Archive for the ‘general’ Category

Long time no post

Tuesday, September 19th, 2017

Does anyone even read blogs these days?

There’s a road ahead. No one knows where it ends.

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD Fans Leave the Best Reviews for Wilton’s Edible Silver Mist [Nerdist]

Thursday, May 28th, 2015


“It’s not enough for Immortan Joe’s War Boys to make a historic splash into Valhalla. Do heroics even matter if they’re not shiny and chrome? That’s a question for the ages, to be sure. The way the War Boys sprayed silver paint over their mouths and noses is one of the many eye-catching and memorable parts in Mad Max: Fury Road and something we’re bound to see replicated at conventions throughout the summer. Cosplayers don’t have to turn to toxic substances either, because food coloring spray maker Wilton has an edible spray-on silver mist, and the War Boys are already leaving reviews on Amazon. (Also, spoiler: Amazon still exists in the wasteland and the War Boys have access.) The hilarity started on the product page for Wilton’s Silver Color Mist on May 20 with this review from W. Bartels: “WITNESS ME! I WILL FEAST IN VALHALLA FOR I AM SHINY.” Because the Internet can be awesome, more reviews started pouring in.”

Source: MAD MAX: FURY ROAD Fans Leave the Best Reviews for Wilton’s Edible Silver Mist | Nerdist

“Mad Max: Fury Road” is one of the most captivating movies I’ve seen in a long, long time — and I believe it’s the only movie that I’ve seen in the theater more than once for this entire millennium so far.

Despite being an action car chase movie with precious little dialogue, the world-building is deft. In particular, the practice of the war boys spraying up their grill (so to speak) in order to more proudly drive into Valhalla while shiny and chrome — that’s something immediately both understandable and bat crazy bizarre. Like the entire movie.

Thus the product being “reviewed” here on Amazon. WHAT A SPRAY.

Sci-Fi’s Difficult Genius (The New Yorker)

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

Gene Wolfe’s science fiction is neither operatic nor scientifically accurate; his fantasy works are not full of clanging swords and wizardly knowledge.

Fascinating profile of one of my favorite writers.

Source: Sci-Fi’s Difficult Genius – The New Yorker

My wish for 2014

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

As we throw away the calendar for 2013, a blank year stretches ahead. May those who are in pain find solace. May those who are consumed by grief find joy. May those who are paralyzed by regret find redemption. May peace, love, and friendship find us all.

I resolve to work harder to see every argument from the other person’s point of view.

I resolve to find the proper balance between work, family, friends, play, health, and obligations.

I resolve to adhere to the rule of three.

Happy new year!

Resolution update: June report card

Saturday, July 27th, 2013

Halfway through the year already! Way past time for report card #6. I had a difficult time finishing this one for some reason.

In terms of exercise, May and June were together the two most active months of my life. Let’s see how I did on my goals.

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

    I worked hard at trying to improve my “presence” in June. It’s still hard for me to be objective about this, but I do think I made some progress, and in particular when I was with my kids tried to really be there for them 100% of the time I was with them. I’d love feedback from friends and family on how I’m doing.

    Status: Let’s say B for June.

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

    Over on FriendFeed, we started our Kindler’s List reading group, and our first book was Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. I enjoyed it just fine, but it didn’t blow me away.

    In addition, I finished NurtureShock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman (which I had been reading on and off for quite a while). I was blown away and recommend it unconditionally to parents with children of any age. Fantastic book.

    1. Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants: Three stars
    2. Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman’s NurtureShock: New Thinking about Children: Five stars

    Status: A- (since I’d read a lot of NurtureShock in previous months).

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

    No update from last month; I still need to select a 10k to be run before September 30, and after that I have a 5k in November lined up with Amanda and Tamara.

    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.).

    For June, my goal was to run 50 miles. I managed to run 56.1 miles, per my RunKeeper profile. That’s a new record for me.

    [Stats from RunKeeper showing miles run for Stephen from January to June, 2013]

    So far in 2013 (through June 30), I’ve run a total of 243 miles. I am not sure if I can hit 500 miles total for 2013, but that seems like a great stretch goal to aim for.

    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 June steps]

    In June, Fitbit shows that I walked a total of 453,366 steps (down a bit from 491,069 steps in May), with an average of 15,112 steps per day (down from 15,841), a most active day of 21,003 steps, and a least active day of 10,521 steps. I did not miss my 10k step goal at all in June. There were 3 days over 20k steps (down from 8 in May).

    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 3.0 times a day on average (between 2 and 4 times each day, with only two days where I didn’t meet my goal of three times a day). I did have a dental checkup in July, and I did well (my gums were in much better shape), so the flossing is having a positive effect. I recently finally got around to buying a waterpik.

    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 sugar drinks and one diet soda in June, about on par with May. I had one week with two forbidden drinks, so I did not keep to the allowable limits.

    Status: C-.

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

    Still struggling with this one. I was not good at keeping to the mid-week (Tue-Thu) unsweetened coffee.

    Status: Incomplete, not yet on track, need to do better.

  10. Start tracking my spending more closely with Mint.

    Did a bit better in June on this.

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

    Two blog posts in June not about resolutions (both mainly images).

    Status: B-.

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.

A boy and his bug

Sunday, April 22nd, 2012

20120422-130941.jpg

Blogging again? Maybe.

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

Hi.

It’s been a while.

I might try this blogging thing more regularly again.

A lot of big changes in the past half year or so that I haven’t talked about at all, and haven’t felt right talking about.

And I still don’t feel right talking about them.

Not yet.

Not today.

Soon, maybe.

Anyway, um… Sorry to be so quiet. Please drop me a line (estephen@zeigen.com), please say hi.

Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

Happy anniversary, sweetie

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

Four years ago, up in the hills of Berkeley, my life changed forever. The fourth anniversary gift is flowers, but you hate those, so, um, here’s a rose. ~~~'~~<@

Kimi and Stephen on their wedding day in Berkeley, CA, April 3, 2005; photo by Moses Ceaser

Kimi and Stephen on their wedding day in Berkeley, CA, April 3, 2005; photo by Moses Ceaser