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Sunday
Aug102014

Thoughts on Weight Loss

Ok, so a little background here.  Through out my school years I was always very thin.  Somewhere towards the end of high school or towards the start of university, I complained to my doctor that I thought I was too thin.  He said don't worry, it was fine.  Besides he said, I will gain weight as I age.  Boy was he right.

Fast forward to 2012, and during my physical, he noted I had put on weight again. He said it was time to start thinking about loosing some of those pounds.  

Here are a set of photos, the top two are me in 2012, and the bottom two, me earlier this year, 2014.

 

Now here is an image of my progress over those two years.

Back in 2012, I really wasn't happy with the fact that I was closing in on 200 lbs.  I also did not have a lot of energy and I was sleeping a lot.  I decided I had to do something about it.  On that trip to Vegas, I picked up a Fitbit.  I wanted to see my current activity level and work on improving it.  It basically confirmed what I knew.  I was incredibly inactive.  I also got a Withing wifi scale to track my progress.

I personallly don't believe that there is a get thin quick cheat, so my plan was to reduce my snacking and increase my activity.  I started small, trying to get a minimum of 10,000 steps per day, or 15-30 minutes on the exercise bike in lieu of walking.  As far a weight loss goes, I was just trying to keep my weight below the average. So in the graph above, I aimed to stay below the white line.

The net effect of this is that I have lost 16.5 lbs over two years.  Instead of putting on 2-5 lbs per year I am loosing about 8 per year.  This was just done slightly reducing what I ate and increasing my activity.  Over this time I have a couple of observations.  I think activity has a large effect on weight loss.  One thing that stands out in the graph, is that I put on weight Nov-Feb every year.  This is when I am least active.

At first, getting out to exercise was a chore.  After two years, exercise is a habit and not exercising feels bad.  By exercising, I mean brisk walking.  Over time I have found my walking speed increase and my distance covered increase.  To keep my hear rate up, I probably need to start running.   I currently walk at a 8.5 min per km pace, and hardly find this challenging.  Again, I got to this over 2 years, by slowing pushing my self.  

On the eating side of things I noticed a couple things.  I eat when I am bored.  I find a strong pull to snack when I have nothing to do.  I eat when I am stressed.  If things are going bad at work, I'd hit the vending machine. Starving myself causes me to over eat.  I found that if I was really hungry at meal time, I would eat fast and over eat.  I have noticed that it takes about 15 minutes to notice I am full.  When I eat now, I try to eat until I am not hungry, as opposed to when I am full.  I now try to have healthy snack that will keep me realtively full until meal time.  For me, I have found a small handful of nuts when I start to feel hungry in the afternoon helps a lot. As for eating under stress, I found that getting exrcise also helps the stress, and works better than food.  If I am feeling stressed out, I try to increase my activity instead of hitting the vending machine.

The other change I have made to my consumption is to not drink my calories.  When eating out, I'll generally order a water instead of pop. In general I try and stay away from added sugar, this includes the fake stuff.

I started with the benefit, that my diet is realtively healthy, as Sylvia shops mainly for fruits, vegetables, meats and grains, staying away from the processed foods.

My goal is to get my weight a little closer to my post university value.  If I can get and stay down around the 160lbs, that would be ideal.  So another 15 lbs to go, which I expect to take another couple years.  At 175, I am still close to the max healthy BMI.

The result of this effort?  I feel better, I have more energy, and I sleep less.  My waist size has dropped from 38" to 35".  I was probably somwhere around 33"-34" waist post university.  I am also far less tempted by that box of donuts that shows up at work from time to time.  Once I had feeling for how much exercise is required to take care of those extra calories, the desire to eat the donut went away.  That's not to say I deprive myself of food. Actually I quite enjoy a well cooked meal, I just don't want to waste my time and effort with high calorie crappy food. In fact I am quite looking forward to our next trip to Vegas, hitting some our our favorite restauarants, and trying out some new ones

 


Pork en mole from the Border Grill at Mandalay Bay.

Breakfast buffet, Wicked Spoon, Cosmoplitan.  

So, from my experience (and that may not work for everyone), there is no reason to deny yourself food to loose weight.  Get active, stay active, and value what you eat.

As Michael Pollen said, "eat but not too much, mostly plants"

 

Thursday
Jul112013

Do the Math - On Loyalty Points Programs

Every retailer these days seems to be offering some form of loyalty program.  The question is, what do you get for your loyalty.  What the retailer gets out of it is detailed purchase tracking of it's customers which it can use to optimize its' pricing.

First off, if a business offers great service, I will return, loyalty program or not.  I think you should too.  

There are two common ways loyalty programs operate, one is to offer a % discount, the other is to offer points.  You need to be careful when dealing with points.  I feel points are used to hide things, and make numbers look bigger and thus imply better.  Points make it very hard to convert to dollar value, because of this we then just look at the number of points.  Microsoft did this with Xbox Live.  I can't remember exactly what the point conversion was but it was not one to one, 200 points might have cost $3.  The conversion was not a nice round number easy to do in your head.  I beleive this is on purpose, as they do not want people saying to themselves, "$2 for a hat for my avatar, are you nuts",  but "hey 95 points I'll buy that!".  Microsoft contended that this was to save on micro transaction fees with credit card companies, but if that was the case, they could have made it 1 point = 1 dollar.  The only explanation I would buy would be related to currency conversion.  If the points in the store were global, then they could just set the dollar value per point on a country by country basis to cover the currency conversion.

So, lets look at a gas station loyalty program.  Petro Canada has it's Petro Points loyalty card.  The headline is "Save 5 Cents a Litre".  Hey great where to I sign up? Then the small print "On the next 200L".  Okay maybe that is still not so bad, that is $10 savings.  So next step, how may points to get the reward? 12,000.  How many points do I earn buying gas? 5 points per litre of regular gas.  Ok, so to get 12,000 points I need to buy 2400 litres.  Gas price today?  $1.30 per litre.  Ok so to get 12,000 points I need to spend 2400 * 1.30 = $3,120.  Ok, so I spend $3120 and I get $10 back??  A whopping 0.32%.  My AMEX card gets me 3% cash back on purchases.  Petro Points?  Useless.  Also note, as gas price goes up, the value of a point goes down.  Petro Canada offers more points for convenience store items, but those are marked up higher than other stores.  You are better at buying those items elsewhere.

My personal rule of thumbs is that % based loyalty programs work out better.  Points are just an attempt to make lame rewards look better. 

With credits card programs you have to take into account annual fees.  Cards with annual fees will often have higher rewards, but if you do spend enough on them you won't get any value out of them.

Remember the goal of rewards is to save money, not spend money.  If you are making the transaction to get the points, you are getting the short end of the stick.

There is a bit of an arms war going on with the credit card rewards programs, and the merchants are the losers in this battle.  Traditionally credit card companies withheld 2% when paying out to the merchant, AMEX has always been higher at closer to 5%.  This is why AMEX is not accepted in as many places.  Rewards programs came along and card companies started offering up to 1% back.  The net effect was to split the merchant card fee between the bank and the customer.  You spend $100 at the retailer, the retailer gets $98, the bank keeps $2 and from that gives $1 to you.  As banks competed for customers, they want to push those cash back numbers higher, but they don't want to take that from their bottom line, so they increased the hold-back to the retailer.  Now, one would imagine that the retailer would just stop accepting the cards, just like they don't accept AMEX.  The banks however, stipulate that the retailer must accept all cards or none.  For example, if the retailer takes VISA then they have to take the high fee VISA cards as well.

Those are just a few things to keep in mind when you go spending your hard earned money.

 

Wednesday
Feb202013

Friends Don't Let Friends Run Java

Yet another 0 day exploit in Java.  If you have not disabled Java in your browser, do so now.  It's pretty straight forward to do in Safari, and pretty painful in Chrome.  Best thing to do is to Google for instructions.

Go to Java.com to see if Java is running.  

http://www.java.com/en/download/testjava.jsp 

Last month the US Department of Homeland Security advised users to uninstall Java after another 0 day exploit.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/01/11/us-java-security-idUSBRE90A0S320130111

Oracle has run Java into the ground, their security updates even try to trick you into installing the Ask toolbar.

If you don't need it, uninstall it.  Almost no one need to have Java running in the browser, so everyone should disable it there.  It is Java in the browser that poses the greatest risk, as you can get infected by visiting a website.  If Apple and Facebook developers can get infected what chance do the rest of us stand?

 

Saturday
Jul142012

Apple Backtracks on EPEAT

Glad to see Apple somewhat change its mind on EPEAT. The question remains though, will they continue down this path of making their products non-repairable and non-upgradeable.


http://www.apple.com/environment/letter-to-customers/

Wednesday
Jul112012

Apple, EPEAT, and the Environment

I was disappointed to see last week that Apple was no longer going to produce products in accordance to the EPEAT standard.  It appears that the reason they have dropped EPEAT compliance is their recent move that make the latest products un-repairable and un-recyclable.

I really hope that Apple will back away from this new trend of gluing everything together.  They are doing it to make everything as small as possible, but I think we are giving up too much to take an extra couple millimeters off in thickness.

According to the folks over at iFixit, the new Macbook Pro Retina is pretty much unserviceable.  Even the battery is glued in.  

There is no reason a laptop should not last 5 years, but a laptop battery will not.  Mine battery lasted two.  While I am not allowed to replace it myself, they did replace it for me.  The new battery cost $120 and they did not charge me labour (I did subtly mention that I would have replaced it myself if they had not used proprietary fasteners).

So what does all this mean?  It means that more hardware is going to get tossed prematurely becuase a simple replacement or repair cannot be made.  You can really extend the life of your laptop, but replacing the battery, upgrading the hard disk to an SSD, adding more memory etc.  You save a little money and the earth is polluted a little less.

I really hope Apple has second thoughts on this.