Archive for the ‘changing gears’ Category

Resolution update: May report card

Friday, June 14th, 2013

It’s mid-June, so it must be time to write my report card for May.

  1. Strive to always pay full attention to those I’m around.

    In May I tried to leave my iPhone and laptop at my desk a bit more and work on being truly present, especially for my kids. I still need to improve, however. If you catch me not paying 100% attention to you when I’m around you, please let me know.

    Status: Let’s say B- for May.

  2. Read two books a month (including the free book each month for having a Kindle and Amazon Prime).

    I didn’t finish a damn thing in May — just a few chapters here and there. However! I did something about it: Now there’s a FriendFeed reading group, where we select a free book from the Amazon Lending Library for Kindle. (We’re reading Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen to start.) So while I failed in May, I should be back on track in June.

    Status: F.

  3. Run three 5k races and one 10k race, spaced throughout the year.

    I ran a race in May! It was the Chick Chaser 5k (suggested to me by Sparky), sponsored by the Silicon Valley Tri Club. This was held in the beautiful Los Gatos Creek park, with only 35 female and 42 male runners competing (big contrast to my last two 5ks, which included thousands of runners).

    I was happy with my place in the results — 23rd place among the men and 29th overall, with a 7:25 pace. I started out at a faster pace than usual for me — 6:35 for the first mile — but that was in a vain attempt to keep up with all the triathletes who were zooming past me. My activity record in RunKeeper shows that after the first mile, I slowed down to about a 7:45 pace.

    [Stephen crossing finish line of Chick Chaser 5k; Los Gatos, CA; May 10, 2013, photo by Rama, courtesy of SVTC]

    The winners ran at a pace well under six minutes, which is intimidating to me — and it wasn’t because they’re younger. The fastest male was 47. So I can take that as inspiration that I can run faster than I do today.

    I still need to select a 10k to be run before September 30, and then I have a 5k in November lined up.

    Status: Two down, two to go! Not yet complete, but on track.

  4. For the other 8 months, set and accomplish a goal each a month in RunKeeper (total distance, speed, etc.).

    Well, since I ran a race in May, I shouldn’t also have a separate RunKeeper goal for May, but I did set one for running 45 miles. I was proud of myself for my longest running distance in a month to date, 52.1 miles — beating the 50 mile mark for the first time.

    For June, I want to repeat that accomplishment. My RunKeeper profile shows I’m on track to run 50 miles in the month.

    [Stats from RunKeeper showing miles run for Stephen from July of 2012 through June 14, 2013]

    So far in 2013 (through today), I’ve run a total of 211.1 miles. I wonder if I could hit the 500 mile mark for 2013.

    Status: A.

  5. Keep up with the Fitbit by walking at least 10k steps a day (about 5 miles) — accomplish this 28 days each month.

    [Graph of May steps]

    In May, Fitbit shows that I walked a total of 491,069 steps (up sharply from 407,972 steps in April), with an average of 15,841 steps per day (up from 13,599), a most active day of 24,112 steps, and a least active day of 10,004 steps. I did not miss my 10k step goal at all in May. I was proud to have 8 days over 20k steps (including a weekend with back-to-back 20k days), whereas in April I didn’t even have a single day above 20k steps.

    Status: A.

  6. Each month, have at least 9 runs, 9 calisthenics/abs workouts, and 9 weightlifting sessions.

    I had 15 runs, but just as in April, I only had 8 sessions of calisthenics and 8 sessions of weightlifting (although I did a better job of spacing them out throughout the month). Just as before, the extra runs offset the missed workouts, but I could have easily done it all.

    As I noted last month, I had originally set this goal to be 2 workouts per week of each type, and then switched to 9 a month, and I pointed out that that structure makes it too easy for me to slack off in the early part of the month. That’s been the case in June as well. I will need to do better at spacing out the workouts.

    Status: B-.

  7. After my dental surgery in December, the surgeon commanded me to floss twice daily. Then in April he told me it should be three times a day. So shall I do.

    Per Flossy, I flossed 3.2 times a day on average (between 2 and 5 times each day, with six days where I didn’t meet my goal of three times a day). I am proud of getting so much closer to hitting the goal. But I still need to buy a waterpik.

    Status: B+.

  8. Drink more water, coffee, and tea; continue with the elimination I started last year of soda/diet soda/juice. (One soda or juice drink a week is acceptable.)

    I had two sugar drinks and two diet sodas in May, a bit worse than April. But it was still within the allowable limits.

    Status: A.

  9. By year’s end, eliminate non-dairy sweeteners (both sugar and artificial) from the coffee I drink.

    Not doing so well on this one — a lot of syrups and flavored lattes. To give myself something concrete to accomplish, starting in July (which is halfway through the year) I will allow myself sweeteners four days a week, on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Mid-week coffee will be coffee and milk (and ice) only. I will phase that down to end the year with no sweeteners.

    Status: Incomplete, not yet on track but with a plan of attack.

  10. Start tracking my spending more closely with Mint.

    Still on track with this, but still need to spend more time classifying expenses and reining in spending.

  11. Start writing again: Write at least one short story this year, and post to this blog at least once a month.

    Zero blog posts in May not about resolutions. It should have been easy, but I didn’t do it.

    Status: F.

Resolution update: April report card

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

Better late than never, here’s my report card for April.

  1. Strive to always pay full attention to those I’m around.

    I think I backslid a bit in April. Let’s say C.

  2. Read two books a month (including the free book each month for having a Kindle and Amazon Prime).

    Didn’t finish any real books. I need to rethink my priorities for reading and make sure I allocate enough time. I did make some progress on a couple of titles, and finished up The Human Division. But this was my worst month of the year so far. My Goodreads activity was minimal.

    I finished:

    1. John Scalzi’s The Human Division #12: The Gentle Art of Cracking Heads: Five stars.
    2. John Scalzi’s The Human Division #13: Earth Below, Sky Above: Three stars.

    I failed to select a new free book for April, since I didn’t finish the one from March.

    Altogether, I read less than half a regular book’s worth of pages in April, well below goal. Let’s say D-.

  3. Run three 5k races and one 10k race, spaced throughout the year.

    I ran a race in May (covered in next month’s update), and selected a race in November (thanks to Hookuh and Tam).

    I just need to select a 10k, preferably to be run in July, August, or September.

    Status: Still one down, three to go! Incomplete, but on track.

  4. For the other 8 months, set and accomplish a goal each a month in RunKeeper (total distance, speed, etc.).

    In April, having come off a sore ankle in March, I set a modest goal of only 30 miles. (I accidentally set it to be 25 miles in RunKeeper.) I was able to run 36 miles by the end of the month.

    For May, my RunKeeper goal is to run 45 miles, or an average of three miles every two days. I’m on track.

    So far in 2013 (through today), I’ve run a total of 157.1 miles, still on track for about 350 miles for the year.

    Status: A

  5. Keep up with the Fitbit by walking at least 10k steps a day (about 5 miles) — accomplish this 28 days each month.

    [Graph of April steps]

    In April, Fitbit shows that I walked a total of 407,972 steps (up from 387,002 steps in March, which had 1 more days), with an average of 13,599 per day (up from 12,484), a most active day of 19,214, and a least active day of 10,109. I did not miss my 10k step goal at all in April.

    Status: A

  6. Each month, have at least 9 runs, 9 calisthenics/abs workouts, and 9 weightlifting sessions.

    I had 13 runs, but only 8 sessions of calisthenics and 8 sessions of weightlifting — all of which were in the last half of the month. In some sense, my extra runs offset the missed workouts, but I could have made it if I were a bit more diligent early in April.

    I had originally set this goal to be 2 workouts per week of each type, and then switched to 9 a month, but I think that makes it too easy for me to slack off in the early part of the month. I’ll keep it as is, but I’ve tried to keep my workouts a bit more spread out in May compared to April.

    Status: B-

  7. After my dental surgery in December, the surgeon commanded me to floss twice daily. Then in April he told me it should be three times a day. So shall I do.

    Per Flossy, I flossed 2.5 times a day on average (between 0 and 4 times each day). I can do better. And I still need to buy a waterpik.

    Status: C

  8. Drink more water, coffee, and tea; continue with the elimination I started last year of soda/diet soda/juice. (One soda or juice drink a week is acceptable.)

    I had one sugar drink and one soda in April.

    Status: A

  9. By year’s end, eliminate non-dairy sweeteners (both sugar and artificial) from the coffee I drink.

    I backslid on this one. A lot of syrups.

    Status: Incomplete, not yet on track but improving

  10. Start tracking my spending more closely with Mint.

    Still on track with this, but need to spend more time classifying expenses.

  11. Start writing again: Write at least one short story this year, and post to this blog at least once a month.

    One blog post in April not about resolutions.

    Status: A-

Resolution update: March report card

Saturday, April 6th, 2013

And now my report card for March.

  1. Strive to always pay full attention to those I’m around.

    You tell me — how am I doing? Let’s say B-.

  2. Read two books a month (including the free book each month for having a Kindle and Amazon Prime).

    I didn’t do very well on reading last month; my Goodreads activity was very light.

    I finished:

    1. Suzanne Collins’ Mockingjay (third book in The Hunger Games trilogy): Two stars.
    2. John Scalzi’s The Human Division #7: The Dog King: Five stars.
    3. John Scalzi’s The Human Division #8: The Sound of Rebellion: Four stars.
    4. John Scalzi’s The Human Division #9: The Observers: Four stars.
    5. John Scalzi’s The Human Division #10: This Must Be The Place: Two stars.
    6. John Scalzi’s The Human Division #11: A Problem of Proportion: Four stars.

    I hard a hard time selecting the free book for March (which I’ll talk about next month since I’ll finish it this month). I need to start a book club with other Kindle users, I think.

    Altogether, I read a bit more than a regular book’s worth of pages in March, well below goal. Let’s say D.

  3. Run three 5k races and one 10k race, spaced throughout the year.

    I need to select my second race, for April, May or June. I’m torn between the The Electric Run in April, or the very similar-seeming Neon Run in June, or a timed race that’s a bit more serious.

    Status: One down, three to go! Incomplete, but on track (assuming I sign up soon for a race for this quarter).

  4. For the other 8 months, set and accomplish a goal each a month in RunKeeper (total distance, speed, etc.).

    Officially this is “N/A” for March since March was a 5k month, but I did set a goal of 35 miles, which I didn’t make due to my ankle starting to hurt in the last half of the month. My total distance in March was 29 miles ran, including the 5k. So, regarding the ankle: On Sunday March 10, I went for a 10 mile run. I didn’t actually intend to run that far — I just drove to Baylands Park and started running down the Stevens Creek trail, and became curious to see how far I could go. (I had been influenced by some of my friends training for marathons and half marathons.) I was sore by the end and running slowly but proud I could run 10 miles in under 90 minutes. I followed that up on Wednesday March 13 with my fastest run to date of my standard 2.2 mile run (first time completing it in under 16 minutes); my ankle felt a bit sore but wasn’t too painful. And then on Friday March 15, I went for a 5 mile run with my brother Rob. That one did me in — by the end, I couldn’t run on the ankle, and it was throbbing. (I found it didn’t hurt if I was doing toe strikes, but heel or mid strikes hurt.) I tried taking it easy for the next two weeks, stopping my runs. I tried again on Thursday March 28 for my normal 2.2 miles, and was elated to find the first mile was good, then crushed that the second mile brought back the ankle pain if there was any kind of heel or mid strike.

    I felt really defeated. I was extremely angry with myself for letting myself get carried away and get hurt. The thought of not being able to run again depressed me, and I was really missing the post-run endorphin rush. So on Monday this week I made an appointment to visit my doctor. I was able to see the medical assistant for my doctor’s team that same day. He examined the ankle and told me he didn’t think there was any fracture or sprain but theorized instead I had made my heel sore — and he asked me some pointed questions about the type of shoes I was using and how long I’d had them. My shoes were just cheap running shoes from Target. So his prescription was better shoes, with more padding. (He also advised I could go the other way, and try minimal shoes and then relearn to walk in them for two weeks, and then try running slowly, but I didn’t want to take that route. My cursory review of research shows that the minimalist shoe style may have its risks, although my friend Jascha disagrees. So, with new shoes purchased (including some gel inserts recommended by the clerk), I’ve gone on two short runs so far in April, and both have felt good. No pain! Resolution: Short runs only for a while.

    For April, my RunKeeper goal is to run 30 miles, easing back in. Two miles every other day is my plan.

    So far in 2013 I’ve run a total of 97.5 miles, which means I can hit 350 miles for the year if I keep it up. I’d be happy with accomplishing that.

    Status: N/A

  5. Keep up with the Fitbit by walking at least 10k steps a day (about 5 miles) — accomplish this 28 days each month.

    [Graph of March steps]

    In March, Fitbit shows that I walked a total of 387,002 steps (down from 390,761 steps in February, which had 3 fewer days), with an average of 12,484 per day (down from 13,956), a most active day of 24,340, and a least active day of 6,626 (resting the ankle). I missed my 10k step goal twice in March.

    Status: A-

  6. Each month, have at least 9 runs, 9 calisthenics/abs workouts, and 9 weightlifting sessions.

    I was one run short. However, I don’t want to beat myself up too much, since I would have run if not for the pain, and two of my runs were longer than normal. I did have the other 18 workouts. I will give myself full credit.

    Status: A-

  7. After my dental surgery in December, the surgeon commanded me to floss twice daily. So shall I do.

    Thanks to Flossy, I was able to track fairly accurately. I flossed from 1 to 4 times a day with an overall average of 2.3 times.

    I had a cleaning in April and my dentist was pleased, but told me he wanted me to floss and brush THREE TIMES a day (and get a water pic). So I have to step my game up.

    Status: A

  8. Drink more water, coffee, and tea; continue with the elimination I started last year of soda/diet soda/juice. (One soda or juice drink a week is acceptable.)

    I had no juice or sugar drinks in March, and one diet soda.

    Status: A

  9. By year’s end, eliminate non-dairy sweeteners (both sugar and artificial) from the coffee I drink.

    I’ll need to start tracking more closely, but I estimate about half of my coffee in March was sweetened with only milk.

    Status: Incomplete, not yet on track but improving

  10. Start tracking my spending more closely with Mint.

    Still on track with this, but need to spend more time classifying expenses.

  11. Start writing again: Write at least one short story this year, and post to this blog at least once a month.

    I did manage to write a single non-resolution post in March. March 31 counts!

    Status: B

Nice-ism

Sunday, March 31st, 2013

(Trigger warning: Starts light, ends with discussion of rape.)

When I was a child growing up in England, my mother pointed out to me that the word “nice” is an insult there.

Consider:

“How was the party?”
“It was… nice.”

That means the party was a dull affair, completely devoid of anything memorable. While no one was poisoned or defenestrated, no one truly enjoyed themselves either.

The British character is to generally speak no ill of anything; see this Language Log entry for further examples, where it explicitly defines “quite good” as “a bit disappointing.”

Exhibit 2 is this food item:

a photograph of a 'Nice biscuit'

This is a Nice biscuit (which, since it’s named after the French city, should be pronounced as “niece,” but when I was a boy we always pronounced it to rhyme with “ice”). It’s not terrible, but, as Jasper Fforde wrote (on the page where I borrowed that picture from):

…the Nice biscuit is important as it’s the threshold biscuit. Everything above is edible and quite nice, and everything below it is animal feed. It’s the last biscuit that you’ll eat on a tray, and without that mean smattering of sugar, exotic stippled edge and ‘Nice’ logo, it actually would be animal feed.

Of all the biscuits (which is to say, cookies) available, and given a limited number of calories one can consume in a day, why would one eat a biscuit that was only a hairline above nasty, instead of something amazing like a lemon savannah, little schoolboy, or a Jaffa cake?

Thirdly, consider this horrific story from the Seattle Times of 50-year-old Mark W. Mullan, an apparent third-strike DUI offender, who drove his pickup into a crowd of pedestrians, killing two and injuring many. According to his sister-in-law in that story, Mullan is a kids’ baseball coach, and “a nice guy.”

That phrase jumped out at me in that story because lately I’ve been seeing quite a bit about not-so-nice-guys who act nice. There’s a long history of this kind of “But he’s a nice guy!” defense. We seem to expect that people who can perform genuinely cruel or evil acts should act rudely and selfishly. (It’s almost a cliché.)

And more recently, there are Nice Guys, the ones who don’t get dates and are constantly told that they’re good “friend” material, and who end up getting twisted up about it. Two well-articulated examples:

David Futrelle: “One reason so-called Nice Guys™ seem so creepy to so many people is that it’s easy to see the rage and the bitterness and the weird sort of self-hating entitlement that is so often lurking underneath – and sometimes not that far underneath – the ‘nice guy’ exterior.” (The “Nice Guy” Who Raped and Strangled a Young Irish Woman)

Chelsea Fagan: “But what makes these Nice Guys so quick to subvert that pain of unrequited love — whether from one individual or from a thousand societal directions — into a palpable hatred for women?” (The Difference Between A Nice Guy And A “Nice Guy”)

The recent Steubenville rape case (and the revolting media coverage that underplayed the suffering of the rape victim and overplayed the ruined lives of the perpetrators) was an inspiration for two remarkable essays by women I follow on FriendFeed. Both essays are important to read:

Jenica: “Young American women are taught to live in fear, to live in a state of heightened anxiety, because they are inherently victims. Because if it happens — if you’re sexually assaulted — you’ll be expected to explain all the ways that you did everything you could to prevent it, and if you didn’t do all of those things, well, then. You bear responsibility for what happened to you, even though you are not the one who made the choice to attack another human being. Even though you were the one who was attacked.” (How about we not put all the responsibility for rape on women?)

Monique Judge: “Women are made responsible for the actions of men who ‘just couldn’t control
themselves’ in the face of the temptress in front of them. We teach women things that they should do to prevent rape, but do we teach our men not to rape? (Rape Culture — see also the published column, “Woman fired for speaking up against sexism“)

I’m speaking now to fellow men: It’s time to put a stop to condoning sexism. It’s time to stop doing nothing. It’s time to educate our sons on proper values and ways of treating women, to make it impossible for them to be the kind of man who would assault or rape. It’s time to stop being nice.

“Nice” is far from good enough. Nice is what got us into turning the other way, not speaking up, when we saw behavior that was questionable. To avoid confrontation, we let other men be jackasses at technical conferences. We wrung our hands over perpetrators who deserve no mercy and no sorrow.

I have not ever aspired to be “a nice guy.” Instead, I work to be a good man.

And I want every man to do the same.

Resolution update: February report card

Sunday, March 10th, 2013

Here’s my report card for February.

  1. Strive to always pay full attention to those I’m around.

    This one is still hard to assess objectively. At work, I’ve started leaving my laptop and cell phone at my desk sometimes, to make sure I’m fully engaged in whatever meeting I’m attending. I welcome feedback from my friends and co-workers, but I think I’m still improving albeit with still a long way to go. Overall, let’s say C+.

  2. Read two books a month (including the free book each month for having a Kindle and Amazon Prime).

    My Goodreads activity was a bit light in February — I diverted some reading time into watching Netflix’s “House of Cards” and Julian Fellowes’ “Downton Abbey” instead.

    I finished:

    1. Suzanne Collins’ Catching Fire (second book in The Hunger Games trilogy): Three stars.
    2. John Scalzi’s The Human Division #4: A Voice in the Wilderness: Four stars.
    3. John Scalzi’s The Human Division #5: Tales From the Clarke: Three stars.
    4. John Scalzi’s The Human Division #6: The Back Channel: Four stars.

    I made it two-thirds of the way through the last Hunger Games book, but didn’t finish in time for February. (I’m not sure how I should count books that I read part in one month and part in another. Maybe I should have set the goal as a page count instead.)

    Altogether, I read just about two books’ worth of pages in February, but a bit shy of goal. Let’s say C+.

  3. Run three 5k races and one 10k race, spaced throughout the year.

    I ran The Color Run in San Francisco (Candlestick Park) on Saturday, March 2, at 10 am. (I posted about it on FriendFeed.)

    I need to decide on my next race (ideally in April, May or June). I could do the Color Run again in May (in San Jose this time), or there’s The Electric Run in April, or the very similar-seeming Neon Run in June. Both of these are evening runs, and both are held at Candlestick Park, the same location as the SF Color Run. I wouldn’t mind actually racing inside the stadium, and when they demolish it next year, I’ll miss that place.

    Overall, while I enjoyed The Color Run, it’s a bit of a strange event, and it was very different from my first 5k, the Santa Run back in December. That race was timed, and seemed to be about racing. These other runs are more like raves or festivals (Burning Man lite) with running as a side note. And they’re not really charitable events. So I’m not quite sure about what precisely the point is — I don’t need motivation to go running, and these races don’t really tax my endurance or allow me to push my pace. (The Color Run was so crowded that running was more weaving than anything.) So maybe my next run should be a bit more “serious” (whatever that means)?

    Status: One down, three to go! Incomplete, but on track (assuming I sign up soon for a race for next quarter).

  4. For the other 8 months, set and accomplish a goal each a month in Runkeeper (total distance, speed, etc.). February goal: Run 30 miles.

    While this will be officially “N/A” for March since March is a 5k month, for February I set a goal of 30 miles in total, and I was happy with my 35 miles of Runkeeper activity for February.

    (For March, my unofficial Runkeeper goal is to run another 35 miles. I’m on track for running a total of 300 miles in 2013.)

    February also helped me get a bit closer to my stretch goal of running 3 miles in 21 minutes by the end of the year — I turned in a 2.2 mile run with an average 7:11 pace on Feb 22, my fastest pace to date.

    Status: A

  5. Keep up with the Fitbit by walking at least 10k steps a day (about 5 miles) — accomplish this 28 days each month.

    [Graph of February steps]

    In February, Fitbit shows that I walked a total of 390,761 steps (down from 403,821 steps in January, but with 3 fewer days), with an average of 13,956 per day (up from 13,026), a most active day of 20,179, and a least active day of 922. I was sick that day — probably with the Norovirus that’s going around. While I only missed the 10k goal once in February, on that one day, I did not construct my goal properly: I gave myself some wiggle room for other months, but not February. So, FAIL.

    Status: F

  6. Each month, have at least 9 runs, 9 calisthenics/abs workouts, and 9 weightlifting sessions.

    I almost left this too late, but thanks to some hustle at the end of the month, I (barely) made this goal — I actually had 13 runs in February, and 9 workouts each for the other two types (although some of those at the end were a bit shorter sessions than I would like).

    Status: A-

  7. After my dental surgery in December, the surgeon commanded me to floss twice daily. So shall I do.

    [Screenshot of Flossy iPhone applicationBecause in January I had to use an estimate, for February I started using a spreadsheet to track this — but it was still difficult to remember to track diligently. Not counting the day I was sick (when I didn’t floss at all because I didn’t eat at all), my spreadsheet shows that I did floss on average twice per day.

    For March, to remind me to floss and to track it more accurately, I actually acquired an iPhone app: It’s called Flossy, it costs 99 cents, it has a big button for you to hit when you floss, it shows you your flossing history by day, and can remind you once a day to floss. There really is an app for everything. (I’d like it if you could edit your history for previous days — nice to have if you forget to record flossing on one day — and if you could set more than one reminder a day. Sometimes you have to hit the button more than once for it to register. Despite those quibbles, it’s a fine app, and a no-brainer for 99 cents.)

    Status: A

  8. Drink more water, coffee, and tea; continue with the elimination I started last year of soda/diet soda/juice. (One soda or juice drink a week is acceptable.)

    I had three diet sodas in February (worse than January but still on goal), and not much of anything else other than water/coffee/tea (and some wine and sangria with Scott and MC when I was podcasting with them), so this is met.

    Status: A

  9. By year’s end, eliminate non-dairy sweeteners (both sugar and artificial) from the coffee I drink.

    Still working on this one, but I definitely had more unsweetened lattes. The danger is in drinking too many milk calories.

    Status: Incomplete, not yet on track

  10. Start tracking my spending more closely with Mint.

    Still on track with this. Still scared at how much I spend.

  11. Start writing again: Write at least one short story this year, and post to this blog at least once a month.

    I won’t count these resolution posts, because they’re too dull. So February fails.

    Status: F

Last August I posted about my weight loss, and mentioned that I had a stretch goal of hitting 150 pounds by October. I didn’t make that — from October of last year through February of this year, I did come close a few times but my weight usually varied between slightly above 150 to a bit 155. Well, in February I fell below 150 after my stomach flu, and was quite active when I was on vacation in Tahoe with the kids the week after. I have managed to mostly stay below 150 since then. My size 32 pants are now a bit loose (even the “skinny” pair), and I bet I could fit into size 31. I wore size 30 as a high school freshman, but have been size 32 or bigger since college, so this is probably the thinnest I’ve been since 1982 or so. In total, I’ve lost 30 pounds in 20 months. My body fat percentage (although not measured that reliably since I don’t consider the Aria readings to be very accurate) has probably fallen from somewhere around 22% to somewhere around 18%. Since these resolutions are mostly about supporting and improving my physical health, it’s great to see some progress on these objective measurements.

[Weight chart]

Resolution update: January report card

Saturday, February 2nd, 2013

I’ve learned that when I’m facing a long project, it’s vital for me to break it down into smaller tasks and track progress on those. So, given a list of resolutions and 365 days in which to adhere to them, it makes sense to me to break it down into months and see how I’m doing.

  1. Strive to always pay full attention to those I’m around.

    This one is hard to assess objectively. I think I’m doing a better job of this one, but I still have a lot of progress to make. Overall, I give myself a C.

  2. Read two books a month (including the free book each month for having a Kindle and Amazon Prime), and sign up for Goodreads.

    I did sign up for GoodReadsfollow me!

    In January, I finished:

    1. John Scalzi’s The Last Colony (third book in the Old Man’s War series): Four stars.
    2. Neil Gaiman’s Odd and The Frost Giants: Two stars.
    3. John Scalzi’s The Human Division #1: The B-Team: Four stars.
    4. John Scalzi’s The Human Division #2: Walk the Plank: Two stars.
    5. John Scalzi’s The Human Division #3: We Only Need the Heads: Four stars.

    The first one is a genuine book, but the other four are short stories. (I was also finishing up Stephen King’s Under The Dome from December, which, to be fair, is awful long at 1,092 pages. Three stars.) So I didn’t quite manage to finish two full books, and therefore I have to mark myself down a bit. Let’s call it a B+.

  3. Run three 5k races and one 10k race, spaced throughout the year.

    I plan on doing a race each quarter. For Q1, I have signed up for The Color Run in San Francisco (Candlestick Park) on Saturday, March 2, at 10 am. Anyone want to join me for that 5k?

    Status: Incomplete, on track.

  4. For the other 8 months, set and accomplish a goal each a month in RunKeeper (total distance, speed, etc.). January goal: Run 20 miles.

    Nailed it! I finished 24 miles by January 26. I set a new goal at that time to run 30 miles by March 1, and I’m currently at 7 miles with runs on January 28, January 31, and February 1.

    I would like to run a total of 300 miles in 2013. That seems doable.

    This is probably out of reach but as a stretch goal, but I’d like to be running 3 miles in 21 minutes by the end of year.

    Status: A+

  5. Keep up with the Fitbit by walking at least 10k steps a day (about 5 miles) — accomplish this 28 days each month.

    [Graph of January steps from Fitbit]

    In January, Fitbit shows that I walked a total of 403,821 steps, with an average of 13,026 per day, a most active day of 21,949, and a least active day of 9,677. I only missed the 10k goal once.

    I may not be top of my leaderboard (Louis, Kelly & Jeff, and Jenny have that honor), but I’m proud of myself for being active each day.

    Status: A

  6. Each week, have six workouts: two runs, and four short sessions of calisthenics/abs/weightlifting.

    I started out strong, with some kind of workout for all but one day from the 1st to the 24th, but then I missed a few days. Altogether, I had 12 runs in January, and 11 calisthenics/abs workouts, but I only lifted weights 5 times. The first two were on track or above goal, but I can do better.

    I’ve found it’s hard for me to think about this and track it by week. Instead, I’ll aim to have have at least 9 runs, 9 calisthenics/abs workouts, and 9 weightlifting sessions per month.

    Status: B-

  7. After my dental surgery in December, the surgeon commanded me to floss twice daily. So shall I do.

    I’m not diligently tracking this (there are some things Fitbit and Runkeeper cannot do, after all), but I am pretty sure I flossed at least once each day, and flossed twice about half the time (and flossed thrice some of the time). It’s not quite realistic to floss twice every day, but I should have thought about before setting a resolution.

    Status: C+

  8. Drink more water, coffee, and tea; continue with the elimination I started last year of soda/diet soda/juice. (One soda or juice drink a week is acceptable.)

    Not long ago I was drinking 2-3 diet sodas a day. I had exactly one soda in January (a diet Doctor Pepper). Excluding the occasional beer at poker and some wine on one night, I drank only water and coffee and that one soda.

    Status: A

  9. By year’s end, eliminate non-dairy sweeteners (both sugar and artificial) from the coffee I drink.

    This will be tough. I’m not getting much closer to enjoying black coffee yet. I can manage lattes, probably. I need to work more on this one.

    Status: Incomplete, not yet on track

  10. Start tracking my spending more closely with Mint.

    Complete. And what I found was scary. Too much inessential spending. Done, but exposed a lot that I need to improve.

  11. Start writing again: Write at least one short story this year, and post to this blog at least once a month.

    Well, these resolution posts may not be the most fascinating, but at least I’m posting.

    I did complete a short story in January, but it doesn’t really count since I’m not willing to share it openly.

    Status: B

Resolutions are just words…

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

…until they turn into results.

[A photo from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, December 31, 2012, outer bay tank, with the profiles of different observers staring at fish]

Resolution: Eat and watch more fish.

There seems to be a justifiable backlash against making new year’s resolutions among my friends, but I’m old-fashioned. Despite being two weeks late in posting these (I had to try them out for a bit first!), here’s what I’m aspiring to improve this year in my personal life:

  • Strive to always pay full attention to those I’m around, as described in this article by Jeff Haden detailing the 10 habits of charismatic people.
  • Read two books a month (including the free book each month for having a Kindle and Amazon Prime), and sign up for Goodreads.
  • Run three 5k races and one 10k race, spaced throughout the year.
  • For the other 8 months, set and accomplish a goal each a month in Runkeeper (total distance, speed, etc.). (My January goal is to run 20 miles; I’m currently over 11 miles at the halfway point of the month, so I’m on track.)
  • Keep up with the Fitbit by walking at least 10k steps a day (about 5 miles) — accomplish this 28 days each month.
  • Each week, have six workouts: two runs, and four short sessions of calisthenics/abs/weightlifting.
  • After my dental surgery in December, the surgeon commanded me to floss twice daily. So shall I do.
  • Drink more water, coffee, and tea; continue with the elimination I started last year of soda/diet soda/juice. (One soda or juice drink a week is acceptable.)
  • By year’s end, eliminate non-dairy sweeteners (both sugar and artificial) from the coffee I drink.
  • Start tracking my spending more closely with Mint.
  • Start writing again: Write at least one short story this year, and post to this blog at least once a month.

Learning to Surf

Saturday, September 11th, 2010

The four of us spent a week in Maui with Georgia, Nathan and Penny. It was a wonderful trip, with highlights that included rainbows, a trip to the aquarium, a luau, a glass-bottom boat ride, some amazing meals, poke tasting, and (on our last full day) a surf lesson. Kimi arranged for a sitter for Sammy and Sophie, and Georgia dropped us off at Lahaina at the Royal Hawaiian Surf Academy to meet Josh, our instructor for two hours. After reviewing the basics on the sand, we took our 11-foot longboards out to the water, in a gentle, shallow spot right behind King Kamemeha’s elementary school — the bunny slope of Hawaiian surfing.

Perhaps it was the gentle waves, or the length of the longboard, or Josh’s prowess as an instructor, but both Kimi and I managed to get to our feet on the first attempt. It looked a little something like this.

(All photographs by Ric Larsenfull set is up on Flickr. Music by Slang, “Field Guide To Snapping,” off their album The Bellwether Project. This is my first time using Microsoft Movie Maker, so there are five or six effects and transitions that I should have passed on…)

Resolved: To never write another check

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

Image: A generic check crossed out

I will never write another check again.

Any company or service provider who needs to be paid anything regularly can be set up for automatic billing through my bank or through their billing system. My bank will write the check for me, if need be — whether it’s for my gardener or the daycare my kids go to or what-have-you.

Anyone else who needs money can take cash or paypal or a bank transfer.

Checks had a good run (2100 years or so, if this article is to be believed), but I will no longer be a part of perpetuating this dead end of financial technology.

Why? My handwriting sucks. I hate having to wait for them to clear. I hate having to manually classify them in financial programs. I don’t want to have to carry around a checkbook. And who wants to pay other people?

I will still accept them. Begrudgingly. For now.

For English to evolve, grammarians must die

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

Consider these three word pairs:

  • Choose vs. chose
  • Loose vs. lose
  • Noose vs. nose

Loose and noose rhyme, but they don’t rhyme with choose. Chose and nose rhyme, but they don’t rhyme with lose.

There are lists of frequent grammatical errors; mistaken use of choose/chose and loose/lose are commonly found on such lists.

I could pick on hundreds of other English irregularities, but these ones happened to set me off today.

My son Sammy is nearly four and we’re teaching him to read. The irregularities of English are sufficiently common that I spend more time teaching the exceptions rather than the rules.

Simultaneously, as use of cell phones for texting proliferates (along with other communication typed in real-time, such as game chat or status updates, where character limits apply), there’s an emphasis on brevity that favors abbreviations, slang, acronyms and intentional misspelling.

In the early grades, as English is taught, correct spelling is the least important skill, taught last. The lesson plans emphasize vocabulary and the more common sounds for letters, even if it means young kids create sentences that don’t have a single correctly spelled word. The exceptions are cleaned up in the later grades.

English is a difficult language for non-native speakers to learn, because of the pervasive exceptions. But that flies in the face of English’s growth as a worldwide universal langauge.

English does evolve over time — just look at how many new words are added each year to various dictionaries. Novel forms of speech are created constantly, and are adopted based on an evolutionary model: If it’s simple, readily understood, and fills a gap in our forms of expression (or more efficiently gets an idea across in one or two syllables compared to a lengthier, traditional construction), then it will be spread from group to group, and eventually be considered “standard.” In general, this evolution makes English simpler, since complex or non-standard constructions are not spread as readily. So, evolution of English is “good” in the sense that it makes English easier for non-native speakers or young learners.

However, standing in the way of English’s evolution is prescriptionism. Linguists (those that study language) are generally either descriptivists (who observe and describe how language is actually used) or prescriptionists, who dictate how language should and shouldn’t be used.

No one has enjoyed a quick spelling or grammar flame more than me, but today I’ve come to the conclusion that English needs to evolve faster, and armchair grammarians (even ones with linguistics degrees, like me) must stop what they’re doing in discouraging novel forms of expression.

For everyday communication online, from now on, my only consideration is if I understood the other person. Instead of, “Is every word spelled and used correctly?”, my standard will now be, “Is the intent clear?”

Starting today, I resolve to never make another spelling or grammar flame. For informal forums, I may gently encourage others to stop making such corrections as well.

I’ll still apply higher standards for business communications, especially for my own e-mails and from prospective employees . Bad spelling as a signifier for low intelligence is a deeply-ingrained bias in our culture, and misspelling a few words in a widespread corporate e-mail is still a career-limiting maneuver.

The next barrier will be lowering my standards for my own informal writing, such as here on this blog. It’ll take a while before I’m ready for that leap.

Invocation of alternate pantheon day

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

Today is January 25, which I hereby declare to be Invocation of Alternate Pantheon day. Today’s lucky winner on the Giant Wheel of Deities is Jupiter.

Instead of “oh my God” or similar phrases, please consider employing the following today:

  • “By Jove!” — a classic.
  • “Of all the Jovian-damned stupid things our government has done, ___ is the worst.”
  • “Jupiter Optimus Maximus, how many more bricks are going to hit me on the head this morning?”
  • “Jupiter’s left nipple, it’s cold out here today.”
  • Those addicted to text messaging may wish to pepper their exchanges with “OMJ.”

Wheeee! Fit?

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

The truth is, since having kids I’ve not been exercising regularly.

The real truth is, I stopped exercising regularly even a year before Sammy was conceived.

The sad, genuine, unvarnished truth is, my weight is not where I want it to be.

Technology perhaps to the rescue? After reading reviews and testimonials about Wii Fit, and seeing the Wii in action at my brother Phil’s place, I managed to find a Wii and Wii Fit (thanks to Zoolert), ordered online, and all three boxes arrived today.

Setting up the Wii involved surprisingly large amounts of waste packaging and cardboard recycling, but the process was easy. My wife was quite skeptical at first, but a quick game of bowling won her over. (“This is fun, isn’t it!” Sure is, especially when she beat me 126 to 95.) Then it was time to get going with Wii Fit.

Much has been written elsewhere about Wii Fit itself. There are some curious UI decisions, an odd mix of a cartoon aesthetic on some screens and 1970s fitness brochure aesthetic on other sections.  I agree that there’s a bit too much time spent loading and explaining when I’m standing there tapping my foot and just want to get going with exercising. I’m also extremely skeptical of the “Wii Fit Age” (took the body test twice today, before and after exercising, and was first put at 49, +8 from my actual age, and then put at 52. Kimi was put at +11 years. If repeating a test generates results that vary wildly, how accurate can that test be?

But the activities seem (after day 1 at least) to have some variety, and the format is perfectly suited to appeal to my desire to unlock things and complete things.

Some may feel the constant unlocking of hidden exercises and activities combined with the corny motivational screens and dubious emphasis on balance is just so much rat-maze navigation, but to me it’s like a game, and anything encouraging me to view exercise as a fun activity can’t be too bad.

Microsoft has reportedly claimed that 60% of Wii Fit users try it exactly once. Seems like sour grapes to me.

So, my poor long-suffering reader, I’m about to embark on the most banal of all blogging activities, and keep track publicly of my progress against my Wii fit goals.

My BMI is at 26.06, which is overweight. My goal is to reach a BMI of 22 (normal) in two months, losing twelve pounds in the process.

Day 1: After setting things up, I tried a couple of exercises in each of the four areas, starting with Aerobics. The step exercises impressed me immediately. Running seemed less well implemented but the scenery made it interesting — my problem was that I kept trying to game the system by trying to shake the remote in order to figure out how it calculated my pace. In the Strength category, the first activity, leg raises, made me feel very uncoordinated. For Yoga, I tried just the breathing and half moon poses; it seemed fine but I’m unlikely to put a lot of emphasis on this section. I did notice that just doing the half moon made me sweat. Finally, for balance, I was terrible at soccer ball headers, but not too bad with the ski slalom. And then I rounded things out with some hula hooping. I have to say I enjoyed myself.

Day 1 stats: 30 minutes of banked exercise, Wii Fit age 49, BMI 26.06.

Changing gears #5: The road less taken

Friday, August 1st, 2008

A simple one for Friday (especially because I’m busy unpacking, leaving little time for the blog; I hate unpacking).

Next week, when driving to work, I resolve to take a different route every week. Different scenery, different traffic, a different view of the world.

Changing gears #4: A new world order

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

At your favorite restaurant, order something completely out of your comfort zone, something that you’ve always wanted to try, something you don’t know if you’ll like.

Worst case, you don’t like it (and can order something else instead).

Best case, you’ve got a new favorite dish.

Changing gears #3: Word change

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

I sometimes find myself repeating the same clichés, expressions, and verbal shortcuts. The exercise for the rest of the week is to take one word or phrase you overuse or would prefer not to use, and not say it all.

(You can go to extremes here — consider, for example, the E-prime movement and their goal to avoid using “is.” Don’t make this too hard or you won’t do it.)

Here are some ideas:

  • “Sucks.” While English desperately needs a one-syllable verb that means that something is awful, “sucks” is a pretty repellant choice, and isn’t very professional. No fair replacing it with “blows” or “bites.” Instead, consider “fails” (popular lately) or a verb phrase such as “is truly awful.”
  • Swear words. Especially while at work, there are good and well-documented reasons not to swear. (Alternately, if you already never swear, then take this week as a chance to start.) I hate the traditional substitutions (such as “sugar” and “fudge”) but there’s an opportunity here to be creative and unique. My nearly-three-year-old son Sammy’s favorite word right now is “swoppy” (which has no fixed meaning to him) and I think it would make a marvelous swear. Battlestar Galactica has popularized “frak.” The 1980s film Johnny Dangerously featured Joe Piscopo’s character’s unique vocabulary, including “farging icehole.” If you’ve ever read a Tintin comic, Captain Haddock may inspire. And Shakespeare always had a curse ready.
  • “You’re kidding.” Many times when people say something, the automatic response is a not-very-reassuring statement of disbelief: “Oh really?” “No way.” “Get out of here.” Instead, try the opposite: “I believe you!” “Thank you for telling me.” “That sounds right.”
  • “Fine.” Someone asks you, “How are you?” Don’t answer with the rote. Be distinctive! “I’m ecstatic.” “Fair to middling.” “Better than tomorrow, but not as good as yesterday.”
  • “Bless you.” Whenever she hears someone sneeze, my sister never says “bless you” in English. Instead, she uses a foreign language: Most people know the German gesundheit, but there’s a wide range traditional responses around the world.

Changing gears #2: Listen to your least favorite genre of music

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

Everyone hates some kind of music. Maybe you can’t stand rap. Or dislike classical music. Or really despise country. Or think electronica is boring and repetitive.

But it’s really more about the artist, not the genre. If you open yourself up to new experiences and try to appreciate a genre with “new ears,” you might surprise yourself.

I normally can’t stand country, but there are a few songs that have really changed my mind. Certainly classics like Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” and Kenny Rogers’ “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In).” I wouldn’t have guessed that I liked the Dixie Chicks until a friend made me listen to “Cowboy Take Me Away.”

Your mission today, should you choose to accept it:

  • Head to Pandora (or install their app on your iPhone) and try out something top-rated in a new genre. You might prefer Last.FM. Even iTunes has radio stations. It’s all free.
  • On your TiVo, try out the Rhapsody 30-day free trial and explore some top picks, or search using a letter at random and try out a new artist. Or download a top-rated music video from Music Choice from an artist you’ve never listened to before. (Or fire up Live 365 too.)
  • Go to muxtape.com and click on someone’s name at random, then click on artist you’ve never heard of. (Odds are it’ll be something gothy, in my experience.)
  • Get your rap-loving friend to play her favorite rap song and explain why she likes it. Note how infectious her enthusiasm is.
  • Try a classical radio station for your drive home.
  • Stop by a café with a folk artist or jazz combo playing. Live music always sounds a million times better than recorded music, anyway. Give it a try.
  • Your cable or satellite company gives you free music. Head to the end of the guide and try out their electronica Chill station. Give it 20 minutes while you do some web browsing.
  • Insert your idea here.

Changing gears #1: Practice brand disloyalty

Monday, July 28th, 2008

As we get older, our routines become hardened habits. Some recent data suggests mental stimulation (through new behaviors, brain-teasing exercises, and different patterns of behavior) has important benefits (for example, in fighting Alzheimer’s).

In poker, when you get predictable, you lose. If you’re always bluffing or always playing tight, the other players pick up on that and can easily use that pattern against you. When you change your strategy mid-game, the poker term for that is “changing gears.”

So, this week, I want to change the gears of my life a bit. Each weekday I’ll post what I’m doing to “think different” — please join me, or suggest some additional ideas.

For the first gear change, I will practice some brand disloyalty. The idea of “brand loyalty” has always been a bit repellent to me, since it implies that you will slavishly use a particular product (a victim of brain-washing from its advertising, perhaps?), no matter if a better quality or cheaper alternative is available.

(Nota bena: It’s perfectly acceptable to have brand loyalty to TiVo over all other DVRs. That can be an exception to today’s exercise.)

Here are some ways I’ve thought of to be disloyal to the brands normally used:

  • If you drink Coke, try Pepsi. Or vice versa. Or drink a Calistoga instead. Hell, try a V-8. But just once, because that stuff’s disgusting.
  • Skip your usual chain restaurant for lunch, and try a mom & pop place.
  • Mix up the words to a jingle. “Why ask why? Drink Miller Lite.” “My baloney has a first name, it’s T-Y-S-O-N.”
  • Next time you’re in the grocery store, eschew a few of your regular brands and get a few products that are on sale, or better packaged, or healthier, or from a different country, compared to the ones you normally buy. Especially good for cereal, jam, bread, and snacks.
  • Wear a t-shirt promoting the competition.
  • If you’re a PC user, go up to a co-worker with a Mac and get them to spend 10 minutes showing you why they prefer their computer over yours. And more importantly, vice versa.

If you try this and really miss the brand you swear by, have someone help you perform a blind taste test. For example, have someone secretly pour two different brands of ketchup on your plate, then try them both with your fries and see which one you prefer. You may be surprised. Or try this blind taste test challenge on someone else in your life.

(I was interested to find via Freakonomics a study that showed that almost no one can tell the difference between a cheap wine and an expensive wine in a blind taste test.)

Did you try it? What did you find?