this buffet of options, here is where I see Katie and I possibly going:

  • Sports:$180
    • NBA – $120 (Orlando Magic, four other teams)
    • MLS – $60
  • Entertainment:$262
    • Amazon: $70
    • Netflix: $96
    • HuluPlus: $96

Total Annual Cost: $442
Total Monthly Cost: $36.83

Well that’s all fine and good, but we need to know if this would actually save us money or not. Our current TV and Internet comes from Comcast and costs us as follows:

  • TV: $112.44
  • Internet: $55.95
  • Bundle Discount: -$45.50

Total: $122.89

Which means that our “cut-cable” costs would be as follows:

  • Internet: $55.95
  • Entertainment + Sports: $36.83

Total: $92.78
Total Monthly Savings: $30.11
Total Annual Savings: $361.32

One important thing to note is that the Entertainment monthly cost I have above won’t be paid monthly, I just do it for comparison purposes. Some of the sports offer an installment option for payment but the best deal is to pay in a lump sum.

There are a few other start up costs not covered above for hardware, like an HDTV Antenna (prices vary but I’d estimate $40), and probably a Roku box ($50). We have a WDLive Box for our stored content, but it doesn’t interface with all of these services like Amazon Prime or some of the sports. But for just $50 a Roku streaming box will interface with almost all of the services I’ve listed here. On the whole though, those early hardware costs are easily easily recovered over the next year or so. You could do without a Roku box if you have a computer to hook up, but I’ve heard good reviews of Rokus and would prefer a dedicated box.

 

Will we do it? I don’t know. It’s an interesting idea and now that I know sports are not a limiting factor, and how much money it would save us, it merits serious consideration.

Categories
Working Out

Learning to Run

I have never been a runner. Literally. Even back in high school when I played Football and rowed on the Crew, I ran as little as possible. In fact I didn’t do wrestling because their workouts required long distance runs.

As far as I know, I never ran a complete mile — until a few weeks ago. On August 14th I churned out a 12 minute mile on the treadmill.

What happened? Did I carbo load? Did I load up on caffeine? No. Nothing special. Just mental. That evening I went to the gym and decided to run. I had run a quarter mile a few weeks before and that night I decided to see how far I could go, expecting a half a mile or maybe three-quarters. So when I churned out a full mile, I was shocked. I had run a mile! And when I told my brother, he said something amazing and uplifting to me:

“You know who runs miles? Athletes. Like you.”

Now I’m certainly not an Olympian. And perhaps even the term “athlete” is still a stretch, but I like the idea of being one and its amazingly motivating as I’m running towards it.

I had tried to do the Couch to 5k Program before when I lived in Orlando, but I fell off a wagon and never started it back up. The Couch to 5k program focuses on training you to run increasingly longer times, starting with running 60 seconds and walking 90 seconds repeating both for 20 minutes. What they’re doing is that they’re training you to endure pain and push further, it trains you to run longer distances and be acclimated to the feelings of pain.

That’s where I had a disconnect with running. Pain. I did not really grasp that running meant working through pain, I sort of believed that if I were a runner – then running wouldn’t hurt.

I don’t know where I turned the corner, or what caused it. But I realized that running is always going to be painful. I mean sure, the better I get, the further and faster I can go before it hurts. Running is about the challenge of it.

Even though it was only a surprising mile run, it hearkens back to the story about Dean Karnazes discovering he could run for hours.

DEAN KARNAZES WAS SLOBBERING DRUNK. IT WAS HIS 30TH BIRTHDAY, and he’d started with beer and moved on to tequila shots at a bar near his home in San Francisco. Now, after midnight, an attractive young woman – not his wife – was hitting on him. This was not the life he’d imagined for himself. He was a corporate hack desperately running the rat race. The company had just bought him a new Lexus. He wanted to vomit. Karnazes resisted the urge and, instead, slipped out the bar’s back door and walked the few blocks to his house. On the back porch, he found an old pair of sneakers. He stripped down to his T-shirt and underwear, laced up the shoes, and started running. It seemed like a good idea at the time. – Wired

I’m still not a long distance runner, and I have no idea how far I’ll end up running, but I’m working on it. I’ve discovered that as long as I’m not exhausted, then I can sit down and run a mile. I might be in pain, I’ll probably have a stitch in my side, but I’m getting there.

It’s fascinating to me as I learn to run, because it feels so odd to do something that is, in many ways – completely new.

You have to walk before you can run. Well, I’ve been walking for 28 years, it’s bloody well time I learned to run.