I just spent six months without Diet Coke: a geek on a diet.(UPDATED)

Six months ago and a few days more or less, I decided to go cold turkey on Diet Coke. I was easily 3-4 cans a day, and when you factor in a drink or two or three at a restaurant or pub, I was probably consuming 60-80 ozs (1175ml-2365ml) a day. There are plenty of horror stories about diet drinks, but since most of them come from hyperbole-spewing hippies I generally ignore them. I’ve always preferred the science-based medicine approach to many things about health, and reading about “the corporate conspiracy” to put evil “high fructose corn syrup” in my drink just turns me off. Skeptics have attacked some of the studies here and here if you want more on the HFCS myths. However, for me dumping diet soda was more of a behavioral thing than health. About 15 years ago, I decided as a New Years Resolution that I would give up french fries for one year. I did it (I’m very stubborn) despite eating fries quite a bit the year before and the year after. What I noticed wasn’t so much that I lost weight, but that not eating french fries was changing my overall diet choices. If I couldn’t have “fries with that”, I wasn’t ordering “that”–my trips to McDonalds decreased simply because I wasn’t having one of the three main items in burger-fries-Coke. I wondered if giving up Diet Coke would have a similar effect.  What was the immediate impact of going cold turkey on Diet Coke? I gained about 10 pounds. Switching from Diet Coke to things like fresh-squeezed lemonade or orange juice increased the number of calories I was consuming quite a bit. I like my drinks to have a bit of a ‘kick’ to them and switching from Diet Coke to water instantly just wasn’t cutting it. I wanted some sort of taste as I ate some food. When I stepped on the scale and it reached 208 lbs. Given my height, that worked out to a Body Mass Index of about 29.9 (with 30 being the official definition of ‘obese’). I decided it was time for a bigger change. 41XgUATRWRL._SY450_ First up was a new scale. My old scale varied wildly and I was relying on my memory of “I think I weighed that last week”. No, this is the Internet age. I needed an Internet scale, so I bought the Withings WS-50 Smart Body Analyzer.  It’s pretty awesome. It records my weight to my iPhone and to a website everytime I step on the scale. It also does an estimate of the percentage of body fat, heartbeat and even the ambient CO2 quality in the room (to help improve sleeping). What it did for me was start to identify “trends” rather than just “weights”. As I’ve learned, your body weight changes a few pounds even in the matter of a single day. For me I was always one weight at bedtime and then about 1-2 lbs less when I woke in the morning. Seeing this as a trend over many days became far easier for me to understand. In fact, having these data points and record were really essential to this whole effort. Knowing what I weighed and the effect of splurging or going on vacation to the USA (and eating crap for a few weeks) was something that I could visually see every single day and week as it was spelled out in a nice graph and tabular data. It almost became a bit of a game seeing how much I weighed and how much I had lost. The second portion of my change came with my diet, and this was a big effort indeed. I’ve used the calorie counting app LoseIt when it first came out to the iPhone. I was pretty good at calorie counting for a few months, but then came a new iPhone upgrade and I lost all my old data, thus deciding ‘screw this–back to McDonalds’. I decided to give LoseIt another chance and it has certainly grown with many new features and capabilities. I was also able to connect my Withings scale to Loseit’s reporting system, which made tracking even easier. At first my diet was basically about getting under the recommended calories. Originally I just would eat less, even skipping a meal, but most diet advice advises against anything too dramatic. Slowly I came around to greater portion control and some dietary changes. 9323121011_c6c2fd2d77_zHelping me in this quest were some laboratory beakers now serving double-duty as glasses in my kitchen. I bought some 400ml and 250ml beakers from a laboratory supply company and now use those as glasses, able to accurately pour out an exact measurement of a drink everytime. Since most of the nutrition information in Hong Kong for liquids is based around 100ml (3.3 fl oz) that sort of became a unit in my mind of what I could and could not drink. Prior to the diet, I was drinking 300ml (9-10fl oz) of Orange Juice every morning. But this soon became half that size and I realized “I really don’t need that much to drink”. I also made the switch to water. I hate drinking water. I mean, it’s just plain boring. Added to this was the cultural preference here for ‘room temperature’ water or even hot water, both of which I find basically disgusting. With our tiny fridge in our standard Hong Kong apartment, finding room for a few bottles of water turned into a bit of a battle, but eventually I was able to reclaim some space in there and now keep four or five bottles cold and ready throughout the day (I’ve had two already this morning). I also began to “visualize” portions much easier. I set a mark in my bowl for what was 1 cup of Cheerios for example. I used this great visual food guide to start to understand “how much” food I was actually eating when I sat down. When you can “see” the portion size it makes dieting far easier than trying to measure out everything each time. With this came some other changes. I started to realize that some items were more calories (quite a bit more) than others. For example, a tin of pineapples was a simply and quick snack, but if I got them “in syrup” I’d be consuming quite a few more calories than if I bought them “in juice”. Salad dressing was another killer. The regular stuff was five or six times the calories as a “fat free” variety, which, despite the horrific taste, became my new regular option. I also started experimenting with a few things that I’ve been told are good (i.e. fish) but which were always way down on my shopping list behind things I liked quite a bit better. I didn’t necessarily change what I was eating. I still have an occasional treat of some chips or pretzels in the evening, and I even have a Cadbury bar in the kitchen. But whereas before I would eat an entire 250 calorie Cadbury Milk Chocolate in one go, now I might eat 1/8th of that as a square, once every couple of a days just as a treat (38 calories or so). I also rediscovered foods from my youth, namely apples, oranges and grapes. Of course I’ve been eating them for years, but now that I have more a diet focus they have become regular items, even daily items. Again, there was a cultural shift required in my house. I grew up with fruits being stored in the fridge which made them both cold and extended their freshness, but the norm here is to keep them on the counter, room temperature, which doesn’t quite have the same ‘zing’ to it when you take a bite. After clearing some space in the fridge I now have a collection of fruits for snacks. Third, exercise. The third big change has been a recent development, but one that was necessary. We have a fully-kitted out work room in the building with treadmills, weight machines, stair climbers and an exercise bike. I’ve generally avoided it as much as possible, but now I make it a point to do an hour on the exercise bike every day. At first it was a painfully dreary experience, basically like watching a clock move as I saw the minutes countdown and the calories burned calculator move up, but that all I changed when I brought down my iPhone and iPad to keep me company. Now I had plenty of movies and TV shows to catch up on while exercising, and the time spent downstairs has flown by. I’ve watched all the episodes of Broadchurch, Quatermass, a couple seasons of Top Gear and even a few movies I’ve been remiss in seeing such as the Indian blockbuster “Three Idiots”. The latter was particularly good as when you are focusing on subtitles you don’t pay as much attention to the clock. 31LOMVqsQoL._SY450_I also have started to take a look at my general lifestyle. Am I getting out enough, walking and doing stairs rather than sitting and riding the elevators. I’m now tagged with a Fitbit One Wireless Activity Tracker on my belt at all times which is designed to remind me I need to take more steps everyday and also to tell me when I’ve taken so many that my daily ‘burn’ rate might be improved. Again, the integration of devices like this with systems like Loseit have been quite valuable, allowing me to track those extra steps and exercises that before were just lost in the wind. The final big change has come with nutrition. At first it was easiest to just count calories. I didn’t care how much sodium or protein I was eating, just let me get to that main goal. But as my diet became more regular and healthy, I took a look at improving the content of what I ate, not just the quantity. Yes, I’ve heard of the “no carb” diets and whatnot, and at first blush it looked quite interesting, but falling back on my science-based medicine guidelines I discover that quite a bit of that is just a bunch of fluff. Low carb diets don’t pass muster when examined more closely, as you’ll see here and here, and while I tried it for a few days I eventually decided it just wasn’t worth it. I am trying to reduce my sodium intake, as the levels I’m consuming are quite above the recommendations though still below the averages for US consumers. I’m also looking harder at the amount of fat I take in each day, trying to drop that down and improve the amount of protein consumed. It’s an ongoing battle. Summary So here is the big takeaway from my weight loss program: it takes time, discipline and effort. The three things most dieters don’t have. But seriously, you have to work on it, daily, and consciously. Fad diets of “instant loss” while you sleep or eat just red meat for three months aren’t going to make the necessary changes you need. It’s just not that simple. I know people want the easy way out, but you should think about those who have been told to diet for medical reasons. There is no easy solution. They have to do it “the hard way” because that is the way that is going to work and keep them alive. They aren’t going to cut corners when fighting some disease, so why should you think you can cut corners when just trying to lose weight? My Results So what do the results look like? I started earlier this year at 208 lbs. Today I was hit 179.7 lbs (81.5kg). This is the first time I’ve been 180 since I can remember. When I started law school in 1995, I stepped on the scale and was shocked to discover I weight about 175lbs (I always though I was quite a bit less). When I left law school three years later I’m certain I was quite a bit more, well at least I looked quite a bit bigger. My short-term goal is to get to 175.4 which is not only the weight I weighed in 1994, but also the borderline BMI between “normal” and “overweight”. If I could get under the “overweight” BMI guidelines, I think I’d consider that a great short-term success. I set the goal for Christmas, but think I will be hitting sometime in the next month or so. Longer term, I don’t have a goal just yet. I think it will be more in the 160-165 range, but I’m also hoping to start reducing some clothing sizes a bit too. I have quite a few nice Brooks Brother suits I wore while working in Washington and since those basically never go out of style, getting back down to a size where I can wear them again would be an accomplishment. After I hit 175 I’m going to have a burger and fries to celebrate. Then we’ll start the downhill trek again and see how long it takes to get to my ideal weight and clothing size. Maybe it’s time for a standing desk? UPDATE: Nov 1, 2013 Well this last four weeks have been pretty hard-core on the weight loss, in fact, probably too much. Part of the reason is likely the Fitbit. I understand it much better now and am using it frequently. The other is because I can finally count properly. The Fitbit is a pedometer which is pretty simple and  has been around for quite some time. But where it starts to shine, and make a difference, is the fact it links together with the other programs I’m using, namely LoseIt, to provide me with a calorie “bonus” on days I’m particularly active. Basically Loseit and Fitbit assume your body burns XX calories per hour, just to stay alive. When you walk a great deal with the Fitbit, over say 10,000 steps a day, then you start to burn more calories than your “normal” state that fills their assumption. As you walk more and more, you get a ‘Fitbit Adjustment’ in LoseIt which gives you extra calories to consume, should you so desire. I’m now well below my calorie maximums everyday, such that a late night pizza slice or McDonald’s run wouldn’t drastically affect my overall trends. I haven’t been “eating back” the calories that I’m gaining, which is probably why I had a bit of a spike downward this month, but I have had the option which has made me feel a bit better in eating more regularly. The other big shock this month is that I shrunk a bit. I’ve always put 5 foot 10 inches on my measurements, such as a drivers license, etc., but stepping onto scale with a measuring attachment the other day I discovered I’m really a solid 5’9″. That meant I had to reassess my BMI calculations, and my target goal dropped from 175.4 to 169.9. Grr! More work! I’m down to 170.8 this morning, which is about 2 pounds lost per week this last month (which is too much, to be honest). I’m nearing my new BMI goal of 169.9 and I think my final weight range is going to be 160-165 or so. I want to keep it in the “normal” range for my weight so I can go up and down a bit as needed. Officially the normal range is 125-169 which puts the midpoint around 150-155, but I think that would just be too much for my frame. The last ten pounds have had an significant visual effect. Many people have come up and stopped me and said “are you losing weight”. It’s quite noticeable now whereas the first 20 or so weren’t even noticed by the people in my house. It’s also starting to be noticeable with my clothes, which are about a size too big now. I’ve had to go into the closet and find the “old” stuff that might fit a bit better.   Screen Shot 2013-10-08 at 10.02.48 AM     So a little musical number that really goes well with the title of this post. “I Just Spent Six Months Without Diet Coke.” Sing along.  ]]>

Elegant Hydroponic solutions.

Hong Kong Hackerspace DimSumLabs I gave a quick two-minute presentation on some of the more ‘elegant’ solutions for hydroponic growing that I had found. With a wife who would literally kill me if I was to install a “bunch of tubes” of PVC in the house, I’ve been on the lookout for something more consumer friendly and visually appealing.  It’s actually been a bit surprising how little is really out there, and nice to see some DIY projects starting to recognize the need for something a bit prettier than PVC. The first thing I found was an Ikea hack called Eliooo. There are several different varieties using standard off the shelf Ikea products, primarily the TROFAST system. ikea1 ikea2               I like this solution as it falls within my price point (next to free) but doesn’t look like a bunch of tubes.  I also have a number of TROFAST lying around the house (kids’ toy boxes). I may end up building the one with rolling casters as that would suit my small house well and I could move it in and out of the sunlight as needed. At a bit higher end, there is this Urban Cultivator project.This looks more like something I’d put in my kitchen (if I had the space) or a product I’d like to build myself. I’ve actually talked to a few home appliance manufacturers in China about repurposing a ‘dorm fridge’ or a ‘wine fridge’ as a hydroponic facility.  Urban Cultivator actually makes a home and kitchen version, which is pretty impressive. kc-ex2 cultivator cc-front                       One of the nice things about this unit is that it has a built in computer system to handle most of the growing process.  You can see it in action in the video from the company.   The final, and probably most impressive unit, comes from the prototype department at Philips, which is both a good and a bad thing. It’s good in the sense that the big boys are seriously looking at home hydroponic solutions, and that they have put some serious thought and design effort into building something incredibly beautiful, but it’s bad news in the sense that it’s from Philips. Something this cool and impressive will never come from a big behemoth company that will have 100s of employees and bean counters fighting for some way to kill the project instead of a few dozen pushing it. Still, it’s nice to look at:   biosphere]]>

iPhone Laser Range Finder — my new product

I’ve been busy here in Hong Kong coming up with some new gadgets, and the first one is now ready through Makible.com. An iPhone / Android laser range finder attachment.  Simply place this against the wall, snap a picture, and the app will tell you the distance.  Pretty cool stuff. Available Now        ]]>

PenguinRadio is no more. Phoneradio.com is where it's at.

Nearly 12 years ago I was working as an attorney for the US Congress.  Boredom does not begin to describe my life back then.  I was writing a memo on a health insurance case we were investigating in Japan, when I happened to realize that Arsenal v. Manchester United in the FA Cup was on the BBC online stream.  Our rather moronic office policy forbid speakers in the office, but as a lawyer who really didn’t care about bureaucratic rules I brought in some headphones.  No one ever challenged me. Anyway, I was listening to this game…yes–it was the Giggs goal game of 1999, when something annoying happened.  My stream from the BBC started to sputter as the computer couldn’t handle my working on a memo in MS Word and running Real Player at the same time.  I thought to myself, as I closed the MS Word file :-p “What I really need is a bigger computer.” But then, as lightning bolts off do, it hit me.  “No, I don’t need a computer.  I need something that just does Internet audio–no PC needed”.  And with the pain of listening to that game (Arsenal lost in extra time) was relieved by the thoughts of a really new hot idea. Internet radio, no pc needed.  The PenguinRadio. The next 12 years have been a roller coaster.  I got angel funding, I got VC funding, I got an office and staff, we built prototypes and websites, we tried raising more money in the US and UK and then, 9-11 hit.  As you may remember the dot.com days were dying before the World Trade Center was attacked but those incidents put the kibosh on any new VC funding for a few years.  I put PenguinRadio on hold and concentrated on some other things. PenguinRadio was basically brain dead for a bit. But then I came back to the idea a year or so later.  Prices for parts had come down.  Everyone was listening to streams.  The idea of Internet radio, and more particularly, of .mp3 audio was growing larger and larger.  With a new round of funding I launched a few radios, rebuilt the website, and then attracted the interest of some folks in the UK who were thinking much the same as me. So PenguinRadio was reborn into a new company, that, unfortunately, managed to reach the prototype stage of a really neat player device at basically the same time as Apple introduced the iPhone.  This meant that there were suddenly several million devices out there that could do Internet radio without a PC at a cost just about the same as our device, though with the marketing and support of Apple Inc behind them. Thus PenguinRadio died a second time. The website stayed up for a few years after this latest adventure, but the new new owners of the domain recently completed the sale of PenguinRadio to another party (hint: they also have Penguin in their name).  As I sat on my couch in Hong Kong at 1:00 am in the morning watching, guess what, Arsenal once again (a nil-nil disaster against Newcastle) I went to check the PenguinRadio site and got a DNS error.  The transfer of the PenguinRadio domain name had taken place.  It was no longer there on the web. Truth be told the site died a long time ago, but the site was out there as a reminder of my first startup and the great adventure.  It’s a tad weird to think it’s no longer there.  That the logos and t-shirts and links have all turned to dust.  I have other sites, such as PhoneRadio.com that continue to host radio streams, but the closure of the site is like the end of a large chapter of my life. On to new and more interesting things I guess. RIP my Penguin. *PenguinRadio is (now) a registered trademark of Penguin Publishing.]]>

Some cool things at CES missed by the major media

energyhub[/caption] D-link is a massive company that has network switches, routers, cameras and a ton of other things.  They’ve recently fixed their home security monitoring system to include energy systems, utilizing third party electrical plugs.  Honestly it felt like energy monitoring was a bit of an after thought for them, but apparently their system was nominated for the best in innovation award for CES.   Energyhub is the startup of the mix.  They have a nice display and outlet covers running over Zigbee.  They’ve closed a recent funding round and have another in the wings.  They will have some tough competition from the bigger players if they can’t get going fast enough, but their units looked very professional and ready for consumers to start buying.   Marvell   has a nice looking device that will be out in Home Depot shortly.  It works over wifi and displays the usage of all outlets and whatnot, along with also controlling your lawns sprinkler systems if you have such a thing.  They were the furthest along in development and said they will be in Home Depots sometime in the next few months, at a pretty low cost.   Oregon Scientific.  Looks very sexy but haven’t seen it in person yet. There are probably other devices out there, but I haven’t had a chance to meet them all.  What is really interesting about these devices is that eventually they will be in almost every home, regardless of whether you are geeky or not as new contractors and energy companies start to roll them out for consumer usage.   I’m going to the ‘Asia rooms’ today to meet with manufacturers of different things.  They might have some cool toys in there as well.  Follow my Twitter updates if you want to keep up with me real time.]]>

A brilliant idea, but…

Lots of startup excitement around the house this weekend, and a bit of cussing. Over the last few days I’ve been researching an untapped area of the ‘Green tech’ movement.  Something that would make quite a bit of sense, would be quick to market, and something that would have multiple channels to revenue, let alone venture capital.  I queried some of my friends, including some successful entrepreneurs in San Fran, a couple of PhD’s in Silicon Valley, an electronics company VP in NY, and two electricians wearing NASCAR hats down at my local electronics supply company (who actually had some interesting insight). On the plus side–everyone said this is needed and must be built. On the down side–someone else is doing it already. So I’m not sitting here thinking ‘is there room for a second mover’ in a field that could be huge, though one in which I’m about six months behind the curve.  I have an idea that could leapfrog them, but I’m not sure how technically feasible it is (the physics is there, but is the manufacturing base–I don’t know). So I’m off to CES to talk turkey with the guys from China.  Folks who are in the shop building things like that which I want.  We’ll see if I come back with a new start-up company, ready to be formed and funded, or if I look for another ‘new new thing’.]]>

Tips for the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Vegas

From my been there done that list:

*  Keep your luggage receipt.  LAS airport requires it for checked bags.
*  If you don’t have your CES ID, get it at the airport (shorter lines).
*  Rent a car.  Free parking at the hotel and no chance in hell of a cab.  Bus lines are nuts too.
*  Make a beeline to the stuff you MUST see, and then wonder around aimlessly to see the stuff you want and discover the really cool things.
*  Visit the high end stereo hotel ($50,000 turntables, etc).
*  Visit the ‘Asia Rooms’ where the manufacturers are showing their latest and greatest stuff.
*  Budget an extra hour to get through airport security if leaving on Saturday or Sunday.
*  Don’t drive to the convention center unless you have a parking pass.
*  Eat a few miles off the strip and pay normal prices for dinner.
*  Play single-deck blackjack and pay for your trip with a few simple rules 😉
*  Keep your luggage receipt.  LAS airport requires it for checked bags. *  If you don’t have your CES ID, get it at the airport (shorter lines). *  Rent a car.  Free parking at the hotel and no chance in hell of a cab.  Bus lines are nuts too. *  Make a beeline to the stuff you MUST see, and then wonder around aimlessly to see the stuff you want and discover the really cool things. *  Visit the high end stereo hotel ($50,000 turntables, etc). *  Visit the ‘Asia Rooms’ where the manufacturers are showing their latest and greatest stuff. *  Budget an extra hour to get through airport security if leaving on Saturday or Sunday. *  Don’t drive to the convention center unless you have a parking pass. *  Eat a few miles off the strip and pay normal prices for dinner. *  Play single-deck blackjack and pay for your trip with a few simple rules 😉

Off to Vegas, again

Every year I went to CES (and this is about the seventh trip) I’ve said “oh god, why do I come!” The crowds, the chaos, and usually the weather (it actually snowed one year). But sometimes it is fun. One year I took Doc Searls around showing him what it was like to be a buyer of embedded LINUX products and he showed me the high end stereo room (which was awesome).  Another year I met up with Albert Lai of Bubbleshare fame (and now a Facebook developer with lots of cool toys). The good thing about this year is that things are a bit different. My company is in the midst of being acquired and I’ll be a ‘free agent’ for the first time, attending CES to see what is cool, new, exciting and fun, not just what I needed to see (which usually found me in the ‘parts / manufacturers’ area speaking bad Cantonese to some guys from Hong Kong who sell this little thing or that). So I’m off, again, to Vegas. Will try to stay a bit and meet some folks and write about what cool new technologies I see and play with. I have a new startup swirling in my head right now (the last week has been one of frenetic excitement here) and I’m going to go back to the China-room and speak to the manufacturers who might be able to help me get this project off the ground. We’ll post updates from Vegas as I see the cool things.  I’ll be at the Lenovo Bloggers night and hopefully the It won’t stay in Vegas party and a few other meetups with bloggers, networked device people and web2.0 folk. One thing is certain–no fricking red eye back to Washington.  I’m sick on that hell flight.  I’ll stay the extra night and leave during the day.]]>

To build a windmill.

A few years ago he was plucked from the obscurity of the Malawi countryside to speak to the TED Conference – a conference of ideas and visionaries. William Kamkwamba couldn’t afford school, but he decided to teach himself by looking at the diagrams in books at the library (his English wasn’t that good so he couldn’t really read). One that caught his eye was a book about windmills, so he set off to build one in his village to power a few lights and a radio. That led to people talking about the house with electricity, and bloggers mentioning this amazing story of a kid who make a windmill from a bunch of junk.  That led to TED bringing him over to speak to the visionaries, who turned around and decided to sponsor this kid financially through high school and university. ]]>