Archive for the ‘fish’ Category

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.

FitBit, Aria, and me: A life update — weight loss goal achieved!

Friday, August 24th, 2012

A year ago, a bit before Kimi and I separated, my weight had gone up from 165 in 2009 to 179 by the summer of 2011. This was mostly due to bad eating habits and a distinct lack of exercise.

I’m 5’8″, and in order for my BMI to be “normal,” my weight should be under 164. So I knew I needed to lose 15 pounds.

(I should say explicitly right here: Everyone is different, and everyone has different goals. I don’t expect my goals to be applicable to others, or that things that work for me would work for anyone else.)

It was actually easy to begin losing weight, but the way I did it wasn’t healthy: The stress of the separation led me to lose my appetite, and I started skipping a lot of meals. Then I went to Burning Man last year to process the separation, and going there also helped me drop off some weight. (In the desert, you have even less appetite than normal, due to the heat. And even better, you’re walking, bike riding, and dancing, at all hours of day and night.)

When I came back from Burning Man, there were some other changes. At work, my team and cube location changed. While I missed working closely with the individuals on that larger team, there was one thing that had been quite unhealthy about where I was: Many team members were constantly bringing in dessert items and putting them on a snack table in the middle of our cube area. I should have been able to use more willpower to resist, but I really didn’t do a good job there. While many of the desserts were homemade, and all were delicious, there were many items that were store-bought or particularly unhealthy, like chocolate donuts, that I should have been able to refuse, but didn’t. Once I was out of that physical area and stopped eating so many snacks, my weight started dropping quickly.

In addition, on those days when I had custody of the kids, I started to cook a lot more for them and for me, mostly using fresh ingredients we would buy together from the Mountain View farmers’ market. I cut out 99% of the fast food that I had previously eaten. That produced excellent results. (We also try to eat fish once a week, to help out with the good cholesterol.)

Controversially, I think skipping breakfast was something that also worked for me. I stopped fighting against using caffeine, and I now have coffee with a lot of milk for breakfast, and some days I’ll have a few bites of cereal or some fruit — but other than that, I no longer eat a big breakfast. My portion sizes at other meals are smaller now, too. I don’t often snack between meals anymore.

Starting from May/June of 2011 (when I weighed between 176 and 179), I made my way down to 170 in October just with those changes. Starting in October, I began working out more as well, mostly walking. I began dating and feeling more confident in myself, and was down to 166 in November. I was comfortable at 165 — I’d been at that weight for most of my adult life. I stayed at that weight for the next few months, but the trouble was, I was still officially “overweight” per the BMI scale, and I wanted to be healthier. My body fat was somewhere around 25%. So, I started using LoseIt to track my food eaten and to set a new goal of hitting 160 pounds by June of 2012.

I was proud when I accomplished that. My body fat went down from 25% to 22%.

After hitting that goal, my new goal was to lose 5 more pounds and get to 155 pounds and 20% body fat by August 26, in time for Burning Man. The next five pounds seemed much more challenging. To accomplish it, I bought and started using a Fitbit, and later an Aria Wi-Fi Smart Scale.

I’d seen some friends use a Fitbit previously, but my main inspiration was seeing my friend Louis Gray use his and extol its virtues.

Just in case you haven’t seen a Fitbit before: It’s basically a step counter. But it’s far more accurate at counting steps than any pedometer I’ve previously used. In addition, it counts how many flights of steps you make each day, tracks distance traveled, calculates calories burned, and it can analyze your sleep to show how long you sleep and how many times you’re awakened. It can also work as a stopwatch to record workouts, runs, and other activities. It automatically syncs its data to your computer and to the Fitbit website. It then introduces a social aspect: You’re rewarded badges for accomplishments (such as steps traveled and flights climbed in a day or over your lifetime), and you can compare your activity to that of your friends, to encourage each other to move more. (Friend me!)

It’s quite profound how much of an influence it’s had on me. I work hard to make sure I put in at least 10,000 steps (roughly 5 miles) a day. I run more. I climb more stairs. Now I find that when I go to the store or work, I don’t park close by — I usually park at the back to get in some extra steps. If it’s near the end of the day and I haven’t hit my goal, I put in an extra run or walk to make sure I do hit that goal. So far in August, I’ve exceeded 10,000 steps every single day.

The Fitbit isn’t perfect. While it’s amazing at how accurately it counts steps, it sometimes includes some bogus steps when I’m driving somewhere. When I run up stairs, it’s not great at counting the flights accurately (although when walking up stairs, the accuracy is very good). The calorie burn assumptions it makes seem dubious. The site has a food tracking function, but its UI for that is, frankly, terrible. (LoseIt’s system for tracking food eaten is much better, and fortunately you can sync between LoseIt and Fitbit.)

Much worse, however, is that Fitbit’s measurement of distance traveled is pathetic — it’s not a GPS at all, so it’s just multiplying your steps by your stride length to show distance traveled. For me, the default stride length for running was way off, and no matter how I adjust it, it still doesn’t accurately capture the length of my runs. I’m running a 2.2 mile circuit, and Fitbit records it as under a mile, no matter how I set it.

While Fitbit customer support gets rave reviews, I didn’t get a reply at all to a case I opened about this issue. (It turns out a good friend of mine has just started working as FitBit’s director of customer support, so I’ll bug Jay about that issue.)

So, I’ve given up on using Fitbit to measure distance. For my runs, I’ve now started using the RunKeeper app on my iPhone.

(I want to give credit to my friend Ken G. here: He introduced me to both LoseIt and RunKeeper, and he’s lost an inspiring amount of weight by using these apps and through hard work.)

RunKeeper is a free app that uses your smart phone’s GPS to accurately record distance and display your pace. It keeps track of my runs over time, and gives me a lot better insight into my pace, plus real-time feedback during the run. It also has a social function too, with your friends able to see your activity and provide inspiring comments, but I’m not as impressed by that part.

Yes, it’s a bit unusual and inconvenient to carry a phone with me strapped to my arm while running — but, in addition to allowing me to track details of my runs, it gives me some peace of mind that in case of an emergency I have a way to communicate. I bought a relatively cheap velcro strap from Target designed for holding an iPhone, and it works well.

So, the Fitbit tracker is great, and RunKeeper is great.

How about the Aria scale, is that great too? Unfortunately, not so much. My previous digital scale (an “Elite” by My Weigh) is very accurate. I’ve tested it by taking my weight several times over the course of a half hour, and it always returns consistent results. If I pick up an item with a known weight (like a one or ten pound barbell) and then weigh myself, it always shows the correct result of my previous weight plus the exact amount of the item I’m carrying.

In contrast, the Aria scale seems very arbitrary. First off, it inconsistently shows me as being between half a pound and one pound heavier than what I get from the Elite. Second, if I weigh myself five times over five minutes, I’ll get five different results, plus or minus anywhere up to half a pound. If I pick up a one pound book, the Elite shows me as exactly one pound heavier, just as I’d expect. But, depending on its mood, the Aria might show me as one pound heavier, two pounds heavier, half a pound heavier, half a pound lighter, or the exact same weight.

There were two reasons why I bought the Aria: First, to wirelessly and automatically sync my weight with fitbit.com. Second, to measure my body fat. For the first task, the Aria works. I never have to manually enter my weight. I get that 5 seconds back to live my life. I should therefore be able to pay off the investment in the Aria sometime in the next 43 years. Win!

For the second task of measuring body fat, I give the Aria a D-. Its results seem ridiculously unreliable. When I first got it, it told me my body fat was 15%. That climbed up to 20% over the course of the first 5 days I used it. (I didn’t actually gain five percent body fat in five days.) I can get anywhere between 17% and 22% at any given time. I can get a result that’s more than 3% different just a few seconds later. I judge that I’m probably at 20% overall since that’s the most frequent result, but I honestly have no idea if it’s accurate at all.

So, sadly, I don’t recommend the Aria.

While I have my quibbles about the Fitbit Ultra, that is something that I do highly recommend overall. And using it has paid off. This morning, two days before my deadline, I weighed in at 153.9, beating my weight goal of 155.

FitBit screenshot: Goal achieved!

Woohoo! 153.9!

RunKeeper goal achieved

Goal achieved!

Scale showing 153.9 pounds

I have seen some excellent improvement in my health over the last year:

  • I’m more than 25 pounds lighter, now weighing less than I’ve weighed in more than 10 years.
  • I’ve lost more than 5% of my body fat (probably!).
  • My bad cholesterol is much lower.
  • On my run last night, I broke the 7.5 minute mark for the first mile, and ran my 2.2 mile course in under 16:45.
  • I feel healthier and more confident.
  • I’ve lost at least two pants sizes (moving from a tight fit for a size 34 waist to fitting comfortably in a size 32).
  • I’ve moved in 4 belt notches and then started using a new belt.
  • I’m no longer self-conscious taking off my shirt to go swimming.
  • I can run 10 flights of steps without breaking a sweat.
  • I’m comfortably in the “normal” section of the BMI chart, and I feel that I can accurately portray myself as “fit” on a dating profile.
  • I’m proud of how my legs look now.
  • My guild’s raid beat Heroic Spine in Dragon Soul for the first time last night, and we’re now 12th-best on the server. (This may be unrelated.)
  • I plan on getting a new health assessment for my life insurance and hope to lower my rates.

FitBit: 25 pounds lost

I’ve started doing some weight and ab training as well, and plan to continue that.

My old belt, and my new belt

I’ve set a new weight goal of 150 by October, and a new body fat percent of 17. I’d like to break the 7 minute mile mark. (I could run a six minute mile in high school, maybe I could do that again at 45?) Those are, honestly, all stretch goals; I’d be very happy if I could maintain what I’ve accomplished.

I’d also like to run a 5k in the next month.

Made it this far? I’m now intentionally burying at the bottom of the post a bit about my marital status. Even though it’s now almost exactly a year since Kimi told me that she thought we should separate, I never managed to write about that here. (I posted about it briefly on FriendFeed instead.) I couldn’t really bring myself to blog about it; it was too painful. So I told my immediate family when it happened, and then told a couple of my co-workers and a few friends, and over time alluded to it here and there, and eventually updated my Facebook status to say “separated.” I failed to tell my cousins and aunts and uncles about it until a few months ago, and many of my friends and co-workers still don’t know.

It’s still painful. Kimi and I are on speaking terms, and trying to work it out, and at the moment that I write this, we’re actually sharing a house in Sunnyvale and trying to arrange mediation and the best approach for making our kids happy and safe.

We’re having some good talks, and I’m optimistic about the future. Not having to worry about my health — and the endorphins I get from a good run or walk — make it easier for me to work on what’s next for me, her, and the kids.

With-apologies-to-South-Park comic

Monday, April 13th, 2009

[Comic comic 4, words by E. Stephen Mack, art by Jim Woodring via Microsoft Comic Chat 2.5. Text: 'Hey, do you like fish sticks? Do you like to put them in your mouth?' 'Nah.' 'They're breaded and kind of gross.' '...' 'I guess you're not a gay fish then.' 'I like fish balls though.' -- comic related to South Park's fishsticks/gay fish joke]

Two Great Tastes (Generator)

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

Stuck for what to make for dinner? Looking to invent the next taste sensation? Try my new “two great tastes” generator!

Would a kitten by any other name taste so good?

Friday, January 16th, 2009

I found out about PETA’s new campaign to rebrand “fish” as “sea kittens” via an NPR story the other day. Their idea is that people might not eat fish if fish were called something cute like “sea kittens” instead.

I believe PETA does a great job of being intentionally outrageous in order to attract publicity. (Naked supermodels, modest proposals, screedy and divisive comics worthy of Jack Chick — the list goes on.)

Would people really change their eating behavior over just a name? Sweetbreads don’t seem to be very popular, despite their very appetizing name. But it’s true that I’d probably not chose to buy a brand of jam called “Nastyvomit’s Famous Rhubarb Preserves,” so maybe PETA is onto something.

As an experiment, I’ll be saying “sea kitten” instead of “fish” when I remember to. My suspicion is that no behavior will be changed. (Which reminds me, sometime I need to write about the Sapir Worf hypothesis.) The entire PETA campaign is very sea kitteny. But as they say: Give a man a sea kitten, and you’ve fed him for a day. Teach a man how to sea kitten, and you’ve fed him for a lifetime.

Which leads to the question: What other animals need to be renamed along kitten lines? My friend Brian has already dubbed birds as “sky kittens” (as in, “those sky kittens downed that plane yesterday, so glad everyone got out of the Hudson alive”) and Rachel has started using the phrase “land kittens” to refer to regular, um, kittens.

I hereby declare:

  • “Cows” are now “land puppies”
  • “Pigs” are now “furless sty kittens”
  • “Chickens” are now “flightless sky kittens”

PETA needs to go the other way, too. In order to get people to eat more vegetarian food, it should sound appetizing. Therefore:

  • “Tofu” is now “soma”
  • “Soy burger” is now “yummy burgah”
  • “Tempeh” is now “bacon”

“And the dogfish tastes like bark!”

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

Sammy told his first joke this evening.

Well, he didn’t exactly tell it. He performed it. So maybe it was more like a skit.

Here’s what he did. He put one of his wooden fish puzzle pieces in his mouth, knowing that it isn’t food, and then smiled at us to show us that he knew he was doing something silly. He laughed a bit. Then he waited, knowing that we would laugh.

Sammy Mack tells a joke involving a wooden fish puzzle piece, Mountain View, CA, February 27, 2007

When we actually laughed, he laughed even harder. And he looked very pleased with himself. I am 100% certain that he was perfectly aware of his behavior, to do a particular silly act solely in order to get Kimi and me to laugh.

If I had to translate this joke into text, it would be something like, “Mommy, daddy! This ‘fish’ tastes like wood!”

He then proceeded to tell the same joke six or seven more times. We laughed every time.

Fish Fish Fish Dream Aquarium Fish Fish Fish Magnetic Fishing Game Fish Fish Fish

Wednesday, February 21st, 2007

With fish being Sammy’s new favorite thing, I noticed he really liked the Windows aquarium screen saver (which came with Windows XP Plus), but I felt it didn’t have enough variety. After a bit of research, I bought Dream Aquairum for $20. (You can try it free, but to remove the nag messages and unlock all the fish, you gotta pay.) I think the program is really beautiful, and the fish animations are very lifelike.

Sammy loves it. He can watch it indefinitely. His refrain is, invariably, “Fish! Fish! Fish! Fish! Fish! Ooooh. Fish! Fish! Fish! Wow. Fish!”

Sammy watches the Dream Aquarium screen saver, Mountain View, CA, February 21, 2007

(We don’t usually let him sit so close, but I couldn’t think of any other way to frame the picture.)

During his visit to Tacoma around Christmas, he started playing with Kira’s fishing set. This is just a magnet on a string attached to a stick, used to pick up wooden fish out of a tray. He loved it, and played with it so much that Kira got a bit upset. After we got home, sometime in January I got him a set of his own, a magnetic fishing game from Melissa and Doug toys. (The supplied magnet wasn’t strong enough, so we had to glue on one of our own.) Sammy is very pleased every time he catches a fish.

Sammy playing with his fishing game, Mountain View, CA, February 21, 2007

As tempted as I get sometimes, I don’t want to keep a real aquarium at all. (Some of my friends, like Jason W., have some impressive ones.) I don’t know anything about keeping fish (and lack motivation to learn), and I’d rather not deal with ongoing maintenance, feeding, and expenses to replace the inevitably dying fish. Less than $20 for a beautiful aquarium that never spills, can have as much stock as I want, and can be switched off at will — that’s more my speed. Sammy’s too. Fish! Fish! Fish!

Weird fish, redux

Sunday, February 18th, 2007

Thanks to slacy, I found out the weird fish I saw last week was a Bubble Eye Goldfish. Kimi, Sammy and I went back on Sunday to confirm.

Bubble Eye Goldfish, Sea Scapes Aquarium, Mountain View, CA, February 18, 2007

Now I want to know all about them. Here’s a start. Apparently that’s fluid inside those bubbles and not (as I thought) air.

Weird fish

Sunday, February 11th, 2007

Sunday mornings I tend to let Kimi sleep in (returning her favor for Saturday mornings), and Sammy and I head out to downtown Mountain View, usually for the Red Rock Cafe and then the farmer’s market at the Caltrain station. This morning, we also visited a bookstore and then poked our heads into Sea Scapes on Castro, a fish and pet store. Some of the fish there are so weird. One tank held these little fish that looked sorta like goldfish except with these bubbles on both sides their mouths. I poked around for an image online (check out Fishbase) but I don’t know the first thing about fish so I couldn’t tell you what they are and my searches were fruitless. I’m going to have to head back with my camera.

Writers try to come up with strange and unusual aliens for science fiction stories and movies, but it seems to me we haven’t plumbed the depths (hah) of just how weird the stuff is that lives in the water.