Archive for the ‘health’ 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

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.

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.

Bleach vs. eczema: Bleach wins

Monday, February 28th, 2011

I have eczema, a very common skin irritation. Unfortunately, both Sammy and Sophie inherited it from me. For a time last year, their skin condition was truly terrible. While once they slept through the night, for a while every single night either one of them or both of them woke up multiple times, usually with itch attacks.

Our pediatrician recommended a dermatologist, and the dermatologist recommended something that I had previously read about but hadn’t actually tried: Bleach baths.

With eczema, there’s a skin condition (a disease, mostly genetic), and it’s made worse by all the scratching, which causes infections due to the bacteria entering the open wound (mostly Staph Aureus), which causes the eczema to get worse, which causes more scratching, making a vicious cycle.

By putting bleach in the bath, you kill the bacteria on the skin, sterilizing it, which reduces the number of infections, thus helping control the itching.

The dermatologist recommends the following (taken verbatim from their handout):

  • 1/8 to 1/4 cup of bleach (like Clorox) in a bathtub that is at least half full of water. Measure the bleach and put it in the tub first, then add lukewarm water to fill the tub to ensure that the bleach is diluted completely in the water.
  • For a baby bathtub, you can add just a capful or tablespoon of bleach to the water
  • These baths should be performed 3 times per week to cut down on the bacteria on the skin
  • As soon as the bath is over, pat dry, and immediately apply your favorite emollient, such as Vaseline, Aquaphor, Cerave, etc.

Remember, undiluted bleach is dangerous to the skin, so be sure to mix the bleach.

How well does it work? After a low point in August of last year when I was at wit’s end, we began trying this in September. It took about two weeks to really see the difference. Since then their skin has been in much better shape (mine too). We give baths to our kids every other night. If we slack off on the every-other-night bleach in the bath routine, we notice the flareups return.

Home for a sweet and smart cat (EDIT: no longer) needed

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

Update: Our neighbor has adopted Stormy, which is the best solution I can imagine. Thanks Tony! Original post continues below.


Two Fridays ago I took Sammy in for an appointment with an allergist. His eczema was really bad and he was waking up frequently with itch attacks. We knew about his nut, peanut and salmon allergies (which I share), but wanted to find out what else was causing him trouble. He was very brave during the scratch test, which I’m sure was uncomfortable for him.

The results surprised me: Strong reactions to wheat, rice, corn, sesame, shrimp, cats, grass, and one of the tree groups.

On the doctor’s advice, we started an elimination diet, and for 11 days Sammy focused on avoiding the foods on the list, which meant he ate a lot of meat and potatoes and vegetables but not a lot of starch. (Breakfast was the hardest.)

Thing was, he was still breaking out. Kimi took him in today for a follow-up test, and the allergist suggested his reaction to these foods was mild. She suggested the most likely cause for his eczema flare-ups and midnight itch attacks was the cat.

Stormy is 9 years old and a beloved part of the family. But if it’s her or Sammy, there’s no choice. She has to go.

She’s soft, clean, sweet and patient, affectionate but independent, and (in my opinion) very beautiful. She loves being an indoor-outdoor cat but could probably adjust to one or the other. She used to have a brother, Mourny, who she would fight with a bit, so she’s probably happiest as a single cat. She’s also a bit of a genius: When she wants to come in, she rings the doorbell. (Video to follow.)

It breaks my heart to kick her out, but maybe we can find a home for her nearby. Anyone want a doorbell-ringing cat?

The Bicycle Accident of Yichao Wang at Stanford, California on February 3, 2010

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Picture of Yichao Wang, as published in the Palo Alto Daily (no photo credit)(This essay was written by Kimi, and I’m posting it here on her behalf. There is news coverage of the accident from the unofficial Stanford blog, the San Jose Mercury News, Stanford University News, The Stanford Daily, and The Palo Alto Daily News. To donate to Yichao Wang’s family, please see the Chinese Mutual Aid International Network site.
—Stephen)

My friend X and I were leaving a night class at Stanford University. We had been learning about “how to raise balanced children in a fast-paced world.” We were discussing some of these ideas as we left class. I had parked off campus because we had carpooled to class. As we turned out of the parking lot and drove down Palm Drive toward El Camino, her Audi’s headlights swung out onto a body lying in the road. The body’s arms and legs were splayed out in a terrible, unnatural pose. At that moment, every cell in my body was perked. I tried to attach thoughts to my observations. “This can’t be real,” my mind told me.

My friend slowed her car down, and I tried to get out. She said sternly, “Wait!” and then “OK, now you can get out.” She parked her car and turned on the hazard lights. She started to wave the cars behind her away from the scene.

I leaped out of the car and could not believe what I saw and heard. I walked past an SUV parked on the side of the road and noticed another car parked in front of it. I think it was a white BMW. I never saw the driver inside. After I noted the body’s odd position again, I saw a man in blue scrubs. He had dark brown hair and wore glasses. He was on his cell phone, intensely describing the body to someone, “Male, about 30 years old…yes, I think he is seizing.” The top of the man’s head was facing me. As I walked around to face him, the breath was knocked out of me. His head was swollen to 2-3 times its normal size. His eyes were swollen shut. The top-right corner of his forehead near the temple was a matted clump of blood-soaked hair. There was a huge dent in the forehead, where his skull was smashed. “A person’s brain should not be outside of their head,” I told myself. His arm was turned away from him, and he did seem to be having some kind of seizure. He was moaning, gasping mightily, and sputtering with each breath; his chest rose and fell heavily, and eruptions of blood and phlegm shot straight up like a geyser.

I wanted so badly to clear his mouth and turn his head to the side. I reached my arms out toward him. “Don’t touch him! He might have a spinal injury!” the man barked.

I mumbled something about his ability to breathe.

“See those bubbles? That means he’s breathing,” he snapped.

“Mean,” I thought. I forgave him instantly.

He explained to the 911 dispatcher, “I am a fourth-year medical student.” He shot a glance at me, as if to see that I heard.

I grabbed the man’s left hand instead. He had thick fingers, and his skin was rough. “It’s going to be all right,” I said soothingly. I glanced at the dark, wet hole in his head and pushed my doubt aside. “Help is on the way.”

Then something clicked. I let go of the man’s hand for a few moments, and I picked up his bicycle from the opposite lane. The thick metal handlebars were crumpled, and I couldn’t wheel it. I had to pick it up. I noticed that it was black and did not have lights on it. I dumped it on the side of the road. Then I saw his backpack. It was heavy, black, and quite far from where the bike and body were. In fact, all three items made a large triangle. I understood why his head was so damaged. The car must have hit the front of the bike and sent the man and his backpack flying. He landed on his head where a helmet should have been; he should have had a cracked helmet and not a cracked skull. I tried to ignore these disturbing thoughts as I moved intently. I had to shoo away another intrusive thought: “This is Stanford! This shouldn’t be happening at Stanford!” I flung the backpack near the mangled bike.

Then the medical student had orders. “There should be a box of rubber gloves in the back seat of my car. Get them.”

“Lucky, someone who carries around medical gloves in his car,” I thought. I retrieved the purple gloves and concentrated on the task. There was only room for one thought in my head at a time. “Get the gloves,” I recited to myself as a mantra. I returned to the scene with the box in hand. We both put them on.

A blond woman yelled to us, “Do you need help? Should I call 911?”

“Someone already called 911,” I yelled back.

“Should I help direct traffic?” I finally noticed the cacophony of honks and yelling from the cars stopped behind us.

“Yes!” I responded, and then I turned back to the body on the ground. I spoke to him once more, “The ambulance is coming. Everything is going to be all right. They are going to help you. Don’t worry.”

At that point, the medical student thrust his cell phone at me. “Here, take this!” he said. I held the man’s hand in mine as I spoke to a dispatcher on the phone.

“Where are you?” she asked.

I said, “About halfway between the Oval and El Camino.”

“Is anyone there yet?” she asked.

I told her that no one was on the scene yet except for us. She told me help would be there soon. Moments passed like hours, and then I heard the sweetest sound in the world: sirens. I told her, and she said, “OK, hang up and flag them down. They are not exactly sure of your location. Good luck.”

I hung up the phone and looked for the flashing lights. “Do you hear those sirens?” I told the man. “The ambulance is coming, and they will help you! Hold on!” Then I stood up and waved my arms at the sound and flurry emanating from police cars in different directions. The police immediately blocked traffic from both ways with their cars, and they were filled with questions. The medical student answered them curtly. I was holding the man’s hand tightly. He was struggling harder than ever to breathe.

Moments later, we heard the ambulance pull up. “The ambulance is here!” I screamed at the man. You could almost see the relief wash over the small group then, as if we were done with our leg of the race and were passing the baton to a teammate. But this relief affected the man on the ground differently. At the exact moment that I announced the ambulance’s arrival, the man stopped breathing.

The medical student and a policeman reached out for his wrists. “Does he have a pulse?” someone asked. Instinctively, I started screaming a stream of questions at the man’s face, “HEY! What is your NAME? How OLD are you? WHAT IS YOUR NAME? HEY!!! WHAT IS YOUR NAME?!!!”

The man suddenly took in a huge breath and exhaled with a giant splutter. We all sighed with relief. Then the paramedics approached with their equipment. We all took a step back to give them room. The paramedics moved with a kind of relaxed calm. They put a cervical collar on him, turned his head to the side, and put a suction tube in his mouth. It was attached to a little vacuum. Someone put a long board next to him, a sort of gurney. Then, inexplicably, they started cutting off his clothes with a large pair of scissors. He lay in his underwear, but his limbs weren’t strangely positioned anymore.

I became aware of the medical student’s cell phone in my hand. I forced myself to walk to his SUV and place his cell phone in the cup holder. “I put your phone in your car,” I told him. He looked in my eyes and thanked me. We really saw each other for the first time.

As I wandered to the side of the road, I noticed a thick puddle of blood from the man’s head that stretched several feet beside him. I placed the man’s black backpack near the paramedics and told them it was his. They accepted it. Then, my friend X was standing next to me. We both stared at the blood. Then, a policeman asked if we saw what happened. The medical student said, “I saw it happen. I am a witness.”

Then the cop turned to us and said, “You can go now.”

I was completely torn. On one hand, the man was a vision of horror — human roadkill twitching on the asphalt. On the other hand, he was a human being: a son, a student, and maybe a husband or father. I wanted to be sure he would survive, but I couldn’t bear to ask if he would be OK. In fact, because of the smooth calm of the paramedics, I was worried that there wasn’t much they could do and that they knew something I didn’t about the possibility of his survival. So my friend and I walked back to her car, and she drove us away in the opposite direction of the man. I had to let go of my concern as abruptly as I had been moved by it. I felt shock, sadness, and anger. I was angry that the driver of the car hadn’t even stepped out to see if the man was OK. My friend explained to me that the driver was probably in shock and facing the prospect of being responsible for someone’s death. The anger subsided. Then, I noticed his blood on my hands. I started to panic. My friend gave me some baby wipes, and I cleaned off the blood. I was left with a queasy feeling in my stomach, which lasted for a week, and a wish for hope and strength among all the strangers.

Afterward, my friend and I searched the web for weeks. We even sent a detailed e-mail to the campus police. We never got a response. I searched for information about the survival rate of bicyclists who do not wear helmets, the chances of recovering from brain injury, and news stories of accidents. At first, I thought no news was good news because the newspapers would be all over a story that involved death. But then I talked to several people, and a friend whose opinion I respect simply shook his head and hugged me when I told him about the experience. I knew he didn’t think the man had survived. So I started to think about the possibility that the man did not survive. Then, two weeks later, my friend X e-mailed a news link to me. The Stanford web site had a story about a visiting researcher from China who had been hit by a car while bicycling. X’s e-mail was titled, “This is our guy!” And it was him! His name was Yichao Wang. I thought he was half black and half white, but he was Chinese! He came from the same town that my friend X’s mom was from. The story had a link to a photo of him in a coma and a request for donations to cover his medical care. I was excited to discover that he had survived the accident. I donated to his recovery fund through the Chinese Mutual Aid Society. However, the day that I donated, he died.

Now, I think about his wife and parents who must miss him terribly. They are probably in shock. He was 25 years old, married for three years, and on a promising path as a research scientist. Now, he is gone.

I feel sad, but I also feel angry. Stanford Hospital has charged one million dollars for the brain surgery that kept him alive but in a coma from which he never woke. It seems like it was an unnecessary surgery. Certainly, asking two retired Chinese parents who just lost their son to pay one million dollars seems ridiculous and cruel.

I wish that Yichao wore a helmet that day, had blinking head and tail lights on his bike, wore bright clothes with reflective stripes, or left his lab during daylight hours. I wish the driver had been more aware and careful. You have to be a defensive driver at all times in this area. I wish Stanford had a no-car zone around the campus and shuttled people in. I wish that this man was living, loving, and discovering. I wish he died after his parents and not before. But, again, he is gone.

He will not have died in vain if we learn this lesson: YOUR HELMET IS PART OF YOUR BIKE. IF YOU RIDE A BIKE, ALWAYS WEAR YOUR HELMET.

The CDC says I should presume my kids have swine flu (plus graph update)

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009
Sophie rests with her mom

Sophie rests with her mom

Sammy, sick with the flu, rests on the couch

Sammy, sick with the flu, rests on the couch

My daughter, Sophie, who turns two in September, woke up on Sunday morning with a 101-degree temperature, low energy, runny nose, and a cough. This was the return of a fever she had beaten a week before.

A day later, on Monday evening, my son Sammy (who turns four in September), began exhibiting the same symptoms.

I kept them home with me on Tuesday and again today. We have a doctor’s appointment this afternoon. In the meantime, we’re treating with Tylenol, lots of fluids, rest, and applesauce.

News reports keep quoting CDC officials in saying that we’re well over a million cases of swine flu. But at the official CDC site, there’s still zero data or statement I can find to support that. More recently, the WHO is being quoted as saying that any flu or fever at this time of year can be presumed to be swine flu. This LA Times article (“Just assume it’s swine flu”) is representative, and also suggests that the WHO may discontinue their ongoing reports with the official cases. But at the WHO’s official H1N1 site, again, there is absolutely nothing to support the statements being made to the press.

So, do my children have swine flu? They’re suffering from classic flu and fever symptoms — if anything, milder than what they’ve experienced in the past. But summer flu is not unheard of, so it’s not a given that it’s swine flu.

The latest official H1N1 WHO update, #58, from July 6, reveals 94,512 confirmed cases, from 135 countries, with 429 fatal cases (for a fatality rate of 0.5%). While there was a levelling off between updates 57 and 58, prior to that the number of new cases per week has indeed again doubled, to over 30,000. At this point, if this data means anything, the number of confirmed cases does appear to be approximately doubling in a two week period.

But I find it disheartening to see the massive disconnect between statements made to the press by the CDC and WHO versus what they make available at their own sites. Why even keep up this pretense of the “official” count with ongoing updates if it’s all meaningless?

Official WHO data showing H1N1 (swine flu) case data, including number of cases, deaths, and cases per day. (Click to enlarge.)

Official WHO data showing H1N1 (swine flu) case data, including number of cases, deaths, and cases per day. (Click to enlarge.)

Swine flu graph update #3: A(H1N1) modest rate increase

Friday, June 26th, 2009

I last updated this graph 15 days ago. In that time, the number of worldwide confirmed cases doubled from nearly 29,000 to nearly 60,000, according to the World Health Organization.

These are not the number of fatal cases. The official count of worldwide fatalities has risen from 144 to 263. That’s a fatality rate of 0.4%, or 1 in 250.

Various news reports this week stated that there were 1 million cases in the U.S. (for example, this article on the Discovery Channel’s site). Those reports are based on projections, not confirmed cases, and honestly to me the figure simply does not seem credible. The 1 million number is not backed by the CDC data, which matches the WHO’s report for U.S. cases. I do believe reporters have confused the concept of “number of vaccines needed in the worst case” with “number of people who have been infected.”

However, it does seem apparent that the rate of new cases has increased. Previously we had seen about 4,500 new cases each week, for a period of three weeks in May. That increased to around 6,500 cases a week in early June. We’re now seeing about 15,500 cases per week for the last two weeks.

It’s hard to say if we’ve seen the point where the number of cases is doubling consistently. It took two weeks to get from 15,000 cases to 30,000, then two weeks more to get from 30,000 cases to 60,000. It will be very interesting to see if the number of cases double again to 120,000 in the next two weeks. At that point, I predict news cycles would start to take things very seriously again.

flu-2009-06-26
(Click to see full-size chart.)

Swine flu graph update — A(H1N1) hits phase 6 and “moderate” severity

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

I wrote about A(H1N1) (alias “swine flu”) last week.

A reader requested an updated graph, so I’ve provided that below. Significantly, today WHO declared that A(H1N1) entered phase 6 and was “moderately” severe. Since the new phase system WHO has developed really doesn’t consider severity and only looks at how far widespread an influenza outbreak is, phase 6 (and all of the phases) are, in my uneducated and biased opinion, relatively meaningless.

The graph shows that the merely-linear increase in cases is still in place. No signs (yet) of exponential growth.

[graph showing A(H1N1) swine flu cases through 2009-Jun-11

Influenza A(H1N1) cases: graph of WHO data, discussion of media coverage

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

In the next 30 years, seismologists have determined that the chance for a magnitude 6.7 or later earthquake in California is over 99%. One can easily see based on the historical record that this is a safe prediction. In the last several hundred years, Californians have not had a period of 30 years go by without such an earthquake.

Similarly, influenza outbreaks follow a regular pattern. Roughly every 50 years one can expect a influenza pandemic that kills a million or more people worldwide. (What’s less frequently cited is that every year, the regular flu kills up to 350,000 people worldwide, mostly the elderly.) In recent history, the Hong Kong flu of 1968 killed up to 1 million people. The Asian flu of 1957 killed up to 1.5 million people. And the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak killed up to 40 million people worldwide.

It’s understandable, then, why people were concerned with swine flu and why there was so much media coverage. What if it turned out to be one of those catastrophic pandemics that kills millions of people? What if we couldn’t (or can’t) create an effective inoculation? It’s rational to be cautious, and to pay attention to the news.

On the other hand, in recent years we’ve seen coverage of previous threats from SARS, avian flu, and others, and they turned out to be relatively minor events. In some cases we overreact. It certainly seems to me that mainstream media overhyped the threat from swine flu and created a sense of panic that was unwarranted from the facts. Now that coverage has faded, I’m sure most people aren’t really thinking about swine flu any further.

The thing is, it’s not really over. Worldwide cases have climbed to nearly 20,000, and the number of deaths is over 100. In the U.S., there are currently 17 fatalities. (The media really only covered the first two victims.)

From here, swine flu could fade away into nothing, or it could suddenly explode. The latter outcome seems increasingly outcome, however. And here’s some data to support why I believe that.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has been releasing data for 41 days; over that time, they’ve provided 43 updates as I write this. Earlier they released two updates a day. Currently the updates come every few days.

WHO update swine flu case data, including number of cases, deaths, and cases per day

WHO swine flu case data, including number of cases, deaths, and cases per day (click to enlarge)

The graph above shows the number of new cases reported per day, as a line. In addition, as an area, the number of confirmed cases (yellow) and confirmed deaths (red) are also included.

By profession, I’m a numbers guy. Quantifiable analysis is my preferred approach for investigation. So starting from the beginning, I monitored the numbers of confirmed cases, countries, and deaths from the WHO updates and analyzed how many cases per hour, day and week.

With a pandemic, what we worry about is exponential growth (100 cases becoming 200 cases becoming 400 cases becoming 800 cases). Even linear growth can be scary for a pandemic if the numbers are large enough (50,000 cases becoming 100,000 cases becoming 150,000 cases). But that’s not what we have here, judging by the WHO’s numbers.

In fact, the number of new cases per week has been steady for the last three weeks at about 4,400 new cases a week.

There are many disclaimers that should be associated with the WHO’s numbers. Who knows what politics play into the process, and who knows if the count of confirmed cases is constrained by laboratories crushed with tons of undiagnosed cases that are even now uncounted. And the number of as-of-yet unreported cases (especially from third world countries) is a total unknown. You can tell from the extreme variability in the number of cases per day that human factors influence the reports.

However, after looking at nearly five weeks of data, it’s easy to assert what the media has already decided — there’s no exponential growth, and not even significantly increasing linear growth. Note instead how the cumulative number of cases appears to be very smoothly linear.

Given the relatively small number of cases compared to other threats, it’s clear the news cycle for swine flu is dead and not returning unless something completely unexpected happens, despite scattered reports of ongoing school and business closings.

So before this story fades into the sunset, the question to ask is if the media and health workers reacted appropriately. Was the coverage sufficient or insufficient, was it overblown or underblown or exactly right?

The June issue of Lancet contains a story (reprinted here) arguing that the amount of coverage was proper, and that due to quick action from health workers and cooperation from a fearful public, a crisis was averted.

I’m not qualified enough to disagree, but it seems to me the most important factor was the nature of the swine flu itself, and just how contagious it was. The evidence shows that it just didn’t spread that quickly — it wasn’t that virulent.

But it’s quite possible that because of the coverage, we put in place behaviors that saved ourselves. By analogy, consider Y2K (where we worried that computer code that used 2-digit years instead of 4-digit years would lead to buggy behavior when the software assumed the year 1900 instead of 2000, and that these issues would affect critical facilities and cause widespread technological disasters). There was enormous media coverage. Speculation was rampant, including fears of widespread power failures and nuclear facility mishaps, and some predicted wholesale societal breakdown. Yet of course when January 1, 2000, rolled around, very little happened (other than some big hangovers). So, overblown, right? Maybe not. I know first-hand how much effort engineers and developers put in ahead of time to certify certain systems, reprogram others, and generally make sure that everything would continue to work. To an outsider, Y2K certainly seemed overhyped. And much of the speculation (including the concept that embedded chips in cars and toasters would malfunction and shut down) was in fact ridiculous. But most computer professionals know that, while the coverage was certainly hysterical at times, there were instances of genuine bugs (that could have affected paychecks and so on), and that most of these genuine issues were averted due to foresight, prudence, and hard work.

I’m no medical professional. While I immediately dismissed swine flu fears and coverage as overblown, maybe that’s because I’m an outsider, not seeing all the hard work that took place to make sure the disaster was averted before it became a deadly pandemic.

Aside from those very unfortunate people who died due to swine flu, in the end, the economic impact may be swine flu’s longest-lasting legacy. Several reports show that Mexico tourism dropped by huge percentages, even in regions where there were zero swine flu cases. Recovery to previous levels will take time. (I’m told there are some amazing travel bargains to Mexico now.)

EDIT: Based on feedback from Kevin Fox, I updated the graph to simplify it a bit, and to use just regular calendar dates instead of dates and WHO update number. That corrected the problem whereby the variable number of days between updates made the cumulative number of cases look to be accelerating.

Glasses? I still don’t need them… for now

Monday, September 29th, 2008

I’ll catch up when I can about Sophie’s and Sammy’s birthday parties, the robbery we experienced last week, and a few other things. But today I went to get a vision test. We had a health care fair at work last week, and the people from our vision plan gave me a tiny screwdriver and told me to have my eyes checked. The last time I’d had a vision test was more than seven years ago, and I was feeling like maybe some of my headaches might be related to my eyesight. So today was the day for my vision test.

Last time I’d had a checkup, my left eye was 20/15 and my right eye was 20/25. Now things are a little worse: 20/20 in my left eye, and 20/30 in my right eye. But that’s not bad — no need for glasses or contacts or laser surgery yet.

When they were doing tests, the puff test (which I believe tests for glaucoma) stung my right eye so much that it watered the rest of the test. Then my eyes got so dilated during the last portion of the test I couldn’t read anything at all for hours and hours.

I feel like most of my co-workers and friends wear glasses. But the National Eye Institute data says that among adults 40-49, only 36% are nearsighted and 3% are farsighted (with a few more percent suffering from more serious impairments to visual acuity). So that suggests that most of the people my age still don’t need glasses.

It’s a myth, by the way, that “20/20 vision” is perfect vision. In fact, among teenagers, 20/15 vision is far more common (per this study). I couldn’t find good statistical information about adults and whether 20/20 is more common than 20/15 at age 40. I suspect I’m doing about average, though.

Man, I hate the idea of wearing glasses. And I hate the idea of contacts even worse. I’d rather spring for surgery and let them peel off layers of my eyeball. (I loved watching them do the surgery on Kimi’s eyes back when she got it done a few years ago — it really worked for her, she went from worse than 20/40 to better than 20/15.)

So, how about you? Glasses? Contacts? LASIK?

Wii the people

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

What follows is almost entirely Wii Fit related; so don’t say you haven’t been warned.

Thursday night we had John and Yvonne over for stirfry, and they tried out Wii Fit with us after the kids were asleep. They enjoyed it, especially the balance games like ski jump (which have fun graphics and are easy to try). Yvonne also did a few of the yoga poses and the step game — kicking my butt with scores much higher in both. My balance and timing definitely both need work, so it’s good that Wii Fit puts so much emphasis

Because of Thursday being my WoW raid night from 9 to midnight, I didn’t get started on my workout for day 2 with Wii Fit until after midnight, which meant that it actually didn’t count me as working out at all for Thursday. (I should have taken a body test while I was showing John and Yvonne). I intentionally tried to take things easy for day two, and I started to get the hang of a few more of the exercises. Things unlock very quickly. But for each new activity, it’s weird to me how much of an emphasis it places on balance. Even when doing, say, squats, it gives higher scores if you keep your balance centered. Some of the yoga poses that require balancing on one leg are nearly impossible for me to score highly.

Later on on Friday, when I did my evening workout, the new body test score replaced the one from 22 hours earlier; I wish it let you keep two on a day instead of just one. Even when assigning “fitness credits” for activities you do outside of Wii Fit, it’s either the same day or nothing. So while that encourages you to keep using Wii Fit daily, it’s not very flexible if, say, you’re out of town. Since there’s no online component, if you’re travelling you really miss out. I suppose that’s why they sell travel kits for your Wii Fit balance board, but that seems unrealistic.

When she came Friday evening (after going wine tasting with Yvonne), Kimi felt there were some drawbacks to having the living room be our gymnasium: Namely, I was stinking and sweating up the joint. To combat that, I’ve started using extra deoderant and opening windows and switching on the fan.

I found myself regulating my diet and looking forward to the workout. Saturday, after a trip to the King’s Mountain Art Festival during the day, I did my evening workout a bit earlier, and got a bit carried away, trying out most everything. I unlocked even more activities, which I was compelled to try out. Kimi joined me on a few activities (doing a much better Tree position in Yoga than I’ve ever managed) and I think she’s going to give it a good try.

I ended up playing Wii Fit for over two and a half hours. However, not all of that got credited as workout, since some was after midnight, and there’s quite a bit of click-here-listen-to-this-acknowledge-this-watch-this downtime.

As I read online, the principal objections to Wii Fit are:

  • There’s no way to set up an exercise routine in advance: You have to click and select each activity one at a time, some of them requiring four or five clicks, meaning you have lots of UI when you could be exercising. (I’m starting to unlock activities that allow more reps and longer duration, but it’s still tricky to get a cardio workout.)
  • It’s really a solo activity. While there is one “2P Running” activity I haven’t tried, everything else is for one player at a time, and to switch players takes a lot of clicks, so it’s not easy to take turns.

Today, after dragging the kid’s to our usual Sunday routine of storytime at the Red Rock Cafe followed by the Mt. View farmer’s market, I worked out during their naptime and while Kimi watched Sophie. I was able to get in an interesting routine where I tried all of the yoga and strength activities and a few of the balance games.  I felt sore from the previous few days — lunges are murder for me — and unlocked some activities that had more of an upper body component. I’ll need to pick up some free weights to help out on the upper body side.

Gotta run, but I’ll come back and fill in my scores. The Wii Fit Age is definitely bogus, varying enormously from trial to trial. But it still felt good to go from 52 to 26 — doubtless I’ll be 77 in Wii Fit years tomorrow.

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.

The same thing we do every night, pink eye: Try to take over the world.

Saturday, June 7th, 2008

I learned something this week. When your child develops a condition where little bits of white ooky stuff comes out of his or her eye, that’s pink eye (aka conjunctivitis) — even if the eye in question is not actually pink.

First Sophie got pink eye on Monday; the school called us to say come get that infectious condition out of their classroom if you please. She cleared up after some drops, but then Friday it was Sammy the school called us about.

So, says Kimi to me and me to Kimi, extra washing of hands and whatever you do, don’t touch your eyes.

You know how hard it is to not touch your eyes? I just did it even though I was literally typing up how I shouldn’t do it.

To celebrate pink eye week, we went down to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, enjoying sand and surf and garlic fries and ice cream and lost car keys. Thankfully someone found them and turned them into the lifeguards. One of the scariest 10 minutes of my life though.

Right before the scene where both kids were conked out on the sidewalk with Kimi while I ran to find the keys, Sammy enjoyed a dragon ride, a truck ride and a boat ride. Most other rides required 48″ of height, which is disappointing if you can only muster 36″. All in all, though, a very relaxing day.

An update to the excruciating update

Friday, May 9th, 2008

Well, I thought everything was back to normal on Thursday morning. Sophie and Sammy slept through the night (more or less), no undue bodily fluids appeared, and everything and everyone seemed happy and well.

Until: Thursday afternoon at work, the school called to tell me Sophie wasn’t keeping her food down. So I picked her up and Kimi and I took turns looking after her; she was in a great mood, but with a very touchy tummy. (That’s the scientific medical term.)

Today she’s “excluded” from school, but still very happy. We’re giving her juice and very simple foods instead of milk, and Kimi’s watching her today while I try to catch up at work. (A friend who is a father of twins told me that he was useless at work for the first year after his twins were born. I don’t feel “useless” but it’s definitely harder to balance life and work.) Hopefully Sophie’s back to normal after today — just in time for her teething pain to start.

In better news, Kimi had her two week follow-up appointment after her back surgery of April 22; they declared her to be healing well, and gave her the green light to drive (which she took advantage of by slipping off to see Forgetting Sarah Marshall last night, and seeing Baby Mama with Yvonne Wednesday). However, they extended the ban on her lifting/bending/twisting by another two weeks, so it’ll be six weeks more before she can carry her children.

An excruciating update

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008

Tough weekend.

On Thursday last week, one of Sammy’s teacher’s reported that Sammy had a condition that I will not describe in detail (this being a family blog). Friday it continued, even causing an accident on the floor at one point. But then he was better. Friday night, Kimi gave me a break and I snuck off to see Iron Man (thoughts on that later). Saturday morning, Sammy woke me up at 5:45 and I felt miserable, my stomach in knots, weak, in pain. I soon discovered I was suffering from that same unmentionable condition as Sammy.

Now, previously, Kimi had worried that handling the burden of watching the kids mostly solo (while she recovered from the back surgery of two weeks ago) was too much for me, but I dismissed her concerns. After all, I had handled the first weekend all right, right?

(I had taken Sammy and Sophie to Happy Hollow on Saturday, and we went out all day Sunday as well. For once, work on Monday felt more relaxing than the weekend…)

But now Kimi was right, the lack of sleep and Sammy’s bug had caught up with me, and I hadn’t arranged any backup. I was too exhausted to call around much, but our usual fallbacks for help with kid care were either out of town or dealing with their own kids. So, Kimi, despite recovering from back surgery, stepped up while I recuperated, and John and Yvonne helped by taking Kimi and Sophie out to a rummage sale in the morning while Sophie and I slept. Then Kimi took Sophie in the afternoon while Sammy and I napped. By the late afternoon, I finally had started to feel better. I didn’t eat a thing all day. On Sunday, I was still a bit weak, and still dealing with the condition, but was mostly better. (The only thing I ate on Sunday was half a rice cracker.)

Kimi was now exhausted, however; still, she kept Sophie while I took Sammy for an abbreviated version of our usual morning cafe-and-Farmer’s-Market routine, picking up some food for a barbecue with Rob and Kelly at noon. (Which was fun.) We all took it easy that afternoon.

Alas, the bug that had bit Sammy and me then got to Kimi at around four in the morning on Monday. Only she got it much worse than either of us. After I dropped the kids off at daycare Monday morning, her condition had got much worse. She was alternating between being unable to get warm from chills and unable to cool down from hot flashes. She wasn’t able to keep food or even water down, and was in so much pain that Urgent Care was the only option. They saw us right away, which gave me hope, but then it was so inefficient: First a nurse took her vitals. Then wait 20 minutes in the room. Then another nurse for more vitals. Wait 20 more minutes. Doctor finally comes in, asks all the same questions. He gets called away (it is an emergency room after all). Wait 20 more minutes. He comes back, resumes exam. Decides it’s the same stomach bug. Writes an order for anti-nausea shot. Wait 20 minutes. Nurse comes in to give shot. Wait 20 more minutes. Doctor comes back to re-examine. Writes a prescription for anti-cramping. Kimi convinces him she needs a pain-killer, so he grudgingly orders some vicodin. Wait 20 minutes. Wait 20 more minutes. Meanwhile Kimi is moaning and shivering from the pain (although no longer nauseous). I go looking for a nurse for the pain. Finally she arrives, Kimi takes the pill, we get a wheelchair, off to the pharmacy, then finally to the temporary home so she can sleep. I’m still a bit weak (plus it’s been weeks since the kids have slept through the night — the 3am and 4am back-to-back wakeups are really getting to me), so I grab a couple of hours before it’s time to get the kids. So much for work on Monday.

Today we’re all better, finally, so that’s a relief. And both kids slept through the night last night (well, at least they did after 10pm — before that, not so much). And even better, Sophie slept in until 6:30am and Sammy until 7am, so everyone had eight hours.

Twenty-four hour stomach flu bugs — put them on your list of things to avoid.

* * *

This next part I wrote a week ago but never got around to publishing.

* * *

Last Wednesday, Kimi and I checked in with our contractor to see how the house reconstruction was going. They’ve been at work for a week, and in that time have removed all the carpet and old flooring down to the foundation (revealing far more cracks and patchwork than we had imagined even pessimistically), knocked open the walls we’re removing, and removed the shower in the master bath where they was extensive dry rot and termite damage.

Sammy was with us, because he was in a weepy mood and didn’t want to be left with the sitter; he seemed to take it all in stride, asking (as he frequently does these days), “What’s that!?” with great interest as each barely-recognizable-room was explored.

It’s been a bit challenging to live in one big room for the past few weeks as Kimi recovers from her back surgery on April 22. The good news is that Kimi’s back pain is gone, and she’s recovering from the surgery well (after being initially underprescribed for painkillers). She’s still supposed to be taking far more bed rest than she actually does, and for another week she’s not allowed to drive, and for five more weeks no bending, twisting, or lifting anything more than 8 pounds.

* * *

I took a fair number of pictures from the Happy Hollow expedition on Saturday, April 26. It’s conceivable I might actually load them and publish a couple. Suffice to say a great variety of happy experiences were enjoined. Except for me keeping him out long past his normal nap time, which caused quite a host of difficulties for the rest of the day.

* * *

Kimi: [reading from a new book about Africa, picked up at Sunday’s rummage sale]: This is a picture of a pygmy hippopotamus. Can you believe there used to be hippos that small? There used to be a lot of them in Madagascar, but now they’re all gone.

Sammy: Now they’re pretend.

* * *

Update, 12:40am Wednesday: Sophie’s turn. She just went through three cycles of throw-up/clean-up and is now out of clean pajamas. She seems to be in good spirits, despite all the vomit. She is now on my lap wrapped in a towel, while I wait to see if she throws up a fourth time, babbling happy noises that sound suspiciously like “uh-oh.”